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Battle of Britain(1969)
A powerful, colourful and star-studded re-creation of the epic 1940 battle that took place in the skies over England. Surprised and understaffed, the British forces used determination and guile to valiantly hold off the superior forces of the German Luftwaffe in the early days of World War II. If England had lost, the Germans may very well have won the war. The incredible cast includes Michael Caine, Robert Shaw, Curt Jurgens, and Laurence Olivier, in a no-expense-spared production featuring stunning airborne dog-fight sequences.
For more about Battle of Britain and the Battle of Britain Blu-ray release, see Battle of Britain Blu-ray Review published by Sir Terrence on July 2, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Harry Andrews, Trevor Howard, Michael Caine, Curd Jürgens, Ralph Richardson, Ian McShane
Director: Guy Hamilton
» See full cast & crew
Battle of Britain Blu-ray Review
"Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." Winston Churchill
Reviewed by Sir Terrence, July 2, 2008
If anyone tells you that Hollywood started churning out souless action flicks beginning in the late eighties and early nineties, tell them it's not true, and give them a copy of Battle for Britain which was made in 1969. It is not that Battle for Britain is a bad movie, it is far from it. What if feels like is a series of spectacular aerial battles glued together by a series of weak vignettes that feature some of the best and brightest British and American stars of two generations. The main problem with this film lies in the script, which lacks cohesion, and does a poor job of tying things together. The romantic interaction between Susannah York and Christopher Plummer feels like I am watching a beginner learning to drive a stick shift, it kind of lurches along in a nonsensical fashion. There were a lot of scenes with pilots sitting around waiting for orders, even more with close-ups of pilots doing battle in the sky, lots of laughter and back patting from German pilots, bombing, a lot of worrying from British top brass, more air fighting, more worry, a brief romantic interlude, more bombing and then the recycling starts again.
The film is known for its spectacular and exciting flying sequences, mimicking those seen in Angels One Five (1952) but on massive amounts of steroids. This made the film's production very expensive, over ten million dollars which by today's standards is pretty paltry when compared to production costs of over two hundred million for an action movie produced today. This film required a large number of period aircraft, so in September 1965 producers Harry Saltzman and S. Benjamin Fisz contacted former Bomber Command Group Captain Hamish Mahaddie to source the aircraft and arrange for their use. Eventually 100 aircraft were employed, a number whimsically called the "35th largest air force in the world. With Mahaddie's help, the producers located 109 Spitfires in the UK, of which 27 were available for filming, although only 12 were in flyable condition. Furthermore Mahaddie negotiated the use of six Hawker Hurricanes, of which three were in flying condition. The film helped preserve these aircraft, including a rare Spitfire Mk II, which had been a gate guardian at RAF Colerne.
The film endeavored to be an accurate account of the Battle of Britain, when in the summer and autumn of 1940 the British RAF inflicted a strategic defeat on the Luftwaffe and so ensured the cancellation of Operation Sealion – Hitler's plan to invade Britain. The key strategic victory of the outnumbered British pilots would be best summed up by Winston Churchill in the immortal words: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." For the most part the film is pretty accurate. However some events, and character interactions depicted in the film either did not happen, or did not happen to the degree the film emphasizes.
It is 1940, and Britain's RAF is wilting under the constant pressure of bombings from the German Luftwaffe. Outnumbered by almost 4-1 by the German Luftwaffe, the RAF struggles to train and ready pilots for battle, along with dealing with the shortage of planes. British Ambassador Sir David Kelly, located in neutral Switzerland, is visited by Baron von Richter who informs Sir David that any further fighting is useless, and offers new terms of a surrender. Sir Kelley refuses the offer, and proclaims that Britain will never surrender, and will fight to the very end.
Armed with the reality that a land invasion by the German army is possible, RAF Air Chief Marshal Dowding surmises that Britain will need all of its available aircraft and airmen, and can no longer deploy them to fight in France. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill declares that the fight in France is over, and the Battle for Britain has begun.
With this declaration, the RAF begins to prepare to defend Britain. Efforts to train young and inexperienced pilots begin as an uphill battle as the RAF does not have the battle hardened experience of its German counterparts, and dies in large numbers in aerial combat. As the German Luftwaffe changes battle plans from raids on the Channel to attacks on RAF airfields, the RAF and its allies begin to make training progress. On a large air campaign by the Luftwaffe called "Eagle Day", the Luftwaffe inadvertently bombs London, which leads to a revenge bombing on Berlin. An enraged Adolf Hitler then orders the razing of London.
