November 20, 2007

DVD Pick of the Week: Rescue Dawn

Considering this is the last Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and by extension Black Friday, I find this week's releases to be a little underwhelming. That said, there are still a few titles that are well worth your time and money to explore, whether that be purchasing the DVD to add to your permanent collection, or using Netflix to rent it, or whatever. Considering the vast number of titles each week, most that are not worth your time, I have once again combed the list for the select few that I feel like talking about. There are more, but I have neither the time nor the inclination to write about all of them, but if you choose to read on, you will discover the titles that I feel to be worth my time. I hope these rambles will assist in your viewing choices.

If you are looking for an adventure film that is powerful, moving, downright thrilling, and free of any attempts at a twist, this week's top pick may be the one for you. The film is Rescue Dawn and, quite frankly, it may be one of the best films of the year. It tells an extraordinary tale of spirit and survival, the story of one man and his desire to escape a terrible situation that he never suspected he'd be in. It engages the viewer, drawing you in and holding you at complete attention for its duration.

The movie is based on the story of Dieter Dengler, whose story was previously told in the documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly (also directed by Werner Herzog). Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale), a German-born American, was a child in Germany during World War II when he became determined to become a pilot. His family emigrated from Germany to the US where he joined the Navy for citizenship and the opportunity to fly. Fast forward to 1965, Vietnam is fast escalating and Dengler is taking part in a top secret bombing run over Laos. In this, his very first mission, he is shot down and captured. Taken to a prison in the middle of the jungle, he quickly learns that the flimsy bamboo fences are more for aesthetics than detention. The real prison is the jungle surrounding them.

The film moves along at a nice, even pace. This is no action film nor is it about sensationalizing the tale into some grand adventure. Rescue Dawn unfolds giving us a glimpse into the day to day lives of the captured, the relationships that develop between them, and Dengler's unwavering spirit. To go into too much detail would rob you of a great experience. It does not offer any new direction in the war genre, but I do not believe that was Herzog's intent. I have a feeling that this was more about Herzog wanting to tell the dramatic story of the man he befriended while making Little Dieter Needs to Fly. The result is not an accurate portrayal of events, but is likely more accurate in tone.

Werner Herzog's film is beautiful in the way the story tells itself. Nothing is forced as the facts come out. Sure, those facts may be fudged a bit, but everything plays in such a manner that it unfolds in a naturalistic, believable manner. Now take that tone, and combine it with location shooting in the jungle. This is no set, you can watch as the actors struggle through the thick greenery and with an unforgiving nature that becomes a living character of its own. The foliage proves to be as dangerous an enemy as the pursuing Vietcong. It is shot beautifully by Herzog and DP Peter Zeitlinger, the color and danger jump right off the screen.

Once you move past that, you can take a look at the fantastic performances. Christian Bale puts it all on the line. He flat out amazes in his portrayal of Dengler. Simply put, Bale is one of the finest actors working today with a true dedication to his craft. Watching him work is very moving, as he maintains his determination, retains his sanity, and means what he says when he claims not having found a man who scares him. Likewise praise can be given to both Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies as fellow prisoners Duane and Gene. Both hit all the right notes in their portrayals.

Among the extras on the disk are: Commentary by director Werner Herzog and interviewer Norman Hill, The Making of a True Story Documentary, Unfinished Business: Telling Dieter’s Story, Strength of Character, War Stories, What Would Dieter Do?, Deleted Scenes with optional commentary by Director Werner Herzog and Interviewer Norman Hill, and a Still Gallery.

Also out this week:
  • Live Free or Die Hard. The fourth entry may have downgraded to a PG-13, but it still delivered big action. The DVD is being released in unrated form. I am interested to see what the differences are.
  • The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause. This was definitely a step up from the second film, but that doesn't say much. The best part of this film is Martin Short's excellent portrayal of Jack Frost.
  • Hairspray. This was a complete surprise. It is very bright and happy, plus it is completely infectious. I think it will difficult for anyone to watch and not do a little toe tapping.
  • Nirvana: Unplugged in New York. The excellent live performance is getting its first release on DVD. I'm looking forward to seeing this.
  • Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse. I remember watching this on VHS years ago. It is an absolutely fantastic documentary that should have been a part of the Complete Dossier release from a while back. In any case, I am glad to see it finally available.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series (HD-DVD/Standard Combo). Completely remastered, and featuring some new background effects inserts, Star Trek makes its HD debut with this combo release.
  • The Universe. A Discovery Channel mini-series that I had not heard of previously, but looks fascinating.
  • Led Zeppelin: The Song Remains the Same. The remastered Zeppelin concert from 1973 (released as this film in 1976). I've never seen it, now is my chance.
  • Nosferatu: Ultimate Two Disk Edition. A classic of silent cinema, I look forward to getting my hands on this set.
  • Godzilla Collection. I have gotten a few of the releases in this set, but every title is a must own for fans of the big guy. These collected releases are remastered and contain both the original Japanese films and the American cuts.
  • Angel-A. Luc Besson does not direct all that often these days, and this is his second film this year, after the inferior Arthur and the Invisibles. I look forward to seeing this story play out. I only wish I got to see it on the big screen.


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