Like so many restorations of older movies, the reconstructed version of the late Samuel Fuller's 1980 World War II epic, "The Big Red One," plays much more smoothly than the hastily...

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Like so many restorations of older movies, the reconstructed version of the late Samuel Fuller’s 1980 World War II epic, “The Big Red One,” plays much more smoothly than the hastily truncated edition that was first released to theaters.

Even though it has gained more than 45 minutes, it doesn’t feel longer. Scenes that were choppy or half-baked are now allowed to play out as Fuller intended. Thanks to critic/filmmaker Richard Schickel, who dug through the Warner Bros. vaults to find the missing footage, this reconstruction includes 15 entirely new sequences, plus pieces of 23 other scenes.

The most obvious change is that Fuller’s original vision was grittier and more disturbing, far closer to “Saving Private Ryan” than “The Longest Day.” Indeed, Schickel claims that “The Big Red One” contains “the best representation of D-Day prior to ‘Saving Private Ryan.’ ”

Originally rated PG, the movie is now rated R for scenes and bits of scenes that reveal a war-is-hell depravity only hinted at in the 1980 release.

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“The Big Red One: The Reconstruction,” with Lee Marvin, Mark Hamill, Robert Carradine. Written and directed by Samuel Fuller.158 minutes. Rated R for violence, profanity. Northwest Film Forum.

But it’s not just the violence that transforms the movie; there’s a fresh sense of spending time with these soldiers and sharing their trials. It sometimes suggests an early draft for “Band of Brothers.”

As before, Fuller’s autobiographical script follows a leathery sergeant (Lee Marvin) to North Africa, Sicily, Omaha Beach, Belgium, Germany and the liberation of a Czech concentration camp. Surviving along with him are a sensitive kid who freezes in battle (Mark Hamill), a callow teenager (Kelly Ward), a moody wisecracker (Bobby Di Cicco) and a gruff, cigar-chomping writer (Robert Carradine), who narrates the film and clearly represents Fuller.

One of the disappointments of the earlier version was the sketchiness of these characters, especially Ward and Di Cicco. There’s still not much more to them, but Carradine’s character has been given a few perverse twists, Marvin’s bonding with war orphans plays a more important role, and the film now builds more naturally to a devastating scene, full of pity and bloodlust, that expresses the soldiers’ reactions to what they find at the death camp.

This reconstructed version is still not “The Big Red One” that Fuller envisioned. Apparently he started with a 270-minute version that was whittled down to 113 minutes for the 1980 release. Schickel and his restoration team were able to find only about an hour of missing material, which they edited to conform to Fuller’s shooting script. Unless more pieces are found, it’s likely to become the definitive edition.

John Hartl: