Dark Blue World (2001)

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Released 25-Feb-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category War Audio Commentary-Jan Sverak (Director) and Eric Abraham (Producer)
Featurette-Making Of
Featurette-Making Of Visual Effects
Featurette-Aerial Symphony
Gallery-Photo-Montage
Theatrical Trailer
Teaser Trailer-Czech
Trailer-From Here To Eternity
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2001
Running Time 108:06
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (36:26) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Jan Sverák
Studio
Distributor

Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring Ondrej Vetchý
Krystof Hádek
Tara Fitzgerald
Charles Dance
Oldrich Kaiser
David Novotny
Linda Rybová
Jaromír Dulava
Lukás Kantor
Radim Fiala
Juraj Bernáth
Miroslav Táborský
Hans-Jörg Assmann
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $39.95 Music Ondrej Soukup


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Czech Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Dark Blue World tells the story of a group of Czech pilots during World War II who flee their occupied country and end up in England, where they add their numbers to the RAF during a period when pilots and their aircraft were all that stood between Hitler and London.

    With the story told in retrospect from a Communist prison, we're introduced to our two main characters in March 1939, just before Hitler marched into Czechoslovakia. Frantisek Sláma (Ondrej Vetchý) is a captain and flying instructor in the poorly-equipped Czech Air Force, and Karel Vojtisek (Krystof Hádek) is one of his most talented young students, and becomes a close friend. We get to see a very brief picture of their lives before the Germans come and change everything, and then they must leave and get out of their homeland before the borders are closed (none of the pilots were able to fly out due to the appalling weather conditions at the time).

    We then jump to England during the fateful Battle of Britain (skipping any fighting that these men may have taken part in over Poland or France), where the Czech pilots are subjected to formation exercises on pushbikes, whilst they learn the language and radio procedures. There is a growing frustration amongst the young men as they've come over to fight Germans, rather than sit in language classes and watch the war go by, but the need for pilots soon sees them getting their first taste of action.

    The realities of war hit home as some of their number are killed, but each flight survived provides more and more experience for the pilots as they begin to become an effective unit. On a mission with Karel one day, Frantisek (or Franta, as they call him) shoots down a German bomber, and loses track of his own wingman. He then sees his aircraft plummeting to the ground and assumes his friend is dead. However, Karel has parachuted to safety and spends the night at a house in the country which is owned by a woman named Susan (Tara Fitzgerald). With her husband lost at sea for over a year, and feeling a genuine sympathy for the young pilot, Susan succumbs to his advances that night, making Karel believe he is deeply in love.

    Upon returning to his squadron, Karel tells Franta about Susan and takes him to visit her. Susan falls for Franta, and tries to let Karel down gently, but things start to get a little complicated. All the while the war continues, and we see some of the pilots we have come to know being killed, young replacements coming into the squadron, and also their increased success in the air. Things of course eventually come to a head, and the friendship of the two pilots is tested to its limits.

    This of course is not a Hollywood film, and it shows from the first few minutes. Things are understated rather than overstated, and characters are normal, flawed, and most of all believable people. The acting seems very natural, but I'm not 100% sure if the foreign language helps this due to me not being so aware if lines are delivered poorly. The English actors also do a great job. Based on history, the story is engaging as well as being almost educational (I certainly wasn't aware of the way Czech pilots were treated when they returned from the war), and even the love story doesn't get too sentimental but is more just an illustration of how unusual relationships can be during wartime.

    This movie was shot on a small budget, yet still manages to provide some spectacular new aerial footage, as well as cleverly editing in some old dogfight footage taken from 1969's Battle of Britain outtakes. I'd love to have seen the director have as much money at his disposal as someone like Michael Bay, since I could have done with more flying scenes, but he has done an excellent job with what he had available, and as a pilot I can appreciate just how amazing some of the flying is.

    Pearl Harbor is mentioned a number of times on the case for this DVD, no doubt in order to try and get people to buy it (and it's true that the love triangle certainly sounds like a similar story), but don't let that put you off because the similarities end there. This film has been made by Czechs who wanted to honour the men who went and fought an enemy not because they had to, or because they thought they were heroes, but because they believed it was the right thing to do. These are ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, and as someone starting to get a bit older myself now, I really start to grasp just how young so many of the men were who fought and died to protect our way of life. What makes it so tragic for these men is that on their return home they were largely ignored, and when the communists came and occupied their homeland they were locked away as potential troublemakers.

    As a final note, historical and technical enthusiasts might pick out some inaccuracies in the aircraft (such as later model Spitfires, and Merlin-engined Me-109s, getting German bombers confused, and so forth), but I think it would be getting a bit too picky to let this spoil your enjoyment of such an excellently put together film - especially when you consider the small budget they had to work with.

    I'd highly recommend this film to anyone who's even remotely interested in flying, World War II, military history, or even just a good story about normal people being called upon to do drastic things. I found it to be a real breath of fresh air after some movies I've seen recently, as well as being a very moving story about a group of men who've not had the recognition they probably deserve.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The video quality of this transfer on the whole is a joy to watch, and when you take into account that they've inserted footage which is over 30 years old, almost seamlessly, then it makes it even better.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.40:1, which is very close to its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and is 16x9 enhanced.

    Sharpness is for the most part excellent throughout the film, but with occasional softer shots with mild grain in them (such as 38:26 and 84:18), which quite surprised me until I heard in the commentary that some of the flying scenes were taken from archive footage. I'd suspect that the shots in question are taken from the older film stock. However, it's a credit to the filmmakers that for the most part it's very hard to differentiate between the two, since the quality of the cleanup job is so good. Blacks are very solid, and shadow detail is also good (for example 43:17).

    Colours are spot on, with a mixture of dull winter colours, soft, rich interior colours, and bright, sunny exteriors. All skin tones are accurate and there's not a hint of bleeding.

    There are no signs of aliasing, but there is very occasional edge enhancement that becomes visible around the aircraft against the background of the sky, such as at 62:31 and 84:18. Since there is an absence of this dreaded halo in so much of the flying footage, I have a suspicion that when it does appear it could well be as a result of sharpening up old film stock, and may be inherent in the source rather than a result of the transfer itself. I didn't see any film artefacts.

    There are 2 subtitle streams; English and English for the Hearing Impaired. Due to the fact that most of the dialogue is in Czech, the English subtitles are on by default. Now I must admit that I found it annoying that there is no subtitle stream which gives English translation for the Czech lines only. Instead, we get the option of having subtitles for either all or none of the dialogue. As far as accuracy goes, the English is pretty close to spot on, so I can only assume the Czech translation is the same (having never taken much notice during Czech language classes at school).

    This is a dual layered DVD with the layer change taking place at 36:26 in a silent, dark moment just before a scene transition. It's very hard to spot.

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

Audio

    The audio transfer, like the film itself, is more understated than overstated (as opposed to so many Hollywood films of the same genre), but it is by no means bad. The track is still successful in drawing you into the movie.

    There are two audio tracks; English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448kbps), and English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224kbps). I listened to them both.

    Dialogue is clear and as easy to understand as you could expect from a foreign language film. The English actors are very clear in their speech, but the Czech pilots are sometimes harder to make out when they're speaking English. There are no problems with lip sync.

    The music by Ondrej Soukup is orchestral and very moving. There is a bit of music from the era thrown in as well, and all of it is very appropriate.

    The surrounds are used mainly during the flying/battle scenes, to good effect. Engines, gunfire, and bullet ricochets all emanate from the rear speakers at one time or another. During the dialogue-driven scenes, which is the bulk of the film, things do become a lot more front-heavy though.

    The subwoofer, like the surrounds, is put to good use during the action scenes, but is largely dormant throughout the rest of the movie. Engines and gunfire are the sounds that mainly benefit from the LFE channel.

