Battle of Britain: Special Edition/Gold Edition (1969)

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Released 17-Aug-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category War Main Menu Introduction
Menu Animation & Audio
Alternate Audio-Feature With William Walton Score
Audio Commentary-Filmmakers
Featurette-Battle For The Battle Of Britain
Featurette-Authenticity In The Air
Featurette-Making Of-A Film For The Few
Featurette-Recollections Of An R.A.F. Squadron Leader
Gallery-Photo-Images From The Sky
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1969
Running Time 126:55
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (58:46)
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Guy Hamilton
Studio
Distributor

MGM
Starring Michael Caine
Trevor Howard
Curt Jurgens
Kenneth More
Laurence Olivier
Christopher Plummer
Michael Redgrave
Ralph Richardson
Susannah York
Case ?
RPI $29.95 Music Ron Goodwin
Malcolm Arnold


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English dts 5.1 (768Kb/s)
English Alternate Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
English Alternate Audio dts 5.1 (768Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
English Audio Commentary
English Titling
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    Battle of Britain is the dramatised retelling of a battle that took place in the skies over Kent, in the summer of 1940. It was the last stand against the might of Hitler, who had swept all before him in Europe, and was now on the doorstep of Britain; preparing to invade her in order to remove all resistance. Ultimate victory in the whole of Europe was within Germany's grasp, and who knows how history may have been changed had a successful invasion of the British Isles taken place. However before he could guarantee success, Hitler wanted the skies to be rid of the RAF; something that Goering promised him would take mere days.

    This left the pitifully small group of RAF fighter pilots and their aircraft as the only thing standing in the way of the German war machine, and outnumbered 4 to 1 there seemed little hope of success. These "few" pilots (consisting of Eastern European pilots who'd escaped to England, and volunteers from around the Empire, as well as the British airmen) made history that summer by giving Hitler his first defeat, and giving hope to the free world (at no small cost to themselves). One of the reasons this film was made was in order to honour them, and make sure the world did not forget.

    This movie starts with the Battle of France coming to its end at Dunkirk, before covering the few sweltering months of that famous English summer. Dramatic and tense historical incidents do not necessarily guarantee a great film though (Pearl Harbor anyone?), so how does this one hold up? Before answering that, I should add that as a pilot who has long been fascinated by military aviation, I come to this production with a slightly biased outlook. Now having said that, I can honestly say that I believe this is one of the most amazing war movies ever produced. Well written, well acted, superbly shot, amazingly produced (the job of getting together a Luftwaffe and an RAF was enormous!), and with the most incredible aerial dogfight footage ever put to film, this movie is an absolute treat to watch, even after multiple viewings.

    Despite being a dramatised version of events, the film does stick very closely to the facts, and doesn't overplay anything. As well as honouring the brave pilots, it also points out the sequences of events and bad decisions that contributed to the German defeat. It also manages to show us the horrors of the war without taking away from the glory of some of the people who fought in it. Great acting by a whole host of household names from the time (Michael Caine, Kenneth More, Laurence Olivier, Robert Shaw, Susannah York, and Trevor Howard, to name but a few), is largely responsible for the success of this film, but the real stars are the pilots and the aerial unit who captured them in action.

    Scraping together aircraft from museums and enthusiasts all over the world, as well as loaning Me109s and He111s from the Spanish air force, the filmmakers managed to capture very believable aerial action. Using an airborne camera crew, working inside a B-25 Mitchell bomber, we get to see Spitfires, Hurricanes, Me109s, and Heinkels blasting all over the sky in all manner of dog fighting. When you discover they filmed different bits of all the fights in different parts of Europe, and with different numbers of aircraft (sometimes only one British fighter), then seamlessly joined it all together, it makes it an even more amazing feat. Sure the special effects aren't up to today's standards, with some of the aircraft explosions looking very fake (and a humorous muck-up with some squibs and an explosion going off at totally the wrong time during the opening scenes), but it doesn't really detract from the action.

    The film also manages to fit a broad coverage of different aspects to the story, within its 2 hour runtime. We don't just see the pilots, but also the incredible Fighter control system that was in place (including the vital radar operators and observers), the people in power making the decisions, the people of London, the foreign squadrons, and even the German point of view. Although the few pilots were the ones at the sharp end of the battle, this was certainly a national effort.

    Having said all that, it's not a perfect film. Due to the lack of available Hurricanes, you sometimes get the impression that the Spitfire bore the brunt of the battle, when in fact it was Hurricanes that made up the majority of the RAF at the time. Also I am always amazed that the production crew went to so much trouble to provide a genuine authenticity to the film, only to give actors 1960's haircuts! There's even a very 1960's door frame and doorbell in one shot at 92:28!

