Inglorious Bastards (US - BD)
Gabe returns to the WWII adventures of the Filthy Five on glorious Blu-ray disc...
Reviewer note: Again, I saw no reason to entirely rewrite my thoughts on this film, so the feature section of this review is basically the same as my original R2 DVD review.
At the tail end of WWII a group of American soldiers are shipped off to military prison for a variety of infractions, ranging from simple desertion to cold-blooded murder. While in transport a German artillery attack hits the convoy, killing the MPs and enabling five of the prisoners to escape. The group decides to head for neutral Switzerland, where they can avoid the fighting and prison. As they make their way to what they assume will be freedom, they unexpectedly find themselves volunteering for a commando mission to steal a V2 warhead for the French Underground.
Any film fanatic that doesn’t like Robert Aldrich’s Dirty Dozen is suspect. The Dozen, of course, had its inspirations ( Seven Samurai, The Guns of Navarone, The Great Escape), but few films have infiltrated the world psyche as thoroughly, and few films have inspired so much more of the same. The general rule of thumb in art and entertainment is that rip-offs suck, yet most of the films that have imitated the Dirty Dozen model have been monstrously entertaining in the least. Some of the subgenre’s best (and very few movies can claim a subgenre in their wake, except maybe Jaws, The Exorcist, and Halloween) have come from Italy, a nation known for milking popular formulas to powder.
Though I’m particularly partial to Gianfranco Parolini’s Five for Hell, it’s hard to argue with the wisdom of trash cineaste Quentin Tarantino when he calls Inglorious Bastards (aka: Quel maledetto treno blindato, Deadly Mission, and G.I. Bro as a re-edited edition) the subgenre’s finest, and one of his personal favourite war features. Enzo G. Castellari, the director behind other successful cash-ins like The New Barbarians (a Road Warrior rip), and Great White (a Jaws rip), and genuinely successful Spaghetti Westerns like Keoma and Johnny Hamlet, crafts a joyous romp on the less than serious side of the last great war, and the energy behind his craft is impossible to resist.
The characters are quite arch, and the plot quite incidental (it really could be summed up as ‘some tough guys stop Nazis’), but Inglorious Bastards celebrates its shortcomings with effective performances, and a whole lot of ‘70s style, Peckinpah inspired, lo-fi action. The sterling cast is fronted by two grindhouse favourites—Bo Svenson (you may remember him as the Reverend in Kill Bill 2) and Fred Williamson (if you don’t know who he is you obviously don’t pay a lot of attention to ‘70s cinema). Though Svenson is obviously filling the Lee Marvin slot on the roster, his brand of charm is different from the veteran tough guy, and the Swedish born, real life Marine generates a genuinely memorable performance. Williamson, typecast to this day, wisely plays partially against type. He still plays the tough guy, but here he plays most scenes for more light-hearted laughs (like coyly peeking between clasped fingers at bathing German beauties).
The only thing missing from this cast is an effective villain—a Klaus Kinski, or even a Werner Klemperer. Inglorious Bastards is a movie about anti-heroes, and because the protagonists often represent the best and worst in people the screenwriters forget to include a dastardly, or even gimmicky evildoer.
For the most part Castellari avoids the weighty issues and morals that normal follow WWII features, instead aiming for a simple, fun time. Considering his other films, the country of origin, and the year the film was made, Inglorious Bastards is also a remarkably bloodless feature. There’s a lot of slow motion shoot up, but not much in the way of juicy squibs or racing red stuffs. This sort of innocence just adds to the film’s charm and its Saturday afternoon serial flavour. Only a particularly amusing scene of naked, bathing German maidens and a couple of naughty words (the dialogue is actually quite clever for an Italian feature filmed in English and German), Inglorious Bastards would be a fine picture to show the kiddies.
I never got my hands on Severin’s standard DVD release, so I’m comparing this Blu-ray to my Scandinavian special edition release, which was more than acceptable considering the limitations of the format and the age and obscurity of the film itself. There are odd, off moments where details become bit blurry and the contrast becomes a bit muddled, and the amount of film grain is never consistent, but overall this transfer is almost a revelation in clarity (suddenly the matte paintings are pretty obvious). Besides the perfectly acceptable film grain, there aren’t many obvious chunks of artefacting, or any obvious digital compression. Between splices the print jumps a bit, and there are a few samples of warping frames, but most of us can ignore these in favour of the increased details, deeper contras and brighter colours. I complained a bit about the faded and washed out appearance of some of the colours when I reviewed the Scandinavian disc, but a second look here, and a quick check of other screen caps across the internet leads me to believe that the look was intended by Castellari. The print still seems a bit too bright to me, but black levels don’t suffer.
