Friday, 3 August 2012

“Chariots Of Fire”. A Review Of The 1981 Film - Now Fully Restored And Reissued On A 30th Anniversary BLU RAY/CD Double-Pack In 2012.


 
"Bring Me My Arrows Of Desire…Bring Me My Chariot Of Fire…"
 
*** THIS REVIEW IS FOR THE USA 'BOOK PACK' BLU RAY REISSUE  ***

Little will prepare fans of "Chariots Of Fire" for this BLU RAY reissue - the picture quality is SENSATIONAL - and for a British film made on a budget in 1981 - that says a lot. 
Also - re-watching it in 2012 (the year of the 30th Olympiad in England) - it's nice to find that this homage to Sporting achievement and human spirit hasn't lost any of its capacity to stir the soul and bring a tear to the eye. It was rightly nominated for 7 Oscars at the time and won 4 - including Best Picture.

PACKAGING/CONTENT/PICTURE QUALITY:
The first thing to note is that even though the print quality and abundant extras are the same for the UK and US versions - they differ greatly in their 'packaging'. Also the UK issue comes in two versions - a simple uninspiring plastic clip-case with just 1 disc (type in barcode: 5039036052344 into Amazon) and a second issue with the music CD as well (type in barcode: 5039036051163).

This US Warner Brothers version that I'm reviewing however comes in a beautifully presented 36-page embossed hardback 'Book Pack' (or Digibook as its sometimes called) with an outer page attached to the rear (type in barcode: 883929093946). Regardless of which issue you buy - ALL are 'REGION FREE' issues so will play on every machine.

The booklet for the US variant is beautiful - featuring articles and pictures on Producer David Puttnam, Director Hugh Hudson and Writer Colin Welland. There's also text and photos on the principal cast members as well as notable supporting roles by John Gielgud, Ian Holm, Alice Krieg and Cheryl Campbell. There's also a page on the huge contribution made by Greek keyboardist VANGELIS - whose musical score has been both revered and parodied in equal measure ever since (most notably in the opening ceremony for the 2012 London Olympics just a few days ago).

This US issue and the UK double also house a 4-track music CD by VANGELIS (13:47 minutes) that features 2006 remasters of "Titles" (A Number 1 US hit in February 1982), "Abraham's Theme", "Eric's Theme" and "Jerusalem" (Vangelis with The Ambrosian Singers).

But the big news is the print - which has been FULLY RESTORED and defaulted to 1.85:1 aspect ratio - thereby filling your entire screen. Even in the notoriously difficult-to-light indoor sequences there is only slight blocking and grain - but on all outdoor scenes (of which there are many) - the clarity is exemplary. The DTS-HD Master Audio is English 5.1 Dolby Digital and Subtitles are English for Hard-Of-Hearing and French. Extras are discussed below...

THE FILM:
Taking its name from William Blake's preface to the epic "Milton: A Poem" - it focuses on the team who secured 4 medals for Britain in the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris - in particular the two Gold winners - Eric Liddell for the Men's 400 metres and Harold Abrahams for the Men's 100 meters. Nicholas Farrell (as Aubrey Montague), Nigel Havers (as Lord Andrew Lindsay) and Daniel Gerroll (as Henry Stallard) make up the other runners. Blink and you'll miss them cameos are - two sightings of American Comedienne Ruby Wax as a lady spectator in the Olympic crowds towards the end of the movie and an uncredited Stephen Fry in the "HMS Pinafore" chorus line-up.

Born in China but raised in Edinburgh - Eric Liddell (nick-named "The Flying Scotsman" after the famous steam train) was the son of a devout Missionary - and like his father before him cherished and practiced his religious convictions. Played to perfection by Scotsman Ian Charleson - Liddell often said that he was 'running for God' or 'felt His pleasure' as he speeded around track after track leaving all in his wake. Both King and Country would sorely test these implacable beliefs in Paris when they asked him to run on the Sabbath - and he refused. A little jiggering of racing dates saved face and the day...but it was the measure of the man that he withstood all that pressure and still won...

His principal rival was Harold Abrahams (played with huge gusto by Ben Cross) - a Jewish Cambridge University intellectual determined to deal with society's bigotry towards his kind by crushing all detractors in his path - including Liddell - whom he both feared and admired. But when he finally faces Liddell in a run and looses by a ticker-tape inch - the outsider is crushed. But help is at hand in the shape of an unorthodox Jewish coach called Sam Mussabini (a fabulous turn by veteran actor Ian Holm) who promises to make Harold faster and better (and does).

These indomitable boors inhabit a world of privileged chums wearing boater hats and striped blazers - men who sing Gilbert & Sullivan's "HMS Pinafore" songs with alarming relish. This is Britain after the senseless generation-depleting butchery of World War I - but still with that inbred sense of Empire coursing through their veins. You'd be right in thinking that all this snobbish elitism could become quickly tedious (and it threatens to do so for the first half hour), but the script rightly concentrates on something all the more compelling - their dedication, self-sacrifice and guts. Genuinely inspiring a hurting-country hungry for something noble to celebrate - you could even say they joined Christianity and Judaism on the Sports field for the National good. And on it goes to the 8th Olympics Games in 1924 and a funeral in London in 1978 (making it contemporary).

The wad of extras are superb - modern day interviews with all the protagonists - Ben Cross and Nigel Havers particularly animated and witty and pouring praise on Ian Charleson who sadly passed away in 1990. And again when they use the old stock footage of the film - you see just how glorious the full restoration truly is.

Like "The King's Speech" in so many ways - "Chariots Of Fire" is filled with British pride - but in a good way. This is a story about people worth remembering - their struggles - their heartbreaks and triumphs - their journey. Having not seen it in probably 30 years - I found it moving, inspirational and not in the least bit dated. And now it has the transfer and format it deserves. I know the US version may cost twice as much as the UK issue - but if you can go the few quid - then do so.

When Screenplay Writer Colin Welland accepted his Oscar - he famously announced "The British Are Coming!" Well, they're back...because this really is a fantastic reissue of a great movie.

I'm off now to run in slow motion by the sea and surf with that synth riff pounding through my very tight Speedos...nice!

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