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Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan (Blu-ray) (2019)
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Details At A Glance
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-(5:36)
Year Of Production
||Cast & Crew
Universal Pictures Home Video
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Australian involvement in the Vietnam War is seldom covered in film and television, outside of the little-known 1979 film The Odd Angry Shot and the obscure 1987 miniseries Vietnam. Enter 2019's Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan, a contemporary Australian production about the oft-studied titular battle from 1966. Under the careful directorial eye of Kriv Stenders (Red Dog, Australia Day), Danger Close is a top-notch war film which is both intense and riveting, and it deserves to be viewed on the largest possible screen. Commendably, this is not a bargain-basement production that feels cheap or nasty; rather, it's a slick and proficiently produced feature which never appears budgetarily constrained. Although not able to reach the upper echelon of war movies, Danger Close presents an accurate, satisfying, and above all moving recreation of the historical battle.
In August of 1966, three Australian Army Delta Company platoons led by Major Harry Smith (Travis Fimmel) are dispatched to investigate a rubber tree plantation at Long Tan following a mortar attack on the 1st Australian Task Force base in South Vietnam. Commanded by Second Lieutenant Gordon Sharp (Mojean Aria), with support from Sergeant Bob Buick (Luke Bracey), 11 Platoon comes under heavy fire from an entire battalion of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers, and struggle to hold the line with dwindling resources until reinforcements arrive. 12 Platoon, under the command of Second Lieutenant David Sabben (Sam Parsonson), as well as 10 Platoon who become pinned without comms, scramble to help their fellow soldiers. As the inexperienced Australian men engage in the fight of their lives, the skittish officers back at the base are wary of the risk of sending more reinforcements into Long Tan.
Controversies surround the Vietnam War as well as Australia's involvement, but Danger Close wisely eschews exploring the turbulent political situation; instead, the film simply concentrates on the Australian soldiers who faced impossible odds on the battlefield. This results in a refreshingly apolitical, boots-on-the-ground war picture devoid of narrative flab and sensationalism. Among the most commendable aspects of Danger Close is its accessibility, as even viewers unfamiliar with military operations and jargon will still be able to follow and become invested in the proceedings. Additionally, the movie provides sufficient context and build-up before the titular battle commences, establishing the characters (without relying on stereotypical flashbacks or hoary stories about wives/girlfriends back home) and even revealing that a concert was occurring on the afternoon of the battle. Admittedly, though, the screenplay does take dramatic liberties, some of which are detrimental. For instance, the portrayal of Second Lieutenant Sharp is unnecessarily antagonistic and ignorant, and an early heated exchange between Major Smith and Private Paul Large (Daniel Webber) seems gratuitous and overblown. There are a few too many dramatic scenes of soldiers defiantly standing up to their superiors, as well. However, these are minor shortcomings.
The production benefits from comprehensive research and an exhaustive attention to detail, which is reflected in the screenplay (credited to five writers, including Stuart Beattie) as well as the production values. Produced on a robust $24 million AUD budget, the illusion throughout Danger Close is compelling and convincing, from the era-specific period recreation to the spot-on costumes and firearms, in addition to the intense battle sequences beset with explosions and bullets zooming through the air. Stenders acquits himself admirably with the material, staging the shootouts with visual finesse and superlative intensity, aided by superb editing and slick cinematography, as well as exceptional sound design which puts you in the thick of the action alongside the Australian and New Zealand soldiers. (The sound design won an AACTA award.) The fighting throughout Danger Close is visceral and violent, and Stenders never shies away from showing bullet impacts or wounded soldiers. The use of practical effects and authentic jungle locations (with Queensland, Australia standing in for Vietnam) gives the production a gritty, realistic edge, while sparing use of subtle digital effects further augment the illusion. The CGI is occasionally obvious, especially when artillery is deployed (plus, the slow-motion POV shots following artillery shells through the air are a bit gratuitous), but it's not a deal-breaker. Danger Close also benefits from the score by Australian composer Caitlin Yeo (who specialises in documentaries and TV shows); the music is flavoursome and intense, and is never too intrusive. Even though there is a lot of fighting throughout Danger Close's two-hour runtime, it does not feel repetitive or boring.
