The Dirty Dozen Blu-ray Review

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by Chris McEneany Feb 9, 2008 at 12:00 AM

  • Movies review


    The Dirty Dozen Blu-ray Review
    SRP: £17.95


    With its open-matte presentation, The Dirty Dozen is now approximating its original 35mm 1.85:1 presentation and, with a VC-1 1080p encode, it has moments when it really shines. Colours, for much of the time, are warmer and more saturated. The greenery of the army fatigues, the moist fields of Borehamwood, the browns of the compound and the glinting insignia and medals of the Top Brass can often look tip-top. Check out the blue and red arm-bands on the soldiers undertaking the field exercise. The image is certainly brighter and far less squalid than previous versions, although there is no getting away from the overcast appearance of much of the film. Primaries are certainly more engaging with the explosions and muzzle-flashes gaining more vitality. But the problem, as with many vintage films, occurs with varying qualities of film stock and there are scenes here when the colour dips in texture and depth quite noticeably. And, of course, this is an element that bleeds into, and affects the contrast levels quite badly, which can fluctuate throughout. During Reisman's first meeting with the Staff Generals who are running the show, this is especially glaring. The image suddenly alters for a section of the sequence and takes on a glaringly washed-out look that even comes over as glassy and indistinct. This occurs at other stages in the film, as well, though not to as obvious a degree. Scene transitions visibly soften and there are instances of the image wobbling - particularly evident during the beginning of the war games as Reisman is driven up towards the country mansion HQ.

    Other elements of print damage are still apparent. There are the usual grain flurries that strike certain shots more than others - although the image is mostly quite clean and clear - and the image can yield some flecks, nicks and spots here and there, too. But the picture is generally still a lot clearer and detailed than you may think. The iconic and almost uniformly craggy faces offer up tremendous new levels of porous investigation, should you be that way inclined. Indeed, close-ups across the board are fine and definitely give the impression of a sharper, better-defined picture. Look at the brickwork in the English village during the war games and the wet cobblestones of the chateau.

    There is some edge enhancement thrown into the mix but this not so detrimental as to distract. Blacks are pretty strong and consistent and don't appear to eliminate any detail, which is just fine considering that the climax at the chateau is set entirely at night. I wouldn't say that the transfer looks three-dimensional, though. The Dirty Dozen may be sharper, more detailed and offer brighter colours than it has done before, but it steadfastly refuses to lift from the screen, even if it does posses a finer degree of texture now.

    So, this is fine upgrade from SD, although the original print definitely shows its age with some issues that, really speaking, only the most critical-minded would be concerned about. The final act is where the image really comes into its own, looking quite gleaming in places and very clear, barring one or two quick shots that pack in some grain. The disc also makes the most of the stylish cinematography from Edward Scaife - which utilises unusual angles, from floor-level looking up and from ceiling-level (or, in some cases, above ceiling level and looking down through a hole in it) peering almost straight down at the subject - managing some quite interesting and dynamic compositions.
    The Dirty Dozen Picture


    With a DD 5.1 makeover - the same that adorned the SD edition - which is derived from the blown-up 70mm roadshow print, The Dirty Dozen doesn't sound at all as bogus as you may have suspected. Indeed, the audio is actually lively and reasonably well-integrated into the overall soundscape. Voices are firmly centre-routed and clear as a bell, the frontal array is fully utilised with a robust stereo spread and the rears are engaged fairly often and quite convincingly - which is refreshing for a film soundtrack of this vintage.

    Whilst not comparable to a recent surround mix by any stretch of the imagination, The Dirty Dozen makes a great stab at all-round immersion. Effects - jeeps and trucks trundling about, canons going off, machinegun-fire and explosions rocking the landscape etc - are channelled successfully around the set-up. Naturally, the big-bang finale is bestowed some vigorous depth. There are occasional screams, ricochets and impacts steered over your shoulder and Frank De Vol's score receives lots of attention, gaining depth and presence throughout. I am not a fan of his music for this film, it just lacks anything memorable other than the perverse mysterioso cue that plays when Maggot goes on his own mission, but I can't deny that the DD track embraces it well. What is nice, too, is the serious level of sub action. Vehicles are given more weight because of it, as are the ground-moving explosions. But not only that, the percussive sections of score are bolstered as well, giving the music far more presence. Even the small orchestra playing in the French chateau feel the benefit of some extra swelling courtesy of the engaging bass levels.

    There is a reasonably pleasing echo effect that travels through the sound-design from time to time, adding emphasis to many scenes - the parade scene, the footsteps going up stairs or along corridors, for examples. One striking moment when a careless foot goes through the roof will possibly make you jump it comes over so well and so suddenly.

