USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage (Blu-ray) (2016)

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Released 26-Jul-2017

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category War Drama Featurette-Making Of-The Making of USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2016
Running Time 130:13 (Case: 128)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Mario Van Peebles
Studio
Distributor
Hannibal Pictures
Universal Sony
Starring Nicolas Cage
Tom Sizemore
Thomas Jane
Matt Lanter
James Remar
Brian Presley
Yutaka Takeuchi
Johnny Wactor
Adam Scott Miller
Cody Walker
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI $24.95 Music Laurent Eyquem


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.40:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

     The real-life story of the USS Indianapolis, a warship that sank during World War II in shark-infested waters after a top-secret mission, is a no-brainer for a movie adaptation, particularly in the shadow of WWII movies like Fury and Hacksaw Ridge. It was actually given the telemovie treatment all the way back in 1991 with Mission of the Shark, but 2016’s USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage endeavours to tell the story with the aid of contemporary special effects. Alas, in the hands of director Mario Van Peebles, the end result is nothing but a direct-to-video cheapie which looks downright pathetic alongside other recent war movies. Men of Courage wants to be a profound historical document, but Peebles and his team lack the talent to tell this haunting true story with any real weight - instead, it feels closer to another Sharknado sequel.

     In 1945, the United States Government hopes to end the ongoing World War II with a powerful statement by creating an atomic bomb to be dropped on Hiroshima. Captain McVay (Nicolas Cage) is tasked with transporting certain classified materials into Japanese territory aboard his ship, the USS Indianapolis. After completing the mission, the Indianapolis is torpedoed by a Japanese submarine and rapidly sinks beneath the waves, stranding the surviving crewmembers in the middle of the ocean. With no rescue on the way on account of the mission’s top-secret status, the sailors are left to suffer from exposure, while ferocious sharks also prey on the terrified men.

     Written by Richard Rionda Del Castro and Cam Cannon, the screenplay hilariously simplifies history and eschews any sort of narrative sophistication, dutifully following the clichéd WWII playbook. Men of Courage opens with an action sequence intended to establish McVay’s competency in battle, before showing the plan for the Indianapolis’ mission being hatched in a dark room full of military and political figures. There’s also some obvious foreshadowing, with several seamen talking about sharks before the ship sinks. Worse, the flick tries to transcend its genre by introducing a love triangle, as two sailors have feelings for the beautiful Clara (Emily Tennant). It was visibly designed to add some humanity to the movie, but it’s difficult to care - the subplot only serves to murder the pacing and make the movie feel more like a meandering, overlong mess. The authority figures, of course, are painted in broad strokes of black and white, contrivedly turned into antagonists which feels truly unnecessary in the grand scheme of things. Most of the narrative tangents are unnecessary, really, only beefing up the runtime to an unreasonable 131 minutes.

     To Peebles’ credit, the first half of the movie is at least somewhat engaging, as the mission is carried out and there’s the looming threat of Japanese submarines. But once the ship inevitably sinks and the seamen are left stranded in the ocean, Men of Courage turns into a survival tale as the men try to survive the elements and the constant threat of sharks. This type of thing requires a deft hand, but Peebles and editor Robert A. Ferretti (Code of Honor, Give ‘em Hell Malone) were not the right men for this particular job - the second half is a chore to get through. Even more lacklustre is the courtroom drama that follows the men being rescued, which sees the picture outstay its welcome by a considerable margin. The movie’s intentions are honourable, especially with the Japanese perspective being offered, but Men of Courage simply cannot come to life in the hands of these filmmakers, and it’s impossible to develop any sort of emotional connection to either the story or the characters.

