The Thin Red Line - Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review
The Thin Red Line comes to Blu-ray presented with a 1080p High Definition video rendition in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of widescreen 2.35:1. This particular transfer has been personally supervised and approved by Malick himself, as is explained in the accompanying booklet, stating that the all-new high-definition digital transfer was 'created on a Spirit 4K Datacine from the original 35mm camera negative in 4K resolution'. It goes on to state that 'dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter and flicker were manually removed using MTI's DRS system and Pixel Farm's PFClean system'. I can only add that, in my opinion, it is an amazing job. As stated, the detail level is astounding – this really is what remastered High Definition catalogue titles should all look like – and the amount of care and effort that has gone into cleaning up this presentation was clearly worth it, as the end result is basically flawless. This is how Malick wants you to experience the movie, and is probably superior to even the original cinema presentations for the film's theatrical run. This really is an every-single-blade-of-grass job.
There is, indeed, no evidence of any digital defects: no unwanted side-effects of all the processing and clean-up work done, and this newly refined image even manages to pull a little 3D pop out of the bag (there’s an anchor’s view shot of the boat cutting a swathe through the water that looks awesome). The colour scheme is sumptuous, even if it is obviously relatively restricted given the setting; with lush greens, rich browns – occasionally bright parrot reds and yellows – and solid blacks which showcase the well-levelled contrast and allow for the darker, more shadow-based sequences to still retain a strong image quality (check out that night shot with the blazing fires and the penetrating red of the one surviving flower). Simply put, The Thin Red Line has never looked this good - and this a remarkable upgrade over the previous SD-DVD release. Another top effort from Criterion.
As with the video, Criterion (again supervised by Malick) have done an amazing job on the audio, with a DTS-HS Master Audio 5.1 track 'remastered at 24-bit from the original 6-track magnetic audio', as the accompanying booklet details. They go on to specify that 'clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD'. It should also be remembered that (as Malick always intended) there is a text recommendation that the movie is played 'loud', and fans probably know why – not only is it an extremely immersive soundtrack, but it also has an almost-continuous multi-voiced narration, with all of the contributors speaking, almost without exception, with extremely soft tones. I have to say, even with the amp cranked up high, there is a huge difference between the loud moments and the quiet reflection – so much so that even I was reaching for the volume a couple of times even if I tried my best to resist. Still, I think that’s totally what Malick wanted, the musings so quiet to make them truly feel like the thoughts of these soldiers.
So, with all that in mind, we do get a resoundingly good aural offering – indeed the dialogue does come across clearly and coherently throughout – from the aforementioned quietly contemplative musings to the screams of agony – largely presented across the frontal array. The effects are consistently well-observed, not only bringing the surrounds to life with some nice dynamics, but also giving the rears plenty to do: whether for the bigger battle-orientated set-pieces or just to listen to the trees swaying all around you. Hans Zimmer's powerfully rousing, and occasionally foreboding score (the epic final assault builds with so much potency, it leaves you exhausted and exhilarated, largely thanks to Zimmer), as well as those famous sweet Melanesian Chants, both go some way to embolden the esoteric work, and bring all the speakers into play at points during the proceedings. Bass is very potent, but not obtrusive, rumbling through in the background and only resorting to shock tactics for the more action-orientated sequences. Mirroring the video, Criterion have managed to provide the best audio presentation that this movie has ever had - you will not have heard this film sound this good.
If the video and audio aren't enough to convince you to purchase this upgraded release, then you must be here for the Extras. Well, considering the sheer lack of extras on the original SD-DVD releases, just the cover listings of this Criterion edition should have had fans salivating in anticipation. Not only do we get a brand new Audio Commentary, but we get a whole bunch of newly recorded 2010 Featurettes (specifically made for this Critierion release), which bring in many of the cast members for new contributions, whilst also showing archive footage from the production. Perhaps best of all – for some fans – is the inclusion of some Deleted Footage. Now, I say ‘some’ because there was always a rumour about a 5 hour cut, and all we get here is 14 minutes of extra footage, but it is still a welcome addition. And finally fans get to see Mickey Rourke’s notoriously excised contribution (filmed during his exile from Hollywood) in a short but sweet included scene. All in all, this release is worth buying for the extras alone.
