Plot: What’s it about?
As we all know, the ravages of war can change lives in an instant, which is just what happens to young Jim Graham (Christian Bale). Although he is just a small boy, Jim has lived a plush lifestyle thanks to his wealthy parents, never forced to want for much at all. But as World War II begins, the Japanese invade the British controlled areas in China, which includes Shanghai and that’s where Jim happens to reside. As the invasion kicks into gear, Jim is separated from his parents and forced to fend for himself, a prospect he isn’t used to, not in the least. But young Jim remains steadfast and does what he can, with the hope of finding his parents & returning to his former life still intact. He soon ends up in a POW camp with other British civilians, where he meets all sorts of people, including Americans, British, and Japanese folks. As time passes, he forms bonds with a number of those around him, as he inspires them with his courage and remnants of hope. But will Jim ever find his parents again and if not, how will he manage to move ahead?
I’ve seen Empire of the Sun more than a few times and after each session, I seem to have more respect for it, without a doubt. The first time I viewed the movie, I was taken in by the lush visuals and production design, often distracted from the story itself, which is a real compliment to the work invested in those aspects. I simply love the landscape shots and even the more intimate moments seem to have a broader scope, even though the film is shot at 1.85:1, it feels much more larger in scale than most at that aspect ratio. Add in some excellent cinematography and those visuals are enhanced even more, which sometimes makes it too easy to get lost in them, so repeat viewing is needed here. After I’d taken some time to revisit the film a couple of times, I was able to hone on the story & characters more, which makes the experience that much more memorable. I can now view Empire of the Sun and soak in all the elements, but even so, it never becomes dull or tiresome, not even for a second. This movie and disc are highly recommended, especially since Warner has issued a very solid overall treatment here.
This film was directed by Steven Spielberg, who knows how to tell a story via cinema, but I feel is an overrated talent. Perhaps he panders to the mainstream too much or bends to the will of the politically correct masses too often, but I’ve never liked Spielberg that much, even though I have enjoyed most of his films. That being said, I really like Empire of the Sun and I think it is one of Spielberg’s better pictures, all things considered. Here he has some great source material to work from, as well as a large scope to paint upon and of course, he and his crew do so with broad strokes. The massive scale of the film’s subject matter is given great impact due to the characters focused upon, especially given the terrific performances involved. So this is not his best movie or his most revered, but I think it is better than most of his efforts. Other films by Spielberg include Amistad, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Saving Private Ryan, and of course, Jaws. The cast includes John Malkovich (Rounders, Mary Reilly), Christian Bale (American Psycho, Metroland), and Miranda Richardson (The Apostle, Enchanted April).
Video: How does it look?
Empire of the Sun is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. I’ve seen this movie in several renditions and I have to say, this new presentation is a welcome improvement over previous editions. I instantly noticed a higher level of detail and sharpness, with minimal edge enhancement to speak of, which was good news, of course. The colors retain the intended form, which means bright, but not too vibrant, more natural in scope. The black levels seem refined and on the mark also, which enhances detail and the entire visual impact, I think. A few minor flaws aside, this is an excellent visual effort from Warner, so kudos to them.
Audio: How does it sound?
I have a suspicion that some will be let down by the rather conservative nature of the Dolby Digital 5.1 track here, but I think it just as it should be. Instead of loading the surrounds and risking a thin, forced atmosphere, this mix keeps things mostly in the front channels, which ensures a more natural, effective presentation. And when the rear channels do see some action, you’ll know it and you’ll be glad the film was handled in this fashion. The vocals are crisp and clean also, with no volume problems to discuss here. This disc also includes 2.0 surround options in English & French, as well as subtitles in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Thai, which mean this one covers a whole lot of bases.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The main extra here is The China Odyssey: Empire of the Sun, which is an extensive and very well made behind the scenes documentary. This is no fluff piece, as it runs just under fifty minutes and delves deep with the production, from the source material to the casting choices to the production itself and beyond. I had seen this program before, but it was still interesting to revisit it, as it so insightful and informative. One of the better behind the scenes projects out there, The China Odyssey is a terrific inclusion and shouldn’t be missed. This disc also includes some talent files, as well as the film’s theatrical trailer.