January 28, 2012 8 Min Read

Review by: Christopher Bligh

Plot: What’s it about?

As the sixties were coming to an end and the seventies were starting, many popular novels such as Love Story, The Godfather and The French Connection had gone on to achieve both critical and box office success and open a whole new audience up to both seeing the movie and reading the book. Around that time, Mike Nichols fresh off his Best Director Oscar for The Graduate followed up his groundbreaking success with a page to screen adaptation of a popular book in the early 1960s that takes place during World War II and goes through the confusing mind of one Captain Yossarian. He wants to get out of the war, but there is one roadblock, one last duty, one that falls under Catch-22.

Captain Yossarian (Alan Arkin) is a bombadier has seen so much horror during World War II. Things that should be in place that are not, orders that are given for no reason, and the loss of soldiers flashing back at him along with the increase of missions before rotation seems to be driving him mad. Ultimately, he goes to the doctor (Jack Gilford) asking him to ground him under reasons of insanity. The doctor tells him all he has to do is ask him but the doctor cannot ground him under Catch 22, which is any soldier that asks to be grounded upon reason of insanity is not really crazy and therefore should not be grounded. With all that’s happened, there seems to be no way out for Yossarian. Or is there?

Using some of the techniques that made The Graduate a groundbreaking smash, Mike Nichols makes a film that gets it’s sense of humor out during the first half of the film with a very serious second half to balance out this World War II dramedy that combines a great visual flair with some memorable moments amongst the all star cast.

As Yossarian, Alan Arkin gives a wonderful performance of a man that will practically do anything to get out of the war but it seems that everywhere there’s room to go peacefully, another complication ensues and Yossarian is trapped in a war that there seems to be no way out but probable death.

As for the rest of the bunch, they all contribute solid work to form a wonderful ensemble including Martin Balsam, Richard Benjamin, Martin Sheen, Art (credited as Arthur) Garfunkel, Anthony Perkins, Jon Voight and the late great Orson Welles who, for his short role of General Dreedle, provides for some humorous moments along the way.

The combination of comedy and drama on this low-key but well shot scale may turn off viewers and some just might not get the point of it all. Some declared the book unfilmable, but in the hands of Mike Nichols he gives a visually striking but different look on the average war film that complicates, makes you think and entertains the
viewer at the same time in this unique tale that uses some elements from Nichols’ previous film and has some elements for his next feature, Carnal Knowledge, like the dialogue and the use of old music in scenes. In short, Catch-22 is complicated but catchy.

Video: How does it look?

Since the days of laserdiscs, Catch-22 has been clamored by many to get the widescreen treatment and DVD delivers the goods in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen restoring David Watkin’s beautiful Panavision cinematography and preserving the great visual look of the film. The print is clean with an occasional speck, particularly evident in the opening titles but once the film kicks in, the print flaws during the bright and dark scenes are put to a bare mininum and the brightness shines without too many halos and the colors are vibrant without too much bleeding or desaturation making for a better than most transfer of a film over thirty years old.

Audio: How does it sound?

The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track captures the starting of the flight engines beautifully across all channels without any overblasting and without any cracks. The effects spread nicely throughout all channels with the dialogue reserved for the center channels which in some indoor shots lower a bit but not too much that the track can become indecipherable. Many films made at that time suffer from a bit of muteness in the track and with this film it’s partially evident but not as much thanks to a lack of a music score (most music is source in this film). All around, a surprisingly very good track. This disc also had an English and French mono track along with English subtitles.

Supplements: What are the extras?

In the early 21st century days of Paramount and DVD, they were privied to many older titles to get some special treatment in terms of supplements and nothing shared a finer example than the few but solid supplements on Catch-22.

First, there is a teacher and student question and answer commentary recorded in 2001 with director Mike Nichols and director Steven Soderbergh. At first I thought of the pairing as strange but intriguing. As it turns out, with the exception of a few gaps, the track remains one of the finest tracks ever recorded for DVD with the both knowledgeble with the film and behind the scenes of the film along with some stories about the actors, the crew as well as a few legends visiting the set of the film along with little secrets here and there shared by both participants. For a wonderful film lesson about the making of Catch-22, this is a highly impressive track that often makes me wonder why Nichols doesn’t do more because he’s informative and though short on some memories shares his information well and entertainingly with that great voice.

Also there is a very nice photo gallery along with the film’s theatrical trailer, that is hardly a spoiler of the film and is one of the most ingenious and low-key best trailers I’ve ever seen showing that to sell a movie, less is truly more (despite the film not doing well in it’s initial run)

Overall, getting a mixed reaction at the time of it’s release, Catch-22 shows some new life and holds up very well after more than thirty years with a great look and a great chat between two Oscar winning directors. Highly recommended.

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