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

The Fox Blu-ray War Bash 2008

"The perfect gift for Dad this Father's Day" - so says Fox for their long-awaited series of five – count them – big budget war films from their vast catalog: Battle of Britain (1969), A Bridge Too Far (1977),
The Longest Day (1962), Patton (1970), and The Sand Pebbles (1966). Except for The Sand Pebbles, these are all WWII films. Three of them show off a huge cast of luminaries, but only one (A Bridge Too Far) does it without undue posturing. All of them have outstanding photography: even the least successful as a script (Battle of Britain) has some terrific aerial photography.

Between the five, they scored nine Academy Awards, which is less impressive when you consider that seven of them were for one picture alone (
A Bridge Too Far, which had zero nominations, has become, for me, one of the more rewatchable WWII movies, and has one of the most engaging film scores composed for the genre. Jerry Goldsmith's score for Patton was rightfully nominated, but lost to – are you sitting down for this – Love Story!

The Longest Day is remarkable for two reasons: it is one of the first films shot in Black & White to be released on Blu-ray! (Bergman's The Seventh Seal jumps to mind as another - there may be a few more) and it is also one of the older films on the new format... and best looking image – all the more surprising considering how bloody awful the SD 2-disc Collector's Edition was. (The previous letterboxed image was sharper, even after zoomed out to full size.) The sound tracks for all of these movies are very good-to-excellent. They may not have the same level of crunch we have come to expect since Saving Private Ryan, but they are convincing all the same, regardless of age. The music tracks for these films are especially clear, invigorating and supportive of the mood.

All of the titles have seen SD-DVD incarnations previously, some very good ones, some with extensive supplements. My comparison of the supplements from the latest SD editions and the respective Blu-ray reveals that all of the extra features – with the exception of
A Bridge Too Far - are ported over to High Def. Except for the occasional trailer, there are NO high-def extra features to be found on any of these new releases. Two of them (A Bridge Too Far and Battle of Britain) have no extra features at all, unless you count trailers (which I don't.) Battle of Britain SD edition, by the way, is the sole movie of this quintet not too have received the 2-disc treatment in 480i. The BRDs of Patton and The Longest Day are 2-disc affairs, but Fox opted for a single 50 GB disc to accommodate all but "Road Show" version of the 2-disc material from their most recent SD of The Sand Pebbles.

The Sand Pebbles [Blu-ray]


(Robert Wise, 1966)





Available in the UK in June 2013:



Review by Leonard Norwitz



Theatrical: Argyle-Solar, Robert Wise Productions & 20th Century Fox

Blu-ray: 20th Century Fox Pictures Home Entertainment



Region: A

Runtime: 179 min

Chapters: 36

Size: 50 GB

Case: Standard Blu-ray case: 1 disc

Release date: June 3, 2008



Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: MPEG2 @ 20 MBPS



English DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless, English 4.0 Dolby Surround, Spanish & French Mono



English, English SDH, Spanish, Cantonese and Korean



• Audio Commentary by the Director Robert Wise and Actors Richard Crenna, Candice Bergen & Mako.

• Isolated Film Score Track with Commentary by Music Producer Nick Redman, Film Music Historian Jon Burlingame, and Film Historian Lem Dobbs

• Trivia Track [hardly trivial - LN]

• Road Show Version Scenes [Aha!]

• Radio Documentaries Narrated by Richard Attenborough

• Original Theatrical Trailer

• Featurettes:

• The Making of The Sand Pebbles

• China 1926 Remembered

• Steve McQueen Remembered

• A Ship Called San Pablo

• The Secret of San Pablo



The Film: 8
I remember finding this movie a bit longish for my taste when I first saw it decades ago. I've slowed down quite a bit since then, but fortunately I have more patience for things that take their time to unfold.

Since Gary has already covered the basics in his review of the SD HERE. I shall content myself generally with comments about the image and sound.

