BR: Bounty, The (1984)

July 9, 2015 | By


Bounty1984_BRFilm: Excellent

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Excellent

Label: Twilight Time

Region: All

Released:  March, 2015

Genre:  Drama / Aventure

Synopsis: Fifth and perhaps most faithful retelling of the famous Mutiny on the Bounty saga in which too much leisure time in paradise led to conflicts that ultimately seeded the most famous mutiny in maritime history.

Special Features:  2002 Audio Commentary #1 with director Roger Donaldson, co-producer Bernard Williams, and production designer John Graysmark / 2002 Audio Commentary #2 with historical consultant Stephen Walters / Isolated Stereo Music Track / Original Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment.




Originally drafted as a two-part film project by director David Lean and screenwriter Robert Bolt in 1977, the lavish adaptation of Richard Hough’s book Captain Bligh and Fletcher Christian went as far as building a full-scale replica of the HMS Bounty ship for Dino De Laurentiis’ production, but things went sour after Bolt suffered a stroke, De Laurentiis’ money pool shrunk, and the producer was likely devoting more time to his other Tahitian-set epic, a remake of John Ford’s The Hurricane (1937) which was ultimately made and released in 1979.

Although Lean stuck with the production until 1980, De Laurentiis apparently felt he had a quality production that could still work if the drama were condensed into a single feature film. Epic TV mini-series were undeniably hot on TV, but De Laurentiis seemed to feel a theatrical production was both the right venue, and the most prestigious, given Bolt had written two of Lean’s greatest commercial works, Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Doctor Zhivago (1965).

After the merging of two scripts into one and gaining a high profile star (Anthony Hopkins), De Laurentiis offered then newcomer Roger Donaldson the directing job in spite of having just a few smaller-scaled dramas in his C.V. and several documentaries.

Bolt’s scripts – The Lawbreakers (covering the events leading up to the mutiny and the men’s flight to the island of Pitcairn) and The Long Arm (the hunt for the mutineers and their ignoble ends) – became The Bounty, but rather than condensing events, the script was broken up into a series of chronological flashbacks spun off from Lt. William Bligh’s court-martial as accusations are met with his recollections of the most well-known sea mutiny in history. It’s a structure Bolt used in Zhivago – a present day gathering of characters launches a series of lengthy flashback episodes – and it works extremely well in the resulting film.

When placed alongside the 1935 and 1962 versions of the famous Bligh / Christian mutiny with the pairings of Charles Laughton / Clark Gable and Trevor Howard / Marlon Brando, respectively, Bolt’s recount can certainly be branded as revisionist, but it’s also the most fair-minded, as both the script and director Donaldson wanted to go back to the most accurate accounts of the saga (including Bligh’s own published work) and present more complex versions of Bligh and Christian.

Anthony Hopkins’ interpretation of Bligh is of a professional – a humourless hardliner, yet brilliant seaman – whereas Mel Gibson’s Christian retains some of the privileged lineage of Brando’s version, but instead of playing him as a marginal fop, he’s a young man thrown into a drastic situation which he ultimately leads in spite of being a friend of Bligh.

That Bligh and Christian were friends isn’t even present in prior film versions – in reality, they had actually sailed together – and their initial mutual respect adds to the ‘new material’ that revises the cartoonish if not still gripping versions of a temperamental overlord who pouts and metes out cruel punishments as his second in command is forced to watch in silent disgust.

Bligh wasn’t a pushover – the discipline was brutal – but as stated in the commentaries, he was unconventional in leading what was a rare commercial venture for the British Navy (cheap breadfruit plants to feed slaves) minus an entourage that reportedly accompanied captains as literal bodyguards in case the crews did mutiny. Bligh also knew that too much leeway, rest, fraternizing with locals, and an extended stay in a tropical paradise wouldn’t just soften the men, but erode all the discipline needed for the trip home. Bligh had to be a bit of a bastard.

Why did the film fail to ignite critics and audiences at the box office in 1984? It may well have been too many new ingredients which irritated curmudgeonly critics – newcomer Mel Gibson; a sympathetic, non-cartoonish Bligh; a glossy contemporary visual look; and an all-electronic score by Vangelis in place of a large traditional orchestra dolling out sea-inspired themes – and as Donaldson claims in the Blu-ray’s commentary track, studio Orion being unsure of the right marketing strategy. (The theatrical poster, with big actor heads and weak imagery didn’t help matters.)

