Waterloo (Blu-ray) (1970)
Featurette-Sheldon Hall on Waterloo (37:36)
Trailer-Imprint Trailers summary (0:26)
|Year Of Production||1970|
|RSDL / Flipper||Dual Layered||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||2,4||Directed By||Sergei Bondarchuk|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
English Linear PCM 48/16 2.0
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||2.35:1|
|Original Aspect Ratio||2.35:1||Miscellaneous|
|Subtitles||None||Smoking||Yes, a pipe or two|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Waterloo commences in 1814; with Russian, Prussian and Austrian armies surrounding Paris Napoleon Bonaparte (Rod Steiger), the man who had dominated the continent of Europe for over 15 years, is forced to abdicate as Emperor of the French and to go into exile on the Mediterranean island of Elba. Ten months later, Napoleon escapes from Elba and lands in the south of France with only 1,000 men. Napoleon’s old college Marshall Ney (Dan O’Herlihy) promises King Louis XVIII (Orson Welles) that he will bring Napoleon back to Paris in an iron cage but when he meets Napoleon his troops refuse to fire and go over to their old Emperor, as does Ney. Napoleon arrives in triumph in Paris and Louis XVIII hurriedly flees his capital.
In Brussels the Duke of Wellington (Christopher Plummer) has a mixed Anglo-Dutch force supported by the Prussians of General Blucher (Serghej Zakhariadze). Wellington is attending a ball organised by the Duchess of Richmond (Virginia McKenna) when he learns that Napoleon has moved his forces north and defeated the Prussians, driving them away from Wellington’s army. Wellington decides to oppose Napoleon near the crossroads of Waterloo, trusting that his men can delay Napoleon long enough for Blucher and his men to come to their aid. After a night of rain and storms, Sunday 18 June 1815 dawns clear and the battle that would decide the fate of Europe began.
Waterloo is produced by uber-producer Dino De Laurentiis who had been producing large scale epic films for decades; his films included Ulysses (1954), King Vidor’s Hollywood version of War and Peace (1956), Barabbas (1961) and Anzio (1968), although his only Oscar win (shared) was for the Italian language film La Strada (1954). Waterloo is an epic battle film of monumental scale, reportedly the second most expensive Hollywood film at the time it was made (the most expensive was Cleopatra made 7 years earlier). In a period before CGI made epic scale battles easier to recreate Waterloo required a mass of trained soldiers as extras and so the film became an Italian / Russian co-production, the Russian army contributing 20,000 soldiers and 5,000 cavalry as well as the costumes and cannon left over from the equally monumental 1966 Russian four part production of War and Peace, directed by Sergey Bondarchuk which included a massive reconstruction of the Battle of Borodino; indeed, on the basis of his work on that film Bondarchuk was hired to direct Waterloo. The landscaping of a field in the Ukraine was extensively remodelled and buildings constructed to resemble the original battlefield in Belgium. The result is a stunning reconstruction of the battle.
Waterloo is chock full of spectacularly staged sequences. There are longshots of the soldiers arranged in formations across the landscape as the camera slowly pans 180 degrees; there is smoke and explosions, massed cannons thunder, hand to hand fighting in a farmhouse, a massed cavalry charge during which slow motion is employed and the effects of hooves and explosions eliminated leaving only the score, and, perhaps the most famous sequence, a high altitude helicopter shot of British squares surrounded by attacking French cavalry. In every frame of the film there are masses of soldiers in the background moving around, the widescreen aspect ratio used to breathtaking effect and everything done for real! This extends beyond the battle sequences; in the scenes of the Duchess of Richmond’s ball there are thousands of real wax candles, each one individually lit and flickering.
Films on this scale can dwarf the actors but in Waterloo Rod Steiger gives a tour-de-force performance as Napoleon. The screenplay does allow him to be a rounded character; before the battle starts we see Napoleon dictating multiple letters to scribes at the same time, a historical fact, expressing his longing for his son and showing the illness that affected his performance at Waterloo, again an established fact. Christopher Plummer was not the first choice for Wellington, that was Peter O’Toole, but he is cool and makes the role believable, delivering Wellington’s famous (historically attested) quips with aplomb including “I don’t know what they’ll do to the enemy: but, by God, they frighten me” (talking about his own soldiers) and “Next to a battle lost, the saddest thing is a battle won” (on observing the carnage after the battle). Other cast members have less to do; the most notable are Jack Hawkins, his lines dubbed after his cancer of the larynx operation, Rupert Davies as General Gordon of the Highlanders and Philippe Forquet as Napoleon’s aide-de-camp.
