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TGE BluRay - The Good, The Bad and The Questionable,
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This review is from: The Great Escape [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
I received my Blu Ray copy of this classic film today, May 6, one day before the actual release day of May 7. Thank you, amazon!
I'd also mention that I pre-ordered this BD with Amazon's price guarantee. I noticed that the BD was put on sale yesterday morning at amazon for only $9.99, which was less than the $14.99 I had paid on pre-order. I assumed I would get the lower price, but when my BD shipped last night, it was at the higher price. I dashed off an e-mail to amazon's customer service last night, and by this morning, I had a response AND a credit of $6.71 toward my Visa card to give me the lower price of $9.99! Thank you AGAIN, amazon! Now, THAT'S customer service!
Props to amazon duly noted, on to the review:
I've now watched the BD of the film twice, and I find myself largely in agreement with the review that is up at Bluray.com. The soundtrack sounds very good, especially for a 50-year-old film. The music comes through powerfully, especially the bass end, which is smooth, not boomy. Dialogue is crisp and clear, which makes for a nice listening experience.
That's the good.
The bad - unfortunately - has to do with the picture quality. The opening credit shot is really excellent, and it got my hopes up that Fox had done a good job of cleaning up the film and sharpening the picture. Things continue in fine fettle as we reach the prison camp, with the opening scenes at the camp looking sharp. The initial scene of Hilts and Ives (The Mole) in the cooler looks good as well - I had forgotten about their extended dialogue in this opening scene in the cooler (is this scene sometimes cut when shown on TV?).
As the film progresses, the picture quality varies, most often being not much better than that which was on the DVD. The worst scene picture-quality-wise has to be the exterior footage in the 4th of July scene, where the prisoners imbibe in some moonshine and the "Tom" tunnel is discovered by the German guard, Werner. The interior shots in this scene are much crisper than the exterior shots, no doubt because they were shot on the sound stage while the exteriors obviously were not. The exterior shots are almost blurry at some points, at least to the extent that a Blu Ray image can be blurry. Perhaps this is an accurate representation of what was shot by John Sturges, but I'm not convinced. I had really hoped for something a bit better.
I'm no expert, but it looks to me like DNR has been used in the BD mastering of this film. I say that because the faces just don't have the kind of detail and rawness that one sees in the best 4K and 6K restorations. The faces aren't as washed out and waxy as I've seen on some BDs, but the detail just isn't there.
The above noted, the picture throughout the movie is still steadier, crisper and clearer than it was in the VHS and DVD versions, at least the ones I've owned (I never owned the 2-DVD CE). Maybe this is the best we can hope for in this age of BDs being shoved out the door ASAP before the hardcopy industry collapses and online/streaming video takes over. I just expected higher and more consistent picture quality for this 50th-Anniversary, initial BD release of this very popular film.
And so, the questions arise: why wasn't a major restoration done on this film? Why was DNR employed when I thought we'd gotten beyond that? Will the Steelbook version due out in June be any better visually than this just-released Blu Ray? The answers to those three questions are, sadly, 1. major restorations are very expensive; 2. if you're not going to do a real restoration, DNR is a cheap substitute that won't bother most people, and; 3. the Steelbook version will probably include this same BD.
As far as the extras on this BD, they're the same extras that were on the DVD, all 8 of them. One wishes that Fox had put the extras on a separate DVD and used the entire 50GBs of the dual-layer BD to allow more information for the movie itself. But I guess they didn't have to do that as they used DNR in the mastering process and didn't really have extra data to eat up the storage space on the BD.
One final note about the menus: the BD boots up and immediately goes right into playing the film. I prefer that over the endless previews that are loaded onto many BDs and DVDs - who is going to watch those previews once a BD is a few years old? The menus for the "extras" are all accessed while the film is starting to play, which feels sorta cheap. If one wants to back out of an extra, you're sent back to the film to access any other extras. It gives me more appreciation for the sophisticated menus one gets on, say, Disney product. But then, there aren't many Disney products around that get discounted to under $10.
I can muster only three stars for the BluRay of this classic movie: 4.5 stars for the big improvement in the soundtrack, mitigated by the visual issues noted above.
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Showing 1-10 of 28 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 6, 2013 8:23:51 PM PDT
At Home Dad says:
Thanks for taking the time to post a proper Blu-ray review. :)
Posted on May 7, 2013 3:30:02 PM PDT
Sadly, I think the answer to your question "And so, the questions arise: why wasn't a major restoration done on this film?", is the perceive profitability. For a large portion of the potential audience, history and moviemaking began the year they were born. Don't know how much a full restoration would costs, but maybe research indicated that not that many people would be willing to pay, say, $29.95 for a proper restoration of an "old" movie. Conversely, research may have shown that not that many Less would buy a Blu Ray of this "old" a movie if it wasn't fully restored. So, they made a business case decision.
Sometimes they get it wrong. The classic example was "Patton" whose first Blu Ray incarnation suffered from excessive DNR. Sales were disappointing, and there were so mny howls of protest that they went back and did it right.
In reply to an earlier post on May 7, 2013 6:43:51 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 8, 2013 9:03:57 AM PDT
Yes, but they didn't bother fixing the sound on the 2012 Patton. Picture is much improved, but the sound track is still loaded with distortion and overloading. I know, as I own both the 2008 & 2012 BD versions of this film.
