Rescue Dawn Blu-ray Review

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by Chris McEneany Dec 6, 2007 at 12:00 AM

  • Movies review

    Rescue Dawn Blu-ray Review
    SRP: £24.79


    Herzog's war-time drama is presented on BD with its original 1.85:1 aspect and encoded via AVC MPEG-4 and with a richly detailed 1080p image. Barring a few stock shots of real Nam footage - which are understandably grainy - Rescue Dawn is a remarkably sharp and clear visual feast when it comes to the foreground, but much less so with imagery further away. The most immediately apparent thing about the image is the wonderful colour saturation that brings the jungle to extremely vivid life. Greens are simply luxurious and there appears to be an infinite variety to their shades and textures. Whether it is grass, leaves, foliage, dirty, earth-filled water or the forever-changing hues of the captives' military fatigues, the greens are splendidly presented. But the oranges and reds of explosions, muzzle-flashes and the inferno that Dengler sets ablaze to attract passing aircraft are particularly eye-catching as well. The sharp blue skies look lovely and deep, too, especially when seen in contrast to the earthy palette of the rain-soaked ground or the reddish-orange clay of the prison camp.

    Detail can be incredible, with minute striations in rock and bamboo and every fissure and crag in the men's faces - the sunken cheeks of Bale, the stupefied eyes of Zahn - really marvellously delineated. Hair too - be it the copious facial thatches or the straggly barnetts - is very finely etched and close-ups have that real-life intensity that high resolution can produce so well. The foaming water of a raging river and the smashing raft as it goes over the falls are images that are captivatingly pristine and, even up close, the detail of the dense jungle seems to conjure up more finite texture the deeper you look into it. But the picture often displays softer backgrounds for the far-off landscape shots of mountains and rivers etc, though this is probably an artistic choice to render the nearer objects - our characters, usually - with a bolder relief.

    Blacks are strong enough to firmly base the night-time scenes in the image with rock-stability and no fall-off to grey, and no appreciable loss of detail within - faces, objects and landscapes all remaining pleasingly identifiable. Dieter scrambling about beneath the prison hut and moving through thick swathes of black, looks just fine. I like the way that dense shadow plays about all over the image, whilst colour, clarity and depth is never compromised and contrast is impeccably consistent throughout. Three-dimensionality is frequently top-notch with many scenes leaping from the screen - Dieter standing atop a crag of rock when he first surveys the jungle he has crashed into, numerous shots of the VC patrols snaking through the bush, Bale and Zahn moving though the foliage and tumbling down the river, the eventual rescue and even things like Dieter's face peering out of the gloom of a leafy hiding-place whilst the enemy walk by. The image looks vibrant and alive at all times - save some of those intentionally softer-focus shots - but, although there is no problematic edge enhancement or artefacting, there can be tiny traces of banding seen within some of the skies and the thick, misty plumes of water from the falls. Grain can occasionally spatter about the image as well, but this is no real detriment to the enjoyment of the film.

    Overall, Rescue Dawn has a terrific image that does the film proud. There are certainly better-looking transfers out there, but this is still an eminently rewarding visual experience.
    Rescue Dawn Picture


    Rescue Dawn has a DTS-HD Master Lossless track that I still can't hear in his full capacity, but then again, there aren't many that can at the moment. Nevertheless, the DTS Core that is extracted is really quite special. The film is not all-out aggression and bombast, folks, but it does a wonderfully good job of placing you into the heart of the jungle. Ambience is all-pervading. Even at low volume, the noises of the insects, the rain, the river and the waterfall and the flapping of wet leaves is crystal clear and nicely immersive. There are a few instances when effects and music are drained from the track to lose you in the atmosphere of the setting, and this is acutely presented with a true flair for naturalism. Dialogue is clear and discernable, too. There is shouting, screaming, whimpering and lots and lots of whispering - but even these hushed voices in the quiet of the compound or out in the bush posed no problem for the transfer and despite what some people have claimed, I, myself, had no trouble hearing these more muffled exchanges.

    For a completely ground-trembling and gut-rumbling demonstration of the track's power, aggression and enveloping sense of dynamics, look no further than Dieter's initial crash sequence, which contains a great display of steerage, directionality and detail - from whining engines, erupting metal and the watery impacts of numerous pieces of blown-apart debris. Gunfire is deliciously well-handled, too. Whether it be the far-off popping of the pursuing enemy after Dieter is initially brought down, the incredible nasty close-up shots that his captors use to taunt and deafen him or the whiz-bang, air-splintering crackle of auto-fire during the breakout - it is all presented with punchy realism. A prerequisite for any Vietnam movie is the use of helicopters and Rescue Dawn does a fine job of recreating the thundering rotors and down-wash as they throb through the air or make strafing runs.

    The score from Badelt is excellently reproduced, though it should be mentioned that there really isn't much in the way of diverse material. The main theme is beautifully lush and sweepingly elegiac, and soars from the speakers with distinction. But there are a few cues when he uses aching strings to convey the desperation and the tension of the situation - Dengler scrambling to the compound's outer wall, or the heart-rending moment when he cradles poor Duane whilst sheltering from the elements.

