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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

Generation Kill [Blu-ray]

 

(Susanna White & Simon Cellan Jones, 2008)

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: HBO Films, Blown Deadline, & Company Pictures

Blu-ray: Home Box Office

 

Disc:

Region: FREE! (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 420 min

Size: 50 GB

Case: Study Gatefold Box

Release date: June 16, 2009

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.78:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: AVC

 

Audio:

English DTS-HD MA 5.1; French & Spanish DTS 2.0

 

Subtitles:

English SDH, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian & Finnish

 

Extras:

• 6 Audio Commentaries

• A Conversation with 1st Recon Marines – in HD (23:25)

• Making Generation Kill – in HD (235:05)

• Eric Ladin's Video Diaries – in HD (30:09)

• Deleted Dialogues – in HD (ca. 15 min.)

• Military Glossary, Chain of Command Chart & Mission Maps

 

 

The Film:

There's an emotional punch to "Generation Kill" that war buffs and informed readers know is coming, but the series manages to build the inevitable nature of combat weariness into a compelling (and often damning) narrative. When we first meet the characters in "Generation Kill," they are clamoring to get in the action. They are tired of faux war games. They want to "get some." Part youthful exuberance, part pent-up warriors, they believe in the cause. They believe in kicking ass. There is a bursting-to-kill element that you know will, soon enough, come bluntly face-to-face with reality. It's the varied reactions when it happens that carry "Generation Kill" to great heights.     

Excerpt from Tim Goodman's review at the San Francisco Chronicle located HERE
 

The Series : 9
I saw Patton when it came out at the height of the Vietnam War. I remember that both “hawks” and “doves” felt the movie made their case for them. Patton - the general and the man - was a hero, a demigod, a military genius by turns. The war itself may have been a necessary response to rampant evil, but there are always echoes of “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” Tolstoy observed in “War & Peace” that battles are won by soldiers, not generals, even though generals and politicians could be responsible for losing them. We suspect that it was always so. Generation Kill seems to argue that just because one side has a superior technical advantage, those in charge will continue to find increasingly creative ways to undermine the efforts of the grunt soldier.

I think it’s fair to say that after WWII, the U.S. hasn’t had much success in providing heroic backdrops for war movies. Individual heroism, yes, but not for the conduct of the wars themselves. John Wayne’s Green Berets was unsuccessful for artistic reasons, but it was always an embarrassment in purely political terms. Oliver Stone’s Platoon and Francis Coppola’s Apocalypse Now! looked at that same war as a psychedelic, metaphysical proposition, with its twisted political nature very much front and center.

Wherever you come down on the politics of the U.S. deployment, war, occupation – call it what you will – Generation Kill, is a series that, perhaps even more than Patton, will satisfy all points of view. Given America’s increasingly dismal, or at least problematic, track record in wartime since WWII, it comes as no surprise that a series about the 1st Recon Marines who lead the assault in President Bush’s war against his father hasn’t a shred of romanticism or sentimentality about it. The image seems monochromatic and overexposed – something like the Marines themselves. There is no musical soundtrack, save the banter between soldiers that sometimes evolves into song. No pop tunes, no orchestral swells at moments of crisis, truth or irony. The huge cast tends to blur into a melisma of gruntspeak.

At the same time, there is a devotion to duty, to the Corps and to the mission, that develops into a singularity of purpose that is palpable and honorable, in the best sense of that word, even as it comes into contrary contact with the casual devastation these young men are capable of.

Rolling Stones' journalist, Evan Wright was imbedded with the Marines from the start of their assault. Out of their exploits came a book, and out of that, a seven-part series, in which he remained intimately involved - produced and co-written by David Simon and Ed Burns, fresh from their heady success with HBO’s five-season examination of the life of an inner city, The Wire.

Brits Susanna White (Bleak House) and Simon Cellan Jones (Our Friends in the North), divided directorial chores. A number of Marines who participated in the initial assault, reprise their efforts for the series - most notably, Sgt. Rudy Reyes – or provide technical support. Some of the actors are cast for their 1000-yard stare, most notably Alexander Skarsgard (True Blood) as Sgt. Brad Colbert; others for their dedication, vulnerablity and humanity, like Stark Sands (a newbie) as Lt. Fick; their tenacity, like Chance Kelly as "Godfather" Lt. Col. Ferrando; or their way with snappy dialogue, like James Ransome (The Wire) as Cpl. Josh Person; and always: the jawline.
 

