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Anchor Bay presents
"Won't anything stop that train?"
DVD ReviewHistory provides Hollywood with many tales or heroic doings, and their popularity continues to this day with recreations of major and minor incidents that shaped our modern world. Some tell the stories of nations, some of important rulers, while others tell of characters otherwise forgotten, but whose deeds were nonetheless pivitol to history as we know it. The Great Locomotive Chase is based on real life events that, had they ended differently, could have changed the course of the Civil War. It is essentially the battle between a Union spy, Jack Andrews (Fess Parker) and his Confederate nemesis, a locomotive engineer named William Fuller (Jeffrey Hunter). Buster Keaton spoofed these events in his 1927 silent film The General, but this film tells the story in epic fashion, following the events that led up to The Great Locomotive Chase. This story (later retitled Andrews' Raiders), is introduced by one of the volunteer soldiers, William Pettinger (John Lupton), and is the account of the men who received the first Congressional Medal of Honor for their heroic undertaking.
During the Civil War, the Western & Atlantic railroad was a critical supply line for the Confederacy, providing quick means of transporting munitions and soldiers across their frontline positions. Jack Andrews and a group of Union soldiers mascarading as Kentuckian defectors, were to penetrate deep into Confederate territory, steal a locomotive named "The General" and proceed to destroy as much track and as many bridges as they could between Atlanta and Chatanooga. This would leave two weakened strongholds open for Union attack, and would effectively cut the Confederate army's front in half, and possibly turn the tide of the war. What the Union hadn't counted on was the dogged persistence of "The General's" engineer, William Fuller, who relentlessly pursued the stolen locomotive, first on foot, then on handcart, and finally by a locomotive (the "Texas") driven backwards along the line.
The Great Locomotive Chase was a major undertaking during its time, with the entire film being shot on location without the use of traditional studio special effects. Duplicate engines, box cars and a cast and crew of over 160 people were sent out Tallulah Falls, Georgia for six weeks of filming. Although some of the acting feels a bit over dramatic by today's standards, the film is definately entertaining and full of action, without relying on a lot of violence. There is a considerable amount of tension throughout as the Union soldiers dodge their Confederate adversaries, and as the chase continues down the Western & Atlantic line. This is an effective recreation of a little known event in American history, and as a film is up to Disney standards.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: Well, here is where the disappointment begins. Not only is the film not anamorphic, but the transfer is laced with unacceptable amounts of aliasing present in almost every scene (even in progressive scan!) A great deal of grain is visible in darker scenes, and there is an overuse of edge enhancement, which halos many of the performers and causes backgrounds like leaves and buildings to have a very unnatural look. Long-shots suffer the most, with people and foliage having an unfocused and abstract appearance. There are also several instances where the transfer is shaky, with elements jumping up and down in the frame. Although colors are generally solid and vibrant, the film has a slight greenish tint at times and shows its age in many places, primarily during interior and night shots. There is some dust and dirt present, and it is a shame that a new transfer was not made available for this DVD.
The disc also includes a 1.33:1, Pan and Scan transfer. This suffers from most of the same problems as the widescreen side, though the aliasing isn't as bad. As this is a Cinemascope film, this side is pretty much a waste, though its inclusion will satisfy those who can't handle the proper aspect ratio.
This may look okay viewed on smaller screens, but on the big screen it doesn't hold up well.
Image Transfer Grade: C-
Audio Transfer Review: English 2-channel mono is the only available option, which is clean and hiss is barely audible. The soundtrack is somewhat frequency lmited, showing the age of the film. Though one can only imagine what a new mix for this film would add to it (especially the chase sequences), the audio portion does suit the film, and doesn't detract from its enjoyment.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 22 cues and remote access
Extras Review: No extras on disc. There is one menu screen with play and chapter listing options. Aside from the heavy card insert which features the one sheet artwork (which I'll say again is a feature I enjoy), there is also an essay on the flip side of the cover insert, which gives a good, though brief description of the film's history and the events that inspired it.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsA good movie with a disappointing transfer. If you are fond of historical films, this would be a good rental. Definately not up to Anchor Bay's usual high standards, though I doubt it is their fault, but instead due to the elements they were supplied.
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