Friday, January 4, 2013

THE WILD GEESE (DVD & Blu-ray)

In High School, I thought being a mercenary soldier would be pretty cool, an impression fueled by occasional purchases of Soldier Of Fortune magazine and frequent cable airings of two movies: THE DOGS OF WAR (starring Christopher Walken) and Andrew V. McLaglen's THE WILD GEESE (1978), starring the testosterone-charged triumvirate of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, and Roger Moore. I soon grew out of the desire to be a merc, but I never outgrew my affection for those flicks. Now, thanks to the folks at Severin Films, THE WILD GEESE fly onto Blu-ray.

Burton is Col. Allen Faulkner, an aging, alcoholic mercenary who is hired by a British businessman named Matherson (Stewart Granger) to rescue an African rebel leader (Winston Ntshona) from a regime that the Matherson wants overthrown. Faulkner agrees, but only if he can bring along his trusted comrades Capt. Rafer Janders (Harris), a master planner/tactician, and Lt. Shawn Fynn (then-current 007, Moore), a roguish pilot. Putting together a small cadre of soldiers, the team parachutes into enemy territory and pulls off the daring rescue without a hitch. Unfortunately, when they reach their extraction point, the plane that's supposed to pick them up passes them by, and they realize they've been betrayed by their employers. Now they'll have to fight their way across miles of rugged African terrain to reach the border and safety....

THE WILD GEESE is a terrific "men on a mission" adventure film with a top-notch cast of British character actors, a rousing score by Roy Budd, and plenty of combat action. McLaglen was a journeyman director with nearly 50 films and TV shows under his belt (many of them Westerns) and he handles the action and drama with a deft, experienced hand. The widescreen cinematography by Jack Hildyard (THE BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER KWAI) is exceptional. The script by Reginald Rose (from a novel by Daniel Carvey) is taut, fast-paced, and even manages to include a some heart and social commentary. Mostly, though, it's  about the mission, camraderie and revenge - which is what these kind of films are all about.

Previously released on DVD by an outfit called Tango (which I never saw), this new DVD/Blu-ray combo from Severin Films is joy. The 1080p HD, 1.85:1 widescreen transfer is an marked improvement over the cable TV and VHS prints I grew up with, although it's a little inconsistent. Some shots look fantastic, with bold colors and plenty of fine detail evident, while others look soft and sometimes a bit waxy. Much of that may derive from the source material, though, and overall, it's a very good transfer. The Dolby 2.0 Stereo mix is full and robust, if not particularly full. Still, it's better than one might expect from a 2-channel mix.

Severin has also assembled a great batch of extras. First off, there's an entertaining audio commentary with producer Euan Lloyd, second-unit director John Glen and actor Roger Moore, moderated by filmmaker Jonathan Sothcott. There's a new video interview with director McLaglen, an on-camera interview with the film's military advisor, a documentary about the film's producer, a vintage promotional featurette, a vintage newsreel of the film's premiere and the original theatrical trailer.

Severin's DVD/Blu-ray combo of THE WILD GEESE offers an above-average presentation and a package of supplements that should please fans of the movie - and the military "men on a mission" genre. I'm thrilled to be able to add this manly classic to my video library, and recommend that you do the same.

BUYThe Wild Geese (Blu-ray DVD Combo)