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August 31, 2009
The Longest Day (2-disc) Blu-Ray Review
Cinema Release Blu-Ray Release Distributor Director
19623/9/2009FoxKen Annakin, Andrew Marton
Bernhard Wicki, Darryl Zanuck
Video Codec Sound Format OFLC Rating Star(s)
AVC MPEG-4DTS-HD MA 5.1PG48 International Stars

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John Wayne as Lt. Col. Benjamin Vandervoort.

War movies are a dime a dozen, and it takes something pretty special to stand out in the crowd. The Longest Day is one such movie. It is the most expensive movie filmed in Black and White (with the exception being the much more recent Schindler's List from Steven Spielberg in 1993), and it won two Academy Awards (Best Cinematography, Best Special Effects) and was nominated for three others (Best Picture, Best Editing and Best Art Direction).

One June 6th 1944, the Allied Invasion of France marked the beginning of the end of Nazi domination over Europe. The attack involved 3,000,000 men, 11,000 planes and 4,000 ships, comprising the largest armada the world has ever seen.

So this is a movie which focuses on one particular day in history, but rather then focus on a single character or single side of the war the movie does a brilliant job of telling the events of the day from the British, German, French and American sides. Indeed several directors were used to tell the different sides and against all odds the movie still turns out to be one seamless 3 hour long epic. Does it feel long? Not really. The movie has about an hours build up and then two hours of action which gives you time to learn the characters before they enter battle and meet their various fates.

Despite the fact that John Wayne often gets top billing for this movie, he plays only one small part in a brilliant ensemble cast with Fox now even billing the stars as "48 International Stars" (although it states 43 International Stars in the documentary). In fact the actors appearing in this movie are the who's who of Hollywood, British, French and German cinema and include the likes of John Wayne, Richard Burton, Robert Mitchum, Sean Connery, Henry Fonda, Red Buttons, Leo Genn, Peter Lawford, Kenneth More, Richard Todd, Gert Fröbe, Irina Demick, André Bourvil, Curt Jürgens, Robert Wagner and Arletty Bathiat. A brilliant cast, and each plays their roles, no matter how insignificant, perfectly.

The Longest Day is the 1960's equivalent to Saving Private Ryan. While it's no where near as violent or gruesome, when the battle starts and the soldiers storm the beach it's relentless. The scale of the battles are impressive. Two scenes in particular had us gob smacked - the first is the images of the plane flying along the beach strafing the soldiers below, and the second is a lengthy charge up to a well fortified casino. Both scenes give you a true understanding of the horrors of war.

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Storming the beaches in Normandy.
If you're a fan of war movies, or even just true stories, then The Longest Day can't come more highly recommended. It's brilliant.

The Longest Day was originally released in two formats in cinemas. The 35mm version was framed at 2.35:1 while a 70mm version was also released and framed at the slightly wider 2.20:1. This Blu-Ray release is framed at 2.35:1 and has been encoded using the AVC MPEG-4 codec. For a film approaching 50 years old now the print is in fairly good condition although there are occasional blemishes. Have a look between 12:17-12:34 and you will see a bright vertical line near the top of screen, in other locations you may see some fluctuations in light levels in some scenes and others appear a little blurry. It also appears that the filmmakers have used some stock footage for the marching soldiers, and ships on open waters. On a brighter note this black and white movie demonstrates some wonderful black levels and amounts of detail in darker scenes.

The biggest issue with this release though is that the team responsible for encoding the disc have applied too much Digital Noise Reduction (DNR). Digital Noise Reduction is used to scrub away some of the dirt and grain from the image resulting in a "cleaner" picture. Indeed the picture is very clean and first impressions will likely blow you away. The problem with applying too much DNR though is that it also removes film grain and smaller details. Have a look at many of the actors faces in close ups and you won't find any detail - no stubble, no marks on their flesh, and little change in skin tone. Even Richard Burton, who doesn't have the smoothest of faces to be honest, looks fairly smooth in his few scenes in this release.

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Red Buttons in The Longest Day.
Given that this movie runs for 2 hours 58 minutes, and there are two audio commentaries, and several soundtracks on this disc the end result is pleasing.

Faring better then the video is the audio transfer. Using a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track (48Khz/24-bit) this release is as good as we could have expected. Given that the original release was in Stereo, there isn't the most aggressive use of surround sound channels or sub-woofer, with a heavy focus on front channels, but dialogue is all crystal clear. Thankfully this version of the film includes actors speaking in their native languages rather then the version which has all the actors speaking English.

Other audio tracks on this disc include German and French DTS 5.1 tracks encoded at 768kbps. Both are pretty impressive efforts and sound pretty close to the English track, no doubt due to the original source material. Subtitles are provided in English, English, German, French, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish.

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The battles are long, and intense.
Thankfully unlike the 60th Anniversary DVD that was released in 2004 this disc does not require you to turn subtitles on and off as each French and German speaking actor has something to say. I believe this was rectified in more recent DVD's, but for owners of the 60th Anniversary Edition (2 Disc Set) this will come as a welcome change.

For such a widely acclaimed and historical film it was great to see the wealth of extras on this 2-disc set. They are great in quality and the only negative is that the video extras on the second disc are only in Standard Definition.

Historical Commentary by Mary Corey: Now this is a great commentary track and the kind of which I would love to see on more "historical" movies. Mary provides plenty of insight into the movie and points out not only the accuracies, but also the inaccuracies to the real events. Fascinating stuff.

Commentary with filmmaker Ken Annakin: The last surviving of the four directors on the film (who sadly passed away on 22nd April 2009) discusses the making of this film in detail, as well as recollections of the actors and other directors. This is another great commentary on this disc.

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German sections are subtitled.
Beyond the two audio commentaries Fox have included a second BD-25 disc filled with documentaries. Sadly these are only in Standard Definition, but they are superbly put together and well worth your time.

A Day To Remember (17:52): This is a brilliant featurette with director Ken Annakin in which he details much about working with various cast and crew as well as working with the directors girlfriend. Such an insightful and delightful man to listen to with plenty of on-set footage and a hilarious story about the actors losing money from under their hats!

Longest Day: A Salute To Courage (43:46): This is a great retrospective documentary which looks at creating this epic movie including the pre-production, the 8 month shoot, and final release including Darryl F. Zanuck's battles with Fox Studios, the film studio which he founded 29 years earlier in 1933.

Backstory: The Longest Day (25:08): This is a featurette which focuses on 20th Century Fox founder and producer of The Longest Day Darryl Zanuck. It is quite an interesting documentary, which looks at one of Hollywood's most influential people in the mid-20th century and how he ended up making The Longest Day.

D-Day Revisited (51:51): This was a little disappointing to be honest, and is a look at Darryl Zanuck returning to the many locations in which the actual events and filming took place including interviews with some locals. There's also a little too much replaying of scenes from the movie.

Darryl F. Zanuck: A Dream Fulfilled (3:58): Richard D. Zanuck talks about his fathers dream of making the film. Short and a bit pointless given the other content on the disc.

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Attention to detail is superb.
Original Theatrical Trailer (3:08): The theatrical trailer for the movie. Not much else to say other then it’s a bit average in quality – a HD version would have been nice.

The Longest Day is a brilliant movie with superb cast and some brilliant action sequences. The video transfer has both positives and negatives, while the audio is better then what you would expect from a movie reaching 50 years of age. Another highlight though are the superb extras which are well produced and, for the most part, very interesting. An essential for fans of war movies.

Review By: Dave Warner


Note: All images in this article are Copyright© Fox. They are only indicative of the movie and not sourced from the vastly superior Blu-Ray disc format.