directed by Peter Watkins
UK 1965

Few films have caused such controversy as Peter Watkins' THE WAR GAME, a drama documentary made for BBC TV in 1965 about a 'limited' nuclear attack on Kent, England. Blending fiction and fact to create a moving and startling vision of the personal as well as the public consequences of such an attack, Watkins exposes the inadequacy of the nation's Civil Defense programme and questions the philosophy of the nuclear deterrent. Conspicuously absent from TV screens until 1985, it was mainly through cinema release in 1966 - and its Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1969 - that it gained a loyal and vociferous following, providing a sharp focus for CND and other peace movements.

Despite having been produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the film was banned from television broadcast. The official reason was for violence and depiction of human suffering, but others hinted that it may have been because it went against the official government line concerning survivability of nuclear attack. While the ban forbade television broadcast, it did not forbid cinematic distribution. Because of this loophole, the film was given wide release in theatres, and won four major film awards.

Theatrical Release: November 1st, 1965 - UK

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DVD Comparison:

 BFI Video - Region 2- PAL vs. New Yorker - Region 1- NTSC

(BFI Video - Region 1 - PAL LEFT vs. New Yorker - Region 1- NTSC RIGHT)

DVD Box Cover

  

Distribution BFI Video - Region 2 - PAL New Yorker - Region 1- NTSC
Runtime 46:21 (4% PAL speedup) 48:34 (War Game) + Culloden (1:12:24)
Video 1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 5.91 mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s
1.33:1 Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 6.72 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate:

BFI

Bitrate:  New Yorker

Audio English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Dolby)  English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Dolby) 
Subtitles English (hearing impaired), None English, French, None

Features

Release Information:
Studio: BFI Video

Aspect Ratio:
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1

 

Edition Details:

• Commentary by Patrick Murphy
• THE DIARY OF AN UNKNOWN SOLDIER (4:3 - 17:01 - subtitled)
• Featurette - 'The War Game' - The Controversy' (4:3 - 18:37)
• Director Biography
• Sleeve Notes by Patrick Murphy

DVD Release Date: January 27th, 2003

Transparent Keep Case
Chapters: 7

Release Information:
Studio: New Yorker Video

Aspect Ratio:
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1

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Edition Details:

• Culloden (1:12:24) Audio Commentary by Dr. John Cook
The War Game (48:34) Audio Commentary by Patrick Murphy
12-page booklet with an essay by Patrick Murphy

DVD Release Date: July 25th, 2006

Keep Case
Chapters: 10

 

Comments:

ADDITION: New Yorker - Region 1- NTSC (August 06') - Oliver Groom (Project X) has done some fabulous DVD production work including other Watkins films - Punishment Park, The Gladiators, and Edvard Munch - plus Mai Zetterling's Loving Couples. This new offering includes both Watkins' The War Game and Culloden on one dual-layered DVD released by New Yorker Video in the NTSC standard, coded for region 1.

Comparing this new NTSC DVD edition of The War Game with one that the BFI produced in 2003, we can see some substantial differences. In all cases the New Yorker quality seems to have bettered the older BFI - it is sharper, more pure black + whites (better contrast), more information in the frame, I enjoyed the Cook commentary more than the Murphy one, better rendered subtitles and the New Yorker package includes Culloden - a brilliant reconstruction of the Battle of Culloden. Finally the 12page liner notes booklet in the NY'er is superior (has more information) to the sleeve notes in the BFI. I believe it was first published in Film International magazine. The NY'er commentaries are both detailed and excellent (if somewhat Watkins-slanted).

Aside from the comparison, the NY'er disc looks exceptional. The intentional grain feel is part and parcel with the transfer of a film with so many frugal production features (hand-held camera etc.) It totally suits the expression of both films.

Both of these Watkins works are under-appreciated, have been difficult to see and hard to forget once you have - which, I assume, is Watkins successful intention. Oliver Groom should be strongly commended for his essential part in bringing these film experiences to us digitally in such excellent condition. I consider this NY'er DVD a cineophile essential. 

***

With representations of archival footage and the use of varying lens's to create a realistic feel - some of the images are intentionally degraded. There are also moments of excellent clarity with fine contrast and film grain showing through. The extras are wonderful with a commentary and 2 shorts. Overall a short feature but the extras add value and the image is... well, the image. Audio is clear and consistent. Another fine DVD from BFI.   out of       

Gary W. Tooze





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DVD Box Cover

  

Distribution BFI Video - Region 2 - PAL New Yorker - Region 1- NTSC

directed by Peter Watkins
UK 1965

 

Watkins' films are compulsively interesting almost in spite of themselves. His oeuvre may be characterised as a progression from polemical hysteria towards formal paranoia, yet it is impossible to deny his films their emotive, affective power, derived from an innovatory manipulation of technique. Culloden (made for TV) exhibits Watkins' virtues and vices in about equal proportions, but takes on a critical centrality as an initiator of the 'drama-doc' strain of British TV. These quasi-newsreels of the past and future, feeding off the documentary tradition to bolster the 'realism' of their speculative fictions, and usurping the medium's primary resources for capturing 'actuality' to present reconstructions, effectively efface their artifice by playing on the 'integrity' of certain strategies of representation. Yet Watkins must still here rely on an omniscient/propagandist commentary to convey the contextual discourses around his 'horror movies': a problem superseded in his later, similar, but increasingly worrying work.

Excerpt from TimeOut Film Guide located HERE

 

 

Theatrical Release: December 15th, 1964 - UK

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DVD Review:

New Yorker - Region 1- NTSC

 


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DVD Box Cover

Distribution New Yorker - Region 1- NTSC




 

 

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Gary Tooze