The Great Train Robbery

After “Westworld” and “Coma,” writer-director Michael Crichton tackled this elaborate period piece about the great train robbery of England in 1855. Based on his best-selling novel which took extensive dramatic license, “The Great Train Robbery” tells the tale of three men who conspire to steal a gold shipment off a moving train destined for France.


greattrainCrichton takes great pains to recreate the era, succeeding by filming most of the exteriors in Ireland. Crichton chose Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland to head up his mostly English and Irish cast. The two played the leaders of a small band of thieves who come up with an ingenious plan to swipe the gold.

They use assistant Lesley-Anne Down as a sexual distraction while they gather the necessary tools needed for the assignment. The tools in question happen to be the set of four keys necessary to open the strong boxes on the train. The film comes alive during this tricky maneuver, and then steams right along during the actual robbery. “The Great Train Robbery” is a handsome film, filled with exquisite period detail and stunning costume design. The performers are admirable, especially Connery as the noble thief and Down as the woman of many disguises.

COMPLETE CHECK-UP

VISION: [ ] EXCELLENT [ ] GOOD [ ] RESUSCITATE [ x ] D.O.A.

Just dreadful. The person who mastered the digital transfer needs glasses. At first I wasn’t sure if the fuzzy scenes were just a bi-product of poor film stock. Then came chapter seventeen, and a night scene between Connery and another man almost disintegrated on the screen there was so much noise and artifacts. There’s no problem with the extremely well lit scenes, or the outdoor ones, but all of the soft focus scenes (and there are a lot of them) are grainy and distracting. Faces become muddy, and all depth is lost. The original negative also presents some problems, including specks and even a line in one scene. While the transfer maintains the film’s 1.85:1 aspect ratio, what good is it if half of what’s on the screen looks bad? Unfortunately, “The Great Train Robbery” was director of cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth’s last film. Even though the film is dedicated to him, his last effort deserves much more respect on DVD.

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The newly re-mastered 5.1 Dolby Digital surround captures all of the action and excitement with gusto. Jerry Goldsmith’s playful score sounds delicious. Wish I could say the same for some of the dialogue. While the mix improves as the film progresses, some of the opening dialogue is hard to hear without cranking up the volume. Whether this was a conscious decision while originally mixing the film or misdirection of signal, it’s annoying nonetheless. For a good laugh, check out the French language track. The voices used to dub Connery and Sutherland are truly comical.

ORAL: [ x ] EXCELLENT [ ] GOOD [ ] RESUSCITATE [ ] D.O.A.

“The Great Train Robbery” features English, French and Spanish subtitles.

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Most MGM DVD’s come with an informative eight-page booklet, and “The Great Train Robbery” is no exception. Filled with interesting facts and a short history lesson on the subject, the booklet is a nice addition. Then there’s the alternate track audio commentary by writer-director Crichton, which was taped in 1996. Crichton is a real chatty Kathy, and barely takes time to breathe as he recalls the problems that plagued the production. You learn some interesting things about Crichton, like he hates horses, and labels heavyset women beached whales with layers of blubber. As Arte Johnson once said, “Very interesting.” I found it interesting that Crichton, a yank, failed to get any respect from his Irish and English crews until he showed them a copy of his last film, “Coma.” It seems they wouldn’t take the 35 year-old director seriously, especially someone so young from America trying to tell one of their most famous stories. Crichton also laments about the lack of computer technology available at the time, and how it prevented him from composing a tricky shot. The DVD also features interactive menus, scene selection, and the original theatrical trailer.

PROGNOSIS: [ ] EXCELLENT [ ] GOOD [ x ] RESUSCITATE [ ] D.O.A.

This patient needs to go back to the emergency room to help patch up some serious problems with vision.

VITALS: $24.98/Rated PG/111 Min./Color/28 Chapter Stops/Keepcase/#907149

ATTENDING RESIDENT: John Larsen

PATIENT: THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY

BIRTH DATE: 1978

HMO: MGM Home Entertainment



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