Wednesday, March 21, 2018

ACES HIGH (1976) (Umbrella DVD Review)

ACES HIGH (1976) 

Label: Umbrella Entertainment
Region Code: Region Free (NTSC) 
Rating: M
Duration: 109 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.77:1) 
Director: Jack Gold
Cast: Christopher Plummer, Malcolm McDowell, Sir John Gielgud, Ray Milland, Peter Firth

Set in 1916 during WWI Aces High (1976) starring Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange) follows a week or so in the life of a group of pilots in the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), beginning with the arrival of fresh-faced recruit Lieutenant Croft (Peter Firth, Life Force) who has had all of fifteen hours of air-time prior to his assignment, much to the chagrin of squadron leader Major John Gresham (McDowell), not just because he's woefully inexperienced, but because he's familiar with the new recruit, having dated his older sister back in college. 

The film deals with the tension among the pilots, many of whom drink away their fears and worries, numbing them to the realities of war. Gresham is an experienced combat pilot, an ace pilot but also suffering from the anxiety of war, not helping is that new recruits have a week long life expectancy, and young Croft idolizes him, adding further tension to the already Hell-ish wartime scenario. McDowell and Firth were quite good, if a bit stodgy, but maybe that's just because they're English upper crust, and Sir Christopher Plummer  is also great as a reassuring veteran figure, but it's the aerial battles that are the most engaging aspect of the movie. The  air battle action is captured with vintage WWI-looking aircraft engaged in dogfights and buzzing each other with strafing gunfire was actually quite well done, I found myself craning my neck in response to the imagined g-force of the acrobatic plane stunt work, which were very well shot. Some of the most effective dramatic moments are captured in the cockpits as the pilots bare witness to the carnage of aerial battle, pilots engulfed if flames, and wing men bloodily shot my machine gun fire, with the final reel of the film being particularly powerful, both in terms of dramatic weight and carnage, with one final and haunting gut-punch. 

Audio/Video: Aces High (1976) arrives on region-free (though labeled region 4) DVD from Umbrella Entertainment framed in anamorphic widescreen 1.77:1, the source looks to be a well-worn print with lots of specks, scratches and grit evident throughout though it's the first reel that's most affected by print damage. Colors are drab and the image soft, further marred by some of the worst aliasing I've seen in the modern age on a home video release (just check out those jagged edges on the title card). The English Dolby Digital mono audio is serviceable, not a lot of separation or subtlety, and no subtitles are provided. This is a bare bones release with no extras, the film starts-up without a menu as soon as you pop the disc in. 

Special Features: None 

Aces High (1976)is not an overly powerful wartime dramatic film, but as a WWI film dealing with the tension and horror of war it's a good watch, highlighted by some truly fantastic aerial battle scenes that make up for it's dramatic shortcomings. The video presentation from Umbrella is not all that I would have hoped for, but at least I was able to check this off my to-watch list. 


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