Based on the true story of the greatest treasure hunt in history, THE MONUMENTS MEN focuses on an unlikely World War II platoon, whose job it was to rescue artistic masterpieces from Nazi thieves so they could be returned to their rightful owners. In a seemingly impossible mission, the Monuments Men, as they were called, find themselves risking their lives in a race against time to avoid the destruction of 1,000 years of culture.
'The Monuments Men' was originally scheduled for a Christmas 2013 release in theaters, then suddenly got pushed back to February of this year. The 'official' reason was that post-production and some CGI effects were taking longer than expected, but the rumors were that the real changes were being made in the editing room, as the film was not screening well for either studio heads or test audiences. Whatever the real reason, while the move took the movie out of any serious award consideration, it had little – if any – impact on the box office, as the movie played quite well both domestically and worldwide, and actually turned into George Clooney's biggest financial success at the box office. With all that said, it's still a bit of a mess.
Based on the real-life story of soldiers who were tasked by the President of the United States to seek out and recover missing pieces of art stolen and hidden by the Nazis during World War II, 'The Monuments Men' brings together one of the more impressive casts we've seen in a film in quite a while. Clooney (who directs and produces in addition to starring) brings on board good friend Matt Damon, along with the likes of Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, and Hugh Bonneville to make up his own 'Magnificent Seven' of soldiers. On top of that, Cate Blanchett plays a French curator who plays a role in helping Matt Damon's character track down the art that was stolen from her own gallery.
Visually speaking, the movie is quite appealing, and Clooney shows he has an eye for what looks good on film – although some of the CGI (mostly enhanced backgrounds) is a bit more obvious than it should be. It's the screenplay and the structure of it that I had issues with, as at times the movie wants to be an out-and-out adventure romp, at other times a comedy, and at times a more serious and realistic look at what these men actually went through. Also, for the most part, Clooney divides up his team of actors – with Murray and Balaban (the best pairing) providing most of the comedy, Goodman and Dujardin going off on their own, and Damon almost exclusively being away from the group (dealing with Blanchett's character) during a huge chunk of the film.
I'm usually not one to nitpick little flaws in a film, but there's one so glaringly bad here, it deserves a paragraph all to its own. Not only because it otherwise ruins Bill Murray's best moment in the movie, but because it could have so easily been corrected (yes, even in post-production). It's shocking no one noticed it before the film got released. There's a scene set during Christmas time where all the soldiers get 'care packages' from their loved ones at home. Murray's character's package is a 45-record that has a recording of his granddaughter singing 'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas'. Now, I'll forgive the fact that Murray gets a 45, even though the world was almost exclusively using 78 rpms during the war and 45s wouldn't become popular until significantly later. What I can't excuse is the fact that the lyrics sung include 'hang a shining star upon the highest bough' – words that weren't added to that tune (written by Hugh Martin) until Frank Sinatra re-recorded it in 1957. The glitch totally took me out of the movie for a few mintues, during what should have been Murray's most moving scene.
Thankfully, Clooney's movie does appreciate the fact that many moviegoers may wonder if men risking their lives over pieces of art – no matter how priceless – is really worth it, so the film addresses that adequately both towards the beginning and at the end of the film – with moments throughout to remind us that the men are indeed partaking in a noble endeavor. While tracking down art doesn't have nearly the same cinematic power as saving the world from Nazi aggression, the film does manage to convince viewers that by stopping the Third Reich from their plans for it, a blow against fascism has been obtained (and, heck, there's even a blow against communism in the movie's climatic moments for good measure).
Still, the movie is a bit of a jumble of different genres that doesn't quite add up to a worthwhile viewing experience. The acting is quite good and there are scenes here and there that I enjoyed quite a bit, but there are others that just seemed to belong in a different film altogether. 'The Monuments Men' is worth a look – but probably not more than one viewing, meaning it's something you'll want to rent, stream, or wait for its appearance on cable.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Monuments Men' arrives on home video in a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy combo pack. The standard keepcase comes with the dual-layer DVD on the inside left and the 50 GB dual-layer Blu-ray on the inside right, along with an insert containing the code for an Ultraviolet copy of the movie. A slipcover matching the artwork of the keepcase slick slides overtop.
The Blu-ray is frontloaded with a Sony advertisement, followed by trailers for American Hustle, Pompeii, and Stalingrad. The DVD contains the same front-loaded trailers, plus an anti-smoking ad. The main menu consists of a publicity shot of the seven lead actors (the same shot as used on the box cover), with selections running across the bottom of the screen.
At least one retailer – Target – is providing an exclusive bonus disc with their release of 'The Monuments Men'. That version includes a third disc (I could not confirm if this was a DVD or a Blu-ray) containing an exclusive featurette, 'A Monumental Undertaking: George Clooney's Journey'.
The Blu-ray has been encoded for Region A only.
This is another 4k scan from Sony Pictures, so naturally I expected close to reference quality with this release, as other Blu-rays I have that have gotten the 4k treatment have looked excellent in 1080p. However, 'The Monuments Men' has a number of issues that prevent a perfect score. It's still a very good looking transfer, but it does have some faults.
Doing some research, I learned that George Clooney shot the movie using both HD cameras as well as 35mm film. From what I was able to uncover, Clooney shot the majority of daylight outdoor scenes on film, while shooting indoor scenes – as well as most of the outdoor night stuff – digitally. The movie seems to reflect that, as fine grain is evident in the exterior daylight scenes that isn't there in the other scenes. However, this switching back and forth seems to have come with its own set of problems.
First, the daylight scenes that are shot on film look great…details are sharp, skin tones are properly balanced, and contrast looks good throughout. It's when the movie moves indoors that everything gets thrown off a bit. While details are still strong on the digitally shot stuff, skin tones and the overall color of the film leans more to over-saturation – not to the point of blooming, but certainly more saturated that the scenes that are shot on film. Black levels are decent, but not superb – although viewers should still be able to distinguish things well enough that those darker moments in the movie aren't too bothersome. Additionally, I noticed moments where motion jitter during pans seemed to be an issue, as well as a few problems with blown-out whites.
I didn't see 'The Monuments Men' in theaters, so it's hard to know how much of the above are issues with the source material, but I'm guessing most – if not all – of them are. This is still a good looking transfer, just not on par with other titles that have gotten the 4k treatment. Then again, it's quite possible that the 4k scan enhanced the problems with Clooney's original footage. Either way, I'm still giving the video a solid rating – but it's still not the reference quality image I had expected.
While the English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track doesn't provide nearly as much immersion and directionality as one might expect for a movie set during World War II, a big part of that has more to do with Clooney's film itself than any problems with the track. While there are some moments of shooting and explosions during the movie during which both the surrounds and low-end frequencies come into play, for the most part this is very much a dialogue-heavy film, with all of the talking between characters coming front and center. Even in the quieter moments, however, sounds are quite distinct and separate – showing off the strength of the audio. The dynamic range here is solid, and balance is very good throughout. No problems or issues with glitches, dropouts, or the like.
In addition to the lossless English track, the Blu-ray contains a French 5.1 Dolby Digital track, as well as both English and French Audio Descriptive Service tracks. Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, French, and Spanish.
While far from a monumental failure, George Clooney's 'The Monuments Men' is pretty disappointing, to take nothing away from the real heroes upon which this movie is based. Clooney can't seem to decide if he wants his film to be an adventure, a comedy, or a serious drama – so he gives viewers all three, resulting in a movie that's uneven and not particularly well-paced. There's some good stuff here, but it's surrounded by plenty of not-so-good stuff. Rent it.