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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.66:1 Widescreen
  • English PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Audio commentary featuring Cooper and actor Brian Stirner
  • Mining the Archive, a new video featuring Imperial War Museum film archivists detailing the war footage used in the film
  • Capa Influences Cooper, a new photo essay featuring Cooper on photographer Robert Capa
  • Cameramen at War, the British Ministry of Information's 1943 film tribute to newsreel and service film unit cameramen
  • A Test of Violence (1969), Cooper's short film about Spanish artist Juan Genoves
  • Germany Calling, a 1941 British Ministry of Information propaganda film, clips of which appear in Overlord
  • Journals from two D-day soldiers, read by Brian Stirner
  • Theatrical trailer

Overlord

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Stuart Cooper
1975 | 84 Minutes | Licensor: Waltzing Clouds, Inc.

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #382
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: May 13, 2014
Review Date: May 21, 2014

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SYNOPSIS

Seamlessly interweaving archival war footage and a fictional narrative, Stuart Cooper's immersive account of one twenty-year-old's journey from basic training to the front lines of D-day brings all the terrors and isolation of war to life with jolting authenticity. Overlord, impressionistically shot by Stanley Kubrick's longtime cinematographer John Alcott, is both a document of World War II and a dreamlike meditation on man's smallness in a large, incomprehensible machine.

Discuss the film and Blu-ray here   


PICTURE

Stuart Cooperís Overlord receives a Blu-ray upgrade from Criterion, yet again presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of about 1.66:1 on a dual-layer disc. The filmís high-definition transfer is delivered in 1080p/24hz.

It looks to be the same transfer used for the DVD, but this is not a bad thing. The DVDís transfer (which had an impressive bitrate for DVD) was an exceptional one, especially when one considers the nature of the filmís construction (itís made up of new footage intercut with archival war footage.) Restoration wise the presentation was impressive, but the digital transfer was sharp and heavily detailed, even handling the filmís various grain levels rather well.

The Blu-ray does still offer a noticeable improvement over the DVD. The DVDís standard-definition transfer did suffer from some compression noise and the Blu-rayís presentation alleviates that. Detail levels are still strong, finer details coming through a little better, the filmís grain looks far more natural, and tonal shifts are smoother.

I donít think any further restoration work has been done on top of what was already done for the DVD, but this was pretty solid to begin with. The archival material still looks like archival material, despite the best efforts of restorers, suffering from heavier damage in comparison to the new footage that was shot, with frame rates also seeming to vary. The new footage shot for the film is very clean, with only a few minor marks and hairs remaining. This is probably the only thing that actually hampers the presentation of the film: as Cooper states in the included commentary his intention was to seamlessly integrate archival footage so it would not be noticeable. Since the main feature has been cleaned up a bit better than the archival footage itís very easy to distinguish what is what (though in all fairness the film is no less effective.)

As it stands, though, the Blu-ray does look better than the already strong DVD, offering a more filmic look with a clearer presentation.

9/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The film gets a lossless 1.0 linear PCM track. Itís clear, delivering sharp dialogue and music. Some dubbing work over the archival material can be a little edgy and harsh, but audio for the main parts of the feature doesnít seem to suffer from the same issues. Range as a whole is also fairly limited. Still, itís a good track, and any limitations have more to do with age and the filmís low budget.

6/10

SUPPLEMENTS

All supplements have been ported over, starting with an excellent audio commentary featuring director Stuart Cooper and actor Brian Stirner. Both participants were recorded separately. Cooper has the bulk of the track, talking about how the project came to be and the involvement of the Imperial War Museum (who provided funding for the film) and the resources they provided to him. It was the access to their materials that influenced the storyline, gathering information from footage, clippings, and even soldier journals. There were of course other influences on the film, including Kubrickís Paths of Glory, and he talks a little about more recent war films and the fact they seem to glorify war, even if its unintentional (The Thin Red Line being an exception.) Stirner pops up here and there, talking about getting the role and the overall experience, as well as the mild disappointment the film never really broke out. As we learn here, the film never found an American distributor during its initial release and was later discovered on the American Z Channel (the Criterion DVD release was alluded to on the commentary for the documentary Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession.) The film received a theatrical release in the States back in 2005. Itís a wonderfully fascinating track, adding a great amount of value to this release, especially when Cooper gets into the details about forming the story and editing the appropriate footage in, which led to him taking a more abstract approach. P>

