The Eagle is pure testosterone, muscular, square-jawed Romans diving into battle with scruffy, bearded invaders. Swords clash, blood spills, and heads roll. You should half expect the screen to flash a giant “Men rule” stamp on the screen during the frenzied, haphazardly edited fights.
There are no woman in the cast, at least beyond those staring in awe as soldiers march around camps. That means there is no phoned in romantic sub-plot to pull The Eagle down, just men on a quest to regain their honor in the form of a golden eagle. It stands for all of Rome, the final piece to the missing 9th Legion which disappeared on a quest to secure Northern Britain. Twenty years later, the son of one of those missing soldiers decides its time to trot out and get that trinket back, with him in tow only a slave saved from the gladiatorial arena.
That becomes the relationship, the British slave and Roman Legion leader forming a necessary bond to survive against roving bands of marauders and such. They travel the hills of North Britain, the modern Scottish countryside stunning in its beauty on film, plenty of camera sweeps and chanting to further establish the epicness of it all.
It needs those moments to elaborate on the landscape since the film itself is drab, the studio obviously not confident in their ability to sell the piece to the public. Eagle carries a TV-like appearance, odd coming from director Kevin Macdonald. Channing Tatum, despite carrying the look for the role, still hasn’t been convincing in much of anything that requires actual speech. He has the gruff demeanor and those ferocious eyes in battle, yet while recuperating from injuries, there seems to be some confusion over whether or not he is supposed to carry an accent.
The Eagle is, if nothing else, unique in that this post 300 Hollywood; it’s not trying to become anything more than it is. Despite the constant air of conflict, the film is focused on a bond between men from different sides, with different ideals and personal grievances. It’s sluggish and at times misguided, but they’re men damn it, men who beat the crap out of anyone in their path. That’s the Hollywood way.
Universal delivers an AVC encode for this Blu-ray release, a typically sharp, pleasing presentation focused (mostly) on clarity and definition. The film stock here carries a light, clean grain structure, the compression under little pressure to perform up to the current standard. Action, including an aggressively cut and shaky finale, performs admirably. Nothing appears blocky or losing the codec battle.
The Eagle is given some flair, including a blisteringly hot contrast, one where the windows, white robes, and even faces carry a bit of a glow. Detail can and will go with it, although not to the extent in which all texture is wiped from the frame. These are pure, clean whites that are enough to give the film a little bit of punch where the black levels tend to fail. The contrast does calm down, especially when characters are wandering through forests, and the black levels will too on occasion. Here and there they simply falter, beginning to carry over the work of the digital intermediate and the color correction. When they’re peaked, they prove dominate and rich, giving the image some dimensionality.
Detail comes and goes, the film fiddling with focal trickery to keep the images in a constant flux. Inconsistent applies as the terminology states, but not for any encoding problems or digital filtering. It’s the source seeking some identifying factors.
Color choices are dim, even the bloody stumps and splatters in the Unrated version. Subdued primaries are appropriate for the material, taking the zest out of those rolling hills unfortunately, but such is Hollywood intent. At night, the actors are lit by orange flame and apparently a moon that gives off a teal push. Maybe things were more different than we knew back then. Flesh tones, under the natural light at least, are flat if pleasing.
Horses. Lots of horses. This DTS-HD track pumps up the volume (or so to speak in dated ’90s lingo) as armies march in with their horses, hooves trouncing the ground below them with enough force that even the subwoofer will ask for a break. The score adores boomy, deep, rich drums too, the low-end assault hardly casual or weakened in anyway.
The score is also unique in its surround presence, trumpets blaring from the stereo channels at 2:30, other horns specifically placed in the rears. It’s distinctive and a nice break from the usual array of sword clashes and grunts. The latter are great too though, plenty of metal clashing to go around here. There’s an especially memorable one-on-one confrontation in the middle of 50 or 60 man rumble, Tatum and his foe singled out in the sound mix. Each strike and grunt are given a 100% focus, a fun, precise bit of audio design that brings with it a particular vibe you rarely hear.
An alternate ending is kept separate from the deleted scenes, combined the two pieces rolling in at a little over 10-minutes. Making a Roman Epic is standard studio fluff, a far cry from the Kevin Macdonald solo commentary. On BD-Live, you can stream and additional featurette, Making the Eagle, just as generic and forgettable as the one on the physical disc. For those wondering about the Unrated cut, it runs exactly the same length as the Theatrical version with minor edits and more explicit bloodshed.