On January 22nd, two movies filmed in Ultra Panavision and presented in Cinerama were released on Blu-ray, with It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963) receiving significant attention.
The other movie, Khartoum (1966), is a less successful but intriguing historical epic portraying Britain’s equivalent to America’s Alamo.
Blu-ray Review: Khartoum
If released in 1956, Khartoum would likely have been regarded as an intelligent and intimate epic compared to the prevalent, superficial CinemaScope spectacles of the 1950s.
However, being released ten years later, the overshadowing presence of David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (1962) inevitably led to unfavorable comparisons for Khartoum.
Despite being primarily a British production, Khartoum is remembered as one of the first in a series of unsuccessful Cinerama roadshows, marking the decline of this exhibition format and historical epics in general.
Nevertheless, Khartoum does have its merits, including a vast and intensely personal conflict, impressive second unit work by Yakima Canutt, and its foresight regarding the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.
While some performances are mesmerizing, Charlton Heston’s portrayal of Gen. Charles “Chinese” Gordon is considered one of his least captivating within the genre.
Twilight Time has acquired the rights to the original United Artists release from MGM, offering high-definition results that, while not as exceptional as It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, are still of good quality, accompanied by several intriguing special features.
Also, see DVD Review: “Hollow Triumph” (1948)
In the historical epic “Khartoum,” more than 10,000 British-led Egyptian troops face a tragic fate at the hands of an army led by Sudanese Arab Muhammad Ahmad, who perceives himself as the Mahdi, chosen to propagate radical Islam across the region.
Ahmad’s intention to set a harrowing example involves the destruction of the entire population of Khartoum, including moderate Sudanese and Egyptian Muslims not aligned with him, as well as non-Muslims.
The British Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone, hesitates to dispatch British troops to Khartoum to rescue the stranded individuals, instead opting to unofficially send celebrated war hero Gen Charles Gordon along with Egyptian troops.
Gordon’s mission is accompanied by Colonel J.D.H. Stewart, who is tasked with maintaining control over Gordon.
Formerly the Governor-General of Sudan, Gordon, who previously eradicated the slave trade in the region, is hailed as a savior upon his return, despite the dire situation as Khartoum is cut off from the rest of the world by Ahmad.
The screenplay by playwright-anthropologist Robert Ardrey portrays Gordon and the Mahdi as two devoted individuals willing to sacrifice themselves for the Greater Good.
However, Gordon’s character remains somewhat enigmatic in the film.
Laurence Olivier’s portrayal of Muhammad Ahmad draws comparisons to contemporary figures, and the British government’s interests in the region bear similarities to those of the United States.
However, the film’s direction and use of Ultra Panavision are criticized for lacking visual flair, with the pivotal moment based on General Gordon’s Last Stand being particularly disappointing and ineffectively edited.
Despite these shortcomings, the performances of Richard Johnson and Ralph Richardson are praised, and the film is noted for Yakima Canutt’s second unit work being more engaging than the main feature.
Twilight Time’s 1080p Blu-ray of Khartoum utilizes superior 65mm film elements, retaining the original overture, intermission break, entr’acte, and exit music.
With a runtime of 136 minutes, this version appears to be the most extended original cut of the film. The image quality is consistently strong, featuring detailed and vibrant colors.
However, the 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio lacks the directionality of the original 6-track magnetic stereo mix, raising questions about why MGM couldn’t use those sound elements given their existence.
The Blu-ray includes optional English subtitles, an original Cinerama release version trailer, an isolated music track, an audio commentary with film historians, and liner notes.
Despite being a profoundly flawed epic, the Blu-ray release allows for a fair assessment of the film’s ambitious yet imperfect qualities, presenting it to a broader audience.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Khartoum rates:
Supplements: Audio commentary, Cinerama release trailer, isolated score track, booklet.
Deaf and Hearing Impaired Friendly? Yes
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