Blood Oath (Prisoners of the Sun) (1990)

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Released 10-Apr-2002

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category War Main Menu Audio
Dolby Digital Trailer-Egypt
Featurette-The Film's Journey
Featurette-Behind The Scenes
Featurette-Ambon POWs Remember
Audio Commentary-Stephen Wallace (Director)
Audio Commentary-Brian Williams, Denis Whitburn & Anne Bleakley
Featurette-Ray Martin Interview with Russell Crowe & Bryan Brown
Music Video-Memorial Day-30 Odd Feet Of Grunts
DVD-ROM Extras
Theatrical Trailer
Web Links
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1990
Running Time 104:19 (Case: 108)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (88:39) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Stephen Wallace
Studio
Distributor
Sovereign Pictures
Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Bryan Brown
Russell Crowe
George Takei
John Polson
Deborah Unger
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $34.95 Music David McHugh


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (320Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (320Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (320Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes

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

Plot Synopsis

    Sometimes in life there are happy coincidences, and Blood Oath (aka Prisoners of the Sun) has one of those within it. A movie that would have probably been lightly scrubbed and tossed out on some awful 4x3/Full Frame low budget release had it not been for the fact that a certain Kiwi (aka Russell Crowe) just happened to make his first-ever movie appearance in this drama had nothing to do with it.. naturally. Instead, that happy coincidence means that this piece of Australian film history has been given the proper attention it deserves and it almost looks every inch as good as it did originally (almost, but not quite). Probably the strangest twist of fate regarding this movie is that Crowe's appearance in the movie was just providence and it was the casting of Jason Donovan that drew the media's attention when it was released. Strange how things work out.

    The movie itself is of some significance, too. Apart from Judgement at Nuremberg and a couple of other movies of minor note, I can't recall too many other treatments on the subject of war crimes. Definitely not the most attractive of subjects, since the unwarranted slaughter of innocent civilians, or in this case captured soldiers of war, might make for powerful viewing, but it is not a subject that most people care to dwell upon. It is therefore all the more significant that movies like this have been made so at least some attempt is made to dramatise the unthinkable.

    Blood Oath is the story of the massacre of over 300 soldiers confined to a prisoner-of-war camp on the island of Ambon, an island set to be the springboard for the Japanese invasion of Australia during World War II. Now the war is over and the Australians want blood for the crimes committed against their troops, so begin setting up a War Crimes Court. Brian Brown plays Captain Cooper, assigned to prosecute the Japanese prisoners responsible for the alleged atrocities. His major problems are that he lacks a credible witness to the crimes and the paper trail that might have convicted the perpetrators is missing. According to the Japanese, all documentation was destroyed in saturation bombing raids undertaken by the Allies. Assisting Cooper is Lieutenant Corbett (Crowe), who helps collate the mountain of physical evidence and attempts to locate missing officers and possible witnesses. The defense council, Mr. Matsugae (Sokyu Fujita) is having his own problems since the prisoners don't trust him and mounting a credible defense against such distrust is difficult.

    On the other side of the fence (literally) are the prisoners, lead by the inscrutable Captain Ikeuchi (Tetsu Watanabe) who maintains strict discipline over his men and reaffirms their loyalty at all times. Cooper though, even as he wades through the mountain of evidence is more interested in prosecuting the supreme commander of the island during the period the crimes took place, Vice-Admiral Baron Takahashi (George Takei), who is finally located and brought to the island to stand trial accompanied by an American, Major Beckett (Terry O'Quinn) who seems to have another agenda in securing the Vice-Admiral's innocence. This places him in conflict with Cooper, who tries every trick he knows but fails to land a conviction because of the lack of hard evidence that places Takahashi at the scene of the crime at the time. After failing to get his first conviction, he then changes tack, concentrating on the deaths of four airmen, whose beheaded bodies are found in a new grave. From there on, he prosecutes this case with great vigour.

