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A view from the Blu (-ray) on DVDBeaver by Leonard Norwitz

 

The Fugitive [Blu-ray]

 

(Andrew Davis, 1993)

 

 

Review by Gary Tooze

 

Production:

Theatrical: Warner

Video: Warner Home Video

 

Disc:

Region: FREE! (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 2:10:14.807

Disc Size: 24,813,817,916

Feature Size: 22,771,599,360

Video Bitrate: 20.73 Mbps

Chapters: 42

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: September 26th, 2006

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-2

 

Audio:

Dolby Digital Audio English 640 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps / Dolby Surround
Dolby Digital Audio French 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps / Dolby Surround
Dolby Digital Audio Spanish 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps / Dolby Surrounds

 

Subtitles:

English, Spanish, French and none

 

Extras:

• Audio Commentary with director Andrew Davis and actor Tommmy Lee Jones
• Anatomy of a Train Wreck (9 min)
• On the Run (23 min)
• Theatrical Trailer
 

Introduction: The chase has been a vital cinematic ingredient since The Great Train Robbery of 1903. Some ten years later, Mack Sennett's Keystone Cops brought the concept to hilarious heights – or depths, if you prefer. (Billy Wilder's 1959 Some Like it Hot opens with an homage.) Westerns from the silent era through the 1930s had endless chases per movie: Indians chasing wagon trains, cavalry chasing Indians, outlaws chasing stagecoaches, posses chasing outlaws, good guys in white hats chasing down runaway horses with damsels in distress. Dramas and comedies made frequent use of the sound stage so that filmmakers could control every nuance of production, but were less convincing for chase sequences, having to rely on rear projection for that extra bit of wincing unreality. The sound stage became the order of the day until after WWII, when more light sensitive film became available and the camera itself became more portable. With film noir the camera moved out on location once again, often at night.

The idea of the chase as the basic architecture of a movie isn't all that common in film, though it does seem to provide the impetus for many of our dreams. Alfred Hitchcock placed his personal stamp on the chase in the late 1930s with The 39 Steps and Young and Innocent, in 1942 with Saboteur and in 1959 in North by Northwest. In the following decades, the chase could be seen in such diverse films as Stanley Kramer's 1963 interminable farce, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Sydney Pollack's romantic The Electric Horseman, Spielberg's relentless TV movie Duel, and the delightfully disrespectful Smokey and the Bandit. It's there again in The Searchers, John Ford's tale of twisted revenge and racist hatred and also Hitchcock's introverted, nightmarish masterpiece in the genre, Vertigo. Satoshi Kon would bring the dream and the chase together in his 2006 anime, Paprika.

Though its antecedent is probably the chariot race from Ben-Hur, the idea of a car chase being considered as part of character development got a genre-making boost in Peter Yates' 1968 detective drama, Bullitt, starring Steve McQueen in the title role. The car chase would find ferocious expression three years later in William Friedkin's thriller, The French Connection, where Gene Hackman terrorizes Manhattan's population as his juggernaut chases down an elevated commuter train through defenceless traffic and the spare pedestrian.

It wouldn't be long before the car chase would become the staple of comedies and thrillers alike from The Blues Brothers and Beverly Hills Cop to The Road Warrior and Ronin, as each in turn tried to outdo its predecessor in sheer carnage and automotive acrobatics.

In the mid-1960, an entire TV series (4 seasons, no less - Ed. Now on DVD HERE!) was developed around the basic Hitchcock formula: Roy Huggins' memorable The Fugitive starred David Janssen as a man wrongly accused of his wife's murder. The police chase him from one episode to the next, as he doggedly tracks his one-armed man. Huggins' clever amendment was to place his hero in harm's way every time he did his doctor thing, which was often.

 

 

The Film: 7/10

I'm off the hook about comparing the movie to the TV show, having only seen the odd episode (it was a time of competing priorities.) But taking it on its own, the movie is a well paced thriller, with extended action sequences and suspenseful trips to the hospital for the hero to "re-enter his life" and find the owner of the telltale prosthetic arm. I've never been happy about the final act once Kimble is onto the real culprits: Resourceful, determined, in great physical shape, yes. Action-hero, no. On the other hand, the chemistry between Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones as Dr. Richard Kimble and U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard (contemporary versions of Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert) is a joy. Even though they share the screen only briefly, we feel a connection of mutual respect grow as Gerard gradually grasps the truth of the matter.

Nearly all the supporting characters are well cast and dynamically presented, from Sela Ward as Kimble's wife in her very few fond and wistful moments with Ford, to the ever-complaining Joe Pantoliano as Deputy Marshal Renfro, Jeroen Krabbe as Kimble's respectful colleague, and Andreas Katsulas as the professional one-armed man ("How did you lose your arm?", Gerard asks him. "In the line of duty," comes the telling reply.) Julianne Moore, who gets a billing far above her importance in the film, is wasted in what is apparently conceived as the scene that's supposed to set our minds to rest about Dr. Kimble's true nature. ("He saved his life," Moore's Dr. Eastman replies to Gerard's query about how the boy was doing whom Kimble redirected for the proper emergent care.) A subplot with her and Ford was shot but later deleted to keep the action going. Smart move.

