Friday, 25 May 2012

“Jeremiah Johnson” on BLU RAY. A Review Of The 1972 Film Now Reissued On A 2012 BLU RAY.


“…Ghosty Stories…Of Tall Hills…”

*** THIS REVIEW IS FOR THE 2012 BLU RAY REISSUE ***

"Jeremiah Johnson" is one of those movies that you wished you’d seen on the big screen. Well - with this sparkling new 2012 BLU RAY reissue boasting such a beautiful print – and if you've access to a half-decent home cinema kit - you sorta can pardner (sorry couldn’t resist).

And there's more good news for us on the other side of the pond. Luckily this American Warner Brothers BLU RAY is 'All Regions' (A, B and C) so it will also play on all machines. And while it doesn’t categorically state that the print has been fully restored (and despite a decidely blurry opening shot of the river) - a huge amount of cleaning up has taken place here because the print is BEAUTIFUL almost 95% of the time – and in some instances would put films of today to shame. There's even a hugely entertaining 'commentary' by the trio who made it – Director Sydney Pollack, Co-Writer John Milius and Actor Robert Redford.

The other extra – an 11-minute Making Of called "The Saga Of Jeremiah Johnson" gives you a good indication of how bad the print was – it's 1972 picture quality is awful – covered in scratches and grain. The print itself is nothing like this. There are sequences by his cabin door in the sunshine which are so clear – even a night shot with Will Geer who plays the wily old mountain man Bear Claw around a campfire towards the end of the film is beautfully rendered. It's defaulted to 2.4:1 Aspect – so it has bars top and bottom. But it also has a 16:9 aspect fitting too - so even when stretched to full screen – it looks great and properly cinematic.

The reissue's also faithful to the movie as seen – so it includes a 2-minute OVERTURE at the beginning with a still of Johnson standing on a mountain overlooking a valley - and at about 80 minutes in - it even gives us an INTERMISSION which in turn leads to a ENTR’ ACTE restart. And no matter what the weather or season depicted - Winter, Spring, Summer or Autumn – it's shot with fantastic PanaVision bravado and style. The only real clunkers are the ever-so-slightly cheesy narrative at the beginning (words from it title this review) and the dreadfully dated 'aching cowboy' song that crops up at certain intervals when you least want it. 

Released in late 1972 – the film is a mid-1800's frontier tale - an amalgamation of a novel called "Mountain Man" by Vardis Fisher and a short story called "Crow Killer" by William Thorp. The ex–soldier Jeremiah Johnson seeks the solitude and freedom of the wilderness – which he gets – going months sometimes without ever seeing another human being. But he also finds freezing cold, starvation, friendly and hostile Indians (Flathead and Crow), pilgrim families and death by any number of savage means.

Along the way he acquires a squaw-wife called "The Swan" (a beautiful part for Delle Bolton), a boy left mute by the killing of his family (Josh Albee) and a bald-headed loony he finds buried up to his neck in the sand called Del Gue (a scene-stealing turn by mad-eyed Stefan Gierasch). Throw in the near hysterical laughter of too-long-in-the-snow mountain-man Bear Claw (Will Geer) who is obsessed with hunting 'Griz' (Grizzly Bears) – and you get the general idea. Mostly Jeremiah muddles through – even threatening to become a 'family' man himself at one point. But then Johnson makes a gargantuan mistake in the second half of the movie by crossing sacred burial grounds and pays for it with a constant stream of singular Crow warriors Hell bent on killing him.

Redford is magnificent in the central role – living it – breathing it – and looking more handsome than any mere mortal has a right to be. You can feel his star-quality screaming off the screen. You can also feel him relishing the outdoor settings, the simplicity of the life and the ecological thread running throughout the story. Filmed entirely on location in Utah – it has breathtaking scenery – and an almost savage reality to all of the characters – even those as vulnerable as women and children. It runs to just under two hours, but feels like three – and in a good way. And it all comes to a very satisfying and (in some ways) an unexpectedly uplifting ending…

A fantastic BLU RAY reissue then – and what a thrill to see this criminally forgotten gem of a movie be given such a gorgeous makeover.

Recommended like a tumble with a salmon. 
And roll on Redford's own "The Milagro Beanfield War" in such superb print quality.

BLU RAY Specifications:
VIDEO: in 2.4:1 aspect and 16.9 also
AUDIO: DTS-HD Master Audio English 5.1, Dolby Digital French 1.0 and Spanish (both Castilian 1.0 and Latin 2.0).
SUBTITLES: English SDH (Deaf and Hard-Of-Hearing), French and Spanish
EXTRAS:
1. Feature-length commentary by Director Sydney Pollack, Writer John Milius and Actor Robert Redford
2. The Saga Of Jeremiah Johnson
3. Theatrical Trailer

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