The Review at a Glance: (max score: 5 )
Audio/Video total rating:
( Max score: 100 )
Studio and Year: 20th Century Fox - 1966
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Feature running time: 179 Minutes
Genre: War Drama
Disc Format: BD-50
Video Aspect: 2.35:1
Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio Lossless, English Dolby Surround, Spanish/French Mono
Subtitles: English, Spanish, Cantonese, Korean
Starring: Steve McQueen, Richard Crenna, Candice Bergen, Richard Attenborough
Directed by: Robert Wise
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Written by: Robert Anderson based on the novel by Richard McKenna
Region Code: A
Blu-ray Disc release Date: June 3, 2008
"Peace has to start from within"
Directed by Hollywood icon Robert Wise (West Side Story) and nominated for eight Oscars?, the definitive naval epic THE SAND PEBBLES (1966, Fox) stars Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough, Richard Crenna, Mako and Candice Bergen and follows a defiant sailor as he clashes with foreign culture as well as his own superiors during the 1926 Chinese Revolution.
Here is the story synopsis as stated on the rear jacket of the novel by Richard McKenna:
The Sand Pebbles is a gripping novel of adventure aboard a Yangtze River gunboat (The U.S.S. San Pablo) at the very moment of China's bloody awaking to its new destiny. It is the story of men, a ship, and a way of life engulfed in a tidal wave of revolution. But most of all, it is the story of Jake Holman, a tough young American sailor who finds himself caught between the perils of love and the madness of war."
As a film fan I try to keep an open mind when sitting down to watch a movie. I like Steve McQueen and was looking forward to The Sand Pebbles as I have never seen it. I liked this film but not as much as I had hoped. He gave a strong performance and Jake Holman was definitely a complex and believable character. I felt that he, Frenchy, and Maily were well developed characters in that you cared about them. There were others that had integral roles in the story, such as Shirley, the Captain and Po-han but I felt that they didn't evolve as well as the others. I would like to have seen a bit more interaction between Shirley and Jake. I think that would have meant more to the story in the third act. Frenchy and Maily were two very sympathetic souls who were destined to failure but theirs was the plot point that you really cared about. Once they were gone it seemed like the story needed a new mission and the rescue of Jamison and Shirley seemed more like an after thought. Lastly, I thought three hours was too long for this one. It didn't have the epic feel and deep plot of some other recent wartime films I have reviewed.
Those minor issues aside there was plenty to like about this film. The performances by McQueen, Attenborough, and Arsan were superb. I appreciated the attention to detail in the scenery, weaponry, language and cinematography. It didn't try and overplay the simple thematic elements presented but used them to pull the audience in. McQueen is stealthy cool and his performance here was reminiscent of him at his best.
The disc is rating is PG-13. I assume that when the film was released it must have garnered at least a PG or higher rating considering that there was no PG-13 rating back in 1966. The rating is for violence and sexual material. This would be appropriate by today's standards.
AUDIO/VIDEO - By The Numbers:
REFERENCE = 92-100 / EXCELLENT = 83-91 / GOOD = 74-82 / AVERAGE = 65-73 / BELOW AVERAGE = under 65
**My audio/video ratings are based upon a comparative made against other high definition media/blu-ray disc.**
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
- Low frequency extension:
- Surround Sound presentation:
- Dialogue Reproduction:
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
- Black level/Shadow detail:
- Color reproduction:
Fox has brought The Sand Pebbles to high definition Blu-ray Disc featuring 1080p MPEG-2 encoded video with an average bitrate of 19 mbps and 5.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio lossless sound with an average bitrate of 3.2 mbps.
Looking at the audio and video as a whole I would have to say that it was impressive. This was especially true of the soundtrack. This is a wartime based film (although not an American war) that is almost entirely dialogue driven. The only real explosive elements came when the San Pablo needed to attack a group of Chinese boats that were protecting a large cable (rope really) which was stretched across a canal to prevent access. Machine guns, rifles, onboard canons and explosions all sounded fairly dynamic and punchy. I would not put it on the same level of a track recorded today but the mix was certainly decent. Dialogue was intelligible but felt slightly compressed at times as if the recording microphones were too far from the actors. The surrounds and subwoofer were used sparingly to deliver the onscreen action. Where they were used quite often and too excellent effect were in reproducing Jerry Goldsmiths incredible music score. At times it just sounded so good I was astounded. Crystal clarity and wonderful instrument separation was coupled along with an enveloping presence that brought forth every musical detail.
The video presentation was consistent in its rendering of detail, deep blacks and shadow delineation. There are many low light and shadowy sequences in this film. I didn't notice any scenes that suffered from poor background detail or lack of visible structure in low light. I found it impressive considering the age of this film. A few of these sequences necessitate being able to make out shapes etc. in the dark so it was a positive to have that ability. Images looked detailed enough so that visible texture within background was visible. Obviously that related to principle objects in the shot as well which left them looking defined and dimensional. A good example of this was the ship's engine room which looked superb in high definition. Sharpness and clarity was not always resolute (especially in the distant daytime panning shots of the harbor and cityscapes) but those shots looked that way consistently and seemed inherent. Colors were subdued and appeared almost under saturated. Hues were natural looking which prevented fleshtones from being drab. I would like to have a bit more diversity in that regard but in the end I didn't find it distracting.
The is a noteworthy set of Bonus supplements that I am sure will please even the most demanding Sand Pebbles fans. Kudos to Fox for including so much great content on a 42 year old catalog title release.
- Commentary by Director Robert Wise and Actors Candice Bergen, Richard Crenna and Mako
- Isolated Score Track with commentary by music producer Nick Redman, Film Music Historian Jon Burlingham and Film Historian/Screenwriter Lem Dobbs
- Trivia track
- Road Show version scenes
- The Making of Sand Pebbles Documentary
- Steve McQueen Remembered Featurette
- Robert Wise Remembered Featurette
- China 1926 Remembered Featurette
- A ship called San Pablo Featurette
- The Secret of San Pablo Featurette
- Radio Documentaries narrated by Richard Attenborough
- Radio Spots
- Original Theatrical Trailer
The Sand Pebbles is considered by many to be an epic film. At the time of its release it may very well have been. I saw it is as a very good film with epic aspirations but that is just my opinion. Fox has brought it to Blu-ray Disc high definition in a wonderful package that is sure to delight fans. If you have been waiting for this release then feel free to pick it up on June 3rd.
AVS Forum Blu-ray Reviews
Reference Review System:
Sony VPL-VW50 SXRD 1080p High Definition Front Projector
Carada Precision Brilliant White 96" Screen
Oppo 970HD universal disc DVD Player (480i HDMI)
Toshiba HD-XA2 HD DVD Player (HDMI Audio/Video)
Panasonic DMP-BD30 Blu-ray disc Player (HDMI Audio/Video)
Sony Playstation 3 Blu-ray disc Player (HDMI Audio/Video)
Marantz DV7001 Universal Disc Player
Denon AVR 5308CI THX Ultra 2 Preamp/Video Processor
Outlaw Audio Model 7700 seven channel amplifier
B&K Reference 200.7 Series 2 seven Channel amplifier
Canton "Ergo" Series speakers
Axiom Audio QS8 Quadpolar speakers
SV Sound PB-13 Ultra (Rosenut finish)
APC AV S15BLK Power Conditioner/Surge Protector
Wireworld, VizionWare, Audioquest, Best Deal Cables - Audio/Video/Speaker Cabling
Cool Components - CP-CP102 cooling package