BATTLE OF BRITAIN [1969 / 2013] [Limited Edition SteelBook] [Blu-ray] [UK Release]
Never Was So Much, Owed By So Many, To So Few!
Featuring a stellar cast, including Michael Caine, Trevor Howard, Laurence Olivier, Christopher Plummer, Michael Redgrave and Robert Shaw, Battle of Britain recreates the greatest air battle in history, when the outnumbered British Royal Air Force defeated the German Luftwaffe at the beginning of World War II and saved England from invasion.
FILM FACT No.1: 1970 BAFTA Film Awards: Nomination: Best Sound Track for Jim Shields and Teddy Mason. 1970 National Board of Review, USA: Win: Top Ten Film.
FILM FACT No.2: Filmed in England was at Duxford, Debden, North Weald and Hawkinge, all operational stations in 1940. One surviving First World War “Belfast” hangar at Duxford was blown up and demolished for the Eagle Day sequence. Some filming also took place at Royal Air Force Bovingdon, which is south of Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire and a former wartime bomber airfield. The title-sequence scene, showing a review of German bombers on the ground by Fieldmarshal Milch, was filmed at Tablada Airfield in Spain, which is now San Pablo Airport. Stunt coordinator Wilson Connie Edwards retained a Mark IX spitfire, six Buchons, and a P-51 Mustang in lieu of payment, which were stored in Texas, U.S.A. until it was sold to collectors in 2014.
Cast: Harry Andrews, Michael Caine, Trevor Howard, Curd Jürgens, Ian McShane, Kenneth More, Sir Laurence Olivier, Nigel Patrick, Christopher Plummer, Sir Michael Redgrave, Sir Ralph Richardson, Robert Shaw, Patrick Wymark, Susannah York, Michael Bates, Robert Flemyng, Isla Blair, Barry Foster, John Baskcomb, Edward Fox, Tom Chatto, William G. Foxley, James Cosmo, David Griffin, Jack Gwillim, André Maranne, Myles Hoyle, Anthony Nicholls, Duncan Lamont, Nicholas Pennell, Sarah Lawson, Andrzej Scibor, Mark Malicz, Jean Wladon, Wilfried von Aacken, Reinhard Horras, Karl-Otto Alberty, Helmut Kircher, Alexander Allerson, Paul Neuhaus, Dietrich Frauboes, Malte Petzel, Alf Jungermann, Manfred Reddemann, Peter Hager, Hein Riess, Wolf Harnisch, Rolf Stiefel (Adolf Hitler), Nicky Beaumont (Dubbing voice), Graham Armitage (uncredited), Nicky Beaumont (uncredited), Roy Beck (uncredited), A.J. Brown (uncredited), Günter Clemens (uncredited), Les Conrad (uncredited), Basil Dignam (uncredited), Eric Dodson (uncredited), Hugh Futcher (uncredited), Brian Grellis (uncredited), Barry Halliday (uncredited), Vincent Harding (uncredited), Pat Heywood (uncredited), Stuart Hoyle (uncredited), Geoffrey King (uncredited), Maureen Lipman (uncredited), Harald Meister (uncredited), Hilary Minster (uncredited), Ingo Mogendorf (uncredited), Richard Morant (uncredited), Richardson Morgan (uncredited), Geoffrey Morris (uncredited), Douglas Nottage (uncredited), Hugo Panczak (uncredited), Clifford Parrish (uncredited), Eileen Peel (uncredited), David Quilter (uncredited), Pam Rose (uncredited), George Roubicek (uncredited), John Savident (uncredited), Frank Sussman (uncredited), Nick Tate (uncredited), John Tatum (uncredited), Reg Thomason (uncredited), Chris Tranchell (uncredited), Michael Trubshawe (uncredited), Franz Van Norde (uncredited), Mickey Varey (uncredited), David Webb (uncredited), Peter Wesp (uncredited), Alister Williamson (uncredited) and Fred Wood (uncredited)
Director: Guy Hamilton
Producers: Benjamin Fisz, Harry Saltzman and John Palmer
Screenplay: James Kennaway (screenplay), Wilfred Greatorex (screenplay), Derek Dempster (book) and Derek Wood (book)
Composers: Ron Goodwin and Sir William Walton, O.M.
Cinematography: Frederick A. Young, O.B.E., B.S.C., (Director of Photography)
Image Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English: 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Italian: 5.1 DTS Surround
Spanish [Castellanos]: 5.1 DTS Surround
Subtitles: English SDH, Italian, Italian [Testo], Spanish [Castellanos Basic], Danish, Suomi, Norway and Swedish
Running Time: 131 minutes
Region: Region B/2
Number of discs: 1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Andrew's Blu-ray Review: There’s something about good, old fashioned, buttoned up, tally-ho good chap, oh so British and Rule Britannia with the film ‘BATTLE OF BRITAIN’ . And there is also something especially endearing about it in war pictures. What can so easily seem pretentious, stuffy, dated and out of touch in almost any other situation, for some reason comes across as steadfast, dignified and somehow appropriate in the arena of World War II. Like Winston Churchill himself, the bluster of these toffy nosed, silver spoon in mouth officers seems strangely and perfectly appropriate in that setting. And if you agree with that, you are gonna love ‘BATTLE OF BRITAIN’ and marks the opening salvo of 20th Century Fox’s onslaught collection of World War II films in high definition that also includes ‘The Longest Day,’ ‘Patton’ and ‘A Bridge Too Far.’
