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Vietnam, 1969. Hill 937. 10 days. 70% casualties. Those are the facts - this is the story. The men of Bravo Company are facing a battle that's all up hill...up Hamburger Hill. Fourteen war-weary soldiers are battling for a mud-covered mound of earth so named because it chews up soldiers like chopped meat. They are fighting for their country, their fellow soldiers and their lives. War is hell, but this is worse. HAMBURGER HILL tells it the way it was, the way it really was. It's a raw, gritty and totally unrelenting dramatic depiction of one of the fiercest battles of America's bloodiest war. Dodge the gunfire. Get caught behind enemy lines. Go into battle beside the brave young men who fought and died. Feel their desperation and futility. This happened. HAMBURGER HILL - war at its worst, men at their best.
For more about Hamburger Hill and the Hamburger Hill Blu-ray release, see Hamburger Hill Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on April 21, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Director: John Irvin
Starring: Anthony Barrile, Michael Boatman, Don Cheadle, Michael Dolan
» See full cast & crew
Hamburger Hill Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, April 21, 2010
John Irvin's "Hamburger Hill" (1987) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Lions Gate Home Entertainment UK. The supplemental feature on the disc include an audio commentary with writer/producer Jim Carabatsos, and actors Anthony Barrile, Harry O'Reilly, and Daniel O'Shea; the featurettes "Hamburger Hill: The Appearance of Reality" and "Medics in Vietnam"; and a text-format summation of the Vietnam War. With optional English SDH subtitles. Region-B "locked".
Hamburger Hill is formally divided into two parts. The first one introduces its main characters, mostly young men who have been sent to Vietnam to fight an enemy they know very little about. Most of them have already been in action, but a few have just arrived. At the base camp, everyone looks relaxed. Some of the men talk about the girlfriends and wives they left back home, some talk about their experiences with the local women. Occasionally, we see wounded men being brought in, but the war feels distant.
The men are from different social and ethnic backgrounds. Some are from big cities, others from small towns. Some are more sociable than others. Some feel that they are in Vietnam because it is their duty to protect their country's interests. Others are not entirely sure what they are doing here; they speculate that they are in Vietnam because of the color of their skin. Occasionally, some of them argue and even call each other names.
The second part of Hamburger Hill shows the men fighting the enemy. They are sent to take over an enemy stronghold known as Hill 937. The hill is of little strategic importance, but the men are told otherwise. A fierce attack begins and many of them die. Once they conquer Hill 937, the men realize that some of their friends have lost their lives in vain.
John Irvin's Hamburger Hill was released a year after Oliver Stone's Platoon (1986) and a few months before Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket (1987). It did not look as polished and convincing as the above mentioned films but it certainly carried a similar vibe. At the time, its cast was comprised of mostly unknown young actors - Don Cheadle, Dylan McDermott, Michael Boatman, Michael Dolan, Anthony Barrile, Harry O'Reilly, etc.
I saw Hamburger Hill a couple of years after it was released theatrically in North America and thought that it was very much a film that did not attempt to deliver any sort of a controversial message about the Vietnam War. I felt that the main characters in it were simple young men who were faced with dilemmas most soldiers struggle with when they are sent to war. Aside from a few racial comments and a couple of generic observations about class division in America, I thought that there was nothing in Hamburger Hill that could have potentially ignited the masses.
I was, however, wrong. I found out that were, and still are, all sorts of different opinions about Hamburger Hill floating around. There were people claiming that it was a pro-war film, a piece of propaganda that glorified what many who supported the anti-Vietnam War rallies during the 60s disagreed with. And then there were those who believed that Hamburger Hill was a pro-soldier film, indirectly condemning the Vietnam War and those who sent thousands of young Americans to fight it.
To those of you who might have similar opinions about Hamburger Hill as the ones mentioned above, I would like to recommend that you listen to the audio commentary with writer/producer Jim Carabatsos, a Vietnam veteran, included on this release, who makes it perfectly clear that Hamburger Hill was meant to be nothing more than a tribute to his fallen comrades. Surely, it is a flawed tribute, as other than emphasizing what a horrific experience the war must have been for these men there is hardly anything of substance in Hamburger Hill, but it is also an honest one, and with these types of films honesty is of utmost importance.
Technically, Hamburger Hill is a fine film that even today looks impressive. The acting is good across the board; McDermott and Barrile, in particular, are terrific. Irvin's direction is solid and cinematographer Peter MacDonald's lensing very convincing. The film is also complimented by a wonderful music score courtesy of renowned American composer Philip Glass.
Hamburger Hill Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, John Irvin's Hamburger Hill arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Lions Gate Home Entertainment UK.
The high-definition transfer has been struck from a dated source. As a result, fine object detail, clarity and contrast are fairly inconsistent. Many of the daylight scenes also contain a good dose of edge-enhancement. I also noticed quite a bit of digital noise during the darker scenes from the final third of the film. The color-scheme is pleasing, though blacks, greens, blues and browns are never as lush and well saturated as they could have been. Furthermore, while viewing the film, I noticed a great deal of flecks and small scratches; occasionally even dirt. On a positive side, there are no major stability issues to report in this review. To sum it all up, this is a fairly average looking high-definition transfer with quite a few minor issues. (Note: This is a Region-B "locked" disc. Therefore, you mist have a native Region-B or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
Hamburger Hill Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There is only one audio track on this Blu-ray disc: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. For the record, Lions Gate Home Entertainment UK have provided optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature.
The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is not as aggressive as I expected it to be. Even during the battle scenes, surround activity is quite limited. The bass only occasionally comes alive and at times feels rather flat. The dialog is clean and stable but, understandably, not always crisp (especially during the battle scenes). Actually, I used the optional English SDH subtitles when I viewed the film. For the record, I did not detect any disturbing pops, cracks, or hissings to report in this review. All in all, I expected the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track to have a more flexible dynamic amplitude, as Hamburger Hill is a film that certainly deserves one.
Hamburger Hill Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Commentary - an audio commentary with writer/producer Jim Carabatsos, and actors Anthony Barrile, Harry O'Reilly, and Daniel O'Shea. This is the same audio commentary that has previously appeared on different SDVD release of the film. It is very informative and the same time quite entertaining. Jim Carabatsos, for example, recall how the script for the film was written, what he was trying to accomplish in it, the history behind the film, etc. Anthony Barrile, Harry O'Reilly, and Daniel O'Shea also talk about how they got involved with the project, their characters, some of the technical obstacles the cast and crew members had to overcome, etc.
Hamburger Hill: The Appearance of Reality - Producer Marcia Nasatir and director John Irvin, as well as cast members talk about how the film came to exist. In English, not subtitled. (17 min, PAL).
Medics in Vietnam - Military Historian Col. Robert Tomlinson, USAF (Ret.); Arthur Wiknik, Jr, 101st Airborne Division; Bob Rogers, Vietnam Medic; as well as cast members quickly address the important role combat medics had during the Vietnam War. In English, not subtitled. (7 min, PAL).
Vietnam War Timeline - a text-format summation of the Vietnam War.
Hamburger Hill Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
John Irvin's Hamburger Hill is one of the quintessential 80s war films. During the years, it has been overshadowed by the likes of Platoon, Full Metal Jacket and more recently Saving Private Ryan, but it remains one of the better war films made in America. The Blu-ray disc herein reviewed, courtesy of Lions Gate Home Entertainment UK, does not look overly convincing, but it is probably the best presentation of Hamburger Hill we would have around for quite some time. RENT IT.
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