PictureEastwood and DOP Tom Stern have gone for what has become the war-flick staple of a de-saturated, gritty and grey look, and the film - in this 1080p 2.40:1 transfer - certainly manages to convey the dusty, volcanic terrain of Iwo Jima with supreme accuracy. The picture is so scorched-out and void of sheen that you almost choke just watching it, it looks so dry and parched. So it should come as no surprise to discover that there is very little colour throughout. Blood and flames are about the extent of the spectrum, I'm afraid. However, the spewing fire from the American flamethrowers is still startlingly vivid and there is a nice explosion that, for a second, actually throbs with a deep red fireball rather than the usual orange.
The bleached-out look hardens the image but this does not mean that detail has been sacrificed. In fact, the image is filled with finite visual information. Every blade of grass, every ashen rock, the showering dirt and debris from shells and shrapnel, the buttons and insignia upon uniforms and the patterns in the stone walls of the tunnels, and the endless armada of ships and landing craft that crowd the horizon are all sharply etched. Three-dimensionality is, at least, partially successful, with some shots of views along the blitzed coastline supplying immense depth of field, and the odd frame peering out from a black-ringed foxhole to overlook attacking marines in near- and long-distance showcasing the abilities of the higher definition. But, on the whole, Iwo Jima's grit-flecked starkness seems to detract from this.
Black levels are good, but not quite as deep or as robust as I would have liked, with some cave-set scenes appearing somewhat lighter than they ought to. Contrast seems to have been altered during some of these darker sequences, too, although it is exceptionally well-maintained elsewhere. The muted khaki palette makes for an occasional haziness, but I can only presume that this was intentional given the colour aesthetic that Eastwood opted for.
Overall, Letters recieves a good, solid 8 out of 10 from me.
SoundFeaturing a great Dolby Digital TrueHD track, naturally in Japanese, Letters From Iwo Jima delivers a very satisfying aural experience that, whilst not in the same league as, say, Saving Private Ryan's blistering DTS mix, is still very active and immersive. Dialogue and score come over very well, indeed, with voices only swamped by effects when that has clearly been the intention. The music reveals a depth, resonance and haunting clarity throughout the track, sweeping in very nicely and adding a soothing and, at other times, plaintiff soul to the events depicted onscreen.
Gunfire is suitably, and realistically, stuttering - from the steady whump! whump! of heavy calibre machine-guns, to the lonely crack! of rifle-fire - and shots are clearly presented. However, the steerage of such firepower is evidently not too high up in the agenda of the sound-design. Don't get me wrong, though, the bombastics sound good, but there isn't as much in the way of aggressive surround as many other similar titles have created. We don't get bullets zinging diagonally around the room, for instance, or ricochets pinging behind us with quite the attention to wraparound-entertainment that I, for one, might have hoped for. Then again, the strafing and bombing from the US warplanes does provide a sizzlingly good example of the disc getting it just right. The track scores well with ambience, too. The elements - the piercing winds, for instance - are marvellously evocative, and the bustle of movement and voices within the tunnels is terrifically created and adds remarkably to the atmosphere of the subterranean war zone. Explosions are splendidly wrought about, but the track seeks to keep them realistic and resists the temptation to throw the typical (and much-loved, if I'm honest) sonic boom-boom just for the sake of it. Instead they sound muffled and weighed down by the compression of expelled earth and debris, revealing a truthful recreation of how such things actually sound.
Bass is still pretty emphatic, though. The rumble of the American war-machine is deep and guttural, trembling through the floorboards of your lounge-cum-battlefield and the close-knit grenade-suicide scene features reverberating bangs that are convincingly dulled by the confined location in which they take place. But a nicer effect is during the naval and artillery bombardment of the hillside, which features a great, wide-open spread of pops and thuds across the frontal array.
Also included is a DD 5.1 track, but this is noticeably thinner and much less dynamic than the TrueHD mix.
ExtrasThere are a few extras to be found here -
Red Sun, Black Sand: The Making of Letters From Iwo Jima lasts for 21 mins and the main man, himself, Clint Eastwood, revealing just why he sought to make this film as a sibling to Flags Of Our Fathers. Quite sincere and honest, he manages to bring his background belief in the story and respect for both sides of the conflict to the fore without sounding trite or betraying any typical Hollywood schmaltz. The feature also includes production footage and interviews with the cast and crew. Although only brief, this is a good, insightful and revealing look at the things that drew Eastwood to the project and what, ultimately, went into crafting a superior film to its more famous counterpart.
The Faces Of Combat: The Cast OF Letters From Iwo Jima does exactly what it says on the tin - it introduces us to the cast as they analyse and detail the psychology and motivations of the characters they come to portray. Running for 19 mins, this is a much better and more thorough examination than is usually found in the “meet the cast” filler features as, once again, there is none of that Hollywood backslapping routine and fake sentiment. When these guys talk of honouring the defenders, they really mean it.
Images From The Frontlines: The Photography Of Letters From Iwo Jima is a nice 4 minute montage of scenes and stills from the film, all set to the haunting score from Kyle Eastwood.
Then we get a couple of lesser, and standard-def, additions in November 2006 World Premier Coverage at Budo-jan in Tokyo, a brief Press Conference which are purely promotional in nature and offer very little of interest, despite some quite generous running times. And then, to round things off, we get the film's original theatrical trailer.
Overall, this is not a very comprehensive package, but the initial documentaries are still very much worth your while.
VerdictAs I say, Letters From Iwo Jima is a better and more thoughtful film than its brother-in-arms Flags Of Our Fathers, but it is still some way short of being the classic that many critics claim. The immense pro-Eastwood clan will hear no ill about it from me, though. Letters remains an intriguing and involving drama of war and those who are forced to fight it. We live in an age when it could be argued that we don't actually need to be re-educated about the ethics and mentality of those who were once our enemies - literature, films and TV have been re-assessing history for a long time now - but it is still refreshing to see a conflict from the other side of the fence.
This BD release is good, strong one. The AV quality is extremely high and the extras supply a couple of worthwhile features, although a commentary from Clint would have been nice.
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