Kelly and his ragtag squad of Heroes drive, march, run and blast their way out of the archives and onto hi-def with a very reassuring and impressive VC-1 transfer from Warner. Shorn of all but the most stubborn of print defects - a little rectangular blob lodged on the side of Moriarty's face during one sequence, some vague faded yellow columns, and various other equally tiny and easily ignored anomalies - the 2.40:1 picture is warm, colourful, detailed and film-like. No victim of over-zealous DNR here, that's for sure. Faces are as textured as the landscape, the rubble and the hardware. Grain is consistent and natural. Depth of field is fine, although little patches of softened and vaguely blurred extremities are accurate for the photography that was used. The image is vivid and crisp, but never artificially so. And detail is considerably better than ever before presented on home video.
The haloing from the SD DVD is all but eradicated, with objectivity cleaner, smoother and far better resolved right across the board. Rifle-barrels, walls and buildings, tank turrets and helmets now blend in properly, and the image looks sharper without any digital enhancement. Blacks levels are excellent - very deep and satisfying. The moments of Clint and Co. creeping about the little town offer lots of shadow coverage and these are dealt with extremely well. I think there may be a slight element of crushing going on, but this is a small price to pay for the deeper, more engrossing and atmospheric shadows at work.
Colours and contrast certainly appear to have been boosted, the image looking much warmer, brighter and more vivid as a result. Some people don't like such tamperings, but in this case all I can say is “hurrah!” This has given a film that looks flat and dull and often drab on DVD a massive new lease of life, finely recapturing the glow of the original Metrocolor. White elements are much brighter, just look at the dazzling white-outs that the wooden crates holding the gold bars give off, and there are often highlights burning across foreheads. However, skin tones, which possess that ruddiness customary to the period and the colour stock, look better and more pleasing than before. The American uniforms still seem to vary in hue from time to time, from green to brown, but there is much improved consistency in this department overall. Plus, the fatigues do look the right colour for the overwhelming majority of the film. Pockets of flame look great amidst the night-time barrage as the Heroes cut their way through the German lines. Orange and black explosions also look fine and meaty in the daylight. Attention to detail is found in the brickwork, the roof-tiles, the threads on fatigues, the strands on the helmet-nets, the blasted and bullet-chipped mortar on the walls, the burned-out and fragmented wooden beams in the derelict buildings, and the chunks of debris showering the screen whenever something is blown to pieces. With the close-ups, we always speak about hair separation, the gleam of eyes, the pores and stubble on show - and whilst all of this is rendered very nicely, I was actually more taken by the detail and clarity afforded the plentiful selection of white teeth! An element that I've never really noticed before, that.
Kelly's Heroes look terrific on Blu-ray, folks. The image is strong and detailed and vibrant. Three-dimensionality and depth is now heightened - look no further than when we see Clint begin his recce of the climactic town, leaving Oddball and the tank at the end of the street. Views such as this, and many others that look up or down streets or peruse tank barrels etc, reveal a rich new degree of visual spatiality that is very welcome.
A smart 7 out of 10 from me, folks. For a film now forty years old, this looks stunning.
You didn't expect too much from the DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix for this 1970 movie, did you?
Of course you didn't. And what Warner serve up here with this new lossless mix will neither disappoint you nor blow you away. Despite the film having also had a 6-channel mix for its 70mm presentation, this is a dialogue and score-led movie punctuated sporadically by lively episodes of gun-fire and shelling. Now, personally, I was quite satisfied with this mix. It didn't attempt to do anything silly with bogus effects lurching unconvincgly out of the rears and it sounded, even if certainly from out of its era, very faithful to me.
