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The Great Escape Blu-ray

United States
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer | 1963 | 172 min | Not rated | May 07, 2013

The Great Escape (Blu-ray)

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC (18.19 Mbps)
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Original aspect ratio: 2.35:1

English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz, 24-bit)
Spanish: Dolby Digital Mono
French: DTS 5.1
Italian: DTS 5.1
German: DTS 5.1
Note: Japanese only available o...

English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, German, Cantonese, Czech, Dutch, Greek… (more)

50GB Blu-ray Disc
Single disc (1 BD)

Region free

List price: $14.99, Price history

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Movie rating
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Blu-ray rating
Video 2.7 of 52.7
Audio 3.8 of 53.8
Extras 4.1 of 54.1
Based on 17 user reviews

Movie appeal


The Great Escape


The Great Escape Blu-ray features mediocre video and solid audio in this excellent Blu-ray release

In 1943, the Germans opened Stalag Luft North, a maximum-security prisoner-of-war camp, designed to hold even the craftiest escape artists. In doing so, however, the Nazis unwittingly assembled the finest escape team in military history who worked on what became the largest prison breakout ever attempted. Based on a true story.

For more about The Great Escape and the The Great Escape Blu-ray release, see the The Great Escape Blu-ray Review published by on where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.

Director: John Sturges
Writers: James Clavell, W.R. Burnett, Paul Brickhill
Starring: Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, James Donald, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasence

» See full cast & crew

The Great Escape Blu-ray, Video Quality

  2.5 of 5

Author's Note: This Video section was updated and expanded on May 14, 2013.

It's rare to revisit a review, but discussion of The Great Escape Blu-ray has been sufficiently lively and eventful that the original write-up already feels "dated" (although my video score remains unchanged).

Within hours after this review was posted, I was contacted by Torsten Kaiser, whose 2011 interview on this site I had quoted. Mr. Kaiser expressly stipulated that his message was "private" and "not for publication". I replied to him on that basis. No one was more surprised than I to find portions of our exchange reproduced, without notice, in the forum.

Mr. Kaiser has objected to the use of his interview without his permission, citing his "20 years" in journalism. In my 40 years of scholarship, journalism and law practice, I have never encountered any such limitation on the quotation of previously published materials. If Mr. Kaiser doesn't want to be quoted, he should not give interviews for publication.

Mr. Kaiser's repeated denials that he saw the Blu-ray being reviewed here are mystifying, because I never claimed otherwise. The Blu-ray review is mine and mine alone. To avoid any possibility of confusion in that regard, however, I have removed all of Mr. Kaiser's quotes in this Take 2.

A more germane issue is the review and favorable video rating recently published by Robert Harris. Some people seem to think that Mr. Harris and I have reached opposite conclusions on The Great Escape Blu-ray, which Robert and I both find unfortunate. Very few readers seem to have noticed that both of our reviews recommend a purchase.

Robert Harris and I have been friends since we worked together at the site where I formerly posted reviews, and we've remained in contact since I joined the staff at We've been chatting about The Great Escape, and it's been a delightful and educational experience, as communicating with Robert always is. As he writes in his review: "There are multiple ways of considering this Blu-ray. None are incorrect." I know Robert Harris' methodology; he avoids reading press releases, reviews and any other material that might influence his evaluation. For reasons he explains in his write-up, he decided that the new Blu-ray is a more than adequate representation of a film that any film lover should see. I don't disagree, but I had read the press release promising a "restoration", and I decided—over the course of two days of writing the rest of the review—to hold MGM to that standard.

Wherever one comes out on the quality of this Blu-ray, no informed source outside MGM has claimed that it's the result of a true restoration performed with state-of-the-art technology. No one credibly could. As Robert Harris said in a subsequent posting: "It does not look like film, and certainly has no appearance of a newly produced 4k restoration" (my emphasis). MGM has not retreated from its position that the Blu-ray is the result of a new 4k scan, but the real question is what they were scanning. If MGM is going to publicize a Blu-ray with claims of a restoration, then no one should be surprised when they are criticized for failing to deliver a Blu-ray that reflects a fully restored film according to the high standards that have been set by true restorations such as Funny Girl, The Godfather Trilogy or How the West Was Won.

(Reports indicate that restoration work was performed on The Great Escape in 2004 under the supervision of personnel who have now departed, but that was before Blu-ray—indeed, before the format war. Both technology and standards have made enormous strides since then.)

Sharpness and detail on the Blu-ray of The Great Escape vary from good to merely acceptable. While some of the softness is attributable to optical effects and diffusion (as many posters have been quick to point out), much of it appears to be due to an image harvest from dupes several generations removed from the original camera negative (OCN), which, by all reports still exists for all or most of the film. A true "restoration" involves scanning and digital clean-up of the OCN.

