Khartoum: The Limited Edition Series [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Twilight Time
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (29th January 2014).
The Film

By the mid to late 60's historical epics where largely on the way out, the last great picture of that ilk was "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962), an incredible landmark in cinema history. Films of a grand scale was a long running trend in Hollywood, the marketing was focused on the spectacle with ridiculous scope (originally conceived to compete against a new invention called television, which was appearing in more and more homes) and every studio was churning them out, some ended up as classics, others brought studios to their knees, and many were just forgotten. The "arabian" themed epic didn't really take off though, "Lawrence of Arabia" being the ultimate example of being both an epic and arab themed. There's also "Khartoum", while not nearly as well known as "Lawrence" it was released two years after with decent reviews, then spent the better part of 40 years locked away in a vault, MGM released a bare-bones DVD back in 2002, Twilight Time has resurrected this title and give it a decent treatment.

"Khartoum" is set in 1883 British-controlled Sudan, and tells the story of General Charles "Chinese" Gordon (Charlton Heston) is sent to Khartoum in order to evacuate troops and civilians in an unsanctioned mission, an immanent attack by a fanatic Muslim zealots lead by Muhammad Ahmad (Laurence Olivier) threatens to topple British control. Despite his mission, Gordon starts to organize the city defences by rallying the people to make a stand. Gordon and Ahmad meet, both admirers of one another. Gordon learns of Ahmad's plans for Khartoum and quickly discovers that there is no stopping the inevitable clash.

Shot in Ultra Panavision 70, the super wide frame is the first impression viewers are welcomed to, and what a welcoming it is. The sheer grandeur and scale of the locations look vast, imposing and all encompassing in this process. Cinematographer Edward Scaife does an incredible job of lensing this film, showing off the best that these exotic locations have to offer in all their beauty. The deserts and mysterious landscapes haven't looked so intriguing. Scaife managed to capture the essence of the location that it easily becomes as much a character in the film as the actors onscreen. It's a shame that Scaife wasn't nominated for an Oscar, if anything, the photography for "Khartoum" is clearly its finest asset.

Charlton Heston has been banking on his "Ben Hur" (1959) fame, starring in historical epic after historical epic, he was, at the time - the go to guy for these types of films. Since "Ben Hur" he would go on to star in "El Cid" (1961), "55 Days at Peking" (1963), "The Greatest Story Ever Told" (1965) and "Major Dundee" (1965) before accepting to star in "Khartoum". His name was synonymous with grandiose and lavish studio productions. It made sense to cast him. Unfortunately I don't think that Charlton Heston was the right casting choice for the film. He doesn't seem to fit in well into the picture, his accent is not convincing and takes viewers out the film on occasion. Perhaps the filmmakers would have been better off casting a British actor. According to IMBD's trivia section for this film, it was know that Heston, who wanted other directors for the film, was not entirely happy with director Basil Dearden, this may have effected the way Heston performed in the film. Laurence Olivier on the other hand does a more than admirable job in his role, accent issues are also prevalent in his performance, but there's no denying that Olivier is one of the best actors of his generation and his prescience in the film is a major boost.

Heston aside, one of the major problems with this epic spectacle of a film is that it has very little spectacle. It fails to deliver in that respect and leans more towards a talky script. Robert Ardreyís screenplay did however get an Oscar nomination, one thing is certain, the dialogue was well written and he shows a terrific grasp of British politics, perhaps under different direction the film could have taken on more action and adventure, considering the beautiful locations and production design the filmmakers could have created something exciting, something that viewers at the time had never seen before, instead of going for the safe option each time.

like many Hollywood films there is a degree of historical inaccuracy, some events were changed and some invented for the film. This is expected however, if you're s stickler for accuracy then you'll likely find a lot at fault with this film. In saying that, if you want accuracy then watch a documentary, feature films are meant to entertain and "Khartoum" certainly tries.

Video

Presented in a widescreen ratio of 2.75:1 high definition 1080p 24/fps mastered using AVC MPEG-4 compression. "Khartoum" has finally been released in it's original ratio, the image is wider than some people are normally used to (with 2.35 or 2.40 presentations) the black bars a more prominent at the top and bottom. The film's scale is perfectly suited for this wider ratio. The film was shot with 65mm film stock, which preserved in high definition looks terrific, the detail is magnificent in this format. Lush and vibrant colors are evident, with deep and bold blacks. Some grain is evident, preserving the filmic nature of the photography, I'm glad to see no digital noise reduction was applied to this transfer. There are some minor problems, the opening sequence shows some artifacting and there are moments in the film which display flicker, otherwise it's a great looking picture.

Audio

A single audio track is included in English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo mixed at 48kHz/24-bit. This film could have benefited from having a full audio remix to 5.1, the scope almost demands it, primarily to give Frank Cordell's score a chance to soar. However, the film is, as the review states - primarily talking. So this stereo track is more than adequate. Audio is front focused, clean and clear. The battle scenes are particularly exciting, but I couldn't help but imagine how it could have sounded in 5.1, there was a 6-track audio created for the film's 70mm exhibition, but was not available to the disc producers. Optional subtitles are included in English for the hearing impaired.

Extras

Twilight Time has released this film with a few supplements that include an audio commentary, the film's isolated score, it's theatrical trailer, plus a bonus trailer, an onscreen catalogue and a booklet. Below is a closer look at these extras.

The primary extra on this disc is a feature-length audio commentary with Twilight Time's Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo, and screenwriter Lem Dobbs. Like other Twilight Time tracks, the participants are highly knowledgable about the film. We get an incredible amount of background details about the film, the shooting format and presentations as well as production trivia. Another terrific track from this team.

The disc is also authored with an isolated score presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Dual Mono mixed at 48kHz/24-bit, here you can listen to Frank Cordell complete score without any other sound mixed.

The film's original theatrical trailer (1080p) is also included and runs for 2 minutes 9 seconds.

A bonus trailer (1080p) is included for:

- "MGM 90th Anniversary" which runs for 2 minutes 6 seconds.

Distributor Twilight Time has included a catalogue consisting of 24 pages that shows off their collection of films on Blu-ray, all titles are limited to 3,000 copies only and a few of them are already sold out.

Rounding out the supplements is an 8-page liner notes booklet.

Packaging

Packaged in a standard eco Blu-ray keep case, this edition is limited to 3,000 copies only.

Overall

Available to purchase exclusively only at Screen Archives Entertainment.

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The Film: C+ Video: A- Audio: B+ Extras: B+ Overall: B-

 


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