Flags of Our Fathers

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The sound mix on Clint Eastwood's look at the WWII battle for Iwo Jima from the American perspective, "Flags of Our Fathers," a DreamWorks Home Entertainment Widescreen release (retail $29.99), is one of the best to come out of a major feature in 2006. Not only is there isolated surround activity and lots of directional effects, but the surround has almost as much bass to it as the front channels. The battle scenes are super, and yet they are not over-played as they might have been if this were an action film and not a drama. You aren't overwhelmed by the sound, and as a result you are far more affected by certain moments in it.

As most fans are probably aware, the 132-minute feature attempts to tell the "true story" behind the famous photograph of several Marines at Iwo Jima straining to raise an American flag from the rubble of the battle. Today the photograph is an iconic work of art that is of far greater emotional value than whatever circumstances led to its creation. At the time it appeared, however, it was a tremendous public relations coup for the military in helping rally the American public to support the final push needed to end the war without compromise. The film deals with that situation forthrightly, and its only real purpose as a movie is to tell the truth behind the legends. The truth, however, is always less interesting than legend, and you'd much more prefer to believe that it was John Wayne, his body riddled with bullets, who was pushing the flag upright with his last breath, or something like that. Instead, the flag was raised twice and the photo was taken the second time, with a subsequent confusion over which marines participated and which were captured in the photo. The film's first clearly spoken line of dialog is a politically charged bullet aimed directly at the contemporary politic ("Every jackass thinks he knows what war is. Especially those who've never been in one."), but somewhere in the confusion of the battle's aftermath, the film loses its way. There are two distinctive stories -- the battle, and the strain of the PR tour by the men said to have been in the photo -- and each is well told, but they are mixed together to create an artificial suspense over "what really happened," and the bookending narrative suggested by the movie's title -- the son of one of the men is researching the event -- is not as clearly delineated. Hence, the film never really manages to build to a satisfying climax at any point. It is interesting and it is worth seeing, but in its quest for a literal understanding of how the events unfolded, it doesn't really do the photo justice.

The letterboxing has an aspect ratio of about 2.35:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback. The picture is crisp and colors are accurate. In addition to the 5.1-channel English track, there is an alternate French track in 5.1 Dolby, and optional English and Spanish subtitles. There are no other special features, but it should be noted that the most compelling aspect of the movie, even more than its rousing audio track, is its advertising artwork, which is replicated both on the jacket and the Main Menu. It shows an image of the statue that was based upon the photo, with a flag unfolded and blowing in the direction it is being raised, again a sky of dark clouds that are shaped, well, like the drawings one sees in books of the initial part of the female reproductive system. If the movie had some other title, then the image wouldn't mean anything, but here it says a great deal about heritage and responsibility, and the movie, like the story it tells, never lives up to the subliminal power of the image.
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