This is not to say that We Were Soldiers has a bad transfer - far from it, in fact. The picture is totally damage-free, there is little to no edge enhancement, no pixilation and no glitches with the colours or with artefacts. The colour saturation is spot on and it is quite nice to see just how vivid and rich the palette is when so many recent (ish) war movies tamper with the contrast, wash the spectrum out or bleach the life out of the image. We Were Soldiers carries a very impressive range of colours, from the varied greens of the battle fatigues and foliage, to the livid oranges of the napalm walls of fire and the blisteringly gaudy reds of spraying blood. To be honest, the bright scarlet gore is something that may take a bit of getting used to. On the SD edition this looked almost comic-book, but on BD is looks even redder and perhaps a tad over the top. Then again, most of the bloodshed occurs in bright daylight, so the depiction of the flying claret is actually probably very accurate. Night-time scenes produce a great range of subdued hues as well and the reds of flares and the yellow muzzle flashes are, once again, pristine. The black levels, too, are notable for their depth and consistency when in the field, although shadow delineation and strength seems to fluctuate when the cameras return home to the wives. It is also apparent that the image appears slightly grubbier during these scenes, as well, whilst the action in the heat and smoke of the war-zone can actually seem clearer, sharper and more immediate.
Detail is good, but doesn't appear to be that much better than the SD edition, I'm afraid. I've seen the HD version too and although that disc had a VC-1 encode I honestly couldn't tell the difference. Close-up detail of faces, weaponry, wounds etc, is excellent, as you would expect. The upturned boot-heels of fallen soldiers, the dancing of twigs and leaves as the NVA survey the dwindling American perimeter, insignia on uniforms and the striations on the rocks and tunnel walls of the enemy underground bunkers - they do look sharper and better delineated in higher definition, but not by much, folks. And distant objects - choppers wheeling around the sky, tree-lines being strafed, bodies chewed up and immolated and the NVA darting about their camp as the Americans charge over the ridge - come across as often being quiet soft. Foliage in the foreground can be marvellously delineated, but a little further away and integrity is lost. Admittedly, a lot of sequences feature rains of debris, dust kicked up and bodies moving rapidly through a hazy swirl of smoke and shrapnel, but many later releases on either high-def format have been able to produce images that were still scintillating and exquisitely etched within the transfer despite such effects mucking up the picture. We Were Soldiers just seems to lack that vibrancy and sharpness you would expect of 1080p resolution when compared to the original standard disc, so ultimately, although doubtlessly a good picture, this is still a disappointment.
Although we are not getting a lossless track with this disc, there is absolutely nothing to complain about with the totally immersive and effects-packed mixes that we do get. Kitted out with a DD EX track that sends ricochets spinning around the room, We Were Soldiers also comes with a glorious DTS 6.1 mix that goes even better again with an exciting and truly foundation-worrying full-range aural bombardment that guarantees a lively, neighbour-baiting experience.
A real standout effect can be enjoyed whenever the Americans fire off mortars. There is stunning use of the sub with the down-draught dropping the floor from beneath you and a real sense of power as the shells whump up into the sky. Great scenes when mortars are let off in quick succession literally take the breath away. The little “put-put” of 5.56 mm M16 rounds may sound deceptively gentle but when they are caught in the fierce fire-fight combinations of grenade explosions, AK-47's stuttering and helicopters letting rip with canons, the overall effect is devastating. Listen out for the metallic edge to the gunfire as clips are expended and casings skitter about and especially so when Crandall's air support comes in at the end - the tinkling of fast-belt ammo sounds ... well ... magical. Wraparound delights have choppers coming at you and then zipping right and left, the rear-centre channel picking up the whipping blades over your head. Enemy voices echo behind you and their dreaded whistles emanate convincingly from “somewhere” around the set-up. It is brilliantly constructed stuff and the temptation to really crank it up will be nigh on unbearable.
Black Hawk Down has a tremendous sound-design, as does Saving Private Ryan and Tears Of The Sun, and We Were Soldiers can certainly stand amongst them as offering the best blitz and bombast that a disc can. Dialogue is never sacrificed for the effects either. Voices may occasionally be drowned by an explosion or the rattle of automatic fire but this is nothing to do with lousy mixing. Everything sounds brilliantly and intricately engineered. The helicopter rotors and the napalm strikes are incredibly accurate and offer many instances of great front-to-back and side-to-side sweeps around the set-up. The steerage of such effects is spot-on and the experience is totally three-dimensional with seamless panning and impeccable transparency. Nick Glennie-Smith's excellent music is wonderfully soaked into the mix, as well. The rousing-cum-tragic main theme is lush and room-filling and the simply heart-racing cue for the final charge sounds incredible ... the vocals for Sgt. MacKenzie haunting the front soundstage as a lyrical bookend for the pounding, testosterone-fuelled percussive drive.
