Mutiny on the Bounty Blu-ray Review
Mutiny On The Bounty is presented in an immaculately wide 2.76:1 aspect that really opens out the imagery of the film and transports you across the seas to a land of promise and, ultimately, treachery. By all accounts, it carries an AVC transfer from the same master print that was used for the film’s VC-1 HD DVD release a few years ago, although I never saw that disc. I have seen the R1 DVD Special Edition, though, which I would say also definitely hails from the same source, and this disc unmistakably improves quite noticeably upon it. But there are a few problems at sea, and these may well stem from Warners utilising the same old print. They inform us that their release has been taken from 65mm sources, but this still lacks the detail that we would expect to see on 35 mm transfers.
Whilst we have seen the incredible quality of the recent Ben-Hur on BD, you would be completely wrong to assume that similar care and attention have been lavished upon Mutiny, a film from the same period, and shot in the same manner by the same DOP. There is certainly no print damage whatsoever, and whilst there is no smearing, aliasing or blocking going on, and no banding or retiming issues, the image looks utterly bereft of fine detail. Now I may, or may not be correct in assuming this … but, to me, this looks horribly DNR’d. There is a massive lack of texture and fine detail and a proliferation of smudgy mid and background faces that just cries out digital de-noising to me. And yet, I have read that this is accurate to the source, with the Technicolor Ultra Panavision elements being authentically reproduced by the encode … so I'm sort of in a quandary. Personally speaking, I struggle to see this as being the case as I just cannot reconcile the lack of definition as being faithful. The image is certainly rich and colourful – and I will comment in detail upon this aspect later on – but the picture also looks bland and feature-less, flat and waxy in terms of detail.
I can’t believe that a film that was granted Roadshows at 70mm – albeit at only a handful of venues - could eventually look this void of grain and texture. I stand to be corrected in this matter by someone who knows better but, for me, this just doesn’t look right. There is no grain at all and the imagery can frequently be soft. Faces up close have crags and wrinkles and whiskers – but have them step back a few feet and they have nothing except a suntan. Foliage on Tahiti offers very little detail either. Costumes, hair, shipside knick-knacks, and the appearance of decks and sails, masts and kegs, are not of a quality that you would expect. Occasionally, we can have some haloing around the heads of crewmen in the background, a sort of greenish tint. But I would say that this is down to the source and not a mistake of the transfer. Edges, in the main, seem smooth and untouched-up barring a few instances of moderate enhancement. But this absence of texture is immediately apparent and was, for me, a constant source of bewilderment.
However, as I say, the fidelity of the colour reproduction is spot-on and results in an image that can, at times, be simply breathtaking. The palette is warm and sun-kissed. Complexions are suitably ruddy and tanned. But far from looking boosted and artificially glowing, the palette is suffused with that drip-dry sheen of Technicolor glory, the image awash with such a lustrous vigour that it radiates out into the room. The rolling seas and the overarching skies blend azure and turquoise, and fluffy white clouds and roiling whitecaps provide lovely contrast. The sunburned skin and the wind-lashed wood of the ship bring a ruddy quality to the image. The magical glow of twilight – orange and pink against a canvas of black shadow – is sublime. But once we reach Tahiti, the movie becomes a carnival of ripened gaiety. Suddenly we get to see green. The tribal costumes, the lush foliage, the sunny cast and the sparkle of the lapping waves all conspire to produce an image that is so vivid you can still see burned on the inside of you eyelids. When we have a raging inferno at the end, this is bright and bold. When we see blood smeared on a white shirt, it provides a livid contrast. As far as the colour goes, this is an excellent showcase.
Blacks are strong too, with fine shadows creeping across the ship, particularly below decks, and rendering some glowering third act imagery of soul-searching. It is possible that there is some crushing going on during these latter sequences, although it should be added that, up until now, the film has never actually depended so much upon visual murk and gloom. So it may just be the sudden swathing in shadows that provide such a wallop to the image. With contrast excellently maintained, we also have a picture that boasts a wonderful depth of visual atmospherics. Indeed, despite the lack of finite detail, the image often has a pleasing sense of three-dimensionality below decks as well as topside, and upon the captivating island, of course.
Ultimately, this looks captivating at first glance. But it is clear that Warner went cheap on the deal and simply used the same old transfer. I seriously doubt that Mutiny On The Bounty would have no grain and lack so much in the way of definition and detail. For such a sumptuously shot film, a brand new scan of the original print was called for, and not a cheapskate re-do. 6 out of 10 might seem harsh, but they really should have done this lavish production justice.
Mutiny now carries a DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mix, but don’t go expecting the sort of experience you'd get from a modern mix from it. MGM’s movie would have enjoyed a 4-channel stereo mix during its limited Roadshow presentations, so I think it is probably safe to assume that this mix goes quite some way to replicating how that would probably have sounded.
