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Starting with a young man (Brian Stirner) who is called up for service in the army during World War II, we follow his young life through a series of training exercises, until eventually he is sent to the front lines of D-Day. Made in 1975 and shot in black and white the film's style is purposely aged, so to fit almost seamlessly with the stock footage of the actual era that was supplied by the Imperial War Museum for the project.



Packed with real WWII footage, dirt, damage, grain and flicker is largely unavoidable in certain segments but Criterion have worked miracles because this wonderful footage, that in itself is sort of a miracle to be in the good shape it is in already, looks fantastic after a 1080p restoration. Black levels are deep and detail fantastic, providing an eye opening glimpse at our world in turmoil, even in the rawest of real footage.

As for the filmed elements these manage to shine in more familiar ways. The black and white image is detailed and mostly crisp, with the minimal amount of shots looking a little washed out. Textures in and around the shot for this film elements are rich and the image of Britain pre-WWII looks quaint and bright and even the war settings still come with a natural look to them. All of this inter-cut with the raw footage from the period highlights the differences a fair bit but the inter-cutting between the elements is built at just the right rate to enable this to feel all part of the experience the film is generating.

Darker scenes sometimes loose a fair bit of detail in the darker areas of the frame and often brighter elements can feel a bit blasted with natural light but once again, this almost documentary style approach lends itself to these extremes and enables the film to fit the raw elements it's inter-cut with.



The mono track begins with a black screen and the sounds of war reaching out of it. It's small and central but sound is layered and as real as a mono track can produce. The film continues onward mixing a lot of conventionally shot film, with clean dialogue.

With raw footage there is over-layered dialogue and sound effects to bring them to life. This works well, the overdubbed dialogue and sound effects are well thought out enough so they feel relatively tied to the raw imagery we're seeing. Within the track this generates a slight disconnect between visuals and audio, because with all the best intentions you still know the dialogue and sound effects are added to the probably silent original footage but technically speaking the track sounds great.

The entire audio experience relies a lot of sound effects and drifting in and out of situations and this all sounds realistic and strong. From chugging trains to battle, it all works well. Sound effects are very strong indeed and things such as heavy rain can often overpower the dialogue, without losing it. The score also comes with a fair bit of power too and drives the film on with its strength at times, especially emotionally which this strong, growing score, even in mono manages to carry throughout the presentation.

The entire film has an almost documentary style audio track. The film is acted, the raw footage used to fill out the story but the sense of realism to the audio design keeps this 1975 film feeling almost timeless. Many modern films continue to use these sound design approaches and this crossed with the purposely aged black and white visuals give the film and out of time and rather unique feeling.



The commentary with director Stuart Cooper and actor Brian Stirner cover the entire production steadily and in lots of detail. From the footage used to the production approach and design, this is a calm, casual track that is very easy to listen to. I really enjoyed the segment on War Films in general and the thoughts on the modern loud bang bang explosion anti war approach and their thoughts on the approach that Overlord takes. It's very thoughtful and highlights in many ways that the more human approach as opposed to the thrill of war approach is much more respectful of those that fought in the conflict.

'Mining the Archive' (23:25 HD) discusses the Imperial War Museum's involvement with the film and the sharing of the 35mm footage that was used.

'Soldiers' Journals' comes with in introduction from director Stuart Cooper (02:24 HD) and features two read extracts from soldiers.

'Capa Influences Cooper' (08:01 HD) covers how the film was influenced from Robert Capa's photography and how they helped build the beginnings of much of the film.

'German Calling' (02:06) is a propaganda film made to ridicule Hitler.

'Cameramen At War' (14:44) is a 1943 film created to celebrate the cameraman and newsreel units during the war.

'A Test Of Violence' (14:17) is a short film from director Stuart Cooper depicting the work of Spanish artist Juan Genoves.

Last up is the film's 'Trailer'.



I had never heard of this film and it took me by surprise how engaged I was by it. War doesn't feature high on my watch list, the genre often feels samey with modern films often dwelling on bigger and bigger battle scenes and the same go to message around the anti-war sentiment but from a view fulled almost entirely with hindsight. These films can often feel purpose built to comment on our current world situations and while they echo many of my own views on war, I often struggle to being drawn into the characters.

With that said Overlord isn't about battles, it's about people and the situation they are in and its ever growing sense of collapse for its characters. I would have loved to have seen this film while at school studying this period. The film feels semi-real, despite the acting. The pace not out for thrills but to provide detail and insight into a soldier's life during the period. The raw footage and its use is well placed and very much adds depth to the view of the dark period in history. This was a late night viewing for me where I had predicted I'd get a sense of the film and continue the day after but it totally captivated me. It's not for those that are looking for battle scenes, it moves slowly and is a thoughtful piece of work as opposed to a "save the X"/destroy the y" modern war films we see and for me it made for a much richer study of war.

I guess maybe while I was at school any versions available of this must have looked kinda crappy, Criterion really gave this one a clean up, freshening up the experience and representing it in a way originally intended. The video is great for many reasons, the audio supporting throughout and there's a great batch of extras as well.

* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the true quality of the source.