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From Here to Eternity Blu-ray Review

From Here to Eternity (1953) movie poster From Here to Eternity

Theatrical Release: August 5, 1953 / Running Time: 118 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Fred Zinnemann / Writers: James Jones (novel), Daniel Taradash (screenplay)

Cast: Burt Lancaster (Sgt. Milton E. Warden), Montgomery Clift (Pvt. Robert E. Lee Prewitt), Deborah Kerr (Karen Holmes), Donna Reed (Lorene/Alma Burke), Frank Sinatra (Pvt. Angelo Maggio), Philip Ober (Capt. Dana E. "Dynamite" Holmes), Mickey Shaughnessy (Sgt. Leva), Harry Bellaver (Mazzioli), Ernest Borgnine (Sgt. James B. "Fatso" Judson), Jack Warden (Corp. Buckley), John Dennis (Sgt. Ike Galovitch), Merle Travis (Pvt. Sal Anderson), Tim Ryan (Sgt. Pete Karelsen), Arthur Keegan (Treadwell), Barbara Morrison (Mrs. Kipfer) / Uncredited: George Reeves (Sgt. Maylon Stark), John Bryant (Capt. G.R. Ross), Jean Willes (Annette - Club Receptionist)

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For as long as there have been movies, those about war and history have had power over viewers and no difficulty attracting prestige. The silent film considered to have won the very first Academy Award for Best Picture -- 1927's Wings -- dramatized the efforts of American soldiers in World War I. Two ceremonies later, All Quiet on the Western Front was recognized for its portrayal of the same war's tolls on the human spirit.
When World War II broke out in the 1940s, movies were there to reflect the moment, initially to celebrate patriotic bravery (Mrs. Miniver) and shortly thereafter to sympathize with veterans' challenging return to civilization (The Best Years of Our Lives).

As the world returned to peaceful times, filmmakers went back to less grand, global, unifying topics. Oscars went to behind-the-scenes showbiz dramas and escapist musicals. Still, films about the war continued to emerge, with a little more perspective and a little less timeliness.

Released in 1953, From Here to Eternity looked back at the scene of the act that drove the United States into the war. Adapted from the best-selling 1951 novel by James Jones, who loosely based it on his own experiences in the US Army's Hawaiian Division before and after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, this is not your typical war movie. There isn't a shot fired until the final fifteen minutes and nearly the entire film is set before the U.S. declaration of war.

Still, the rousing finale and its significant, lingering implications for the world shape this film about military life at Hawaii's Schofield Barracks in 1941.

Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) reports for duty, reluctant to talk bugling or boxing. The hot-tempered private Angelo Maggio (an Oscar-winning Frank Sinatra) has to be held back from fighting a stockade sergeant.

Our point of access to the facility is Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Montgomery Clift), a young career soldier whose demotion and transfer to Hawaii is questioned by his new commanding officers, Captain "Dynamite" Holmes (Philip Ober) and Sergeant Milton Warden (Burt Lancaster). Initially citing "personal reasons", Prewitt comes to confess he has chosen to leave the comfy Bugle Corps because a less talented soldier was made 1st Bugler over him. That's how the stubborn Prewitt rolls.

An accomplished boxer too, Prewitt's not about to budge from his fighting retirement, though Holmes and his men will give him plenty of reason to. Having hung up his gloves after putting a man in a coma and making him go blind, Prewitt is prepared to endure some pressure to help his new infantry in the upcoming boxing championships. What he is given is "The Treatment", which sees him singled out for extra laps and marching, given few opportunities to leave the base, and put in demeaning situations where he is pushed into insubordination.

Prewitt has one friend in his fellow private, Angelo Maggio (Frank Sinatra), a scrawny Italian-American who shows him a good time with an alcohol-fueled payday outing to the New Congress Club. There, Prewitt meets Lorene (Donna Reed), a working girl who attracts much attention from the soldiers. Bound by the production code, the film doesn't say it in as many words, but Lorene is supposed to be a prostitute.

Lorene and Prewitt's isn't the only unlikely romance the film explores. Sgt. Warden sets his eyes on the Captain's wife Karen (Deborah Kerr), who's reputedly as much of a serial adulterer as her work-shunning husband is. Warden and Karen meet in secret and fall for each other, in spite of the relationship's many complications.

Private Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) takes great interest in working girl Lorene (an Oscar-winning Donna Reed). Though he repeatedly claims he doesn't want to become a commanding officer, Sgt. Milton Warden (Burt Lancaster) assumes an authority position during the climactic attack on Pearl Harbor.

