A Soldier's Story

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Synopsis

The murder of a black sergeant on a segregated army base in Louisiana in 1944 is investigated by a black soldier and lawyer, revealing deep-seated racism in the Deep South. Adapted from Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, the film was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (for Adolph Caesar), and Best Adapted Screenplay (by Fuller himself).

Picture 8/10

Indicator presents Norman Jewison’s A Soldier’s Story to Blu-ray, presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer disc. The 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation is sourced from a 2K remaster provided by Sony. The disc is locked to region B.

The presentation looks fine enough and doesn’t present any severe issues, but then, at the same time, there’s nothing about it that I would single out as special. The image is clean and stable, but detail rarely pops. I’m not sure what the source is but I doubt it’s the original negative, maybe an interpositive at best. Film grain, at the very least, is there and it’s rendered well enough. Colours look fine but black levels are a bit off, looking to crush out details in the darker shots of the film.

Damage isn’t an issue, the restoration work looking to have been thorough, and the encode doesn’t present any major defects. So yeah, it’s fine enough.

Audio 7/10

The film comes with a linear PCM 2.0 stereo surround soundtrack. Dialogue is clear and the overall audio is clean. The film’s score is a little odd (I’d almost call it a television score to be honest) but has some decent power behind it. The mix is limited, with some noticeable panning between the fronts, but that’s about the extent of it.

Extras 7/10

The film has seen a few home video releases, though only Sony’s original DVD edition in North America offered any special features. Indicator’s edition carries all of that content over, starting with an audio commentary featuring director Norman Jewison. Overall it’s a fairly average track, though Jewison does detail some of the things he had to work through to adapt the original play to film. He had a lot of issues getting a studio to show interest in it, and he had to shop it around for a while until Columbia finally picked it up. The primary issue, he admits, was that the film called for a predominantly black cast, which scared the studios, and though Columbia gave him the go-ahead, he still had to work with a low budget. He realized there were also issues around the possibility a white audience may not relate to the characters or the situation, so he explains some elements he had to throw in to engage a demographic he felt needed to understand what the story was saying. The film also has an impressive cast, though they were nobodies at the time, and Jewison recalls working with them at that early point in their careers. In all, it’s still an average track but hearing some of the decisions and the thought process around them proved interesting.

Also carried over from the Columbia DVD is a short 15-minute featurette called March to Freedom featuring black veterans talking about the issues they faced as soldiers during WWII, as they were usually delegated to menial labour, sometimes in dangerous conditions, or were overlooked for their acts of bravery. It’s not terribly in-depth and maybe it was put together specifically for the original DVD edition of the film, but it’s still a passionately made featurette and a good inclusion.

The trailer also appears, along with a small image gallery featuring production photos and poster art. Indicator does also include a 2010 interview with Jewison for the DP/30. Running around 80-minutes and divided into three parts, Jewison literally talks his way through his filmmaking career, from his early comedies to doing The Cincinnati Kid (taking over for Sam Peckinpah), which showed he could do dramas. This led to In the Heat of the Night and his career pretty much took of from there. He doesn’t spend a lot of time on each film, but he shares a couple of good stories, and explains why he thought the film Bogus was a good idea at the time (he seems to realize now it wasn’t). He talks about A Soldier’s Story at the beginning of the third part.

Indicator also includes one of their excellent booklets. This one starts out with an essay by Molefi Kete Asante around Charles Fuller and his work, including the play the film is based on, followed by an excerpt around the film from Jewison’s autobiography. They also include excerpts from an interview with director of photography Russell Boyd and then finish off with excerpts from reviews for the film, which were mostly positive, though one found the moral message to be “trite ‘Hollywood Liberal.’”

It's a slim edition, but the film hasn’t had a decent release in a couple of decades so it’s nice to get all of the material together again.

Closing

It’s an average release, with a decent set of extras and an above-average presentation. The booklet is probably the release’s strongest attribute.

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Directed by: Norman Jewison
Year: 1984
Time: 101 min.
 
Series: Indicator
Edition #: 217
Licensor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Release Date: December 14 2020
MSRP: £15.99
 
Blu-ray
1 Disc | BD-50
1.85:1 ratio
English 2.0 PCM Stereo
Subtitles: English
Region B
 
 Audio commentary with director Norman Jewison (1999)   Archival Interview with Norman Jewison (2010): ninety-minute, career-spanning discussion between the filmmaker and film historian David Poland   March to Freedom (1999): documentary on the experiences of African American soldiers during World War II, narrated by Paul Winfield   Original theatrical trailer   Image gallery: promotional and publicity materials   Limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by Molefi Kete Asante, an archival interview with Norman Jewison, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and film credits