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S E A R C H    D V D B e a v e r

directed by John Sturges
USA 1963

 

One of the most exciting adventure tales ever told, this action epic recounts the planning, execution, and aftermath of a daring true-life escape from a German prisoner-of-war camp during World War II, in which 250 men attempted to tunnel their way to freedom. In the role that cemented his superstar status, Steve McQueen plays the motorcycle-racing daredevil who sets out to foil the Nazis, alongside an all-star cast that includes Charles Bronson, James Coburn, James Garner, and Donald Pleasence. The expert direction of John Sturges, eminently hummable Elmer Bernstein score, and rip-roaring stunts come together in what may just be the most spectacularly entertaining prison-break movie of all time, a rousing ode to the determination, camaraderie, and courage of everyday heroes.

***

The Nazis, exasperated at the number of escapes from their prison camps by a relatively small number of Allied prisoners, relocate them to a high-security 'escape-proof' camp to sit out the remainder of the war. Undaunted, the prisoners plan one of the most ambitious escape attempts of World War II. Based on a true story.

Posters

Theatrical Release: June 20th, 1963

Reviews                                                                                                       More Reviews                                                                                       DVD Reviews

 

Comparison:

Criterion (Laserdisc) - Region 0 - NTSC vs. MGM - Region FREE - Blu-ray vs. Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray

Big thanks to  Enrique B Chamorro for the LaserDisc captures and details!

Box Cover

  

  

Bonus Captures:

Distribution Criterion
Region 0 - NTSC
MGM
Region FREE -
Blu-ray
Criterion - Spine # 1027 - Region 'A' - Blu-ray
Runtime 2:51:00         2:52:13.323 2:52:28.588
Video 2.35:1 Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: na mb/s
NTSC 704x480 29.97 f/s

1080P Dual-layered Blu-ray

Disc Size: 46,902,465,029 bytes

Feature: 38,254,565,376 bytes

Video Bitrate: 18.19 Mbps

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

1080P Dual-layered Blu-ray

Disc Size: 49,969,563,680 bytes

Feature: 40,088,709,120 bytes

Video Bitrate: 23.05 Mbps

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

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

Bitrate MGM  Blu-ray

Bitrate Criterion Blu-ray:

Audio English DD 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio English 3990 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 3990 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)
Dolby Digital Audio Spanish 192 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps
DTS Audio French 768 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 768 kbps / 24-bit
DTS Audio Italian 768 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 768 kbps / 24-bit
DTS Audio German 768 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 768 kbps / 24-bit
DTS Audio Spanish 768 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 768 kbps / 24-bit
* DTS-HD Master Audio Japanese 1075 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 1075 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 1.0 / 48 kHz / 768 kbps / 24-bit)
Dolby Digital Audio Polish 448 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 448 kbps
Commentary: Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps

LPCM Audio English 1152 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 1152 kbps / 24-bit
DTS-HD Master Audio English 3490 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 3490 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)
Commentaries:

Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps

Subtitles  None English (SDH), Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, German, Chinese, Czech, Dutch, Greek, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Thai, Japanese English (SDH), None
Features Release Information:
Studio: Criterion

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen letterboxed - 2.35:1

Edition Details:
• Film historian Bruce Eder hosts the commentary. by dir. Sturges, Reylea, Bernstein, stuntman Ekins
• 1963 Theatrical Trailer
• Planning an escape photos with Sturges audio track
• Publicity photos
• Production photo gallery
• From script to screen text & photos
• Continuity photos
• The real Stalag Luft III photos

• Jacket notes by John Sturges & pencil map of Stalag Luft

 

DVD Release Date: 1991
Gatefold Jacket

Chapters 36

 

CLICK HERE for a scan of the inside of the Criterion laserdisc jacket. It is a sketch of the camp used by Sturges during the filming

Release Information:
Studio: MGM

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080P Dual-layered Blu-ray

Disc Size: 46,902,465,029 bytes

Feature: 38,254,565,376 bytes

Video Bitrate: 18.19 Mbps

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Edition Details:
• Commentary by John Sturges, cast and crew

• The Great Escape: Bringing Fact to Fiction (12:21)
• The Great Escape: Preparations For Freedom (19:51)

• The Great Escape: The Flight to Freedom (9:22)

• The Great Escape: A Standing Ovation (5:58)
• The Great Escape: The Untold Story (50:48)

• The Great Escape: The Untold Story - Additional Interviews (9:35)

• The Real Virgil Hilts: A Man Called Jones (25:01)

• Return to The Great Escape (24:09)
• T
railer (2:42 in 1080P)
 

