Aces High (1976)

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Released 15-Sep-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category War None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1976
Running Time 97:06
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Jack Gold
S. Benjamin Fisz
Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Malcolm McDowell
Christopher Plummer
Simon Ward
Peter Firth
David Wood
John Gielgud
Trevor Howard
Richard Johnson
Ray Milland
Christopher Blake
Gilles Béhat
Elliott Cooper
David Daker
Case ?
RPI $9.95 Music Richard Hartley
Carlo Rustichelli

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.66:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    Set mainly during 1917, Aces High is the tale of a small band of Royal Flying Corps officers. This group is headed by Gresham (Malcolm McDowell), who has inspired one of his schoolmates, Croft (Peter Firth), to join the RFC and seek out a position under Gresham's command in France. Croft begins as wide-eyed and awe-inspired by his fellow officers, but soon learns that neither they nor the war are all that they are cracked up to be.

    The story is adapted from a 1928 play by R.C. Sheriff, previously filmed in 1930 by James Whale, future director of several classic horror films. It was also filmed the following year in Germany, and there have been three television productions, two in the 1980s and one as long ago as 1937. The play was set in a British trench and the protagonists were soldiers, not airmen. I have not seen the play nor any of the other films, but the available literature suggests that the play is a fine piece of work, and it is still being performed today.

    This version was directed by Jack Gold, and features a lot of aerial work interspersed with scenes on the ground. Frankly, while the aerial material is very good, the whole thing is a bit of a bore. This is partly due to the script, which just rehashes a lot of clichéd situations without any real conviction. Gresham has to drink to be able to face up to combat, there's a sad old flyer who just looks wistful most of the time, and there is an officer who has cracked up and cannot handle the thought of flight. And the ending is just plain silly.

    The other problem is with the acting. None of the cast get into the characters they are playing. McDowell's acting style is too much of his own era to be convincing as an RFC officer. Simon Ward as the crack-up has no depth whatsoever; he just looks as if he is annoyed because he has missed his bus. Christopher Plummer looks embarrassed as Uncle, the sad older flyer, probably because the script gives him little to work with. Peter Firth's character is so wet behind the ears you wonder how his mother allowed him to go out to war. Just to tease us with what might have been, there are tiny cameos by John Gielgud, Trevor Howard, Ray Milland and Richard Johnson.

    There's a lack of reality to the proceedings as well. It does not feel as though there really is a war going on, and the film looks like it was shot in a paddock near the British studio (it undoubtedly was). The film seems to drift along without any real momentum, which may be how the war actually was, but it does not make for a good film. The aerial work is spectacular, with actual biplanes used in some lengthy flying sequences. In the climactic air battle I thought it looked too good to have been shot for this film, and some research has confirmed this. Portions of the dogfights were taken from the Roger Corman film Von Richthofen and Brown, released in 1970. There is also a shot from The Blue Max of a barrage balloon being destroyed. Not that all of the aerial footage in this film is unoriginal. Most of it was shot for this film, but it seems like the producers have elected to save money on special effects footage by borrowing from these earlier films.

    However, a few spectacular battle sequences do not a film make, and Aces High plummets heavily to earth whenever the action is on the ground.

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Transfer Quality


    What we get on this disc is a transfer of the film in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. While it is 16x9 enhanced, the original theatrical aspect ratio was 1.66:1.

    The transfer has some good points and more bad ones. I was initially pleased because the transfer was nice and sharp. There is a good level of detail present and the transfer is also bright and clear. But there are problems. Shadow detail is quite murky. Colour is generally very muted, and this seems to be an introduced issue. Reds are heavily saturated, for example the French prostitute's feather boa during the café scene, which is very bright but has little definition or detail. Flesh tones are variable, from very pink to brown. Everything else seems lifeless and lacking in vividness. There are not many true blacks, and in dark sequences blacks are tinged with brown, for example at 73:15.

    Film to video artefacts are less of an issue. There is some telecine wobble noticeable during the opening credits, and there is one instance of aliasing at 37:56.

    There are rather more film artefacts than is acceptable. There are plenty of small specks of dirt and damage, but worse are the frequent spots of what looks like water damage, which often appear in a flurry such as at 65:55 and 72:01.

    This is a single layer disc without subtitles.

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


    The only audio track is Dolby Digital 2.0 mono.

    The audio is better than the video, despite the limitations of the monaural recording. Dialogue is always clear and distinct. The mono sound is quite flat, but there is no significant distortion despite a little harshness. Higher frequencies tend to be congested. The gunfire and explosions come across acceptably, as there is a satisfactory amount of bass. A small amount of hiss is audible.

    The music score is by Richard Hartley and is quite derivative of similar films of the same era. It sounds at times like the familiar tune from The Great Escape, and at one point I though it was launching into a Mahler symphony. I suspect that some of the upbeat patriotic music is intended to be ironic. The music is a little strident in some of the louder passages.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    None whatsoever.

R4 vs R1

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

    Well, this is a problem. When submitted to the British Board of Film Censors on initial release, the film ran 113:50. It was passed without cuts. When it was resubmitted for DVD release in the UK, the running time was 108:39 and it was again passed without cuts. Taking into account PAL speed-up, the running time should have been 109:17.

    The film has been released on DVD in the UK, and the running time according to the sole review of the disc is 108 minutes. However, the BBFC website also lists a video release submitted after the above which was timed at 97:05. Yet again, passed without cuts. This seems to be the source of the Region 4 version.

    In other words, the UK Region 2 is some ten minutes longer than the Region 4. It looks to me as though the Region 4 is missing some footage when the officers have a slideshow of nude photos. Either that or the filmmakers were excessively coy in 1976, which seems very unlikely. As to any other cuts, I have no information.

    The Region 2 seems to exhibit the same video problems as the Region 4, but in consideration of the extra footage it seems to be the one to get. It also has the correct aspect ratio of 1.66:1, so that clinches matters.


    A middling anti-war drama, redeemed only by some nice aerial work.

    The video quality is slightly below average.

    The audio quality is average.

    No extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Thursday, February 10, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

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