Mining the Archive presents a rather captivating 23-minute conversation with Imperial War Museum employees Roger Smither and Anne Fleming. Smither gives a surprising background to how the film came about: as it turns out the museum was looking at investing into a work that would commemorate D-Day, and this originally started as a tapestry. After members came across Cooperís short film A Test of Violence the project turned into a film. The two participants then talk about how all of the film footage was shot during the war, the equipment used, and how the cameramen would learn to edit ďin cameraĒ as a way to preserve the film they had. They then talk about the footage used in the film and other footage shot on D-Day that doesnít appear in the film, which we get to see bits of here. Another absolutely fascinating addition to the set.

In an audio feature Brian Stirner then reads from a couple of soldiersí journals, which provided some inspiration to the filmís central story. The first, running 9-minutes, comes from the journal of Sgt. Edward Robert McCosh. He writes about the training and their dehumanizing effects, suicides that occurred, and then the final push, giving excellent detail about the beach that day. The next journal was written by Sgt. Finlay Campbell. Campbellís journal also covers some training, and we hear about the requirement of all soldiers to burn their personal belongings (which influenced one of the more gut-wrenching moments in the film.) This journal gets more harrowing as he recounts his sudden realization of the reality of his situation, and the terror that followed. This one runs 12-minutes. Criterion also includes a brief 2-minute introduction from Cooper, who simply talks about coming across these journals and how the influenced the story. Yet again this is fantastic material and another great inclusion to the release.

Cooper next provides a short 8-minute video essay about Robert Capaís photography. Capa shot 106 photos from D-Day and here Cooper talks about their effectiveness at capturing the chaos of that day. He even designed the opening of this film after a photo by Capa capturing the fall of a soldier during the Spanish Civil War (this also influenced him when making his short feature A Test of Violence.) Itís a pleasantly insightful piece, which plays over a selection of Capaís photos.

Germany Calling presents the entire 2-minute short film that appears midway through Overlord. This piece of propaganda was edited together by the British government using footage from Leni Riefenstahlís Triumph of the Will, making it appear as though marching German soldiers are in fact in a line dance.

Digging into the archives yet again we get a 15-minute short film made by the Ministry of Information in 1943 honouring the Cameramen at War. This footage presents the training these soldiers went through, and a nice bit of information about their equipment. We also get to see some of the footage they shot (some of it rather intense) and even get a small roll call of the various cameramen. Yet again itís a wonderful, informative inclusion.

Criterion then provides the short film alluded to throughout the features (the one that got the museum to notice Cooper) and thatís A Test of Violence. The film is a showcase of the artwork of Juan Genoves, capturing some of the more traumatic events in Spanish history. Here Cooper shoots some live action re-enactments and then edits them together with images of Genovťsí work. And where there are multiple panels to a work representing movement, Cooper even animates them. Itís an effective short film and itís easy to see what drew those from the Imperial War Museum to approach him about the film. The film runs about 14-minutes.

The disc then closes with the original British theatrical trailer.

The booklet also ports over most of the material from the DVD booklet. Kent Jonesí essay about the film is here, though has a different title (itís called ďA Soldier for All SeasonsĒ here but was originally called ďMan Versus MachineĒ in the DVDís booklet.) Other than this change the essay appears to be the same, covering how the film was basically lost until it was discovered on Z Channel, and examining its use of new footage and archival footage. There is then an essay taken from a screening program of the film covering the Imperial War Museum, and the booklet then concludes with excerpts from a novelization of the film, which was written in the form of soldier journals. The only thing missing from the booklet are some photos that appeared in the DVDís booklet. As for the text I couldnít detect any substantial changes.

Other than maybe some more archival footage (though one has to draw the line somewhere considering the vast amount of footage) this is a well-rounded release in terms of supplements. All of the material is informative and fascinating.

10/10

CLOSING

An excellent special edition for the film. It offers a subtle but noticeable improvement over the DVD, and all of the excellent supplements have been carried over. A wonderful release overall.


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