M*A*S*H (MASH): Special Edition (1970)

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Released 12-Aug-2002

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category War Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Audio Commentary-Robert Altman (Director)
Featurette-Backstory: MASH
Theatrical Trailer
Featurette-Enlisted: The Story Of MASH
Featurette-MASH: Comedy Under Fire
Featurette-MASH Reuniion
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1970
Running Time 111:08
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (56:33)
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Robert Altman

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring Donald Sutherland
Elliott Gould
Sally Kellerman
Robert Duvall
Tom Skerritt
Case ?
RPI $36.95 Music John Mandel
Mike Altman

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (96Kb/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 Croatian
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

    Most people when they hear the name MASH think about the TV series that ran for 12 years, but prior to the series came the movie. MASH is possibly one of my most watched movies over the years, not because it is your typical anti-war movie (although it has a lot of that in it), not because it was filled with memorable characters (which it is), but mainly because it blended the squalor of life at the front lines with the comedy that only comes when you are dealing with death and carnage on a daily basis. In addition, the sense of freshness and vitality director Robert Altman brought to the screen at a time when war movies were mostly action-packed chest-thumping affairs must not be cast off too lightly. Although it seems he intended to make the movie as a statement, I doubt he expected such a lasting legacy to his gentle, yet appealing style of directing.

    To say this is an ensemble cast is a bit of an understatement. Apart from the lead actors Donald Sutherland (Hawkeye Pierce) and Elliot Gould (Trapper John McIntyre), the rest of the actors were virtual unknowns at the time. Several of them have had highly successful careers including Robert Duvall who plays the pious and overzealous Frank Burns, Tom Skerritt as Duke Forrest and Sally Kellerman whose role as 'Hot Lips' O'Houlihan was a major contributor to the movie's appeal. Only one cast member made the transition to the TV series, Radar O'Reilly (Gary Burghoff) but other members of the cast had a lot of success in other TV endeavours (Rene Auberjonois for one, who ended up in several seasons of Star Trek:DS9). It would be fair to say that this cast, although then unknown, became one of the finest ever cast for a feature movie.

    Although the movie has a beginning and an end, the beginning being the arrival of Captain 'Hawkeye' Pierce at the 4077th MASH unit and then ending with his demobilisation, the movie is actually more a series of short sketches brought together in a simple linear fashion to create a sample of life at the sharp end of the knife in a MASH unit during wartime. Hawkeye's (Sutherland) arrival along with Duke (Tom Skerritt) see them begin to settle into life at the base where they encounter the overzealous Major Burns (Duvall). Burns, who is highly religious and seemingly pious is the antithesis of both Duke and Hawkeye who, after a hard day of stitching up broken bodies want to relax, screw around (literally) and get drunk. On the other hand, Burns is a teetotaller who threatens to throw a spanner in the works.

    After prising his claws off a young Korean boy, Ho-Jon (Kim Attwood), they angle to have him removed from their tent by appealing to the camp commander, Colonel Blake (Roger Bowen) and also manage to convince him to send for a new chest cutter. The arrival in camp of Captain "Trapper" John McIntyre (Elliot Gould) completes the surgical collection who quickly form a deep bond, based on their total lack of military discipline and their collective antipathy for Burns, but it is the arrival of the new head nurse, Major Margaret O'Houlihan (Sally Kellerman) that really sets the fur flying. O'Houlihan, who earns the nickname Hot Lips later in the movie is all army and this rankles Hawkeye and Trapper who see her as an inconvenience to their desire for an easy and painless trip right through their enlistment. Naturally this all comes to a head after they discover that Burns and O'Houlihan have reported them for unmilitary-like behaviour to their commanding Brigadier General Hammond (G. Wood), and that means war of the humorous kind.

