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MOVIE INFO

Director:
Guy Hamilton
Cast:
Michael Caine, Laurence Olivier, Harry Andrews, Trevor Howard, Curd Jürgens, Ian McShane, Kenneth More, Nigel Patrick, Christopher Plummer, Michael Redgrave
Writing Credits:
Wilfred Greatorex, James Kennaway

Synopsis:
Featuring a "big stellar cast!" (Variety), including Michael Caine, Trevor Howard, Laurence Olivier, Christopher Plummer, Michael Redgrave, Robert Shaw, Susannah York and Edward Fox, Battle of Britain is a spectacular retelling of a true story that shows courage at its inspiring best. Few defining moments can change theioutcome of a war, but when the outnumbered Royal Air Force defied insurmountable odds in engaging the German Luftwaffe, they may well have altered the course of history!

Box Office:
Budget
$12 million.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
Audio:
English/German Dolby Digital 5.1
English/German Monaural
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
French
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 132 min.
Price: $24.96
Release Date: 10/25/2005

Bonus:
Disc One
• Audio Commentary with Director Guy Hamilton, Aerial Sequence Director Bernard Williams, and Historian Paul Annett
• Alternate Score
Disc Two
• “The Battle for The Battle of Britain” Documentary
• “A Film for the Few” Featurette
• “Authenticity in the Air” Featurette
• “Recollections of an RAF Squadron Leader” Featurette
• “Images from the Sky” Featurette
• Trailers


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RELATED REVIEWS


Battle Of Britain: Collector's Edition (1969)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 9, 2006)

According to the DVD case for Battle of Britain, “when the outnumbered Royal Air Force defied insurmountable odds in engaging the German Luftwaffe, they may well have altered the course of history!” That may sound like little more than marketing hyperbole, but in truth, it strikes pretty close to the mark. After running rampant over continental Europe, the Nazis wanted to soften Britain and take them out of the fight. They attempted this via their aircraft, and that topic provides the focus of 1969’s Battle.

Battle starts with the struggles of pilots who fight the Nazis in continental Europe. However, they quickly find that their cause there is essentially lost, so as requested by Air Chief Marshal Dowding (Laurence Olivier), the Brits decide to reserve their air forces at home in preparation for an almost definite assault by the Germans.

Soon Churchill declares the end of the fight in France and the start of the Battle of Britain. Baron von Richter(Curt Jurgens) officially proposes to Sir David Kelly (Ralph Richardson) that the Germans will stay away from England if the Brits grant them free reign in Europe, but given the cowardly nature of such a choice – and the worthlessness of Nazi promises – the Brits refuse. Von Richter declares that they’ll have their way anyway, and this sets the stage for a fight.

The rest of the movie follows those actions. Short on pilots, we see training exercises meant to get any warm bodies the RAF can find into the air. Eventually we reach “Eagle Day”, the occasion designated by the Nazis to smash the RAF on the ground. They bomb the airfields, and at one point, some German pilots accidentally attack London. This leads to Brit reprisals in Berlin, and that inflames Hitler. He increases the intensity of the war and plans to raze the British capital to the ground.

As the movie points out, this was a big mistake. In fact, along with the timing of the German assault on the Soviet Union, the attack on London stands as one of Hitler’s biggest gaffes. The assault on London overextended the German air force and made them easier picking for the Brits. It also solidified the resolve of the already steely Brits.

There’s a great story to be found in the actions of 1940, but Battle of Britain isn’t it. A lot of this stems from a bad case of “big movie-itis”. Battle tosses out an enormous roster of famous actors. In addition to those already mentioned, it includes folks like Robert Shaw, Christopher Plummer, Laurence Olivier, Susannah York and Michael Caine. One after another, it almost totally wastes them.

That’s because director Guy Hamilton can’t quite figure out how to elaborate on the personal stories. Hamilton remains best known as the leader of Bond flicks like Goldfinger, and within its world of fantasy, he proved successful. Unfortunately, Battle requires depth in its characters and the treatment of them as real people. The film flits so abruptly from one to another that we never get a sense of any personalities. They come and go without much rhyme or reason, and they never develop into real people.

