Follow us on

Featured Blu-ray Review: The Great Escape

May 28th, 2013

The Great Escape - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

The Great Escape is one of the greatest movies ever made. It recently made its Blu-ray debut on a 50th anniversary disc. However, early reviews were not great. The movie still stands the test of time, but many Blu-ray critics complained about the video quality. Were they being overly snobbish? Or is the video quality really that bad?

The Movie

In 1944, the Germans grew tired of Allied POWs constant attempts at escaping their POW camps, so they hit on what they thought was a brilliant plan. They will construct a maximum security prison to house 250 of the most dangerous prisoners all in one place, an inescapable prison. Of course, there is a minor flaw in this plan. They have collected 250 of the best escape artists in one place and essentially dared them to try and escape... and they do. In fact, there are several escape attempts on the first day.

Unfortunately, that's pretty much all I can say about the plot without getting into spoilers. I guess I could describe some of the characters and the very basics of the escape plan, but even then it gets dicey. James Donald plays Group Captain Ramsey, who is the liaison between the German guards and the mostly British prisoners. As the Kommandant, Oberst von Luger (Hannes Messemer), explains to him, if the prisoners behave themselves, they can live out the war in relative comfort. Captain Ramsey declines. Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett, a.k.a., Big X, is put in charge of the escape plan. The plan is massive. They don't plan on just getting a few or a few dozen people out of the prison, but everyone, all 250 prisoners. In order to do so, they need prisoners that can dig tunnels, those that can scrounge materials, those that can forge documents, and even a couple crazies to keep the guards occupied, so they don't suspect something really big is happening.

The Great Escape is one of the best movies of all time and in my mind the best prison escape movie of all time. It has all of the elements a film like this needs, including a large ensemble cast with a number of diverse characters. No matter what your personality type is, there's probably someone in this cast you can associate with. That acting is fantastic across the board, with a few minor issues with accents. (Early in the movie, there's a Canadian who gets into a fight with Sedgewick, who is Australian. Both of their accents are really bad, eye-rollingly bad.) The script is excellent and the escape plan generates a ton of tension throughout. It also has one of the best action finales in the history of cinema.

But does the Blu-ray do it justice?

The Extras

First of all, it is shovelware. That said, there's a lot of extras on the Blu-ray including an audio commentary track and eight featurettes with a total running time of over two and a half hours. This ranges from interview featurettes, making of featurettes, retrospective, and more. The most impressive extra is The Great Escape: The Untold Story, which tells the story about the war crimes committed by the Germans as the result of the escape.

Moving onto the technical presentation. Let's first start with the less controversial subject: The audio. The 5.1 surround sound audio track is exactly what you would expect for a film like this. It was originally shot in mono (the mono track is not included) so the audio had to be build from scratch for a previous release and it is quite well done. There's not a lot of bass, but the dialogue is very clear and there's good separation and some directional effects.

As for the video... There were a lot of early reviews that complained about the film's technical presentation. Others have given the Blu-ray great scores for its video quality. I'm somewhere in the middle. On the one hand, the film is a step up from the DVD with better level of details, more vibrant colors, deeper blacks, etc. On the other hand, it is far from the best-looking Blu-ray I've seen. There are many scenes that are soft and often the colors are muted. If you look at the Blu-ray as a bargain release for a film that is 50 years old, then it is fantastic. Additionally, there are over five hours of movie and extras on the Blu-ray. The movie itself is nearly three hours, and an hour of the extras are also in high definition, so a better encode might have resulted in compression issues. If, on the other hand, you look at the Blu-ray as the 50th Anniversary Edition for a film that is a true classic, then it is disappointing. Given the age of the movie, it would take a full frame-by-frame restoration to get it up to high definition quality and I think it deserves it.

Finally, it only costs $10, which is a great deal for shovelware like this.

The Verdict

The Great Escape is absolutely worth owning on Blu-ray. There is only one question: Do you want to buy it today, or wait for a potential full restoration in the future. I think for $10, you can do both.

- Submitted by:

Filed under: Video Review, The Great Escape, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, James Garner, Steve McQueen, Donald Pleasance