Battle Of Britain

Battle Of Britain (1969)
MGM Home Entertainment
Cast: Michael Caine, Trevor Howard, Christopher Plummer, Robert Shaw
Extras: Theatrical Trailer

Guy Hamilton’s "Battle Of Britain" was one move I had been waiting for to be released on DVD for the longest time and when it finally arrived on my doorstep I was very eager to see how it turned out.

As the title suggests, the movie covers a very specific event in the history of World War II. An event that marked a turning point in the war and one that was incredibly dramatic because of its unbelievably narrow outcome. After NAZI-Germany had managed to conquer most of Europe the next logical and strategic step was to take Britain. Britain’s resources were drained from years of supporting their allies on the continent, such as France and the Benelux countries, and when Hitler’s armies finally took aim of Britain, there was a good chance they would simply overpower the country with their brute force approach. The German’s plan was simple – surprise the English and destroy the entire Royal Air Force while they are grounded. Once the air space would be free of enemy airplanes, the German could then start their invasion from the Channel of Dover. So much for the plan, and while at first it appeared as if Germany’s muscle-approach would work, the British still managed to save and salvage a good lot of their Spitfire fighter planes. The German Stuka and Messerschmidt’s and, of course, their Heinckel bombers were no match to these agile fighter planes and against overwhelming 4:1 odds, the British air force managed to fight back wave after waver after wave of attacks from the continent. But they were slowly bleeding to death in the process as their number were constantly decimated, and just when everything seemed hopeless, Germany made one of the biggest mistake of their entire war strategy. It was a blunder that changed the course of the War and as such it changed the world forever.

"Battle of Britain" is a magnificent movie with some of the most amazing aerial footage ever banned on celluloid. Featuring an all-star cast that consists of luminaries such as Michael Caine, Trevor Howard, Curd Jürgens, Laurence Olivier, Christopher Plummer, Robert Shaw and countless others, the real stars of the film are, of course, the vintage airplanes and the dogfights we get to witness. The movie has en extremely authentic feel and you can almost smell the gasoline in the air at times. Freddy Young’s beautiful cinematography that makes great use of the <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio is simply gorgeous to behold. When we then see waves of airplanes in the air like a swarm of flies, fighting, dodging, rolling, evading and shooting for their lives, this historic event becomes incredibly tangible. However, I must admit that the film is very romanticized and constantly shows us soldiers that are always in high spirits, whistling and singing as they march into their own death…

MGM Home Entertainment has prepared a new <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> transfer of the movie for this DVD in the film’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. While occasional grain is evident and intermittent speckles are visible, the transfer is of generally good quality. The level of detail in the presentation is very good, bringing out many of the subtle textures of the production. Color reproduction is marvelous, recreating the lush photography of the movie without any mars. The lush greens of the British countryside, the pale blue of the sky and the fiery colors of explosions are only a few examples of the rich and vibrant hues this transfer conjures up. Black levels are very well balanced and help to create an image that has plenty of visual depth and draws shadows that are deep but never lose detail. The transfer contains a bit of edge-enhancement and with it some ringing artifacts but only in very few scenes does it actually become distracting. The compression of the film has been handled very well and no compression artifacts are evident.

The DVD contains the original mono audio track of the movie. Since portions of the film are in German for authenticity – yes, unlike what many other films try to make you believe, German troops did not speak English naturally, especially not with bad accents – these passages are properly subtitled, of course. The track has been cleaned up it appears as no hiss or noise is audible. The frequency response of the track is a bit limited and lacks any serious bass extension, and the dynamic range of the track is equally limited, but to me it only adds to the vintage feel of this film. Dialogues are well integrated and understandable and generally without distortion. Ron Goodwin’s score of the movie is also coming through clearly and without distortion and one of the highlights of the film, William Walton’s "Battle In The Air" underscoring minutes of aerial combat sequences is almost hypnotic in its presentation.

Sadly not a single extra can be found on this release, other than the movie’s theatrical trailer, which I, personally, found very disappointing – then, of course, most of the talent that worked on this film is no longer with us to talk about the making of the movie.

Since I first saw "Battle Of Britain" during my childhood I have been a fan of this film, and finally seeing it on DVD in this great presentation once again impresses on me, just how impressive a film it is and how exciting and action-loaded movies can be without relying solely on computer generated special effects. To me, "Battle Of Britain’s" combat scenes are much more powerful than anything "Pearl Harbor" has to offer because they are grittier and no nearly as glamorously polished. This disc comes highly recommended!