The Longest Day appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. As was the case with the original Patton Blu-ray, this one boasted superficial pleasures but didn’t offer a great representation of the source.
The main problem stemmed from excessive digital noise reduction. The film got scrubbed of grain and that tended to give it an unnatural look at times. While some scenes managed to escape relatively unscathed, others – usually interiors – lost detail or simply looked “off” and without a film-like appearance. Sometimes visual elements went missing, such as a ship-based scene during a storm; the rain mostly vanished and ended up looking like artifacts more than water.
The prevalence of the DNR was too bad, as the rest of the image looked pretty solid. Sharpness was usually quite good, as the movie mostly appeared accurate and well-defined. Some softness did appear – largely due to the DNR or awkward process shots – but the majority of the movie delivered fairly nice clarity.
Prints flaws remained minimal; I noticed some thin vertical lines on a few occasions but nothing else interfered. Blacks were deep and dense, while contrast seemed nice; a couple of scenes looked a bit too bright, but most of the movie offered a nice silver sheen. Shadows were also pretty clear and concise. If the transfer had backed off of the noise reduction, it would’ve been excellent, but the DNR left this as an often artificial-looking “C+”.
As for the film’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack, it worked fairly well for its age. 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. Localized speech seemed pretty well-placed, but stereo separation for the occasional snatches of score was lackluster.
Surrounds kicked in with a decent amount of 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, and they also occasionally threw in unique elements. The soundscape wasn’t up to modern expectations, of course, but it added some pizzazz.
Audio quality was also fine for its age. Speech occasionally came across as a little rough and brittle, but the lines usually appeared acceptably natural. Day featured very little score, so music wasn’t much of a factor. The bits and pieces that appeared came across fine, however.
Effects were more than adequate. While I’d be hard-pressed to call them especially realistic by today’s standards, they showed perfectly acceptable clarity and depth. Battle scenes boasted some slightly loose but generally full bass response. For a more than 50-year-old movie, this was a pretty good soundtrack.
How did the Blu-ray compare to the 2006 “Cinema Classics Collection” DVD? Audio was broader, more engaging and more accurate; the DVD’s soundtrack was a bit of a mess, so this one worked substantially better.
Even with the DNR concerns, the picture was also an improvement, as it seemed more accurate, cleaner and more dynamic. I might not be wild about the visuals in an objective sense, but at least this disc looked better than its predecessor.
The Blu-ray duplicates the 2006 DVD’s extras. On Disc 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 one-third of the flick. Nonetheless, the absence of much 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 Disc Two – a standard DVD - 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 Blu-ray delivers visuals that would look great without the excessive use of digital noise reduction; those techniques give it a somewhat artificial feel. The audio is strong for its age, and we get a generally informative set of supplements. Despite the issues with the image, this becomes the best Longest Day on home video; still, I’d love to see a new transfer that I could wholeheartedly endorse.
To rate this film, visit the 2006 review of THE LONGEST DAY