One curiosity while we're about it: While the Blu-ray does not include the slightly longer "Road Show" version found on the 2-disc SD, it would seem that we have something very like it here since, according to Robert Wise's commentary, it has a musical overture over a dark blank screen, intermission and exit music.


Image: 8 (7~8.5/9)
The score of 8 indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray DVDs on a ten-point scale. The score in parentheses represents: first, a value for the image in absolute terms; and, second, how that image compares to what I believe is the current best we can expect in the theatre.

Comparison to Fox's recent 2-disc SD Cinema Classics Collection edition is the question, so let's take a closer look. Also, considering the content on this 50 GB disc, we need to ask if there appears to be any compromise in image quality. Indeed, bit rates tend be between 18-24 MBPS, which is lowish for Blu-ray, though good image quality has been observed elsewhere at those numbers.

The question of brightness is one that still has me scratching my head. From the evidence of the screen caps it would appear that the dark scenes are brightened in the Blu-ray. To me, a dark space is a dark space and ought not be enhanced unless the photographer lit it that way to begin with. I can't remember what this movie looked like way back then, but there is something a little less than realistic about some of the interiors –most notably the engine room. Oh well, what the hell do I know about engine rooms anyhow! Then there the room that Maily lies sick in. I think it ought to be dark, more like we see it on the SD.

But here's the problem: The image on the SD overall is dark. It simply looks dull by comparison, as if my projector lamp suddenly got switched to Low. The daytime scenes really come off poorly in this regard. This is to say nothing of the difference in sharpness, resolution, dimensionality – all those things we have come to know and love about high definition. (Brightness is one of those things, by the way.)

I come back to which edition I would rather sit through three hours of – and there is no question: the Blu-ray. Fortunately the audio comparison makes the matter a slam-dunk in favor of the new BRD.


Two-Disc Special Edition SD TOP vs. Blu-ray BOTTOM



Two-Disc Special Edition SD TOP vs. Blu-ray BOTTOM



Two-Disc Special Edition SD TOP vs. Blu-ray BOTTOM



Two-Disc Special Edition SD TOP vs. Blu-ray BOTTOM



Two-Disc Special Edition SD TOP vs. Blu-ray BOTTOM



Two-Disc Special Edition SD TOP vs. Blu-ray BOTTOM



Two-Disc Special Edition SD TOP vs. Blu-ray BOTTOM



Audio & Music: 7/9
At long last I have what seems to be a pretty decent, if not entirely finalized, surround system in place. It has not yet been professionally calibrated. That may be a few weeks off, so regard my comments with this in mind – and if there is the need for qualification, I shall post in the Update section. In any case, I feel I am much closer to the intentions of the audio mix than ever before.

On the same scale, I would have given the audio mix on the SD a 5, maybe even a 4: dull, thick, uneventful. While not beginning to approach what has been possible in the last twenty years, the DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless sound mix on the Blu-ray is head and shoulders more involving, more nuanced, more dynamic. Jerry Goldsmiith's colorful music score is more interesting, the various gun shots are – well, more various - and have relevant directionality about them. Dialogue, too, is clarified.


Operations: 3
I think it would not be an exaggeration to say that I hated the Special Features menu. The curser did not behave as I predicted and, one guess was as good as another as to which feature or commentary I activated. Color-coding Yes and No is always problematic, for how are we to know what the default is – especially once we have made choices along the way. Yuk.


Lots. What more could we ask? High-Def, I guess. Not today. See Gary's review of the 2-disc Special Edition SD HERE as they are duplicated.



Bottom line: 8
I don't think that the low bit rate is cause for concern. Battle for Britain isn't much higher, and looks noticeably better, so I'm guessing the difference lies elsewhere (condition of the source print and choices made in transfer as to contrast.) Frankly, I didn't expect much compared to the Cinema Classics edition, partly because so much material was on the disc. In any event, and however you feel about the brightness issue, it's the audio that nails this DVD. But Blu-ray acquitted itself well in this.

Leonard Norwitz
May 25th, 2008




Available in the UK in June 2013:






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