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Fox Home Entertainment presents
M*A*S*H: Five Star Collection (1970)

Chief Nurse Major Margaret 'Hot Lips' O'Houlihan: I wonder how a degenerated person like that could have reached a position of responsibility in the Army Medical Corps.
Father John Patrick 'Dago Red' Mulcahy: He was drafted.

- Sally Kellerman, Rene Auberjonois

Review By: Daniel Hirshleifer   
Published: January 02, 2002

Stars: Donald Sutherland, Elliot Gould, Tom Skerritt
Other Stars: Robert Duvall, Gary Burghoff, Sally Kellerman
Director: Robert Altman

MPAA Rating: R for sexual content
Run Time: 01h:55m:46s
Release Date: January 08, 2002
UPC: 024543027096
Genre: black comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AC+C B

DVD Review

M*A*S*H is one of the all-time classic American comedies, as well as the film that sparked the 1970s' American film renaissance. The film kick-started the careers of several prominent actors, and also set up many themes and devices that director Robert Altman would use through the rest of his career. The strong ensemble cast, overlapping dialogue, and mix of gritty realism in the operating scenes contrasting with the broad humor of the rest of the film struck a chord with audiences and critics, making the film one of the biggest success stories of 1970. The film also served as inspiration for the TV series, that to this day is still one of the most successful in the history of the medium.

There isn't much plot to M*A*S*H. Perhaps the ending narration sums it up the best: "Follow the zany antics of our combat surgeons as they cut and stitch their way across the front lines, operating as bombs and bullets burst around them; snatching laughs and loves between amputations and penicillin." The film stars Donald Sutherland as Hawkeye Pierce, and Elliott Gould as "Trapper" John, with Tom Skerritt as "Duke." These three doctors are always on call, but when they're not working, they're busy boozing, having sex with the nurses, or playing football. Their freewheeling antics don't sit well with the army bureaucrats and others, such as Major Burns (Robert Duvall), the Bible-thumping doctor in the unit, or "Hot Lips," (Sally Kellerman), the unit's head nurse.

The episodic nature of the film mirrors the helter-skelter nature of war. One moment, Hawkeye and Trapper are drinking martinis, and the next, they're looking down at a disemboweled body on an operating table. In fact, that mix of ultra-realistic gore and outrageous comedy was revolutionary for the time, and is one of the defining elements of the film. Altman wanted to show exactly why the doctors act like they do, and it's because they're trying to escape the horrors of war. Initially, studio executives wanted the gore out, but Altman fought for the scenes, saying that without them, M*A*S*H was just another generic comedy.

While the operating scenes do add a level of intensity, M*A*S*H might have been revolutionary for other reasons, anyway. Altman set out to break rules with this movie, and he did so with obvious relish. He attacks everything from war, to bureaucracies, to religion. But not only that, he also challenged film conventions. The best example of this would be his use of overlapping dialogue. Directors normally don't have characters speak over each other, unless they're fighting or intentionally cutting each other off. Altman had his characters speaking at the same time through several scenes in the film. The overall result was that the audience couldn't understand any specifics of the conversation, but got the general feel of the scene. Things like this helped establish the realism that Altman was striving for, but at the same time was nothing like anything people had seen before.

Another interesting aspect about the film is that the film is really a parable about the Vietnam War. While the film takes place in Korea, the way the characters act, look, and talk all suggest a late 1960s' setting, and that of course meant Vietnam. The film had so few references to Korea, in fact, that the studio forced Altman to add a blurb about it in the opening sequence. But it was obvious to everyone who saw it that Altman was skewering the Vietnam War, and so it was a huge hit with counter-culture audiences. But because it showed the hardships of life in the army, as well as soldiers essentially disregarding their superiors, it was also a big hit with soldiers, who flocked to see it while on breaks.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: While M*A*S*H underwent extensive restoration work for this DVD release, the sad truth is that the 32-year-old movie elements are not in good condition. The whole film looks muted, and while slightly intentional, the level it's taken to here is absurd. Several scenes are too dark, and details are sometimes impossible to discern, even in full daylight scenes. The colors get somewhat brighter near the end, but even then the transfer looks simply adequate. Looking at the restoration featurette, it was easy to see that the level of improvement from version to version was small.

Image Transfer Grade: C+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The audio in M*A*S*H is all-important, but unfortunately it hasn't been given its proper due. Of the three audio tracks offered, the English stereo sounds the best, but even the best isn't so great. The restoration featurette goes over the sound problems in detail, so we can at least appreciate that all the sounds seem like they were recorded at the same time (as it turns out, some sounds were lost, and had to be re-recorded specifically for this release). That being said, all the dialogue sounds dated and tinny. The special effects sound the most like they were re-recorded, sometimes being far too loud in comparison with the rest of the soundtrack.

Audio Transfer Grade: C

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 40 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
4 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Robert Altman
Packaging: Double Alpha
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Still GalleryStill Gallery
Extras Review: While M*A*S*H has a lot of extras, the amount of overlap between them is astoundingly high. There are four documentaries: Enlisted: The Story of M*A*S*H (made exclusively for this release), AMC "Backstory" (previously aired on the AMC channel on television), M*A*S*H: History Through The Lens (previously aired on the History Channel), and a cast reunion special, which also aired on television. Of these documentaries, only two are necessary.

Enlisted tells the most comprehensive story of how the movie got made, with interviews from most of the major players on the cast and crew. History Through The Lens compares the movie and television series to the real Korean War, and the show is quite interesting. There is no need for the other two, as they repeat the information given in the other documentaries (sometimes even using the same interview footage). In the case of the cast reunion, what seems like an interesting dichotomy of watching the stars come back together to reminisce about old times actually becomes boring very quickly, as they tell the same stories as in the documentaries. Not only that, Donald Sutherland and Tom Skerritt aren't even there. The amount of repeated information in these supplements is frankly annoying. There's only so many times you can hear funny stories from the cast before they stop being funny.

The rest of the extras also sound better than they actually are. I'm sure plenty of people are excited to note that Robert Altman does a commentary for this set. Well, this is one of the worst commentaries I've ever heard. First, all the information Altman gives in the commentary is repeated over and over in the documentaries. Second, he does not talk all the way through the film. He'll talk for about three minutes, and then leave absurdly long sections of silence in-between comments. There's also a film restoration featurette, most of which is text describing the restoration process. This is a shame, since it can get very technical, and for the layman, visuals would have helped (such as in the Spartacus: Criterion Collection restoration featurette). In the end, we do get to see side-by-side comparisons of the old film with the new, and, truth to tell, the difference in quality isn't as great as they make it sound. The extras are filled out with two theatrical trailers (one is hidden and in Spanish, see if you can find it), and a still gallery.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

Hilariously irreverent, M*A*S*H hit America by surprise, making fun of just about everything in late 1960s and early 1970s America. The film became a hit, and it's still funny all these years later. In fact, the film is so good that Robert Altman could hardly better it, although he did come close from time to time. While the movie is excellent, the DVD leaves something to be desired. Less than adequate sound and video quality, coupled with supplements that repeat information a few times too many make for an ultimately unsatisfying DVD. Fans should pick this up, but I suggest this as a rental for everyone else.

 


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