Sunday, January 13, 2008

[DVD] The Trench (1999)


The Battle of the Somme was one of the largest in WWI, and the first day saw the infliction of the worst ever casualties on the British army, with almost some 20,000 deaths amongst 60,000 casualties. But don't expect to see plenty of post-Saving Private Ryan styled action sequences as made famous by the Spielberg movie, but The Trench offers a much more realistic look at life in the ditches of soldiers back in those days.

Some things still hold true though, that in the army, it's a constant rush to wait, followed by the wait to rush, and the cycle continues. We are introduced early to a platoon given the task of holding the frontlines, with the vague hope that should the order be given to charge, they will be amongst the last to leave the trench because of their front line duty. But as we all know, things in the army are subjected to change, and soon enough, fear sets in as the order gets given.

Mention the word "trench" to any infantry soldier, and you can look at the face of dread as a lot of manpower is required to dig one entire network of trenches, with provisions for quarters (for those with rank) and provisions and supplies. What made The Trench shine, are the characterization, even though at times it bothered on the edge of become caricatures. For example, the officer in charge (played by Julian Rhind-Tutt) is often seen as inexperienced and incompetent, while the sergeant is a hard nosed bloke who takes no bullshit (hey, it's Daniel Craig in the role!)

We learn, if you do not know, why mundane things like polishing boots, and drills, still become enforced in the claustrophobic surroundings, more so of allowing the men to keep their minds of dread and the impending potential of death, and we peer into the minds behind those men in preparing for combat. Moments of folly lead to unnecessary sacrifice, while bravado gets exposed as a masking of underlying cowardice. While it seemed to have been filmed within a studio, the wonderful cast (see if you can spot Cilian Murphy!) still managed to bring out immense fear of the unknown, and while there are the expected tussles and difference in opinion, you can't help but smile at the select few who constantly choose to look at the side of optimism.

The Trench evokes emotions and thoughts that it is after all, an anti-war movie, that seeks to honor the men who have given the prime of their lives for a cause they do not fully understand (they were mostly volunteers, not conscripts, back in those days). It's a war movie no doubt, but one where you are given generous in-depth look at the dreadfulness, and the senselessness of it all.

This region free DVD by BFS Video is presented in full screen format. Only English audio is available, and it comes without subtitles. Visual transfer is decent, and the movie is split into 6 chapters for scene selection.

Most of the Special Features are mainly text based. Cast Biographies are available for Paul Nicolls, Daniel Craig, Julian Rhind-tutt, Danny Dyer, Anthony Strachan, Tam Williams, James D'Arcy and Ciaran McMenamin. Crew Profiles include writer-director william boyd, producer Steve Clark-Hall, DoP Tony Pierce-Roberts, editor Jim Clark, casting director Mary Selway and music composers Evelyn Glennie & Greg Malcangi. Short Production Notes Are given by director william boyd, producer steve clark-hall, and the cast of Daniel Craig. Paul Nicholls, James D'Arcy, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Tam Williams, and Danny Dyer, as they share some insights into the making of the movie.

There's only one notable documentary which encompass elements of WWI, introducing us to key battlegrounds as well as, given the titular subject, shows us how on paper a trench is supposed to be like, of course theoretically, versus what is actually on the ground as built and maintained by tired soldiers. For those fascinated by the tactics of warfare in those days, then this 48 minute documentary must not be missed.

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