9th Company Blu-ray Review

In early January 1988, 39 Russian soldiers took position on unnamed hill Height 3234 in Afghanistan to provide cover for an approaching convoy of vehicles. Shortly after digging in, between 200 and 400 Afghani fighters attacked the position in the first of 12 offensives over the course of a little over a day. Those Russian soldiers, the 9th Company, serve as the inspiration for the 2005 Russia best picture winner of the same name that is finally making its way stateside.

9th Company plays out in a manner both foreign and familiar for American audiences. I’d be willing to bet most Americans associate the Russian war in Afghanistan with Rambo III and possess little knowledge of why Russia was there or what the nearly decade long war was about. The deserts of Afghanistan are a stark contrast to the Pacific theater, Europe and jungles of Vietnam we associate with large scale war films. It’s a new world to explore.

The soldiers that comprise 9th Company know no more about the war than us. In the film they are portrayed as archetypes of American war films fighting for reasons they’ll never understand. Like in Full Metal Jacket, they spend half the film being told how worthless they are by a mentally unstable drill sergeant. By the time Height 3234 is reached, there are only 30 minutes left in the 140 minute film to spend on the famous and violent last stand.

Whether 9th Company is a blatant rip-off of American war films with a structure like Full Metal Jacket, visual scope of Apocalypse Now and characters like Platoon is debatable. I’m going to lean more towards an homage given its Russian roots, touches of Russian culture and a cast that plays it loose and raw. More consistency with actual events would have been appreciated and appropriate, but the action ranks – aside from a couple poor uses of CGI early on – right up there with what you’d expect from a big budget American war film.

High-Def Presentation

The 2.45:1 1080p AVC-encoded transfer is surprisingly strong which relegates the DVD version to a distant second option. Director Fyodor Bondarchuk and Cinematographer Maxim Osadchy have done a commendable job of instituting and vivid color palette that brings more like to the Afghan desert than one might presume to expect going in. Only a handful of scenes are noticeably soft, most of them involving longer lens shots that battle some tricky lighting from a scorching sun.

Audio options are a 5.1 Dolby Digital English dub and the original Russian mix in 2.0 stereo. I began watching with the English dub to take advantage of the extra channels and was appalled by how poor it is. Not because of the extra channels which add considerable depth to the action sequences. Strong American accents mixed with comical Russian ones come across like some nightmarish low budget kung fu dub. The Russian 2.0 stereo mix is hands down the way to go, but a lossless 5.1 mix is sorely missed.

Beyond the Feature

The film’s long run time and uncompromising high-def transfer likely ate much of the disc’s available space. Publisher Well Go USA delivers a pair of short supplements with the remaining space that combined run a hair over 5 minutes total: the Original Theatrical Promo Trailer (3:18, HD) and a standard Trailer (1:45, HD).

A modern film like 9th Company made by Americans and set during World War II or Vietnam would have been labeled a rip-off and long since forgotten. There’s something fresh about traveling and place and time American cinema has stayed away from, even if the partially fictionalized series of events take away from learning about what really happened at Height 3234. It’s a worth a look on Blu-ray, especially if you are willing to give a thumbs up to Full Metal Jacket, Platoon and Apocalypse Now.

– Dan Bradley

Purchase 9th Company on Blu-ray for a discounted price at Amazon.com.

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