the review site with a difference since 1999
Reviews Interviews Articles Apps About

Paramount Studios presents

Catch-22 (1970)

"Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat isn't really crazy. So I can't ground 'em."- Doc Daneeka (Jack Gilford)

Stars: Alan Arkin, Martin Balsam, Jon Voight, Anthony Perkins
Other Stars: Arthur Garfunkel, Buck Henry, Richard Benjamin, Jack Gilford, Martin Sheen, Orson Welles
Director: Mike Nichols

Manufacturer: IFPI
MPAA Rating: R for (violence, nudity, some language)
Run Time: 02h:01m:30s
Release Date: 2001-05-22
Genre: black comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer


DVD Review

Catch-22 adapted Joseph Heller's 1961 darkly satirical World War II novel to the big screen, reuniting screenwriter Buck Henry and director Mike Nichols after their work on The Graduate. Alan Arkin stars as Yossarian, a battle-weary pilot anxious to finish his tour of duty one way or another, just like most of his colleagues stationed in the Mediterranean. This proves to be an impossible task under Colonel Cathcart (Martin Balsam), who constantly increases the required "tour of duty" mission count as the war progresses, keeping the pilots on the job despite the self-evident pointlessness of their bombing missions. An enterprising young soldier named Milo Minderbinder (Jon Voight) contrives to make a few bucks on the side by trading valuable supplies and equipment for other goods, leading to absurdities that threaten to drive the entire unit insane, or more so.

Heller's title became a permanent fixture in the language; four decades later, any contradictory, irresolvable combination of circumstances is still referred to as a "Catch-22." The film version was not as successful, but its sense of black comedy and military tunnel vision survives, playing as something of a cross between M*A*S*H and Dr. Strangelove today. The story takes place in an environment where regulations and paperwork outweigh human compassion and common sense; where the fog of war allows the incompetent to reign supreme, at the expense of the rest of us.

Director Nichols heightens the effect by playing it straight visually—his dramatic shots of bombers lifting off and soaring majestically over the theater of war serve to emphasize the purposelessness of the mission and the boredom and frustration of its pilots. The dusty, barren military base echoes the spiritual aridity of the bureaucracy, while flashbacks, dreams and repetition articulate Yossarian's yearning and confusion onscreen. There's an intentionally epic but empty feel to the imagery, a neatly subversive trick that turns the normal expectation of a "war picture" on its head.

Catch-22 would not be what it is without its exceptional cast. Everyone appears in this film, and everyone's in top form. Alan Arkin's deadpan anger makes Yossarian immediately likable—he seems to be the only sane person on the base. Jon Voight's Milo is an opportunistic kiss-up, seeking to pad his wallet at the expense of others; Martin Balsam's Colonel Cathcart possesses no apparent leadership skills beyond willingness to obey orders from the obviously unstable General Dreedle (Orson Welles). A number of fine supporting performances include Bob Newhart as the pith-helmeted Captain Major, promoted to Major (Major) despite his complete lack of experience, forcing him to don a fake moustache in order to impress his subordinates; Charles Grodin as the unnaturally calm Aarfy Aardvark, and Anthony Perkins as the solicitous, bewildered Chaplain Tappman, asked to come up with a few "nice, snappy prayers" for the Colonel. Buck Henry, Bob Balaban, Martin Sheen, Richard Benjamin, Norman Fell, Jack Gilford, Austin Pendleton and Peter Bonerz round out a who's-who of comic actors, each of whom contributes something special to the whole.

There are so many hilarious moments in Catch-22 that it's possible to enjoy the film strictly as a comedy. But its deeper, more pointed comments on American culture, military structure and the meaning(lessness) of life make it a classic worthy of repeated viewing. Great stuff.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Paramount presents Catch-22 in its original 2.35:1 widescreen theatrical aspect ratio, transferred to DVD in anamorphically-enhanced format. The source print has numerous small flecks and a few running scratches, with a high level of grain in some darker scenes. The digital transfer suffers from some scan-line flicker and an unfortunate degree of edge enhancement in high-contrast shots. Color and detail are generally decent, but the DVD presentation is not as impressive as might have been hoped.

Image Transfer Grade: C-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Catch-22 features three soundtrack options—its original English mono track, a French mono dub, and an electronically-engineered Dolby Digital 5.1 remix. The audio has a dated quality, with dialogue sounding clipped and a bit muddy in many scenes, and music is sparse, though the sound effects are well-designed. Purists will prefer the original mono audio, but the 5.1 "remix" is surprisingly active and enveloping, with strong imaging derived artificially from the original mono track. Bass is occasionally "thumpy" and the digital sound processing imparts a distinctly different tone to some voices, though not an unpleasant one. The French dub isn't of much value, as the performances are very "flat" in comparison to the original actors. Overall, a decent digital presentation of a limited soundtrack.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 22 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Mike Nichols, fan Steven Soderbergh
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:04m:47s

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo Gallery
Extras Review: The Catch-22 DVD features 22 picture-menu chapter stops, optional English subtitles, and a handful of standard, solid supplements:

Theatrical Trailer:

The original theatrical trailer is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic format and Dolby 2.0 monophonic audio; it consists primarily of one continuous scene from the opening of the film, and shouldn't be viewed immediately before the feature.

Photo Gallery:

This extra consists of about 25 black&white publicity photos shot during the production; there are no real surprises or insights here, but it's nice to have them.


Director Mike Nichols is joined on this commentary track by filmmaker Steve Soderbergh, who is obviously a fan and student of the film. Soderbergh acts as an interviewer to some degree, prodding Nichols to come up with a number of entertaining memories about the production. It's an unusual approach that succeeds nicely, providing an interesting, casual and often very funny discussion of the film by two very talented directors.

Extras Grade: B-

Final Comments

Catch-22 is an intelligent, absurdly hilarious anti-war satire, and a highly cinematic experience to boot, given a reasonably solid DVD presentation by Paramount. Recommended.

Dale Dobson 2001-05-23