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M*A*S*H
DVD disk
Oct 6, 2004 By: Tony Pacemaker
M*A*S*H order
Director:
Robert Altman

Actors:
Donald Sutherland
Elliot Gould
Tom Skerritt

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
This movie is about the antics and drama that occur at a U.S. Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War. It primarily centers around the activities of three surgeons, Hawkeye, Trapper John, and Duke Forrest.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
M*A*S*H is a classic. It was an anti-war movie that came out during the Vietnam conflict, a conflict that many in the U.S. strongly opposed. It uses dark humor to demonstrate how absurd war is, and gives you an interesting look at an aspect of battle that we often don’t see—the surgeons helping the wounded. This is not about the violence of human conflict, but rather, the aftermath. And while it is easy to understand how one might go mad or morally corrupt from such experiences, the characters in this story have found their own unique way of handling the hardships.

Visually, this movie lets you know constantly where it takes place and the real purpose of the M*A*S*H unit. You see the tents, and the crude living arrangements for folks who normally live quite well. You also see them operating on patients in less than ideal situations, having to make very tough choices very quickly. On top of that, they have to deal with the rigidity that is the standard operating procedure of the United States military. And somehow, in spite of all this, they manage to turn the unit into a virtual frat house. And the viewer can sympathize. The emotions these folks experience in the film are very real and understandable. And that might be why the movie was so successful and inspired one of the most popular TV shows in history.
THE EXTRAS
Disk 1- Directory Commentary by Robert Altman: This commentary has the ever-continuing trend of the director merely repeating the information he gives during his interviews for the documentaries. And there was an annoying amount of dead air as well. But I did get a kick from (and it is very evident during this commentary and at other points during the DVD extras) the fact that Altman did not like the TV series of M*A*S*H. He refers to it scornfully as “that series” or “that show”. Well, Mr. Altman, sorry ace, you are in the minority there.

Backstory- M*A*S*H: A brief documentary that outlines the history of the movie. All the information presented in this feature is presented in even more detail in the features on disk 2. It has interviews with the producers, the cast, and Altman. (About 22 minutes)

This disk also has a theatrical trailer, a still gallery, and the THX Opt-mode.

Disk 2- Enlisted: The Story of M*A*S*H: This documentary featurette gives a little bit more detail then the behind-the-scenes featurette on Disk 1. You begin to really get a sense of the sort of director Altman is as well as the interpersonal relationships he had with the producers, the screenwriter, and the cast. You also may begin to realize that the process and style of making this film is ultimately what eventually sold it, and that everyone thought (or thinks) that Altman is crazy, and that sort of pisses him off. And you also get to hear Sally Kellerman talk about her nude scene and you get a discussion of the “suicide is painless song”. Pretty decent stuff. (About 40 minutes)

M*A*S*H: Comedy Under Fire: Another documentary featurette, somewhat of a continuation of the one mentioned above. I found this one to actually be more interesting as it discussed the real M*A*S*H units during the Korean War. You get to find out about how the characters in the movie compare to the real life army personnel from that time period, as well as the actual folks that were inspirations for the characters themselves. Audience reaction is also discussed here, as well as the TV show. (About 45 minutes)

30th Anniversary M*A*S*H Cast Reunion: This is the Fox Movie Channel’s presentation of a special they put together when they awarded Altman with the Fox Studio’s lifetime achievement award. You get to see him get the award, then there is a roundtable discussion of the film with the cast, which really doesn’t present that much new information from the above mentioned two documentaries, but ever present is the dynamic of how everyone in the cast and crew now feels about the movie, as well as how they feel about each other (And it ain’t all warn fuzzies, either). Mysteriously absent? Donald Sutherland, Robert Duvall and virtually anyone from the TV show. (About 30 minutes)

Film Restoration: They have some text written about the restoration process, both visual and audio, as well as “before and after” split screens so you can see how much the restoration improved the print, and how ultimately valuable this process is for preservation of movies (about 15 minutes).

Finally, each disk has the option of changing the menu background and audios by selecting options such as “Burns” or “Swamp”. The background picture will change to what you select and the audio is the dialogue from that part of the film.

Bonus Prescription: Just like getting the Victoria’s Secret catalogue in the mail...easter eggs! There maybe more, but I only found one: On disc 1, special features menu— Keep clicking to the right until you see a yellow helicopter appear on Hawkeye’s arm. It’s a trailer in Spanish! Yippee!
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
M*A*S*H has a surprisingly real feel to it, very satirical and very dark. It’s not exactly a comedy and not exactly a drama, and neither is life, which makes this film quite enduring. The audio and visual transfer is decent. The extras reminded me that I am always fascinated by the story behind a movie of this magnitude, and how the cast and crew feel about that. The reactions are not what you might expect, and the creation of the movie was not a bed or roses, either. And that sort of drama always makes for good TV.
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