Rescue Dawn [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (11th January 2008).
The Film

Christian Bale is quite possibly one of the most versatile actors of his generation, who else can deliver an action blockbuster and an introspective character piece in the same year? He's proven himself determined and motivated no matter what the role requires, he lost 63 pounds to play the insomniac Trevor Reznick in 2004's "The Machinist" and then put back the pounds and bulked up to play the Dark Knight himself in "Batman Begins" a year later. Now we find the actor loosing the weight yet again to play Dieter Dengler, a P.O.W. in the escape and survival epic "Rescue Dawn". I don't think there's been a more committed actor since Robert De Niro in the early days, Bale tackles each role to an intense degree making him one of the most sought after performers today and certainly one of the most interesting considering his choice of roles.
"Rescue Dawn" is based on real events of Dengler a pilot who gets shot down while on a secret mission in Laos, he is caught and imprisoned in a jungle camp along with some other Americas and a few locals. In this camp he meets Duane (Steve Zahn) and Eugene (Jeremy Davies) who have been there for over a year. They are treated terribly and fed equally badly as they waste away in the harsh jungle. Not wanting to die there Dieter hatches a plan to escape and try to stay alive in the jungle long enough to find help and make their way back home.
Director Werner Herzog already tackled Dieter's story in his documentary "Little Dieter Needs to Fly" (1997) and nine years later he returns to the subject matter in this film. "Rescue Dawn" traveled the festival circuit in 2006 only achieving a limited release theatrically, I suppose it's subject matter is a little dark for most mainstream audiences but regardless it's a phenomenally well made film with a simple plot that's presented amid complex and brilliant performances from the three main male actors. To begin with Bale himself moves through his character's arc flawlessly (not a simple task) from the positive new pilot on the deck eager to be apart of a mission to the near broken man he becomes after imprisonment, yet his will to stay alive and escape is the only thing keeping him alive. We've all seen Bale deliver great performances in the past but this turn is a revelation that'll have you on the edge of your seat the entire time riveted until the end. Jeremy Davies and Steve Zahn (someone I've associated with comedic roles) also come to the playing field with equally impressive turns as fellow captors, Davies' character Eugene has simply gone mad, his ability to channel that is quite a marvel as he mumbles and fidgets his way through the film, while Zahn's Duane, a broken spirit is heartbreaking to watch, if anything the core of his performance is in his eyes, one look in their emptiness and you understand the nature of that character in an instant. It's quite clear that Bale's character holds the film together from scene to scene but these two are the real marvels of this film.
Acting aside, what I really liked about this film is that there's nothing Hollywood about it. It's simply gritty and doesn't focus on a heroic escape but rather the mental condition of the characters and their attempts to survive, most especially Bale's. It's Dieter's story and you're with him the entire way through to his rescue, which in itself is a frustrating experience.
It's hard to recommend a film like this considering it's bleak, features torture and depicts the hellish conditions of the prison camp; however it's a rewarding cinematic experience especially for the performances alone.

Video

> Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 1.85:1 this high-definition transfer is in 1080p 24/fps and has been created using AVC MPEG-4 compression. The results of this transfer are simply stunning. To begin with the image is quite sharp there was very little softness and when it was an issue it had to do with some of the effects shots (of which there are very little, for example the planes in the bombing sequence at the start of the film are CG including the bit when the wing gets shot off). Otherwise the image is nicely sharp and wonderfully rendered. The image is also impeccable in its clarity, with detail that shows off the lush jungle locations from the minute detail of the foliage to the dirt specks on Bales face are visible. Colors are also expertly rendered especially the natural colors of the surroundings, green being quite prominent in the backgrounds. Skin tones appear natural and black levels are deep and bold. Overall this is a pristine high-definition transfer that has hardly a flaw.

Audio

Three audio tracks are presented on this release, an English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, as well as standard Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in French and Spanish. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its DTS-HD track, the film almost entirely takes place in the jungle and the prison camp and what you have here is a track that captures the environment to a tee. The track shines in balancing the ambient and environmental sounds with the rest of the film's sound which includes dialogue and music. The surround channels are almost always active but never overbearing, they subtlety place the viewer within the confines of the location. Some however isn't entirely clear, mainly Davies' character Eugene mumbles a lot and at times I had to switch to subtitles to understand what he was saying. This however is not a flaw of the recording but rather the performance of Davies', as his dialogue sounded low key. Otherwise the track is excellent.
Optional subtitles are included in English and Spanish.