    The movie itself ebbs and flows. Some scenes, like the one when Hot Lips is taking a shower, Painless Pete's suicide party, Hawkeye asking Frank Burns about making love to Hot Lips, and so on, still remain classics. It is still the only movie I know of, as well, that used loudspeakers to connect the various disparate parts to create a coherent whole. As a movie this left a lasting impression on me, and although at the time of its release it was considerably more controversial than today it still retains a sense of fun, futility, and drama that few movies have matched. It's just a damned shame that the quality of the transfer isn't as good as it deserves to be for such a classic movie.

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Transfer Quality


    This transfer can be categorised in two words: dark and grainy. In some parts, it is no better than watching an average VHS tape, but occasionally it is actually quite good. Unfortunately, that is rare and on the whole this is not a good transfer.

    As with the original theatrical release, this is presented in 2.35:1 and is 16x9 enhanced.

    The picture is basically a grain harvest of the worst kind. The only thing saving it from total disintegration is that it is so dark that at times you can't make out the grain! Sharpness is lacking throughout and only the use of edge enhancement during the final 30 minutes gives it any definition at all. Shadow detail, for the most part, is simply non-existent. The darkened nature of the transfer simply erases any shadow detail being discerned for most of the movie. Low level noise is visible occasionally, but actually added some welcome relief to the solid blacks on offer.

    The movie looks fairly washed out except for the final 30 minutes (the football game). Having seen the movie countless times, I can attest to the fact that it was never particularly colourful to begin with, with utilitarian greys, greens and shades of khaki mostly in evidence. Whites look okay, and skin tones are fair for the most part but occasionally you might notice a tinge of red. There are copious amounts of colour bleed (8:45 on Colonel Blake's hat, and at 104:37 on the football jerseys are just a couple of examples) throughout the movie. No chroma noise was discernable.

    There was one notable MPEG artefact at 81:34 above Trapper's head on the window. Pixelization was not noticed and the only aliasing or moiré effect was seen at the beginning of the movie above the helicopter blades. Film artefacts are only seen in sporadic bursts such as at 3:49, 37:33 and 38:28. At all other times, they were confined to minor marks which were not distracting. A faint black line can be seen down the centre of the picture at 34:37 and finally at 40:00 there is a change in the picture, as if a filter was passed over the lens.

    The subtitles are bright and bold and very visible. They lack some of the dialogue, especially where there are multiple people speaking at the same time so you lose a little of the background chatter, but they are fairly accurate in regards to the main thrust of the dialogue.

    The layer change occurs at 56:33 during a transition in Painless' suicide feast. Decently placed and fairly quick with little interruption to the flow of the movie.

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


    There is only one audio track (apart from the commentary) available on this disc. It is a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack at 192 kilobits per second. There isn't a lot going on in this movie that warrants much more than this to be honest, but the soundtrack has some minor problems that were a little disconcerting. There was little separation in the soundtrack to call attention to any other speaker other than the centre channel, where all the dialogue was located. Every now and then the sound would hollow out, or become slightly echoic. An example was at 36:10 and again at 102:20. In addition, there appeared to be a drop-out at 23:48 when the reply "make the stitches ...." loses the word "bigger" was noticed. A very noticeable echo can be heard at 11:40 when Ho-Jon is reading the bible with Major Burns.

    Apart from the deliberate mis-syncing when Hawkeye and Trapper are supposedly speaking Japanese at the golf course (77:10) there didn't appear to be any problems with the dialogue or the syncing.

    The music was by John Mandel, with the lyrics for the title song by Mike Altman. The music itself has been heard over and over again due to it also appearing on the TV series so it is an instantly recognisable soundtrack.

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

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Main Menu Introduction

    A khaki background with an American star opens up to a scene from the opening of the movie with helicopters flying towards the MASH unit. The music is from the movie.

Main Menu Audio & Animation

    A static background picture with a camouflage tent motif. The musical overlay is the song Suicide is Painless with 2 refrains.