The relationship between Plummer and York gets the most focus, and that makes it the least satisfying. Their interaction always remains trite and superficial. A movie like this needs to have some sort of human element, but Battle fails to bring off those areas in any even remotely satisfying way.

The segments that show the German perspective don’t fare any better. These really don’t make a lot of sense. They don’t elaborate on the Nazi side well, but they appear frequently enough that they bog down the story. Perhaps if Hamilton more heavily ignored the German viewpoint – which adds nothing to the film anyway – he’d have had more time to develop his British characters. As it stands, neither section becomes satisfying.

Does Battle at least deliver some compelling action? Occasionally, but much of the time, even those sections fall flat. That stems largely from the awkward pacing of the movie. With all those badly developed character moments, the action sequences tend to lack urgency or commitment. Hamilton seems more interested in showing us extended shots of planes as they fall from the sky than in creating briskly paced action. He rarely demonstrates the scope or passion of the fight. We’re told how important all this is to the Brits, but we rarely feel it.

One exception occurs toward the end of the movie. The film’s climax effectively removes all audio elements except for the score. This could become melodramatic, but instead, the absence of dialogue and effects focuses the action. It makes the sequence fairly poignant and tight.

Unfortunately, that segment remains a rare shining moment in an otherwise fairly dull movie. The history of World War II fascinates me, and I hoped to find an exciting examination of Battle of Britain here. However, the result seems like little more than a plodding, big budget event movie with no passion behind it.


The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio A-/ Bonus B

Battle of Britain appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A slight improvement over the original 2003 DVD, this one had some problems but usually was quite good.

Sharpness mostly seemed solid. A few wide shots appeared slightly soft and ill defined, but these occurred infrequently. Most of the movie was pretty well defined and concise. I noticed no issues related to jagged edges or shimmering, but edge enhancement was a different matter. Moderate haloes showed up consistently throughout the movie, and these created some notable distractions.

Print flaws were infrequent and marked the most significant visual change from the 2003 DVD. While that one didn’t suffer from a surfeit of defects, occasional blemishes appeared. Those decreased here. I noticed a few specks but otherwise found this to be a clean presentation.

Colors mainly came across well. The tones were natural and concise, though they occasionally looked a bit dense. Still, most of the hues appeared fairly accurate and well defined. I didn’t expect a broad palette for a movie that focused on wartime Britain, and the hues followed those lines. Black levels were pretty deep and tight, while low-light shots seemed reasonably detailed and firm. At its best, Battle of Britain looked very good, but the mix of flaws kept it from excellence.

While the visuals only slightly upgraded those of the 2003 DVD, the audio of Battle of Britain was a very different story. The old disc included only the original monaural mix, which also reappeared here. In addition, however, we got a new Dolby Digital 5.1 track. I regard these remixes with suspicion, as most of them don’t improve on their sources. That wasn’t the case here, though, as the new 5.1 track was excellent.

The audio really opened up the spectrum well. Usually 5.1 remixes maintain a modest focus, but this one was notably more ambitious. All the flying and combat sequences were really strong. The planes and bullets zipped around the room with surprising smoothness and believability, and they helped create a very involving setting. Music also demonstrated excellent stereo definition.

Audio quality was quite positive. Speech came across as a bit thin but it remained consistently intelligible and lacked issues connected to edginess. Effects appeared reasonably accurate. Except for the moderate rumble of plane engines, they didn’t present much range or heft, but they were clean and without prominent distortion. Low-end was very during these louder sequences.

Speaking of solid audio, the score sounded shockingly terrific. The music was always bright and lively, as it boasted excellent clarity and dynamics. We don’t usually hear audio this fine for older flicks, but I felt very impressed with this 5.1 remix and thought it earned an “A-“.

While the original DVD included only a trailer for Britain, this new two-disc set tosses in many more extras. On Disc One, we find an audio commentary with director Guy Hamilton, aerial sequence director Bernard Williams, aerial and 2nd unit assistant director Garth Thomas and historian Paul Annett. All the participants were recorded separately for this edited track.