    Thus, The Dirty Dozen's DD 5.1 audio gets a thumbs-up from me.
    The Dirty Dozen Sound


    It's a war movie. It has lots of scenes of soldiers being trained for combat. So, who shall we get for the commentary track? Why ... Marine Captain and military advisor to the movies Dale Dye, of course. Immediately christening the multi-participant yak-fest with a dissertation about the credibility - and the real ins-and-outs - of the execution by hanging that Marvin's Major witnesses at the very start of the film, you know that you are in sturdy but un-yielding hands. Although, this time out, Dye seems a little too critical about historical and military inaccuracies and can begin to irritate. Normally, I'm impressed with his input because of his knowledgeable background, but this time he comes across as too dismissive of the film he is supposed to be helping us enjoy, leading you to suspect that he doesn't actually like it very much, himself. So, it is just as well then that the track stuffs a platoon's worth of other speakers into the fray. With original cast members Trini Lopez, Jim Brown, Colin Maitland and Stuart Cooper offering good-natured anecdote and trivia - and sidestepping a lot of the on-set sparring with little but praise and fond memories of Lee Marvin and Robert Aldritch - it is left to the Dozen's producer Kenneth Hyman, who does remember some of the trouble-spots and film historian David J. Skal (who normally appears on vintage horror movie chat-tracks) to keep things balanced. A nice touch is to allow the author of the book the film was based on a chance to discuss the merits of the adaptation and the changes that were made to his original story. All things considered, this is a pretty rewarding track that covers a lot of ground and adds a lot to the nostalgia of the movie.

    Ernest Borgnine supplies a three-minute introduction to the film which is surprisingly detailed and we also get two well-above average documentaries to lend a greater insight into the production and the actual events and characters that E.M. Nathanson based his original novel around. Armed And Deadly: The Making of The Dirty Dozen lasts for half an hour and is a virtual retread of the commentary, albeit in condensed form and now visually told.

    A Better feature, though, is The Filthy Thirteen: Real Stories From Behind The Lines, which chronicles the legendary tale that author, and wartime veteran E.M. Nathanson heard from one his army buddies regarding the exploits of one James McNeice, who, along with other members of the celebrated 506th Airborne on similar high-risk, do-or-die missions behind enemy lines. Lasting for almost fifty minutes, this documentary features the men themselves, including the notorious rebel McNeice, historians and Nathanson as well as copious footage from the training camps and photos of the doomed men. Though not all of these rigorously trained specialists were convicts, they were notably rough customers renowned for shirking authority and bucking the regulations. Unshaven and obscene, these mobsters in uniform for ideal for such suicide mission. Funnily enough, McNeice sounds just like the seedy old pervert who whistle through his teeth when he speaks in Family Guy. That's not exactly relevant, I know, but amusing at the very least. This is a great feature, folks, and well worth investing some time in.

    Then we get two vintage documentaries that are of curio-value only. The first, with Lee Marvin drafted-in as host, in merely a very gung-ho recruitment ad for the US Marines, entitled Marine Corps Combat Leadership Skills. Po-faced (by military statute) and seriously dated (which is only to be expected), this is toe-curlingly laughable, but still fairly interesting to see. The second, Operation Dirty Dozen, is only a brief (ten minutes) look at the making of the film from a distinctly marketing point of view. Nice to see, but not something that you would ever return to.

    The Dirty Dozen gets an impressive roster of material with the commentary and the docs (oh, and its theatrical trailer, as well) really adding to the package with interesting and worthy insight. But, sadly, the package feels compelled to throw in something else, too. And this “something” - the first sequel to the movie, The Dirty Dozen: The Next Mission, which is actually a TV-movie produced in 1985. Starring three of the original heavyweights - Marvin, Borgnine and Jaeckel - this is pretty dire, by-the-numbers stuff that is the cinematic equivalent of a “Hoodie” dressed in combat-fatigues kicking sand in the face of a real war-veteran. Insulting to the original and ham-fisted in every respect, this virtual remake sees lumpen, direct-to-video celeb-for-a-nano-second Ken (The Soldier) Wahl , Sonny (Predator) Landham and Ricco (Aliens) Ross become part of Reisman's subsequent squad of hand-picked military convicts. The plot is down-graded so that the twelve, this time out, only have to eliminate one Nazi general. But whilst director Andrew McLaglen cuts down on the training sequences and ups the action level, he neglects to allow any characterisation to seep into the film and let cheapness and banality mire the situation. It doesn't help that our three big returns from the original have aged considerably more in the intervening eighteen years than the supposed matter of months that has apparently passed between screen-missions, either. Woeful, folks, and definitely best avoided unless you are in a drunken state coupled with a mood to violently ridicule something that can't fight back.

    Beyond this dubious addition, Warner have done The Dirty Dozen proud with this release.
    The Dirty Dozen Extras


    The Dirty Dozen may be hugely enjoyable, but its credentials as being one of the greatest war films around are definitely erroneous, in my opinion. Far too anachronistic to be taken as anything more than a massive side-swipe at military authority and the establishment, Aldridge's epic falls into the same cute but daft category as Kelly's Heroes. The concept of men bonding under pressure is a good solid one and the film is cheerfully episodic and bolstered by a fine cast clearly having fun.

    This BD release hauls over all the extras that strengthened the SD special edition - although it is debateable how special you feel that Dirty Dozen 2: The Next Mission is - and the package is well worth the effort that Warner have put in. Transfer-wise, this is an unsurprisingly mixed bag. The picture has some grand moments but more than its fair share of age-related problems, although it is doubtful that I've ever seen the Dozen look this colourful or detailed. The 5.1 makeover appears to be the same as that which adorned the SD and even if it can't hold a candle to more recent fare, it does well with the enhanced bass and the echo effects and the firefights certainly sound amped-up.

    Overall, The Dirty Dozen is a solid enough release for the format and should be recommended for full-auto junkies everywhere. The Dirty Dozen scrubbed-up quite nicely then.
    The Dirty Dozen Verdict

    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £17.95

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