Audio Commentary

    To be brutally honest, don't waste your time with this commentary. There are approximately 20-30 minutes tops of comments from Robert Altman which appear to all have been taken from the featurettes if you watch them. They are overlaid over the top of the movie as the various scenes unfold. Unfortunately, whoever was doing the editing mistimes most of them so Altman actually begins talking about a scene anything up to 30 seconds BEFORE it appears on the screen which was very disconcerting. The content of what he talks about is good, but there are far too many periods of silence (and the movie soundtrack is almost totally muted so you can't even follow what is happening with the movie) to be of any practical value.


    Disc 1 contains a single featurette entitled Backstory: MASH. Presented in 1.33:1, with extracts from the movie in 2.35:1 and not 16x9 enhanced, this is a series of interviews with the director about various facets of the movie, the making of it, scenes from the movie and the general overall tone and direction he took when making the movie. Altman discusses his intentions in making the movie, discusses the TV series, which he dislikes intensely, and is presented in very much a TV documentary format. The featurette has a running time of 23:29.

Theatrical Trailer

    Presented in 1.85:1 and with a running time of 3:00, this is much brighter than the movie offering but with far more artefacts noted, the same washed out colour and again is very blurry and full of grain.


    Approximately 45 pictures in postcard format from the movie. Some stills show scenes that never made it to the movie (the pro shop) and are in a mixture of colour and black and white.


    On Disc 2 there are three featurettes. The first is entitled Enlisted: The Story of MASH and has a running time of 39:13. Presented in 1.33:1 with excerpts from the movie in 2.35:1 not 16x9 enhanced, this is a series of interviews with the cast and crew of the movie filling in more detail on the featurette presented on Disc 1. Basically the actors tell how they were cast for the movie, how they approached the movie and how the storyline was fleshed out. Producer Ingo Preminger explained how he got the movie made and Altman filled in some extra details on how he directed the movie. Basically this is an interesting and enjoyable retrospective which doesn't feel 40 minutes long.


    The second featurette on this disc is MASH: Comedy Under Fire which juxtaposes the real life drama and adventures of the doctors that served in Korea with their movie counterparts. It also offers a small slice of history of the Korean conflict. Included in this featurette are excerpts from the TV series, which took the place of a planned sequel. At 42:19 this is another entertaining documentary that covers only a little of the same ground as the other two documentaries so far.


    MASH Reunion is taken from an award presentation (Legacy Award) made to Robert Altman on the 30th anniversary of the movie in Los Angeles. After watching a new print of the movie made specially for the night, the invited cast and crew appear on-stage for a question and answer session from the audience. This is a fairly lightweight addition, which again covers a lot of the same ground as the other three featurettes but is still quite watchable.

R4 vs R1

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

    From the looks of it there appears to be very little difference between the Region 1 release and the local release.

    The Region 1 version of this DVD misses out on;

    The Region 4 version of this DVD misses out on;


    MASH is a brilliant movie which is more like a pastiche of little scenes rolled into a delightfully funny whole which is still as appetising today as when it was first released back in 1970. Although it may have been overshadowed by the TV series that ran for so many years, this still offers all the best elements of comedy and drama rolled into one, with a wonderfully energetic company of characters that play their roles with real relish. This still remains one of my favourite all-time movies.

    The video transfer is nothing short of disappointing in the extreme. Only the last 30 minutes or so of the movie offer anything like the quality you'd expect on a DVD and the rest is poor and very undefined to say the least.

    The audio is slightly better, but it has its slight problems too at times. Nothing too remarkable but a serviceable effort.

    The extras are excellent, and apart from the one section on restoration (which is not surprising given the video quality on offer) we basically receive the same treatment as the Region 1 release in this regard.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Carl Berry (read my bio)
Thursday, July 04, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDAkai DVP-3000A, 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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Comments (Add)
Add Your Heading Here Dark & soft image - meant to be? - Jeff B REPLY POSTED
Altman movies on dvd -
MASH Picture -