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Details At A Glance

Category War/Drama Theatrical Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - 2.35:1, not 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0
Rating Other Trailer(s) None
Year Released 1970 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time 128:07 minutes Other Extras Biographies - Cast
RSDL/Flipper No/No
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 2,4 Director Sergei Bondarchuk
Columbia Pictures
Columbia TriStar
Starring Rod Steiger
Christopher Plummer
Orson Welles
Jack Hawkins
Virginia McKenna
Dan O'Herlihy
Case Brackley
RRP $39.95 Music Nino Rota

Pan & Scan/Full Frame No MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Dolby Digital 4.0
16x9 Enhancement
Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 4.0, 384 Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking Yes
Subtitles None Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, exit music of sorts

Plot Synopsis

    No, this is not a film about a railway station in London, nor is it a film about a song from a Swedish pop group of the 1970s. Just thought I ought to clear that up before we go any further.

    Another thing that ought to be made clear is that the film is brought to us by Dino De Laurentiis, and so it is to some extent afflicted by his predilections for "arty" type stuff. Just thought I would warn you in case he has the same effect on you as he has on me - I cannot stand his work to be honest.

    Do you really need a synopsis? After all, this is basically Dino De Laurentiis' sweeping epic about that fateful day of 15th June, 1815 when the armies of France, led by the recently returned Napoleon Bonaparte (Rod Steiger), Great Britain, led by the revered Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington (Christopher Plummer) and Prussia, led by the redoubtable Marshall Gebhard Blucher (Sergei Zakharyadze) met in bloody battle near the little town of Waterloo in Belgium. Nearly 140,000 men took part in the battle, of whom 52,000 did not see the following morning: 30,000 French soldiers out of a total force of nearly 69,000 and 22,000 British soldiers out of a total force of nearly 68,000 losing their lives in a ten hour period. It was one of the bloodiest battles and greatest losses of lives ever witnessed on a battlefield in human history. Napoleon returned to France a broken man, Wellington returned to Britain a hero.

    Whilst the cast listing would indicate a star studded cast, the reality of this film is that it is about two great men and the action very much involves Rod Steiger and Christopher Plummer almost totally, with minimal support from the rest. Indeed to list Orson Welles in a starring role is almost false advertising as he barely makes an appearance in the film and shuffles off really early in the piece. Similarly Virginia McKenna has very little to do here. It simply boils down to the two leads going head to head, and to be blunt I have seen a lot better from both of them. How much of this film really belongs to the direction of Sergei Bondarchuk is open to debate: far too often I sense the overseeing hand of Dino De Laurentiis appearing to mix the elements of the film. Still there is no denying the sweep of the film and the scope of the battle scenes is quite staggering.

    This is one of the very best films about the events at Waterloo in June, 1815 and anyone with an interest in the period will be delighted to see this film making its digital debut. However, overall I found it to be a little long-winded and unnecessarily burdened by some arty excesses, even though it was more enjoyable than I was expecting from a Dino De Laurentiis production.

Transfer Quality


    To be quite honest, this is one of the poorer efforts I have seen from the Columbia TriStar stable, even allowing for the fact that the film is thirty years old.

    The video transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and it is 16x9 enhanced.

    The big problem here is quite simply that this is far too lengthy a film to be mastered onto a single sided, single layered disc. Do not be misled by the error on the packaging - this is not a dual layer disc. Not only does it not have the distinctive gold colour of a dual layer disc, but after watching the film like a hawk I could not detect any layer change highlighted on my player or amplifier display: and just to make sure, I watched it a second time as I scanned through each chapter change, as layer changes normally occur between chapters. This would I believe account for why quite lengthy portions of the film are transferred at a rather low transfer rate of around 3.0Mb/s. The result is a transfer that is not only burdened by the rather inevitable problems of a thirty year old print but also some dubious quality mastering.

    The transfer is not especially sharp in general and displays some quite softish definition that at times is a little straining on the eye. The irony is of course that at times the transfer is extremely sharp and clear with wonderful definition. The inconsistency really does not help the film at all. Interestingly, this is the first anamorphically filmed effort that I have noted without the usually expected sharp definition of such efforts. This is not an especially clear transfer in general and this is compounded by low level noise in some portions of the transfer. Overall shadow detail is reasonable throughout although not in the same league as a more recent film - or a film that has had a decent restoration job done on the source material. There is also a degree of variability in the transfer itself that is probably the result of degradation of the source material, and this becomes just a little distracting at times. One of the ways that this manifests itself is in a degree of fluctuation in the consistency of the colours, which at times had a quite noticeable fading and darkening strobe effect. This is a great pity as at times the transfer produces a quite wonderful vibrancy and richness to the colours that is a delight to watch. There is no indication of any oversaturation of colours at all. The overall feel of the film in terms of colour is very natural and utterly believable.