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

Extras

Audio Commentary - Jan Sverák (Director) and Eric Abraham (Producer)

    A very interesting commentary despite a few silent moments, and some fairly stilted English from the Czech director. This is an essential listen if you enjoyed the movie. Both participants are pretty active in passing on the history of the time (there's a lot of this), the costs of doing certain scenes, how things were done, anecdotes on the actors, and picking up little errors in the film. I was surprised when they mentioned that none of the film was shot in England, but it was all done in the Czech Republic and South Africa.

    One other point that I found most interesting was that after Sverák's success with Kolya he supposedly became very popular with the studios, and yet he was still only given a comparatively minuscule budget, and it still took 5 years to get the film made (partly due to his difficulty in convincing the studios to let him do a Czech language film). It's a whole different world to the dominant Hollywood way of thinking, and I can only hope that these really talented men are one day given a free reign to produce whatever they want.

Featurette - The Making of Dark Blue World (33:13)

    Another most interesting extra, this featurette is a proper "making of", with lots of talk from the director and his father (who wrote the screenplay), and lots of footage of the movie being shot, including some great info on how to do things effectively and yet keep it cheap. This extra covers most of the film-making process from getting the project off the ground (no pun intended), to getting it all in the can. Especially interesting is the way they managed to create a very realistic looking crash landing.

    It's great to hear a director lamenting how he'd so love to have had the Spitfires do more fly-pasts, but at $10000 an hour he had to curb his excitement. It makes him into a person you can relate to, rather than some flabby rich guy from California who'd probably rather spend millions getting some fancy CGI shots in order to show off some new technology. At the risk of repeating myself a little too often, I really do respect the amount of great footage these guys created on a minimal budget.

    This extra is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound.

Featurette - Making of Visual Effects (6:44)

    Another interesting extra, which gives you a number of before and after shots both without effects, and then after effects have been added. There are certainly CGI effects in this film, but they are integrated so well into the real thing (or models) that it's very rare that you actually notice. For the most part it's proper subtle use of special effects.

    The video transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and there is no sound in this featurette, but it's not really needed, since by its very nature it's a visual experience.

Featurette - Aerial Symphony (2:22)

    A short segment of aerial footage, with some of the film's moving score playing in the background. Again presented in 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Photo Montage (9:29)

    A photo gallery with a slight difference; the images are displayed one after the other with music from the film playing, so there's no constant button pressing. You just sit back and watch. A mixture of production photos and shots from the film are shown, presented once again in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio.

Trailers

    A theatrical trailer (2:01), a 2:49 Czech teaser trailer (which is more like a mini EPK, with the director commenting throughout), and a trailer for From Here to Eternity (2:10). All are presented as non 16x9 enhanced transfers, but letterboxed to their varying aspect ratios.

R4 vs R1

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

    The two versions are practically identical from what I can tell based on US reviews of the DVD.

Summary

    An excellent and moving film about war and the ordinary people that have to fight in them. Despite bordering on the sentimental at times, this still comes highly recommended to anyone even remotely interested in the subject matter. The great visuals of one of history's most beautiful aircraft alone make it worth at least a rental.

    The video transfer is of a very high standard, and even manages to almost seamlessly integrate footage from much older film stock.

    Audio is not particularly aggressive, being more subtle than a typical Hollywood track, but is still more than adequate for such a film.

    The extras package may not be as plentiful as a lot of current DVDs, but this is more than made up for in quality. There's very little filler material here, and if the film interests you then the extras will be essential viewing.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© David L (Only my Mum would have any interest in my bio)
Friday, January 16, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDOmni 3600, using RGB output
DisplaySony 1252QM CRT Projector, 250cm custom built 16x9 matte screen. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS797- THX Select
SpeakersAccusound ES-55 Speaker set, Welling WS12 Subwoofer

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