The Archivist — Welcome to the Archive. As home video formats have evolved over the years, a multitude of films have found themselves in danger of being forgotten forever due to their niche appeal. Thankfully, Warner Bros. established the Archive Collection, a Manufacture-On-Demand DVD operation devoted to thousands of idiosyncratic and ephemeral works of cinema. The Archive has expanded to include a streaming service, revivals of out-of-print DVDs, and factory-pressed Blu-rays. Join us as we explore this treasure trove of cinematic discovery!
Equal parts The Great Escape and The Longest Yard, John Huston’s 1981 film strikes an unusual balance by being both a sports film and a war film, and succeeding a both. The WWII-set tale, which is fictional, imagines a propaganda soccer match between the Nazi Germany’s national team and a ragtag group of Allied POWs.
The matchup is the brainstorm of the POW camp’s facilitator and former soccer player, Major Karl Von Steiner (Max von Sydow), who’s intrigued to learn than a famous English footballer, Capt. Colby (Michael Caine), is among the prisoners under his supervision. Colby has organized the soccer play that serves as the prisoners’ exercise. Von Steiner is a German officer, but also a sportsman in his heart, and admittedly a great admirer of his own famous prisoner, whom he views as a peer.
Also among the prisoners are an American captain (Sylvester Stallone), who participates in the games but whose only skill lies in boasting, and a talented Brazilian (soccer legend Pelé), who is clearly the prison’s best player.
The film follows a trio of different subplots which eventually tie together. After months of preparation, Capt. Hatch (Stallone) is nearly ready to enact a clever ploy to escape. Meanwhile prison’s soccer squad is training for their exhibition match against the German national team, determined to make a strong showing in what will in all probability be a rigged, lopsided propaganda event. Recognizing that the stadium match will represent an unprecedented escape opportunity, compassionate escape planners both inside and outside the camp work to devise how they might actually spring the entire team. A truly lovely aspect of the film is how the prisoners work together to try to secure each others’ freedom even at personal risk and cost, and some of the film’s most compelling acts of heroism are the sacrifices made in this respect.
The sport aspect of the soccer match, which comprises approximately the last third of the film, is incredible as well. Many professional footballers were hired to fill out the cast of players, and some of the plays featured are so logistically complex that they can’t possibly have been scripted. I have to imagine the crew shot a lot of real gameplay footage and reaped the benefit of the lucky accidents that occurred. Compelling slow motion photography is used effectively to heighten the drama of key moments.
Overexplaining the specifics of what the match and the film so amazing can only underserve the actual experience of it, so I’ll close with this: the final act and climax plays are inspiring and even surprising, with the players making distinct choices which explores the idea of what “victory” can mean.
My heart is full.
Pretty much your standard Blu-ray package — poster-based cover art and blue case.
Special Features & Extras
Unfortunately there aren’t any supplemental featurettes or interviews, which would’ve been welcome given the film’s international cast of actors and athletes.
Theatrical Trailer (2:30)
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Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.