The Great Escape (MGM feature only disc) (1963)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 12-Feb-2004

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category War Main Menu Audio
Theatrical Trailer
Featurette-Making Of-Return To The Great Escape
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1963
Running Time 165:01 (Case: 172)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By John Sturges

Starring Steve McQueen
James Garner
Richard Attenborough
James Donald
Charles Bronson
Donald Pleasence
James Coburn
Hannes Messemer
David McCallum
Gordon Jackson
John Leyton
Angus Lennie
Nigel Stock
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $14.95 Music Elmer Bernstein

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
Not 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 Yes, during opening credits

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

Plot Synopsis

    The Great Escape is based on the incredible true story of the mass breakout from a prisoner-of-war camp in Sagan, Germany during World War 2. This camp, like countless others across Germany, housed prisoners from all the Allied nations in combat on the Continent, including English, Scottish, French, Polish and of course Americans.

    This story is based on the book by Paul Brickhill, an Australian who was a prisoner at this same camp, though he wasn't one of the eventual escapees. The Great Escape is not so much a war story as one of ingenuity, cunning and real determination to succeed against overwhelming odds. Especially when you consider that the prime motivation behind the prisoners' planned escape was not so much to get back to their respective countries, but to divert German military from the war effort. Of course, getting home, whether via neutral Switzerland or Free France or other routes was nevertheless their desire.

    Whilst the number who finally escaped the prison during this particular escape was far less than the planned 250, the escapees did tie up thousands of German military and police in the search, hence diverting them from combat or other duties during a crucial phase of the European war. In this way, the escape might have played a small part in the eventual defeat of Hitler's army. Perhaps of greater benefit was that the meticulous planning and the execution of this escape, and previous smaller escapes, helped build morale and maintain sanity and pride amongst the prisoners who were often interned for years.

    The Great Escape rates as one my all-time favourite films for its sheer entertainment through every minute of its 2 hour 45 minute duration. The film is a truly inspirational story that director John Sturges (Magnificent Seven) has delivered in a way that doesn't fail to entertain even for one minute of its runtime. I feel that the film is actually more compelling and entertaining than the slightly dry, journalistic feel of the original novel, although the latter of course fleshes out far more detail about the characters and the planning than was possible in the film. For example, some classic scenes in the film, such as the Steve McQueen motorcycle chase, and the stolen aircraft sequence with James Garner and Donald Pleasence, were apparently not based on fact, nor on Brickhill's book but were added in to the film for impact.

    Interestingly, in the real life event no Americans were actually amongst those who escaped, as they had all been separated from the other prisoners and transferred to other camps by then.

    This film has been released twice before in R4, both as a 'barebones' initial version in 2000 as well as a Special Edition, released in 2002. Whilst these earlier releases were from MGM via Fox Home Entertainment, this most recent release has been issued, as a budget price disc, directly by MGM under its new DVD distribution arm.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


    The video transfer for this release is in the letterboxed aspect ratio of 2.35:1, not 16x9 enhanced, not the 1.85:1, 16x9 transfer that is promised on the DVD cover. I'm happy about the 2.35:1 ratio, but why couldn't we have the 16x9 enhanced version used on the previous release?

    Overall it is a clean transfer, especially considering the age of the film, but is rife with aliasing.

    The transfer is sharp in the main, although some scenes, such as at 78:44 and 125:00 lapse into rather soft focus. This may have been the director's intent during the filming or may have been a problem with the condition of particular reels sourced for the transfer. I tend to feel that it's the latter.

    Shadow detail is rather good, once again especially bearing in mind the age of the film. Obviously good film stock was used, and the transfer to video was accomplished well, as the numerous scenes in shadow or darkness have come out quite well, for example at 139:00.

    There is very little grain visible at all throughout the film, with just a little at around 140:00.

    The colour was ever-so-slightly faded so the film does have that aged 'look', though I feel it actually adds to the atmosphere. The opening credits, in red, suffer from some oversaturation and colour bleed, making the smaller font titles occasionally difficult to read. The rest of the film doesn't suffer from these problems.