To re-create some of World War II's most desperate air battles, Harry Saltzman and S. Benjamin Fisz, the producers of ‘BATTLE OF BRITAIN’ assembled what became the world's third largest air force and more than 100 Spitfires, Hurricanes, Heinkel’s and Messerschmitt’s. The resulting scenes are a real cinematic achievement, as aerial photography and as is the special effects. These sequences of the dogfights over Dover, the disintegration of planes in mid-air, the graceful tactics of evasion are more than just technically stunning. They also are totally beautiful, in the completely impersonal way that the spectacle of machines working well and seemingly with wills of their own can be beautiful. Unfortunately, something less than one-third of the film takes place in the air.
The film opens in 1940 as the British RAF has been ravaged by the German blitzkrieg in France. Faced with an imminent invasion on its own shores, Air Chief Marshal Dowding [Sir Laurence Olivier] has every available fighter made ready to defend Great Britain. The RAF is outmanned and outgunned by the Luftwaffe, with its some six hundred aircraft pitted against a German force of some two thousand. The British have the advantage of radar technology and its distance from continental Europe, but the only way in with the RAF is truly a match for the Third Reich is in the high spirits of its soldiers. There's a frenzied attempt to bring fledgling pilots up to speed to counteract the German forces, but it's a wasted effort as the Luftwaffe swoops in and effortlessly destroys half of the RAF's planes. Rather than limp to a seemingly inevitable conclusion, the RAF steels itself when London comes under direct assault, prompting a retaliatory bombing in Berlin that ensnares Hitler into the campaign. Hitler demands that London be levelled to the ground, but as the RAF has a chance to rebuild its forces, steel its resolve, and ally itself with skilled pilots from throughout the globe, it would prove to be one of the Third Reich's most crippling miscalculations.
The “Battle of Britain” is one of the most remarkable stories of the Second World War, and this makes it all the more disappointing that it doesn't translate to a better film. It feels somewhat like a lazy '60s roadshow, throwing fistfuls of money at the screen and convincing scores of high-wattage talent to sign on while never really bothering with anything all that compelling for them to do. Despite the rambling list of fourteen names plastered across the cover art, including the likes of Sir Laurence Olivier, Ian McShane, Robert Shaw, Michael Caine, and Christopher Plummer, many of them are only featured briefly throughout Battle of Britain. None of the characters exhibit any real lingering spark of personality, and honestly, even as I was watching the film and I doubt I could've correctly named more than one or two of them. There's no “hero” to rally around, and their subplots are just the usual star-crossed love stories, in confidence, and fear for their loved ones in this time of war. The dramatic side of Battle of Britain really just feels like a series of loosely connected, half-written vignettes instead of a cohesive story. The dialogue is as inept as the storytelling, particularly one cringe-worthy bit where Susannah York is barked at not to light a cigarette since so many gas mains have ruptured. Meanwhile, damn near everything around her is engulfed in flames. The film tries to give the Germans somewhat of an even keel, following the conflict from their perspective and not treating its rank and file like moustache-twirling, cackling caricatures. These moments are intriguing but are too cursory to be all that compelling. The pacing drags to a halt whenever the nimble Spitfires aren't in flight, and with the overwhelming majority of its first 45 minutes focusing on the British side of the film rather than the Battle and it's quite a slow burn in arriving there.
The ‘BATTLE OF BRITAIN’ makes up for its shortcomings by a dazzling show of aerial acrobatics. Even with today's digital wizardry, the scale of these battles, with seemingly hundreds of warplanes in the air which has been rarely matched. The assaults are breathtakingly staged, and its mix of models and actual aircraft is surprisingly seamless, even with as unforgiving and revealing as high definition can be. Filmed in the early days of New Hollywood as more visceral violence was being embraced, the attacks throughout Battle of Britain are brutal and uncompromising. We see the lingering terror in bullet-riddled cockpits engulfed in blood and flames. It's one thing to see a fiery explosion mid-air and smouldering shards of an aircraft careen to the ground below, but Battle of Britain's determination to show that there are men meeting a grisly death inside these planes make it all the more harrowing. Battle of Berlin does an amazing job conveying the scale and destructiveness of the conflict, from the massive formations of fighter planes in-flight to seemingly miles of scorched earth, billowing with pillars of smoke.
