1.85:1 (16x9 Enhanced)
Dolby Digital 5.1
Warner Home Video, $26.95
Director and former infantryman Sam Fuller once claimed that it was impossible to capture the combat experience on film, but many might argue that he proved himself wrong with The Big Red One. By combining his firsthand experience of combat with a reporter’s eye for detail, Fuller created an affecting portrait of war that captured both the hell and the tedium of combat.
The epic World War II drama was cut down to 113 minutes for its 1980 release, and for many years Fuller’s original cut was considered a lost masterpiece. In 1997, after Fuller died, film critic/filmmaker Richard Schickel joined forces with Warner Bros. executive Brian Jamieson to search for the excised material, and they eventually found 50 minutes of additional footage. Using camera and sound reports and the shooting script, Schickel produced a reconstruction of The Big Red One. The film was theatrically released last year and was recently issued as a two-disc special edition DVD.
Now clocking in at 163 minutes, The Big Red One is more remarkable than ever, offering visceral action, black comedy and tragedy in equal measure. As strong as the 1980 version is, the reconstruction has more emotional momentum, and some of the new scenes reveal that Fuller and his crew were ahead of their time.
Although The Big Red One was in many ways the culmination of Fuller’s career, it represented a new beginning for gifted cinematographer Adam Greenberg, ASC. Greenberg eventually became a top Hollywood cameraman, but when Fuller recruited him for The Big Red One, he had only shot movies in his native Israel. The nature of Fuller’s project required that Greenberg be skilled in a number of areas, including day-for-night photography and large-scale action sequences, and the DVD’s excellent transfer captures the wide tonal range of the piece. The new Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix is a bit uneven, but overall the reconstruction team did a good job of using cutting-edge technology without making the film sound inappropriately modern.
In a commentary track, Schickel analyzes the picture’s themes, details some differences between the two versions, and provides information about the production. Greenberg’s exquisite photography seems all the more remarkable when Schickel notes that the movie was shot in 10 weeks for $4 million.
Disc two contains supplements that contextualize The Big Red One within Fuller’s career and illuminate the reconstruction process. The first is “The Real Glory,” which begins with key cast members sharing some hilarious anecdotes about the shoot and then moves on to survey the reconstruction process (i.e., editing, color correction, sound and scoring). The next documentary is an episode of Schickel’s TV series The Men Who Made the Movies that focuses on Fuller, tracing his roots as a journalist to his life as a Hollywood director. The featurette “Anatomy of a Scene” examines a few scenes from the film; some are accompanied by restorers’ comments and one is accompanied by the original production sound (you can hear Fuller directing). There are also comparisons between footage from the 1980 release and the same scene in the reconstruction, accompanied by an explanation of how the technical work was accomplished.
Also included are a variety of deleted and alternate scenes and a promotional reel from 1980 that was used as a reference by the reconstruction team. (It contains longer versions of scenes shortened in or missing from the 1980 release.) Unfortunately, we haven’t been given the option of watching the deleted scenes without the commentary track; this is particularly annoying for scenes that have dialogue that doesn’t exist in any other form on the DVD. Nevertheless, taken together, these supplements provide a thorough look at the reconstruction process that filmmakers in every field will find fascinating.