The Cruel Sea hits Blu-ray with a solid 1080p High Definition video rendition, coming presented in the movie’s original (effectively) fullscreen aspect ratio of 1.37:1. It was shot in black in white, which is actually a saving grace for a movie this old, as it retains a great deal of detail – more than you would expect after 60 years. It has clearly been remastered, even if there are moments where scratches and pops do creep through – more obvious in some scenes than others, but only if you’re looking, so they never impinge upon your viewing pleasure. Fine object detail is strong, the furrowed brows and slick-back hair evident in all the closer shots, even if the longer (or even mid-range) shots exhibit far less clarity, betraying their age much more evidently. This is the kind of production where filmic grain is essential, and thankfully no noticeable DNR has been applied, the noise only occasionally bristling through into a crackling over-layering which is clearly more than was intended. This video presentation is far from demo quality, and, in comparison with just about any other film I’ve ever seen on the format, looks quite bland and unimpressive. But if you think of Criterion’s Seven Samurai Blu-ray restoration as being probably one of the best presentations of a film from this era, then The Cruel Sea really isn’t all that far off. And, short of Criterion picking up the title, this is by far the best that the movie has ever looked.
The movie is accompanied by a LPCM 2.0 track, which is just about all you would expect for a film that is nearly 60 years old. There’s really little to say about the offering – everything comes at you from the frontal array, with clear dialogue, a few nice effects and a score whose more penetrating notes do strain your system a little bit. Marching soldiers, ship engines, the odd explosion – and cries for help – all do well to convey the atmosphere aboard the ship; albeit with the expected restrictions of such a limited track. There’s no real bass to speak of, nor dynamics or directionality – but there are also no pops, crackles or significant distortions in what is a clear, solid remastering of the film’s original soundtrack.
There are only a couple of extras to adorn this disc, which is a little bit disappointing given its status as a classic. But, thankfully, the extras that we do get are pretty good.
First up we get a 32-minute interview with star Donald Sinden (who you may recognise as a regular on BBC’s Judge John Deed, more recently) who talks at length about his involvement in the production. He details how he auditioned several times for a part, his experiences filming the movie, his trouble swimming, and recalling little notes about the shoot – like how they had to film the ship from cameras set up on rocks in order to avoid the bobbing movement caused by the rocking sea, or how Jack Hawkins pretty-much saved Sinden’s life during the filming of the sinking of the ship. There’s a great deal of background detail here – mostly excellent anecdotes from the set – and the only complaint I have is that he really should have sat down to record a commentary – he appears to have plenty of interesting material. But that certainly doesn’t detract from the worth of this great extra.
Here we get a selection of about a dozen stills taken of the cast and crew during the filming of the movie. Excellent quality, they offer a nice background look at the production.
Finally the disc is rounded off by the film’s Trailer.
Although it's a tough sell to for modern generations, with its protracted, slow-burning nature, black and white 'fullscreen' cinematography and antiquated dialogue, the 1953 adaptation of the classic novel by the same name, The Cruel Sea, is still a veritable chunk of British history. Brimming with realism, its authentic look at life at the height of the Battle of the Atlantic is as close as we are going to get to the experiences of those in our grandparents' generation - and for that alone it has earned its place as a classic in British film history. It may not be all that easy to watch - and it may also be far from perfect - but there's a reason why it is still highly regarded almost 60 years on from its original release.
Hitting UK shores with a Region B-locked Blu-ray, Optimum Home Entertainment have done a fine job remastering what must have been tough material to work with, given the age of the production. The video and audio are as good as you could possibly hope for, and far better than ever seen or heard before; and the extras may be quite thin on the ground for this kind of release, but at least they include a hefty interview with one of the cast members, whose fond recollections of the shoot offer up some welcome background into this production. For fans this represents a must-have addition/upgrade for your collection; and those who enjoy more realistic, almost documentary-style war films - like the companion-piece, Das Boot - should also regard this as a worthy release to check out. Newcomers? Well, it depends how much you appreciate your history. Because, have no doubt, this is a part of it.
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