The Red Tent(Paramount Home Entertainment, 8.23.2005)
What makes a true leader? "Men are judged by their actions and their actions by their success." This line is spoken towards the end of the film by Umberto Nobile's friend and colleague Samoilovich. These words and this film in general offer us a uniquely unresolved, yet perceptive outlook on the notion of leadership and human sacrifice. Nobile was the leader in a failed expedition that led to the Italia airship disaster of 1928. He was also the first man to be rescued in his further attempts to save his comrades, which were ultimately successful. Still, Nobile was viewed as a huge disgrace for initially abandoning his men and he never fully recovered.
Forty years have passed and Nobile is a sleepless wreck who, night after night, is disturbed by the questionable actions he took all those years ago. In the course of one particular sleepless night, Nobile's imagination calls back various members of his crew and other participants to hold trial and re-live the unfortunate events that occurred, in order to reach a definitive verdict. And so we travel back in time and see for ourselves what went wrong.
The film chooses to spend little time on the exact details of this doomed expedition and we sort of have to do our own research to really get behind all the facts that led this to be the public relations disaster that it proved to be. Still, with much success, the film spends the majority of its two hour running time dealing with the survival of these men, as they waited and waited (and waited) in their self made red tent, their only form of shelter and last remaining hope.
Peter Finch expertly plays the role of Nobile and Sean Connery provides wonderful, anti-Bond ability as Ronald Amundsen, Arctic explorer extraordinaire. The acting is terrific on all fronts. However, these two men carry the film into higher ground, particularly Finch.
As for aesthetics, one should only expect the very best from Mikheil Kalatozishvili, director of such brilliant works as I Am Cuba and The Cranes are Flying (these are also his only films available in Region 1 and all are essential viewing). While the cinematographer here is different, The Red Tent still contains breathtaking visuals that truly transcend their narrative purpose and create a fascination in and of themselves. The flashback scenes to the North Pole make for an excellent contrast to Nobile's luxurious apartment in Rome and many of these images will surely resonate in your mind for days.
Another big plus is the score provided by none other than Ennio Morricone. The fabulous score effectively highlights the many moods that the film evokes, from romance to adventure to despair, to salvation...oh, and there's also some cool Arctic music.
Paramount presents the film in its (sort of) original aspect ratio of 1.66:1. The anamorphic transfer is pristine and probably hasn't looked this good for decades. Still, I've been told that the ratio was cropped for the much shorter international version, which is what we get here. The film was apparently 195 minutes at some point and was shot 2.20:1. Still, this certainly beats the pan-and-scan laserdisc that was released in the 90s. We are given the option to watch the film in 5.1 or 2.0 Surround. Both tracks are fine depending on your setup. The 5.1 is key when it comes to highlighting the film's exceptional score.
Extras? There are absolutely none to be found here. I know that a featurette is kind of pushing it but a theatrical trailer would have been nice. Is that really asking too much? Nevertheless, the price is very accommodating so it's not a total loss. I'd definitely recommend this as a solid rental and -- with its affordable price -- perhaps even a blind purchase. Now please excuse me while I take a hot bath. -- Neil Karassik