Breaker Morant Blu-ray Review
PictureThere has been some high praise for this release from various quarters regarding its appearance here in 1080p. But, to be frank, this AVC MPEG-4 encoded 1.78:1 image has quite a few drawbacks, as far as I am concerned. Most obvious of all is that the film looks old and tired and damaged. Some finite flecks and speckles litter the image almost constantly and there is a gossamer veil of grain, but thankfully there is little in the way of wobble between scene changes. Whilst close-ups benefit from the extra clarity of the higher definition - and those sunburned, pock-marked faces really do shine forth - the many external distance shots lose distinction and begin exhibit some edge enhancement, particularly when characters are seen against the horizon. The disc does have some good solid black levels, but these are best presented during interiors. Night-time scenes, or those in subdued lighting out on the plains for instance, can look rather strange with the shadows taking on a vaguely bluish-grey tint that doesn't look right to me. The contrast wavering that the image undergoes is terribly distracting during the opening titles, which suffer very noticeably from this with a horrible fading effect upon the image whenever a credit appears. Typical of older Australian movies, the picture seems to have its contrast ramped up a little too much, anyway, meaning that the image can look a little hot and glaring, with the primaries downplayed in favour of lighter elements of the spectrum. This is not so bad once you get used to it, however and not specifically a fault of the transfer, more a standard look of films from the era.
But this disc does have a lot going for it, though. The afore-mentioned detail is actually very favourable. Buttons, badges and insignia come over well. I'll have to get my dad round to inspect them! The mechanism on the rifles also gain clarity and the walls and floors and tables in the courtroom offer up little cracks and chips and worn details, too. The exterior of the gaol and the brickwork is clear as well and Donald McAlpine's framing comes over very well indeed. The occasional moments of fast action are handled decently enough by the transfer with no motion drag or blurring that I could see. But there are one or two instances when I saw a greenish blur outlining some background objects. This is most apparent during one courtroom shot and a later moment when a sentry in the rear of the image is ringed by a fuzzy green halo whilst Morant recites his poem about the Great Beyond.
Although I can't comment on previous incarnations of the film on disc, I would be surprised if they looked any better than this. So, for fans of the film, this is definitely something to be tempted by.
SoundWith a DTS-HD 2.0 channel presentation - the first such that I have come across - Breaker Morant actually sounds pleasantly clean and robust, its original mono track crisp and clear. Dialogue, which obviously dominates the track, is always intelligible and well-conveyed. The gunshots and explosions don't posses much weight and the action scenes lack any sort of dynamism, but this is no fault of the transfer. The low-key soundfield that was originally created is strictly adhered to without any embellishment and, even if it is limited in scope and range, still manages to engross without any obvious hitches. The sound of horses cantering and the wind whistling across the landscape may not be particularly natural or exciting, but everything comes through clearly enough to keep the atmosphere of the desolate territory of the Transvaal credible and interesting.
Low ends don't really exist, with everything settling somewhere within a fairly restricted mid-range, and there is obviously nothing taking place in the rears. The DTS track is louder and cleaner than the DD 2.0 option that can also be found on the disc, but either way, the film is nicely served. Other than that, I'm afraid that I can't find much else to report on. But this is a fine enough reproduction of Breaker Morant's soundtrack and certainly shouldn't disappoint.
ExtrasNot a lot to be found here, folks. We get a brief radio spot, and one documentary which isn't even about the film in question. However, I shouldn't be so dismissive. Considering that many people have little actual knowledge of the Boer War - the Zulu Wars that preceded it being far more popular and exciting - an educational feature like this helps supply the bigger picture surrounding just what the conflict was all about and the strange policies and tactics that the British Empire employed. Written and directed by Andrew Aitken and narrated with the mellifluous tone of Robert Powell, this 40-minute examination is told via seamless archival photographs, maps, illustrations, newspaper articles and actual film footage of the troops of the time. Whilst the campaign may seem like much ado about nothing - although the documentary does go into the scheming and the politics behind it all - it is interesting to compare and contrast the different tactics employed by the opposing sides and how the Boers influenced modern warfare and changed the face of British strategy in the field.
Interesting in its own right, the documentary is not enough to pad out a package containing a film that garnered many awards and the story behind the film's production is still sadly absent. I may be wrong, but I think that there is something poignant being said when a Boer called upon to entertain some German ladies and British officers (who cannot understand him) sings to them in the parlour. But without the benefit of a commentary or a making of, or the ability to speak Dutch, I may never know. Thus, this is a curiously sparse release for such a highly thought-of film from Australia.
VerdictNot at all as quiet or as boring as my childhood memories would have me believe, Breaker Morant is an intelligent and powerful film with excellent performances all round and subject matter that is still - and probably always will be - highly relevant and morally divisive. The story is well-told and immensely engrossing despite being dramatised in what is obviously culled from a stage-set play. Woodward is brilliant as the poet-warrior Morant and Brown makes every valiant attempt to steal the show from under him. The style is cool and leisurely and the tone a curious balancing act between the blackly comic and the sublimely moving.
Image's disc delivers a fine DTS-HD audio track that thankfully doesn't attempt to dress things up with any unnecessary bells and whistles, although can't exactly excite or stimulate in any way compared to more recent fare. The picture has some issues, but they are not enough to dissuade anyone from purchasing the release and it is doubtful that the film has looked better than it does here. Extras-wise, this is a disappointment, though. The documentary is good, but we really want to know more about the film, itself, don't we? Still, Breaker Morant is a great film and comes highly recommended to anybody who fancies a bit of an antidote to the conventional gung-ho attitudes of the war movie.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £18.59
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.