Blu-ray and DVD Reviews

The Great Raid - Exclusive Unrated Director's Cut

Reviewed by: Scott Chitwood
Movie Rating:
6 out of 10
Extras Rating:
9 out of 10
Movie Details:
View here

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Rating: Unrated

Starring:
Benjamin Bratt as Lt. Colonel Mucci
James Franco as Captain Prince
Joseph Fiennes as Major Gibson
Connie Nielsen as Margaret Utinsky
Marton Csokas as Captain Redding
Logan Marshall-Green as Lt. Paul Colvin
Robert Mammone as Captain Fisher
Max Martini as 1st Sgt. Sid "Top" Wojo
James Carpinello as Cpl. Aliteri
Mark Consuelos as Cpl. Guttierez
Craig McLachlan as 2nd Lt. Riley
Freddie Joe Farnsworth as 2nd Lt. Foley
Laird Macintosh as 2nd Lt. O'Grady
Jeremy Callaghan as Lt. Able
Scott McLean as Lt. LeClaire
Paolo Montalban as Sgt. Valera
Clayne Crawford as PFC Aldrige
Sam Worthington as PFC Lucas
Royston Innes as Sgt. Adams

Special Features:
Feature Commentary With Director John Dahl, Producer Marty Katz, Technical Advisor Captain Dale Dye, Editor Scott Chestnut, And Author Hamptom Sides.

The Price Of Freedom: Making The Great Raid

Extended Deleted Scenes With Commentary

"The Ghosts Of Bataan" A 60-Minute Documentary

The Veterans Remember

History Lesson With Author Hampton Sides

Captain Dale Dye's Boot Camp

Boot Camp Outtakes

Mixing The Great Raid

The Mix Board With Special Audio Options

War In The Pacific Interactive Timeline

Dedication To The Soldiers Of Bataan

Other Info:
Widescreen (2.40:1)
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
Spanish Subtitles
Running Time: 131 Minutes

Synopsis:
This film is based on the books "The Great Raid On Cabanatuan" by William B. Breuer and "Ghost Soldiers" by Hampton Sides. The following text is from the DVD cover:

"In the epic tradition of Saving Private Ryan, The Great Raid is an inspirational true story of the most triumphant rescue mission in U.S. military history! As World War II rages, the elite 6th Ranger Battalion is given a mission of heroic proportions: push 30 miles behind enemy lines and liberate over 500 American prisoners of war. Under the command of Lt. Col. Henry Mucci (Benjamin Bratt -- Traffic), the men of the 6th will face the unthinkable by attempting the impossible! Also featuring James Franco (Spider-Man 1 & 2), Connie Nielsen (Gladiator), and Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare in Love), this gripping big-screen hit captures a moment in time when men of honor became soldiers of destiny!"

This is the unrated director's cut of The Great Raid, but the theatrical version was rated R for strong war violence and brief language.

The Movie:
I read the book "Ghost Soldiers" by Hampton Sides, so I was somewhat interested in seeing the film. (I actually happened to read it while on a trip to Japan, so it was weird hearing about all the atrocities the Japanese committed while meeting all the nice people there.) The novel was exciting, suspenseful, heart-wrenching, and inspiring. Unfortunately the movie only captured a fraction of what made the book engaging. (On a side note, I never saw the theatrical version, so I can't compare it to this "unrated director's cut".)

The Great Raid is actually quite slow. It never really picks up steam until the raid itself happens, and that only occurs in the last 20 minutes or so of the 2 hour 10 minute running time. The movie glosses over the invasion of the Philippines, the Bataan Death March, and some of the daring escapes by prisoners of war who were about to be executed. This was done most likely because of budget reasons, but it was the hook necessary to pull you into the story. Instead the movie focuses on the Rangers conducting the raid, the prisoners of war, and Margaret Utinsky and the Philippine resistance. While the side story of the resistance was quite interesting, it had little impact on the raid itself and probably should have been left for an entirely separate film. With that portion of the story gone (and the forced love story along with it), there would have been more time to focus on the prisoners of war. The movie never painted their situation to be as desperate as the book did. Instead we only meet three of the POW's instead of getting a broader picture of them men imprisoned there.