In the de facto lead role of Major Smith, it is interesting to see Travis Fimmel (The Beast, Vikings) espouse his native Australian accent, and the resultant performance is unfailingly engaging. Fimmel is arguably the most high-profile actor in the cast (except maybe Richard Roxburgh or Luke Bracey), as the ensemble otherwise comprises of lesser-known Aussie talent. The lack of forced international star power is laudable, and the performers effectively hit their marks throughout. The movie also contains a welcome, larrikin sense of humour which makes the soldiers feel more real; one character even retorts "We're not here to f*** spiders!" in one scene. Furthermore, Australian Army advisors were present during every stage of the production; therefore, the battlefield tactics and firing positions ring true in every frame, giving the movie a stronger sense of authenticity.
As is almost customary for this type of true-life war picture, Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan closes with a montage of images of the real men involved in the battle, paying poignant tribute to the soldiers and their sacrifices. Plus, it's all set to the (somewhat predictable) tune of "I Was Only 19" by Redgum. It is a wonder why it took so long for the Battle of Long Tan to receive the big-screen treatment since the skirmish is frequently covered in classrooms across Australia, but it's encouraging to report that this movie has finally happened and that it's actually worthwhile. Danger Close is worth your time and attention, and it will stand the test of time.
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According to the cinematographer of Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan, Ben Nott, this digitally-shot movie was primarily captured using Arri Alexa Mini cameras fitted with Cooke Anamorphic Lenses. In addition, the production also made use of Red Epic Dragon and Phantom Flex 2K cameras at various times. (Up until recently, IMDb listed the negative format as 35mm film, but this is incorrect - it was all digital.) Transmission Films (through Universal Sony Home Entertainment) present this Australian production on Blu-ray in impressive AVC-encoded 1080p, framed at its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1. Luckily, despite very little in the way of extras on the disc, the movie is presented on a dual-layered BD-50, mastered with an exceptional average video bitrate of 33.99 Mbps, which confidently staves off any potential compression issues. The pristine digital source translates to a top-notch high definition video presentation on Blu-ray, as the image is perpetually razor-sharp and bursting with fine detail, though it falls just short of demo material due to the inherent limitations of 1080p Blu-ray.
Footage that's captured with Arri Alexa cameras is normally coated in a subtle layer of source noise, but there is virtually no trace of grain or noise throughout Danger Close, which appears to be a stylistic choice. At times, it appears that perhaps some digital noise reduction was applied to achieve this look, as there's a slight smoothness to the image, but this is only problematic in a few shots (see 76:10, which looks a touch smeary), and is not frequently noticeable once things really get going. Unsurprisingly, close-ups and medium shots fare best, even under dim lighting - just see any close-up of Richard Roxburgh at headquarters, as the transfer ably resolves the sharp edges of his facial hair without said hair ever looking like a murky, smeary, undefined mess. Indeed, the generous bitrate and the competent video encoding ensures that the transfer looks frequently detailed and sharp, with tight textures in almost every frame, especially when lighting is generous. The details on the uniforms are easy to discern, while the transfer brings out about as much detail on the actors' faces as the source will give up. Drops of rain also look sharply defined on the battlefield, as well as the bullets which frequently whiz past the soldiers once the Viet Cong open fire. Of course, there is a certain softness associated with some of the wider shots, while some of the computer-generated shots of helicopters above the jungles of Long Tan are also on the soft side, but that's par for the course with 1080p. For the most part, though, I was impressed with the quality of the wide shots, which is a reflection of the encoding and the superb bitrate.
The colours throughout Danger Close are strong, with the Blu-ray faithfully replicating the palette that was exhibited at the cinema during the movie's somewhat brief theatrical run in August of 2019. Although the black levels aren't as perfectly deep as they would've been in Ultra HD, blacks are still satisfyingly inky during the opening mortar attack in the early hours of the morning. Additionally, contrast is strong throughout the movie, resulting in satisfying image depth - it doesn't carry a flat digital look. The Vietnamese jungles are nicely saturated without going overboard, while skin tones appear neutral and realistic throughout. Blood also appears deep, and stands out amid the green vegetation. Additionally, Danger Close would have been difficult to encode for Blu-ray given that sizeable chunks of the movie occur in darkness, in smoke, or under rainfall. However, Universal Sony's encoding never gives rise to any problematic encoding anomalies - I couldn't spot any banding in the smoke, nor is there any black crush, aliasing, ringing, or anything else to speak of. Ben Nott's cinematography is outstanding (it received an AACTA award nomination, but lost to The King), and it's encouraging to see it translate so well to home video. Of course, a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray would be preferable, as a lick of High Dynamic Range and the increase in resolution plus a superior video codec would really make this film sing, but the Blu-ray is perfectly fine on its own merits.
English SDH subtitles are available. They are easy to read, nicely formatted, and completely free of issues.
