The Longest Day appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Across the board, this was an erratic and often problematic transfer.
The biggest concerns connected to sharpness. While most close-ups looked reasonably concise, wider shots presented varying levels of softness. Much of the movie suffered from a dull sense of definition and failed to provide positive delineation. The film tended to look soft and mushy much of the time, a factor exacerbated by bouts of distracting edge haloes.
No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, though the flick could take on a rough, “digital” appearance, particularly in the reproduction of subtitles. Source flaws were a consistent concern. Throughout the movie, I witnessed specks, marks, blotches and grit. These varied in intensity but accompanied a lot of the flick.
This black and white movie provided mediocre contrast. Black levels tended to seem somewhat mushy, and the film took on a somewhat dingy gray tone much of the time. Shadow detail varied. Some shots presented good clarity, but others became murky and opaque. Though not unwatchable, the transfer really disappointed.
As for the film’s Dolby Digital 4.0 soundtrack, it worked better than the visuals but still came with a mix of ups and downs. On the positive side, the soundfield provided a solid sense of depth and breadth throughout the movie. The forward speakers demonstrated good localization across the channels, as a mix of effects popped up usefully from the sides. Sounds moved cleanly across the front channels and they blended together quite well.
The film also displayed quite a lot of directional dialogue as well, which came as a mixed blessing. Especially early in the movie, the localization of the speech didn’t fare very well. Too many lines that should’ve come from the center or left instead materialized from the right. After the first half-hour or so, this tendency decreased and the placement of the lines seemed more natural, though. Some exceptions still occurred, but the localization worked better as the film progressed.
Surrounds kicked in with a little information during appropriate scenes. The battle sequences were the main beneficiaries of this trend, but don’t expect much excitement. The back speakers tended to reinforce various elements like explosions and gunfire; they didn’t do a lot, but they added a little kick to the track.
While the soundfield was somewhat sophisticated for a movie from 1962, audio quality tended to show the movie’s age the most. Speech seemed erratic. Many lines sounded pretty natural and concise, but others came across as thin and rough. The concise dialogue dominated, though, so don’t expect many problems from that side of things.
Day featured very little score, so music wasn’t much of a factor. The bits and pieces that appeared came across fine, however. Unfortunately, effects were a periodic problem. These tended to sound tinny and flat. The track failed to deliver much range and lacked punch. Some crackling and distortion occasionally accompanied these elements. The breadth of the soundfield was good enough to make this a “B-“ track when I graded on an age-based curve, though; it never excelled, but it boasted some strengths.
Plenty of extras spread across this two-disc Collector’s Edition of The Longest Day. On DVD One, we find two audio commentaries. The first comes from co-director Ken Annakin, as he offers a running, screen-specific discussion. Annakin looks at how he came onto the project, working with Darryl F. Zanuck and his other collaborators, cast and performances, and aspects of his parts of the shoot.
Occasionally Annakin offers some decent notes – but only very occasionally. For the most part, he tells us nothing, as dead air dominates this piece. While Annakin provides a few useful nuggets, he chats too infrequently for this commentary to become anything other than a frustrating one. I don’t blame Annakin; it’s tough to chat for a full three hours in any circumstance, and it becomes even more difficult when you only worked on about 1/3rd of the flick. Nonetheless, the absence of much useful info makes it a chore to get through this piece.
For the second track, we hear from film historian Mary Corey. During her running, screen-specific piece, she chats about cast and performances, WWII facts and historical perspective, cinematic techniques and musical cues, themes and influences, comparisons with other WWII flicks, and some criticism of Day.
While somewhat erratic, Corey’s discussion offers a decent look at the flick and its various elements. She’s not afraid to critique aspects of Day, and she provides a reasonably informative look at the movie. Granted, after all the dead air of Annakin’s commentary, Corey could’ve talked about potato salad and I would’ve been happy. Still, Corey makes sure we get a thoughtful examination of Day.
