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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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Comparison:

 BFI Video - Region 2- PAL vs. New Yorker - Region 1- NTSC vs. BFI - Region 'B' - Blu-ray

1) BFI Video - Region 1 - PAL LEFT

2) New Yorker - Region 1- NTSC MIDDLE

3) BFI - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - RIGHT

 

Box Covers

 

 

Distribution BFI Video - Region 2 - PAL New Yorker - Region 1- NTSC BFI - Region 'B' - Blu-ray
Runtime 46:21 (4% PAL speedup) 48:34 (War Game) + Culloden (1:12:24) War Game: 0:46:21.520 Culloden: 1:09:19.320
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

Disc Size: 40,826,050,304 bytes

War Game Size: 11,700,747,648 bytes

Total Bitrate: 29.99 Mbps

Culloden Size: 17,474,485,632 bytes

Total Bitrate: 29.95 Mbps

Dual-layered Blu-ray MPEG4 - AVC

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

Bitrate:

BFI

Bitrate:  New Yorker

Bitrate:  BFI Blu-ray

Audio English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Dolby)  English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Dolby) 

LPCM Audio English 1536 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 1536 kbps / 16-bit
Commentaries:

Dolby Digital Audio English 320 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 320 kbps

Subtitles English (hearing impaired), None English, French, None English (hearing impaired), 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

.

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

Release Information:
Studio: BFI

 

Disc Size: 40,826,050,304 bytes

War Game Size: 11,700,747,648 bytes

Total Bitrate: 29.99 Mbps

Culloden Size: 17,474,485,632 bytes

Total Bitrate: 29.95 Mbps

Dual-layered Blu-ray MPEG4 - AVC

 

Edition Details:
Culloden commentary by Dr John Cook
The War Game commentary by Patrick Murphy
Interview with editor Mike Bradsell (2015 - 20:50)

Culloden on Location (7:44)

• The War Game - The Controversy (18:35)

The War Game Book
Illustrated booklet with essays and full credits)
 

Blu-ray Release Date: March 28th, 2016
Transparent Blu-ray case

Chapters 4 / 7

 

 

 

Comments:

NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

ADDITION: BFI - Region 'B' - Blu-ray March 16': Like the two Ken Russell Blu-ray Collections (Composers and Passions) both these Watkins' efforts were broadcast on TV and filmed at 25fps which was the standard frame-rate in the UK at the time. As Michael Brooke informs us - "The "i" is misleading, as the 1080i50 encode is merely a carrier for a fully progressive 25fps image - you won't see any interlacing in practice." The image, when compared to the DVDs, especially the very strong New Yorkers, seems lighter and richer with less pronounced black levels. It looks quite good in-motion - but definitely different.

The audio is in liner PCM for both The War Game and Culloden. There are no musical scores in the films - maintaining the heavy vérité feel but there are aggressive sounds from battles to conflicts. These are exported purposefully by the uncompressed and there are optional English (SDH) subtitles on the region 'B'-locked Blu-ray discs.

BFI include the previous commentaries - by Dr John Cook on Culloden and Patrick Murphy on The War Game. Both are excellent and well-worth the re-listen, IMO. We also get a 2015, 21-minute interview with editor Mike Bradsell, a video piece on Culloden on Location and 18-minutes of The War Game - The Controversy; Patrick Murphy penned an article that revealed that the British Home Office had intervened against the showing of The War Game. "Watkins worked in the BBC under the supervision of Huw Wheldon, the Head of Documentaries at the BBC. The refusal of Watkins to cut some scenes depicting an unofficial government policy to shoot the looters/protectors and those injured, was the basis for the reason why the film was initially banned by BBC." There is also a scanned version of The War Game Book and the package has an illustrated booklet with essays and full credits.

Watkins fans should be pleased at this Blu-ray release and the valuable extras that are included. Watkins' work represents unique, prescient and important political cinema and it's great to have it in such a stellar package. Recommended!

***

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





DVD Menus

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

 

 

 

 

BFI - Region 'B' - Blu-ray

 

 


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

Subtitle Sample

 

NOTE: Not Exact Frame

 

1) BFI Video - Region 1 - PAL TOP

2) New Yorker - Region 1- NTSC MIDDLE

3) BFI - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 


 

Screen Captures

 

1) BFI Video - Region 1 - PAL TOP

2) New Yorker - Region 1- NTSC MIDDLE

3) BFI - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 


 

1) BFI Video - Region 1 - PAL TOP

2) New Yorker - Region 1- NTSC MIDDLE

3) BFI - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 


 

1) BFI Video - Region 1 - PAL TOP

2) New Yorker - Region 1- NTSC MIDDLE

3) BFI - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 


 

1) BFI Video - Region 1 - PAL TOP

2) New Yorker - Region 1- NTSC MIDDLE

3) BFI - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 


1) BFI Video - Region 1 - PAL TOP

2) New Yorker - Region 1- NTSC MIDDLE

3) BFI - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 


 

1) BFI Video - Region 1 - PAL TOP

2) New Yorker - Region 1- NTSC MIDDLE

3) BFI - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 


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

Reviews                                                              More Reviews                                                        DVD Reviews

Comparison:

New Yorker - Region 1- NTSC vs. BFI - Region 'B' - Blu-ray


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

Subtitle Sample

 

1) New Yorker - Region 1- NTSC TOP

2) BFI - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 

 

1) New Yorker - Region 1- NTSC TOP

2) BFI - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 

 

1) New Yorker - Region 1- NTSC TOP

2) BFI - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 

 

1) New Yorker - Region 1- NTSC TOP

2) BFI - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 

 

1) New Yorker - Region 1- NTSC TOP

2) BFI - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 

 

 
Box Covers

 

 

Distribution BFI Video - Region 2 - PAL New Yorker - Region 1- NTSC BFI - Region 'B' - Blu-ray




 

 

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Gary Tooze