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 a movie that deserves a Special Edition. MGM’s original disc was slim on supplements, but the real insult was the transfer. The gorgeous widescreen visuals were hindered by a misframed presentation, which was inexcusable. Now however, MGM has compensated, as we have a new two disc edition with a top notch new visual treatment. The movie 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?
The Great Escape is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The previous disc had some transfer issues, as the framing was off. In this new release, that problem is solved and we have an excellent new presentation. Of course, time has taken a toll on the materials, but the print looks solid and shows no serious defects. A few scenes do have some grain, as expected, but that never amounts to much of a distraction. I found the image to be sharper than before, with added depth and small details were more refined. No worries with the colors, as hues were bright enough and contrast never disappointed. So in truth, The Great Escape has never looked this good on home video, so fans should be thrilled.
Audio: How does it sound?
A new Dolby Digital 5.1 option is found here, but truth be told, I think the original mono track is the best choice here. I mean, the movie does benefit somewhat from the added depth, but not enough to be concerned about. The surrounds do spark now and again, but mostly minor touches, such as engines and background noise. The mono soundtrack has a natural, though limited presence that works well with the material. I understand the desire for new surround mixes, but in this case, the original stands up quite well. I love to see both old and new audio options too, so kudos to MGM for covering all the bases. This release also includes Spanish and French language tracks, as well as subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The first disc houses a trivia track via a special subtitle stream, as well as 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 also browse a most impressive selection of still photos, or check out the film’s theatrical trailer.