We’ve been hearing about Quentin Tarantino’s adaptation of Enzo Castellari’s 1978 Italian WWII flick, Inglorious Bastards (Quel maledetto treno blindato) for more than a decade. Now, with the release of his film finally just around the corner (which, it should be noted, has nothing to do with Castellari’s version, save for the name, and even that is purposely misspelled. Way to pay homage, Q.T.), Severin Films brings what is arguably the most complete version of the original film to Blu-ray.
Unapologetically derivative of “The Dirty Dozen”, Inglorious Bastards stars exploitation greats Bo Svenson (“Walking Tall”) and Fred Williamson (“Hell Up in Harlem”) as Lt. Robert Yeager and Pvt. Fred Canfield, two U.S. soldiers en route to a court martial (and, eventually, a firing squad), who, along with a trio of other prisoners, escape their captors (thanks to a German attack on their Military Police convoy) and hatch a plan to flee to neutral Switzerland.
Along the way, the group picks up Adolf Sachs (Raimund Harmstorf), a disillusioned German soldier fed up with the toll of the war, and this dirty half-dozen don Nazi disguises and use Adolf’s knowledge of the area to help guide them to safety. However when Yeager and company kill a squad of men they believe are Nazis, it turns out that they’ve actually killed a crack team of American operatives sent to hijack a train carrying a cutting-edge German bomb.
Yeager and his men are mistaken for the strike team by the small army of French underground soldiers sent to assist them, and the fugitives have no choice but to play along – at least until the real strike team’s commanding officer arrives!
Inglorious Bastards is a funny and fast-paced war movie that, in my opinion, stands shoulder to shoulder with some of the finest examples of WWII themed films that the era has to offer. While it’s a comparatively low-budget film, you wouldn’t know that by looking at it, as the virtual army of extras, authentic locales, and very convincing action sequences make this film seem every bit as epic as its better known counterparts. It’s no wonder Tarantino spent the better part of a decade talking up this film, and I’m thrilled to have finally been able to see what the fuss was all about. While it’s certainly not going to make anyone forget about some of the admittedly superior films it borrows from, Castellari’s little war movie has a big enough heart and big enough balls to win over the most jaded of war movie fans.
Severin - a company perhaps best known for unearthing all manner of softcore European porn films and curiosities - simply outdoes themselves with this fantastic Blu-ray set. Sporting a surprisingly clean 1.85:1 transfer, Inglorious Bastards won’t knock the socks off of HD elitists, but, for those who’ve seen the film (even Severin’s already impressive DVD), the results are just staggering. Fine details - such as textures of fabric, chin stubble, and leaves on trees - are all readily apparent, while the film’s impressive set pieces are given a sense of depth and dimension heretofore unseen. Colors are a bit washed-out, but given the film’s age (as well as the fact that the seemingly perpetually overcast skies cast a depressing gray pall on many scenes), the image looks marvelous.
The audio isn’t up to par with the video transfer, however, as the 5.1 Dolby Digital track is a bit on the tinny side. The film’s aged sound effects haven’t held up particularly well, with gunshots and explosions lacking oomph. There’s also a hint of distortion when the film’s wild score blares, but I don’t think I’ve seen an Italian flick from the era that didn’t suffer from the same malady (one need only look at the Leone westerns for evidence of that). Dialogue is crisp and well-articulated, and, while not all-encompassing, the surround effects offer an occasional sense of immersion.
HD Bonus features abound here, starting with the nearly feature-length making-of documentary, Train Kept A-Rollin’, offering an exhaustive look at the production through interviews, photos, and raw footage. Another beefy feature is a lengthy interview/discussion between Quentin Tarantino and Castellari, in which Tarantino pours on his love for the film a little too thick for my liking (he keeps talking about how great the plot of the film was, but, seeing as how is “remake” completely deviates from it, I find his comments a bit disingenuous). If you like Tarantino, you’ll love this extra. If you don’t…well…skip on ahead to the two other Tarantino-free interview segments, Enzo’s 70th Birthday in Los Angeles and Inglorious Reunion at the New Beverly, in which Castellari is joined by stars Fred Williamson and Bo Svenson. Rounding out the goodies are a commentary/interview track, as well as trailers for this film and Castellari’s other little-seen war flick, Eagles Over London (also coming to Blu-ray courtesy of Severin).
Severin has put together a fantastic package for their inaugural Blu-ray release, as this is truly the definitive edition of a film that is only just now getting the audience it deserves. The Blu-ray looks great, and, while the sound is a bit uneven, it’s perfectly serviceable. Factor in over two hours of quality HD extras, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a package for a flick that’s sure to entertain all but the most jaded of War movie aficionados. Highly recommended!