    These issues aside though, I don't think there's a better depiction of actual World War II aerial combat. I love this movie. Watch it with your kids to give them a bit of a history lesson, watch it to honour the men who fought, or simply watch it to enjoy a great film with incredible flying action.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    In many ways this is a very impressive video transfer, but unfortunately it has its problems (or one in particular). I guess the good news is that it's still better than you've ever seen this movie since it was released in cinemas.

    This transfer is presented in as aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. This is the original theatrical aspect ratio, and having only seen the film before on video and TV, I can't believe I was ever satisfied with the horrible Pan and Scan versions. This film needs to be seen in all its widescreen glory.

    Sharpness levels are good, and considering the age of the source, the amount of fine detail visible is quite high. There is some grain present, especially in the aerial scenes, but it's kept to a very low level, and doesn't really affect sharpness. Black levels are nice and solid, and shadow detail is more than acceptable.

    Colours are a joy to behold, with the deep greens of northern Europe, as well as the blues and whites of the skies overhead, being solid and vibrant. There are no signs of bleeding or low level noise, and this Technicolor production is displayed in all its glory.

    Considering there is a 2 hour movie with four 5.1 audio tracks packed onto this disc, they've done a great job in keeping MPEG artefacts absent. Aliasing is also practically non-existent, but unfortunately the same can't be said of all film to video artefacts. The big problem this transfer displays is the wicked edge enhancement that has been applied to the video. I watched this multiple times on a front projected 2.5m screen, and found the edge enhancement almost painful, but even on a 76cm widescreen TV it is still very obvious. Therefore if you're someone who finds this artefact distressing, you'll be rather annoyed at the transfer on this disc. Some of the more obvious examples include 0:59, 34:16, 61:54, and 83:17. Film artefacts are present (with an example of a nasty one at 115:50, and some dirty frames at 99:52), but they've been kept to a minimum, showing that the source has obviously been well cleaned.

    There are two subtitle streams on this DVD; English for the hearing impaired, and English Commentary. I sampled both streams and found them to be easy to read, and pretty accurate, if not 100% true to the spoken word. Note that subtitles also appear for all non-English languages used in the movie, with the exception of a German joke which for some reason has no subtitles present.

    The layer change takes place at 58:46. It is very well placed and almost imperceptible.

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

Audio

    There are 5 soundtracks on this DVD; English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s), English dts 5.1 (768Kb/s), English Alternate Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s), English Alternate Audio dts 5.1 (768Kb/s), English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s). The two alternate audio tracks have a different musical score by William Walton. I listened to the first three 5.1 tracks as well as the stereo commentary track.

    Dialogue is clear and easy to hear at all times, except during some of the aerial battle scenes when pilots have their voices muffled by masks, or over the radio. Lip sync (when you can see them) is spot on.

    The two musical scores are both very rousing and appropriate for the style of film. They are orchestral and grand in nature, conveying mood very accurately. The alternative William Walton score I found to be more low-key and subtle than the dramatic Ron Goodwin score, but both are excellent to listen to. William Walton's aerial ballet music used for the climactic sequence in both versions, when combined with the onscreen visuals, provides an unforgettable experience.

    When I first started playing the main feature I thought I was in for a real treat with these 5.1 mixes. It turned out to not be quite as dynamic as the opening scenes might suggest, but nevertheless both the surrounds and subwoofer were put to good use. The surrounds were used for music, engines, cannon/machine guns, explosions, and so on. The subwoofer similarly for engines, gunfire, and bass in the music. To hear the roar of a Merlin engine surrounding you and rumbling through your subwoofer is about as good as it gets without actually standing next to one.

    After comparing the dts tracks and the Dolby Digital 5.1, I really couldn't pick any major difference between them. At times I thought the dts track had better separation of channels and seemed a little more crisp and immersive, but the higher bitrate may have been responsible for this.

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

Extras

    Extras are extensive and informative, making this an excellent package for fans of the film.

Disc 1

Menu

    All menus are 16x9 enhanced and contain rather cool animations of aircraft ducking and weaving in and out of cloud. Unfortunately the transitions are also animated and can't be skipped. Music from the film's score plays in the background as well.

Feature With Alternate William Walton Score

    You can play the movie with the theatrical score by Ron Goodwin, or this alternative William Walton version. I think this is well worth a listen, as it's a top quality score. Note that it's available in both dts and Dolby Digital, depending on which option you have selected in the audio section (this isn't made overly clear).

    The Walton score only has about 30 minutes of music throughout the film (the reason that Ron Goodwin had to write the final score for theatrical release), but often I find it hits the beats and moods even better than the final excellent score.

    Something of note when watching the movie with its alternate score is that the dialogue is not as clear. It sounds more distant, and whether it's a volume issue, or a problem in the mixing I don't know, but if you switch between them you can hear a definite difference in the clarity of dialogue.

