'Saints and Soldiers' DVD Review *** 092905

The Work = ***
'Saints and Soldiers' is an enjoyable enough World War II film that follows a group of Allied soldiers trapped behind enemy lines. The film is truly remarkable for how it was made. It was shot for under a million dollars in Utah. Reenactors and collectors make up the extras and supplied many of the vehicles and some of the weapons and wardrobe. Director and cinematographer Ryan Little does an impressive job handling both tasks and shows he can handle the action and the drama equally well. The script leaves something to be desired falling back on one too many clichés and some of the actors seem like they are in a bit over their head. Still this indy’ flic’ works overall and plays a bit like a slight episode of the excellent series 'Band of Brothers'.

In the world of so-called independent cinema there is one sub genre that is often overlooked: religious films. More recently they have come into the spotlight thanks to the crazy success of Mel Gibson’s 'Passion of the Christ' flic’. I probably wouldn’t have been so aware of the genre were it not for film author and producer John Pierson. I may have the details wrong but he had a show that (I think I have this right) was called 'Split Screen' and aired on the IFC Channel. In a particular episode he opened my eyes to the genre with a story he did on it.

Since then I have kind of kept my eye out for films of the genre out of curiosity. What would qualify as a religious independent film in my mind is one that puts the message of faith or spreading the message of a faith first as say a central theme and builds around that. Certainly, this is not set in stone and I am by no means a film scholar, I’m just a dork writing reviews. Besides religious symbolism is a staple of a large percentage of cinema if not all of it. Films like those by Martin Scorsese and Abel Ferrera are often heavy with Catholic imagery.

The interesting thing about religious independent cinema is it never really has to reach for mainstream audiences. They generally know their target audience and play to it. If it is a film made by and for say, born again Christians than that is the audience that the producers are concerned with, everyone else is a bonus. This is no different for any other genre of cinema, like say romantic comedies targeted at 30 something’s. I bring this up because 'Saints and Soldiers' is one film that crosses over and plays to wide audiences as well as having some not so subtle elements that play to the religious fan base. To get even more finicky, it is a member of a specific genre of religious film: LDS films or Mormon films.

Although it is never exactly stated in the movie, one of the main characters Deacon’ played by Corbin Allred, would seem to be a Mormon. He mentions being a missionary, doesn’t drink or smoke, and drinks hot lemonade instead of coffee. Since this film was made by a studio that only makes religious cinema that was no doubt a starting point or at least a hook for this film. That should not be held against 'Saints and Soldiers'. (Depending how much you want to read into the title, that in and of itself could be a bit of a play on words.) The film holds its own and really only the clichés of the script are what keeps it from being a better movie. Recommended.

DVD = ***

The Look
'Saints and Soldiers' gets a solid 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The film looks great on DVD and in fact looks like it was made for a lot more money than it was. The film uses that sort of now default World War II movie look of washed out colors and high contrasts that became popular after Spielberg’s flic, 'Saving Private Ryan'.

The Audio
Much like the transfer the audio adds to the illusion of 'Saints and Soldiers' having had a much larger budget than it did. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 2.0 track and optional subtitle track. For the most part this movie sounds great on DVD.

The Bonus
The film’s theatrical trailer, a commentary track and a featurette are the bonus features available on the DVD. The commentary has Little, producer Adam Abel and co-writer Matt Whitaker talking together about the movie. It is complement heavy and a bit info light. Still the group does offer occasionally interesting tidbits here and there. For instance, Whitaker a mentions a couple of aspects of the story that were taken from real stories from soldiers. The three hit on how important it was to make this movie PG-13 so kids can see what their grandparents and great grandparents went through. This is also mentioned in the featurette and I must say I don’t really agree with it.

Sanitizing war so someone can see what it is like is in itself a contradiction. I can understand wanting to let young people see the sacrifice but there are mediums and ways of presenting the material without turning it into a cartoon. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen for the most part in the film Saints and Soldiers. It has been mentioned that the lack of blood is noticeable onscreen by some critics but I don’t necessarily agree. To my mind the small puffs of dust that spray when characters are shot onscreen look not that afar from what the real thing often looked like. Yes, some moments that would have been more graphic in real life are restrained or not shown altogether but it is not overly noticeable and there is in fact blood present in the movie.

Getting off my tangent and back to the featurette it is an enjoyable enough but very light look at some of the making of 'Saints and Soldiers'. It covers a wide ground but much like the commentary is kinda’ info light and doesn’t really mention LDS cinema. I think that is a shame because the religious element is certainly an important aspect in this film’s production and acknowledging it would not hurt the film in anyway. It’s a minor point but one I noticed. Finally the film’s trailer rounds out the brief features and looks pretty good.

All together = ***
'Saints and Soldiers' is a pretty solid war film that falls back one too many movie clichés but still comes off pretty good. Knowing how the film was made definitely added to my appreciation of it. Watching the featurette and seeing just how very young most of those involved in the production were makes it seem even more impressive. 'Saints and Soldiers' has its problems but I still enjoyed it. Those that are into War and/ or LDS cinema will definitely want to give it a try. Recommended.


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