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Overlord (The Criterion Collection)

3.9 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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(Apr 17, 2007)
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The Criterion Collection
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

A young British soldier and his mind are followed from his induction to his D-Day fate.

To borrow a phrase from Film Comment editor-at-large Kent Jones, "unjustly forgotten and now happily resurrected" is the best way to describe Criterion's superb DVD release of Stuart Cooper's Overlord. Relatively unseen since its European theatrical release in 1975, this moody, well-crafted meditation on one soldier's preparation for battle employs a remarkably seamless combination of fictional narrative and amazing World War II footage from the archives of England's Imperial War Museum. While this "reel + real" technique is relatively common, director Stuart Cooper (an American filmmaker working in England) applied meticulous archival research to ensure that the documentary footage was logically and authentically integrated with his fictional narrative (cowritten with Christopher Hudson) to lend convincing verisimilitude to his simple, straightforward story of a young British soldier's anxious days prior to joining the front line in the D-Day Invasion of Nazi-occupied France (a.k.a. "Operation Overlord"--June 6, 1944). Haunted by a premonition of his own death, Tom (Brian Stirner) goes about his pre-battle business as any soldier would (including a touchingly sweet romance with an equally shy British girl, played by Julie Neesam), and as Overlord progresses, we see how the individual soldier is gradually absorbed into the massive machinery of warfare. Brilliantly filmed in black and white by Stanley Kubrick's frequent cinematographer John Alcott, Overlord succeeds as a thought-provoking study of war from intimate to epic scales, in addition to being an impressive technical achievement that's stylistically connected to the experimental narratives of the 1970s, yet still firmly rooted in the nobility of British war films from the 1940s. --Jeff Shannon

On the DVD
As always, the Criterion Collection did extensive research to provide Overlord with a wealth of informative supplements. Director Stuart Cooper and actor Brian Stirner share the DVD's feature-length commentary, and Overlord's historical context is thoroughly explored, beginning with "Mining the Archive," in which the Imperial War Museum archivists provide background history on the archival footage that director Stuart Cooper so carefully integrated into his narrative. "Capa Influences Cooper" is a photo essay in which Cooper explores the influence of legendary war photographer Rober Capa on the visual and emotional content of Overlord, and this emphasis is further supported by "Cameramen at War," a newsreel tribute to wartime photographers and newsreel cameramen, featuring some of the Imperial War Museum's most spectacular footage from World War II. "Germany Calling" is an amusing example of archival propaganda (produced in 1941 by the British Ministry of Information and briefly excerpted in Overlord) which ridicules Hitler's Nazi regime by synchronizing Nazi rally footage so a silly British melody. "A Test of Violence" is Stuart Cooper's 1969 short tribute to the bleak, war-themed paintings of Spanish artist Juan Genovés; it was this film that led Cooper to create Overlord. Also included is Stirner's dramatic reading of journals by two Scottish D-Day soldiers whose experiences parallel those of Stirner's character in Overlord; the film's original theatrical trailer; and a 30-page booklet with an Overlord essay by Kent Jones, a short history of the Imperial War Museum, and excerpts from the Overlord novelization by Cooper and cowriter Christopher Hudson. --Jeff Shannon

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Brian Stirner, Davyd Harries, Nicholas Ball, Julie Neesam, Sam Sewell
  • Directors: Stuart Cooper
  • Writers: Stuart Cooper, Christopher Hudson
  • Producers: James Quinn
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Black & White, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Criterion
  • DVD Release Date: April 17, 2007
  • Run Time: 83 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #125,810 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Overlord (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD
One young British soldier, who celebrates his 20th birthday while training for the impending D-Day invasion, writes a letter to his parents and tells them that as time passes, he feels like a smaller and smaller part of a bigger and bigger machine.

Being a small component of a massive device is the central idea behind Stuart Cooper's "Overlord," an odd, hazy, child's-fever-dream of a movie that uses staged black-and-white scenes interspersed with actual archival footage from World War II.