Colors are frequently bland and washed out either by fading or by overstated contrast or color values that aren't quite right (too much blue, too little green, etc.). There are also occasional variations in density that register as a kind of "flickering" or instability that ripples through the entire image.

Of greatest concern, however, is the lack of (to my eye) natural-looking grain. This is often a point of contention in the latest Blu-ray iterations of classic films. De-graining software has become more sophisticated in the years since the Patton fiasco, so that the process no longer converts characters into wax dummies. Even more problematic, in my opinion, is the ability to add back grain digitally, which can be a useful tool in "massaging" together footage culled from disparate sources, but can also be misused to add fake grain that compresses more easily and attempts to create the illusion of film in the same manner that artificial sharpening attempts to restore the illusion of lost detail. Many viewers find this artificial grain acceptable. I call it "noise", and it recurs through the Blu-ray of The Great Escape.

In my initial presentation, I noted the disc's low average bitrate of 18.19 Mbps and argued that the de-graining was done to facilitate compression and accommodate multiple language tracks and approximately 8 Gb of extras on a single disc. I still consider that a strong possibility, but an alternate explanation is that the source for MGM's Blu-ray is so "dupey" and so far removed from the OCN that the grain structure is too faint and the resolution too compromised to show clearly—hence the need to add "digital" grain to the Blu-ray image. But if that is the case, one has to question why MGM is touting a new 4k scan. If the source is so thoroughly compromised, is there even 4k worth of data to harvest?

Although it is impossible to be certain without access to the source material, I still contend that the better practice would have been for MGM/Fox to have provided the extras on a separate DVD and devoted the entire BD-50 to the task of reproducing their source elements, whatever they may be, at the highest possible bitrate. And they never should have called this a "restoration".

Now, does that mean the Blu-ray is worthless? Of course not. If I thought that were the case, I would have recommended against purchase, as I have in the past. The Blu-ray is certainly watchable, as many people have reported, and some films are so indisputably great that they don't need "eye candy" to be absorbing. The Great Escape is a perfectly serviceable Blu-ray at an astonishingly low price. Had it been offered as a quicky catalog release, my grading scale would have been much different. But if MGM/Fox wants to be judged by the standards of a "restoration", that's their choice—and their risk.

People who are in a position to do so are continuing to pursue inquiries about The Great Escape Blu-ray and how it was produced. Whether they will be able to obtain definitive information, and, if so, whether they will be able to share it publicly, are matters on which I would not presume to speculate. In the meantime, individual viewers should continue to make their own purchasing decisions, and I hope those who watch the Blu-ray will continue reporting their impressions.

The Great Escape Blu-ray, Audio Quality

  3.5 of 5

According to IMDb, The Great Escape was initially released to theaters in both mono and four-track stereo. Previous iterations on DVD have run the gamut. MGM's initial release in 1998 offered a stereo track in Dolby Digital. Its more elaborate "collector's edition" six years later offered a choice between 5.1 and mono tracks, also in Dolby Digital. The Blu-ray offers a single option in English of lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 (along with numerous tracks dubbed in other languages). The mix for this track is presumably the same as that offered on the 2004 DVD and is probably based on the four-track stereo source.

From the opening bars of Elmer Bernstein's memorable score, the Blu-ray's track reveals very good dynamic range for a recording of this vintage, with excellent bass extension that supplies genuine punch to the martial beat of the bass drums. The dialogue with its variety of accents and intonations is distinct and crisp, and the sense of stereo separation is often helpful when multiple characters are arrayed across the screen. Signature effects like the roar of Hilts's motorcycle or the bounce of his baseball register with the necessary impact, and the sounds of camp life—both legitimate and clandestine—punctuate the action as necessary. While it would be a stretch to claim that the track creates a surround field comparable to what one might expect from a contemporary mix, the sound editing is sufficiently detailed and the reproduction of sufficient quality to more than make up for the lack of rear channel activity.

The Great Escape: Other Editions




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The Great Escape Blu-ray, News and Updates

This Week on Blu-ray: May 7-14 - May 5, 2013

For the week of May 7th, Paramount Home Media Entertainment is bringing Jack Reacher to Blu-ray. The film is actually an adaptation of Lee Child's novel One Shot, and fans took great exception with director Chris McQuarrie's decision to cast Tom Cruise as the ...

The Great Escape Blu-ray - March 25, 2013

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment have officially announced and detailed their upcoming Blu-ray release of John Sturges's The Great Escape (1963), starring Steve McQueen, James Garner, and Richard Attenborough. Using an all-new ...

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