Overlord Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review
Soldiers march. Horses carry troops. Trucks carry heavy artillery. A plane flies overhead. War is at hand and an invasion looms. And the boys under helmets, holding guns and cruising towards the beach, show no expression on their faces.
One of them is Thomas Beddows (Brian Stirner, who played Léon Dupuis on the 1975 BBC miniseries MADAME BOVARY), who envisions his own inevitable death. He has gone off to fight in World War II for the British, and even though his father is a veteran, his only advice to his child is, “Good luck, son.”
He gets examined, takes a thin bed, follows every order with a “Yes, sir” and goes through the necessary training, just like the rest. “What are you gonna do when all this is over?” asks one of his fellow recruits, who proceeds to tell of his plans. Tom gives the best answer he can: “I don’t know.” Even when he meets a girl (Julie Neesam, the 1978 short film PANIC) at a bar, his plans seem made. War will be a part of him for the rest of his life, just as it’s a part of him before he even gets to the camp, as illustrated in a wonderfully edited sequence that cuts between the sounds of Tom’s train chugging toward his fate and those of a warplane’s gunfire.
Tom may be the main character, but he is not in every scene. That is because director Stuart Cooper (1974’s LITTLE MALCOLM which, like OVERLORD, won the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival) utilizes documentary and archival footage (provided by England’s Imperial War Museum) that, of course, doesn’t feature Stirner. (Cooper also incorporated the diaries of soldiers to add to the authenticity.)
That’s one of the key points of OVERLORD, which takes its title from the code name for the Normandy Invasion: that a man, no matter how big of a character to some, is just another body when it comes to war. At its core, OVERLORD isn’t about Tom, but about what he represents. Imagine just how many letters were sent back home that must have contained words similar to Tom’s own: “I don’t think I shall live to see the end of this war…This war has killed so many people already. I’m just going to be another.”
Although there are many moments of extreme darkness such as Tom’s recitation of the aforementioned letter, Cooper also manages to incorporate a dark sense of humor that supports the ideas presented in what is undoubtedly his masterpiece. As troops head in, tanks roll on, newspaper boys pass out news and ships drop into the water, a delightful melody plays—only it contains the following ominous lyrics: “We don’t know where we’re going until we’re there/There’s lots and lots of rumors in the air/We heard the captain say we’re on the move today/We only hope the blinking sergeant-major knows the way/They chased us round and round the barracks square/And now we’re on the road to anywhere/No one’s in the know, we’re singing as we go/Oh, we don’t know where we’re going until we’re there.”
Good luck, son.
OVERLORD CRITERION COLLECTION BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: 1.66:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. “Supervised by director Stuart Cooper, this high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit DataCine form a 35 mm fine-grain master positive. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, and scratches were manually removed using MTI’s DRS, while Apple’s Shake was used to reduce film jitter.”
Considering the method in which OVERLORD was made (the blending of archival footage and new material), the overall quality is far from flawless. Much of the archival material looks like just that, and so it’s very grainy, shows wear and contains numerous scratches. The footage shot strictly for OVERLORD, however, looks incredible, boasts excellent clarity and features fine details and textures.
Audio: English Mono. “The original monaural soundtrack was mastered at 24-bit from the 35 mm magnetic stems. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.”
The audio transfer is more balanced and features clear dialogue, powerful sound effects and an effective Paul Glass score
Audio commentary featuring Stuart Cooper and actor Brian Stirner: In this track, Stuart and Cooper reminisce about the production of OVERLORD, touching on the use of unknown actors, the archival footage, the score and much more.
Mining the Archive (23:25): Imperial War Museum archivists Roger Smither and Anna Fleming discuss the content of the museum’s footage and its usage in OVERLORD
Soldiers’ Journals: Included here with an Introduction by Stuart Cooper (2:24) is audio of Stirner reading from the journals of two World War II soldiers, Sergeant Edward Robert McCosh (8:44) and Sergeant Finlay Campbell (12:04).
Capa Influences Cooper (8:01): This photo essay features narration by Cooper over the work of famed photographer Robert Capa, whose D-Day images were an influence on the director.
GERMANY CALLING (2:06): This 1941 propaganda film, which pokes fun at the Nazis, was featured in OVERLORD.
CAMERAMEN AT WAR (14:44): Produced by the British Ministry of Information, this 1943 film highlights the work of newsreel cameramen during wartime.
A TEST OF VIOLENCE (14:17): Cooper’s 1969 short film about Spanish artist Juan Genovés.
Also included with this Criterion Collection release is a 28-page booklet featuring an essay by critic Kent Jones, a short history of the Imperial War Museum and excerpts from the OVERLORD novelization by Cooper and co-screenwriter Christopher Hudson.