Mexico / USA 19
Under the Volcano follows the final day in the life of self-destructive British consul Geoffrey Firmin (Albert Finney, in an Oscar-nominated tour de force) on the eve of World War II. Withering from alcoholism, Firmin stumbles through a small Mexican village amidst the 'Day of the Dead' fiesta, attempting to reconnect with his estranged wife (Jacqueline Bisset) but only further alienating himself. John Huston's ambitious tackling of Malcolm Lowry's towering "unadaptable" novel gave the incomparable Finney one of his grandest roles and was the legendary The Treasure of the Sierra Madre director's triumphant return to filmmaking in Mexico.*
*after The Night of the Iguana in 1964
Everyone will be doing Huston's film a favour if they try hard not to compare it with the now classic Malcolm Lowry novel. In fact it captures the doomed spirit of the original, while - rightly - in no way apeing its dense, poetic style. Huston opts for straightforward narrative, telling the story of Geoffrey Firmin, an alcoholic English ex-diplomat who embraces his own destruction in Mexico shortly before the outbreak of World War II. As the limp-wristed observers of this manic process, Andrews and Bisset are at best merely decorative, at worst an embarrassment, and the film's success rests largely on an (often literally) staggering performance from Finney as the dipso diplo. Slurring sentences, sweating like a pig, wobbling on his pins, he conveys a character who is still, somehow, holding on to his sense of love and dignity. Not for the purists, maybe, but the last half-hour, as Firmin plunges ever deeper into his self-created hell, leaves one shell-shocked.
Theatrical Release: June 12th, 1984
DVD Review: Criterion (2-disc Special Edition) - Region 1 - NTSC
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|Distribution||Criterion Collection - Spine # 410 - Region 1 - NTSC|
Average Bitrate: 6.95 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s
NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.
• Audio commentary featuring executive producer Michael Fitzgerald and producers Wieland Schulz-Keil and Moritz Borman
• Audio commentary featuring Guy Gallo (selected scenes)
commentary featuring Danny Huston (opening credits only)
• Notes from "Under the Volcano"
(1984), a 59-minute documentary by Gary Conklin shot on the set during
the film's production, featuring interviews with Huston, cast, and crew
I don't recall what this film looks (2 decades since I have seen) like but I'm not overly impressed by how it appears on this progressive and anamorphic Criterion DVD. It is more than probable that it is inherent in the way the film was shot (often with Steadicams). Criterion look to have boosted black levels a shade and contrast is quite good. Detail is off-and-on with some shots showing respectable sharpness and others kind a 'film-gauze' hazy. This is another indicator for the image quality being representative of its original roots... not a poor transfer - Huston being noted for his naturalistic shooting techniques (disliking artificially created sets). Further on the positive the image appears quite clean without overuse of digital enhancement to improve the inherent inconsistencies.
Audio is clear and clean - a bit weak in some instances but original monaural to my knowledge. The dialogue is supported by English optional subtitles (not available on all supplements).
This is a 2-disc affair with some commentary work on the feature disc. Producers Michael Fitzgerald (first), Wieland Schulz-Keil and Moritz Borman take the lead with a full commentary (separately) for the entirety of the film. It is of Criterion's usual standard with each contributor sharing a multitude of stories about production including the occasional miniscule detail. Screenwriter Guy Gallo also has some commentary in six selected scenes (plus an audio only introduction) and finally Danny Huston (John's son) has something to say during the opening credits (5:58) on how the film touched him. There is also an anamorphic theatrical trailer completing the extras on disc 1.
Also included are a 20-page liner notes booklet with an essay by film critic Christian Viviani.
I was never that keen on the film and although I did enjoy it much more seeing it now although I wouldn't say I am a fan of the movie. The beauty of this Criterion DVD is the price for what you are getting in digital value. Some solid supplements, that many will find enjoyable and educational, highlight and curious film from one of the master directors of all time.