M*A*S*H appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The source material made this an occasionally ugly presentation, but it usually represented the original material in a satisfactory manner.
Sharpness tended to be all over the place. Parts of the movie exhibited good definition, while others were soft and fuzzy. This appeared to be an issue related to the original photography, as I saw no transfer-related causes for this like edge enhancement. No problems with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, but source flaws created a few distractions. Grain remained within expected levels, but a few specks and blotches emerged through the movie. These weren’t dominant, though.
M*A*S*H featured an exceptionally green palette. During a few shots - such as the Japanese escapade - brighter tones appeared, but drab greens dominated the movie. They looked pretty bland and lifeless, but it seemed clear that Altman did this intentionally to accentuate the boring aspects of military life. As such, I thought the colors looked fine, as they appeared to accurately replicate the original material.
Black levels came across as reasonably solid and deep, while shadow detail was acceptably clear and clean. The image was too ugly for me to give it anything above a “B-“, but it was fine given the restrictions of the source footage.
M*A*S*H featured a DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack, though it may as well have been monaural. The imaging showed slight breadth at times, but it remained anchored to the center most of the way. Occasionally, the movie placed aircraft in the side or rear speakers - very occasionally, as those instances occurred maybe three or four times during the movie. Otherwise, this was essentially a monaural track, as even the music rarely displayed anything more than vague stereo presence.
Though dated, audio quality was acceptable. Dialogue sounded somewhat thin and tinny, but lines were always acceptably distinct and accurate, and they showed no problems related to intelligibility or edginess. Effects were also rather trebly but clean, and they lacked notable distortion or other concerns. I can’t say those elements seemed realistic, but they were decent for their age.
Music varied a bit due to the kinds of sources, but for the most part, the tunes seemed similar to the rest of the track. Some of the score showed respectable low-end, especially during the football game. Otherwise, the mix remained pretty restricted and flat, though it demonstrated reasonable accuracy. Ultimately, the soundtrack was just fine considering the source material, but it did nothing to stand out from the crowd.
How did the picture and audio of the Blu-ray compare to the original DVD? Both showed improvements, though primarily in the visual realm. Both offered pretty similar audio; the lossless DTS mix was a bit better than the DVD’s stereo track, but it wasn’t a revelation.
On the other hand, visuals showed more growth. Both were messy, but the Blu-ray offered better definition and a more natural look. The DVD suffered from edge enhancement and seemed even more flat and faded. No one will mistake the Blu-ray for demo material, but it gave us a better representation of the film.
We find almost all the same extras from the earlier DVD release plus some new ones. I’ll mark Blu-ray exclusives with blue print.
We start with an audio commentary from director Robert Altman. He works alone here for this running, screen-specific piece. The first Altman solo track I heard came along with Nashville, and it was a weak one. Unfortunately, Altman’s commentary for M*A*S*H doesn’t improve upon that effort, as it suffers from many concerns.
Part of the problem stems from redundancy. Although I’m discussing it first, I actually screened the commentary last; I’d already watched all of the disc’s documentaries. Altman seems to have only a handful of stories related to M*A*S*H, and we hear these over and over throughout these programs. As such, much of the commentary was old news to me by the time I got to it, and the information came across in a more interesting format elsewhere.
That’s because Altman tends to leave lots of empty spaces during his track. He goes for long stretches without any statements, and he often provides bland remarks such as the names of actors.
Again, much of what he says can be heard elsewhere, and he seems like he’s on cruise control at times. For instance, during his overused discussion of other Fox films in production concurrent with M*A*S*H, he refers to Tara! Tara! Tara!, which I believe was a comic farce about spoiled Southern belle triplets during the Civil War.
Altman does provide a little information unique to the commentary. While he touches on his feelings toward the TV show in one of the documentaries, he expands on it here. Altman clearly dislikes “that series”, though his reasons for this seem odd; he believes it was terribly racist, which makes very little sense.
On its own, Altman provides some reasonably interesting material in this commentary, and if you plan to check out none of the other extras, it merits a listen. However, if you will examine everything else on the disc, the commentary becomes much less useful.
For something unusual, we head to The Complete Interactive Guide to M*A*S*H. This is a quirky running feature that slaps various icons onscreen during the movie to highlight various character elements. We get seven icons: “Suicide”, “Spirits”, “Sanctity”, “Shenanigans”, “Fisticuffs”, “Court-Martials” and “Altman Mumble Meter”.
What do these actually mean? They keep track of characters and show how often they do things like fight, fool around, and fuss in other ways. It’s a cute idea but not especially satisfying in reality.