It's the latter couple providing From Here to Eternity with its most iconic image, the sight of a man and a woman making out on the beach while waves gently crash over them. Seeing the clip out of context, as it has frequently been excerpted in everything from "Doogie Howser, M.D." to 13 Going on 30, or the image of it as the film's now go-to cover artwork, you might mistake this for some sudsy fairy tale romance.
In fact, the couple's bliss is momentary, soured immediately after as Warden questions his boss' wife about her reputation.

This is a mature adult drama whose depictions are unlike the happy ones we associate with the 1950s' old-fashioned entertainment. First and foremost a character study, there's not an innocent soul among the principals. Though inherently good, these individuals have demons and weaknesses. No one gets a happily ever after, only fleeting moments of satisfaction. In the end, some are dead and the rest are alone, bracing for the long war to come. When you think about it, this is quite a bleak story. But it's an enjoyable one full of interesting characters and situations. While it has to conform to the decency standards of the time and speak in coded terms, there's a lot of realism that manages to sneak out, looks at things like peer pressure and mob mentality. The portrayal of rampant abuse within the military is not a topic that would have come up during wartime. War was often idealized or criticized in roundabout fashion, as a traumatic but necessary evil. Here, even if Jones' account is heavily fictionalized, it's a discouraging view of the institution designed to keep us all safe.

Though it deals with such issues as infidelity, physical and psychological torment, alcoholism, and prostitution, the film manages to be eminently watchable and surprisingly good-natured. That helped make it a hit with both audiences and critics, status it still enjoys today even at great distance from our edgier filmmaking methods and lax content restrictions. From Here has endured as a polished and relatable drama of far greater human interest than the ones detailing the strategies, tactics, and heroism that followed Pearl Harbor. The subjects of those films have more significance and bearing on our world than the relationships of a few invented men and women, but they do not make for as rewarding a viewing as this.

From thirteen nominations, From Here would win eight Oscars, including the awards for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. The appealing Frank Sinatra and Donna Reed would win for Supporting Actor and Actress, respectively, the only competitive Oscar win for each longtime entertainer. This is one of the Best Picture winners that hold up, not as a product of its time, but as a film that didn't have to wait for its greatness to be recognized.

Twelve years after making its DVD debut amidst the 60th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor bombing and favorable comparisons to Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor, From Here to Eternity makes the jump to Blu-ray on the film's 60th anniversary in a solid, rare in-house catalog release by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

From Here to Eternity: Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Mono 2.0 (English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish Castilian, Spanish Latin American)
Subtitles: English, Arabic, Chinese Traditional, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Hebrew, Hindi, Italian, Japanese Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish Castilian, Spanish Latin American, Swedish, Thai, Turkish
Most Extras Subtitled in English, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish
Release Date: October 1, 2013 / Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Cardboard Slipcover
Still available on DVD (October 23, 2001) and Amazon Instant Video
Previously released as Superbit DVD (March 4, 2003) and in 60th Anniversary Collection WWII DVD Box Set (October 25, 2005)

VIDEO and AUDIO

From Here to Eternity narrowly predates the industry's shift to widescreen. Blu-ray approximates the film's Academy Ratio (employed by only two subsequent Best Picture winners in Marty and The Artist) with a pillarboxed 1.33:1 presentation. Though the case doesn't mention it, press materials reveal that this transfer is a byproduct of a "meticulous" restoration from a 4K scan. If those efforts are out of the ordinary, you can't quite tell from watching. The picture quality is definitely great, especially for a 60-year-old film, but it falls just short of the wonderment that Criterion and other studios have given other significant 1950s films. There's a tiny bit of light grain, plus detail and sharpness are ever so slightly lacking. It's nitpicking and most won't see it, but I'm certain there's a tiny bit of room for improvement, not necessarily obtainable by one of Sony's Mastered in 4K Blu-rays.

The default soundtrack is encoded as 5.1 DTS-HD master audio, presumably representing the film's most powerful remix to date. Purists may prefer the Dolby 2.0 monaural option that's truer to the film's original design. The differences, nonetheless, are minor, with the 5.1 mix sounding like a basic but good standard '50s movie mono soundtrack right until the explosive final act.

This just might be the most subtitled disc I've ever seen, as Sony loads up the platter with English transcriptions and 22 foreign language translations. That is in addition to seven monaural dubs. While other studios are limited in what they can or wish to provide, Sony reiterates its belief in the global film market, clearly having spent a lot of time, money, and effort to make this classic accessible to the majority of the world.