     The reported budget for Men of Courage is $40 million, which must be some kind of exaggeration to trick viewers into thinking the movie might be worth watching. Peebles leans heavily on shonky CGI, most of which honestly wouldn’t pass muster in a PlayStation 2 video game cut-scene. Hell, even the cannon muzzle flashes look absurdly fake - amateur YouTube filmmakers are capable of achieving more convincing-looking effects on a zero-dollar budget. It’s genuinely difficult to believe that the director or any of the producers viewed the “finished” digital effects shots and actually accepted them, rather than demanding better. The producers did pay for a practical PBY plane, but it sank and fell apart during filming, leaving them to resort back to cheap CGI. To the movie’s credit, the photography does look nice for the most part - Men of Courage was shot by cinematographer Andrzej Sekula (Pulp Fiction, American Psycho) - but it’s spoiled by the cut-rate, bargain-basement CGI. The sharks alternate between convincing and phoney - the animatronic sharks actually look quite good, but the digital sharks are glimpsed far too often, and they look terrible. Especially considering the budget, the shark attacks should not be this lacklustre or incompetent. The score, too, is incredibly intrusive and kitschy. $40 million is no small sum of money, but this is the best they could come up with?

     Acting from top to bottom is hammy at best. Cage is his usual campy self as McVay, ostensibly trolling his way through to another unfulfilling paycheque. It’s laughable when the movie tries to make itself appear deep and meaningful by adding voiceover narration, delivered by Cage in a dreary monotone voice. Tom Sizemore (Pearl Harbor) also appears in a supporting role as Petty Officer McWhorter, but he’s too overwrought to be taken seriously. And despite prominent billing in an attempt to sell the movie, both Thomas Jane and James Remar show up in glorified cameos, and look utterly disinterested. The sailors, meanwhile, are nondescript, and character names never stick. During scenes of the Indianapolis’ sinking, the extras appear to be trying way too hard in the absence of proper special effects. As Quint so eloquently informed us during his standout monologue in Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, eleven hundred men went into the water after the Indianapolis went down, but at any given time here, no more than thirty extras are seen in the water, and that’s a generous estimate. The running tally of how many hundreds of sailors are still alive each day is comical.

     Similar to other true-life dramas, USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage closes with photographs of the real men from the titular ship, and even provides interviews with some of the survivors. It should be a poignant footnote, but it only serves to show how ineffective the movie itself actually is. This should be a respectful, harrowing account of a story that’s crying out for the big-budget treatment, but instead it’s a ham-fisted attempt at a war epic that’s only worth watching as a curiosity. Honestly, though, if anybody is legitimately disappointed in this movie, it’s their own fault for expecting anything good in the first place. You’re better off just reading a book, or listening to Quint’s haunting monologue in Jaws once again. Also, am I the only reviewer who finds it amusing that an actor from the indefensible Jaws: The Revenge was given the directorial reigns for a movie about shark attacks?

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Transfer Quality

Video

     Coming from the good folks at Universal Sony, U.S.S. Indianapolis: Men of Courage arrives on Blu-ray with a mostly impressive AVC-encoded high definition presentation framed at 2.40:1 that's probably better than the movie itself actually deserves. Technical information on Men of Courage is hard to come by, but it carries the appearance of a digital production - most likely shot with Arri Alexa rigs, judging from behind-the-scenes footage and the general look of the movie - and this 1080p presentation was presumably created directly from the digital intermediate. As a result, it's a mostly pristine image, only suffering from source-related shortcomings, and when the transfer is at its strongest it's able to stand up with the best that the format has to offer.

     Like Lionsgate's Region A release, Universal Sony have thankfully made use of a dual-layered BD-50, though they didn't exactly max out the bitrate - the movie takes up a fairly modest 32GB of space. Still, this doesn't noticeably affect the presentation to any distracting degree. On the contrary, the movie looks consistently excellent, boasting incredible sharpness and revealing plenty of fine detail on everything within the frame. Admittedly, the period-specific costume design is impressive at least, and the 1080p presentation brings out every last intricacy. Close-ups of faces reveal every wrinkle and pore to be seen, which can occasionally be to the detriment of the make-up and prosthetics. As a matter of fact, due to how detailed the live-action footage looks, the shonky digital effects are all the more obvious. Contrast, meanwhile, is above-average for a 1080p Blu-ray, showing deep blacks, and colours are vivid, though the overall video does lack a true cinematic look.

