4K ULTRA HD REVIEW
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD copy, 2016, R for intense, prolonged, graphic sequences of war violence; Streaming via Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes
Best extra: The making-of documentary "The Soul of War," featured on the 4K disc
FOR YEARS, the extraordinary gallantry of Private First Class Desmond T. Doss was kept quiet.
The son of a Seventh-day Adventist carpenter and factory worker in Lynchburg, Va., Doss only had an eighth-grade education. He worked at a lumberyard before packing his bags and taking a job at Newport News Shipbuilding during the wartime buildup. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the Army.
He was a "pure and remarkable spirit – a clean mountain air guy," British actor Andrew Garfield ("The Amazing Spider-Man") says during the documentary "The Soul of War." Garfield gives a passionate performance as Doss – the best of his career – earning an Oscar nomination as Best Actor. The poignant, real-life drama is also a Best Picture nominee and Mel Gibson, back behind the camera after a 10-year hiatus, is up for Best Director.
Filmed for a modest $40 million in and around Sydney, Australia (the resemblance to the Blue Ridge Mountains is remarkable), "Hacksaw Ridge" received Oscar nods for Film Editing, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing, too. The Academy Awards are Sunday night on ABC.
What makes Doss' story so gripping? Labeled a "Conscientious Objector" by the Army, he walked across the White House lawn after the war and received the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman for his bravery as a medic during the Battle of Okinawa. He single-handedly saved 75 men -- and held wholeheartedly to his faith and the Scriptures, especially the Sixth Commandment: "Thou shalt not kill." Doss didn't touch, carry or use a weapon.
"He was perceived as a lunatic going into battle without a weapon," says Garfield. "It's a fascinating dilemma to sit within him."
Doss also demanded that he not serve on his Sabbath. The final assault on Hacksaw Ridge was scheduled for Saturday, but was delayed until later so Doss could meditate on the Scriptures. He agreed to attend to the wounded since he was the only medic still alive. By day's end, Hacksaw finally fell.
Lynchburg honored Doss with a parade two weeks after the White House ceremony, but afterward, the story of his heroism nearly vanished.
Hollywood tried repeatedly to convince him to tell his story, only to be turned down, says screenwriter Robert Schenkkan ("The Pacific"). Audie Murphy, America's most decorated WWII combat soldier, was even dispatched to Lynchburg. The answer was still no.
"Doss didn't believe in movies and didn't want to publicize himself," says producer Bill Mechanic ("The New World").
Fast-forward to 2000: Doss' family and friends convinced him to let Terry Benedict, a documentarian and a Seventh-day Adventist, make a documentary. Though "The Conscientious Objector" (2004) had a limited release, it gave Benedict the rights to produce a full-fledged movie. He ended up at Mechanic's front door with a two-minute clip. "What a great story and no one knows about," he recalls.
Mechanic lined up Gibson as director, but the project stalled and restarted twice over the next 15 years. He also signed Oscar-winning composer James Horner ("Braveheart," "Titanic") and cinematographer Andrew Lesnie ("Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring"). Sadly, both died just weeks before the cameras started rolling in September 2015.
Aussies dominate the cast, including Teresa Palmer, who is excellent as Dorothy, the nurse who marries Doss; Hugo Weaving as the drunken father, Tom, still haunted by the battlefields of the First World War; Rachel Griffiths as the faithful mother, Bertha; and Sam Worthington as Capt. Glover. The script does take some license with the story -- Newport News, is left out and Dorothy didn't become a nurse until after the war.
Vince Vaughn may be the only Yank. He plays the hard-nosed drill sergeant Howell, who mocks, ostracizes and brutalizes Doss for his unwillingness to pick up a rifle.
Gibson and Mechanic took a rough cut of "Hacksaw Ridge," which is clearly about family, faith, love and forgiveness, to Lynchburg months before its release. "His mannerisms and his quietness -- I thought I was watching my father all over again," says Desmond Doss Jr. as his eyes start to tear up. A short clip of Doss, who died in 2006, is shown during the closing credits.
"The fact that someone can crawl into the jaws of hell and risk his own life in order to save the life of another is probably the greatest act of love," says Gibson.
Lionsgate is still the only studio to include all of the bonus features on the 4K disc. They include an introduction by Gibson, who salutes our veterans, adding that he hopes the film raises awareness about their struggles; three minutes of deleted scenes; and "The Soul of War." Running nearly an hour, it covers every facet of the production.
Mastered in 2K from the 3.4K digital camera files (2.40:1 aspect ratio) and up-converted to 4K, "Hacksaw Ridge" is a surprisingly first-class visual feast, right up there with the recent 4K disc of "Magnificent Seven," which was also from a non-4K source. Overall sharpness and clarity are more detailed than the Blu-ray, as evidenced by several wide shots during basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C. The close-ups also reveal added texture and the HDR color spectrum is rich in natural flesh tones. Gibson bathes much of Lynchburg in a golden palette.
The sound, which should take home the golden statuette, gets a major boost from the expansive Dolby Atmos track. The weaponry effects put you in the heat of combat and the score by Rupert Gregson-Williams, who had only five weeks to compose and record the music, fills the room.
Gibson was drawn to "Hacksaw Ridge" by what he calls the three E's. It's entertaining, it educates, and it elevates, "lifting you to a higher place of inspiration or spirituality. And that's a story worth telling."
I couldn't agree more.
― Bill Kelley III, High-def Watch producer