Battle of Britain: Second Flight

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Brief Synopsis:
After the fall of France to the Nazis and the evacuation of the British Army from Dunkirk, the Royal Air Force must defend their homeland from the threat of invasion by a battle-hardened and numerically superior opponent during the summer of 1940, with the future of the country, and maybe even the whole of Europe, hanging in the balance.

This edit is, on the whole, a simple tightening of the director Guy Hamilton's ambitious 1969 retelling of these events, hopefully making it more approachable for the audience.
Production of "Battle of Britain" was a massive technical undertaking, with dozens of retired aircraft involved in some of the most spectacular aerial choreography ever filmed. But, besides the deviations from history, I personally found it rather unengaging and didn't have any plans for rewatching after the first viewing.

That changed as a result of a post on the forum here by filmflaneur in April 2023

"I have often thought that Battle of Britain (1969) would be much improved with the tedious love subplot excised. The film would be tighter and drag less without it."

With this as a springboard I had a go at moulding the film into something we could both enjoy, as far as we're concerned that goal has been achieved, if anybody else thinks it an improvement too that's a bonus!
Additional Notes:
The film originally had a score written by William Walton, whom among his previous work had composed for the semi-accurate biopic of R. J. Mitchell (lead designer of the Supermarine Spitfire) "The First of the Few" in 1942. For whatever reason, with insufficient length to fill an LP being floated as a possibility, it was entirely discarded (but for "Battle in the Air") at a late stage in production and replaced by music from Ron Goodwin, known for his efforts on films such as "633 Squadron" and "Where Eagles Dare". The different scores each have their own merits so a hybrid track containing my favourite selections was grafted together, with the most notable feature likely being the absence of the upbeat version of Goodwin's "Aces High", a piece that I can enjoy but not in the context of its placement in the film. For the purists, the original Goodwin and Walton scores are presented on separate tracks. Would recommend trying the Hybrid version first though, in my view it's the best of both worlds.
Other Sources:
Primary AV source was the 2009 region B Blu-ray, but the discarded William Walton score was obtained from the 2004 region 2 Special Edition DVD.
Special Thanks:
To filmflaneur, for coming up with the idea and helping cast it into shape, and robulon, for kindly previewing and offering advice.
Release Information:
Editing Details:
• Available in large (~20 Gb) and small (~4 Gb) size versions, 1920x818 resolution.
• 5.1 audio with three available soundtrack options, Hybrid (recommended), Goodwin-only and Walton-only.

• General changes made to the film include:

The love subplot concerning Colin and Maggie Harvey (Christopher Plummer and Susannah York) has been almost entirely removed, as the film ground to a stop whenever they were onscreen together (fault of the script rather than the actors). They still appear in this edit but only separately, and are not confirmed to be a couple until a phone call shortly before they have their final scenes.

Other scenes were trimmed for pacing, with the opening for example heavily cut down into a silent montage that plays over Dowding's voiceover. Other excisions are more subtle, with parts of scenes or shots shortened to improve flow and/or remove redundant dialogue.

Nearly the entire film was desaturated to black and white, with contrast boosted and shadows lifted to liven up the image. This attempted to make the film feel more "real", in the sense of more akin to the archive footage of aircraft I have seen in various documentaries. Removing the colour also adds a layer of abstraction, in my mind at least it is now easier to see the more well-known cast members as their characters rather than their actors.

The exception to this is the Battle in the Air scene towards the end, where I think the switch in visual style helps complement the changeover to almost no diegetic sound on the audio front. With regard to the paragraph above, it helps that nobody famous (that I know of at least) is identifiable during this sequence.
Cuts and Additions:
Specific cuts are as follows:

