Wartime tech 

This great evil. Where does it come from? How did it steal into the world? What seed, what root did it grow from? Who’s doin’ this? Who’s killin’ us? Robbin’ us of life and light. Mockin’ us with the sight of what we might have known. Does our ruin benefit the Earth? Does it help the grass to grow or the sun to shine? Is this darkness in you too? Have you passed through this night?

This poetic narrative is only one piece of many, sewn together immaculately like a prom dress — but for a war movie, not Shakespearean tragedy. And finally, this stage-set of World War II reality can be admired on a digital platform.

Unfortunately, since director Terrence Malick is infamous in Hollywood as a religiously lock-and-key hermit, refusing media exposure or even allowing photographs of himself, The Thin Red Line on DVD leaves much to be desired. There is no abundance of supplements here, just beauty in content — no audio commentary, no theatrical trailers, no “making-of” documentaries, no art galleries, no bloopers, not even biographies of Malick and crew.

Instead, cinema hounds are forced to consider an 11-track, Melanesian song sampler as appropriate treatment for a film nominated for seven Academy Awards. A noble idea, yet horribly concocted; the inspiring vocals of this native music appear to be more of an advertisement for the CD “available in stores” than an extra for the $30 disc. Luckily, 20th Century Fox doesn’t try to contend with Disney for the “cheapskate” award by listing English subtitles as a “special” feature. (The mouse-eared studio has also attempted to persuade consumers that color artwork, printed on the unreadable side of each of its DVDs, is considered a bonus too.)

In a sense, thanking Fox for this featureless disc might be in order. The amazing clarity and Malick’s spectacular visuals combine to create a formidable wartime competitor. The crinkles of every sun-torched leaf, single grains of sand visibly tangible as if the coast of Asia were leaking into your living room — it’s all here. With a widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and the brilliance of Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, most home theater buffs will be in heaven with just the sound and picture quality to keep them at bay. Appropriately, in the age of high-tech TV, Fox also provides an anamorphic transfer, so video hounds who own flat panel, high-definition screens will probably be drooling over this selection.

Note: New DTV (or widescreen) televisions do not use a square (4:3) television set image area, but rather a 16:9 aspect ratio. The benefit of anamorphic enhancement is that it allows the image to be displayed at a higher resolution — hence better image quality — and still remain compatible with both 4:3 and 16:9 displays.

Tora! Tora! Tora! marks probably the first successful theatrical adaptation of Japan’s kamikaze attack on American waters. Quintessential would probably be a more suitable adjective than merely stating that it achieved warlike authenticity without appearing mocked-up. But with age comes deterioration, as is the case with this 1970 monument. Each scene is a different case with this DVD, some being clear while others remain in a virtually decrepit state. Consistency is sparing — and so are supplements.

An official George Lucas-THX stamp of approval graces the border of the Tora package (which now has become a Hollywood novelty patch); and again, only a couple of subtitle options are provided for those fixated on studying the Spanish language. Even more disappointing is the lack of an anamorphic transfer here.

Obviously, Fox doesn’t learn from example. Even its LaserDisc versions of The Longest Day included more bonus footage than the DVD successor. Although this remastered release contains a much more vibrant transfer than Tora!, the only feature that sets it apart from the crowd is a superannuated trailer, covered in dust and decay.

A more notable D-Day epic to purchase is the award-hungry Saving Private Ryan. Released late last year to popular demand, another version of the DVD has recently arrived on store shelves. The DTS edition (simply a variance in the audio recording, since the home theater standard is Dolby Digital) is branded with the same $30 retail price — both discs being well worth it.

A ravishing widescreen transfer graces this digital video disc, complete with a variety of extras. Indulge in director Steven Spielberg’s message regarding the importance of D-Day and its deserving memorial. Then, the featurette “Into the Breach” offers viewers an insightful glance at Spielberg’s behind-the-scenes magic, collecting cast and crew interviews and exclusive, backstage-pass set footage. A theatrical trailer rounds off this “special edition.”

But a slew of other momentous wartime titles are available. Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket and Paths of Glory were released during last summer’s heat wave; Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now can now be seen in a perfect, digital state; David O. Russell’s Three Kings fares well with a flashy array of features; George C. Scott’s definitive portrayal of Patton got digital treatment late last year; the HBO original, A Bright Shining Lie, can be witnessed on DVD; a new version of Oliver Stone’s Platoon was tagged for sale on Aug. 15; and even the original, 1964 version of The Thin Red Line can be bought on disc (well, once the copyright lawsuits clear up).

So instead of anticipating World War III, entice your trigger-happy, history-thumping mind with a few oldies — and newbies — from wartime.

Jon M. Gibson writes about DVD, technology and a plethora of other "Jetson's"

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