Next comes Backstory, an American Movie Classics cable channel documentary about the film. This program runs for 24 minutes, 27 seconds and offers a pretty standard synopsis of the production. It includes the usual mix of movie clips, some stills and a little footage from the set, and interviews. We hear recent comments from Altman, film critic Richard Schickel, producer Richard Zanuck, and actors Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, Tom Skerritt, and Sally Kellerman. The show’s too short to offer a complete look at the flick, but it seems quite good nonetheless. We get a solid overview of the project and see some interesting material like part of an Elliott Gould screentest.
As with Altman’s commentary, one of the main problems with “Backstory” relates to the content of the other extras. On its own, the program is interesting, but it seems redundant when combined with the others. It’s not the best of the four documentaries, but even so, it’s still fairly good.
Enlisted: The Story of M*A*S*H runs 40 minutes, 53 seconds and strongly echoes the structure of the “Backstory” show. Actually, it even includes some identical interview snippets. “Enlisted” features the same participants minus Schickel and it adds producer Ingo Preminger, screenwriter Ring Lardner Jr., actors John Schuck, Rene Auberjonois, Gary Burghoff - who appears to have become possessed by the ghost of Truman Capote - and Michael Murphy, editor Danford Greene, and associate producer Leon Erickson.
Much of the material from “Backstory” appears here as well, but a reasonable amount of unique information makes the cut. Essentially “Enlisted” is an expanded version of the “Backstory”, and it seems to be the best of the movie-related documentaries, at least in regard to the history of the production.
I make that last disclaimer because the next program - entitled M*A*S*H: History Through the Lens - is the strongest of the package. This 44-minute and five-second piece replicates a moderate amount of information from the prior programs, as we see the usual behind the scenes materials, film clips and interviews. From its predecessors, we hear from Zanuck, Altman, Skerritt, and Sutherland, and much of their material seems repetitive.
However, two elements make “Fire” unique. For one, it briefly discusses the TV series, and we get some comments from writer/producer Larry Gelbart and actress Loretta Swit, who appears intent on living out her character’s nickname; I don’t know what she’s doing to her lips, but they indeed appear ready to catch fire! These elements are brief but useful.
The most significant addition we find here comes from its historical perspective. “Fire” includes USC Professor of Korean History Kyung Moon Hwang as well as Korean War surgeons Otto Apel, Eugene Hesse, and John Howard, nurse Mary Quinn, and veterans Colonel Young Oak Kim and Paul Edwards. This side of the story dominates the program and allows it to become something more than just another rehash of the same production stories. Yes, we have to wade through those as well, but the realism prevalent makes this a fine program that seems to be the best of the bunch.
(Note that “Lens” also appeared on the M*A*S*H DVD, but for reasons unknown, it uses a different title here; it was called “Comedy Under Fire” when first released.)
The final full documentary seems to be the worst of the bunch. The 30-minute, two-second 30th Anniversary M*A*S*H Cast Reunion follows a fete at which Altman received the first Fox Movie Channel “Legacy” award. After a short ceremony, he and a number of M*A*S*H participants gather for a panel discussion of the film; we find Gould, Preminger, Auberjonois, Kellerman, Schuck, Fred Williamson and Bud Cort.
A few new comments emerge due to the additional perspectives, but usually we hear the same old tales over and over again. If I have to listen to Altman say that the film wasn’t released, it escaped one more time, I may take my own life. Add to the redundancy a rather fawning tone provided by host Andy Klein and the whole piece seems less than compelling.
The package wraps up with two trailers: one US, one Portuguese. We also get a decent Still Gallery with 85 images. It offers a good mix of publicity shots and photos from the shoot.
For those who don’t care to wade through all of the redundant information about the movie, I’d recommend you check out “Enlisted” and “Lens”. Those two programs will provide 95% of the information found elsewhere; you’ll miss a few details, but you’ll also skip a lot of aggravation and boredom. Serious M*A*S*H fans will probably want to struggle through the whole package, but others should be satisfied with the two shows I mentioned.
By the way, Robert Duvall seems notable in his absence. Of all the major participants in the film, only he fails to appear without a known explanation. Actually, the only other main actor not to show up is Roger Bowen, who has an acceptable excuse since he’s dead. I’d be curious to know why Duvall remained away from all of these proceedings.
Since I grew up on the TV version of M*A*S*H, I expected the movie would seem wrong to me. Instead, I thought it came across as more appropriate than the show, especially due to the performances; most of the actors seemed to better inhabit the characters than did their TV counterparts. The film edition of M*A*S*H appeared less coherent but more compelling and inventive. The Blu-ray provides generally good picture as well as acceptable audio and a redundant but still solid roster of extras. Overall, M*A*S*H remains one of Robert Altman’s best films, and this release treats its subject well.
To rate this film visit the 2002 review of M*A*S*H