Blu-ray Release Date: May 7th, 2013
Standard Blu-ray case

Chapters 32

Release Information:
Studio:
Criterion

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080P Dual-layered Blu-ray

Disc Size: 49,969,563,680 bytes

Feature: 40,088,709,120 bytes

Video Bitrate: 23.05 Mbps

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Edition Details:
• 
Two audio commentaries, one from 1991, featuring director John Sturges and composer Elmer Bernstein; the other, from 2003, featuring actors James Coburn, James Garner, and Donald Pleasence
• New interview with critic Michael Sragow (23:11)
• “The Great Escape”: Heroes Under Ground, a four-part 2001 documentary about the real-life escape from the Stalag Luft III prisoner-of-war camp during World War II, including interviews with POWs held there (43:39)
• The Real Virgil Hilts: A Man Called Jones, a 2001 program on the United States Army Air Forces pilot David Jones, the inspiration for Steve McQueen’s character in the film (25:01)
• Return to “The Great Escape,” a 1993 program featuring interviews with Coburn, Garner, and actors David McCallum and Jud Taylor (24:10)
• Trailer (2:43)
• PLUS: An essay by critic Sheila O’Malley
 

Blu-ray Release Date: May 12th, 2020
Transparent Blu-ray case

Chapters 19

 

 

Comments:

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

ADDITION: Criterion Blu-ray (April 2020): Criterion have transferred John Sturges' The Great Escape to Blu-ray. It is cited as a "New, restored 4K digital transfer". We included the 1991 Criterion Laserdisc in our comparison this was the last time the company transferred The Great Escape. There are some similarities between that large disc format's appearance and the new release's color scheme. It also has yellowish, golden, sometimes green or earthy hues - as opposed to the MGM which was decidedly blue and dark - occasionally approaching teal. While the 2013 MGM Blu-ray showed slightly less information in the frame than the Laserdisc, the new Criterion Blu-ray shows slightly more - mostly on the right edge of the frame. As with most classics, the colors will be debated ad nauseam. I can only say that the Criterion is brighter, shows more detail and depth and looks quite strong in-motion. It is the best image presentation, imo - even if some still decry it's source inferiorities. Some seem to think that Criterion can change the color scheme dramatically from its source - they cannot - just as they couldn't 30 years ago for their Laserdisc.

Now, just like the MGM iterations - at around 1 hour 22 minutes (start of the July 4th celebration - drinking 'homebrew' outside) for about 10-minutes - the image source appears decidedly compromised. With the Criterion instead of looking waxy, flat and digitized (DNR-ish) to mask this weakness as per the old MGM DVDs and Blu-ray, the new Criterion looks very textured, thick and rich with grain (see captures below). As in both though, there is a disparity from the rest of the film. I strongly prefer how Criterion have dealt with it - as it didn't unduly take me out of the film experience as the MGM did. We have two samples below.

NOTE: We have added 62 more large resolution Blu-ray captures (in lossless PNG format) available for DVDBeaver Patrons HERE.

On their Blu-ray, Criterion gives the option of a linear PCM mono track or a robust DTS-HD Master  5.1 surround bump - both 24-bit in the original English language. Plenty of aggressive effects including machine gunfire, motorcycles, planes and trains come through with surprising depth on the surround and there are less-discreet separations. The mono track is authentically flat but carries some punch. The score is by Elmer Bernstein (From the Terrace, The Hallelujah Trail, The Grifters, Birdman of Alcatraz, Love With the Proper Stranger, The Bride at Remagen, The Comancheros, The World of Henry Orient, Kings of the Sun, Hud, To Kill a Mockingbird, Summer and Smoke). Criterion offer optional English (SDH) subtitles on their Region 'A' Blu-ray.

The Criterion Blu-ray offers two audio commentaries. The first has director John Sturges, composer Elmer Bernstein, stuntman Bud Ekins, second unit director Robert E. Relyea - hosted and introduced by Bruce Eder as found on Criterion's 1991 Laserdisc. It still holds value - especially for the Sturges input. The second commentary is the same one found on the 2003 MGM(s) featuring actors James Coburn, James Garner, Donald Pleasence, Jud Taylor and David McCallum, second unit director Robert E. Relyea, production designer Fernando Carrere, 'talent manager' Hillard Elkins (who represented McQueen), stuntman Bud Ekins and features an interview with Sturges from 1974. It is hosted by Steven Jay Rubin (author of Combat Films: American Realism, 1945-1970). Criterion add a new 23-minute interview with critic Michael Sragow who describes Sturges as "an invisible moviemaker' much in the way Ford and Sturges were in the 1930s. He describes that the story is the star of the film despite the lauded cast and talks about Sturges - how he got involved in film as well as two of his directorial efforts 1953's Jeopardy with Barbara Stanwyck and Escape from Fort Bravo with William Holden. He talks about Sturges only Best Director nomination; Bad Day at Black Rock and his The Magnificent Seven reworking of The Seven Samurai. It is excellent. The Criterion includes the previously released 3/4 hour “The Great Escape”: Heroes Under Ground, four-part 2001 documentary about the real-life escape from the Stalag Luft III prisoner-of-war camp during World War II, including interviews with POWs held there via The Great Escape: Bringing Fact to Fiction, The Great Escape: Preparations For Freedom, The Great Escape: The Flight to Freedom and The Great Escape: A Standing Ovation. It also repeats the 25-minute The Real Virgil Hilts: A Man Called Jones, a 2001 program on the United States Army Air Forces pilot David Jones, the inspiration for Steve McQueen’s character in the film plus Steven Jay Rubin's 1993, 24-minute, "Return to “The Great Escape,” featuring interviews with Coburn, Garner, McCallum and Jud Taylor. There is a trailer and the package has liner notes with an essay by critic Sheila O’Malley.

