The Bounty [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Kino Lorber
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (8th January 2019).
The Film

Lieutenant William Bligh (The Silence of the Lambs' Anthony Hopkins) is called to give testimony to an enquiry into how he came to lose control of the HMS Bounty and to stand trial for court martial. Despite being told multiple times that his crew are not on trial, Bligh insists on portraying them as mutineers, and the accused leader to be Fletcher Christian (Mad Max's Mel Gibson), the Master's Mate and once his own personal friend. Given the assignment of harvesting Breadfruit in Tahiti and transporting it by ship to Jamaica, Bligh who has not made Captain at his age sees the expedition as an opportunity to make his name by rounding Cape Horn and circumnavigating the globe which he justifies to Sailing Master Fryer (The Age of Innocence's Daniel Day-Lewis) as a shorter route. Bligh is determined not to lose a single man and he takes measures hoping to stave off violence and melancholy with music and a daily regimen of therapeutic dancing, but he can neither account for the enmity among the crew for one another with seaman Churchill (High Spirits' Liam Neeson) always itching for a fight or their contempt for his leadership and some of the relative novices above them including Christian, "professional sailor" Fryer, and aristocratic just out of the naval academy Thomas Heywood (Paper Mask's Simon Adams). Bligh's attempt to round Cape Horn in treacherous weather conditions makes no progress over thirty-one days and are forced to take the long route around Australia, alienating both the crew, and those directly under him when he promotes Fletcher to Sailing Master and demotes Fryer to Master's Mate for insubordination after he insists on having his objection to Bligh's conduct during the Cape Horn debacle put down in the log. The ordeal costs the life of one man but morale shoots upward when they come in sight of Tahiti and are welcomed by topless native girls. Bligh has trouble maintaining discipline while the crew are on the island where Fletcher meets and becomes married Mauatua (Tevaite Vernette), daughter of King Tynah (Wi Kuki Kaa) when he gets her pregnant. Bligh becomes sickened by the laziness of his men during the months when they are harvesting the breadfruit, with many of the other men becoming married with expectant wives. He wants to tamp down on talk of desertion by some of the men, but finally puts his foot down when Christian tells him that he does not plan to return to England and orders him back onto the ship. The men's morale is at an all-time low as they set sail, and brought down even lower by the severe punishment of three men who had deserted but returned of their own accord. Christian is also abused by Bligh before the men Fryer having been informally promoted back to Sailing Master but the final straw comes when Bligh announces that they will sail to Jamaica by way of Cape Horn, leading to an act of mutiny.

Based on the true events of April 28, 1789 but taking the source of its Robert Bolt (Lawerence of Arabia) screenplay from the 1972 book "Captain Bligh and Mr. Christian" by Richard Hough rather than the 1932 novel "Mutiny on the Bounty" by Charles Nordhoff (The Hurricane) and James Norman Hall (Passage to Marseille) that served as the basis for the 1935 and 1962 films, the film attempts to offer up a more accurate but also more balanced account, sometimes working at cross purposes. The Bounty is told in flashback ostensibly from Bligh's perspective the earlier novel source was told from the perspective of a fictional equivalent to Midshipman Peter Heywood although its objective view seems to be that of the court hearing it as we see from the start and throughout Bligh's awkwardness with his own men, with Tahitian royalty, and anyone who disagrees with him: his decision to demote Fryer is described by him in a letter to his wife (Hellraiser's Sharon Bower) as a lack of "commitment to my endeavor," although to the audience it appears to be out of genuine concern for the men in peril whom Fryer previously held in distaste. Bligh is tasked with the job of explaining the beliefs of the native peoples to the court but as justification for his own conduct while being seen in flashback where he also refers to them as savages and the mens' conduct with them as filthy; that he is uncomfortable with certain demands of custom as a family man is perhaps understandable including his not wanting to sleep with one of the king's wives as customary but his general lack of diplomacy seems more inexcusable. The film does not exactly rehabilitate his reputation, needing to take dramatic license with his punishments and his ambition to circumnavigate the globe to justify the mutiny. On the other hand, the film does attempt to strip Christian of some of his popular nobility, depicting him as attracted to the journey by the thought of seeing Tahiti, wanting to desert his own reasons, and ill-prepared to actually lead a mutiny; his sympathy for the crew notwithstanding, his anger at Bligh is as personal as Bligh's is at him, thus his "I am in hell" exclamation when caught between Bligh and the men who want to kill him rather than just set him adrift. While Bligh's resolve to get the men set adrift with him back to land redeems him, Christian's love for Mauatua continues to motivate his attempt to get the mutinous crew members to lands beyond the reach of the British navy; and it is fellow midshipman Ned Young (The Doctor and the Devils' Philip Davis) who both encouraged him to mutiny but also reminds him of the sort of arrogance that might lead the men to mutiny again. Audience members there for Gibson either as screen hunk or man of action might be disappointed in the more open ending given his character, but the historical record with regard to his fate is unclear with contradictory statements made about when, where, or even how he died (with even one such rumor suggesting that he returned to England under another identity). The twin goals of the film mean that some of the more dramatic moments are less compelling than the film's display of its production value and period detail while the the synthesizer scoring of Vangelis (Blade Runner) is at its most effective in the exotic locations and aboard ship while seeming out of place in the England, at its most awkward when attempting to comment directly on the action rather than underlining simmering tensions. Although partially lensed in New Zealand, Tahinit, and mostly in England, the Dino De Laurentiis (King Kong) production was the Hollywood debut of Australian director Roger Donaldson (Cocktail), but it had begun life earlier as a project for David Lean (The Bridge on the River Kwai). Sir Laurence Olivier (Rebecca) and Edward Fox (The Day of the Jackal) are given prominent billing but their guest appearances are more distracting than dramatically supportive thanks to the film's structure. The Bounty may not be entirely successful in dramatic terms in telling a truer or more balanced version of the events, but it is ultimately more than just an eighties action blockbuster repurposing of an old property.