    Once again, Rescue Dawn is bolstered by a superb piece of engineering that elevates the drama and heightens the realism.
    Rescue Dawn Sound


    Kicking things off is an enormously fact-packed commentary track from Werner Herzog that is worth its weight in gold for fans of the film. Accompanied by film writer Norman Hill, whose job it is to ask the movie-maker questions and try to keep him on track, Herzog proves to be a nigh-on inexhaustible source of enlightenment on every aspect of Rescue Dawn's production. For such a notorious auteur as the man behind Fitzcaraldo, Nosferatu (1978) and Aquirre: Wrath Of God, Herzog comes across as marvellously entertaining, frank and honest and genuinely eager to discuss his techniques and motivations and his passion for the story, his cast and the personality of the real men themselves. His conviction to tell this story - now for the second time - comes across with energy, wit and a non-stop attention to detail and trivia. He even details the frames that he removed from a decapitation scene to ensure the lower rating. A true maverick, Herzog is still full of enthusiasm for the topic and remains thoroughly engaging throughout.

    There are seven Deleted Scenes which hail from various parts of the movie. These also come with an optional commentary from Herzog and his questioning buddy Norman Hill. Although nice to see, there is little here that would have benefited the final film had they been allowed to stay in.

    Then we have a series of featurettes that work best when used with the Play All option. Together they last for just under an hour and we have five individual parts - Unfinished Business: Telling Dieter's Story (which refers to Dengler's insistence that Herzog revisit the tale in movie-fashion), Strength Of Character, War Stories, Sound Of War: The Music Of Rescue Dawn and What Would Dieter Do? Obviously culled from the same documentary, this examination of Herzog's movie starts off as pretty much you average, puff-pastry EPK but, as it proceeds, it becomes much more involving and candid. Among the copious clips from the film, we have footage of Herzog braving the dangers of the jungle, himself - insisting that there is nothing he would ask of an actor that he wouldn't do first - and of shots being lined-up or rehearsed (like poor Zahn practising how to react to a thrusting machete). There are frequent interviews with the cast and the director and, together, they manage to get some depth going. Zahn discusses the terrifyingly poisonous caterpillar with some degree of amusement, whilst Bale mentions the snake-infested rivers, the deadly orange snails that were perilously close to his face and, of course, being dragged behind a cow and hanging upside down with a real ants' nest shoved under his nose. There is also much discussion about the real Dieter Dengler and we hear from his son and see numerous photographs of the famed escapee, who went on to become a test pilot and survive several more crashes. We even hear from Herzog's regular DOP, who discusses his methods and styles and how he and Herzog work as a team, yet can still have plenty of on-set spats. And then Klaus Badelt gets a chance to talk through how he went about scoring the film. I like Badelt's work - great scores for The Time Machine remake, Ned Kelly and POTC: Curse Of The Black Pearl (although it was really Hans Zimmer who was steering that particular ship right from the very start!).

    All in all, this is a fine look at the production of the movie, most of its aspects are touched upon and, even if it can feel a little airbrushed at time, there are moments when the participants are quite frank and revealing.

    There is a pop-up trivia track called Before The Dawn: Mission Secrets that is one of the better tracks that I've come across, mainly because it details a lot more of the real-life incidents that befell Dengler during his misadventures in Laos. The other guys aren't forgotten and the track also heaps in a fair bit of Vietnam overview, as well as the usual production detail that may sound familiar if you've sampled the other extra features.

    Another BD-exclusive feature is Honouring The Brave: Interactive Memorial which allows you to browse the Vietnam War Memorial and read about the exploits of several servicemen who perished during the conflict. Sadly this is a somewhat clumsy feature that would have benefited from a little more thought going into its user-interface.

    Preparing For Survival is an eight-minute featurette that offers up interviews with real-life pilots from the Vietnam conflict who chronicle the serious lack of useful ground-training that they were given prior to being unleashed in the unfriendly skies above the war zone. There is some great training video footage culled from the era, too. A cool little featurette.

    Along with a Stills Gallery, we also get the film's theatrical trailer and previews of Mr. Brooks, Home Of The Brave and the not completely unrelated Flyboys - all in high-def.
    Rescue Dawn Extras


    A difficult and often upsetting film, Rescue Dawn is a marvellous tale of inner courage from a director who obviously feels very connected to the real story. Herzog knows the jungle and the wilderness exceptionally well, but it is his scalpel-sharp exploration of the human soul - its darkness and its light - that is so revelatory. An obsessive filmmaker who is, naturally, drawn to themes of other people's obsession, this tale can feel like a deviation from the norm. Yet, in Dieter Dengler's determination to escape and to survive, he does find a kindred spirit that fits right in with his grand design. Still, the film feels a lot more accessible and mainstream than much of his work, and this is no bad thing considering what he could have done with the material. Although not as viscerally nasty as it, arguably, it ought to be, this remains a powerful movie that grips you from the start. Bale and Zahn are awesome and there are certainly more than enough emotional hot spots to keep you glued to the drama.

    A fine transfer is something to relish, as well. And even if Rescue Dawn doesn't challenge the big hitters in the high-definition stakes, this is still an appreciable step up from SD. The audio side of things is excellent and an example of superlative atmosphere and ambience. The extras are good, too. A top chat track from Herzog is enough to satisfy on its own, but the featurettes do a great job of covering all bases and letting some of the cast and crew have their say.

    Top film, folks. Not Herzog's most accomplished, perhaps, but definitely one of his most entertaining. Recommended.
    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.79

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