Khartoum Blu-ray Review
If ever there was a case for more 70mm productions...
Khartoum Film Review
Heavyweights Charlton Heston and Lawrence Olivier go toe-to-toe in this visually stunning Ultra Panavision 70mm-shot feature - the last of its kind for over half a Century, until Tarantino's The Hateful Eight.It's not wholly surprising that the 1966 historical epic Khartoum isn't all that well remembered these days. The screenplay won an Academy Award, but that's likely mostly for one electric moment between the two main characters, with Brit director Basil Dearden somewhat out of his league when it comes to staging such an expansive piece - capable of capturing the scale, but perhaps less capable of integrating that scale with a more intimate tale of veteran warriors and equally committed tribes clashing on a culturally shifting landscape.
Of course, 50 years later, the real world has very much culturally shifted - it's appalling to see Lawrence Olivier (who did the same thing not long before for Othello) painted up as the Sudanese Arab, Mahdi, affecting a dangerously insulting accent to boot - and Heston as the Jesus-like white saviour coming to save the poor 'defenseless' people of Khartoum.
What really sets Khartoum apart is the cinematography.
Even ignoring these antiquated affectations, Khartoum plods along with painfully languid plotting - even accepting the vintage of the production - either treading ponderously close to faithful history, or just uninterested in doing much more than hitting the key narrative setpieces. It's punctuated by a number of armed conflicts, a couple of scenes of rallying the respective men to their causes, and a brief moment where Heston and Olivier actually share a scene, with the rest of the political machinations from the buttoned-up Brits back home coming across as dry (in the 50 years since, disobeying orders has become a necessity for leading characters, so Heston's character's choices here feel positively slight in the modern age).
Of course, what really sets Khartoum apart is the cinematography. It was the last film to be shot in 70mm (until Tarantino decided to change that) and the ultra-wide cinematography is absolutely stunning, delivering truly panoramic shots of the desert vistas - day and night (or night-for-day, as was likely the case) - which will leave your jaw on the floor even before the hundreds of extras fill the screen and clash with bloody spear-throwing mayhem. It's not enough to make this a classic, but it is enough to make you wonder why 70mm hasn't been used more over the last half century.
Khartoum Blu-ray PictureEureka provide Khartoum with its UK bow on this Region B-locked Blu-ray package which delivers the 1966 feature with a 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation framed in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.76:1 widescreen.
Shot on Ultra Panavision 70 (a 70mm gauge print, although only 65mm was for the film, with the remaining 5mm for the six-track sound), the ultra-wide scope takes a moment to get used to, but by the end of the opening aerial glide across the desert it should be clear just what this format can deliver, offering an expansive, panoramic view which isn't just wide, but also deep, providing a depth of focus that allows so much to be captured even from a single static shot.
This is the youngest 70mm production from this era, and thus delivers some jaw-dropping vistas which justify the cost of 'admission'.
Detail is very good indeed, lapping up so much information across the breadth of the image - with Heston normally front-and-centre, some objects close-up right next to him, whilst the townsfolk shift goods on the shore-line in the mid-distance but, in the left corner, at the very end of the bank, more people are still visible by a house in the distance. Sure, there's a thick swathe of grain that permeates almost the entire shoot - and it's telling that the 'night' sequences don't appear to lose much information to limited lighting, making it likely that day-for-night cinematography was used (either that, or these are some of the most stunning sunset battle sequences ever captured over what must have been as painstaking a shoot as Malick's magic-hour run for Days of Heaven).
There is some light digital sharpening visible here, with Heston, Olivier and many characters who are up-close-and-centre often afforded a slight ringed added bit of focus. It's neither distracting nor intrusive, but it's also a notch off reference, which is a shame mostly because this is the youngest 70mm production from this classic Golden Era of filmmaking, and thus - more often than not - delivers some absolutely jaw-dropping, utterly demo quality vistas which easily justify the cost of home viewing 'admission'.
Khartoum Blu-ray SoundKhartoum has a curious release history, having already had a US Blu-ray bow, and now receiving a UK Blu-ray release, and coming from a 70mm source which - by definition - would have afforded it a whole six channels of sound design, yet it is delivered with nothing more than a lossless Linear PCM 2.0 track instead.
A strong audio presentation, notwithstanding the 6-channel original audio that is conspicuously absent.
Thankfully the LPCM audio is much more than just serviceable, bringing the epic desert clashes to life with crowded fury, peppered and punctuated with some booming cannon fire (the explosions are pretty impressive for the era) and affording its key cast clear and coherent dialogue reproduction at all times. The score is strong and suitably rousing, rounding out a strong audio presentation, notwithstanding the 6-channel original audio that is conspicuously absent.
Khartoum Blu-ray ExtrasEureka deliver a couple of decent extras - an Audio Commentary with a trio of film historians, and a further Interview with another film historian; the package rounded out by a trailer and booklet.
Khartoum Blu-ray VerdictNot enough to make this a classic, but enough to make you wonder why 70mm hasn't been used more over the last half century.
Eureka's release of Khartoum affords the visually stunning production largely excellent video and strong audio (notwithstanding the curious lack of a native 5.1 track, given the 70mm format's inherent capabilities) as well as a couple of decent new extra features. It's a great little package for fans of the epic feature to lap up.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £15.99
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