Video Ratings Summary
Audiophiles will no doubt scoff at the lack of object-based audio, but Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan is presented on Blu-ray with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track, which is in keeping with how it was originally mixed and exhibited. The disc also contains an English descriptive audio track, for those interested. Thanks to the lossless encoding, as well as the excellent, award-winning sound mixing, the audio sounds pristine and crystal clear from start to finish, and there are no issues with compression. The track comes in strong from the beginning, with the opening mortar attack on Nui Dat giving the subwoofer a real workout. Each mortar hit, no matter how far away from the camera, is loaded with satisfying low-frequency effects that'll make your floor shake. Likewise, the gunshots from Private Large's M16 assault rifle are impactful, which carries over to the remainder of the movie when the titular battle begins in earnest. Furthermore, separation and panning effects are evident throughout the mortar attack as each mortar shell approaches the Australian base. In subsequent scenes, helicopter sounds fill the surround channels as they fly around the base, while LFE is apparent during scenes on-board the airborne helicopters. During the Little Pattie concert, the music pushes to the rear channels, while the commotion of the Australian soldiers in the crowd are isolated to the rear, depending on camera placement. In the Vietnamese jungles, ambient bug sounds are consistent.
But the track truly roars to relentless life as soon as the Battle of Long Tan begins. As 11 Platoon begin to take fire, the cacophony of gunfire is deafening, making excellent use of the subwoofer, while separation and panning effects are omnipresent throughout the remainder of the movie. Indeed, the rear speakers are consistently filled with the sounds of bullets whizzing past as well as bullet impacts, making for a genuinely immersive soundscape. The New Zealand Artillery guns are also deafening, with each shell hit resulting in impactful LFE, and the rumble of the action engages the subwoofer during scenes away from the battle (for instance, when the Little Pattie concert comes to an abrupt end and the soldiers spring into action). Also see the APCs as they head out, or any use of the APC turrets which are seriously loud. When the rain begins to fall at the 55-minute mark, the ambient rain sounds, as well as the subtler sounds of bugs, fill the rear channels to immersive effect.
Prioritisation throughout Danger Close is virtually flawless, as the dialogue is consistently comprehensible amid the frenetic battle sequences. The dialogue is a touch low at times compared to the gunshots and explosions, but this is surely by design since real-life battlefields are so deafening and it is difficult to hear people. So, yeah, I think the sound mixing team did a great job in this respect. Also worth mentioning is Caitlin Yeo's terrific score (which was nominated for an AACTA, but lost to Judy and Punch), which comes through with ideal clarity and never sounds compromised or underwhelming. I was also unable to detect even the slightest bit of hissing or popping, nor are there any drop-outs or sync issues. Dynamic, loud and impactful, this is a rock-solid track in every respect.
Audio Ratings Summary
|Surround Channel Use|
I had hoped for a strong assortment of special features, given the production's significance. However, there's barely anything here, which is a huge disappointment. A film like this demands a filmmaker commentary at the very least.
Danger Close - Behind the Scenes (HD; 5:36) This is actually a short interview with the movie's production designer, Sam Hobbs, who goes over a few aspects of the production, including using Queensland locations to double for Vietnam, and faking the rubber plantation. There is also some interesting behind-the-scenes footage. Although worth watching, this is far too short, and it's actually available to view on YouTube - and in 4K, no less.
Delta Company Manning - 18 August 1966 (HD; 2:51) This is just a list of the soldiers involved in the Battle of Long Tan, set to segments of Yeo's score.
R4 vs R1
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At the time of writing, no American or U.K. Blu-ray release has materialised. The movie has only been released on Blu-ray in Germany, Spain, and a few other European territories. No information is available regarding the video encode or the special features on the other editions, so we'll call the Aussie disc the winner unless further information comes to light.
Moving and often nail-bitingly intense, Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan is a superb recreation of a key moment (for Australia) in the Vietnam War. It's not quite on the same level as Hacksaw Ridge or Saving Private Ryan, but it gets close - and all on a modest budget.
On Blu-ray, Danger Close looks and sounds great. The 1080p video presentation is sharp, slick and nicely textured, while the accompanying 5.1 audio track is aggressive and dynamic. It's just a shame that there's so little in the way of special features. Nevertheless, this one comes recommended.
© Callum Knox (I studied biology)
Thursday, July 30, 2020
|DVD||Sony UBP-X700 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output|
This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 2160p.
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver.
This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
|Amplification||Samsung Series 7 HT-J7750W|
|Speakers||Samsung Tall Boy speakers, 7.1 set-up|