Deborah Kerr has her hair touched up on set in color home movies from "The Making of 'From Here to Eternity.'" Director Fred Zinnemann reflects on the casting of "From Here to Eternity" in excerpts of his son's documentary "As I See It."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's one new bonus feature is "Eternal History", a graphics-in-picture track designed to enhance a repeat viewing of the film. With this activated, you're treated to a mix of talking head commentary and film facts, intended to coincide with what's onscreen. Contributing to the video portion are film historians Alan K. Rode, Virginia Campbell, and TCM's Robert Osborne; film critic Kim Morgan;
director's Fred Zinnemann's son Tim, Frank Sinatra's daughter Tina, Burt Lancaster biographer Kate Buford, and Montgomery Clift friend Jack Larson. Their words spiced up with behind-the-scenes photos and marketing imagery, they discuss James Jones' scandalous novel, Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohn, the cast's baggage, and the Army's creative input.

The text screens that keep this viewing mode nearly lull-free share facts about the production, the source text, its author, the film's censorship battles, and the cast and crew (things like birthdates, death dates, and other credits). Though not without some limitations (the spoken comments are unsubtitled, the film's subtitles also cannot be activated, and there's no way to pair this with the commentary or easily resume an unfinished viewing), this sleek presentation adds definite value and makes for an interesting alternative to a plain old commentary.

Extras recycled from the film's 2001 DVD begin with an audio commentary by Tim Zinnemann and Alvin Sargent, the son and occasional collaborator, respectively, of director Fred Zinnemann. They give us insight into the production, with Zinnemann repeating some of what he's shared in "Eternal History" and Sargent mentioning his experiences on Zinnemann's Julia. They talk casting and near-casting, the insistence to shoot in black and white, the film's strong reception, and lasting impact. The screen-specific chat tapers off sharply in the second hour, yielding many dry spells. It's interesting that Sargent, who plays a bit part in the movie, would experience a renaissance shortly after recording this, contributing to the scripts of all four Spider-Man movies to date produced by his longtime partner and late, short-time wife Laura Ziskin. An okay listen, this benefits from being reduced to secondary supplement status.

"The Making of From Here to Eternity" is shorter than you could imagine, running just 2 minutes and 23 seconds. This featherweight standard def retrospective places some narration and casting notes over movie clips and brief excerpts of the director's color home movies.

"Fred Zinnemann: As I See It" (9:33, SD) serves up excerpts from Tim Zinnemann's 1997 tribute to his father. More of the elder Zinnemann's production home movies are shared and compared to excessive film clips whose shooting they came from. We also hear some reflections from the director on casting From Here.

The top two of the five postcard-sized lobby card reproductions found inside From Here to Eternity's Blu-ray release. The top menu of From Here to Eternity's Blu-ray features classy character headshots.

The final extra is a nifty tangible one. Inside the case, we get five sturdy postcard-sized reproductions of color From Here to Eternity lobby cards. They're connected but perforated, allowing you to easily separate them or to keep them intact and display as a long cardboard banner.
They're the only thing inside the side-snapped keepcase, which is topped by a snazzy foil slipcover reproducing the artwork below.

Not everything from the film's 2001 DVD makes the leap to Blu-ray. The biggest bummer is the puzzling absence of From Here to Eternity's original theatrical trailer. Also dropped are trailers for fellow World War II dramas, a booklet of production notes, and selected filmographies for five actors, Zinnemann, and screenwriter Daniel Taradash. Obviously, text extras and inserts have been phased out of the business, but there's no good reason for that trailer to have gone missing.

The menu simply attaches a long loop of score to a tableau of character photos. Typical for Sony, the Blu-ray supports bookmarks. It also resumes playback for everything but the graphics-in-picture track.

For better or worse, this shot of two lovers (Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr) amidst waves on the beach remains the most iconic image of "From Here to Eternity."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Sixty years after its initial release, the Oscar-decorated drama From Here to Eternity holds up as a compelling human drama set against the Pearl Harbor bombing. Its mix of military life, romance, and multi-faceted characters seems unlikely to ever go out of style, even if its production code adherence slightly dates it.

Sony's long-awaited Blu-ray debut sports a fine feature presentation, adds a good new graphics-in-picture track and nifty lobby card reproductions, and retains everything but a trailer from its DVD release. While it's not unreasonable to expect a little more from a film of such stature, this release is easily sturdy and low-priced enough to warrant a place among the classics in your Blu-ray collection.

Buy From Here to Eternity from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD / Superbit DVD / Instant Video

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Reviewed September 27, 2013.



Text copyright 2013 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1953 Columbia Pictures Corporation and 2013 Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
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