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DreamWorks presents
Flags of Our Fathers (Two-Disc Special Edition) HD-DVD (2006)

"What we see and do in war, the cruelty, is unbelievable. But somehow we gotta make sense of it. To do that, we need an easy to understand truth and damn few words. And if you can get a picture... Now the right picture can win or lose a war."
- Dave Severance (Harve Presnell)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: May 22, 2007

Stars: Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford, Adam Beach, John Benjamin Hickey, John Slattery, Barry Pepper, Jamie Bell, Paul Walker
Other Stars: Robert Patrick, Benjamin Walker, Joseph Cross, Tom McCarthy, George Grizzard, Ned Eisenberg, David Rasche
Director: Clint Eastwood

MPAA Rating: R for graphic war violence and carnage, language
Run Time: 02h:11m:39s
Release Date: May 22, 2007
UPC: 097361235301
Genre: war

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A AB+A+ B+

DVD Review

James Bradley's book Flags of Our Fathers is a deeply moving account of the events and the men behind the legendary photograph of the raising of the American flag on Mount Suribachi during the World War II battle of Iwo Jima. One of the bloodiest battles of the war, it was important in and of itself for reasons of morale, as this volcanic island was sacred Japanese soil. The assaulting Marines expected a hard battle and a dug-in foe, but nothing prepared them for the network of tunnels and deadly positions that greeted them. Yet from the chaos and violence of the battle came one of the most enduring images of all time, a representation of struggle and heroism. Three of the six flag raisers survived the battle, and they came home to a hero's welcome they felt they didn't deserve, as well as overt government manipulation to raise funds for the war effort.

Turning this story of two vastly different parts into a cohesive film seems improbable, but by using the writing of the book itself as a device, screenwriters William Broyles Jr. and Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby, Crash) succeed by using the memories of one of the participants, Navy Corpsman John "Doc" Bradley (Ryan Phillippe as a young man, George Grizzard when he ages) and the recollections of others in a kaleidoscopic presentation that flips seamlessly from Iwo Jima to the bond drive with Marines Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford) and Ira Hayes (Adam Beach) to the recent past and back again. The fragmentary nature of memory being what it is, moments that pass almost as an aside early on come back with much greater significance later on. The picture's not difficult to follow, however, once you recognize and embrace the technique.

Clint Eastwood is at the helm of this, and its companion picture from the Japanese point of view, Letters from Iwo Jima. Having not yet seen the latter, Flags might on its face seem a little lacking. One can only share the POV of the central characters, and that leaves the Japanese as 'Japs'—faceless, inhuman, and wholly inscrutable in their determination to fight to the death and or commit suicide rather than be taken prisoner. Nonetheless, leaving that perspective to another day was a correct decision, since Flags isn't the story of the battle so much as it is the story of the men in the battle and what happens to them afterwards.

The central and true theme of the picture is the concept of heroism and how it means such very different things to the men who fight in combat and those at home, unable to understand. Men facing death in situations such as on the beaches of Iwo Jima seldom want to talk about it, and Bradley, Gagnon, and Hayes exemplify this notion. Bradley never discusses the war, or the flag-raising with his son James (Tom McCarthy), while Hayes is humiliated by the idea he is being called a hero for having his picture taken, and wants nothing to do with the celebrations of the surviving threesome. Beach is striking as the pained Hayes, a Pima Indian who wants to go back to his unit rather than deal with publicity tours and a succession of fake flag-raisings (not to mention vicious racism). It doesn't help matters that he increasingly looks for refuge in a bottle, easily accessible due to the glitter of their national tour. Gagnon finds more of an appeal to the notion of being seen as a hero, but bitterly learns that after the moment in the sun has passed, no one wants to give him the time of day; the lucrative offers made during his bond tour vanish with the end of the war once he becomes yesterday's news, leaving him destitute.

Eastwood stages the battle sequences brilliantly, with a feeling of being under fire from nowhere that has few parallels in cinema. As the troops begin their assault on the island, an ominous series of gun barrels of various sizes slowly emerge from hiding places in the ground, creating a death trap. Nor does he shy away from the problem of friendly fire when Sgt. Mike Strank (Barry Pepper) is killed by American artillery blasting at their own positions. Between the battle, the repercussions that follow and memories from the distance of decades, a gripping picture is painted that has an emotional impact from beginning to end. Sensitive viewers are warned, however, that the MPAA is not kidding in its description of the R rating for "graphic war violence and carnage." Eastwood pulls no punches in these aspects, and this isn't a video game or sanitized mainstream media presentation of war.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: I had some serious issues with the transfer on the standard definition disc issued earlier in 2007, and was looking forward to the HD DVD. Thankfully, it doesn't disappoint. There's still a very limited palette, mimicking the black & white of war photography, but there's much more clarity and detail, and the omnipresent fog and smoke are much improved, as are the aliasing issues with slanted lines. There's a much better sense of the desolation of Iwo Jima visible in the HD detail in the long shots, giving the nightmarish place a greater immediacy. The one problem I have with the HD transfer is the addition of edge enhancement, which sadly affects most prominently the flag-raising sequences; there's a huge ugly halo around the flagpole in the climactic moment that everyone is waiting for. Restraint on the artificial sharpening would have been more welcome.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: This disc provides English and French language DD+ 5.1 tracks that are truly remarkable. While the standard disc's 5.1 audio is excellent, the depth and impact of the flares, bullets, and explosions here is devastating, with a feeling of being right in the midst of combat. The raining down of soil seems a little more subdued this time around though, an effect that struck me very much on the original issue of the film. But it's still a very clean and solid track that gives the viewer a sense of being under fire.

Audio Transfer Grade: A+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 21 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Documentaries
3 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Elite
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Introduction by Clint Eastwood
Extras Review: Another area where this HD DVD presents a substantial upgrade is in the inclusion of many worthwhile extras, all of which are presented in HD on a separate disc. Eastwood provides a brief (5m:07s) introduction about visiting Iwo Jima, giving a little historical context to the film. The most interesting segment is Words on the Page (17m:03s), which features an interview with author James Bradley about his father's unwillingness to talk about Iwo Jima or the flag-raising, with plenty of detail about the interviews he held with survivors of the battle and the stories that still needed to be told to honor the men who didn't leave the island. Six Brave Men (19m:50s) features the lead actors discussing the men they were portraying. The Making of an Epic (30m:11s), unsurprisingly, looks at the making of the picture, with plenty of behind-the-scenes materials, giving us a glimpse at Eastwood's filmmaking process.

Raising the Flag (3m:25s) is devoted to the filming of the flag-raising itself, with comparisons to the actual footage of the event. Visual Effects (14m:54s) covers the difficulty of doing a major visual effects film with Clint Eastwood, who wants the material to be as natural as possible. Nevertheless, it is pretty amazing how much of the movie is computer-generated, but not noticeably so. Looking into the Past (9m:26s) is an assemblage of actual newsreel footage and photos of the battle of Iwo Jima (including the flag-raising), and also of the bond tours thereafter. Finally, the trailer missing from the standard edition shows up here. One thing that gets a little annoying is that the film's soundtrack plays over all of these materials, when silence might have been more effective.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Although it didn't do very well at the box office, Eastwood has created one of the most memorable pictures of war and what it does to men, one that can take its place proudly beside other classics of the genre, and the HD transfer is an enormous upgrade over the standard edition. Recommended.


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