Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 3/10/00
The Last Days
1998 (1999) - USA
review by Brad Pilcher of
The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
Specs and Features
87 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1) and full frame
(1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging,
theatrical trailer, Steven Spielberg introduction to the Shoah
Foundation, outtakes and behind the scenes footage, survivor's photo
gallery, production photo gallery, film-themed menu screens, scene
access (23 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles:
English, Closed Captioned
"They took away
my parents. They took away my identity. They took away my siblings,
and I said, 'They're not going to take away my soul.'"
In Hebrew, the word for 'Holocaust' is 'Shoah.' It seems like such
a simple word, even insignificant sounding. But as a word, it is, in
the native tongue of those who survived it, the greatest evil man
has ever perpetrated. Throughout human history, man has always
brought misery upon his fellow men, but Shoah is perhaps the
culmination of humanity's self-destructive actions.
Films and filmmakers have attempted, over the past fifty years, to
capture that dark period of our history and give us some sort of
lasting testament. Steven Spielberg has arguably been the most
successful of those filmmakers, but Schindler's
List is not the only effort made by Spielberg on this
front. In 1994, Spielberg founded The Survivors of the Shoah Visual
History Foundation. Since then, some fifty-thousand Shoah survivors
have been videotaped and archived. Flowing from that foundation is
this film, The Last Days.
The film, a winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary
Feature, chronicles five Hungarian-American survivors as they travel
back to a land where they suffered an unimaginable hell.
The Last Days stands as a
masterpiece among documentary films, not because it is full of
ground-breaking editing. It is in many ways an average documentary
film. The subject matter, on the other hand, is in no way average.
Six million Jews were destroyed, but even that statement is near
impossible to grasp. A crime of this scope can easily become an "abstraction
of evil," as Roger Ebert put it. This documentary, however,
makes the horror real. It brings to us the intimate portraits of
five people - five people who survived. We are forced to connect to
their story, and it is a story that we will never forget, because we
must never forget.
On the technical side of things, the disc is exemplary. The video
quality is good, despite the lack of an anamorphic transfer. We see
some light film grain here and there and a couple of print defects
show up, but they're negligible to say the least. The audio is
presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, and is fully encompassing. As I
watched the movie, I was paying attention to the audio and visual
aspects, but I was soon so engulfed by the film, that the details
meshed together into an experience. That kind of experience is what
film is all about.
The extras are solid, especially for a documentary film. Steven
Spielberg, who executive produced the film, gives an introduction to
the Shoah Foundation. This is automatically included at the
beginning of the film, but can also be viewed separately from the
menu - a nice touch. There is a very interesting set of outtakes of
some of the survivors and a behind the scenes piece. These add just
another dimension to the survivor experiences, as well as the
process of making this film. A photo gallery and the filmmaker bios
round out the extras along with as inspiring a trailer as I've ever
seen. It's also important to note that the documentary itself
contains newly-discovered historical footage, as well as a
disturbing (if insightful) interview with a Nazi doctor who worked
Documentary film fans will snap this disc up, if only for its
quality presentation and supplements. But any person who cares of
history (or of basic humanity) will want to own this film. It stands
as a testament to humanity, in a way few films ever have.