Extras

The disc includes a series of extras such as an audio commentary a 5-part documentary, a featurette, 7 deleted scenes, an interactive feature, a trivia track, a photo gallery, the film's theatrical trailer and a series of bonus trailers. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up we've got a feature-length audio commentary with writer/director Werner Herzog, moderated by Norman Hill who interviews the filmmaker throughout the track. Herzog explains the use of vintage footage to open the film, the real events this film is based on and originally tackling it in a documentary and the drive to continue telling his story in a feature film. He comments on the differences of the real events and how they are portrayed in the film for dramatic effect but not losing out on any of the themes and tone. He provides some trivia about the shooting and touches on many aspects of the production from the photography to the locations and also on his cast and the work they did on the film. He also comments on the production company that took a chance on the film as well as using digital effects for the first time in his career among other things. Overall this track is worthy of your time, especially if you're a fan of Herzog and like this film.

The first major video extra is "The Making of a True Story" a 5-part documentary that covers the following:

- "Unfinished Business: Telling Dieter's Story" runs for 4 minutes 34 seconds, here we learn about the real man which this film is based on and on how Herzog was not done in telling his story with the documentary and wanted to make the feature.
- "Strength of Character" runs for 8 minutes 16 seconds, this aspect of the feature takes a look at the four major characters from the film and reveals what makes them appealing cinematically as the actors comment on the challenges of the film and playing these roles.
- "War Stories" runs for 24 minutes and focuses on the benefits of shooting in a real location and on the physically draining aspects of the production. Also looks at how hands on a director like Herzog is, the collaboration with his director of photography that has spanned 12 years and on how the jungle is a character itself among other things.
- "Sound of War: The Music of Rescue Dawn" runs for 9 minutes 20 seconds and takes a look at the film's score and how music affects a scene but also looks at sound design and the effectiveness of no music at all.
- "What Would Dieter Do?" runs for 6 minutes 45 seconds, and looks at a particular scene in the film and how the intensity of the performance helps create tension, Dieter's survival techniques and the scenes with the provincial Governor including its importance. Basically the question of what he'd do in these situations became a sort of mantra for the production.

Next up is "Preparing for Survival" a featurette that runs for 8 minutes 17 seconds and takes a look at real pilots that where shot down and their tales of survival, including their experiences going through basic training, escaping evasion course and survival training among other things.

A series of 7 deleted scenes follows and includes optional audio commentary by writer/director Werner Herzog and interviewer Norman Hill. In the track Hertzog comments on the scenes and on why they were cut from the film. The scenes can be viewed individually or with a 'play all' function and include:

- "Don't Tell Her You Love Her" which runs for 36 seconds, Dieter asks a crewmate whether he should write a letter to his fiancée.
- "A Dire Warning" runs for 21 seconds, a crewman tells Dieter and the outgoing crew that it's a crazy situation out there with enemy fire.
- "Captured" runs for 2 minutes 3 seconds, this is an alternate version of Dieter getting captured and features his captors looking through his belongings.
- "Coercion" runs for 2 minutes 37 seconds, Dieter is coerced into signing the document that denounced the United States.
- "An Attempt at Reflection" runs for 45 seconds, Dieter tries to ask his captors where they are taking him.
- "The Stolen Ring" runs for 2 minutes 30 seconds, a villager takes Dieter's ring and is punished for it.
- "Dieter Stashes the Mirror" runs for 2 minutes 10 seconds, Dieter steals a mirror from one of his captors and tries to escape at night while they are all asleep.

"Mission Secrets" is a trivia track that when selected pops up with information during the course of the film, the information pertains to Denger, the mission and also some historical information.

"Honoring the Brave" is an interactive memorial, this feature allows you to navigate through the Vietnam memorial wall and select some of the names to learn more about the solders.

A photo gallery also appears on the disc and includes a series of 152 images that you can navigate through, the pictures appear to be production photographs taken during the filming of the movie.

Also featured is the film's original theatrical trailer which runs for 2 minutes 16 seconds.

Rounding out the extras are a series of bonus trailers for:

- "Mr. Brooks" which runs for 2 minutes 23 seconds.
- "Home of the Brave" which runs for 2 minutes 26 seconds.
- "Flyboys" which runs for 2 minutes 26 seconds.

Overall

The Film: A Video: A Audio: A Extras: Overall: A

 


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