    The whole movie is about revenge, mistrust, frustration and pity and is a damned fine drama. I thought some of the acting was a touch over-the-top, and the violence of the Aussies against the Japanese prisoners a bit easy (I have no doubt they were much more brutal) but that's the nature of the making of a movie with an M rating. The Japanese may have been roundly condemned for their atrocities in World War II, but you get the feeling they were never properly punished and this movie tends to reinforce that belief. We also tend to forget that they never signed the Geneva Convention and their own military indoctrination was exceedingly brutal - this is not an excuse for their actions, though. All-in-all, this is a very worthy addition to any collection, with excellent source material available on the DVD and a very entertaining movie to boot.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Whether this movie has been through a cleaning and restoration effort, or they managed to pick out a particularly spotless print, or they made a new interpositive for the transfer, this is probably the best the movie has looked in a long time. Not that there aren't problems, but overall this will make a fine addition to anyone's collection.

    This transfer presents the picture in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is 16x9 enhanced.

    From the opening of the movie, you'll probably notice the use of edge enhancement which spoils the sharpness for me. I first noticed it at 13:23 but 86:26 is probably the finest example of why not to use this particular effect. The solid line around Jason Donovan's face and the quality of the picture at this point is no better than VHS. This is pretty similar throughout with lots of very sharp and focused sections and others blurring beyond the pale. Fine detail suffers as a result in many areas, but overall the quality is quite good as some effort has been made to restore this to an acceptable level. Grain was very subdued overall although visible in most scenes. Fortunately, it never really takes hold except where there is a lot of smoke and you get that abhorrent veil effect. Low level noise wasn't an issue in my view and I saw no real blooming.

    The colour overall is excellent with some real variety in the palette used. Unfortunately, there was a persistent red shift in many places that almost made me reach for the colour controls. The reds take hold from about 5:10 when you see the soil and it looks unnatural. Skin tones were often tinged with sunburn. Apart from the reds, the rest of the colours were bright and clean, although there was often excessive light which bloomed the whites on occasion.

    Telecine wobble can be seen during the opening moments of the movie as well as at 63:03 and again at 101:25 during the end credits. At 63:03 you'll also see some pixelization on the guard tower. This wasn't too big an issue but if you look for it, it was there. Aliasing poked its head up now and then too; 47:35 on a car grill, 101:25 during the end credits. Moiré effects were present but not common. One typical example was on John Clark's tie at 71:45. The usual film artefacts were pleasantly subdued with only a couple of reportable instances at 47:40 and 91:48 giving rise to my assumption of a restored print at the very least. There was one other notable artefact that bears mentioning. At 90:13 there appeared to be a noticeable interlacing effect on soldiers walking in the jungle.

    There is only one subtitle track on offer on this disc, English for the Hearing Impaired. The font used is very good, easily readable and apart from the longer monologues it was very true to the intent of the movie if not precise in every word uttered.

    The layer change occurred at 88:39 at the end of Chapter 24. Good placement and a very quick pause that is barely noticeable.

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

Audio

    There is only one soundtrack on this disc, apart from the audio commentaries, and it is in Dolby Digital 2.0 at a decent bitrate of 320 kilobits per second. For the vast majority of the movie, you will no doubt be concentrating on the dialogue, since it is a courtroom drama of sorts, so the lack of surround sound and subwoofer won't be of that much concern. There is quite a deal of separation across the fronts (eg: 35:45) to compensate and the quality of the audio track is exceptional for being stereo.

    The dialogue is crisp and clean as you would expect from such a dialogue-heavy movie and the syncing is spotless.

    The music is by David McHugh and is nicely subdued to allow the drama to unfold without becoming overbearing.

    There was no surround channel or subwoofer activity noted on this disc.

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

Extras

Main Menu Audio

    Static main menu with the title track overlaid and running for about 1:39 before looping.

Dolby Digital Trailer

    At least the Egyptian Dolby Digital effort is quick and painless.

Featurette

    The Film's Journey - offered to us in full frame, 1.33:1 with a running time of 27:29, this is the story of John Miles Williams, from whose memoirs and notes this movie would eventually come into being when his son, Brian Williams, found an old chest containing all the source material he would use to write the screenplay. An interesting half hour with many black and white, as well as colour stills on both the background and the making of the movie.