First up we get a full-length Audio Commentary that has been recorded specifically for this new Criterion release. It features Production Designer Jack Fisk, Producer Grant Hill and Cinematographer John Toll (who assisted with the video remastering work), and the trio discuss the eventful, prolonged production history, detailing Malick's original vision, the cast he got involved - the many individuals whose cameos did not make the final cut - and what it was like to work with such a brilliant and unusual director. They talk about the source material, and the difficulty of making 'another War film', and bringing something new to the over-populated genre. Whilst many will be disappointed that none of the cast members got involved, and that there's no sign of the reclusive Malick himself, we could not have expected much more than this (the film is, after all, pretty damn long - with no actor integral throughout the proceedings; and Malick himself notoriously avoids Commentaries). It’s a decent offering, a tad on the dry side, and not as revealing – or even anecdotal – as many fans would have probably hoped for, but still worth a listen.
Actors takes over half an hour to offer interview input from a selection of the ensemble cast members, including Elias Koteas, Sean Penn, Jim Caviezel, Thomas Jane, Dash Mihok and Kirk Acevedo. They are all very appreciative of getting the opportunity to work with Malick, talking at length about the experience of working under him, getting the parts and subsequently bringing the roles to life; as well as offering a few nice anecdotes about the production history of the mammoth all-star epic. The material is a compilation of interview segments filmed a few years ago, and newly-commissioned offerings, and it is nice to have so many on offer to share their thoughts about this project.
Casting takes 18 minutes to detail how the Casting Director, Dianne Crittenden, spent over a year putting together the amazing cast. She discusses her work on the movie, how Malick wanted to make the smallest actors into the stars of the movie, and how he often filmed scenes both with and without dialogue. The interview is often played over some behind the scenes stills, but we do get a bit of – always relevant – final film footage, although the most interesting parts are arguably the original, compelling, archive footage of the original casting sessions with many of the contributing actors, including: Elias Koteas, Thomas Jane (who read for several parts including Sean Penn’s Sgt. Welsh), John Savage (reading for the Koteas’s role of Staros!), Tim Blake Nelson, Dash Mihok, Nick Stahl (whose read-through interestingly follows straight on from his Deleted Scene detailed below) and Ben Chaplin. There’s even a glimpse of some of those who didn’t get the final cut, including Luke Perry (!) and Doogie Howser himself, Neil Patrick Harris. It’s a great offering, and one of the best extras on the disc.
Editors has the movie’s editors, Leslie Jones, Saar Klein and Billy Weber discussing how they undertook the massive (18 month) task of trimming down Malick’s stupidly vast amount of footage for the purposes of creating a final cut. They note the difficulties of working under such a perfectionist, the fact that he did not like war movies or action movies – and almost did not want to direct those bits – and relate lots of anecdotes, particularly about the inclusion of the narration segments, largely after-the-fact. Again this is well worth checking out as there was always much talk of a 5 hour cut of the movie (which is actually discussed here for all you disbelievers out there) and here we get 30 minutes basically looking at how they ended up with this final version.
Music gives us 17 minutes, where Hans Zimmer, the composer for the film’s score (and the man behind no end of brilliant work – like Gladiator) talks about his work on the movie and, as with the other contributors, discusses what it was like working with Malick. Considering he worked on the original, longer cut of the movie, and originally did a complete 4-hour score, it was nice to finally hear the man’s reflections on the epic project, although he does not offer much insight into his original work and what he thought about the almost largely butchered version that was finally used.
