While most noted for the tamer (but no less entertaining) television show of the same name that has been in syndication since TV was invented (or something like that), M*A*S*H began as a simple two hour film from Robert Altman all the way back in 1970 (yes this film is nearly forty years old). The off-kilter comedy took the harsh reality of war and focuses on three American army surgeons that goof off in an attempt to not be driven down relentlessly by the horrors that they witness. This film may have been given a paltry budget of $3.5 million, but it went on to gross over $81 million domestically…no small feat for an R rated comedy in 1970.
One of the world’s most acclaimed comedies, M*A*S*H focuses on three Korean War Army surgeons brilliantly brought to life by Donald Sutherland, Tom Skerritt and Elliott Gould. Though highly skilled and deeply dedicated, they adopt a hilarious, lunatic lifestyle as an antidote to the tragedies of their Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, and in the process infuriate Army bureaucrats. Robert Duvall, Gary Burghoff and Sally Kellerman co-star as a sanctimonious Major, an otherworldly Corporal, and a self-righteous yet lusty nurse.
Considering I’d all but grown up watching M*A*S*H repeats in some form or another, finally seeing the film was definitely a big of a strange experience. While the cast isn’t always interchangeable what with the recasts and characters that don’t carry over from the film to the show, the setting and tone was familiar enough that it honestly didn’t feel all that different from the TV series I’d known for so long. Aside from the increase in sexual content, anyway, as this film definitely earns its R rating in that regard…but hey, it’s war.
What makes this film still so entertaining, regardless of its ties to the TV show, is just how spontaneous it all is. It’s easy to see why this was adapted into a television series as it lends itself so easily to the format—random sequences strung together with vague commentary to make the whole thing feel more contained just really doesn’t work in the strictest sense of a film with a focused plot. There was no real ending to the film to speak of and when it ended you felt as if it could have gone on for much longer (in reality it did, of course). But it was all of the impulsive and obviously improvised dialogue that made this film such a hit back in the 70s and it’s still that same mixture of comedy that makes it work today.
Then there’s the whole theme song that director Robert Altman’s son composed. It has a tendency to not leave your head, even a few days after watching the film. It doesn’t hurt that the theme itself is pretty much universally recognizable, but it’s so simple in its structure that you can memorize it with ease…which is probably why it’s so determined not to let me sleep at night. I suppose it matches the teetering insanity that the Korean War is depicted as in this series—it’s the joking around and dark humor that keeps the surgeons from completely snapping in this film.
Overall it’s hard to argue with a classic like M*A*S*H. It manages to hold up after all of these years and despite a different cast makeup than I was used to, I found it remarkably easy to slip into viewing this film, even as Alan Alda and Donald Sutherland duked it out in my head. Highly Recommended.
Fox brings M*A*S*H to Blu-ray in a standard Eco Elite Blu-ray case with a whole roster of extras…although none of them new. The film itself is encoded with the AVC codec (@29mbps) and for a nearly four decade old film…it looks pretty good. There is an overture of grain throughout the entirety of the film, but long shots and close ups are sometimes overly smeary or void of detail. Not a huge deal and it definitely looks a great deal better than the television and other DVD releases, but it’s not a giant improvement.
In the audio side of things we get a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that really is quite a letdown, mainly because the dated sound effects sound as tinny as ever, especially split across five channels. The original mono track is included as well and aside from my receiver doing all of the heavy lifting to spread it across my seven channels, there really wasn’t that much of a noticeable difference, aside from a higher center speaker level on the 5.1 mix. Obviously the 5.1 reigns supreme over the mono, but I was genuinely surprised there wasn’t a bigger difference between the two. Also included are Spanish DD5.1 and French mono tracks.
• The Complete Interactive Guide to M*A*S*H
• Audio commentary by director Robert Altman
• Theatrical trailer
• AMC Backstory – M*A*S*H
• Enlisted: The Story of M*A*S*H
• M*A*S*H: History Through the Lens
• M*A*S*H Reunion
• Still gallery
It’s a solid outing but none of the extras are in HD (sans the still gallery), so they’re just direct ports of their original counterparts on the previous DVD releases. Your love of the film will largely depend on whether you pick this release up—the audio and video aren’t stellar and there are no new extras…but if there was ever a film worthy of double, triple, or quadruple dips, this is one of them. Recommended.
M*A*S*H is now available on Blu-ray.