Monte Hellman filmed Back Door To Hell back to back with his better known Flight To Fury. This early Jack Nicholson film plays out very much like the throwaway it seems to have been. It’s certainly a brief affair, clocking in at just 69 minutes. Low budget films can often be impressive masterpieces. I have never seen a war film where that’s been true. After watching Back Door To Hell, nothing’s changed. The location and supporting cast make this at times feel more like Mexico than the Philippines. The settings are strictly back lot looking affairs, even when they are not. Cinematography is very limited and completely unimaginative. There is an odd, cold calmness to everything. Actors deliver their lines mostly in even soft tones. I found these portrayals more than a little unnerving. None of Nicholson’s future brilliance is on display here. I found my attention constantly straying during this film. One thing a war film should never be? Good or bad, it simply can’t afford to be boring.
This 1.85.1 widescreen image exhibits a great deal of noise. There is constant grain that can be forgiven because of the budget level and age of the film. The compression artifacts are simply unforgivable. This film runs a mere 69 minutes and gives off a strong 6 + mbps bit rate, so there is just no excuse for such shimmer. The picture is not particularly sharp. Contrast is adequate. Another problem is a great deal of inconsistency. It appears the film was not all shot on the same stock film, or radically different equipment was used.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 track is adequate enough for the film’s dialogue. The battles are so reserved that a strong sound reproduction might do more to call attention to the film’s flaws than to enhance it. The music does distort at higher ranges. You’ll also encounter hiss. This is the quietest war film I’ve ever seen. You’ll need to do some serious cranking if you want any significant sound out of this DVD. Better yet, watch something else.
Nothing to see here. Not even Jack Nicholson can save this put-you-to-sleep effort. How many times can you say that? I really felt like I was watching a segment of footage cut from a real film. I know. I know what you’re thinking. Nicholson. Hellman. You know it’s gotta be good, right? Well…”That’s what I thought too”.