This turns out to be a game changing decision, as the change in plans gives a reprieve to the RAF airfields and radar installations, but brings terror in the skies over London as heavy bombing takes place night after night. RAF pilots with their airfields repaired and in operation pick up their training, and with their efforts the Battle for Britain begins to swing in Britain's and the Allies favor.
Battle of Britain Blu-ray, Video Quality
MGM brings Battle for Britain to Bluray in a 1080p/MPEG-2 encoding that overall is very pleasing and natural, but not without some problems. To the good stuff; the print from which the encoding is derived looks free from blemishes and scratches. This is probably the most natural looking presentation I have reviewed so far, no pumped up colors, no highly polished look, no overly contrasted images, just natural looking images that resemble what we see when we go out doors. For this to be a nearly forty year old film, there is an amazing amount of detail both fine (Look at the detail everywhere in Sir David Kelly's office), and far field detail as well (Look out in the distance of outdoor shorts). The film grain looks coarse, but not objectionable. The aerial scenes looked amazing, so amazing that some of the visual effects just fall apart before your very eyes. Quite frankly, the picture quality is quite good, and looks like film on video, not film turned into video by excessive processing and digital manipulation. Now it's on to the problems.
Right off the bat I saw some variation in picture quality between the opening titles, when subtitles were present, and when they weren't. I noticed that resolution dropped which tells me they used a dup for these instances, and the original negative in the absence of titles and subtitles. There is also an occasional image pulsing and some edge enhancement as well. Not one of these issues effected my enjoyment of the film. MGM deserves a lot of credit for getting this films picture quality as good as it is.
Battle of Britain Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There are three flavors of audio found on Battle of Britain all English language based. The first, a Dts Master Audio Lossless track at 16/48khz, a second Dolby Digital encoded track featuring Sir William Walton's Score (at 448kbps), and the original mono mix at 192kbps. I gave all three a listen, and expectedly the Dts track comes off the best and most spatial sounding of all. I thought this was always a mono mix, but it appears there were some 70mm 6 track prints struck with stereo effects and music mix, with mono dialog. It appears the Dts track comes from this print, and the Dolby Digital with Sir Walton's score comes from the 35mm print with mono dialog and effects, and stereo music tracks. The difference between the two is quite noticeable.
Taking into consideration the age of the entire soundtrack, it sounded pretty darn good with nice analog warmth to it, and some edginess as well. Dialog is always clear, but a little rough and brittle on occasion. Sound effects are directional, limited in dynamic range when compared to today's soundtracks, but sound quite natural nevertherless. When planes take to the skies, the sound field is filled with the sound of aircraft; you can almost smell the fuel. Gun fire and explosions sound natural and directionalized, without the pumped up bass enhancing of today's tracks. Aircraft engines sounded natural and true (the use of authentic aircraft helps tremendously). On the Dts tracks, all of this is spread throughout the frontal soundstage and bled to the rear soundstage giving the mix a nice sense of space. Flyovers and flybys are nicely panned, and move organically through the room.
The music benefits greatly from the higher bitrate Dts track, and is very well recorded. The orchestra is quite small compared to the one hundred and ten piece orchestra's that record film scores today, but it sounds full and warm, and is a nicely balanced 20 piece orchestra that sounds larger than it is. Individual instruments are occasionally positioned in a pretty exaggerated fashion, but not quite enough split the soundfield. The Dolby Digital track is lower in level, constricts everything but the score into the center channel which causes it to lose alot of impact, and sounds somewhat thinner than the Dts encoded soundtrack. All things weighted, this soundtrack sounds quite good, but certainly not great.
Battle of Britain Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
There are no extras to be found, which is quite a disappointment.
Battle of Britain Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I really enjoyed Battle of Britain, much more so than I thought I would. Despite the lack of a coherent narrative, stiff and stilted performances by its actors, the visuals manage to keep this an interesting view. The bluray offers great audio and video, but the lack of extra's kills the value of this disc, but would not stop me from highly recommending it. If you like action, it is there by the tons. If you like great visuals, it is here by the tons. If you like great acting and a great script, you will have to look elsewhere for that fix.
Get your popcorn, candy, and soda ready, fire up the tube, pop Battle of Britain in your player, and be prepared for 132 minutes of pure entertainment.
Battle of Britain: Other Editions
Blu-ray bundles with Battle of Britain (2 bundles)
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Battle of Britain Blu-ray, News and Updates
• War Classics on Blu-ray from Fox/MGM - April 22, 2008
Fox Home Entertainment and MGM Home Entertainment have announced five war film classics coming to Blu-ray on June 3rd. MGM will bring 'Battle of Britain' and 'A Bridge Too Far', while 'The Longest Day', 'Patton', and 'The Sand Pebbles' will come from Fox. Video ...
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