But what I really liked about the film ‘BATTLE OF BRITAIN’ is that it manages to teach and demonstrate a lot about the war, battle tactics and life at the time, without ever feeling like it’s trying to teach you anything. The other thing I liked was the surprisingly even handed approach. When we’re with the Germans, it never makes them out to be evil or pointlessly bad. They are soldiers trying to win a war, just like the allies. Of course, you sympathise more with the allies and hope for them to win, but I never expected a film this old, and made by us Brits, to be anywhere near this unbiased. ‘Battle of Britain’ also makes the right decision to minimally use recognisable real characters of the time. Winston Churchill is only seen once, through a window, smoking a cigar and looking intensely intimidating. And while Hitler does get a rousing, impressive speech, director Guy Hamilton always keeps it in long, wide shots, so you never get distracted by a close up, or forcing you to scrutinise how good, or bad, the Adolf Hitler is. By keeping the focus on the low level pilots, it makes the story much more relatable.
The ‘BATTLE OF BRITAIN’ lifts its title from one of the most engaging chapters of World War II, but it feels more like a hollow spectacle than a harrowing wartime drama. The craftsmanship and awe-inspiring scope behind its dazzling battle sequences alone makes `Battle of Britain' and is easily recommended and with so many other WWII films making their release on Blu-ray alongside this one, I think this a worthy purchase, as it is totally stunning.
BATTLE OF BRITAIN MUSIC TRACK LIST
BATTLE IN THE AIR (Composed by Sir William Walton, O.M.) [Conducted by Sir Malcolm Henry Arnold, C.B.E.]
Blu-ray Image Quality – The ‘BATTLE OF BRITAIN’ does take full advantage of the technology that the Blu-ray has to offer, placing the 133 minute film on a single-layer disc with a stunning 1080p encoded image is superb. While a more efficient encoded Blu-ray disc would have been preferred, if only to free up enough space for the extras to be included and ‘BATTLE OF BRITAIN’ still looks absolutely stunningly phenomenal in high definition. I was caught off-guard by the strength of its depth and dimensions. The scope image is smooth, crisp, and brimming with fine detail, often looking decades more recent than Battle of Britain itself. The film grain remains tight and unobtrusive throughout, showing no signs of being smeared away by overzealous video noise reduction. Some moments do exhibit somewhat of an artificially over sharpened appearance, but it's not a constant concern. There is some scattered softness that becomes particularly pronounced in any shot with optical effects, although that's to be expected. The palette tends to be somewhat cold but generally emerges as natural and nicely saturated. One odd hiccup I noticed a couple of times throughout the movie is that portions of the frame devolve into a speckled mess. There's a fine mesh behind the pilot just before the twenty minute mark, for example. It and the edge of the aircraft in the lower-left hand of the frame are bizarrely unstable, with portions appearing and disappearing frame-by-frame. Strangely, there are quite a few other shots from the same angle that are absolutely perfect. The same thing happens again after a plane bursts into flames 122 minutes in. All sense of definition around the cockpit fades away, devolving into a series of loosely connected black specks. This looks more like a series of botched optical effects than a compression error, but it's inept enough to be distracting.
Blu-ray Audio Quality – I am sometimes sceptical whenever a monaural film is remixed to 5.1, too often suffering from gimmicky pans and awkward directionality or barely making use of the other channels at all. Battle of Britain easily ranks among the most effective remixes I've ever heard, though, and 20th Century Fox has provided this outstanding effort as part of a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The ‘BATTLE OF BRITAIN’ as a film is well defined by its startling aerial assaults, and that's by far the greatest strength of this remixes. Fighters swiftly swoop from one channel into the next and sprays of gunfire blaze across the room. This tremendous sense of directionality comes through as natural and consistently convincing. The stems for the score must have been in immaculate condition, roaring from every speaker with exceptional strength and clarity. The film's dialogue sounds somewhat thin and slightly dated, but it remains intelligible and reasonably clear throughout. The lower frequencies aren't as punishing as a more recent war movie would be, of course, but there's still quite a heft to the gunfire, dozens of explosions, and rumbling engines. The highest compliment that can be paid to this sort of audio is that it doesn't sound like a remix as if this is how the Battle of Britain had been deliberately shaped from the start and that's exactly how I feel about this first-rate effort. The audio is primarily in English, and the brief stretches anchored around soldiers from other countries are accompanied by generated subtitles at crucial parts of the film, especially when you are in the presence of the Germans.
Blu-ray Special Features and Extras: Sadly, 20th Century Fox felt they did not want to supply any special features, which is not very outward looking, as I am sure there is a wealth of stuff hidden in their Hollywood vaults, as it would have been great to see some behind-the-scene filming and interview with the cast and crew.
Finally, ‘BATTLE OF BRITAIN’ is an impressively-mounted spectacle, if certainly dated by today's technological standards. The characters are slightly one dimensional, but do their best in trying to bring a flavour of what it was like up against the might of the Luftwaffe air force. This Blu-ray delivers a really solid image and an awesome audio clout, which should please fans of this film. Unfortunately, given the lack of extras and especially the price I paid, it is was still worth purchasing, as the Limited Edition SteelBook is so beautiful and especially as it is only available as a Region B/2 Blu-ray disc and now it has gone pride of place in my Blu-ray Collection. Highly Recommended!
Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Aficionado
Le Cinema Paradiso