Battle Of Britain

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

As part of their Father's Day line-up MGM Home Entertainment has prepared a high definition version of Guy Hamilton's "Battle Of Britain, " and while I love this film per se and love to own it on Blu-Ray disc, it does make me wonder why studios seem to think that a bunch of war movies are appropriate Father's Day fare. Be that as it may, though, I'm not one to complain for getting "Battle Of Britain" in high definition and 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 at Britain, there was a good chance they would simply overpower the country with their brute force approach. The German plan was simple – surprise the English and destroy the entire Royal Air Force while they are grounded. Once the air space would be free from enemy airplanes, the Germans 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 all-muscle approach would work, the British still managed to save and salvage a good lot of their Spitfire fighter planes. The German Stuka's and Messerschmidt's and, of course, their Heinckel bombers were no match for 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 numbers were constantly decimated, and just when everything seemed hopeless, Germany made one of the biggest mistakes 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 an 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 2.35:1 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 notably romanticized and shows us soldiers that are always in high spirits, whistling and singing as they march to their own deaths… ah well, the bliss…

MGM Home Entertainment is presenting the film in a 1080p high definition transfer on this release that adds even more dimension to the film as the previous DVD version. While the transfer is not as striking an improvement as, say "Patton," the image nonetheless benefits dramatically from the increased resolution. Details are beautifully reproduced and the faithful reproduction of the grain that is inherent in the picture gives the movie a wonderfully film-like quality that gives you the perfect illusion as if you were sitting in a movie theater.
One of the most striking things about the transfer are the colors as the transfer looks much more vibrant and vivid than the DVD version by comparison. Even the subtlest of textures and shades are coming across without flaws, recreating the movie's lush photography 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.

Apart from the original mono audio track of the movie that has been cleaned up, this disc also features a brand new DTS 5.1 HD Master Lossless Audio as well as Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. While the track still has a somewhat dated quality with dialogues that always sound a bit shelved, the surround track is a great addition and makes good use of the discrete channels especially during the dog fight scenes. Don't expect miracles, but for a 40-year old movie that was originally produced in mono, these newly remixed tracks pack quite a bit of punch nonetheless.
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. 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.

Like its DVD counterpart, this Blu-Ray version is unfortunately devoid of any bonus materials, which I personally found very disappointing, especially given the disc's exorbitant $39.99 price tag.

Since I first saw "Battle Of Britain" during my childhood I have been a fan of this film, and getting to behold this high definition incarnation of the movie is a wonderful opportunity to remember 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 not nearly as glamorously polished. This disc comes highly recommended despite its somewhat exaggerated price!