    There were some very noticeable MPEG artefacts in the transfer, most especially some rather appalling pan shots which lose any sort of focus and become virtually unwatchable. The two worst instances are around 67:28 and between 76:02 and 76:14: the latter is especially bad and is possibly the worst example of motion blur I have seen in any DVD through my player. The film-to-video artefact situation is at least better, with very little evidence of aliasing - what aliasing there was was very minor and barely noticeable. There are a couple of slightly noticeable jumps in the picture, at 18:50 and at 43:52, but worse is that for a couple of brief periods late in the film (from 122:00 onwards basically) there is evidence of some sort of wobble in the picture.

    Film artefacts were another noticeable problem. The opening sequence is highlighted by a nice black line down the middle of the picture, and it just continues from there with an assorted array of scratches and marks on the transfer. And whilst none of them were really gross, they were distracting to the film. This is a good example I believe of a film that perhaps requires some restoration work, and has not received it.

    Unusually for a disc from this source there are no subtitle options at all on the disc, further reflecting the fact that space was at a serious premium on this single layer, single sided disc.


    And, if you managed to contend with the video transfer, you also have to put up with problems with the audio transfer. Basically this is one weird-sounding soundtrack.

    There is only the one soundtrack on the DVD, an English Dolby Digital 4.0 quad surround soundtrack. The original soundtrack was a four track stereo effort.

    Dialogue was clear and generally easy to understand at all times.

    One of the first things I noticed about the soundtrack was that it sounded like it was a very poor English dub of a foreign language soundtrack. This gave rise to hints of audio sync problems during the film that really are not there. The problem is that I think the ADR work has been rather marginally handled, which combines poorly with the vocal track at times being far too present in the overall sound picture.

    The music score is credited to Nino Rota, but really it is less Rota and more excerpts from the ilk of Tchaikovsky and Beethoven. There are definite extracts here from Tchaikovsky's Overture Solemnelle 1812 and Beethoven's Wellington's Victory: both are of course obvious sources for music since they both relate directly to the Napoleonic era. Not an exactly inspiring score but the images the music creates certainly are not lost on the film.

    Okay, so the 4.0 soundtrack means we can forget about the bass channel before we start. The problem is that the rear surround channels also are pretty much forgotten here too, with very little noticeable use out of them (with the exception noted below). The whole soundtrack is very much frontally based and as indicated, quite weirdly balanced, with far too much emphasis on the vocal track resulting in an almost completely unbelievable sound picture. It does not help that some of the effects noises are amongst the worst I have ever heard in a film and almost rival what I would expect from a spoof or low budget film (although Robert Rodriguez certainly has done better on a small budget). At one point however the soundtrack almost reverses itself completely and between 67:45 and 68:03 the sound suddenly shifts to a very heavy rear bias that is also completely unnatural. I would almost suggest that this has been a cheapie remix from the original tapes with minimal thought given as to how the overall sound picture is supposed to sound.


    Well, this is a fairly poor package indeed and definitely not what we have come to expect from this source in recent times.


Theatrical Trailer

    A rather lengthy trailer, but unfortunately I cannot tell you exactly how long it is as the "display" function does not work on my player whilst the trailer is playing. Presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with what is presumably Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. The quality is fairly marginal with some oversaturation in evidence but probably no worse than we should expect in a thirty year old trailer.


R4 vs R1

    As far as I can determine, this is not available in Region 1.


    Whilst the film was certainly more enjoyable than I was expecting, the overall DVD presentation is quite disappointing, and possibly the worst overall package I have yet seen from the usually stellar Columbia TriStar stable. At the asking price of $39.95, I would have to say that this is definitely for fans only.

    A somewhat problematic video transfer, even for a film of its age.

    A somewhat problematic audio transfer.

    A poor collection of extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris (have a laugh, check out the bio)
6th May 2000

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 84cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL