After his abdication Napoleon Bonaparte (Rod Steiger) is exiled to the island of Elba. However, he escapes to be reunited with his generals and troops, and mounts a last desperate bid for power at the what is now known as the Battle of Waterloo. He has, however, reckoned without the British forces led by Arthur Welsley, the Duke of Wellington, who had just returned from a successful campaign in Spain.
"A film that will never be equalled for its spectacle and dramatic power" says the stirring trailer on this otherwise sparsely featured DVD. Taking the story of the Napoleonic Wars to Bonaparte's final defeat, Waterloo
is an unofficial continuation to director Sergei Bondarchuk's own 70mm super-epic War and Peace
(1968). The climactic battle of Waterloo is shown in the second half of the film and re-enacted with such stunning realism by a cast of around 20,000 extras that it looks like documentary footage from history itself (some 20 years later, Gettysburg
, 1993, did the same for the American Civil War). Those who hailed the groundbreaking impact of Saving Private Ryan
should see Bondarchuk's films, as for sheer scale and intensity--if not bloodiness--they make Spielberg's hit look like an amateur video. Without ever attempting a French accent, Rod Steiger makes a commanding Napoleon, Christopher Plummer a worthy adversary as Wellington, while the supporting cast led by Orson Welles, Jack Hawkins and Virginia McKenna is excellent. The DVD transfer is richly detailed and clear, though the print itself could have done with just a little restoration. Though dated, Abel Glance's Napoleon
(1928) remains definitive for many, perhaps explaining why Stanley Kubrick eventually abandoned his planned Napoleon film, instead making the 18th Century period epic Barry Lyndon
(1974). --Gary S.Dalkin