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Introduction
See, a lot of you will be staring glassy-eyed at the monitor, and contemplating this review. Elliot Gould? Donald Sutherland? Was he the guy with the bad posture, the black hair, and the martini? Alas no, we're talking about the film of "M*A*S*H" - made by Robert Altman, waaaaaaaaaay back in those final crashing moments of the 1960's - during the same era that gave us Altamont, the Ohio and Kent state massacres, "Zabriskie Point", and the Manson murders. The 60's, and the idealistic dream of the hippie counterculture, were both well and truly over.

M*A*S*H
Film
"M*A*S*H" is one of the cinematic by-products of this era. For all three of you who don't know the plot, the film is set during the Korean War - in the early 1950's. The 4077th M*A*S*H is a frontline hospital staffed mainly by draftees, who's job is to sustain the lives of maimed soldiers, so that their physical reconstruction can take place at a later date. Their role is simply to keep the wounded alive. The film is primarily concerned with the off-duty hours of the medical staff, who spend their time drinking, playing practical jokes on each other, trying to seduce each other, and talking about home.

"M*A*S*H" is a by-product of - and the first real mainstream distillation of - the experimental film aesthetic. That is not to say that it is an abstract, or surreal piece of cinema - it is not. Nor does it try to be. It is, however, confrontational, and a marked departure in structure from the material that was being produced during its era. Politically, "M*A*S*H" is obviously a product of the late 1960's - it is defiant, openly hostile towards authority figures, and resolutely anti-establishment. It is, I believe, the true inheritor of the spirit of the 1960's counterculture - as opposed to the film that many would put in its place, Hopper's wildly overrated "Easy Rider". "Easy Rider", while being a film with considerable merit, could never have had the impact that "M*A*S*H" had, in the sense that "M*A*S*H" was brilliantly subversive - a studio film, with respected Hollywood actors, funded by the studio that is simultaneously making "Patton" and "Tora! Tora! Tora!", which openly mocks, criticises, and ultimately advocates the defiance of both the American class system, the American military - and indeed, whatever remained of conservatism on the American cultural agenda. Although the film is set in Korea, its target is quite obviously the then-current war raging in Vietnam - a war that had incalculable ramifications as a social and cultural event. If we can read "M*A*S*H" as an allegory pertaining to the American experience in Vietnam then, again, it is the first of it's type - an antiwar film which engages in an openly hostile dialogue with it's subject matter - this is no finger-wagging retrospective examination of the events, but a contemporary indictment of a very real, incendiary socio-political issue. The obvious point of comparison would be John Wayne's 1969 disaster "The Green Berets" - a gung-ho Vietnam film, in which those nasty Commies are given a taste of justice, delivered from the smoking barrels of Uncle Sam's weapons of justice. The Duke even goes as far as to tell a young Vietnamese boy that Uncle Sam is fighting in his interests, as they look upon the smoking wreckage of his country. "The Green Berets" is a politically repulsive piece of filmmaking, yet it is the perfect illustration for the political radicalism of "M*A*S*H".

That's not to say that the film is not without it's faults. The episodic narrative can be too disjointed for a lot of audiences - and some of the vignettes simply do not work. The football game subplot, which takes up a large portion of the film's final act, is a misstep - being both too long, and too unfunny - it nearly stops the film in its tracks. Altman's trademark overlapping dialogue can be disorienting for some people, although - once accustomed to it - it is a rewarding experience. The acting is uniformly superb, with one of the great ensemble casts of all time – with Elliot Gould, Tom Skerrit, Donald Sutherland, Sally Kellerman leading the charge, each of whom give career-defining performances. "M*A*S*H" is one of the defining moments in alternative cinema, and in the new school of filmmaking that commenced in the late 1960's - and is fresh, contemporary, and utterly compelling now as it was for audiences in 1970. This re-mastered re-release of "M*A*S*H" is an essential part of any film historian's education.

M*A*S*H
Video
"M*A*S*H" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. There is a segment on the disc concerning the restoration process of the film, a restoration process that has resulted in the best image quality of any release of the film to date. There are very minor instances of noise on the film, but generally, the film looks superb. The colours are balanced well, although the film looks slightly soft - yet this has more to do with the design of the film than any defect in the mastering process.

Audio
The disc includes a new stereo re-master of the soundtrack, and the original mono version. The stereo version, while nice to have, does not really add a whole lot to the experience - and is included more for the sake of personal preference. On both, the sound quality is excellent - with tiny snatches of Altman's criss-crossing, overlapping dialogue being far more audible than before.

Extras
It is here that fans of the film have scored.

Director's Commentary: Altman gives us a fine, if unremarkable commentary - amusingly, remarking that he has never seen an episode of the television series of M*A*S*H that eclipsed the film's popularity many times over.

Backstory: A 25-minute documentary detailing the film's transition from novel to the screen. Interesting stuff.

Still Gallery: A gallery of photographs and press materials.

Trailer: A trailer, in surprisingly good condition.

Restoration Demonstration: A split-screen comparison showing the after-effects of the recent restoration procedure performed on the film. Interesting, if you like that sort of thing.

Enlisted: The Story Of M*A*S*H: A 40-minute documentary, along the lines of "Backstory" providing further details, and interview materials pertaining to the making of the film.

M*A*S*H: Comedy Under Fire: A 45-minute documentary detailing both the final filmed version of M*A*S*H, and the activities of a real life M*A*SH unit, operating in Korea. This is a very good place to start for newcomers to both the film and the television series.

Fox Movie Channel M*A*S*H Reunion: A special that was aired in America, detailing a reunion of a number of the key players in the film - with Sally Kellerman, Elliot Gould, Robert Altman, and a number of the supporting players. Interesting, if not essential.

M*A*S*H
Overall
"M*A*S*H" is one of the films of our time, and this special edition package has finally done it justice. Indeed, the widescreen format allows us to truly appreciate Altman's compositions without the intrusive nature of the pan-and-scan format. Just compare both versions of Painless' "Last Supper" sequence, to see the marked difference. A wonderful, almost flawless presentation of a classic that should not be missed.


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