The stereo spread is widely lashed across the front, with a good sense of depth thrown into the mix. Effects are buoyed from one side to the other and the score benefits from a lush and warm degree of separation that really helps the movie feel alive. The Tahitian drums, too, get some width to play within, which gives some top-tapping power to our introduction to the island paradise. Dialogue is always crisply and clearly delivered, although it does across as very centred. We have the raspy, brittle growl of Howard’s voice, and the queerly clipped and enunciated speech from a strenuously non-mumbling Brando. Background chatter from grumbling shipmates is well rendered too. Bronislau Kaper’s extraordinary score takes up a welter of the mix’s potency, as you would expect. Instrumentation is keen and clear, a debatable lack of individual detail swept up in the warmth and depth of a splendidly lively orchestral surge. As I've already said, the tribal drums and ritual percussion of the natives on Tahiti have a terrific rhythm that the track does well to drive onward. The wood-blocks and drums really carry a nice clarity and timbre, too. Bass levels are up to the task of giving some reasonable depth to the various impacts during the storms and the final conflagration but, once again, it is with the reproduction of the score that lower levels are at their most respectful.
The sound of shipboard activity – scrubbing decks, swinging sails, chiming bells and assorted clangs, clanks and creaks – is reasonably well presented and with degree of clear detail and placement. There is some ambience thrown out that tries to add atmosphere to the pot. We get the sound of lapping water against the hull during some of the quieter moments and, of course, the more bombastic episodes of stormy fury are bolstered by the surround speakers with spume, wind and wave roar, and rolling impacts being lent some support. But you have to remember that this is a dated track that doesn’t exactly place you authentically in the heart of the action, but then no-one would honestly expect it too.
This is best that I've ever heard the film sound though, and the lossless depiction of Kaper's thrilling score should please its fans no end.
This BD of Mutiny On The Bounty carries onboard all the extras that adorned the R1 DVD from a while ago. But this isn't a particularly grand haul of booty, to be honest. Practically all of the focus is on the replica of the ship, itself, rather than the troubled production of the movie.
After the Cameras Stopped Rolling: The Journey of the Bounty hails from 2006 and contains interviews and archival footage with the builders of the vessel and shows its construction. We also get much the same thing in The Story of the HMS Bounty. The lovely replica's voyage to St. Petersburg, Russia is detailed in, aye, The Bounty's Voyage to St. Petersburg. We visit the ship again as the Star Attraction at the New York World's Fair in 1964, and then we see it sailing from Vancouver to San Francisco in HMS Bounty Sails Again. I don't know about you, but I'm sick of the sight of this bloody ship by now.
What about the film? Tell us about the film!!!
No. We won't.
We do get to see the original Prologue and Epilogue that depict the Bounty's remaining survivor on Pitcairn's Island in 1914 meeting the officers of the HMS Blossom. I can see why these scenes were cut as they don't really fit with the tale that is told and the mood evoked, but they are fun to watch.
And finally we get the film's Theatrical Trailer.
All in all, this is a very poor offering … unless you are a complete junkie for the replica of the Bounty. Obviously, nobody could be bothered providing a commentary – which I'm certain would have been quite entertaining. And a little retrospective on such a calamitous shoot would have been fun. Alas, it was not to be.
We have three main cinematic interpretations of the story of the Bounty, all with agreeably different tones, moods and agendas. All of which provide ample opportunity for superstar personifications of the historic characters, and all have been bravura encapsulations of the trends and styles of the times. Here, in MGM’s most indulgent version, the pageantry is at its most flamboyant, both in terms of visual excess and performance. The film is long and feels like a voyage but, once you have set the time aside and prepared yourself for the long-haul, the rewards are often fine and enjoyable. This said, however, some final act blunders do undermine the moody good stuff that has gone before, and really show up Brando's inflated ego and erroneous depiction of his character.
It is abundantly clear that Brando could have sunk the production, almost literally, but his comical and excessive altercations with the writers and the two directors add a flavour to the performances and the sweaty atmosphere that don’t seem at all forced and put-on just for the cameras. When tension rises on-screen, you can bet that it was bubbling like mad off-screen too. Trevor Howard definitely seems to enjoy letting his personal mockery and dislike for his co-star flow through his dialogue and dance in his eyes. Even for this alone, alone, I would recommend the film … though, to be fair, this is still a disappointment in so many ways.
Warners disc is problematic too. The dearth of fine detail is cause for concern, robbing what is an amazingly vibrant image of any true film-like texture. The improvements over previous editions (though I cannot comment on the HD-DVD version) is clear enough – this looks astonishing at times, almost like a painting come to life. The audio is good, though hardly anything to get excited about, but the supplements are a damp squib unless you are a devoted fan of the replica Bounty and its post-Mutiny outings. The opportunity was there to delve into a legendary production and dish the dirt … but the release only manages to set sail with its familiar old complement of extras.
Maligned, yes. Mocked, certainly. But Lewis Milestone's adaptation of Mutiny On The Bounty is still top entertainment in the grand old style. There are set-pieces aplenty and fabulous imagery, but really you watch this for the weird performance of Brando and the demoniacally cruel persona of Howard's Bligh.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £12.39
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