Williams dominates the discussion and covers many technical issues. We learn a lot about the various challenges related to shooting the flight sequences. Other topics include casting and the actors as well as the history of the Battle itself. The information provided is good, but this commentary suffers from way too much dead air. Quite a few substantial gaps occur, and these make it tough to slog through the piece. If you can overlook those, you’ll like the commentary, but I think the silences turn this one into a difficult listen.

Also on DVD One, we get an altenate soundtrack. This presents William Walton’s original music for the flick as part of the movie soundtrack. This creates something of an alternate version of the film, since you can see how it would have worked with Walton’s score. The quality of the audio isn’t as good as during the main 5.1 mix, but this is still an interesting option.

Over on DVD Two, we open with a 52-minute and 29-second documentary called The Battle for The Battle of Britain. Created by Annett and Christopher Doll back in 1968, this includes narration from Michael Caine. The show alternates between basic history of the Battle and aspects of the movie shoot. We find notes about finding appropriate aircraft, a responsibility to tell the story truthfully, filming air battles, working with extras in crowd scenes, the depiction of various characters, and shooting in old London neighborhoods. We hear from Hamilton, group captain Hamish Mahaddie, Field Marshal Erhard Milch, General Adolf Galland, F/Lt. Bowring, pilot Jeff Hawk, Lord Willoughby De Broke, Wing Commander Clara Legge, Group Captain Peter Townsend and a few folks who experienced the bombing of London.

In the positive domain, “Battle” includes a lot of good behind the scenes footage made during the film’s creation. We get nice glimpses of the shoot in these segments. Unfortunately, most of the content seems boring. The information about the actual Battle doesn’t tell us much we don’t know from the movie, and we don’t get a great deal of material that illuminates the production itself. “Battle” sporadically entertains and informs but doesn’t soar in any way.

A featurette called A Film for the Few lasts 20 minutes and 15 seconds. It presents comments from Hamilton, Williams, Thomas, Annett, actor Susannah York, RAF fighter pilot Squadron Leader Basil Gerald Stapleton, historian and author Dave Ross, and the Battle of Britain Historical Society’s Ed McManus. The show covers how Hamilton came onto the project, research, acquiring aircraft and using models, casting and the work of the actors, locations and shooting air sequences over England, the film’s style and depiction of German side, various pressures, and reactions to the movie.

In contrast to the flawed commentary and documentary that precede it, “Few” offers a tight program. It gives us a quick but solid look at the different aspects of the production. “Few” doesn’t present a full examination of the film, but it tosses out many good elements and becomes satisfying.

During the 22-minute and 28-second Authenticity in the Air, we hear from Thomas, Williams, Stapleton, and Annett. The piece examines specifics of shooting the aerial sequences. We find out about the qualifications of the participants, adaptations made to the plane used for filming, various problems and dangers, locations and weather, and specifics of different aspects of the shoot.

Inevitably, “Air” repeats some material found in the commentary and other programs. Nonetheless, it provides a concise summary of the air-related issues. It does so in a brisk and interesting manner that makes it good to watch.

Next comes Recollections of an RAF Squadron Leader. It goes for nine minutes, 25 seconds and presents notes from Stapleton. He reflects on his experiences during the war as he discusses how he got interested in the Air Force, his assignments and compatriots, and what he saw and did during the Battle. Despite his advanced age, Stapleton proves quite lucid and informative. He tells a good story and makes this program useful and engaging.

For the final featurette, we get the Images from the Sky. It opens with a statement from Williams but mostly shows stills taken during the aerial sequences. The running three-minute and 50-second piece offers a nice collection of photos.

Finally, the set includes some Trailers. We find the original theatrical ad for Battle along with promos for Bridge on the River Kwai, The Great Escape and “Best of WWII Movies”.

Something like Battle of Britain should have been right up my alley. Unfortunately, the film skimped on excitement and concentrated too much on spectacle and its thinly drawn characters. The DVD presented good picture along with excellent audio and an erratic but fairly informative set of extras.

I don’t like Battle enough to recommend it for a “blind buy”, but this is a good purchase for fans. That goes for folks who already own the original “movie-only” DVD. This special edition offers improved picture and audio plus many extras not found on the prior disc. Fans will be happy to get this upgrade.

To rate this film visit the Widescreen Edition review of BATTLE OF BRITAIN