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Armored Attack / The North Star (Blu-ray Review)

Armored-AttackToday we have an interesting circumstance.  Something that doesn’t really happen frequently anymore.  A film that was cut because of its message and redistributed to try and look like it had a different one.  Olive Films is releasing Lewis Milestone’s The North Star, but under its other title Armored Attack.  Don’t worry, both films come with this release and have been given fresh high definition transfers.  Armored Attack is the 1957 reissue of The North Star that featured a less positive focus on the Russian uprising as they were now American enemies of the time.  Its finale features a narration about Hungarians fighting the Red Army during the Hungarian uprising of 1956 instead of what it really is…Soviets rising up against Nazi soldiers.

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Film 

During school break, a group of friends living in a Ukrainian village decide to go to Kiev for the holiday.   Their trip is cut short and interrupted by an attack from the Germans. Unfortunately, their village ends up getting taken over by the Nazis during their invasion of the Soviet Union.  The villagers end up taking to the woods and hiding.  Meanwhile the Nazis begin using the left behind village children’s blood to transfuse to their soldiers resulting in the deaths of the children.  The villagers then band together to start an uprising against the Nazis and take their village back.

As controversial as this film was under The North Star iteration, it was nominated for six Academy Awards.  Most of them were technical, but they did get one for screenplay.  And I must say I was pretty impressed with the techs of the movie.  There are many shootouts in this film that hold up and are quite impressive, even moreso if you think of the time they filmed this.  They are well choreographed and photographed with some pretty good effect work.  A modern day viewer could easily be on the edge of their seats with action film-type thrills.

If you’re going to watch the film, bypass Armored Attack and just do The North Star.  There are 30 minutes different between them and it wasn’t just fat getting trimmed.  It was important character and story chunks that got removed.  We don’t even begin the film until the Nazis arrive.  It just doesn’t want to glorify the villagers, who are the main characters and driving force of the film and has hacked it to make them seem less and a different people.  If you’re a student of film, it makes for an interesting study to hold the two versions up next to each other, but if you’re just a avid movie watcher and want something classic, stick to The North Star.

This is definitely a film that has the balls to be a little bit ahead of its time.  It has a pretty engaging set of characters whom we get the emotional gut punch when bad things begin to happen to them.  I was excited to see a young Farley Granger here and he does not disappoint.  What surprised me most was how well done the action sequences were done.  This is a pretty nice little piece of wartime cinema that has sort of been hidden, but hopefully can find the light again with this release.

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Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1:37.1

Clarity/Detail: This is a solid, lightly detailed picture.  In some moments it impresses, and a few moments its just “eh”.  The sharpness is rather average, and has many spots where it goes soft.

Depth: There is some really good depth about 3/4 in during a shootout in the woods.  The distance between shooters as well as their placement in the environment the firefight is taking place in has a real good near-far ratio.

Black Levels: Black levels are ideal.  Some very minor crushing does occur.

Color Reproduction: N/A

Flesh Tones: N/A

Noise/Artifacts:  There is definitely some print damage to this one.  Plenty of grain, specs, scratches and streaks as well as some light flickering.  On shaded and blackened areas it shows up heavily.

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Audio 

Audio Format(s): English Mono DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: N/A

Dynamics:  There is a noticeable, but kept to a minimal volume hiss that comes with the source audio.  Aside from that, the track is rather impressive and features plenty of loud distinct noises during action sequences.  Everything is moderately balanced and effectively displayed.

Low Frequency Extension: N/A

Surround Sound Presentation: N/A

Dialogue Reproduction:  For the most part, the dialogue is clear with a good level in the mix.  However, at times it does get swept up and blended with the hiss I mentioned earlier.

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Extras 

Say whaaaa???? And Olive Films release with bonus material?  Oh yeah, sometimes it DOES happen!

The North Star (HD, 1:46:16) – The original cut is considered a bonus feature, even though its the real version of the film.

Radio (SD, 29:47) – A radio production of the film featuring the original cast.

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Summary 

Olive Films gives you a solid release of Armored Attack.  The best part of the release is that you don’t have to watch Armored Attack, but can watch the original cut of the film.  You also get a neat radio play version as a bonus.  The presentation of the film is pretty solid too.  Its an interesting film with surprisingly well done action sequences for the time.  If you’re on the fence about this one, hop down and pick it up.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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