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The Wild Geese(1978)
A group of aged mercenaries are hired by a British millionaire to rescue an African President being held by a vicious Central African dictator. Even though the mission succeeds, the mercenaries are betrayed by the millionaire who's financing the operation as he cares only about his own business interests, and are forced to fight the dictator's troops in order to survive and escape.
For more about The Wild Geese and the The Wild Geese Blu-ray release, see the The Wild Geese Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on December 7, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Roger Moore, Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Hardy Kruger, Stewart Granger, John Kani
Director: Andrew V. McLaglen
» See full cast & crew
The Wild Geese Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, December 7, 2012
Severin Films is promoting its Blu-ray release of The Wild Geese with a pull quote that lauds the film as a sort of forerunner to The Expendables, and while that may be true in a certain way (more about that later), in one very salient way it's completely wrong. The Expendables was obviously fashioned by Sylvester Stallone to give him and other aging action stars a vehicle to flaunt their now middle aged (or maybe even older) wares, typically with a self effacing wink and a nod. The Wild Geese on the other hand features some aging stars one would hardly associate with action films, heavyweight dramatic actors like Richard Burton and Richard Harris, along with a mid-series James Bond Roger Moore. While Harris and Moore at least flirted with action films (or at least athleticism) in some of their cinematic outings, only Moore might reasonably be called an action star, and even then his offerings were more often than not tongue in cheek, whether that be his Saint days on television or his James Bond entries, which were among the long running franchise's most decidedly whimsical. Harris was obviously a rough and tumble actor, as evidenced by his star marking turn in This Sporting Life, but he almost always indicated a simmering intellectualism that was at least as fierce as anything his fists could accomplish. Burton, of course, was one of his generation's greatest actors, a legendary Hamlet and a film star of rather daunting magnitude, even if by the time The Wild Geese was filmed, one starting to show signs of an incipient dissolution. When Burton did deign to work in an action film, like 1968's Where Eagles Dare, the results were usually decidedly mixed and the star never really seemed at home in the idiom.
If we're to accept the highly debatable tether linking The Wild Geese to The Expendables, that would make Richard Burton the Sylvester Stallone of the earlier film. And indeed, in one of the most obvious ways the two films are linked, we have a group of mercenaries who undertake a sort of Mission: Impossible to free a deposed African President named Limbani (Winston Ntshona) who has been taken captive (partly due to some mistakes Burton's character has made in the past) and is scheduled to be executed. An imperious British merchant banker named Matherson (Stewart Granger, yet another matinee idol of yore) hires Colonel Allen Faulkner (Richard Burton) to spring the African leader from his jail cell and get him to safety (the merchant banker has his own mercenary reasons for wanting this to happen).
Faulkner recruits a bunch of vagabond military personnel with whom he's either had prior personal affiliation or at least whose reputations have preceded them, so to speak. He quickly coaxes Rafer Janders (Richard Harris) out of semi- retirement, despite the fact that Rafer is now happily ensconced with his young son and wants nothing more than to holiday with the boy in Switzerland. Faulkner also tracks down the kind of suavely vicious Sean Flynn (Roger Moore), a man we've just seen take care of some London mob drug runners by forcing them to eat their own tainted heroin. Also coming on board is a destitute Afrikaaner named Coetzee (Hardy Krueger), whose relationship with Limbani provides The Wild Geese with some surprisingly prescient social commentary, especially since the film evidently encountered some opposition during its filming in South Africa, a situation which some thought provided unwitting support to the Apartheid ruling class by bringing a huge influx of money to the embattled nation.
If the first Expendables dabbled in a bit of psychobabble and kind of pretentious introspection, the sequel (which I reviewed here) largely eschewed that approach, making no bones about the fact that it was offering nothing more than a bunch of guys smashing through things with assault rifles and tanks, and, miracle of miracles, actually delivering a more solid entertainment as a result of that decision. The Wild Geese has decidedly more gravitas at hand than either of the Expendables outings, another potent difference between the two. While director Andrew V. McLaglen stages some terrifically exciting action scenes, this is just as much a character piece, built out of little bits and pieces between Faulkner and his ragtag group, and as such, the choice of actors rather than personalities bears considerable fruit, delivering some solid drama along with the expected gunfire and explosions.
The film isn't entirely successful, however, and some may feel that the kind of unseemly opening gambit between Coetzee and Limbani is exploitative at the very least and downright objectionable at the very worst. It's compounded by the sort of false bonding (after initial distrust) that often populates movies, but which is handled here with a certain hamhandedness that upsets this otherwise basically well written (by Reginald Rose) film. Burton has a couple of extremely effective moments when things go horribly awry, and, much later, when he exacts revenge against another character. It may not have been Hamlet, and may indeed have been little more than a paycheck for the aging actor, but it provides a certain window into the craft that an immaculate professional can bring even to less than perfect material.
The Wild Geese Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Wild Geese is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Severin Films with an MPEG-2 encoded 1080p transfer in 1.85:1. Much like many of the catalog releases we've seen from Olive Films, this transfer does not seem to have undergone any substantial digital tweaking, and so the high definition presentation boasts a natural and filmic appearance. While the elements are in very good shape overall, the bulk of the film looks fairly soft, aside from some close-ups, where things snap into sharp focus and provide abundant fine detail. A couple of night sequences tip precariously close to digital noise territory, but the bulk of this presentation is enjoyably clear and precise.
The Wild Geese Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Considering the MPEG-2 codec used on this transfer, and the fact that there is only a lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track on this Blu-ray, it may well be that Severin is testing the high definition market, not yet willing to embrace newer codecs or lossless audio. What's offered here is certainly acceptable enough, though one has to wonder what lossless audio could have added to the action elements of the film. Joan Armatrading's theme music sounds a little wobbly at times, but the rather odd choice of an Alexander Borodin theme that many are going to associate with "And This is My Beloved" from Kismet (which seems kind of odd for a "buddy" movie) sounds nicely full in its many uses throughout the film. Dialogue is cleanly and clearly presented and dynamic range is relatively wide within its lossy confines.
The Wild Geese Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Wild Geese Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The Wild Geese is an odd duck of a film, half actioner, half portentous drama. Burton, Harris and Moore do surprisingly well in this outing, but the film kind of lurches in fits and starts and it has a couple of unfortunate elements, including some racial ones, that keep it from really totally connecting with the audience. Andrew V. McLaglen stages things effectively (though his relentless use of zooms may bother some), and the film is brisk despite running well over two hours. This Blu-ray offers generally good (if somewhat soft) looking video and acceptable audio, but the supplementary package is outstanding. Recommended.
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The Wild Geese Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Severin Signs New Distribution Deal, Announces New Titles - November 14, 2012
Independent label Severin Films announced today that it has secured a new distribution deal with CAV Distributing Corporation. Severin Films also revealed that they are planning to bring to Blu-ray The Hairdresser's Husband and Felicity, as well as a 10th Anniversary ...
• The Wild Geese Blu-ray (Updated) - October 24, 2012
Severin Films have announced that they are preparing a Blu-ray/DVD combo release of Andrew V. McLaglen's The Wild Geese (1978), starring Richard Burton, Roger Moore and Richard Harris. The exact technical specs, special features, region coding status and street ...
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