L  e  n  s  V  i  e  w  s

A view from the Blu (-ray) on DVDBeaver by Leonard Norwitz


A Little Background     Openers     


    Modus Operandi     The Scorecard:     

Emotive Connection      Audio     Operations    Extras     The Movie     Equipment




Courage Under Fire BRD

(Edward Zwick - 1986)





Review by Leonard Norwitz


Studio: Fox (USA)



Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Feature film: 1080p / MPEG-2 @ 18 MBPS

116 minutes

Supplements: 480i / MPEG-2

1 disc: BD-25 single-layer



English DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio

French DD 5.1 Surround

Spanish DD 5.1 Surround



English SDH, English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, and Thai



• Director's commentary track

• Trivia track (exclusive to the HD content)

• Theatrical trailers in 1080


28 chapters

Standard Blu-ray case.

Release Date: January 23, 2007



Courage Under Fire

The tag line reads: "The first casualty of war is truth."  I have to say that this wasn't my conclusion after seeing this movie.  Possibly contrary to the filmmakers' intentions I felt that the first casualty of war is the sixth commandment [or the fifth, if you are so inclined.]  If we are taught from childhood that killing violates one of the basic rules of our civilization, it is no wonder that we must be carefully indoctrinated to see the enemy as less than human in order to kill them.  This has to have serious ramifications for returning soldiers.  But more difficult is the question: What happens to us when we cause the death of our own, be it from carelessness, faulty intelligence or fear?  The burden of guilt is a powerful force, leading to substance abuse, more killing – the truth being one of its victims - and, in some cases, to the death of the soul.


Lt. Colonel Nathaniel Serling is haunted by the knowledge that he gave the command that led to the death of a fellow soldier and friend.  The Army, looking after its own image and, instead of bringing charges against Serling, offers him and his commanding officer a post in Washington where they rule on recommendations for citations of valor – a heartbreaking and cosmically comic irony, not at all lost on Serling.  The assignment at hand is Serling's investigation of a nominee for the Medal of Honor, for which there is considerable political pressure to confirm because the would-be recipient is a woman – and thus the first to be so awarded for combat.  (We learn from the "Trivia Track" – an uncomfortably inappropriate designation under the circumstances – that the Medal of Honor was in fact awarded to a woman in a non-combat capacity, an army surgeon during the Civil War.)  Serling sees discrepancies in the testimony of those involved that not only places his investigation in turmoil, but also continually asserts his own past culpability in his mind.  Being the together commander that he once was, he is unable to confide in anyone except the bottle.  His family is an innocent casualty of his failure to unburden his guilt.



Courage Under Fire

The Score Card


The Movie : 8

During the first Iraq war, a medivac helicopter is shot down during an attempted rescue and, even though the crew's actions lead to the saving of lives, questions of motivation and cowardice arise. The story is told in a Rashomon-like narrative in which the various surviving crew members offer conflicting accounts of events to Serling.  Meg Ryan, in an uncharacteristic and generally underappreciated performance, plays Karen Walden, the captain of the UH-1 Huey helicopter.  Matt Damon, in his first important role, plays one of her crew; Lou Diamond Phillips, another.  Damon and Phillips are both riveting, especially in their re-telling of events.  They are also physical opposites: Damon, having lost considerable weight for the part, is strung out on dope; Phillips looks after his body like a temple.  Their souls are another matter.  Serling is passionately and intelligently underplayed by Denzel Washington.


Image : 8

Due to the ever-changing focus, a score here is hard to figure.  Given that most of the time the image is sharp but at other times a little blurry, we should debit the original camera work, not Fox’s transfer to Blu-ray.  The fact remains that sharpness in this movie is all over the map.  It’s not for any of the usual purposes: to apply soft focus for a dreamy look or to hide blemishes or in certain action shots.  I assume this due to a limited number of takes from which the editor had to choose to create a compelling narrative.  That said, the image, even at its best, is not so much better than Fox's pretty good SD from 2000 that we should rush to upgrade.





Audio & Music : 9/8

Since it is the characteristic sound of an M-16 that provides the nagging and motivating clue to Serling's investigation, it is essential that the rifle's signature be reproduced, if not faithfully, at least distinctively.  That the sound team (Lon Bender as sound designer, Per Hallberg as sound effects editor, and Willie Burton as production sound mixer) was able to realize that end while serving up a frightening barrage of small and large arms fire was a credit unaccountably overlooked by the Academy at Oscar-time.  James Horner, who scored Zwick's and Washington's first major film, Glory, does an effective job for Courage Under Fire, minus the inspirational choir.  Perhaps not worthy of a separate purchase nor nearly as awesome as Glory, Horner's work here is sufficiently supportive and is blended in just the right doses with the effects track.  Someday I should give this movie another go when I am able to appreciate the benefits of "HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio," but for the time being I can testify that listening to Fox's 2-channel mixdown from DTS was righteously scary in all the right places.  I found myself ducking to avoid getting shot at and bracing my legs for the imminent helicopter crash.


Empathy : 8

While compelling performances and superb audio fixed me into the drama, the changing focus, more apparent in a high definition home theatre presentation than on the big screen, pulled me out of the story too frequently to give it a full 10 points.

Operations : 9

Easy to load, menus are straightforward and easy to use, with clear summaries of what the features are.  Chapter thumbnails are many and are subtitled appropriately for easy access.

Extras : 7

The marketable, but unsuitably named "Trivia Track" is an encyclopedia of information about everything military.  Director Zwick's commentary focused a lot on performance, especially Denzel's, which was instructive if you want to know something about approach to a character.  He also provided the political context for Courage Under Fire and spoke informatively about the production design.  As far is they went, the supplementary materials were pretty good. I can't say I felt like anything was overlooked, merely that they didn't take much advantage of the Blu-ray medium.



Recommendation : 8

If you don’t have this movie in the SD then I would recommend the movie for its intelligent, often moving screenplay, the dramatic impact of the performances, and the Blu-ray for its extra dimensionality and sharpness, and for the informative “Trivia Track.”

Leonard Norwitz
July 15th, 2007




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