• 0:00:00 Added fanedit disclaimer and personal plate.
• 0:00:11 Replaced modern MGM logo with adapted United Artists (original distributor) plate and overlaid grain, added the sound of a Merlin engine from the now-truncated-and-silent former opening scene over the French airfield.
• 0:00:20 Open film with Dowding walking down the hallway, as he reads his letter in voiceover a short montage of aircraft escaping from the French airfield and the following attack silently plays, fading back to him just before he boards the lift.
• 0:00:59 Swapped the order of a couple of shots for a more logical flow (suggestion of robulon).
• 0:01:36 Heavily cut the conversation between Dowding and the Under-Secretary, now just the final two lines, rest felt like unnecessary exposition.
• 0:06:27 Cut soldier in the line bending over to look at the staff car.
• 0:06:40 Cut first part of the scene of Milch and Kesselring walking indoors.
• 0:07:41 Cut first part of the conversation between the ambassadors, starts with Baron von Richter stating Goering’s desire to flatten London, again rest felt superfluous.
• 0:10:08 "R.A.F. North Weald - Essex"
• 0:12:11 Cut Simon walking to the coat stand just after his landing near-accident.
• 0:16:29 Cut German officers gathering around the table after expressing bravado concerning the British radar system.
• 0:17:53 Cut Dowding’s “Trusting in God and praying for radar” remark, took a following shot of his colleague and inserted it reversed to cover the cut.
• 0:18:07 "R.A.F. Hawkinge - Kent"
• 0:19:08 Cut scene of Colin and Maggie meeting at the Jackdaw Inn, fades from Canfield denying Lambert permission for a test flight to Park arriving in his personal Hurricane.
• 0:30:13 Cut Canfield’s repetition of “On the left”.
• 0:32:31 Cut shots of German bombers before the observer station, makes for a more logical cut.
• 0:32:48 Couple of shots from prior deleted section (one outside then one from inside a bomber) to replace a long shot, makes it more interesting
• 0:33:26 "R.A.F. Duxford - Cambridgeshire"
• 0:57:27 Cut Andy getting into Skipper’s car after the latter says “Alright boy, get in.”
• 1:00:16 Flipped shot of approaching German fighters for better continuity and adhesion to the 180-degree rule (suggestion of robulon).
• 1:05:29 Cut first scene of Maggie and Colin in bedroom together, Dowding’s comment about needing a miracle is followed by scene on the lost bomber.
• 1:07:23 Cut second scene of Maggie and Colin in bedroom together, now fades from the scene on the bomber to the crew being chewed out for accidentally bombing London.
• 1:10:10 Corrected translation (going by IMDb) of "Geduld. Geduld." from “Be patient.” to “Patience.”
• 1:10:13 Corrected translation (going by IMDb) of "Er kommt." from “We are coming.” to “He is coming.”
• 1:11:36 Cut Goering and Kesselring walking to the car.
• 1:21:11 Trimmed a few shots during the scene where Skipper leaves his cottage with Andy.
• 1:39:51 Cut short Maggie’s telephone conversation with Colin (before talk of her applying for a new posting) and the following scene of him departing in his car, fading to the “September 15th 1940” air battle.
• 1:44:09 Fade from black and white to colour over the shot of St Paul’s, stays as such for the duration of the “Battle in the Air” sequence.
• 1:48:39 Hard cut to back to black and white for the remainder of the film.

Hybrid-score soundtrack features:

• Walton opening music, feel that this sets the tone much better than Goodwin's.
• Walton music over the end of the scene between the ambassadors and first scene of British airfield, feels more engaged with the action than Goodwin's.
• Goodwin music over the Eagle Day planning scenes, no Walton equivalent.
• Absence of music (from Walton track) over the Duxford scene where Maggie is in shock “Don’t you yell at me Mr. Warwick!”, Goodwin's feels a bit overwrought.
• Goodwin's epic main theme during interception of bombers in the North,
• No music (using Walton track) as aircraft prepare to leave the flying club.
• Walton music “Cat and Mouse” during the ambush, no Goodwin equivalent.
• Walton music for Berlin scenes.
• Walton music as bombers approach London, scene not scored by Goodwin.
• No music (using Walton track) over Andy looking at the church.
• No music (using Walton track) when Maggie is told about Colin.
• Goodwin music over Goering’s departure and end titles.

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(Updated: September 13, 2023)
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I offered to preview this edit after suggesting some sources for period accurate logos for the opening. I personally had never seen the film before but figured I could provide a unique perspective compared to Filmflaneur (who clearly has much more history with the film); that of the literal first time viewer.

Technically things are very strong all round. Sound-wise I can only applaud the inclusion of multiple audio tracks reflecting the 2 different musical scores that were written for the film. Each composer's work is available in their entirety for those who want it but what is really special is ParanoidAndroid's custom hybrid track that cherry picks the most appropriate pieces from both composers to create the best version. I listened to this track for my viewings and found it nice and clear with no noticeable edits.

The Black and White grade looks beautiful! ParanoidAndroid has done a really great job making it look like a proper B&W film. Not just a colour one with the saturation turned down. Really lovely blacks and whites rather than just various shades of grey. I did find the dogfights a bit hard to follow the first time through this way. A by-product of the markings not being easy to read at a distance without the colour. So it was sometimes difficult to know who was shooting who. This drawback became more apparent with the final dogfight sequence when the colour briefly appeared to underscore the moment. But that was not a result of ParanoidAndroid's editing. What definitely was though, was the inspired idea to condense the opening France retreat sequence by playing snippets of the action over Olivier's initial very long walk down a corridor. A great idea! One that made the most of an opportunity to interweave 2 slow moving scenes to create more efficient storytelling. One that I feel that could have been used more throughout the film.

