The Sand Pebbles: Cinema Classics Edition – DVD Review

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Robert Wise


Steve McQueen .Jake Holman
Richard Attenborough Frenchy Burgoyne
Richard Crenna .Captain Collins
Candice Bergen .Shirley Eckert

The Movie

It’s interesting to see what happened to the idols of one generation. Marlon Brando got fat. Paul Newman went gray. Robert Redford didn’t get age very gracefully. Steve McQueen is always remembered as being young and vibrant, but then again dying 20 years before your contemporaries can do that for a person. We never sat through the downside of McQueen’s career in the same way we did for Redford and Newman; McQueen never ended up playing second fiddle to a modern star like Brad Pitt, Mel Gibson or Keanu Reeves.

In many ways it’s why we remember him as the matinee idol and star of The Great Escape, Bullitt and The Getaway. He died relatively young of cancer after one of the great careers of his time, a star whose work has held up over the last two decades. And while his more memorable roles and films never were honored in the same way that lesser films and actors had been rewarded, McQueen’s finest acting performance earned him the only Oscar nomination of his career in The Sand Pebbles.

McQueen stars as Jake Holman, a mechanic for a US Navy steamboat stationed in China. In the midst of the Chinese revolution in 1926, Holman deals with an ever changing world around him dictated by the captain of his boat, the San Pablo. As the Americans continually try and deal with the Chinese in an ever changing environment, it all builds into an exciting action sequence for the final hour of the film.

It’s an interesting war drama, but the key to it all is a remarkable performance by McQueen. He dominates the screen with his presence and what he doesn’t do, not what he does. While he would repeat the same sort of performance in other films, it’s a nuanced character that McQueen plays to perfection. He doesn’t have to make long speeches or have big chunks of dialogue; he does so much without saying a word that it makes what little he does say mean so much more. While it does feel a little bit dated by today’s standards, as some of the rather politically incorrect language in reference to Chinese people is a bit outdated, it’s still a great film.

The Audio

Presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 format, the film’s audio has been remastered for this new edition. The audio is much stronger and better separated than the original release of the film. It’s a much richer and better defined viewing experience, as the audio is so strong and solid that it enhances the experience.

The Video

Presented in a widescreen format, the film’s visual side has been remastered for this as well. While not as pronounced an enhancement from the original as the audio, it’s still stronger than the first edition of the film. The colors are a bit more vibrant and better separated, as well as the Naval whites prevalent in the film are much crisper and cleaner looking than before.

The Extras

The Making of The Sand Pebbles is a six-part series of retrospectives on various aspects of the film. Beginning with a brief history behind the film’s early production, as it came in light of the fiasco that was the epic Cleopatra and the blockbuster The Longest Day, The Sand Pebbles was one of the films that Twentieth Century Fox had that rescued it from financial peril. It’s interesting to note that the producers acknowledge that McQueen was the second choice for the role, as Paul Newman was the first choice for the part, but McQueen’s star was on the rise from The Great Escape and this was the vehicle that transformed him into one. Featuring interviews with some members of the cast who are still alive like Attenborough and Bergen, as well as some of the film’s producers, it’s a fascinating look at the film.

Side Bars is a collection of featurettes about McQueen, Wise as well as China in the 1920s. McQueen’s bio is relatively interesting, as he grew up rough and made it through to superstardom. It’s interesting to hear the people who worked with him talk about his acting style and working with him. Wise was very generous as a director, apparently, as he did a lot of charity work. He was also an editor as well, which many people forget about, as his list of edited work is pretty legendary and includes a little film called Citizen Kane. The retrospective on 1926 China has some professors of Chinese History discussing the period of time in which the film takes place.

From the Fox Vault are two features about the San Pablo, the ship from the film, one narrated by Crenna and the other by Attenborough. It’s a feature from back in the 1960s to promote the film. There are also vintage Radio Documentaries, Radio Spots, Still Galleries and the original Theatrical Trailer included.

Mad Magazine’s The Sand Pebbles is a spoof of the film, duplicated in a feature.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for
The Sand Pebbles: Cinema Classics Collection
(OUT OF 10)