The video is as close to perfect as we can possibly expect from the source material, I’m assuming, but there’s still some room for improvement on the audio front. Both the Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Surround tracks are a bit on the quiet side of things, and are lacking in dynamic range. The LFE punches a bit during explosions, but is mostly relatively inactive throughout. The dialogue is clean and clear, but like the rest of the track it features a bit of unneeded reverb. Despite the 5.1 enhancement sound effects remain relatively centred, and by centred I really mean spread evenly across the front three channels. It’s not a problem, really, but it sort of renders the 5.1 remixing moot. I forgot how little music the film featured, but when it’s there it’s probably the mix’s crowning achievement. Severin doesn’t include the Italian dialogue track for completists, but most of us should probably be fine with this, since the leads are mostly speaking English anyway. Also, this marks the first time I’ve managed to see the film with subtitles during the German speaking scenes, which are actually pretty important in this case.
Most of the disc’s extras have been ported from Severin’s DVD release, minus the original CD soundtrack (sad face). Things start with a commentary with director Castellari, a moderator and a translator. The track is informative despite Castellari’s problems with English, and is pretty cheerful overall. Our moderator keeps Castellari on track, and asks all the right questions concerning technical aspects, and inspiration. The director’s conversations and relationships with Quentin Tarantino are covered, as are interesting factoids concerning laws that were passed against using firing guns on movie sets during filming (hence the use of weapons found in the castle during the infiltration scene).
The featurettes and interviews begin with ‘Back to the War Zone’ (13:00, SD), a tonally bland visit to many of the film’s key locations with Castellari, interspliced with the appropriate scene from the film, and set to the film’s score. It’s followed by ‘Train Kept a Rollin’ (01:15:00, SD), a real documentary look at the making of the film. Interview subjects include actors Bo Svenson, Fred Williamson and Massimo Vanni, producer Roberto Sbariga, director Castellari, writer Laura Toscano, practical effects man Gino De Rossi, and composer Francesco De Masi’s son (De Masi must have died since the Scandinavian release). This is a solid retrospective doc, covering the film from all angles, technical and personal. Despite the relatively bulky runtime this feature moves swiftly, and is as effortlessly entertaining as the movie itself.
‘A Conversation with Enzo Castellari and Quentin Tarantino’ (38:00, SD) is the kind of thing we’ve come to expect from Tarantino—wide-eyed, excitable, loud, and generally entertaining in a geeky fashion. The duo talk about the film, and Tarantino’s pseudo-remake (really, it’s just the title guys). The most interesting stuff is QT’s early talk about his personal relationship with the film, which was almost entirely unseen in the States before Severin’s DVD release (though it was available on VHS, I only ever saw the recut G.I. Bro release). Those curious about Tarantino’s film should be aware that this was filmed way before even pre-production started on Inglourious Basterds, so there isn’t any real behind the scenes information.
The Blu-ray exclusive extras start with ‘Enzo’s 70th Birthday in Los Angeles’ (07:00, SD), a short reunion between Castellari, Svenson, and Williamson, who are a little fluffy, but enjoyable. John Steiner, John Saxon and Lou Ferrigno show up to the party too. ‘Reunion at the New Beverly’ (11:30, SD) is a brief collection of video clips, and a Q and A from a showing at the Los Angeles theatre, which was attended by Castellari, Williamson and Svenson. It appears that Larry Franco also made an appearance. Things end with two trailers, and a trailer for Eagles Over London (all HD).
Inglorious Bastards is just as much fun the second time around, and in high definition it looks shockingly good, even if the sound isn’t particularly impressive. Severin loses a few points for changing their original DVD release to ape the poster art for Quentin Tarantino’s pseudo-remake (very sneaky), and for not including the CD soundtrack, but there’s little else to complain about here. The extras aren’t going to be new to those that own the DVD version, but are still solid in their own right, including a fantastic feature length retrospective documentary.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 28th July 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby 2.0 Surround English
Extras: Director Commentary, Train Kept A Rollin', Back to the War Zone, A Conversation with Enzo Castellari and Quentin Tarantino, Inglorious Bastards Reunion, Enzo's 70th Birthday Celebration, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Enzo G. Castellari
Cast: Bo Svenson, Peter Hooten, Fred Williamson & Michael Pergolani
Genre: Action and Adventure
Length: 99 minutes
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