Featurette-Behind The Scenes

    A 17:04 minute Behind the Scenes look at the making of the movie. This is presented in full frame 1.33:1 and features Steve Wallace commenting on the making of the movie. This offers actual shooting from the movie, including rehearsals, intercut to present the final scenes we seen onscreen. The footage is all shot by David Williamson.

Featurette

    At 11:40 running time, this is a fairly 'noisy' set of interviews with survivors from one of the camps around the area where the Ambon massacres took place. Done in pairs, and including black and white stills, the four men; Tom Pledge, Bob Allen, Vernon Ball and Jack Serant reminisce about Ambon and Laha and the execution of the Aussies there.

Audio Commentary

    Brian Williams, Denis Whitburn and Anne Bleakley present the first of two audio commentary tracks available on this disc. The creation of the movie, the scripting and how they financed the movie is heavily discussed in the early part of the commentary. Originally offered as the sequel to the mini-series, The Last Bastion, which was filmed for the ABC, this grew into a full-blown movie in its own right. This commentary provides details on the financing, background on the actors, changes to the script and some amazing detail on the minutiae of producing a full length motion picture in Australia. There is never a dull moment, with lots of variety and although Denis Whitburn is the most prominent speaker, the others offer some interesting and timely interventions and injections.

Audio Commentary

    Director Stephen Wallace discusses the making of the movie in great detail. He is quite obviously watching the movie as he is speaking, because he suffers from that forgetfulness we all get when watching something and forgetting to concentrate .."the plane..the plane..the plane... the plane had to be repainted...". Most of the discussion is on the technical presentation, specifically on shots and scenes with additional detail on actors, extras, the colour, the lighting, and so forth. A very worthwhile commentary even if Wallace isn't the most personable speaker - he still maintains attention with a constant stream of detail.

Featurette

    An interview with Ray Martin obviously conducted last year, this 3:42 excerpt from his midday show includes Brian Brown and Russell Crowe discussing their collaboration on the movie. It is beautifully presented with superb colour in Full Frame 1.33:1 ratio.

Music Video

    Memorial Day by 30 Odd Feet of Grunts. It lasts for 5:14 and is presented in 1.85:1, 16x9 enhanced and consists of Crowe and band on-stage, intercut with various black and white and colour footage of Aussies at war.

DVD-ROM Extras

    A complete swag of articles on various topics, including discussion of the film-making process, awards, newspaper articles, international reviews, original trial documentation, historical analysis, honour roll, highly detailed maps of Ambon, Halong naval base and Tan Toey amongst an absolute plethora of other articles for your perusal. Possibly the largest collection of quality .PDF files on a single subject on DVD I've seen, this is an absolute bonus for anyone who is interested in the background, needs research material or wants to check the historical facts of the movie's presentation.

Theatrical Trailer

    A running time of 1:25 and in 1.33:1 full frame. Standard fare with slightly more grain than the movie itself.

Web Links

    Six web references, from Russell Crowe's gruntland.com to the Australian War Memorial site.

R4 vs R1

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

    At this time, there is no Region 1 release of this movie, so we have the definitive version.

Summary

     An excellent cast including many actors who didn't speak English but who were all solid performers, plus an excellent script and you have a really watchable movie. The subject matter is a bit hard to take, and there is a distinct lack of the reality of the time (i.e.: the brutality that would have been evident), but this is a movie. Highly enjoyable and well worth a watch.

    The video, apart from deteriorating at times to slightly better than VHS, has a decent overall quality. The print used and the transfer is mostly excellent (forget the colour problems, just turn down the red).

    Although only in Dolby Digital stereo, you won't miss too much with a good, nicely separated soundtrack that has plenty of depth to it.

    As far as extras go, this has the lot. Two audio commentaries, featurettes and so much additional DVD-ROM reading material it could keep you entertained for hours. Probably the best selection of extras I've seen on a Region 4 that is locally made in a long time.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Carl Berry (read my bio)
Thursday, May 16, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDRotel RDV995, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Xelos (81cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderRotel RSP-976. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationRotel RB 985 MkII
SpeakersJBL TLX16s Front Speakers, Polk Audio LS fx di/bipole Rear Speakers, Polk Audio CS350-LS Centre Speaker, M&KV-75 Subwoofer

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