Released theatrically by Orion Pictures, The Bounty was released on panned-and-scanned VHS and laserdisc by Vestron Video in 1984 followed by a letterboxed laserdisc in 1994 from Image Entertainment. When the Orion library passed to MGM, the film was released in 2000 on barebones anamorphic widescreen DVD with a 5.1 remix. In the UK, the film fared less well with a 2002 non-anamorphic NTSC-to-PAL conversion DVD from Sanctuary. An anamorphic 2004 DVD followed from Prism Leisure boasting a pair of new audio commentaries and a vintage making-of featurette; however the transfer still an NTSC-to-PAL conversion. Although the German DVD from MGM was anamorphic, it reflected the German theatrical version which ran nearly 28 minutes shorter and the German dub was mixed in mono. The standard definition MGM master was also faulty in that it positioned the MGM logo just before the fade-in after a minute of overture music with the new lion's roar a distraction. The first Blu-ray release came out of France from Filmedia but it had burnt-in subtitles for a few scenes not dubbed into French. That release was followed by a limited edition stateside from Twilight Time which included the 5.1 remix, an isolated score track, and the two commentaries. Although Kino utilized the same master for their 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen Blu-ray, it runs roughly a minute and a half shorter, which may or may not have something to do with the way the opening is presented with the MGM logo featured before the overture. The HD master fares best in its close-ups with the low lit ship interiors and the sweltering island scenes looking naturally hazier, and a 4K remaster probably could have eeked out a bit more texture in the costumes and sets but this one seems an unlikely candidate for an UltraHD release in spite of its pedigree.


While the DVDs and the Twilight Time disc included only the Dolby Digital 5.1 remix, Kino's edition includes the remix in DTS-HD Master Audio and a lossless rendering of the Dolby Stereo mix in lossless 2.0. The 5.1 track gives more spread to the music and atmospheric effects, particularly during the squall aboard ship but one should not expect the sort of sonic experience of the likes of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. The 2.0 track is perfectly serviceable although the 5.1 track is not so revisionist as to necessarily prefer the 2.0 track as "truer." Optional English SDH subtitles are included.


Extras start off with the two commentaries from the UK less-than-special edition. From the audio commentary by director Roger Donaldson, producer Bernard Williams and production designer John Graysmark in which the latter two have the most to say about the five year development of the project because Donaldson only had eight weeks of prep before shooting started. Graysmark had worked with De Laurentiis previously on Flash Gordon and Ragtime and discusses having to build sets in three separate locations, including Tahiti where the sets were blown away by a hurricane just after Williams had visited to approve them. Producer Williams was overwhelmed by the scope of the production before De Laurentiis got involved but wanted to undertake it because of screenwriter Bolt who had recently suffered a stroke. Donaldson recalls that David Lean had requested to screen a copy of his Sleeping Dogs a few years before because he was researching New Zealand actors for a project. When he moved to Hollywood, he was working with producer Edward R. Pressman (The Bad Lieutenant) who sold a project he was working on to De Laurentiis who met with him and instead asked him to direct The Bounty. The commentary features affectionate remembrances of those no longer with us before and behind the camera as well as some amusing stories about some surprising mistakes: rigging the below decks sets with alternating current and having to switch it at the last minute or risk electrocuting the cast and crew when the sets were inundated with water, how the boat constructed some time during the five years of development had taken on bacteria before the shoot, and their decision to be historically accurate and make the sails out of canvas required winds of ninety-miles-per-hour for them to billow the crew not realizing that earlier seafaring productions used silk for that illusion and noting costume designer John Bloomfield (Conan the Barbarian) having to deal with the costumes of the seasick cast because of this. The second audio commentary by historical consultant Stephen Walters is a little less anecdotal but far more illuminating, noting the attempts at historical accuracy and the requirements of attractive actors and visuals for the entertainment of the audience. He also provides plenty of factual information about the mutiny that the film scuttles, noting that Bligh was not promoted to captain because naval rules for such an expedition required a ship of a certain smaller size to be commanded by no one ranking higher than a lieutenant, and that the reasons for traveling around Cape Horn were not Bligh's ego but the navy's own travel orders. He is also of the opinion that the film should have been made in two parts, with the first focusing on the mutiny and the second on Bligh's subsequent naval career and Christian and the mutineers on Pitcairn Island (where many of their descendants still live). The film's theatrical trailer (2:07) is also included along with trailers for three other films.


The Bounty may not be entirely successful in dramatic terms in telling a truer or more balanced version of the events, but it is ultimately more than just an eighties action blockbuster repurposing of an old property.


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