We follow Tom (Brian Stirner) through a drab, dispiriting round of basic training; his experiences are interspersed with separate scenes of battle, of invasion and aftermath to illustrate events going on "meanwhile" all around him, events leading up to Normandy.

The movie is a truly unique visual experience. John Alcott shot the storyline scenes (just before he began work on "Barry Lyndon") and the movie has a look not unlike "The Elephant Man," or its thematic brother, "Johnny Got His Gun."

Though the incorporation of actual footage is very smooth, I never had any trouble distinguishing what came from the 40s and what was shot in the 70s. That didn't ruin the experience for me: Look at the hauntingly beautiful scenes involving bombers flying above the cloudline at night, or a harrowing training sequence in which a rowboat ditches its passengers onto rocks (Cooper reveals in his commentary that one or two men actually died during the exercise).

With its short, spare narrative and its stark conclusion, "Overlord" almost feels like a short story of a movie, but that doesn't downplay its impact or importance. This is a little-known movie worth reviving and it gets a fine Criterion presentation here. The commentary with Copper and Sterner is particularly good; it's worth listening to to hear how they did it even if you don't particularly connect with the film.
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Format: DVD
This incredible film is a dreamlike recreation that mixes real vintage footage with original film as it follows an ordinary young British bloke from his military induction to D Day.

Wonderfully evocative on every level. The photography is extraordinary. Powerful images shimmer next to the sublime. The very human dilemma of how to make sense of life and war has never been told better. A great film.
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Format: DVD
As with any film that Criterion chooses to put out, "Overlord" is well worth watching. If you're coming to this film as I did, however, not knowing anything about it, you may be surprised to find that this is NOT a retelling of D-Day in the style of "The Longest Day" or "Saving Private Ryan." Other than a few shots of air raids from the archives, there is no combat whatsoever depicted in this film, and it ends just as the Allies are first hitting the beaches on that day. I think it was a bit misleading to entitle the film "Overlord" and then have "D-Day, June 6, 1944" emblazoned across the cover, since nearly all of the film takes place BEFORE D-Day. Overlord (the Allies' code-name for the invasion) here seems to be used in a more metaphorical sense, since the only overlord in this film would seem to be war itself, an overarching unseen presence which first deprives men of their individuality and freedom, and then destroys them physically. As others have written, this film consists of two elements: archive footage from the Imperial War Museum, and the story of a young British Everyman who is called up and undergoes training in preparation for D-Day. The archive film is quite impressive; I've spent many hours watching WWII film and a lot of this material, which is quite interesting, was new to me. Other than some air raid film, however, most of it depicts the massive preparations that had to be carried out in order to prepare for the invasion. As for the new parts of the film, they are visually quite interesting, particularly since it was filmed by John Alcott, a veteran of four of Kubrick's greatest films. It looks distinctive and yet meshes well with the archive a few instances, it's hard to tell which is which.Read more ›
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Format: DVD
"Operation Overlord", the code-name used for the Allied invasion of France in June 1944, commanded by General Dwight Eisenhower. A code-name in which Americans, Canadians, British and French soldiers joined together to fight against the resistance and to overtake the Germans in Normandy. Over 150,000 men were planned for a mass landing and the Allied Forces would end up as the victors in the second World War.

Fast forward to the '70s and a new war taking place in Vietnam, needless to say that people were growing sick of the war and while previous war films were successful as propaganda films, in 1975, a film directed by Stuart Cooper would feature a young soldier named Tom Beddows who was called up to join the military and fight in the war but would have images of him being killed in battle.

Unlike any war film seen ever in cinema at that time, Cooper who was to work on a documentary about soldier embroidery did a lot of research and in the process was able to find archived footage kept at the Imperial War Museum and instead, wanted to male a film about a young soldier's journey and outlook on life as a young man who is called up to join the military, his life in boot camp and his life and thoughts as he and his fellow soldiers are being whisked to the beaches to fight in the war. But what made "Overlord" so much different from war films is that it effectively combined archived newsreel and fictional war footage captured by various sources and successfully creating a war film in 1975. But also, the main character was influenced by the letters of several D-day soldiers.
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