Audio Commentary - Guy Hamilton, Bernard Williams, Paul Annett, and Garth Thomas

    This is an interesting commentary, and well worth a listen, however it isn't perfect. The participants include lots of interesting stories and technical details, as well as anecdotes (Michael Caine couldn't even drive when he shot this movie, but he didn't tell anyone). Unfortunately though, there is a lot of repeated information from the other special features, and even some repeated information in the commentary itself (the participants aren't all recorded together).

    Co-director Paul Annett doesn't say a word until 26 minutes into the commentary, and there are multiple pauses and gaps throughout. Also the participants get their aircraft very confused at times, the worst example being a 3-engined Ju 52 being called a Stuka!

    Complaints aside though, this is a commentary that should still be listened to, but maybe only once.

Disc 2

Featurette - Battle For The Battle Of Britain (50:24)

    This was a made-for-TV featurette, produced in the 1960s. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. The quality isn't great, due to its age, but it's a very interesting documentary, hosted/narrated by Michael Caine. One of the highlights at the start has people outside the US embassy in London being asked what they knew about the Battle of Britain, and the answers are unbelievable when you consider that the events took place in the lifetimes of most of those being asked. It makes you wonder what people today would know about it!

    It's quite an extensive documentary covering the making of the film, including the collection of all the aircraft (real and otherwise) which produced the world's 35th largest airforce at the time of shooting, the ex-airforce pilots involved in advising on authenticity, the desire to prevent the film from being overdramatic, visits to the set by a very aged Dowding (including a funny retort to a comment by Lawrence Olivier), and much more.

    Don't be put off by the dated quality of this extra, or the frequent use of footage from the movie. It's far more than today's promotional fluff, and an excellent piece of viewing.

Featurette - Authenticity In The Air (22:36)

    Made in 2004 for these DVDs, this extra is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Another very interesting featurette consisting largely of a set of interviews with Bernard Williams (production manager of the aerial unit), and Garth Thomas (assistant director of the aerial unit).

    These men outline how the superb aerial footage was captured, and the trials of trying to keep within the budget, get decent weather for filming, get close enough for shots whilst in the air, co-ordinate all the aircraft and keep them out of controlled airspace, and so on and so on. An excellent look into the logistics of actually getting these shots onto film, and I for one am very glad they managed it so successfully!

Featurette - A Film For The Few (20:23)

    Another featurette produced in 2004, this is also presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Again made up mainly of interviews, this extra provides us with comments from Director Guy Hamilton on how the movie came into being, and why he wanted to make it. There are also interviews with actors, an old fighter pilot, historians, and Paul Annett talks about how lucky they were to get all the excellent actors they did for the film. All actors agreed to do the movie for the same daily fee, no matter how famous they were, simply because they wanted to be part of a production that honoured the men who basically had the hopes of the free world resting on their shoulders. I'm not sure how many would be happy to do that today.

Featurette - Recollections Of An RAF Squadron Leader (9:32)

    The last of the newly-made extras, this is a short but fascinating chat with Basil Stapleton (or "Gerald"), who was a Spitfire pilot during the Battle Of Britain, and later flew Typhoons in the TAF. This man was shot down 3 times during the war, and is very coherent and easy to listen to despite his obvious age. It's these men who this film was made for.

    Note that all of these new featurettes contain end credits that cover all their content combined. I'm not sure why this is, but might suggest that originally they were all going to be made into the one documentary, and when this changed they didn't remake separate credits.

Gallery - Images From The Sky (3:54)

    A brief 1 minute introduction from Bernard Williams explaining how they took still photos for the purpose of promoting the movie, followed by some of the images with music from the score.

Theatrical Trailer (4:36)

    Running for almost 5 minutes, this would probably be considered part of an EPK these days. A great trailer, presented very differently to its modern equivalent, this is 16x9 enhanced with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Lots of film artefacts unfortunately, but it's to be expected from such an old source.

R4 vs R1

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

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;

    This disc is only available in the US as a barebones DVD with the original mono mix. Region 2 has the same special edition, and considering our version is dual encoded for Region 2 and 4, I imagine they are identical discs.

Summary

    A brilliant movie, which I believe is neither overstated nor too understated, accurately recounting one of recent history's most influential battles, with great acting and incredible aerial sequences. I'm so glad this movie was made when it was, because you simply couldn't do it this well today.

    The video transfer is so close to being superb for a film that's 35 years old, if only it weren't for the edge enhancement.

    The 5.1 remixes of the original track are excellent, but some purists might lament the absence of the original mix.

    The extras package is excellent, with almost nothing that isn't worth checking out.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© David L (Only my Mum would have any interest in my bio)
Wednesday, September 01, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDOmni 3600, using RGB output
DisplaySony 1252QM CRT Projector, 250cm custom built 16x9 matte screen. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL).
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS797- THX Select
SpeakersAccusound ES-55 Speaker set, Welling WS12 Subwoofer

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