For one reason or another We Were Soldiers is a movie which I had never seen prior to this Blu-Ray release hitting my desk. As an action movie fan this has been a movie on my list of things to see for a number of years. We Were Soldiers is the 2002 movie directed by Randall Wallace, and starring Mel Gibson, which details one of the most brutal battles of the Vietnam War. The movie is based upon the novel We Were Soldiers... And Young.
On Sunday, November 14, 1965 at 10:48 a.m., Lt. Col. Hal Moore and his young troopers touched down at Landing Zone X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley, a place in Vietnam known as "The Valley of Death". A man of his word, Lt. Col. Moore set foot on the field of battle first only to find himself, and approximately 400 of his men, surrounded by roughly 2000 North Vietnamese soldiers. The ensuing battle was one of the most savage in U.S. history, and the first major encounter between the soldiers of North Vietnam and America.
Despite that, We Were Soldiers remains a gripping story about what the Vietnam war was like. While not quite as good as Platoon, I did feel that this was one of the most authentic recreations of the war, and indeed in the audio commentary the speakers do mention how much time went into making the movie as realistic as possible with the soldiers even dying in the same manner as occurred real life. I can imagine this movie would be quite haunting for any Vietnam veteran to watch.
At times confusing on the battlefield, this only manages to heighten the tension in the movie. I've actually read some reviews that the violence is excessive in this movie. All I can is screw that. War isn't a sugar-coated sweet romp through the jungles. It is violent. It is terrible. It is gory. Get used to it. If you want lollipops go watch Sgt Bilko instead.
We Were Soldiers is one of the most gripping, engaging and haunting war movies in recent times. The acting, across the board from the main cast to the smaller extras, all put in wonderful performance. If you like action movies the this is one to check out.
Unlike the American Blu-Ray release of this movie through Paramount which uses the MPEG-2 codec, the Australian release of We Were Soldiers has been given an AVC MPEG-4 transfer. During the movie the bitrate remains extremely high, often well above 40Mbps according to the PS3's on-screen realtime info. For the most part the image looks extremely sharp with great colouring and contrast levels and solid detail in darker scenes. Much of the movie takes place on the battlefield with debris flying in all directions, and the Blu-Ray handles this with ease. We also received a DVD version of this movie to check out and can say that the Blu-Ray version is superior in every single way.
Having said that there are a couple of small issues. While certainly intentional there is a large amount of grain in this film. It gives the movie a documentary styled feel, but the levels of grain are inconsistent between scenes which makes it more noticeable. There is also some very obvious CG used in the movie, including on shot with a row of choppers heading towards the camera between 44:47 and 44:54, and it does take you out of the movie for a few moments.
We Were Soldiers comes to Blu-Ray with three audio options. Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo at 224kbps, Dolby Digital 5.1 EX at 640kbps and DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 which has a variable bitrate as per the format (but at its minimum remains above 2.2Mbps). Being such a recent movie there is aggressive use of surround sound channels, and solid use of the sub-woofer.
If there is one issue it is that at times I did find the dialogue a little hard to understand, it was a little muffled, and in the confusion of battles even harder to understand. This is particularly true of Sam Elliott as Sgt. Maj. Basil Plumley who mumbles some of his lines, but Mel Gibson also has a few lines which are a little hard to understand.
There is only one subtitle track available on this disc, that being English Hard of Hearing. Sampling this track made demonstrated its accuracy to the dialogue on, and off, screen although there has been the odd word modified here and there.
Getting it Right (25:34): A nice documentary about the production of this movie. More then your average EPK this is quite interesting and worth a look. As with most other Icon Blu-Ray releases this featurette is presented in standard definition, but framed within a border with the menu displayed rather then full screen.
Review By: Dave Warner