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The Sand Pebbles(1966)
1926 China. Engineer Jake Holman is transferred to the USS San Pablo, a gunboat patrolling the troubled waters of the Yangtze River. As Chinese factions battle around them, the crew has one singular mission: to protect American interests in the region... without provoking an international incident. But as hostility over the U.S. presence in the river intensifies, Holman and his sole ally know their latest assignment - to save a U.S. missionary - could be their last!
For more about The Sand Pebbles and the The Sand Pebbles Blu-ray release, see the The Sand Pebbles Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on May 28, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Steve McQueen (I), Richard Attenborough, Richard Crenna, Candice Bergen, Marayat Andriane, Mako
Director: Robert Wise
» See full cast & crew
The Sand Pebbles Blu-ray Review
Robert Wise's classic film sails on Blu-ray.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, May 28, 2008
Hello, engine. I'm Jack Holman.
A movie star in every sense of the word -- not only handsome but also immensely talented and the ultimate "guy," -- Steve McQueen (Bullitt) takes on a role in 1966's The Sand Pebbles that garnered him his one and only Best Actor Oscar nomination, a surprise to me considering not only the presence he brought to his roles, but also the classic films he performed in (the aforementioned Bullitt, The Blob, The Great Escape, and The Cincinnati Kid, to name a few). The Sand Pebbles is not only another first-rate McQueen project, but is one of the greats to come from the lens of legendary director Robert Wise (Star Trek: The Motion Picture, The Sound of Music). The film received seven additional Oscar nominations, among them Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor for Mako (Seven Years in Tibet). With a backdrop of gunboat diplomacy in China, The Sand Pebbles is a timeless, relevant movie about perpetually important themes: love, respect, racism, duty, and honor.
McQueen plays Jack Holman, a Navy machinist recently transfered to the U.S.S. San Pablo, a gunboat on patrol on the Yangtze River in 1926 China, a country in the midst of revolution. Holman soon enough finds himself a pawn in the middle of a popular uprising against the U.S. presence on the rivers and also as an unwelcome addition to the crew. He eschews a ship-wide system where Chinese locals, known as "coolies," perform the day-to-day operations of the ship, leaving the crew to relax, drill, and get into trouble on shore. Holman ultimately finds the life of one of his friends (and newly trained coolie) squarely in his hands. Later, Holman and the San Pablo are blockaded, the locals demanding he be turned over for a crime he didn't commit. The film's sprawling story line intertwines beautifully, and while parts of the movie are almost unbearably slow (more on that in a minute), nary a shot is wasted as the story progresses, be it through the score, the dialogue, the action, or the unspoken glances from ship to shore and vice versa. The Sand Pebbles also features standout performances by Richard Crenna (Rambo III), Richard Attenborough (Jurassic Park), Candice Bergen (TV's "Murphy Brown").
The Sand Pebbles is an epic movie by all accounts: its length, classic score, scope, and production values ensure the film's place in history. As such, it is an epic oddity. When I think of an "epic" film, I think of sprawling, wide-open locales (Lawrence of Arabia, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Ben-Hur) in addition to the attributes listed above. In stark contrast, The Sand Pebbles is a claustrophobic movie, part of the action taking place on a cramped gunboat, while the film's additional scenes, particularly those taking place in a local brothel, also feel tight. Even when the action reaches the outdoors, such as during the torture of a crewman by a Chinese mob, or a scene where American sailors are pelted with fruit, the camera's frame is filled to the brim with a mob of humanity, providing that suffocating, closed-in feeling. Indeed, such a style sets us up for the film's final act when the San Pablo finds herself blockaded by Chinese Junk ships. The film is an epic nevertheless, the story grand, involving, and at times almost too tense to bear, and at other times snooze-inducing. The fantastic set design, acting, Jerry Goldsmith's (First Knight) score, and the tension of the film outweigh any negative brought about by the somewhat slow pacing the film suffers from at times, but such pacing does, like every cramped shot, place us on the ship and in this period of history and in this corner of the world, making us feel like part of the crew, enduring the same stresses as our on-screen counterparts. The Sand Pebbles may not be Robert Wise's finest hour, but it is another solid and thought-provoking entry into his canon of work, and one of many films that together cement his status as a legendary Hollywood director.
The Sand Pebbles Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Sand Pebbles sets sail on Blu-ray in yet another high quality MPEG-2, 1080p, 2.35:1 transfer from Fox. With this release as well as Patton and The Longest Day, 20th Century Fox has shown they mean business when it comes to their classics (I cannot wait to see what they do with another Robert Wise classic, The Sound of Music). The Sand Pebbles has that old-fashioned look and feel of cinema yore, and the Blu-ray edition replicates the look of the film marvelously. The print itself is in exceptional condition, virtually free of blemishes, splotches, or other forms of damage. The transfer retains the film grain inherent to the original, and it adds a fine cinematic quality to an already impressive looking film. Black levels are solid, deep, and true (see chapter 15). Flesh tones are equally accurate and impressive. There is nice detail to be seen, notably in the ship's engine room. There is not a lot in there, but the wear and tear on the machinery and the authenticity of its appearance is brought up in all its glory here, truly a wonder to look at, as are the rest of the interior shots of the boat. It looks as if you could be on a tour of the ship and get up close and personal with just about anything the camera focuses on. This Blu-ray also brings out the film's colors nicely. The blues of both the water and the eyes of two of the primary cast members (McQueen and Crenna) and the whites of the uniforms are the primary colors, both standing out and perfectly balanced and replicated. All things considered, the transfer here is a remarkable one, the only major fault being on my end that I could not enjoy the film on an appropriately large screen.
