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Miramax Pictures presents
The Great Raid (Director's Cut) (2005)

"I'm here to tell you men that the latrine rumors are true. We've finally got a mission worthy of Rangers."
- Lt. Col. Henry Mucci (Benjamin Bratt)

Review By: Nate Meyers  
Published: January 04, 2006

Stars: Benjamin Bratt, James Franco, Joseph Fiennes, Connie Nielsen
Other Stars: Motoki Kobayashi, Marton Csokas, Max Martini, Logan Marshall-Green, Robert Mammone, Natalie Mendoza, Cesar Montano, James Carpinello, Mark Consuelos, Clayne Crawford, Sam Worthington, Dale Dye, Nicholas Bell, Kenny Doughty, Iain Gardiner, Diarmid Heidenreich, Brett Tucker, Simon Maiden, Neil Fitzpatrick, Gotaro Tsunashima, Masa Yamaguchi
Director: John Dahl

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (strong war violence, brief language)
Run Time: 02h:10m:47s
Release Date: December 20, 2005
UPC: 786936692181
Genre: war

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Last year wasn't a pleasant one for the Weinstein brothers. Their contract with Miramax came to an unfortunate end and they released multiple movies prior to parting with the company that passed by virtually unnoticed. Such was the fate of The Great Raid, a World War II POW drama directed by the much under-appreciated John Dahl. During its theatrical run, I found it to be a decent picture that seemed to lacked something. Having now viewed the "director's cut," I realize that it is just the opposite: the original version had too much. While touting an unrated version of a movie seems to be a ploy to increase sales, in this case this is actually Dahl's preferred cut. Clocking in a few minutes shorter than the theatrical version, he removes three scenes that made the earlier release feel too Hollywood-ish.

Like The Longest Day and A Bridge Too Far before it, The Great Raid is more concerned with accurately depicting historical events than creating a refined war drama. While this may limit its commercial appeal, it does result in a powerful depiction of heroism in the face of an impossible task. Under the command of Lt. Col. Mucci (Benjamin Bratt), Capt. Prince (James Franco) conceives a plan to stage a rescue operation at the prison camp, Cabanatuan. Under the merciless rule of the Japanese army, Major Gibson (Joseph Fiennes) and 500 American troops hold out hope that the horrors of the Bataan Death March will soon be a distant memory, but the arrival of Major Nagai (Motoki Kobayashi) makes their stay at Cabanatuan even more lethal. Only through the help of the Philippine Underground, led by Margaret Utinsky (Connie Nielsen), do the POWs receive enough food and medicine to survive.

Director Dahl and his screenwriters, Carlo Bernard and Doug Miro, put their extensive historical research to good use in crafting an engaging, shamelessly patriotic, and brutal depiction of the Army Rangers' rescue mission. Apart from the strong violence and a few coarse words, this story could easily have been a Steve McQueen vehicle in the early 1960s. The narrative is split fairly evenly between the three storylines (the Rangers mission, the POW drama, and the Filipino efforts) and links them together through the character of Major Gibson. In the theatrical cut, I felt too much time was given to the fictitious relationship between Gibson and Margaret, causing the story to dip into Pearl Harbor territory. With some judicious editing, Dahl pares down their love story and the result is much more taut.

By downplaying the romance, Dahl now presents a film far more focused on the history of Cabanatuan. Franco and Bratt bring great realism to their roles of men devoted to rescuing their comrades, serving as the anchors of the main plot. The events depicted attempt to be exceptionally close to the actual events, especially in the climactic battle scene. While not as graphic as recent war pictures, The Great Raid still accurately portrays the horrors of combat. Prior to the battle everything is shot in a traditional découpage classique style, but Dahl and cinematographer Peter Menzie, Jr. shift suddenly to handheld work for the battle. The result is a visceral shock, throwing the audience in right alongside the men who burst into the camp. On a technical level, the filmmaking is topnotch throughout.

Where the film still has a failing, however, is in its characters. Apart from Franco and Bratt, the other Rangers blend together and become virtually indiscernible. Thus, when men are in dire situations, it is difficult to be emotionally involved. Each of the supporting cast members does a fine job with his or her role, but there are so many characters that only minimal development occurs during the film's 131 minutes. From a history buff's point-of-view this is probably of little concern, because the movie absolutely nails the period. The production design is astonishingly detailed and Trevor Rabin's music is quintessential for the genre.

