[box cover]

Battle of Britain: Collector's Edition

Few aircraft in the world are as beautiful as the Spitfire — the powerful, reliable single-engine combat fighter that served Great Britain during World War II. Unlike several planes of the era, which were functional if not always aesthetically attractive, the Spitfire's graceful curves, from canopy to wingtips to empennage, makes it instantly recognizable (particularly when its elliptical wings are cast in silhouette against a bright blue sky). And there are few films that celebrate the "Spits" as much as 1969's Battle of Britain, director Guy Hamilton's detailed look at the single greatest aerial battle in history, in addition to being Nazi Germany's first significant defeat in the Second World War. The cast is headlined by Laurence Olivier as British Air Chief Marshal Dowding, an officer who has grave reservations about Britain's ability to sustain a war in 1940 against Germany in occupied France, and thus convinces Churchill that the best course of action is to turn Great Britain into an island fortress. Churchill concurs, and after his government rejects negotiations with Hitler, the Führer's Luftwaffe attacks the British coast, specifically targeting radar facilities and airfields. All the Brits have in their favor is their advanced radar technology, grim determination, and a few good pilots. But in order to successfully combat the German threat, the Spitfire boys will have to shoot down the enemy's superior numbers at a four-to-one ratio. Fans of World War II films and aviation nuts alike are bound to find themselves in the crosshairs of this movie's target demographic — Battle of Britain pays attention to history, and the script (by Wilfred Greatorex and James Kennaway) tends to keep the non-combatant drama in the background. The cast is the sort of "all-star" affair that has enlivened other wartime epics such as The Great Escape and A Bridge Too Far — this time around the crew includes Olivier, Harry Andrews, Michael Caine, Trevor Howard, Christopher Plummer, Michael Redgrave, Ralph Richardson, Robert Shaw, Patrick Wymark, Susannah York, Edward Fox, and Ian McShane. But the biggest star is one behind the camera — cinematographer Freddie Young captured some of film history's most exciting aerial sequences, and while many practical effects are done with models, trivia buffs note that the amount of actual warplanes assembled for the film gave the producers control of the world's 11th largest air force at the time. After an exhaustive search, no less than 27 Spitifires were found in working order, and German Messerschmitts, Heinkels, and Stukas also were on hand. The footage was so valuable that Czech director Jan Sverák modified portions for his own Battle of Britain film, 2001's Dark Blue World, which happens to make an excellent companion spin.

Sony/MGM's DVD release of Battle of Britain: Collector's Edition features a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) from a clean, pleasant source-print — although it should be noted that the transfer looks identical to that found on the original single-disc release. However, audio has been boosted, with a new Dolby Digital 5.1 track, as well as the monaural DD 2.0 (also found on the previous disc). All-new supplements on the two-disc set include a commentary by director Guy Hamilton, aerial sequence director Bernard Williams, and World War II historian Paul Annet. Disc One also features an isolated DD 5.1 track with composer William Walton's score. Disc Two offers five new featurettes — "The Battle for The Battle of Britain" (52 min.), "A Film for the Few" (20 min.), "Authenticity in the Air" (22 min.), "Recollections of an RAF Squadron Leader" (9 min.), and "Images from the Sky" (3 min.) Also on hand is a theatrical trailer for this film and other Sony/MGM World War II titles. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.
—Robert Wederquist

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