Over on DVD Two, we find a mix of programs. A Day to Remember goes for 17 minutes, 51 seconds as it presents an interview with Annakin. He discusses many of the same topics he covered in his commentary. However, he does this in a more efficient manner. “Remember” doesn’t become terribly redundant if you made it through the commentary, as Annakin offers a different take on some of the subjects. “Remember” seems much more satisfying, though.
Next comes a behind the scenes piece called Backstory: The Longest Day. During the 25-minute and seven-second show, we find notes from Annakin, producer Darryl F. Zanuck’s daughter Darrylin Zanuck dePineda, former studio executive David Brown, film historian Rudy Behlmer, Zanuck biographer Mel Gussow, producer/former studio head Richard Zanuck, and actors Robert Wagner, Roddy McDowall, and Red Buttons. “Backstory” looks at Zanuck’s career and his pursuit of Day, cast and crew, problems at Fox and threats to Day, the film’s approach to its subject and shoot specifics, a few production challenges, and the movie’s release.
Like most other “Backstory” episodes, this one provides a nice overview of the film’s creation. To be sure, it doesn’t dig into its subjects with tremendous detail, but it offers an entertaining and enjoyable view of matters. We get a good recap of the flick’s major subjects here.
Two documentaries follow. A modern presentation, The Longest Day: A Salute to Courage fills 43 minutes, 42 seconds with comments from Buttons, dePineda, Annakin, Behlmer, McCabe, Richard Zanuck, author Cornelius Ryan’s daughter Victoria Ryan Bida, Cornelius Ryan Collection curator Douglas E. McCabe, associate producer Elmo Williams, Guts and Glory author Lawrence H. Suid, WWII veterans Staff Sgt. Paul R. Sands, Pvt. Robert M. Murphy, Lt. Leonard “Bud” Lommel, Corporal Rudy Meyer, Capt. William Friedman, and Sgt. Noel A. Dube, and actor Richard Todd. “Courage” examines the source book and Zanuck’s desire to bring it to the screen, the adaptation of the book, cast and crew, various production elements and concerns, Day’s depiction of D-Day and its factual accuracy.
“Salute” acts as a combination of production discussion and historical elements. The latter side proves the most interesting. Some of the movie-related pieces repeat from “Backstory”; indeed, it’s clear that both use the same interview sessions. The material from the soldiers becomes more interesting and gives us a nice look at the movie’s liberties. “Salute” is a good show, though I wish it’d split in two; I’d prefer to get the info from the veterans without the production details interspersed.
For a period program, we find the 51-minute and 48-second D-Day Revisited. It shows producer Darryl F. Zanuck around the 25th anniversary of D-Day as he leads us around various spots depicted in the film. In concept, this sounds interesting. In reality, it’s dull. We get a combination of many movie clips along with travelogue elements. As an archival piece, it has minor merit but that’s it.
Another period featurette arrives via Darryl F. Zanuck: A Dream Fulfilled. In this three-minute and 58-second clip, Richard Zanuck discusses his father and some aspects of Day. Many of these notes already appear elsewhere; Zanuck provides a slightly different perspective, but we learn little here.
Under Trailers, we find three ads. This area presents promos for Longest Day as well as for Tora! Tora! Tora! and Patton. Finally, we get some Still Galleries. These break down into four areas: “Production” (21 shots), “Behind the Scenes” (40), “Concept Art” (14) and “Marketing and Publicity” (18). The first two seem forgettable, but I like the components of the others. In particular, I think we get a lot of good bits in the “Publicity” gallery.
With “48 international stars” and three directors, The Longest Day can certainly claim to provide a big experience. And it occasionally lives up to its billing, as some of the battle elements give us a good look at the events of D-Day. However, the broad scope also means that we know little about most characters and simply fail to care much about them. This affects the film’s dramatic impact and makes it less involving than I’d like.
The DVD offers an up and down affair. Audio quality suffers from some rough moments, but it boasts a surprisingly effective soundfield. Unfortunately, the visuals usually falter; softness and source flaws make the image unattractive most of the time. At least the set rebounds with its extras, as it presents quite a good roster of supplements. This is an erratic DVD for an inconsistent movie.