The Longest Day on this Fox BD is another recipient of what seems to have become the format's most dreaded bogeyman - that's right ... DNR! Quick, cross yourselves and hide the baby. Jeez. How do we begin to sort this out then?
With forum-members and poor reviewers struggling to make sense of the hows, the whys and who's right and who's wrong of it all and often resorting to recruiting some lofty professional technicians - one of whom has now assumed positively legendary status in this matter - something quite major is getting overlooked. And, as usual, it turns out to be a pretty simple matter. Does this look better than it did on previous home video versions? And, in my opinion - that's my opinion, so don't bother heaving technical facts and figures at me in an attempt to dissuade me - it does. So, by natural extension of this, admittedly personal assertion, it does kind of follow that this, then, is the best looking version of The Longest Day on home video. Ahhh, said it now. That's gone and done it, I suppose.
But let's take a more considered and comprehensive look at what we are presented with here. Stretching across the screen in a shrapnel-littered 2.35:1, this 1080p MPEG-4 encode has virtually no damage on show that isn't supposed to be there in the form of wreckage, debris, death and destruction. The image is clean and bright, with good deep shadow delineation and a level of detail that is, at times, hugely impressive. Sometimes, the picture can appear softer than at others, with background detail becoming less defined than in other similar scenes, but this is not a major complaint and, to be honest, the film's look is more consistent than many others from the period.
However, opening scenes of proudly unwitting German officers standing on the French cliffs do now look far more exaggerated than they ever did on the grainy old SD version. The actors in this, and several other scenes, were superimposed. The visual result, because of the higher resolution and egged-on even more by DNR which has removed the texture of the print, now looks glaring obvious. Scenes such as these do inevitably disappoint and distract. But the problems don't end there. Detail on faces, which remain gleaming and sharp in a way that will continually take your breath away, is actually non-existent. Scrubbed clean in a way that now looks unnatural and bright, this element may take some getting used to. Definition elsewhere in the image is much better than before, though. The hardware, beach defences, uniforms, weaponry, vehicles and vegetation yield up more visual information and clarity than on any of my other transfers of the film, yet even here there is the nagging suspicion that it could have looked better still. The initial storming of the beaches - myriad troops, splashing surf, sand kicked-up by bullets and showers of dust and grit from explosions - is still mighty impressive and does possess a sense of depth that has been lacking in the past. Strips of moving soldiers striate the screen with much more sharpness and three-dimensionality than I've seen before, the activities at the farthest reaches of the image retaining a clarity that makes scanning around the screen all the more rewarding. Scenes set in subdued lighting - within the aircraft before the drop, or the landing craft prior to disembarking - offer details that have normally been masked by the gloom. The actual night-time sequences produce fine blacks and grey slide-off without seemingly hampering the details within. Contrast, again, is good, with many shots delivering great elements of both light and dark in the same frame - the night lit up by machinegun-fire, flak etc - and scene transitions are consistently crisp and smooth. There is also no edge enhancement to spoil things - well, perhaps a very tiny amount, but nothing to write home about - and no artefacts, blocking or smearing.
Yes, folks, the DNR is a problem, but The Longest Day is most definitely - and, indeed, defiantly - not the cartoon that Pixar never made, as some observers have cited. Could it have looked better? Yes, it most certainly could have done. The grain would have been integral to this image and its judicious shearing has removed elements of finite detail and the all-important texture that a movie - particularly such a strikingly shot widescreen movie as this - needs. But the fact still remains that this is the best version on offer. Hands-down.
DNR - big mistake. But the actual picture? Still very, very good as far as I am concerned. On a serious note, of course I would rather that Fox hadn't been so overly enthusiastic with the engineering of this transfer and that of Patton. Obviously both titles could have been dealt with more efficiently and the end results have pleased far more people, but I seriously doubt that the majority of people who know and love this movie would encounter much of a problem with its new image.
All things considered, The Longest Day gets a firm 7 out of 10 from me. The print is absolutely top rate, the detail far better than before and, transfer-wise, it has only one detriment - and even that I can live with without much of a grumble. However, when compared with the effects of DNR on Patton, this appears to have been more heavily hit.
The spread of activity across the front is certainly decent enough to send bullets and movement - troops and hardware - scuttling across it with frequency. There is also a nice level of depth to it, with some distant gunfire actually sounding further away and the progression of pummelling bombardment pounding ever-closer. The gunshots, be they single rounds or full-auto, are of the period, in that they lack the modern-age punch, but they are still effective enough to often fill the soundstage with blazing crossfire and a raw dynamism that is still eminently enjoyable. Bass levels, whilst better than I expected, are still fairly shallow, even though much attention has been spent on achieving the deeper impacts and explosions.