Kaylie Jones has the daughter of James Jones – the man whose novel the film was based upon – in her very own interview, a 20 minute affair where she discusses her late father’s experiences in the Pacific, the history of the war surrounding the novel’s inception, how he threw away the first draft which his wife disliked, and how he came up with the ensemble diary exploits of the final draft. She talks about the characters in the book, the reality of it all; relating two shocking examples of what her father himself actually did which made it into his novel (and thus the film project): the sequence where Sean Penn’s Sgt. Walsh courageously dodges bullets to give a dying soldier morphine, and the deleted scene (noted below) where Pvt. Bead brutally kills a Japanese solider. Wow. She further details how – in her father’s opinion – war movies of the time (including the earlier cinematic adaptation of his book, From Here to Eternity) were massively misguided and tainted by propaganda, and how she believes that Malick’s interpretation was not only faithful to the material but also captured her dad’s real message about the reality of war. One of the most interesting extras.
And here’s the amazing gem you’ve been looking forward to – the Deleted Scenes. Now I know they call them Outtakes, but that word always had a slightly derogatory sense for me. These are eight quality, Malick-approved extra scenes, which, whilst not in fantastic condition, are still very watchable and well worth checking out. For those who have been waiting for 2 hours of extra material, obviously having only 14 minutes is a bit of a disappointment, but I still think you’ll be chuffed with what’s on offer, and they certainly offer a hint of the broader strokes that Malick originally had planned for some of the characters.
1. Witt and Storm drunk sees John C. Reilly finally letting loose about C-Company, and showcases some nice wide shots from Malick.
“You believe in something that don’t believe in you!”
2. Bead volunteers his squad is actually misnamed. It should have been labelled ‘Band volunteers his squad’ as it features Don Harvey’s Sgt. Becker talking to Paul Gleeson’s Lt. Band about his platoon having a break from front-line duty. It’s a nice little scene, but would have diluted the conflict between Nolte’s Colonel and Elias Koteas’s Staros had it been left in.
“So, in other words, the more of us get killed getting experience, the more of us gotta’ get killed using that experience?!”
3. Mazzi drunk has Larry Romano’s Pvt. Mazzi winding up Danny Hoch’s Pvt. Carni and them both going to confront Paul Gleeson’s Lt. Band. Honestly there’s a bit too much Goodfellas-esque Italianoso posturing in this scene for it too have been left in.
“What the f*ck are you looking at?!”
4. Bead kills a Japanese soldier actually does feature Nick Stahl’s Pvt. Bead, in a beautifully-directed and hauntingly shocking moment – an important part of the original novel, and a horrific act which author James Jones apparently actually committed himself in Guadancanal. Showcasing classic Malick edits (for the brutality) as well as a hint of Macbeth, it’s one of the best of the extra scenes.
5. Witt and the sniper is that eagerly anticipated scene with Mickey Rourke, who once stated that this was the best scene that he had ever acted in. Unfortunately it is a prime example of how these scenes merely hint at how much more Malick had planned, with several shots spliced together here in what lasts just a couple of minutes to show a glimmer of the scenes he filmed with Rourke’s character. So set the stage, Rourke was supposed to play a rogue sniper left behind. Out of ammo and scarred by all he has seen, he is slowly going mad in the jungle. He was supposed to have plenty of offbeat dialogue delivered in typically contemplative, harrowed-Rourke fashion. We do get a bit of that here, but only a bit. It’s a tragically short sequence, Rourke bringing some haunting resonance to the ultimately sympathetic character, but simply not being shown for long enough for you to get more than a taste. Such a shame. Still, indisputably worth checking out.
“What does it take not to burn you up? I got a headache... I mean, they keep hitting me in the head and I just... I’m supposed to sit up straight, stand up straight and be quiet. But I have something I gotta’ say...”
6. Japanese POWs has more footage of the prisoners being mistreated, accused of being cannibals, and ultimately facing execution. It’s not a particularly necessary scene, but it adds a nice, more malicious dimension to what was already showcased in the movie.
“Colonel gave us personal orders, you know damn well he’s gonna’ check if we show up and one guy’s missing!”
