HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Memphis Belle
HTS Overall Score:77
Back before we had the big guys, such as Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” or “Schindler’s List”, Michael Canton-Jones had his take on the WWII genre. “Memphis Belle” doesn’t have the sweeping feel of the aforementioned titles, but it is still a well-crafted film that runs along at a much more relaxed pace than its more “epic” brothers. As with many a war movie, “Memphis Belle” is based off of a true story, a documentary by the famous William Wyler (“Ben-Hur”, “Mrs. Miniver”), detailing the story of the true “Memphis Belle” flying bomber. Well, I must iterate that it’s BASED upon a true story in the same sense that most Hollywood movies are. That means the name is about the same, as is the general premise. There really was a “Memphis Belle”, but the story itself is dramatized an incredible amount and was actually about a British bomber, rather than an American one. Dramatic licenses aside, it creates a tightly woven drama that is more of a casual view of a bomber mission, rather than an incredible nail biter that will leave you on the edge of your seat.
The story revolves around the crew of the “Memphis Belle," a crew that has survived 24 missions without a scratch, and they’re off for their 25th and final mission. After this little walk in the park, they can go on home and be the poster boys for the Army, with wine, women and fame all theirs for the taking. All they have to do is survive the final mission. Unfortunately, it's not going to be a cake walk, as much as they would like it to be otherwise. Heading straight into the heart of Germany, they partake in a bombing run on a German ship building factory that is pumping out fighters for the war effort. This particular area happens to be heavily guarded and is considered a 50/50 survival chance, otherwise known as a near suicide mission.
The film spends less time dodging flack canon shells and more time actually delving into the personal lives of the 10 men aboard the bomber. The crew is a motley group of comrades, each from different walks of life and different ages and social status. We have the uber religious Virgil (Reed Diamond), the stoic captain Dennis Dearborn (Matthew Modine), Snarky “Rascal” Moore (Sean Astin), and the slow southern country boy, Clay Busby (Harry Connick Jr.). Each one has their own demons and their own fears, dealing with them each in their own ways. Though they are all different men, and harp on each other, they’re brothers to the core and once aboard that flying fortress they’re a well-oiled machine, each one backing the other in order to ensure their mutual survival.
It takes a little while for the film to get really moving, with the first 45 minutes or so spent on base, showing the men deal with what may be their last days on earth. Once we get into the air, it starts to pick up speed as the men have to fight their way through enemy air space and drop a package in an area that is barely visible, due to cloud cover. Once they have made their deposit is when the problems really start to come out. While the bombing run was no walk in the park, they made it through unscathed. However once they turn and start heading back to base is when the enemy hits them hard and the ship suffers casualties and is running on fumes. Some of this is invented by the film makers, but much of these hardships were actually suffered by the original “Memphis Belle”. If you’ve read the story or seen the documentary you know that the “Memphis Belle” does make it back in one piece, but the journey is really the important thing, rather the ending result. With such an ensemble cast it’s hard not to find a great deal on enjoyment of the war drama, and it’s very refreshing to see such a “slice of life” take on a war movie, rather than a nonstop adventure, or epic sweeping drama. I hadn’t seen the film since its original release, but I had a blast watching all my favorite actors early in their careers (as my wife calls them, “babies”) combine in a way I haven’t seen in quite some time.
PG-13 for Some War Violence and Language
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=18226[/img]“Memphis Belle” is presented in a 1.78:1 AVC encode (very very slightly modified from its 1.85:1 theatrical ratio) and it certainly looks quite good. There are a few scenes that show original WWII footage of the bombing run that looks jarringly out of place, but that can’t exactly be help. The film has a nice, rich film grain texture to it and the detail jump from the DVD is impressive indeed. Facial detail and the uniforms show some great dimensionality, allowing every fiber to be seen. The film was intentionally shot with a slightly soft focus, but there is still plenty of detail, even with that. Black levels look excellent, for a majority of the film, although I did notice a couple of scenes where black crush was noticeable. Mostly in the barracks scenes. Up in the sky and in the interior cockpit scenes I didn’t notice any other instances. The colors are rather earthy and brown, reminiscent of the browns and greys found in military uniforms etc. the for the time period. Thankfully the film has no digital artifacting that I could see and overall has a very clean, and filmic presentation. Bravo Warner, always nice to see a catalog title that hasn’t been heavily run under the DNR machine.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=18234[/img]Warner’s 5.1 DTS-HD MA performs admirably well and shows no signs of aging. The film was originally recorded in 2.0 stereo and then remixed to 5.1 for the DVD release years ago. Now it appears that this same 5.1 mix has been revamped with lossless compression. The soundstage isn’t a wildly immersive once as a result, it’s very good, but doesn’t have that enveloping sense that native 5.1 tracks can provide. The majority of the work is done in the front three channels, where the dialogue is nice and clean, evenly balanced with the rest of the track. Although I would like a little bit more from the surrounds, they do still get a bit of a workout as the sounds of battle flow evenly throughout the rears and add some directionality during the heat of battle. LFE is actually pretty decent for a remixed track. During the first half of the film we don’t get a whole lot, but when the bullets start flying in the air we got some solid whoomp from those 50 caliber guns.
• The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress
• Theatrical Trailer
WWII was an incredibly intense war for all of the Allied troops and their families, so the ending of the film is quite haunting as you see the smug Lieutenant Derringer reading the letters of family members and loved one in memorial to the fallen men who fought and died for our freedom. It’s not as epic as others, and not as action packed as some, but “Memphis Belle” is a very well-crafted film that holds up over 17 years past its making. It wasn’t a widely popular film in the theaters, and its DVD release was botched, to say the least, so seeing it this way in all its HD glory is probably the best I’ve seen of the film since its theatrical run. Well worth seeing.
Starring: Matthew Modine, Eric Stoltz, John Lithgow
Directed by: Michael Caton-Jones
Written by: Monte Merrick
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, German DD 5.1, Spanish DD Mono, Czech DD 2.0
Studio: Warner Brothers
Runtime: 107 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: May 6th 2014
Buy Memphis Belle Blu-ray on Amazon
Recommendation: Watch It
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