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Little did anyone know at the time of filming that The Sand Pebbles would become a classic! Despite director Robert Wise acknowledging it was "the most difficult film" he has ever worked on, The Sand Pebbles not only depicts events but causes viewers to think about social issues and injustices associated with the time period. Just as Hemingway masterfully created the relationship between a man and the sea, Robert Wise let's us view first-hand, the relationship of a man with his engine!

Movie
There is something for everyone in this film! The story's primary focus is the gunboat  U.S.S. San Pablo, assigned to patrol the Yangtze in 1926 during one of China's revolutionary periods in history. The ship's orders are to escort missionaries safely through China. One does not need to previously know the events surrounding this time to feel the hostility of the Chinese people towards American occupation of their land. As well as being introduced (or re-introduced) to historical events, there are stories within the story. Robert Wise introduces us one by one to the various characters that make up the San Pablo and how the events affected and changed their lives forever.  Most strikingly, in my opinion, it is sometimes what is not said but expressed through gestures and emotions that is more important.

The casting and cinematography is spectacular! The Sand Pebbles was nominated for 8 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Steve McQueen), Best Supporting Actor (Mako), Best Cinematography and Best Editing. Most people might not know that the role of engineer Jake Holman was originally offered to Paul Newman. This role was Steve McQueen's first and only Oscar nomination for Best Actor.

Sand Pebbles, The

Video
Despite the age of the film, presented in Widescreen Anamorphic 2.35:1, it has been well preserved. If one were to be critical, one could say that some scenes and colours are not as perfect as if the film was made today, however, like a fine wine, all things mature and show signs of aging. I always choose to enjoy what a film has to offer as opposed to expectations that technology has not been able to re-create the perfect copy. Ironically, 14 minutes of film is missing on DVD, Video and Laserdisc from the original film and Twentieth Century Fox does not know where the missing film is! The Sand Pebbles was one of the first Panavision films for 20th Century Fox and comes up well on this DVD.

Audio
On this disc we get a Dolby Digital 4.0 soundtrack. I think the sound and dialogue were remarkable taking into account (once again) the age of the film. The music was composed by Jerry Goldsmith and conducted by Lionel Newman. There is nothing extraordinary about the music except to say it complemented the film very well. Did you know the theme song "And We Were Lovers" was recorded by more than 25 different artists in the 1960's?

In terms of surround use there is none at all, basically because there is just a mono surround track pushed through the rears. There’s no subwoofer action at all, nor does it really call for anything earth shattering in the story.

Extras
A feature commentary was the highlight of the Special Features. Initially, I would have liked to know who was talking and it is only through listening intently and putting the pieces of the puzzle together that one can figure out who is enlightening us about the film! Disappointingly, Steve McQueen does not have a part in the commentary track. I personally would have liked to hear his words about his experiences making The Sand Pebbles. Robert Wise, in his “umms” and “aahs” speaks on the commentary as if he is actually talking in person to us. Initially I did think he mumbled a bit and perhaps rambled, but I totally admire and respect his works as a director and found his insights to be almost "awe-inspiring"! Through The Sand Pebbles he had hoped to create "deeply human characters" and have the audience "swept away with them". He also tried (and succeeded) in creating "visual excitement", whether with the gunboat patrolling down the river or with the infamous fight scenes! While The Sand Pebbles took 6 ½ months to film, Wise was described as having "dominated every hour" of the filming and was "patient and very definite with what he wants".

Richard Crenna (The Captain of the U.S.S. San Pablo) really makes the commentary. I have always been a fan of Richard Crenna's work and through the Commentary, he acknowledges the works of the various people who played such an integral part in making this film a success! From the props to the weapons, "amazing research was done" to make sure authenticity was preserved. Did you know the San Pablo cost $250,000 U.S. to construct; the most expensive prop constructed for a film at that time!

Sand Pebbles, The

Mako (Po-han) gives the viewer a very different insight in his research for the making of the film. His greatest obstacle was the balancing the wishes of Robert Wise to play a stereotyped role and that of his own creative abilities. He spent months trying to improve his language skills so he would be better understood by the viewing audience. One of the best scenes in the movie (without giving too much away!) is the interaction between Po-han and Jake as Jake trains Po-han to be the new head Coolie.(In charge of his fellow Chinese workers in the engine room) I believe one cannot help but like Po-han because, initially he has the heart of gold, the gestures and curiosity of a child and what both he and Steve McQueen are able to accomplish through their "non-language" is brilliant!

Candice Bergen (Shirley) contributes to the commentary in a delightfully different way. Can you imagine being on the set of The Sand Pebbles at the age of 19 with fellow established actors as Richard Attenborough (now Sir!), Richard Crenna and Steve McQueen? Canidice explains to the viewers that her love was not that of acting, but of photography! She also felt that she could have possibly done more research for the role. I think her innocence and naïveté accentuated her almost child-like role. Jake (Steve McQueen) even asks her, "haven't you been told not to speak to sailors?"

In addition to the Feature Commentary, there is a theatrical trailer that I also enjoyed. It creates excitement, intrigue and if it were played for the first time today, I would still want to go and see the movie!

Also included on this disc are two radio documentaries, three radio spots and well as a stills gallery. I would have welcomed listening to both the radio documentaries and the radios spots if there were something visual to look at other than the same still photo. But overall this is a pretty solid extras package for such an aged film.

Sand Pebbles, The

Overall
Despite an earthquake, storms, a fire in the hotel and going over budget by some 3 million US dollars, this film was meant to be told the way Robert Wise intended. Like it or not what the events depict, a piece of history (like no other period in China's history and hopefully never again) was revealed. Viewers will be able to identify with, if not the individual characters, the depth of their emotions as affected by life, love and fate!


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