• Khartoum

    Released by: Twilight Time Releasing
    Released on: January 21st, 2014.
    Director: Basil Dearden, Eliot Elisofon
    Cast: Charlton Heston, Laurence Olivier, Richard Johnson, Ralph Richardson
    Year: 1966
    Purchase From Screen Archives Entertainment

    The Movie:

    Khartoum takes place in the late 1800s where Sudan has seen its population diversify to the extent that it now includes substantial Egyptians and European inhabitants. The country has also come to blows with the Mahdi (Laurence OIivier), an Islamic fundamentalist out to purge the land in the name of his God. This leaves Prime Minister Gladstone (Sir Ralph Richardson) in a tricky spot. Though he wants to keep the Egyptians who are being targeted by the attacks safe, he does not want to do so at the expense of British lives as the last time the British military intervened against Mahdi it did not end in their favor – the Egyptian army operating under British command suffered massive losses.

    The Prime Minster decides instead of military action he’ll send an envoy in the form of General Charles ‘Chinese’ Gordon (Charlton Heston) and his right hand man Colonel J.D.H. Stewart (Richard Johnson) to meet with Mahdi. The hope is that they’ll be able to convince him to lay off the attacks, centered on the capital city of Khartoum, and get the British and the Egyptians out in time. Gordon is popular in Sudan for his not insignificant role in eliminating the slave trade in the country, so he may have enough sway to pull this off. When Gordon sets his plan into motion, however, through a series of events he winds up having to defend Khartoum from the Mahdi and doing everything in his power to force the British officials to act before it’s too late.

    Even if Khartoum were a complete disaster of a film, it would still be worth sitting through just to take in the visuals. Shot in 2.75.1 widescreen it’s a vast and massive film, the frame filled with a seemingly endless array of beautiful scenery and harsh desert landscapes. In fact, so impressive are the compositions used to illustrate the story that our two central characters can sometimes get lost in them, which hurts the picture a bit, particularly when you consider just how good both Heston and Olivier are in this film.

    An almost polar opposite of the hard right ‘out of my cold, dead hand’ NRA spokesman he’d become, here Heston plays a man sure of his faith and respectful of his God but also of great idealism. He truly cares about the people he hopes to save and Heston brings the right mix of the typical tough guy machismo he’s known for and a more down to earth believability to the character. The script, however, doesn’t flesh him out as well as it could have and we wind up wanting to know more about this man, his life and what made him who he is when the movie begins. Every part Heston’s equal in this film is Olivier. His take on the Mahdi is excellent and we have no problem whatsoever completely accepting this white Anglo Saxon in the role of a Middle Eastern Muslim. He commits to the part entirely and never goes too far with either his performance or his character’s accent. His work in this picture leaves us wanting more, probably the finest compliment you can levy at an actor.

    In addition to the fantastic scenery the movie also features some pretty epic battles, particularly in its last half. It’s a little slow going in the first chunk of the movie where the script tends to get bogged down unnecessarily in its own political explorations of the story but there’s enough here that works and then some to make this worth seeing, particularly if you’re a fan of either Heston or Olivier.


    Khartoum debuts on Blu-ray framed at 2.75.1 widescreen in AVC encoded 1080p high definition in a transfer that is very impressive indeed. Colors look absolutely gorgeous here, really showing off the filters used to light up the weird cave where much of the finale takes place and also allowing for some really radiant sunshine and outdoor landscapes. Skin tones look lifelike and natural, there are no issues with noise reduction to note, while compression artifacts are held firmly in check. Edge enhancement is never a problem and the source material appears to have been in excellent condition as outside of a couple of specks here and there, the picture is more or less pristine. Detail and texture are both very impressive throughout and all in all the movie looks excellent.

    The only audio option for the feature itself is an English language DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track, with optional subtitles provided in English SDH. The dialogue stays clean and clear throughout and the score has good weight behind it, as do the sound effects. Levels are properly balanced and there are no issues with hiss or distortion to note.

    The main extra on the disc is a commentary track from Twilight Time's Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo, with periodic input from writer Lem Dobbs. The input from Dobbs lends some insight into the film’s merits and Robert Ardrey’s script, covering his involvement in the film’s origins and some of the story telling tactics that the movie uses. Redman and Kirgo cover a lot of the details around the film’s cinematography and the technology used in capturing all of what we see transpire in the film in such an insanely epic way. It’s a pretty solid mix of technical trivia and interesting stories about the cast and crew.

    Outside of that we also get two different trailers for the feature, the film’s isolated score in DTS-HD 1.0, menus and chapter stops. As is the norm for Twilight Time Blu-ray releases, we also get an insert booklet of liner notes written by Kirgo that provide some interesting facts about the film and offer up some critical analysis and background information on the picture and those who made it.

    The Final Word:

    Khartoum is a fascinating product of its time, a Middle Eastern historical epic made with a fantastic cast with an emphasis on spectacle rather than character or deeper insight into the culture that it at least marginally tries to explore. Heston and Olivier deliver fine work here and the cinematography really is impressive. Thankfully Twilight Time’s Blu-ray, while light on extras, delivers the goods with an excellent transfer and decent audio as well.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!