It took a few months, but after establishing my Top Five list for the best Blu-Rays out there, I finally saw a movie that was good enough to bump one of the previous ones off the list. I have set up a few resources on this blog for those who want to purchase Blu-Rays, because unlike in other mediums, sometimes the quality after a transfer is just a waste of money if you already own the movie. On the flip-side, sometimes that quality is so amazing that it will just blow you away. I had that feeling a few days ago, when I finished watching a WWII movie that gave Saving Private Ryan a run for its money, and might have even eclipsed it, in my humble opinion. It is for that reason that we unfortunately say goodbye to A Night to Remember from the Top Five, and welcome in Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line, which comes thundering in to the number two spot.
The Thin Red Line is not a movie for everyone, and is definitely an acquired taste. For a war movie, the pacing is incredibly slow and the dialogue is not focused so much on tactics than it is on philosophy, and getting into the minds of the soldiers immersed in the deadly fight for Guadalcanal in World War II. Aside from the battle scenes, which are superb, the dialogue will really hit home and question why we fight wars, and think about the effects violence has, not just toward fellow-man, but against animals and nature as well. The first time I tried to watch this, I shut it off after ten or fifteen minutes and sent it back to Netflix. Just a few weeks ago, though, I was in Costco and saw the Criterion Collection Blu Ray for sale at an extremely cheap price (at least for the titles in their collection) of $20. I rarely buy movies, especially at that price, that I have never seen before, and I took the risk. It paid off. Saving Private Ryan is one of my favorite movies, and it may be the consummate war film in cinematic history, but The Thin Red Line explored subjects and topics and showed the mental devastation war causes in a light that Saving Private Ryan never came close to—not to say that these two films can be compared, because they are like apples and oranges to each other. Both of these films came out in the same year, which was probably more detrimental to The Thin Red Line than anything else, because it was nominated for seven Academy Awards, and did not win any, while Saving Private Ryan won five and was nominated for eleven.
As for the actual quality of the transfer at hand, it is one of the best I have ever seen, and comes in second only to Saving Private Ryan. The cinematography by John Toll is perfect. Let me repeat: perfect. There are lush green landscapes on mountains, scenes of small villages in jungles, beautiful shots of seascapes and beaches, and of course, lots of action and battle scenes. The audio may be best of all, and when you hit play on the menu, a little message comes up saying, “Director Terence Mallick suggests that you play this film with the volume loud.” Not wanting to blow out windows and annoy the other people in my house, I could not go too loud with it, but I was heavily impressed nonetheless.
I also want to point out the acting, as the film is loaded with stars in brief cameo appearances, much like The Longest Day. We get short glimpses at John Travolta, John Cusack, George Clooney, Adrien Brody, and Woody Harrelson, while James Caviezal, Elias Koteas, Sean Penn, and Nick Nolte carry the film. I was never a fan of Penn or Nolte, but they both put forth incredible performances here, especially Nolte who was ultra convincing as a glory starved colonel at the end of his career, experiencing his first real fighting and wanting to go out with a bang to impress his much younger superiors. He certainly could have won, or at least been nominated for, an Academy Award—he was that good.
So as of right now, my Top Five list sits as follows: 1. Saving Private Ryan (1998), 2. The Thin Red Line (1998), 3. Ben-Hur (1956), 4. Zulu (1964), 5. 2001: A Space Odyssey. For additional reading and resources, please check out my Buying Guide and First Installment of this list.