The Great Escape (Blu-ray)

May 7, 2013 9 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

The German forces have captured numerous Allied soldiers, which means prisoner of war camps are often loaded. But the population sometimes drops, as escapes are on the rise and no end is in sight. This concerns the German forces, as escapes mean lost prisoners and of course, that is bad news. In an effort to ensure the prisoners don’t escape, a special camp is designed that is deemed impossible to escape. A group of Allied prisoners is sent to this new camp, the kind of prisoners who would love to make a break. So the camp is filled with people with skills in the art of escape, but the Germans are confident in their new camp. The prisoners don’t feel helpless however, not by any means. Instead, plans have been unfolded to not only allow a few men to escape, but for hundreds of men to leave the camp. The plan is bold and calls for extreme measures, but if anyone can escape, this group has the best chance. The work soon begins on an intricate, large scale tunnel, which is the first phase of the escape process. The tunnel must be worked on in secret, which means time and resources are slim at best. The prisoners have to keep one step ahead of the Germans, in order to make the plan a success. But can the prisoners enact this bold plan, or is this camp truly impossible to escape from?

An incredible motion picture based on incredible real life events, The Great Escape is simply a “great” movie.  The film itself is a well crafted, memorable picture that more than warrants a place in any film buff’s collection. As with any movie based on real life events, some liberties are taken to enhance dramatic tension, but there is still a solid sense of realism. I do think the approach to conditions in the prison is rather soft, as we don’t see the cramped, dirty, and violent side of life within the complex. That is an oversight to be sure, but the movie does so much right, you can’t discount it on the whole. If nothing else, the cast alone demands attention, with Steve McQueen in the lead with a dynamic performance. But is he surrounded by talent, with such folks as Donald Pleasance, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Richard Attenborough, and numerous others. In other words, a well acted and well written motion picture and with John Sturges on deck, you know the direction is superb as well. This movie is highly, highly recommended and so is MGM’s new Special Edition, so don’t hesitate to nab this release.

This is perhaps his most famous role and with good reason, as Steve McQueen is simply excellent in this picture. McQueen had more than a small impact on the production also, as he made some requests and his terms were met. He wanted the script to have more time for his character and of course, he wanted to show off his motorcycle skills. A close friend of McQueen’s was the driver for the famous motorcycle jump sequence, but McQueen more than compensates with his most powerful, effective performance. He more than proved his dramatic abilities, as well as furthered his claims as a potent action & adventure star. A movie like The Great Escape needs a man with the kind of presence to get an audience behind him and without question, McQueen could win over an audience in an instant. He never seems overshadowed by his numerous costars either, nor does he try to steal the spotlight when he shares the screen. That is all a testament to his skills, so this is an all around highlight of McQueen’s career. Other films with McQueen include The Blob, The Magnificent Seven, Bullitt, The Thomas Crown Affair, and The Sand Pebbles. The cast also includes Charles Bronson (Death Wish, The Mechanic), James Garner (Space Cowboys, Maverick), and James Coburn (Cross of Iron, In Like Flint).

Video: How does it look?

It’s easy, very easy actually, to become spoiled in regard to how some films look these days.  Yes, it’s easy when the films are new to the format but it’s another thing all together when they’re decades old like The Great Escape.  Truthfully, this title has never really looked that great on any format, be it VHS, LaserDisc or even the DVD’s that came out years ago.  So when it was announced that this would finally make its Blu-ray debut, there were…mixed feelings. The good news is that the AVC HD transfer does offer a bit of improvement over the previous DVD editions, but the bad news is that it still isn’t that great.  Colors are a bit inconsistent as is the detail which looks sharp in one scene and dull in another.  Having seen this in pretty much every format imaginable, I can say that I think this is the best the film has looked, but compared to any recent Blu-ray release this pales in comparison.  And it’s a shame since other films of the day like The Sound of Music and West Side Story look downright amazing.

Audio: How does it sound?

Like the video, the audio has varied depending on the format that the film was released on.  This new Blu-ray sports a DTS HD Master Audio track, but it appears to be the same thing as the DVD from about a decade ago. I caught a few instances of some more robust sound, but by and large this is the exact same mix.  The film is very dialogue driven with some ambient effects thrown in for good measure.  The ending sequence with McQueen on the motorcycle does, admittedly, sound pretty good but again it pales in comparison to any modern day release.  Still Elmer Berstein’s memorable score has never sounded better than it has here, so that’s good to hear (pun fully intended).

Supplements: What are the extras?

There’s nothing new in regard to the supplements as they’re all ported over from the 2004 two-disc DVD set.  The only omissions are the trivia track and the photo gallery.  We start off with an audio commentary with director John Sturges. The filmmaker’s comments are not alone however, as numerous cast and crew members also lend their thoughts. I prefer a screen specific session, but this is still a candid, informative track. Next up is the second disc, which holds the rest of the extras, including The Great Escape: The Untold Story. This piece runs just under an hour and offers a look inside the real life events, which is a real treat. The survivors discuss how the escape plans evolved, as well as how well the film represents the real events. A series of five brief, but insightful featurettes cover other aspects of the production, while yet another short pieces takes a look at the real life inspiration behind McQueen’s character. You can check out the film’s theatrical trailer as well.

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