Sorry about the absence of posts and the shortage of new material. I have been a bit snowed under by work. I have a small stack of things to report on, and will get round to it very shortly…
The recent DVD from Anchor Bay was sharp enough but lacked a proper filmlike grayscale. That image, having very little in the way of midgray tones, appeared overly bright. All has been put right in Optimum’s new Blu-ray, which hardly seems struck form [sic] the same source – and, indeed, may not have been. Sharpness, resolution, and that most important aspect of black & white film, contrast control, are now nothing short of jaw dropping. Dimensionality is palpable, aided by a near absence of edge enhancement, which was somewhat evident on the DVD. There are many scenes against a bright, threatening sky where both foreground characters and sky that now appear in correct proportion and tonal balance. Interior shots have a reach out and touch it quality rare these days; clothing textures are equally realistic.
The audio is LCPM (2.3 Mbps – 48kHz/24-bit), which offers a much appreciated crispness, clarity, nuance and weight to the proceedings. Take for example the first outdoor model test very early on. It takes place at an airstrip, out of the way. On the Blu-ray we can clearly make out background sounds of other airplanes taxiing about as well as other machinery and people out of the frame; also, the sound of walking on wood planks is correctly manifest, where on the DVD we assume the wood only because we can see the people walking on them. Of greatest importance is that the uncompressed audio track permits an emotional inflection of voices utterly absent on the DVD. How else are we able to make sense out of and empathize with Michael Redgrave’s hesitant enthusiasm as he tries to sell his idea for the destruction of the dams, or Richard Todd’s boyish matter of fact delivery of the mission to his men? On the DVD if you close your eyes and just listen to the dialogue, there is very little in their speaking that supports the drama. Next to these improvements, the extra slam we hear from explosives on the Blu-ray is just icing on the cake.
Martin… started his war service flying Avro Lancaster bombers with the Royal Air Force 61 Squadron, where he was awarded his first Distinguished Flying Cross for completing 30 missions. The average life span for a bomber crew was just six missions.Based on his great flying skills he and his crew were invited to join the famous 617 Dambusters Squadron. Martin won his second DFC destroying the Kembs Barrage dam on the Rhine River with 617 Squadron. On that raid Martin’s crew watched in horror as the Lancaster in front exploded in a fireball after being hit by anti-aircraft fire. Pressing on, Martin’s bomb aimer Donald Day dropped a 9980kg Grand Slam or earthquake bomb before Martin nursed his crippled Lancaster back to England.Weeks later, Martin’s crew headed for Tromso in Norway to bomb the German battleship Tirpitz. Martin was also involved in the D-Day landings, bombing German beachhead gun installations.
Sgt Rooke joined the crew of Flying Officer ‘Mac’ Hamilton in 1943 at 1654 Conversion Unit, Wigsley in Nottinghamshire. His logbook records postings to 617 Squadron – the Dambusters; involvement in Operation Taxable, a ploy to confuse German radar on the eve of the D-day invasion by dropping metal foil in the area; and the deployment of Barnes Wallis’ Tallboy ‘earthquake’ bombs.Leonard came under enemy fire many times and behaved with steadfast courage. On one occasion, he tended a badly injured crew member as his damaged aircraft limped back across the Channel to make an emergency landing in Kent.Thanks to his calm presence of mind, although the injuries were very serious, the crew member’s legs were saved.
Peter Jackson is to receive the same accolade as that given to other great film directors such as Sir David Lean and Sir Alfred Hitchcock, with a knighthood. (Another report here.) Regular readers of this blog will know that amongst his future projects are a remake of The Dam Busters, the 1955 classic war film, which may start filming in late 2010 with a possible release in 2011. I’ve covered this story at length, and look forward to bringing you further news in the year to come.
In the meantime, a Happy New Year to all blog readers!
Here’s a great seasonal present for all Dambuster film fans. Speaking on Campbell Live, a New Zealand TV show, on Monday 14 December Peter Jackson confirmed that the remake is going ahead, and that shooting is likely to start sometime next year. He is a busy man, and the bulk of the TV interview was about his newest release, The Lovely Bones, which has just concluded a series of premieres around the globe. Also on his studio’s horizon is The Hobbit, with Ian MacKellen lined up to play a role. But towards the end of the interview he said “if all goes well we’ll be shooting Dambusters in 2010″, and confirmed that ten full size Lancaster models are currently in a warehouse in Wellington.
As the moderator of NZ’s foremost aviation forum, Dave Homewood, has pointed out this interview should dispel any doubts that the project has been put on permanent hold: “Maybe you guys aren’t getting the full gen up-over” are his exact words. Thanks, Dave!
Over on the Classic British Flight Sim forum (yes, there is such a thing!) member Trevor Clark has posted a wonderful find:
Whilst installing an internet connection at a friend’s house this morning, she asked if I was interested in seeing ‘aircraft photos’ she came across in a box of old photos.What she showed me, will all be scanned and put up on the internet!!!Her uncle was Erwin Hillier, the director of photography on the 1954 Dambusters film (as well as many other famous films).The photographs are wonderful 8×10 B/W production stills, about 20 odd of them… I am not sure if they have ever been in the public domain before??
Calypsos is right. He has now posted all the pictures and I don’t think some have been seen since the 1950s, as they don’t appear to be in the BFI’s collection.
The picture above is particularly fascinating to me, as it shows the ‘crew’ of aircraft AJ-J (played by unnamed extras, who may have been real life RAF servicemen) standing behind actor George Baker, in the role of Flt Lt David Maltby, my uncle. This scene doesn’t appear in the final cut of the film. It would be fascinating to know if any unseen sequences of film remain — no special extras kept for the DVD release in those days!
Erwin Hillier is a giant in 20th century British cinematography, although his name is largely unknown to the general public, and it was his skill, along with that of director Michael Anderson and writer R C Sherriff, which made The Dam Busters such an iconic piece of cinema. I will be writing more about him another time.
UPDATE November 2014: Link to pictures updated. Click here.