The Sand Pebbles Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Sand Pebbles debuts in Blu-ray high definition with Fox's usual DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless audio soundtrack. Much like Patton, a noticeable hiss accompanies much of the soundtrack. The film's legendary score by the late composer Jerry Goldsmith sounds fantastic. It's a bit too loud at the film's open, but its majesty and grace fills the room beautifully afterwards, reason enough to warrant a listen and a screening of this movie. The score itself is seemingly a character in the film, conveying every emotion, from fear to anger to joy, just as much as the characters themselves, the words they speak, and the expressions they provide. As Holman looks over his engine room for the first time, the engine noises play in the background ever so slightly, and the movie's score rises to the occasion and improves on one of the most memorable scenes in the movie. Ambience is wonderful, and the track effortlessly fills the room with the subtlest of nuances as well as the loudest of screams and cheers, the ship's alarm recalling the crew to the ship, and the action, all with a remarkably natural feel. Dialogue is great; the chant of "Holman come down!" during one of the most tense sequences in the movie is reproduced here to chilling effect, the sense of anger, fear, and frustration couldn't be more palpable. The film's climactic battle sounds fantastic; the repeated bangs of a Browning Automatic Rifle, the pounding of the San Pablo's main gun, the reverberations of shots are heard in the rears, ricochets clank off surfaces and find their way into various speakers around the listening area, and the mayhem of the moment is captured to perfection on this track. This is yet another fine effort from Fox.
The Sand Pebbles Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Like Patton and The Longest Day, The Sand Pebbles arrives on Blu-ray with an impressive array of supplemental features. Unlike those aforementioned Fox war classics, however, all of this disc's special features are contained on the same Blu-ray disc as the movie itself. The main attraction is a commentary track featuring director Robert Wise and actors Candice Bergen, Richard Crenna, and Mako. Robert Wise begins by speaking of his projects and the difference between Hollywood at the time of The Sand Pebbles and now, and the track just gets better from there. The track is a mix-and-match, the participants seemingly recorded individually and edited together later. I enjoy this approach as there is never any talking over one another or worthless banter. Each participant offers a mesmerizing listen, Wise and Crenna proving the best of the bunch. The comments are straight-forward and fascinating, always important and focused on the scene on-screen, and Crenna notably adds a bit of humor to the track, throwing in some oftentimes hilarious anecdotes to the proceedings. There is never a dull moment in the three-hour runtime of the track, and it is a must-listen. This one ranks up near the top of finest commentary tracks I've had the privilege of listening to.
Next is the film's isolated score with commentary by music producer Nick Redman, film music historian Jon Burlingame, and screenwriter film historian Lem Dobbs. The track is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 channel. Comments by the participants are never spoken over the film's score. After the participants introduce themselves, we are privileged to hear a pre-recorded interview with the late Jerry Goldsmith, composer of The Sand Pebbles' legendary score. Music lovers and fans of Jerry Goldsmith will certainly get more out of this experience than the casual movie fan, but it's definitely fascinating to listen to this panel discuss an oftentimes overlooked aspect of the movie experience.
The Sand Pebbles Trivia Track runs over the length of the film and provides viewers with three hours worth of wonderful facts and trivia as they pertain to the movie. Next is Road Show Scenes. This is a series of thirteen deleted and extended scenes presented in 480p. The Making of the Sand Pebbles (480p, 1:03:41) is also listed with these scenes. This hour-long documentary goes into incredible detail about the making of the film from its origins and the budget crunch faced by the studio's lavish production of Cleopatra to the film's release and its impact on the stars. Side Bars is a series of three featurettes. Steve McQueen Remembered (480p, 10:45) looks at the career of star Steve McQueen through the eyes of his colleagues. Bob Wise in Command (480p, 10:38) is a retrospective of the legendary filmmaker. China 1926 (480p, 12:54) examines the history of China around the period during which the film takes place.
A feature entitled 1966 is next, and it is also broken up into three categories. A Ship Called San Pablo (480p, 14:28) is narrated by Richard Attenborough. This classic feature looks at the construction and role of the San Pablo, the Navy gunboat used in the film. The Secret of the San Pablo (480p, 8:52), narrated by Richard Crenna, looks further into the role the ship played, and most fascinating, that the ship built for the movie was put to use by Uncle Sam in Vietnam. The film's theatrical trailer is grouped with these features. It is presented in 480p and runs for 3:18. Next are two radio documentaries, Changsha Bund and The Streets of Taipei and A Ship Called San Pablo, both narrated by Richard Attenborough. Finally, three radio advertisements for the film conclude this impressive array of special features.
The Sand Pebbles Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The Sand Pebbles is not your traditional war film. In fact, there is very little shooting in the film, and moviegoers expecting three hours of guns and explosions will come out of the experience incredibly disappointed, although the prominent image of Steve McQueen wielding a rifle on the disc's cover could very well lead viewers to think the film is far more action-packed than it is. The film is rather a thinking man's epic, a film that follows one sailor's tumultuous tour of duty aboard a U.S. gunboat and his hand in shaping not only the destiny of the ship, but of an entire region of the world, its inhabitants, and their stance towards American presence on foreign soil. Fox has delivered another quality Blu-ray of a classic film from its vault, presenting Blu-ray fans with excellent picture and sound quality, not to mention a wealth of informative, interesting, and entertaining extras. If you're willing to try out a war movie that is an exciting yet deliberately paced film and one that relies on plot, tension, visuals, and music to tell a wartime story rather than nothing but bombs, bullets, blood, and guts, you won't be disappointed with The Sand Pebbles. Highly recommended!
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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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