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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer ( 1:04:19)
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital Stereo
  • Commentary - English: Dolby Digital Stereo
  • Commentary - English: Dolby Digital Stereo
  Subtitles
    English - Hearing Impaired
  Extras
  • 2 Audio commentary - Director + Writer and Producers
  • Music video - Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts 'Memorial Day'
  • DVD-ROM features - ATOM Study Guide, Actual documents
  • 2 Interviews - Ambon POWs Remember, Ray Martin with Bryan Brown and Russell Crowe
  • Documentaries - The Film's Journey
  • Web access - 6 website links
  • Dolby Digital trailer - Egypt

Blood Oath

Roadshow Entertainment/Roadshow Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 104 mins . M15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

When the film you’re reviewing stars Bryan Brown and Russell Crowe, you know you’re in for some Ocker stuff. Add to that an Australian World War II war crimes trial and Orstraylian actors from all over climb out of the woodwork to join in.

This 1990 effort sees the story of a prisoner of war camp on Ambon Island, Indonesia and the summary executions that occurred there near the end of World War II. Bryan and Russ play prosecuting army lawyers trying to get to the bottom of who ordered 315 Australian prisoners killed. George Takei (of Star Trek fame) plays the admiral under whose command the camp was at the time of the murders. With a comprehensive who’s who of supporting cast to bring the story out, the film steadily builds tension toward the final conclusion that we are expecting, but still wonder what form it will take.

Screenwriter Brian A. Williams discovered records in his father’s garage from the war and the trials in question. This documentation brought to light an inquiry that was actually the largest war crime trial in history, bigger than even the infamous Nuremberg trials. It has been told well and without prejudice as we hear both sides of the story. The cultures of Japan and Australia meet head on as both sides struggle to come to terms with the trial methods of the other.

It’s an ugly story and one that is interesting in the telling, though on an emotional level it doesn’t hit home quite as hard as it could have as they opt for more trial scenes than descriptive visuals of crimes. If courtroom dramas are your thing, then this will suit you to the ground as we are led through the trial from the exhumation of graves to the verdicts. However, while it begins rather well and gets the mood established early on, it begins to drag a little by the time an hour’s gone by and by then the story is flagging a little. Still, it is an unusual tale and the fact it is historically accurate adds a certain level to it that is hard to deny. It’s certainly acted well for the most part with a cast of people from all over the world, and should generally engross for all of its 104 minutes.

  Video
Contract

This is a real disappointment. What I thought was a flaw of a grainy compression in the night scenes actually works its way into most of the film, including daylit shots. Presented in its original theatrical aspect of 1.85:1 and 16:9 enhanced, it just doesn’t look anywhere near as good as it should, unfortunately. There are film artefacts in the shape of black specks and such floating around throughout, but none are very disruptive. There are also very, very limited instances of aliasing, but these are barely worth mentioning. The only other major flaw is in the same night shots of the deep black shadows that hide all details within.

Colours are all okay, though, and blacks are true. Flesh tones, an important feature of a film with so many nations represented, all look natural as well, though shiny with sweat. Finally, the layer change at 1:04:19 is the teensiest bit noticeable, right there in mid scene.

  Audio
Contract

Dolby Digital stereo is all we get and being a mostly dialogue-driven drama it’s all we need. Dialogue is all well spoken and includes several languages (with subtitles) that (although I didn’t have a clue what was being said) all sounded pretty clear to me.

Sound effects are limited, but sound fine when used. There are only a couple of loud or violent noises and these all sound quite clean. There was no unwanted background noise I could detect and for the most part the audio is fine. Music was scored for the film by David McHugh and is used cleverly and reflects the Asian setting well. I found this the nicest part of the soundscape actually, as it is even and well balanced and doesn’t dominate the action at all.

  Extras
Contract

This DVD is packed full of extras relating to the film and in some cases are actually just as good. Our first entrant is The Film’s Journey, a 4:3 documentary narrated by screenwriter Brian A. Williams. He discusses everything from finding the original documents among his father’s possessions to the film’s final completion. It’s a very well told narrative and is incredibly interesting as he gives backstories on characters in the film and the actors and crew. This is a long piece at 27:29 and has been made as an accompaniment to the film on DVD and is a very worthy inclusion.

Behind the Scenes is a short film made about the movie shot in 1989. There are some interesting old shots of Warner Brothers Studios on the Gold Coast before they became Movie World, when the whole area was hinterland and bush. It’s presented in 4:3 and runs for 17:04 and is very videotape grainy, but as the narrative says, they wanted to put it in because it’s basically the only behind the scenes footage they have. Although it’s soft around the edges and fairly dinged up, it’s still well worth the look in my humble opinion. It’s a nice inclusion with an affectionate narrative about its restoration from a mouldy old state.

11 minutes of interviews follow with Ambon POWs Remember. These are recent interviews with two very alert old blokes who were there and survived the horror camp. It’s again in 4:3 and contains some horrible stories told in that peculiar Aussie fashion of relatively good humour. Quite touching as well, without being syrupy.

Then our boy Ray Martin® interviews Bryan and Russell from just a couple years back when Russ had a fresh Oscar in his toilet. Thankfully this only runs for 3:42, because Ray is such a Ray. Happily he barely gets a well-sculpted word in. Then, while we’re on the local boys, Russell’s inimitable band Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts play a song (after Russ’s touching intro) entitled Memorial Day. I admire Russ’s devotion to his music and his band, but perhaps someone should tell him...

The only bits left to mention are the trailer, which they shouldn’t have bothered with as it’s only a minute 25 and in 4:3. Probably salvaged from the bowels of some television station somewhere, it’s all covered in artefact crap and all. There are also DVD-ROM features that I didn’t investigate, but the case claims they contain an ATOM Study Guide and actual documents, production notes and the Japanese veteran’s speech of apology. Plus, as if that’s not enough, six website links to various relative places, including: www.russellcrowe.com and www.gruntland.com. Gruntland. I’m so going there.

  Overall  
Contract

Previous to watching this film I had had no knowledge that such events had occurred. I’d always heard tales from old fellas I’ve known about the war and the Japanese, but they seemed like some distant daydream to a kid. Whilst this film is interesting and informative regarding this particular event, it still held that feeling to me of a distant time and far away, as if it could never have affected me.

I’m lucky in that I didn’t really know anyone close to me who served in the war or ended up in a place like this. I can only imagine the horrors of such events and believe in myself that we can’t allow things like this to happen again. It’s a terrible tragedy and one that does need to be told, if only to prevent it being forgotten by people like me, for whom the war was fought in the first place.

Whilst the film runs very similarly to a court, with evidence occuring incidentally and slowly as the story unfolds and the case builds, this prevents any prejudice and maintains an objectivity that is important in such a story. Some great early performances from Russ (in nerdy Brides of Christ mode) and Deborah Kara Unger, there are still plenty of recognisable faces among the crowd. This is a film that tells yet another story about Australians and their resilience during wartime, but also a story about a proud nation of ancient traditions and how they reflect upon modern society.

The extras go a long way toward repairing the damage wrought by the grainy transfer and, as a complete disc, this is fascinating and compelling viewing.


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      And I quote...
    "The story of the largest war crimes trial in history is brought to the screen with objectivity and without prejudice."
    - Jules Faber
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Nintaus DVD-N9901
    • TV:
          Sony 51cm
    • Receiver:
          Diamond
    • Speakers:
          Diamond
    • Surrounds:
          No Name
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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