We've had the glorious hi-def makeovers of King Kong and Metropolis already, and this 1935 film is pretty much cut from the same sail-cloth in terms of dated source material but, like those earlier examples, the result can often be stunning. Presented via VC-1 in its original 1.33:1 ratio (actually transferred here at 1.37:1) Mutiny On The Bounty almost certainly looks the best that the engineers can deliver. The image is strong and detailed, with rich blacks and generally very consistent and crisp contrast. Grain is ever-present and very film-like. It multiplies in some shots more than others, but this is just down to the original stock and the photography. There is no unsightly noise reduction taking place, that's for sure. But the source print cannot help but betray its age. Now, the elements of damage on show are actually few and far between, but when they arrive they are unmistakable. On at least two occasions, the image can be buffeted by rolling pale diagonal lines that sweep across it for a moment. At other times, we get the wavering vertical lines, or somewhat lighter columns flitting about at the edge of the frame. Little intrusions on the frame – a hair most noticeably during the final act – can be seen, and certain shots can look much less distinct or as clean as the majority of the rest of them. A long shot of the Tahitians putting to sea in their outriggers can be worn and grain-saturated, but the very next shot of them rowing in medium to close-up can be quite fantastic in comparison.
But all of this is to be expected. And, in truth, none of it is bothersome in any way.
Mutiny On The Bounty has plenty of detailed close-ups on offer. Eyes and hair, clothing and the texture of rope, cloth and wood, I'm willing to be wager, have not looked this finite since the film played on the big screen way back in the 30's. The grizzled and swarthy faces of the crew, the scars on people's backs from the lash, and that fearsome looking mole/tattoo (not sure what it is, actually) on the Chief's shoulder are so keenly defined that, for much of the time, the film totally belies its 1935 vintage. Most of the group shots offer splendid middle-ground definition and distant vistas do not succumb to the blurring or haziness that could so easily have swallowed them.
The black levels work a treat, too, enabling the image to maintain great shadow depth and visual integrity. Whites are also nicely balanced and don't fall into the trap of blooming. A lot of these much older films tend to have that familiar contrast wavering, whether in scene transitions or pockets of the frame, but I have to say that Mutiny On The Bounty suffers far less than most that I have seen. And with no compression artefacts to muddy things up, and no edge enhancement, this is, in short, a wonderfully restored image that is eminently rewarding in hi-definition.
There's really not a lot to say about Warner's DTS-HD MA 1.0 audio track. It sounds old even though it must have been cleaned-up for this release. But it is difficult to imagine that Mutiny On The Bounty could sound any better than it does with this lossless track, anyway. Oddly, the tech-specs on the packaging claim that the feature only has a Dolby Digital 1.0 track but, rest assured, this is a mistake.
Now, things don't fare quite as impressively with the audio, though this cannot be attributed to the transfer, itself. I found that I had to turn the volume up a lot more than usual than I do with most vintage audio transfers but, this said, I never found any dialogue to be muffled, swamped by music or effects, or just plain lost. The score comes across well enough, though it is hardly dynamic even given the track's limitations. There is a degree of background hiss that, whilst never particularly intrusive, does make its presence felt more at some times than at others. The lashing of the waves, the beating of native drums, the crashing of timbers and the odd musket shot push through this archaic sound-design with some clarity and, on the whole, this provides a solid and perfectly acceptable experience. You feel the weight of the storms and there is some ambient creaking of the ship embedded in the design that manages to come to through, which only adds to the atmosphere.
Basically, I don't think you have much to complain about with this performance, Mr. Christian.
I've got to say that this admittedly gorgeous digibook package is sadly very light on rations for the voyage. We are not provisioned with any making-of or commentaries – which I find immensely disappointing – and what little that Warner have put aboard is really not worth poking your head above decks for.
Asides from the lavishly illustrated and trivia-packed 38-page booklet, we have exactly one-minute's worth of silent footage from the 1936 Academy Awards ceremony, and a nine-minute look at Pitcairn's Island Today … well, as it appeared if today was back in the 1930's. Actually, this is a great little featurette and would have been much more warmly received if it had been part of a better stocked package. We meet the descendants of Fletcher Christian and some of the other mutineers, and we see the homes that they have built with timbers from the Bounty. There is a vaguely “Prisoner-like” mood about the settlement on this back-of-beyond island. Years of in-breeding and isolation mark the inhabitants apart, and their society is made all the more weird by the pleasantly patronising voiceover-man, but this is still a remarkable glimpse at a very strange offshoot of the notorious incident over two hundred years ago.
And to round things off, we get trailers for this film and for the 1962 version.
I can't help but recommend Mutiny On The Bounty wholeheartedly. I'm a major fan of the Gibson/Hopkins version (wow – that Vangelis score!), but this telling has just as much action, angst and madness blowing against its sails. That the film garnered so many Oscar nominations and even won Best Picture is proof enough of its artistic and critical merits, but this is a gripping enough saga, excellently told, by anybody's standards.
The performances from Laughton, Gable and Tone are exemplary. The dreamy idyll of Tahiti is breathtaking, and the set-pieces of storm-lashed vessels are just as violent and tempestuous as their emotional counterparts above and below decks amongst the beleaguered crew. As ever, this is a story that actually makes you want to shout at the screen when the cavalcade of injustice goes too far. It is very much a black-and-white conflict though, which is just par for the course for period storytelling from this era, and this in no way reflects badly on the mastery of such a highly-wrought drama. The ensemble supporting cast are tremendously well-etched, too, with the only exception of the ill-fitting Herbert Mundin, who corny wave-beaten shtick can't help but rankle in the midst of the class act that surrounds him.
Warner's lavishly packaged disc benefits from a superb transfer, but scuppers itself with a dearth of extras. For such a powerful and lauded motion picture, this seems like a terrible oversight. Nevertheless, Mutiny On The Bounty is a superlative addition to your Blu-ray collection, and plays marvellously alongside its refitted shipmates from 1962 and 1984 , both of which I wish would make put to sea on the format soon.
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