Stars – Mel Gibson, Anthony Hopkins, Liam Neeson, Edward Fox, Daniel Day-Lewis
Director – Roger Donalson
Released by Twilight Time
Limited edition of 3,000 Units
Available at Screenarchives.com
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin
When Orion pictures released The Bounty in 1984 it claimed to be the most historically accurate telling of the famous mutiny at sea. It was based on different source material than the other two more famous movies with Clarke Gable in 1935 and Marlon Brando in 1962. This version is based on the book Captain Bligh and Mr. Christian (1962) by Richard Hough. Right from the start the difference is apparent. Fletcher Christian is having a ball at a party when Bligh approaches him about this voyage to collect some bread plants. It is clear they are friends. We even see Mel Gibson as Fletcher playing with Bligh’s kids. Bligh apologizes that he can not give him a higher station on the crew as he has already appointed Daniel Day-Lewis that position.
The costumes all look period specific. The elaborately constructed boat looks terrific and is filled with all kinds of minute details. The way the crew scampers up and down the mast and rigging to sell sail is truly impressive. It’s a wonderful sight to see the ship set sail off to sea, though much of the voyage takes place on board. In fact most of the shots keep us right on the ship either on or below deck. Only rarely do we get to see the Bounty breaking waves on the open waters. Anthony Hopkin’s captain Bligh is vastly different than the vindictive portrait of oppressive power that Charles Laughton famously played. Hopkins appears to take the task of running the ship and the job of finding and delivering these bread plants very seriously. His previous experience at sea and his upbringing as a fine gentleman demand he establish a proper decorum. At one point we see him insisting the crew take a daily dance break to keep fit. He’s even gone to the trouble to see that a talented musician was on board. This is not the portrait of a cruel man at all.
When the ship anchors off the beautiful island of Tahiti in order to trade for the bread plants the story takes a turn. All of the previous versions show the effect that this tropical paradise has on the crew that has been locked on a ship at sea for months on end. But none of them has been able to present it like this one. The bevy of topless island women that virtually swarm the ship is an incredible sight. These women have smiles that could stop a ship and they are all drop dead gorgeous. Save for some grass skirts they are naked, too. For all its might MGM couldn’t show women like this in the thirties or early sixties. This is how it is supposed to look. The crew settles in to a lovely lifestyle at this island resort waiting for the bread plants to become hearty enough for the delivery voyage. While the plants grow there is nothing for the crew to do except have a great time.
This shore leave is what appears to unhinge captain Bligh. The open sexuality and hedonistic lifestyle is just too threatening for him. His interpretation of the abandonment of morality offends him to his core. The wanton behavior demands his redress. As he begins to insist the men curb their behavior the seeds of mutiny are sewn. Once back aboard the ship with the bread plants he becomes more and more dictatorial. The movie starts with him on trail for loosing his ship to the mutineers. From the start we know there is a mutiny, though that has to be obvious. However we also know that when Bligh is set adrift on a small overcrowded boat that he makes it back to England. He must have been an incredible captain to have brought his crew all the way back to Britain in that flimsy boat. Those scenes are harrowing and mightily impressive.
Mel Gibson’s Fletcher Christian seems a good guy right from the start. He is jovial with his friends and likes kids. However once on the ship the rigidity of the class system is telling. The captain and a few elite officers eat fine food in nice quarters. They have private rooms below deck with nice beds. The manager level mates have lesser food in lesser quarters. The rest of the ship’s crew swing back and forth on makeshift rope bunks and eat swill. Even though the romance of Fletcher and his island lady is romantically told the impression slowly creeps in that he may just be thinking of himself. Does he agree to the mutiny because he feels the crew is in anger or does he just want to get back to his barefoot girlfriend? The weight of the class system that is carried from England onto the ship is made clear. Bligh’s change is clear. Even his prodigious talents as a leader under stress are easy to appreciate. Yet we are uncertain about Fletcher’s real motivations. That last quarter of the film gives us a comparison of Bligh and Fletcher as leaders of men in dire straits.
Roger Donaldson’s telling of the story feels like the most believable. This is a grand scale entertainment with more than a little well thought out texture to the characterizations. It also looks fabulous. Never before has the Tahitian paradise felt this alluring. We know that those island ladies are doing more than putting flowers in the crew member’s hair. Liam Neeson looks so young and earnest in his role here. Day-Lewis plays a right bastard that you can spot from the start. He handles it well. Director Donaldson does a fine job with the cast as he conveys the adventurousness of the story telling. He never lets any of the effects or tropical setting take our focus away from the changes these characters go through. I remember being very taken with this version when it came out. For many the Gable and Brando versions trump this one. Nevertheless The Bounty is a very solid film that deserves a fresh look from those who may have dismissed it. It stands as a fine picture and a far more accurate telling of the mutinous tale than its predecessors.
Video – 2.35:1
The film looks very fine. Though it does not appear to have gone through any restoration the source materials look in good shape. Colors are all strong. Detail is good. Flesh tones are natural. The depth of field in the exteriors comes across fine. Black levels suffer a bit in some of the interior cabin scenes.
Audio – DTS-HD MA 5.1 in English with subtitles offered in English SDH
All dialogue is clear. The Musical score and sound effects get fair play from the DTS track.
Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated score track, Commentary with director Roger Donaldson, producer Bernard Williams, and production designer John Graysmark, Commentary with historical consultant Stephen Watts, Original Theatrical Trailer
On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:
Blu-Ray – Excellent
Movie – Excellent