Excerpt of review from SF Gate located HERE

 

 

Image: 7/8   NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

The bright, arid desert that is the back-, middle- and foreground for Generation Kill often leaves with a colorless image, especially in the early episodes before the Marines enter the larger towns. It is likely not the transfer that is responsible for the picture’s rather thin, soft image, with its touch of grain that further decouples a clear and immediate individuality for the soldiers. It’s difficult to tell if there is any edge enhancement in a field as bright as this, but I think not. The night scenes are pretty much absent any noise. OK, this is not Kill Bill, but somehow it seems "right" as we get some. Bit rates are generally well into the upper 30s.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 7/x
The first thing we might be aware of is that there is no music track. That’s nothing if not ambitious for a seven-hour series. The documentary feel is supported by the effects track, up to a point. The fire from small arms, automatic weapons, artillery, and air strikes is convincing enough, but there is a snag - and it’s one that shows up in most movies and television shows: a disconnect in time between the flash of fire and the sound of it. There can be no doubt that the decision to make these moments coincide is a deliberate and conventional one but, in my opinion, it’s an opportunity missed.

I can see that for much of the automatic weapons fire or in the heat of multiple exchanges, my preference for realism is utterly impractical: there’s such a thing as too much confusion. But in isolated instanced of distant gunfire and especially for explosions of 1/4-1/2 mile, it works against the POV that the filmmakers have otherwise worked so hard to maintain to have the sound and the sight coincide. This is obviously a judgment call about which I am sure I am in the minority.

Carping aside, the effects, whether at long distance (seen and not seen) or buzzing all around, like the Tomahawk missiles that emerge overhead and from behind us, are captured convincingly, though perhaps not with quite the impact that real fire might have. For instance, a 50mm machine gun, the default attack-vehicle weapon since WWII, has the power to kill a person standing
on the other side of a one-foot thick concrete wall. Such power is not really conveyed in audio terms even though the visual effect of it is. The layered dialogue (thank you, Robert Altman) is the music in Generation Kill, and you can just make it out if you understand Marinespeak. I found myself resorting to both the subtitles and the easily activated military glossary for the first two or three episodes until I got the hang of it.

 

 

 

 

Operations: 9
HBO offers an imaginatively conceived, interactive, translucent grid that brings up details regarding chain of command, names and aliases of each of the main and important supporting characters – and there are quite a few of them – plus the weapons and vehicles employed. The menu offers quite a bit of summary information before enabling. My only quibble is the lack of a Play All for the Deleted Dialogues.

 

Extras: 9
Many points for The "Basic Training" grid that details the soldiers and their relative place in the chain of command and which can be superimposed and searched anytime during the show. I found myself referring to it frequently.

Six of the episodes have commentaries with various participants: the director, writers, producers, actors who speak on every imaginable aspect of production – even the freezing cold African nights – and audience reaction far less casually and more informatively than is often the case with so many commentaries.

The bulk of the Extra Features are found on the third disc, along with the final episode. The Making-of segment is traditionally, but interestingly, told. Director Sussana White, along with the various Producers, Writers, Production Team, and Military Advisors take us through the backstory of the 1st Recon Marines, their Boot Camp experience, their Mission in Iraq, the Men who participated in the series, the African Locations, the Vehicles and Gear.

Perhaps the most fascinating of the bonus features is the conversation facilitated by Evan Wright with six of the marines involved: one who plays himself in the series, a couple of the technical advisors, and Sgts. Antonio Espera and Brad Colbert Actual. They review their experience in Iraq and the series.

Since some of the best parts of Generation Kill are the dialogues, and five of the deleted exchanges are recovered, minus discarded footage, but along with name rank and photo ID's. All the Bonus Features, including Eric Ladin's Video Diaries are transferred in very good quality HD.
 

 

 

Bottom line: 9
The story of the 1st Recon Marines that spearheaded the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 is told dispassionately, often with humor, always with an eye for the many truths that must accrue to such an adventure. The image may not be as "wow" as we usually get on Blu-ray, but that’s by design. The audio is always clear and dynamic, if lacking in killing impact. The Extra Features are welcome. Highly Recommended.

Leonard Norwitz
June 13th, 2009 / January 18th, 2010

 

 

 

 

About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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