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MGM Studios DVD presents
"I love America. America gave me wings."
DVD ReviewWorld-renowned filmmaker Werner Herzog has a penchant for taking the lives of real people and turning them into unforgettable film experiences. After directing one of the most fascinating documentaries in recent years, Grizzly Man, he turned to familiar subject matter for his next project. In 1997, he directed a documentary entitled Little Dieter Needs to Fly about Vietnam veteran Dieter Dengler. Ten years later, Herzog revisits the now deceased Dengler's tale, only this time using actors to tell his story. The result is Rescue Dawn, an unforgettable film that is easily one of the year's best. Unfortunately, hardly anyone caught it in theaters, but now, thanks to MGM Home Video, Herzog's amazing piece can finally find the audience it deserves.
Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale) is piloting his plane over Laos when he is shot down in the dense jungles. Captured, Dengler is taken to a Vietnamese P.O.W. camp, where he meets a pair of imprisoned American soldiers, Duane (Steve Zahn) and Eugene (Jeremy Davies). It isn't long before he's devising an escape plan, but only one of his two comrades is on board with his idea, making their flight much more difficult than planned. Thus, their chance at an easy escape turns into a battle for survival in a side of the Vietnam War that is rarely seen.
Werner Herzog is a chameleonic filmmaker, beloved by critics and hated by many of the actors who have worked for him. Regardless of the on-set relationship dynamics, Herzog never fails to get his actors to put their hearts and souls into their characters, allowing the director to get everything he demands out of them. Such actor dedication frees him up to focus on the wonderful stories he weaves into gripping movies. The fact that he was able to basically remake a documentary into a scripted piece without anything feeling redundant is a feat unto itself.
The film begins in familiar war movie territory, slowly, methodically turning into something we've never seen before. Herzog pays such close attention to detail, and the scenes of prisoner abuse are so realistic, we can't help but feel not only for Dengler, but for all of the prisoners. The character dynamics feel completely original and fresh, helped in large part by the true life accounts behind them. The film can basically be broken up into three segments, with the middle, "prison camp" portion bookended by Dieter's jungle adventures. While the first two parts are amazingly engaging in their own right, it's the final 30 minutes of the film that take it to another level. After this incredibly tense and sad final stanza, some might write the final reel off as a sappy Hollywood ending, when in fact it is the perfect coda to an amazing study of humanity.
Lest you think I forgot about Bale's work, the focus shifts to yet another example of why he's arguably the best male actor working today. He doesn't imitate or channel Dieter Dengler, instead simply becoming him, making us forget we're watching Christian Bale, and not an actual soldier dealing with the harshest conditions possible. Sadly, not enough attention has been paid to Rescue Dawn for Bale to benefit during awards season, but any such consideration would be a pleasant surprise. Perhaps lost in Bale's outstanding performance is the near equal work by Steve Zahn. Mostly typecast in comedic supporting roles, Zahn exceeds expectations as Dengler's longtime prisoner friend. At worst, his work should lead to more offers for dramatic roles in the near future. Hopefully, Herzog's continual teeter on the mainstream fence will keep resulting in output like this as well.
Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+
Image Transfer Review: This anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen presentation sparkles, thanks to abundant image detail and consistent sharpness. The natural colors of the Vietnamese jungles are only a part of the rich, vibrant hues on display, while shadow and contrast levels are well-handled throughout. Fortunately, there's nothing in the way of dirt, grain, or other print flaws to bring this excellent presentation down.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: A Dolby Digital 5.1 track utilizes the surrounds very well, creating some amazing directional effects during the Dieter's flying sequences. Also, the ambient sounds of the jungle are well-represented throughout the sound field, while the crystal clear dialogue is seamlessly integrated into the overall mix.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Flyboys, Home of the Brave, Mr. Brooks
3 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Werner Herzog and interviewer Norman Hill.
Packaging: Keep Case
An amazing 44-minute documentary called The Making of a True Story is up next. This comprehensive piece is spilt into four different segments, with the first focusing on the real Dieter's story, the second featuring Bale talking about his dealings with Herzog, the third looking at the shooting of some of the war footage, and the final one finding Herzog predicting what Dengler would have done in some of these situations.
Three deleted scenes are also available, running a total of nearly six minutes. These clips include a torture sequence, as well as one that involves an event that haunted the real Dieter for the rest of his life.
Rounding things out are a still gallery and collection of trailers for other MGM DVD releases.
Extras Grade: A
Final CommentsThe great Werner Herzog does it again with the compelling character study Rescue Dawn. Highlighted by a tour-de-force performance by Christian Bale, Herzog's latest should rightfully find a place on most critics' top ten lists. MGM's DVD more than does the film justice, presenting it in wonderful audio and video transfers, and including some great extras that will more than satisfy Herzog's rabid fan base.
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