Besides a minor bit of misdirection when the marshals listen to a taped conversation between Kimble and his attorney, which repositions the background train and bell sounds differently from the way we saw and heard them, my problem with the movie has always been that I have never found a convincing explanation of what the perpetrators planned on that fateful night, leaving me with more questions than answers: They had the key, but no security code. Was the one-armed man waiting for hours for Kimble to come home? If so, where? Who was the intended victim – with only one arm and no weapon? These aside, I continue to find the characters seductive and movie eminently rewatchable.

Image : 5/7    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

The Fugitive in the old MPEG-2 encode is not much fun to look at, though oddly sharper in some spots. Made almost fifteen years ago before digital effects became the norm for dramatic thrillers and when they still had much the same look as they had for The French Connection twenty years earlier. The Fugitive adds extra light for indoor shots and close-ups, perhaps to allow the movie to play better on pre-high definition television, as it ensures greater visibility, depth of field and clarity of focus at nearly all times.

However, viewed on smaller than 55-inch high-definition displays, the use of extra artificial lighting strikes us as obtrusive, which it would not in front projection or in the theater. We don't notice it when the image is blown up to the size of a theatrical screen, but at home, the contrast is sometimes excessive. This is the case for many movies that use auxiliary lighting at the sides and behind, to help set off one character or object from another. There's not a whole lot that can be done about it for home video, for how would screen size be factored in?

Once again, the difference between the standard and high definition discs, while not something that knocks one's socks off in an A/B comparison, is more felt that observed. Differences in resolution, sharpness, color contrast and brightness are barely discernable, but our emotional involvement on the
Blu-ray, despite all, is not insignificant by comparison. We might not even have been aware that the movie was as flat as it was on DVD until we see it in high-def. Motion artifacts, too, are minimized in this Blu-ray. One minor criticism that is entirely the doing of Warner's presentation for this disc: the decision to fill a 16x9 screen, or nearly, at 1.77:1 instead of the theatrical 1.85:1. The difference is minor and subtle, but there's really no good reason not to conform to the director's intentions here.

That said, the image is, except for the more carefully lit shots, noticeably soft, mushy and grainy – one wonders if this is entirely the result of film stock and lensing. The print used appears to be quite clean, with noiseless, if not solid blacks and a natural rendering of colors and flesh tones. Much of the color for outdoor shots, with the notable exception of the St. Patrick's Day Parade, is muted. On the other hand, the blending of live action and matte shots in the train crash is far from seamless when viewed in HD – again, not a fault of the transfer.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio :

Perhaps even more than the image quality, audio suffers at the hands of the early adopter of the high definition medium. When The Fugitive came out on Blu-ray, lossless or uncompressed audio tracks were not yet the norm. Many of us, myself included, had not experienced such a thing in a home theatre environment. For a long time I preferred a simple two-channel mix, played through a proper outboard digital-to-analogue converter, to the thick non-dynamic Dolby Digital and DTS surround mixes. And this is what we have here at a subdued 48 kHz / 640 kbps.

We think immediately of the astonishing train wreck: the screeching of metal against metal, train against bus, the vain attempt to brake what will shortly be crashing tons of engine and freight as they scream and crush their way through the hillside in an unwitting attempt to turn Harrison Ford into a waffle. I suspect our imagination enhances that which is merely loud and scary but lacks weight, power or truly frightening scream. Still, I'll bet it's there, somewhere, on the soundtrack, but can't make its way through the thick of traditional compressed audio.

For a thriller, The Fugitive is relatively subtle in respect to its audio. There's not a whole lot to show off one's audio system in this movie: some nice helicopter effects and the tunnels and falling water around the dam, traffic sounds: everything is effectively designed to support drama, place and mood. What is wanted is atmosphere, clear dialog, and a great train wreck. And we almost get it. Let's hope for a reissue with a DTS-HD MA mix and an improved image. Gary's
Momitsu has identified it as being a region FREE disc playable on Blu-ray machines worldwide.

Extras :

The scene-specific audio commentary (alas!) heads the cast of bonus features, all available on the previous DVD. Director Andrew Davis leads the conversation, while Tommy Lee responds to his questions every now and then. Davis thoughtfully takes us through production issues like the staging of the train wreck (which is expanded upon in the featurette on the same subject), the Chicago parade, the tunnel and waterfall jump. He also talks about the deleted subplot between Harrison Ford and Julianne Moore. There are also two featurettes that deal with the staging and effects for the train wreck and the shooting and scripting of Kimble €œon the run€ (9 & 23 minutes, respectively.) No deleted scenes (the Ford/Moore bits would have been nice) and, nothing presented in HD.

 

BOTTOM LINE:
Since it's original release, there have been reports that Warner substituted a VC-1 transfer with some modest improvement in the image. On the basis of these reports I purchased a new copy only last month, however, Cinema Squid indicates it is the same old MPEG-2. In any case the audio mix remains compromised. While this is the best Fugitive available for home video at the present time, I long for a re-release with high definition sound, perhaps even an improved picture and a high def presentation of a bonus feature or two! 

Leonard Norwitz
LensViews

March 30th, 2007
Revisited: December 1st, 2010

 

About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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