     Video quality can vary from shot to shot, mind you. Presumably tracing back to the original photography, some shots look outright dismal; blurry and artefact-ridden, as if they were taken with a cheap action camera. (See some of the Japanese submarine interior shots.) And boy, do said shots look awfully inadequate compared to the rest of the presentation. A bit of archival footage is shown, too, which of course looks rough and grainy. Meanwhile, visual effects shots are overly smooth and soft, lacking in fine detail. And in an attempt to make some of the CG shots look more convincing, there is a bit of distracting fake grain which only serves to make it look more like a video game. In addition, I detected some noticeable banding in underwater shots, which is about the only encoding anomaly throughout the presentation - it's otherwise free of aliasing and macroblocking, source-related issues aside. I didn't come to U.S.S. Indianapolis: Men of Courage expecting a reference-quality transfer, but it comes pretty close. Especially considering the source, it's hard to imagine the movie looking much better in 1080p (and it really isn't deserving of a 4K Ultra HD release).

     English subtitles are available. I had no issues reading them.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     U.S.S. Indianapolis: Men of Courage comes with only one audio option: a lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 sound mix. To the credit of the filmmakers, the track is professionally-mixed, boasting strong dynamics and subwoofer activity. The cannons on the Indianapolis look fake as s*** when they're fired, but the sound effects do their job well nevertheless. The explosions, too, made my walls rumble, and the sinking of the ship never lost my attention. When the sailors are stranded out in open water, surround channels are put to good use, with sounds of the ocean filling all speakers. The score comes through with ideal clarity, even if it's too intrusive and cheesy for its own good. And in amid the soundscape, the dialogue (mostly coming through the front channels) is cleanly presented and usually easy to hear.

     The only shortcomings of the track are source related. Compared to a Dolby Atmos track, it lacks the precise panning of planes flying from one side to the other, or bullets whipping all around. Furthermore, it lacks precise placement when conversations are taking place. Some of the sound effects - particularly involving planes - are on the weak side, too. But this is just nitpicking; it appears that this 5.1 mix is an accurate replication of the source. Free of any encoding issues, it's a good mix that doesn't quite get over the line to become great.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

     Perhaps mercifully, there is only one special feature.

The Making of USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage (HD; 33:11)

     Here we have a surprisingly lengthy documentary about the production, filled with revealing behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with many of the cast and crew, including more minor players. Topics include the shoot, the visual effects, the score, and involving both the survivors and their families in the production process. Plus, you'll hear the story behind the practical plane that was destroyed. Seeing the animatronic sharks on-set is also interesting. The effort is appreciated, but the featurette is undeniably amateurish, and it's amusing to listen to the visual effects guys talk about making their work look "realistic."

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Compared to the Region A Lionsgate release, the local disc only misses out on Spanish subtitles. It's a draw, unless Spanish subtitles mean a great deal to you.

Summary

     There really isn't much to recommend about U.S.S. Indianapolis: Men of Courage, which amounts to a DTV cheapie as opposed to something more profound or memorable. There is some unintentional comedy, but as a serious movie it utterly fails.

     Universal Sony's Blu-ray release is better than average, with an impressive technical presentation and a good quality making-of documentary. If there are fans of the movie, the disc has enough merits for a purchase, but it's an easy pass for the rest of us. Rent it.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Callum Knox (I studied biology)
Thursday, August 31, 2017
Review Equipment
DVDSamsung UBD-K8500 4K HDR Blu-Ray Player, using HDMI output
DisplayLG OLED65E6T. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 2160p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationSamsung Series 7 HT-J7750W
SpeakersSamsung Tall Boy speakers, 7.1 set-up

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