7. Bell and Bosche has Ben Chaplin’s Pvt.Bell talking to George Clooney’s new Captain Bosche about his marriage and about his promotion. It’s actually quite a good scene, with a nice little touch to Clooney’s character that is certainly not apparent in his all-too-brief role in the final cut.
“It’s a shame what we do to each other, isn’t it?”
8. Fife leaves is just a smattering from the lost footage of Adrien Brody’s once-pivotal contribution as Pvt. Fife. We get a slightly longer wide-eyed moment of Fife returning from having left Witt behind, and then a scene where he is being dressed by a Doctor and promptly sent home. Honestly, I think I can see why Brody was largely excised from the proceedings, he does that panicked cornered rat look far too much, and it would have been excessive for this kind of movie.
“Admit this man for evacutation!”
Guadalcanal Newsreels are 16 minutes of archival newsreels – the original World War II newsreels from Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands – a massive propaganda drive which showcases the fight of the troops as something out of a John Wayne movie. These are interesting as a taste of what the public were fed back in the day, and come under the following headings (which speak for themselves in terms of patriotic sentiment): The Battle for the Solomons, United Nations Smash Japanese in South Pacific, U.S. Marines on Guadalcanal Push Back Jap Troops, Jap Ships Smashed at Guadalcanal, Guadalcanal Victory Garden. Obviously they liked the word ‘smash’ back in those days.
Melanesian Chants offers up 7 minutes’ worth of song material (recorded on location during the production of the movie) played against a backdrop montage of behind the scenes photos from the film. It was previously the only extra included on the original SD-DVD edition.
The Original Theatrical Trailer rounds off this disc.
Finally I simply have to mention the lovely little booklet that comes with the release. Whilst I was initially disappointed that Criterion did not splash out for slightly more lavish presentation, the Spartan box still holds this fantastic offering – 36 pages of background information split into an essay “This Side of Paradise” from Film Critic David Sterritt (which is a film review in and of itself), and, arguably even more interestingly, a reprint of James Jones’ own 1963 critique of war movies, which goes into much detail about how he hated the way in which popular war movies at the time (like Guns of Navarone, to name but one of those he mentions) showcased a very narrow look at war, and did not express the sheer randomness of some of the horrific events, nor the vast scale of the atrocities, instead often boiling elements down to basic good versus evil themes. Definitely worthy reading material and a beautiful way to cherry off this cake.
“We're living in a world that's blowing itself to hell as fast as everybody can arrange it.”
Transcending genre staples to become arguably the best war film of modern times, Terrence Malick’s stunning directorial return, The Thin Red Line, is a beautiful and tragic look at innocence lost and hell in paradise; painting a sumptuous, emotionally resonant impressionist portrait of war, and the corrupted souls caught up in the chaos. With a star-studded cast, that provide exceptional snapshots into the minds of battle-weary soldiers, Malick brings out the best in everybody he works with and breathes life into even the smallest of cameos. His visionary look at events is haunting, horrific and unforgettable, looking at the light and dark in every single one of us.
Finally given respectful treatment as part of the unparalleled Criterion Collection, this US Region A-locked Blu-ray comes complete with a beautiful, Director-approved remastered HD video presentation, and a similarly superb HD audio track. It has simply never looked or sounded as good as this before. Never to be outdone in the Extras department, Criterion has also given us a wealth of newly-recorded background material – Commentary, Interviews and Featurettes – as well as some quality archive footage, including a smattering of Deleted Scenes, which fans have been hankering after ever since they heard that Malick shot over a million feet of film for this production. Without a doubt, this is not only one of the best movies that I have ever seen, but one of the best packages I have ever come across, an indisputably superb tribute to a perfect modern-day classic. I seldom give top marks – and have never done so across the board – but this is the first release that I have come across to resoundingly deserve it. Go out and buy this movie now. It is a truly breathtaking experience.
“How'd we lose that good that was given us? Let it slip away... scattered it, careless.”
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.77
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