I'm torn here, actually. This is probably reference quality sound engineering but I can't help wondering how much better again a lossless track might have sounded. I'm going to award this a 9 out of 10, but I wish we could add an extra half point in this system.
The commentary from Randall Wallace is exactly the type of chat track that you want to hear over the top of a film like this. He delivers not only quite a heartfelt and sincere ode to the men who fought at Ia Drang, but also to the actors portraying them. What makes this track especially worthwhile is that Wallace is quite clearly watching the movie with us. He is scene- and shot-specific about the production and yet manages to convey the importance and relevance of both the book and the events that the film is based on. It is also very apparent that watching the movie back is as moving an experience for him as it is for the audience - and that makes a hell of a difference, folks. It is just great to hear someone who doesn't cut off from the emotion and view his work with knowing self-pride. Yet he often seems to forget that he was the one running the show - after all, he garnered those performances, he constructed the action scenes, he found the filmic narrative to convey this story ... so he deserves an awful lot of the credit. I may believe that the film, for me at any rate, makes an error with the amount of time devoted to the wives, but to hear him justify these moments makes me totally understand why they are there. Bizarrely, listening to him proves to be an incredibly moving experience in its own right and such passion and emotion should always be applauded. A top track, folks.
Getting It Right is an excellent, but far too short making of documentary that introduces us to Hal Moore and his wife Julie (portrayed by Madeline Stowe in the movie), Joe Galloway, Gibson and Wallace. We see the famous real footage from Ia Drang and hear Moore's incredibly moving words as the bodies of his men are shipped out. Once again, Wallace pays his performers great respect, but he does, at least, get some praise in return from his cast and crew this time. Even Moore confirms that the filmmaker was earnest enough to try his damnedest to get things right and honest. We meet Dean Semler, whose cinematography went against the norm for a modern war film in that he kept it bright and colourful. There's even some nice effects-test footage of squibs going off and pyrotechnics igniting. Greg Kinnear is on hand to provide some much-needed humour and we get to see the locations being kitted out with the appropriate foliage. Despite only lasting for half an hour, this feature seems to pile stuff in, leaving very little of the production uncovered. We get the props being constructed, the CG visual effects, the stars meeting the people that they played, how mammoth a task it was to edit the movie, and superbly, we hear from Nick Glennie-Smith about how he went about scoring such a visceral and emotive story. Great stuff ... I only wish it could have been longer and more in-depth. This sort of thing never bores me.
Then we get ten deleted scenes that come with an optional commentary from Wallace. These are principally character-fleshing moments that add more resonance to the men-in-the-field. Had they been kept in, we might have cared a little more about the troops when the bullets began to fly. Although some were definitely worth keeping in, I think the film still would have suffered from the scenes back home with the wives - and there indeed a couple of extras bits involving them to be found here. Having more of the soldiers would not have compensated for these tension-sagging home-base interludes. There is a little bit more action as well, but I can see why most of these scenes were jettisoned in the end.
And finally we get the film's theatrical trailer in high definition.
So, there might not be a lot of supplemental material but the commentary and making of are very definitely worth it.
As a combat film, We Were Soldiers is incredibly intense and does almost everything right. As a drama about the consequences and the tragedy of war it drops a few points. Of course an effort should be made to balance out the battle with the effects it has on those back at home, going through their own hell - but the creeping inevitability of such a split narrative is that you end up hankering for the bullets to fly once more, rather than the tears to flow. Luckily, We Were Soldiers cuts loose with a powerful sense of gritty drama and pulverising violence to compensate for the angst going on Stateside. Gibson and Elliott are utterly superb. The blood-bag igniting mayhem is a giddy gore-fest and the treatment that the ass-in-the-grass soldiers - both American and North Vietnamese - receive is honourable. Col Hal Moore's book is required reading for anybody who enjoys this movie as, if nothing else, it will prove that movies cannot hope to come even close to emulating the true nature of bravery and savagery of warfare, no matter how enthralling an experience they may be.
This Blu-ray transfer may not look that much better than standard, but the audio side of things is absolutely breathtaking and well worth making the upgrade for. Extras-wise, it is great to see that nothing has gone AWOL from the original package. The commentary and documentary are excellent and, overall, We Were Soldiers gets a major thumbs-up from me!
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