Donaldson contends the film should’ve been sold to a younger market – the glossy film’s casting, look, and sound aren’t rooted in classical cinema – but it may also have been a case of timing. If De Laurentiis’ Hurricane remake was any indication, period tales set on a ship with lengthy interludes on an island where ennui slowly drives disciplined men into daydreamers were insufficiently attractive to audiences in ’84. Add a mutiny that lasts a few scenes and no action scenes of a massive, bloody hunt for the mutineers, and the image to Orion and fickle audiences may have been a creaky, classical drama.

Bounty1984_R2_sMGM’s 2000 DVD was, aside from a trailer, a bare bones release, and the only special edition that ever emerged stemmed from Britain in 2002 from (apparently) Sanctuary Visual Entertainment, which paired two commentaries and assorted featurettes on a DVD. Twilight Time’s sourced a gorgeous HD transfer from MGM and retained the two commentaries exclusive to the U.K. release. Still unique to the 2002 DVD is the 52 min. 1984 TV special “The Making of the Bounty” in which actor Edward Fox gives a tour of the production, and “The Bounty on Film,” in which Bounty historian Stephen Walters goes through the various film versions, including the rarely seen 1933 Australian version, In the Wake of the Bounty, that starred Errol Flynn in his film debut as Christian.

In place of the featurettes is a stereo isolated score track of Vangelis’ music, which was previously released as a 2-CD bootleg in 2000 (with draft versions, extended mixes, and ethnic source cues), and as a pretty decent re-recorded album from in 2010.

The real gems are the commentaries: in the first, Donaldson, co-producer Bernard Williams, and gravel-voiced production designer John Graysmark cover the production, cast, themes, and historical details; and in the second, the film’s historical consultant Stephen Walters adds further insight into the largely factual details and the moments of dramatic license within the script. This essentially a 7 hour time investment, and fans of the saga will certainly appreciate the effort the filmmakers put into the commentaries to contextualize what they feel is a great film that deserved a re-release on the big screen.

That didn’t happen, but this BR offers the next best thing. Hopkins provides the third and most measured portrayal of Bligh, whereas Gibson’s interpretation is limited by weaker material simply because he’s not a complex figure – just a young officer, eager for adventure and love, but someone thrown ‘into hell’ when too many of the worst stressors came to a head.

Also in the cast are Laurence Olivier and Edward Fox as court-martial figures (the latter once again providing a great version of a moralizing monarchial shit), Daniel Day Lewis as the cruel first mate whom Christian replaced for a period during the voyage, prolific character actor Bernard Hill as the lead disciplinarian, and an absurdly young Liam Neeson as a temperamental crewman whose rebellious streak add to the mutiny’s momentum.

Vangelis’ synth score is less shocking today – perhaps due to his own efforts in grand productions like 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992), if not the seamless fusion of orchestra and electronics by Hans Zimmer in the late 80s – but it is very much a product of its time, filled with the long, fat synth chords and the composer’s recognizable bass kabooms. The sound mix is clear and punchy – the team at TT reportedly delayed the BR’s release to address the score and soundtrack’s restoration – but there a few hints where Vangelis’ bass clearly challenged the original sound engineers who tried to minimize a few hot spots. (Donaldson amusingly recalls the mixing session where Vangelis preferred exploiting his score’s boom factor instead of leaving some room for the dialogue.)

It is a pity the featurettes from the 2002 DVD weren’t ported over with the commentaries, but now that the film is finally out on Blu in North America, The Bounty has a new life, presenting a more realistic version of the famous mutiny, and validating most of the creative and stylistic choices made by the cast, director, and certainly De Laurentiis, who wisely stuck with the project, perhaps aware that one had to occasionally made a good movie amid the usual sequel, remake, and rip-off fodder within his own producer / executive producer canon.

Like Peter Weir’s Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003), this is also one of the best dramas of cramped life on the seas in a sailing ship, and the quality of the production helped Donaldson enjoy a strong career in the U.S. Among his more commercial endeavours, his finest work includes No Way Out (1987), White Sands (1992), and especially Thirteen Days (2000).



© 2015 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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