One of the most re-watchable 'escape' films of all time. It hasn't lost any of its entertainment value seeing all the young stars in supporting roles. The Great Escape has contained set pieces and it works with immense suspense (Sturges' strength.) The new Criterion Blu-ray with superior 4K-restored video, finally the option of authentic mono audio, the two commentaries and valuable Michael Sragow piece -  gets a very strong recommendation! If you love the film - as many of us do - this is the home theatre issue to own. 

Gary Tooze

***

 

ADDITION: MGM - Region FREE - Blu-ray (May 2013): A little heavy on the teal - but otherwise certainly improves over the other digital editions. More information in the 2.35:1 frame on most - except the original 2.69:1 aspect ratio DVD from 1998. There remains a touch of grain and some heaviness - the film never looked ultra-crisp (it will never be impressive in that regard) but detail does move up a notch with some of the digging scenes showing previously hidden background information. I toggled back and forth between the SE - and it's quite evident that the 1080P - even with a low-ish bitrate due to the almost 3-hour length of the film - is an improvement. My biggest complaints are the way blue is rendered and the DNR-sih waxiness about 1/2 into the film.

 

Fans will love how Elmer Bernstein's score, along with the iconic Colonel Bogey March (or Bernstein variation of), sounds in DTS-HD Master lossless. The bump is a 5.1 at a whopping 3990 kbps. A beautiful high-end. Separations aren't crisp but there are a few that sneakily make it to the rear speakers. Sound effects used to mask the digging show depth and range. There are multiple foreign language DUBs and subtitle options signifying the Blu-ray as being Region FREE.

 

The Blu-ray includes most of the supplements found on the previous digital editions. We get the Steven J. Rubin hosted commentary with John Sturges, cast and crew - the six part featurette (The Great Escape: Bringing Fact to Fiction, Preparations For Freedom, The Flight to, A Standing Ovation, The Untold Story and The Untold Story - Additional Interviews.) We get the 25-minute Real Virgil Hilts: A Man Called Jones piece and the equal-length'ed Return to The Great Escape. Lastly there is a trailer in 1080P - everything else is in 480i.

 

This classic never seems to get old - with the great cast. Despite the weaknesses the MGM Blu-ray IS recommended as a bump over the DVDs - to fans of the film.

 - Gary W. Tooze

 


Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray


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

 

Compromised image between 1 hour 22 to 1 hour 32 minutes looks thicker and grainer
(CLICK to ENLARGE)

 

 

1) Criterion (Laserdisc) - Region 0 - NTSC - TOP

2) MGM - Region FREE - Blu-ray SECOND

3) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray- BOTTOM

 

 

 


1) Criterion (Laserdisc) - Region 0 - NTSC - TOP

2) MGM - Region FREE - Blu-ray SECOND

3) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray- BOTTOM

 


1) Criterion (Laserdisc) - Region 0 - NTSC - TOP

2) MGM - Region FREE - Blu-ray SECOND

3) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray- BOTTOM

 

 

 


1) Criterion (Laserdisc) - Region 0 - NTSC - TOP

2) MGM - Region FREE - Blu-ray SECOND

3) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray- BOTTOM

 


1) Criterion (Laserdisc) - Region 0 - NTSC - TOP

2) MGM - Region FREE - Blu-ray SECOND

3) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray- BOTTOM

 


1) Criterion (Laserdisc) - Region 0 - NTSC - TOP

2) MGM - Region FREE - Blu-ray SECOND

3) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray- BOTTOM

 

 


 

More full resolution (1920 X 1080) Blu-ray Captures for DVDBeaver Patreon Supporters HERE

 

 

 
Box Cover

  

  

Bonus Captures:

Distribution Criterion
Region 0 - NTSC
MGM
Region FREE -
Blu-ray
Criterion - Spine # 1027 - Region 'A' - Blu-ray


 


 

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Gary Tooze

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