Dialogue comes over reasonably well - the rather bogusly-hushed whispering in the woods as the Rangers find themselves spread all over the place, the Teutonic barking of high-speed orders from the Germans, the raucous laughter of a French farmer as the Allied bombardment begins, Robert Mitchum's laconic observations on the beach and Wayne's drawled exasperations - and the bells of St. Mare Eglise bong and clang with clarity, if not too much authentic vigour. The track does pack a lot in. The incidentals that don't normally get an airing from a film of this vintage are allowed some room and it is a pleasure to hear some attempts at surround spreading the action out behind you amidst the violent swagger of the determined frontal assault.
A great track that makes the most of its limitations and really tries to fill the environment with chaos and aggression.
A 2-disc affair, we get the commentaries on the first one whilst all the other stuff is locked and loaded on the second. UCLA professor of intellectual and cultural history Mary Corey delivers the first chat-track and it is heavily detailed and factual and hugely fascinating. She naturally points out historical inaccuracies and deviations, but it is nice that she keeps on track with the movie and its production trivia, too, when she could so easily have just waffled on about the campaign itself. Never overly dry or highbrow, Corey is a fine commentator and the track comes highly recommended.
The second track is from one of the film's directors - the only surviving one in Ken Annakin, who took command of the British and French-based sequences - and it is another fine offering. He may cover a few of the same topics and anecdotes as Corey did, but, at least, he has the distinction of having been involved with the production. Another nice element about Annakin's chat is that he doesn't just stick to his contributions to the finished movie, remarking interestingly and with obvious knowledge about the rest of the film and how his fellow directors handled their respective missions. Offering a vast number of stories and trivia, Annakin keeps the long commentary intriguing and free from annoying lulls. Another well-recommended track that feels heartfelt and genuine.
Disc 2 commences with A Day To Remember (17.52), in which we get to meet Annakin once more as he goes over his memories of making the film, why it was so important to produce and the lasting achievement that he and his fellow directors, actors and Zanuck, himself, created with it. Sadly, much of this has already been revealed in his own commentary track, so this feels slightly superfluous.
The Longest Day: A Salute To Courage (43.45) first of all looks at the real campaign, telling various true accounts of bravery and heroism, and how Cornelius Ryan's classic book influenced the filmmakers, especially impassioned Zanuck into adapting the huge tale into a screenplay that would serve as both an education and a lasting tribute. Narrated by Burt Reynolds (!), this 2001 documentary also drives at the reasons behind the black and white photography, the choice of casting and the unique manner of utilising different directors for various themed segments. A more than decent feature, folks.
Backstory: The Longest Day (25.09) steps decidedly into the frame of Darryl Zanuck and opts to tell his rather self-important story with a little stream leading into how much The Longest Day meant to him and how painstaking his attempts and desires were to make the movie the most authentic production it could be. As a lasting testament to the illustrious head of 20th Century Fox, the movie is, without a doubt, a towering pinnacle, but sadly, this feature is rather dry and dull.
D-Day Revisited (51.52) is a hackneyed documentary that actually hails from 1968 and really only serves to further bolster Zanuck and his frontline approach to getting the film made. Although we get to see behind-the-scenes footage from the making of The Longest Day, including some colour stuff filmed by Zanuck, this really tells us nothing that we haven't already learned and comes across as trite, self-righteous and very much of its era. As a piece of archive-interest, this scrapes by, but as a comprehensive look at what it took to get this epic production up and running, it falls far short.
Next up ... guess what? That's right - it's more Zanuck! Only this time out we get to hear from his son Richard (Jaws) Zanuck as he talks about his father's career and driving force behind The Longest Day in Darryl F. Zanuck: A Dream Fulfilled (3.58)
Rounding out the package besides trailers for Tora!Tora!Tora!, Patton and The Longest Day, we get four Stills Galleries that focus on Production, Behind-The-Scenes, Concept Art and, finally, Marketing And Publicity.
With the exception of the Patton theatrical trailer, which is in 1080p, all the features on this disc are SD. To be fair, there is some good stuff here, but the predilection for Darryl Zanuck can become quite irritating. A lot of people were involved with this film and I feel that more time could have been spent detailing their contributions.
Very few movies can work this well on such a huge canvas.
And with a second disc heaving with extras - albeit quite a few about Darryl Zanuck - the question really boils down to one thing, doesn't it? Can you live with DNR? Well, folks, that's entirely up to you. Me? I think it looks grand and not at all the “plasticy” abomination that others have claimed. Yes, it could look better without such excessive tinkering - but this still looks far more impressive than its SD counterpart ... and that is enough for me until another version comes out. If ever.
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