    Aliasing was really bad throughout the transfer. This would have to be one of the worst examples of aliasing I have ever seen on a DVD and is quite distracting in many scenes, such as at 4:32 when almost the whole screen shimmers!  Other examples of aliasing include the powerlines at 2:29, the radiator grilles at 2:48, and the wooden walls and roof tiles on the barracks. Basically anything that could 'alias' does.

    The print was remarkably free of positive or negative artefacts. Reel-change markings were visible, though not particularly annoying.

    There were 2 subtitle tracks available; English and English for the Hearing Impaired. They were presented in a clear font and were reasonably (though not 100%) accurate, and well timed with the on-screen action.

    This was a dual layered disc though I was unable to detect the layer change point.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There is only 1 audio track on this disk and that's in Dolby Digital 2.0, although it's actually just the original mono. The packaging incorrectly states that it is a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix.

    Dialogue is clear at all times and without any noticeable distortion even in the very loud moments of music or shouts.

    There is no issue with lip sync.

    The music, by Elmer Bernstein (The Magnificent Seven), is simply superb!  The wonderful title theme is probably universally recognised, but what is equally good is the almost intricate blending of music and onscreen action throughout the film, adding real emotion, whether humour, drama, tension or melancholy.

    Being a mono soundtrack, the surrounds speakers were given the day off.

    Depending on your amplifier's bass management setup, the subwoofer was used to support the music and some of the effects, including the grumble of the motorcycle engines up close.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    Not being a collector's edition, there are very few extras on this disc, although the ones that are present are quite valuable.

Theatrical Trailer

    The original US theatrical trailer, presented in 1.85:1 letterbox. It's not in the best condition, with plenty of film artefacts as well as faded colour.

Documentary - Return to the Great Escape - (runtime 24:08). Presented in 1.33:1 fullscreen.

    An excellent documentary that links the film with the original novel and contains interviews with some of the cast and crew. It also focuses on the actual making of the film, including some of the many behind-the-scenes difficulties, including the problems with Steve McQueen and the script. The documentary also includes some great location photos and footage.


    The main menu is animated with a sequence from the film and has the theme music playing in the background.

R4 vs R1

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

    This film has been released previously in R4 in two versions, a barebones one and a Special Edition. It appears that this current release is identical to the initial 'barebones' release in terms of video and audio, but includes the US trailer and deletes the booklet. The Special Edition, which sadly seems to no longer be available, is a far better proposition as it contains a 16x9 enhanced video transfer as well as a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack together with audio commentary, numerous featurettes and a photo gallery.

    The current R1 version appears to be the same as our current R4 version, i.e. with non-anamorphic video and mono audio.

    That being the case, one may as well opt for the R4 version, although the one to keep searching for is the previously released R4 Special Edition.


    An intelligently written and directed film which doesn't insert unnecessary scenes or over-explanatory dialogue, and allows the viewer to link plot elements themselves. This really makes the film fly along and involves the viewer to a great degree. It's not really a film just to have on in the background. The ensemble cast does a wonderful job, and for a change, the German soldiers are portrayed relatively realistically as humans with their own sensitivity and even weaknesses.

    The Great Escape is really is one of those films that has that quality that stands up to repeat viewing, especially in widescreen. The great cast, sharp storyline and directing, and the humour that manages to pervade an ultimately tragic tale, make this an unmissable film, not just for war movie buffs, but for anyone that appreciates a story depicting the strength and triumph of the human spirit.

    It's a shame that this classic film has been presented with a relatively poor video transfer. One can hope that MGM Australia will re-release the Special Edition soon.

    The audio, in its original mono, is quite acceptable, though it would be nice to hear the great music in a remixed surround soundtrack.

    The extras, whilst few in number, are nevertheless very good.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Satish Rajah (don't read my bio!)
Tuesday, April 20, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-344 Multi-Region, using Component output
DisplaySony KV-XA34M31 80cm. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationDenon AVR-2801
SpeakersMain: Mission 753; Centre: Mission m7c2; rear: Mission 77DS; Sub: JBL PB10

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
New Region 1 Release - REPLY POSTED
Ratio and deletion -
Has a great documentary - REPLY POSTED
What is MGM doing ?!! - Bran (my bio, or something very like it)