In reply to an earlier post on May 9, 2013 6:36:05 PM PDT
the scene spoken about during the fourth of july celebration looked the same way on tv, vhs, dvd and now according to you on blu ray..Guess what?Movie was filmed on location and that was real fog.Bloodspiller: Book One: Warriors of Palahia Series
Posted on May 9, 2013 7:19:46 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 9, 2013 7:22:53 PM PDT
P. Philips says:
Robert A. Harris, who restored Lawrence of Arabia (Restored Version) [Blu-ray] wrote at Home Theater Forum:
"The Great Escape is 172 minutes long, and I was troubled by a single shot that I might have tried to massage just a bit.
"Other than that, understanding the age of the elements, wear and tear, and obvious digital work performed, I'm thrilled with MGM's presentation. 'Grain' levels are acceptable, color looks correct, contrast and black levels, inclusive of those for dupes, are within a comfortable range for a 5250-based production...
"There are multiple ways of considering this Blu-ray. None are incorrect.
"Image - 4.5
"Audio - 5
So, let the buyer decide. Not as bad as it's made out to be.
In reply to an earlier post on May 9, 2013 8:11:42 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 10, 2013 1:39:57 AM PDT
Interesting that you cite RAH's review, because were you to read further than his FIRST post on TGE BD, you would read him expressing some of the same caveats I expressed in my review. He's just not as bothered by the caveats as I am.
Your citing of his review is also selective and does him a disservice: you omit his earlier sentence wherein he says that he ASSUMES this was a 5250 production. He doesn't know that it was. Ergo, his saying that "Grain levels are acceptable...etc" is based on a 5250 "IF" that he isn't sure of.
Do yourself a favor, go back to his site and read the entire thread on this movie. It's not as great as you're making it out to be. In fact, you'll find RAH saying that he's not even sure that those "grain levels" are something that was in the original print. He admits that the grain could well be a digital add on. In other words, he's in agreement with the review at Blu-ray.com, which says that the grain isn't grain at all, but digital noise.
In reply to an earlier post on May 10, 2013 5:05:38 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 10, 2013 5:22:47 PM PDT
P. Philips says:
"This is a terrific presentation of a classic film that beautifully stands the test of time, as presented by MGM on a beautifully crafted Blu-ray disc.
"Note: I was contacted after this posting by Mr. Koster, who feels that another appropriate quote would be 'Madness! Madness!' I concur, although his quote may tie in toward the use of that wonderful marketing term, 'restoration.'
"After digesting everything that I've seen, I come away with the overall thoughts, 'pretty,' and to use a golfing term, MGM-'handicap.' But whatever it is that's on screen, enlarged in projection, works in the overall, and no doubt represents a fine achievement for the studio, and the best that we are apt to ever see.
"There are multiple ways of considering this Blu-ray. None [is] incorrect."
"I'm quite certain that this was not an easy element to work with, and probably needed quite a bit of digital help, inclusive of clean-up. It has a light patina of grain, which may not be original, but is not either problematic or intrusive. I'm betting that the OCN on this was probably nicely worn, and an IP may have been used as a source, although their are few bits of evidence left for perusal after the clean-up.
"There are some situation in which a digital look, without going DNR, etc is the better alternative, especially if budgets may be tight. In the end, it's what's on the screen that matters, and the film has nothing that takes away from the experience."
"Because the 'grain' that I'm seeing may not be original, but the overall look of the image is not problematic. I have no idea what work was performed, but UA negatives were not always treated with the greatest care -- and by that I'm not referring to any current MGM employees, who are constantly trying to deal with old problems.
"What it does not look like is a new scan off the OCN at 4k, restored at 4k and down-rezzed to Blu-ray.
"Other than that, it looks very acceptable for the film stock, age and use.
"Still a very satisfying Blu-ray experience."
Mr. Harris gave it a thumbs up, under the circumstances.
You're entitled to your opinion, of course.
In reply to an earlier post on May 10, 2013 6:37:42 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 13, 2013 1:32:54 PM PDT
RAH is now speculating that there are TWO versions of the "Blu Ray" TGE floating around - one made from a 4K OCN restoration, and the one on the BluRay.
Sorry, but my eyes are telling me that RAH has totally missed the boat on this one. Let's see how quickly and how far he backpedals as more reviews come in. Most reviews I've seen of this BD are highly critical of the picture quality. RAH is actually the outlier here.
In reply to an earlier post on May 15, 2013 2:38:06 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 7, 2013 7:42:46 PM PDT
Highway Star says:
I'm with you. I love RAH, but the picture quality just looks lousy to me...no detail or sharpness in the picture, which is what I have been hoping forward to for so long. I expected at least what we got in the Mag 7 BD (from the same studio and the same director 3 years prior along with the same great star-McQueen), but we surely didn't get it here from UA. Very disappointing for such a fine and timeless war film. I would have been happy to spend $29.95 for a proper disc (preferably a double disc with more BTS like from my Criterion laser disc), instead of getting $5 bucks back for a weak BD example of a great movie.
In reply to an earlier post on May 15, 2013 2:58:25 PM PDT
When I watched the film the second time, it seemed that the picture quality takes a turn for the worse when we first see James Garner standing in his room by himself, right before he makes the acquaintance of his roommate, Colin (Donald Pleasance). That interior scene - which was obviously a sound stage shoot - is incredibly blurry and dark compared to everything that had preceded it up to that point! It's almost as if the people working on the BD issue said, "clean up the first 15 minutes, and everybody will just assume we fixed the entire film."