This is not likely to become a classic war movie, but John Dahl has assembled a great deal of talent to make a thoroughly entertaining depiction of a largely forgotten bit of US military history. The Great Raid pays proper tribute to the men and women at Cabanatuan, and that is more than enough reason to recommend this film.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.40:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic 2.40:1 transfer is absolutely astonishing. I didn't notice a single flaw and was blown away for by every frame. Rich detail, vibrant colors, excellent blacks, and a strong sense of depth make this a home theater enthusiast's delight. There's a great film-like quality to this transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: A+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is equally impressive, with a great dynamic range thanks to frequent, fitting sound separation and directionality. The rear-channels are almost always engaged, whether with sound effects of the score, and the end result is a well-balanced track. Dialogue is crisp and audible, however ADR lines are a tad noticeable sometimes (this is likely a result of the source material, however).

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 21 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
16 Deleted Scenes
2 Documentaries
4 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Scott Chestnut, John Dahl, Captain Dale Dye, Marty Katz, Hampton Sides
Packaging: other
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:44m:19s

Extra Extras:
  1. Boot Camp Outtakes—a gag reel of various shenanigans at Dale Dye's boot camp training.
  2. The Mix Board—a sequence in the film presented with multiple language tracks giving the viewer a taste of what it's like to create a sound mix.
  3. War in the Pacific Interactive Timeline—a gallery of various bits of information concerning the Japanese and American activities in World War II's Pacific Theater.
  4. Dedication to the Soldiers of Bataan—a list of all the men who served in Bataan, played over a piece from the film's score.
Extras Review: Miramax is releasing The Great Raid in two editions. The first is the theatrical version, a single-disc set containing only a pan-and-scan transfer and a handful of extras. This two-disc edition of the director's cut has all of the special features on the other release, plus a few more.

Things begin with a feature-length commentary by director John Dahl, producer Marty Katz, technical advisor Captain Dale Dye, editor Scott Chestnut, and author Hampton Sides (whose book Ghost Soldiers partly inspired the screenplay), with Sides' comments recorded separately. Each man gets his own say at various points in the track and the result is a thoroughly informative listen. Dye and Sides give a greater appreciation of the truth and nature of war, while the others delve into more technical and anecdotal aspects of the production. Dahl is excellent here, giving not only a detailed account of his work on the project but also candidly explaining his own reasons for making the film. This is a first-rate commentary.

Following that is The Price of Freedom: Making The Great Raid (19m:55s), a publicity piece, with the actors as well as Dahl, Dye, and Katz providing interviews. Apart from including a few veterans of Cabanatuan, this is largely a fluff piece. Sixteen deleted scenes can be played individually or all together (22m:53s). Each is shown in nonanamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen and the material is largely worth seeing. Dahl provides an optional commentary for each scene, explaining why it was filmed and ultimately edited out. Interestingly enough, the three scenes that Dahl excised for this director's cut are included here.

The Veterans Remember (07m:43s) mixes interviews of veterans with Hampton Sides' historical analysis of the Bataan Death March, creating a brief synopses of the event's nature and its effect on the men. I was especially moved by how well it taps into the psyche of the veterans, though I wish it had been longer. Lighter in tone is Captain Dale Dye's Boot Camp (08m:17s), which features footage of the actors being trained as Army Rangers. Dye and cast members provide interviews discussing the harshness of the experience and giving the viewer access into the various shenanigans that arise during those two weeks. Mixing The Great Raid (09m:57s) is a thorough exploration of the sound mixing process. Complementing this is The Mix Board, which has seven different audio tracks that you can navigate through to better appreciate a sound mixer's job. Each track is in Dolby Digital 5.1.

The last special feature found on both DVD editions is War in the Pacific Interactive Timeline. Chronicling the main events between the early 1930s and 1945, this contains some audio clips from Sides to further elaborate upon the text found on the screen. It isn't a detailed history, but gives a nice overview of the war.

If you have the two-disc director's cut, you'll also get The Ghosts of Bataan (56m:11s), an impressive documentary giving context to the Cabanatuan mission and delving into the specifics of the Death March. Some of the images described and shown are quite graphic, but it's important that they be documented. This is the highlight of the special features, with both Japanese and American interviewees helping shed light on this monumental event.

History Lessons with Author Hampton Sides (14m:27s) is actually the same interview used in other sections. He explains the nature of the Japanese and American soldiers quite succinctly and even offers a convincing explanation of why Bataan is so largely forgotten now. After that, Boot Camp Outtakes (03m:50s) supports the earlier boot camp featurette, showing the actors having some fun and playing with guns (something tells me Dale Dye's Hollywood boot camp isn't the same as the real thing). Rounding out the set is Dedication to the Soldiers at Bataan (04m:04s). Listing the names of the men who fought in the battle and assisted the US soldiers, this is a fitting conclusion to this two-disc set.

Extras Grade: A


Final Comments

A well-made and rousing portrayal of American heroism, this director's cut of The Great Raid is actually an improvement on the theatrical release. Miramax gives the film a stellar DVD home, with impressive extras and excellent transfers.


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