The acting in the film is decent, but nothing particularly noteworthy. Benjamin Bratt is noble and driven as Lt. Colonel Mucci. James Franco delivers a very muted performance as Captain Prince. While it's nothing very dramatic, it's probably closer to what the real men were like. Joseph Fiennes, unfortunately, mainly gets to look sick and weak as Major Gibson. Marton Csokas is a bit livelier as Captain Redding, but he's hard to like as his actions jeopardize the other prisoners. Connie Nielsen ends up getting one of the more dynamic roles as Margaret Utinsky, a key player in the resistance. She is hounded by the Japanese and watches her fellow resistance members die at their hands.

If you like Band of Brothers, you'll probably enjoy The Great Raid. This film actually feels like an individual episode of the series (though you would expect more from a big screen feature). Fans of war movies should also enjoy it. The war in the Pacific and the Bataan Death March are rarely featured in films. It's an important part of war history that is often overlooked. I just wish it would have been done a little better.

The Extras:
There are quite a few bonus features on this two disc set. Here are the highlights:

Feature Commentary With Director John Dahl, Producer Marty Katz, Technical Advisor Captain Dale Dye, Editor Scott Chestnut, And Author Hamptom Sides – This is your standard commentary featuring comments about the making of the film, stories from the set, etc. However, technical advisor Captain Dale Dye actually makes it quite interesting as he talks about military history, training the actors, and other bits of information. He helps make the film a bit more interesting.

The Price Of Freedom: Making The Great Raid – This is your standard "making of" video featuring footage from the film, interviews with cast and crew, and behind the scenes footage. They talk about the actual historical facts, filming in Australia, and more.

Extended Deleted Scenes With Commentary – There are a dozen or so deleted scenes. Some are quite mundane like a scene where Franco's character inspects the guns of the Rangers. Other scenes expand on the plot more like a few scenes showing how Margaret Utinsky got away from the Japanese and was smuggled out of Manila. The 20 minutes of scenes are worth checking out, but not necessary to the story.

"The Ghosts Of Bataan" A 60-Minute Documentary – This, in my opinion, is the centerpiece of the bonus features. It goes into great detail about the invasion of the Japanese, the pull-out of Macarthur and the Americans, the Bataan Death March, and Death Ships, and more. There are interviews with both Americans and Japanese, actual photos and footage, and more. This documentary is actually more interesting than the film itself.

The Veterans Remember – This featurette takes a few more interviews not used in the documentary and includes them here. One interesting point they make is about the reaction of the POWs when they returned home. It's not mentioned in the film, but they had as much or more trouble adjusting to normal life than Vietnam Veterans. Some of their stories are quite heartbreaking.

History Lesson With Author Hampton Sides – The author of Ghost Soldiers talks about the events depicted in the film. Unfortunately, it's a little redundant after seeing the main documentary.

Captain Dale Dye's Boot Camp – This shows how the military advisor for the film trained the actors in a grueling boot camp. It actually looks quite tough.

Boot Camp Outtakes – Like the title says, these are a series of jokes and outtakes from the boot camp.

Mixing The Great Raid – This featurette details the sound mixing for the film. It's interesting to see everything mixed together. You can also play with the audio yourself in the feature "The Mix Board With Special Audio Options".

War In The Pacific Interactive Timeline – This is an interesting timeline, supported with photos and audio clips, detailing the events leading up to and through the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. It's informative, but a little redundant after the documentary.

Dedication To The Soldiers Of Bataan – This featurette lists the names of the soldiers and prisoners of war featured in the film. It's just a series of names scrolled across the screen.

The Bottom Line:
The Great Raid isn't as great a film as it could have been, but it should please fans of war movies.

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