My disappointed response to the lackluster look of The Great Escape at last month’s TCM Classic Film Festival has been echoed by the reviews of the MGM/Fox Bluray, which came out yesterday. It’s relatively rare when Bluray reviewers will actually say “this blows,” but High-Def Digest’s Michael S. Palmer and Bluray.com’s Michael Reuben have essentially said this in their reviews. DVD Beaver’s Gary W. Tooze was more obliging, but he tends to flatter almost everything he sees.
I haven’t seen the Bluray but Reuben lays out the basic problems:
“Expectations for The Great Escape on Bluray have been low ever since the title was announced at the list price of $19.95. Unfortunately, those expectations have been met.
“In July 2011, my colleague Ken Brown interviewed film preservation expert Torsten Kaiser about his work on a version of The Great Escape for broadcast, based on a master provided by MGM. While it is unlikely that Mr. Kaiser’s work product became the basis for this Bluray, it is more than probable that the same source elements were used to produce both this disc and the master provided to Mr. Kaiser—and, according to Mr. Kaiser, those source elements suffer from severe problems, many of which can be seen on MGM/Fox’s 1080p, AVC-encoded Blu-ray.
“Sharpness and detail vary from good to merely acceptable. Colors are frequently bland and washed out either by fading or by overstated contrast or improper color values (the latter points were both specifically noted in Mr. Kaiser’s interview). There are also occasional variations in density that register as a kind of “flickering” or instability that ripples through the entire image. Of greatest concern, however, is the lack of natural-looking grain.”
I wrote on 4.27. that MGM Home Video “is renowned as a bargain-basement outfit. They don’t want to spend a dime more than they have to. If MGM Home Video ran an airline you wouldn’t want to fly with them, trust me.
“I don’t know any budgetary facts but on the big Chinese screen The Great Escape looked like a handsomely-shot film that had been mastered by the Mrs. Grace L. Ferguson Airline and Storm Door Company.
“It looked reasonably okay on that huge curved screen, but that’s all. Good color, at times smothered in Egyptian grainstorm, a little murky in certain scenes, not that sharply focused, kinda hazy looking. And the sound levels were way too soft. If you want to be generous you could say The Great Escape looked a tiny bit better than the 2004 DVD. But only here and there. It often looked as if the 2004 DVD was being projected on a white wall in the back room of a bar.
“The source material wasn’t that extraordinary to begin with, remember. Daniel Fapp‘s cinematography is clean and professional but strictly average by 1963 location-shoot standards. It wasn’t shot in 70mm or VistaVision or Todd-AO but plain old reliable 35mm.”