Rescue Dawn- BRD
(Werner Herzog, 2007)
Theatrical: Gibraltar Films
DVD: MGM / 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Resolution: 1080p / AVC MPEG4
Aspect ratio: 2.85:1
Length: 122 minutes
English DTS HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz/24-bit)
French Dolby Digital 5.1 (640kbps)
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 (640kbps)
English & Spanish
• Audio Commentary with Director Herzog and Interviewer Norman Hill
• Deleted Scenes w/ optional commentary
• Documentary: The Making of a True Story
• Honoring the Brave Interactive Memorial
• Featurette: Preparing for Survival
• Before the Dawn Mission Secrets Trivia Track
• Theatrical Trailer in HD
Disc: BD-50 dual-layer
Standard Blu-ray case with slipcover.
Release Date: November 20, 2007
Review by Leonard Norwitz
December 7, 2007
Rescue Dawn ~ Comment
Unlike prison break movies like The Great Escape, Escape from Alcatraz, Escape from New York, or even the television series, Prison Break, Rescue Dawn incorporates an emotionally charged political layer that is hard to divorce from one’s response to the movie. This is perhaps inevitable with any movie whose action takes place in such dicey areas as Southeast Asia, Somalia or the Persian Gulf – in short, just about anywhere since WWII where the U.S. itself was not attacked by the people we find ourselves exchanging ordinance with. Depending on your political bias, when Navy pilot Lt. Dieter Dengler is captured and taunted by the Laotians, we wince at his humiliation, but we might also feel sympathy for the people whose homes he has just carelessly bombed into oblivion. Herzog presents the dichotomy, but doesn't dwell on it.
Herzog’s job, therefore, is to keep the political angle at bay so that he can get our attention focused on the question of survival against impossible odds – a theme that the director has found particularly interesting in the past (Fitzcarraldo, Aguirre and, in its own twisted way, Grizzly Man). Self-reliance, courage and imagination are the key factors at play - certainly not patriotism, which Dengler himself downplays at every opportunity. Dengler seemed to have no idea of what he was getting into on his first mission even though he and his fellow officers were briefed on jungle survival, rescue and identity. When asked at last if God & Country were uppermost in his mind to help guide him and keep him alive, he demurred, but gave this advice: "When something is empty, fill it. When something is full, empty it. When you have an itch, scratch it."
That upbeat sentiment is certainly Christian Bale's optimistic version of Dieter Dengler – a portrayal I gather that is not far from the actual person. Given the downbeat mood of his fellow prisoners – at least one of whom had been wasting away two years already – Dieter must have been as much a nuisance as an inspiration – and the movie is best, I thought, at conveying this discrepancy and its likely consequences. Jeremy Davies and Steve Zahn are rather more interesting than Christian Bale in this exercise. Zahn gets my vote for the Oscar.
Indeed, Rescue Dawn is not really an action/adventure film, as Klaus Badelt's understated score so well demonstrates. Herzog uses music not to punch up the drama, but to emphasize its opposite, as in the opening shots of bombing villages and godknowswhat remote rural installations, where the music is downright ethereal. Instead of heroics and noisy battle scenes (Dieter's plane crash excepted) Herzog is concerned with the inner struggle to stay alive as well as the readiness to give throw in the towel. The title, Rescue Dawn, by the way, has nothing to do with either Dengler's rescue or the time of day - but when its meaning is finally revealed, I couldn't help a catch in my throat.
The Score Card
The Movie : 7
The plot is disarmingly simple: Navy pilot Lt. Dieter Dengler is on his first combat mission over Laos when his plane is shot down. The mission was classified top secret, seeing as how our government didn't want the world to know that we were bombing the hell out of Vietnam and Laos in 1966. He is soon captured and brought deep into the interior to a bamboo prison for American forces. The prison, though a torture in any number of ways, is skimpily guarded since, as a fellow prisoner puts it, the jungle itself is the prison. If you try to escape, the need for clean water becomes a constant preoccupation. Beyond that, there are any number of creatures out there that could finish you off, to say nothing of disease and the pursuing soldiers. Add to this: not really knowing where one is or which way is the way to freedom.
Image : 8.5 (4~9/10)
The archival footage from the opening minutes of the movie are less than demonstration quality, yet for all that, is extremely effective at conveying the devastating and effects of American bombing. Beyond that, the image is often so clear as look like it was done on a carefully pruned set. Of course, it wasn’t, it’s just the consequence of the contrast to the opening footage (thus the 4~9 score.) I imagine the film looked no better in the theatre than on this BRD.
Audio & Music : 9 & 9
Since there is very little in the way of bombast, we are content with the subtlety of a dynamically changing jungle. Very effective here, I thought. The dialog was clear enough, though you do have to perk up your ears to make out the paranoid whispers of actor Jeremy Davies.
Operations : 6
Subtlety is great on a soundtrack – less great on a menu. The controls on the Interactive Vietnam Memorial were a bit too subtle for my taste. I'd hate to have to negotiate them on anything less than a 60-inch screen.
Extras : 6
Herzog's interview with Norman Hill serves to sort out reality from fiction, of which there was very little, except that the locations used were not exactly the same. (How that can be relevant in a jungle is beyond me.) Herzog frequently recalled his 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly which, unhappily, is not included on this BRD. (Let us not forget that neither this feature film nor the documentary makes use of footage from the actual events.) In its place is the "Making of a True Story" documentary, which appears to be all we are entitled to.
Herzog is a little too fond of extolling the virtues of his actors in terms that have little to do with acting. This is perhaps largely the fault of Hill, who kept asking him about weight loss and eating snakes and risk taking. I usually find Herzog to be an excellent commentator, as he is in any number of his documentaries, but here I found him to be far to congratulatory and appreciative of his cast and crew to the exclusion of telling me what was on his mind as he made this or why.
By the way, have I ever complained in this column about the use of the expression "Trivia Track" to describe information that isn't the slightest bit trivial? Well, I so complain.
Despite my reservations about the Extra Features, this Blu-ray is recommended viewing – at least once for all the reasons Herzog states: as a study in perseverance in the face of likely death. I can't imagine a better way to see it than on this Blu-ray in a good home theatre.
December 7th, 2007
Enter the Dragon