Having now gone back and watched the original cut I have to admit I find this film a bit maddening. It's got a very odd and unfocused structure. Scenes meander between characters and tension doesn't build towards a climax. Filmflaneur likened this to a broad portrait of a nation at war rather than a character study. And I've heard similar things from another friend who is a fan of the film. They praised the historic accuracy most of all. Not being any kind of historian myself I subscribe more to the adage that you "Never let the truth get in the way of a good story". I feel a more aggressive reshuffle of the film would be interesting. Keep some of the jettisoned "love story" bits since it feels too anemic here, remove or prune other scenes instead. Move events around and even combine separate dogfights together to streamline the story and help the pacing.

Don't get me wrong, Second Flight is a great improvement over the theatrical cut. Fans of the original will certainly get the most enjoyment from watching this edit. But since I'm not a fan, the issues inherent to the original story still hold me back from liking it more.

Best performance award goes to Michael Caine's dog. If you've seen the film you know what I mean!

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Owner's reply September 16, 2023

Many thanks for taking the time to slog through a film you don't particularly like twice! Glad that you found it an improvement, even if it's not fully redeemed, and if you ever fancy implementing your ideas into your own take I'd love to see the results.

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(Updated: August 12, 2023)
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First, full disclosure: I am the one who first suggested the need for a much needed edit of The Battle of Britain, leading ParanoidAndroid to take on the task, for which we have to be immensely grateful. I made some suggestions as things went along, although the lion's share of the result is entirely down to him . In this edit, as already noted. the film, formerly somewhat draggy and near-fatally slowed by a romantic sub-plot, has been entirely rescued in a sensitive and fastidious fashion. The result now firmly belongs to the pantheon of great British war films in a way which both looks back to a grand cinematic tradition as well as being quite obviously a product of the imminent 70's.. If we lose some of the characterisation of a central couple by the tightening, then that 's no handicap. In fact it can argued that if this movie is more a portrait of community mood and of a whole nation at war, represented by the few, it is right that no one person need dominate the action. Having said that, I am glad that ParanoidAndroid did not cut back on Pilot Andy's (Ian McShane)'s subplot. In discovering how the blitz has had specific consequences, his sequences on the streets successfully 'ground' the main story above in a way I think necessary.

The image is very good clear, and sharp. I was first dubious about the decision to desaturate as too drastic (I've seen one or two others which have been done over in this way and which results were, to my mind, unnecessary, unsatisfactory or even represent vandalism) but have since been completely won over in this instance. The majority of the film, now in black and white, inevitably recalls the grand days of 50's British war film, making even more pointed the presence of Squadron Leader Canfield (Caine)'s dog Blackie as a reference back to the canine of Guy Gibson in The Dam Busters (1955). The decision to keep the final aerial battle in bright colour seems to me, absolutely right and inspired, It makes of that standout sequence something distinct and more moving at the same time. helped of course by Walton's inestimable music. At the end of this with a hard cut back to black and white, the viewer, as well as the deflated Nazis, are abruptly bought down to earth. Truly this film's finest few minutes.

The score choices in this edit are also noteworthy. Walton famously finished the music for the film but most of it was jettisoned by the producers to be replaced, in all but one case by Ron Goodwin. ParanoidAndroid's edit does the sensible thing and offers three choices on separate tracks: that of Goodwin, Walton or a hybrid version. The important thing for many will be that at last we have the privilege of hearing a score by one of England's leading composers, complete. back where it was intended. As ParanoidAndroid suggests, many will prefer the hybrid, certainly for a first listen. But Goodwin, if he has his moments is sometimes guilty of bombast and is no Walton; purists will want the real thing.

The only thing ParanoidAndroid and I agreed to disagree on was with the position of the main title. I still prefer the version where it appears at the end, just before the roll call of the distinguished dead. I always felt that it was a visual redundancy up front immediately after the words "the Battle of Britain is about to begin". That minor niggle is all I can find in the whole film (and he very kindly prepared my own version!). The result here is an overwhelming success, never boring, where each cameo brings its own memorable lines. In short, a classic back triumphantly in the air, thoroughly recommended!

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Owner's reply August 13, 2023

Many thanks for your kind comments, glad to have helped make this old film more enjoyable for you. It wouldn't have existed without your idea though, not been the same without your services as a thorough previewer and excellent creative springboard!

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