It is true that some of the dialogue sounds tinny and harsh - I especially noticed this whenever Telly Savalos' Big Joe commenced his barking orders or his surly put-downs. Or when Major General Colt issues an outburst towards his minions. Overall, though, I found the dialogue to be just fine. There is some degree of separation across the front channels, nothing spectacular, but enough to inject some spontaneity into things. The firing is varied - unlike the incessant Schmeizer-blasts that drone on endlessly in Where Eagles Dare - and it comes across with some degree of depth and power, but you aren't going to feel the air getting sucked-in to the vacuum of a passing slug's trajectory as you do in Saving Private Ryan or Black Hawk Down. Stone and wood getting chewed-up by bullets has some small-scale oomph and there is a degree of steerage taking place, and listen out for that classic, time-honoured shattering glass effect during the final battle.
Sub activity is actually quite pleasing and consistent. We don't get sudden gut-dislodging weight to any of the impacts, but during the action scenes, there is a nice, almost omni-present bass presence. The drive-through the shell-bombarded town at the start of the mission, for instance. And, essentially, the battle between the tanks during the final stretch. This low-level throbbing murmur suits the overall mood of the mix and does not sound fake or unwarranted. It is easy to imagine how this would sound if it were made today, and you can easily identify the moments when the sound engineers may have been tempted to overdo things. That they don't and they, instead, keep the affair sounding consistent and faithful is commendable.
And it probably goes without saying that the element that benefits the most from this lossless mix is Lalo Schifrin's awesome score. His funky instrumentation has depth and spread and comes over with energy and warmth. Separation and detail can clearly be heard at times, most notably in the Morricone riff entitled Quick Draw Kelly - and listen out for the little jangling effect that is meant to sound like spurs on the trio's boots.
This lossless mix cannot hope to compare to more recent fare and it would be wrong to do so. But this gets a very strong 6 out of 10 from me.
Criminal, folks. Kelly's Heroes, as popular as it is, as ripe for rediscovery as it is gets nothing apart from a theatrical trailer to add some value to the package. Both this and Where Eagles Dare, which at least has a vintage featurette bolted on to it, have been mercilessly sent out in to the field under-equipped for fans of such vintage military mayhem. Not a commentary - imagine a joint yak-track from Clint Eastwood, Donald Sutherland, Don Rickles and Brian Hutton - or a retrospective making-of in sight.
Kelly's Heroes and Where Eagles Dare are inextricably linked by both star and director, and whilst plot-wise they are distinct and separate entities, it is hard not to view them as a sort of WWII Eastwood double-tap. Of the two - and I do wholeheartedly recommend getting the two on Blu-ray - Kelly's Heroes is the superior movie in almost every way. It has such an ebullient atmosphere, some amazing and unconventional action, whip-cracking dialogue and a roster of truly fantastic characters. Much is made of the anachronistic inclusion of Sutherland's hippy, Oddball, but viewing the film today, he just seems to fit the larger-than-life caper to a tee. Just as Coppola used the peculiar madness of the Vietnam War as a backdrop for his voyage into the heart of darkness in Apocalypse Now, Hutton paints a large-scale heist drama against the broader canvas of the Second World War and, just like Kelly and his Heroes, pulls it of with explosive aplomb.
The transfer for Kelly's Heroes is terrific. It looks vibrant and alive, sharp, detailed and film-like, and you just can't ask for more than that, can you? Audio-wise, this lossless mix behaved exactly as I thought it would do. It is neither superb, nor bogus. The sporadic surround use is welcome, if not entirely necessary, and the cramped dynamics of the source's vintage doesn't hamper the fun of the frothy dialogue or Schifrin's cavalier score. The lack of extras is, however, despicable considering the talent that went into this riotous production, but then no release of the film, to my knowledge, has had anything of worth added to it.
Kelly's Heroes is a defiantly fun movie, and yet it has moments of death and carnage that seems surprisingly raw, and the humour does not impede the pathos of certain situations. As is customary, Clint does not steal the show and the film is resolutely an ensemble affair. The two Dons, Rickles and Sutherland, absolutely shine, and Savalos delivers a performance of intensely charismatic gruffness. Of all the war-time platoons, patrols and small unit teams, this is the goon-squad that I would most want to sign up for. No negative waves here, baby!
Kelly's Heroes go for gold, and my advice is go along with them.
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