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Great Escape, The (UK) (DVD Details)

Unique ID Code: 0000015901
Added by: petergee
Added on: 4/4/2001 03:01
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    Review of Great Escape, The

    8 / 10


    Based on a true story, this classic 1963 movie has it all; drama, excitement, adventure, humour and sheer tragedy.
    "The Great Escape" boasts a veritable who`s-who of acting talent including Richard Attenborough, James Garner, Steve McQueen, Donald Pleasence, Charles Bronson and James Coburn. Each of these stars plays the role of a prisoner held captive within one of the most modern (and supposedly escape-proof) Nazi prison camps ever constructed.

    Following the initial meeting of the ‘escape committee’, a complex plan is hatched that will involve the digging of three separate tunnels (named ‘Tom’, ‘Dick’ and ‘Harry’), each of several hundred feet in length, the forging of essential documents and the tailoring of civilian clothing. This is made all the more complicated by the fact that there are over 250 prisoners, each requiring his own ID and suitable attire.

    The end result of all this is a wonderful tale of daring and also an incredibly moving display of human ingenuity under the most arduous of conditions.


    I was really disappointed with the quality of the picture on this DVD. Presented in a non-anamorphic, letterboxed 2.35 aspect, the images are neither sharp nor clean. There are numerous examples of grain and scratches from the original print, and it is unfortunate that MGM didn`t see fit to clean up the visuals for this flagship release. I suspect that this will be rectified for a future re-release under some sort of a `Special Edition` moniker. Having recently seen the amazing images from the fully restored "Lawrence of Arabia", maybe I was expecting a bit too much here.

    Having said all that, the colours are reasonably accurate with good flesh tones throughout. The later scenes of McQueen biking through the countryside are well portrayed with lush greens and deep browns.


    Again, no effort has been made to improve on the original theatrical release. Presented in mono, this movie is crying out for a DD5.1 re-master. Imagine how much more impressive the scenes in the claustrophobic tunnel could have been with DD5.1 surround effects. However, the vocals are always clear and easily distinguishable. And as soon as Elmer Bernstein`s famous score kicks-in during the first scenes, you know that you are in the presence of genius.


    Apart from the original US Theatrical trailer, the only extra feature is an interesting 20-minute documentary on the making of the movie. Featuring interviews with some of the surviving stars (including an ancient-looking James Garner and Donald Pleasence) it shows briefly how the movie was planned and how the amazingly lifelike set was constructed (it is said that the set was 90% accurate compared to the original camp’s layout and construction).

    Reality soon bites, however, with scenes from the war cemetery near the site of the original prisoner-of-war camp in Poland from which this story is based. Here a monument has inscribed upon it the 50 or so names of the prisoners who, as depicted so vividly in the movie, were murdered in cold blood by the Gestapo having been recaptured after their escape bid. These images make the movie that much more believable and moving.


    There is no doubt that the personal relationships between the British (and American) prisoners make this movie. Each character is seen to develop his own, almost three-dimensional, personality and this gives a tangible feel to the overall movie experience. The only fault I can see, and it is one that others have mentioned, is that the camp seems a bit too clean and life too easy, begging the question as to why people would wish to escape in the first place. But I guess unless subjected to this regime oneself, one can only wonder as to what life behind barbed wire was like.

    Featuring high on the list of many movie fans’ top films, this is cinema at its best. It’s just a shame that this DVD does not really do justice to the marvellous movie itself.

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