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Front Row Entertainment presents
Zulu (1964)

"A prayer's as good as bayonet on a day like this."
- Sergeant Bourne (Nigel Green)

Review By: Matt Peterson   
Published: January 22, 2004

Stars: Michael Caine, Stanley Baker, Jack Hawkins
Other Stars: Ulla Jacobsen, James Booth
Director: Cy Endfield

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 02h:18m:37s
Release Date: June 06, 2001
Genre: historical adventure

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ A-D+B- D-

DVD Review

There was an age when British films were as epic and grand as the empire they so boldly depicted. With classic masterworks like Gunga Din and Lawrence of Arabia making film history, it was only natural for other directors to step forward and attempt to enter their own projects into a similar echelon. One film that follows in the vein of David Lean's epics is Cy Endfield's Zulu. Even though it is not on the level of films such as Lawrence of Arabia, it remains an undisputed classic to this day.

Epics of this era were marked by sweeping cinematography, making full use of the widescreen frame. Editing is certainly less frenetic than today's MTV standard, and the filmmakers took the time to develop distinct characters, allowing the audience to build a connection with the individuals depicted. The balance of action and character development that characterize these films is something that has been lost to a great extent. However, 2003's Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World may be rekindling this tradition, illustrating the British Empire at the height of its power.

Zulu tells the tale of a small British regiment stationed at Rourke's Drift in Natal, Africa. It expertly recreates the devastating attack by thousands of local Zulu tribesmen on January 22, 1879. It's a classic adventure tale filled with heroic individuals and gallant teamwork. However, the writers do not overlook the tragic nature of the event and avoid falling into the trap of depicting the Zulu as a band of mindless thugs, bent on murder and destruction; there is a clear sense of respect for both sides. Preceding films that question Britain's presence in every corner of the globe (Attenborough's Gandhi, for example), Zulu is not a critical analysis, but an adventurous depiction of the hopeless battle.

Michael Caine (who actually got sick from nerves watching the dailies for the first time), in his first major role plays Lt. Bromhead, a young officer who engages in an authority struggle with Lt. Chard (Stanley Baker), a long time soldier who is short on experience. Against the advice of local missionary Otto Witt (Jack Hawkins), the British decide to take on the 4,000 Zulu warriors with only 140 men. The two men are forced to join together to repel the native threat, all the way to their inevitable failure, and Enfield does not avoid depicting the tragedy of the slaughter. Although the special effects are less than convincing, the power of the event remains. With solid directing, great performances, and John Barry's classic score, Zulu is certainly recommended.

Having been in the public domain for quite some time, Zulu has seen multiple DVD releases form many different studios. These releases share a common trait: they were all marred by poor quality, and Front Row's disc is no exception. Fortunately, MGM has recently released an anamorphic version of that far exceeds any previous release.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Front Row has produced a lackluster transfer, resembling either a recycled laserdisc presentation, or even VHS. The nonanamorphic picture is slightly misframed, coming closer to 2.20:1 as opposed to its proper 2.35:1 ratio. Even though the print looks rather clean, colors are washed out and detail is poor, creating an image that is quite blurry in some scenes. The red coats of the British soldiers look more reddish-orange at various points, and do not represent the original color scheme. On a high-end monitor, digital artifacting and some edge enhancement becomes evident. The picture is marred by video noise, especially during scenes with a lot of motion. Overall, this transfer is not completely unwatchable, but is far below the benchmark established by MGM's new, anamorphic release.

Image Transfer Grade: D+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The audio fares better than the image. The disc label claims the film is presented in Dolby Surround, but the flat, two-channel audio has no enconded surround information. Directional panning is undetectable, and the audio sounds more like a mono mix. Dialogue, music, and sound effects are rather clear, but dynamic range is nonexistent, which is to be expected for a film of this age. Overall, it is listenable, but not exemplary.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 10 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The release contains no extras to speak of, not even a theatrical trailer! Cy Endfield's classic deserves better.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

Even though the film is an undisputed classic, Front Row's effort is very poor. A recycled, washed-out, nonanamorphic transfer, coupled with flat sound and a compete lack of extras makes this release a shameful attempt at bringing Endfield's film to DVD. Look for the new MGM disc instead.


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