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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 3/10/00

The Last Days
1998 (1999) - USA

review by Brad Pilcher of The Digital Bits

The Last Days Film Rating: A+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/A-/A-

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 at Auschwitz.

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.

Brad Pilcher
[email protected]

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