Fox // 1969 // 132 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // June 3rd, 2008
"Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." -- Winston Churchill
Of the many Fox catalog titles out on the video market, Battle of Britain was an intriguing choice to release on Blu-ray. Although as part of a Memorial Week tie-in of some sort, a flood of Fox War classics have made their way onto high definition video and lossless audio, and it was only logical that Battle of Britain was one of those. So now that it's here, what's the story, morning glory?
Based on the events of the 1940 conflict of the same name, the book The Narrow Margin was adapted to screenplay form by Willfred Greatorex (Nobody Runs Forever) and James Kennaway (The Shoes of the Fisherman) and directed by Guy Hamilton, who directed Goldfinger and was remembered by Bond producer Harry Saltzman for his work on this film. By 1940, Hitler's Germany was taking over large swaths of Europeen masse, including France, where Allied air forces were stationed. However, the air forces were minimal and easily overwhelmed by the German blitzkrieg. And soon enough, England was next on the list. The German planes, which easily outnumbered the multinational allied force, should have come in for an easy and bloody win to take over England, but the Brits, Canadians, and others provided enough resistance and support to fend off the Germans, who abandoned their air invasions for a change in strategy, one that eventually would lead to their surrender.
I've got to pimp out the benefits of being a Judge at Verdict offices, because otherwise I probably wouldn't have afforded myself the chance to watch Battle of Britain, a film that my father and others have liked and enjoyed for quite some time. The downside of it for me is that to be perfectly honest, I don't really see much of a difference between this and other similarly star-studded war epics, other than the arena for combat is obviously different.
Don't get me wrong, to see younger versions of Ian McShane (Deadwood), Michael Caine (Batman Begins) and Christopher Plummer (Syriana) is pretty cool, and to see "in the pink" images of Sir Ralph Richardson (Time Bandits), Sir Laurence Oliver (Spartacus) and Robert Shaw (Jaws) is a nice stroll through memory lane, but the material through most of the film is told in the rather dry British form of storytelling and sprawls over several different storylines. Olivier is the calm voice of reason, hoping to delay the inevitable; Shaw is a taskmaster with his understudys; Plummer and his wife Maggie (Susannah York, Superman), who is also in the service, are the film's personal touch, as he reminds her about applying for a posting at a base, and things change when he is wounded in a dogfight. It's a little bit confusing after awhile, and you just want them to get on with the airplane stuff already. What's ironic is that for all of the glory that fighter pilots get, there's a detachment that Hamilton seems to convey that saps much of the allure and makes it rather cumbersome, which it is, but you never knew how much.
Technically, it's kind of strange that Fox would give Battle of Britain an MPEG-2 encode on a single layer BD 25 disc. It's not like there's not a lot of room for the disc as it is, but the 2.35:1 widescreen presentation does use its shot composition rather smartly at times, and in high definition, I can't say I was overwhelmed. Film grain is present throughout the feature and isn't really distracting, but on this older film there's not a lot of detail to be gained, and the image is far from feeling multidimensional. The DTS HD MA lossless soundtrack is also of the plain Jane variety, though there's some more engagement from the subwoofer and listening to the planes takeoff and go from the front, then to the rear speakers in subtle panning, was impressive. As far as the extras go, zippy, zilch, nada, save for an isolated score track, which I'm not giving any points to. Not the trailer from the initial single-disc release, and obviously nothing from the two-disc Collector's Edition release of 2005. The treatment of these catalog titles on high definition by Fox is starting to annoy me.
Late in the film, something clicked for me in Battle of Britain that I would have liked to see more of, and that was the gaps in action for the pilots. A particularly effective scene was late in the film at the (presumed) key battle between the Germans and Allies, where you see scores of planes getting shot down and pilots getting injured and being forced to eject, set only against the background of classical music and a ton of shots, which don't appear to be rear projection, illustrating how many planes were up in the air at any particular moment. Those shots were really nice and well worth the time.
When it comes to war films, Battle of Britain shines a light on a previously seen and almost wholly forgotten conflict compared to the many other acts of heroism during the second World War. When it comes to war films on high definition, Fox clearly didn't do the film enough justice. The high definition technical side of it isn't much better than the standard definition version, and you get none of the extras from an earlier edition. If you've got that two-disc edition, I'd recommend that you hold onto that and avoid the double-dip, and even if you're new to war films on Blu-ray, there are better ones out there for your library.
Not guilty for the filmmakers and the cast. Fox is guilty for releasing this catalog title without the supplemental material.
Review content copyright © 2008 Ryan Keefer; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* DTS HD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 132 Minutes
Release Year: 1969
MPAA Rating: Rated G
* Isolated Music Track
* Original Verdict Review
* Battle of Britain Historical Society
* Battle of Britain History Site