The 1960s was the era of big budget epic historical extravaganzas including battle films such as The Alamo (1960), The Longest Day (1962) and the magnificent Zulu (1964), or historical epics such as Cleopatra (1963) or The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964). By the end of the 1960s the era of expensive epics was just about over which may explain why although Waterloo did good business in some regions, it failed in others. However seen, it remains a stunningly spectacular film experience with masses of real people on screen, moving as real people do, not digital puppets. It is a film that should be seen in HD, and this release from new boys Imprint, distributed by ViaVision, does not disappoint.
Waterloo is presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, in 1080p using the MPEG-4 AVC code.
Some extremely long shots of the battlefield, with tiny formations of soldiers spread across the landscape, can look soft but that is a reflection of how the film was shot, not imperfections in the Blu-ray. The scenes still do look almost picture like, especially when the cannons fire and white smoke and explosions partly blanket the battlefield. Close-ups, and in Sergio Leone style there are extreme close-ups of Steiger’s eyes on a number of occasions, and medium shots show stunning detail and colour. Every gold buckle or braid on dress uniforms, the women’s gowns and the highly polished boots sparkle, while the detail on the red uniforms of the Anglo-Dutch and the various blues of the French is exquisite including mud and the dirt from the powder when the muskets fire. Shadow detail in the night scenes in the rain prior to the battle is pristine, blacks always solid, skin tones natural, brightness and contrast consistent. I saw no marks or artefacts. The frame did get blurry as the cavalry charged by, but that again was how the film was shot.
There are no subtitles provided.
Audio is a choice of English DTS-MA HD 5.1 or English LPCM 2.0.
The film was released in two versions; the 2.35:1 release with mono audio, the 70 mm 2.20:1 came with 6 track audio. For this review I listened to the 5.1 which had some vagaries. For example, in the early scene as Napoleon is being urged by Ney and others to abdicate, when the camera is on Napoleon the voices of Ney and the others come loudly from the surround front speakers, not the rears, and when the camera moves to Ney his dialogue is in the centre front speaker but at a much softer level. Elsewhere it is much better. In the crowd scenes, such as Napoleon’s arrival in Paris or the ball in Brussels, the surrounds and rears carry the buzz of voices, the crackle of fires, the twinkle of horses’ bridles and the music.
During the battle panning effects are limited. However, all speakers were alive with the crash of cannons, the volleys of musket fire, the beating of drums or the swirl of bagpipes accompanying the infantry into battle, the overwhelming thunder of massed horseman charging, the thumps as horses fall or were tripped (leading to about 20 seconds of the film being cut on release in the UK – now fully restored). All these sounds were fully supported by a booming subwoofer bringing us right into the middle of the battle. The score by Nino Rota, joint Oscar winner for The Godfather: Part II (1974), is suitably martial and epic.
There are some slight lip synchronisation issues; Jack Hawkins had to be dubbed due to his larynx removal and Russian Serghej Zakhariadze was also dubbed.
|Surround Channel Use|
Made in 2020, Hall provides a good overview of the making of Waterloo including information about producer Dino De Laurentiis, the screenwriter, the co-production with Russia’s Mosfilm, reconfiguring a field in the Ukraine to reconstruct the landscape and buildings of the actual battlefield in Belgium, the casting, the budget, the lack of evidence for the rumoured 4 hour cut of the film, the controversy over the horse falls in the film, post-production and the reaction to the film in various countries, good in the UK, disastrous in the US.
A run through of the first batch of Imprint releases: The War of the Worlds, Sorry, Wrong Number, I Married a Monster from Outer Space, The Duellists and Waterloo.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
While there have been a number of releases of Waterloo on DVD previously, including here in Australia, the only Blu-ray’s of the film listed on sales sites are a German release, which has only a trailer, and ours. Buy local.
Epic battle films like Waterloo can never be made again, they are just too costly. You can digitally construct massed battle scenes, like those in The Lord of the Rings, but they never look convincing; for all the advances in digital technology, the digital figures move and look like digital figures! Thousands of men move individually and look like thousands of men, and a massed charge by thousands of horsemen done for real is an incredible sight. In Waterloo every frame both prior to and during the battle is full of people, even just standing around, which gives an impossible to duplicate film experience. Some never to be repeated sequences, such as the helicopter shot scenes of thousands of cavalry surrounding the red of British infantry squares, or thousands of soldiers advancing up the slope to the beat of drums, are just magnificent. Add a tour-de-force performance by Oscar winner Rod Steiger (In the Heat of the Night (1967)) and a cool as a cucumber Christopher Plummer and you have a battle film that has stood the test of time.
The restored video is outstanding, the audio very good, with minor reservations, the appreciation by Sheldon Hall worthwhile. Fans should not hesitate; if you own the old DVD an update is definitely warranted.
Waterloo was supplied for review by ViaVision Entertainment. Check out their Facebook page for the latest releases, giveaways, deals and more.
|DVD||Sony BDP-S580, using HDMI output|
|Display||LG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.|
|Audio Decoder||NAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.|
|Speakers||Studio Acoustics 5.1|