BluRay/DVD Reviews

THE WICKER MAN

By • Aug 21st, 2002 •

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Released by StudioCanal/Warner Home Video

Of course – the renowned cult film with a renowned release history resulting in several different cuts allegedly being available (frustratingly) at different times and different places. If you do an internet search you’ll find untold numbers of sites all claiming to have the ‘true’ history of this film and which dissect it and interpret in intimate detail. But please don’t do that just yet. Let me tell you about this release first and then you can go on your merry way and do all the research you like.
If you’ve never seen or heard of THE WICKER MAN you’re obviously an inhabitant of some remote island not dissimilar to that featured in the film, a Scottish isle upon which lands our hapless hero, Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward), a mainland copper in search of a reported missing child. “Have you lost your bearings?” ask the islanders on his arrival, and, considering the mess he gets into during the course of the story, he obviously had.

Howie, you see, is a devout and still virginal god-fearing Presbyterian. He practices his religion as he does his job – strictly by the book (or The Book) and is appalled to discover that the island’s community is still practicing pagan rituals, and even worse, still teaching these rituals in the local school. So now, as well as conducting his investigation, he also feels duty bound to lead these heathens on to the path of righteousness.

Thus begins a cat and mouse game as Howie pointlessly tries to pit his wits, and his religion, against the passive yet manipulative islanders, led by the charismatic Lord Summerisle (a beautifully bewigged Christopher Lee (see cover)), who are completely in control of their environment, whereas he is a man alone, a fish completely out of water, in a place where mainland laws, and his own Christian beliefs, no longer apply, his only companions being his Bible and his God.
Sounds heavy doesn’t it? And so it is eventually, but in the meantime we are treated to a nice travelogue of a fictitious Scottish island community, accompanied by a Celtic folk music soundtrack (no other score is involved), that yet has a simmering threat forever in the background. Howie is witness to several blasphemous goings on that you certainly wouldn’t organize as part of a church fete, he is given the runaround by the villagers in his search for the child, and even his own chastity is put to the test by the pub-cum-guesthouse landlord’s daughter (a dubbed Britt Ekland).

Arguably a problem with the film is that Howie is not a bloke you’d get along with. He’s not likeable. In fact he’s a pain in the arse. He is as much a zealot in his own beliefs as the islanders are believers in theirs. Also they enjoy their religion, barbaric as it sometimes transpires to be, whilst he is almost puritanically strapped into a straightjacket and almost flagellates himself with his in such a blinkered, intransigent and intolerant way that you can’t help feeling that in the end he gets everything that’s coming to him. But of course this is the ambiguity of the film – Who’s side, in the end, do you find yourself on?

It has previously been released in the US by Anchor Bay in quite a nice two disc wooden box set which, like this UK release, features two versions of the film: the theatrical version of the movie running at 84 mins, and also the extended “Director’s Cut” running at 99 mins. The extra footage (easily spotted by the change in picture quality as it has been sourced from an original 1” analogue telecine master ‘the best element known to exist’) includes scenes on the mainland before Howie leaves for the island (and consequently different opening titles) and which establish early on his anally retentive character; more footage of Lord Summerisle which develops his character and influence on the islanders a little more, and footage which establishes more clearly that Howie actually spends two nights on the island, not one, which is a little vague in the original theatrical release (or one of them – let the purists rant!). Also the running order of some of the scenes included in both versions is different.

It is argued (non more so than by Christopher Lee (see below) who was instrumental in getting the project off the ground) that this is still not the complete version, and this can be evidenced by the final credits of the director’s cut, where characters are listed, but did not appear. However it’s now unlikely, but not impossible, that any more extra footage could yet materialize.

The special features include a theatrical trailer; TV and radio spots, a 25 minute American TV interview with Christopher Lee and director Robin Hardy and a 35 minute documentary ‘The Wicker Man Enigma’. The animated menus are also beautifully presented with each scene selection panel featuring footage from that scene. There are also talent biographies and a special CD Rom feature providing you with the original Theatrical Press Brochure for the film.

Also, exclusive to the UK release, there is a full-length commentary (on the Director’s Cut version) by Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee and Robin Hardy, and moderated by British film broadcaster Mark Kermode. Mostly it’s very informative, but Christopher Lee comes across as such a bolshie individual, perhaps it’s his age. He keeps trying to dominate the conversation with poor director Robin Hardy eventually managing to cut in with ‘Would you like me to tell you what really happened?’ with Lee indignantly responding with ‘Well I don’t remember it being like that at all…’ and also deliberately cutting the others off in mid-flow with lines like ‘Can I just point out that that chap on the left worked in the Glasgow Hippodrome…’ and then going off on another tangent. Then he keeps harping on about how disgraceful it was that the ‘greatest British movie of all time’ was deliberately hacked to pieces by the distributors, something he goes back to again and again in his best, brooding, ominous curse-ridden tones straight out of LORD OF THE RINGS. He may well be right but hey, Chris, we got the point the first time you ranted about it. Add to that some of Robin Hardy’s comments, which are often vague, confused and contradictory, and which set the ball rolling back into Lee’s court again. Edward Woodward meanwhile tries uneasily to keep the mood a little lighter, change the subject and not lose his cool. Mark Kermode does well to keep it moving and in check. If you listen between the lines it’s actually very entertaining.

It’s an atmospheric, unique and memorable film with an equally haunting soundtrack and is available on this UK Region 2 release from StudioCanal in what is probably it’s definitive version (but I’ll let others continue to argue over that. Cue Christopher Lee…).

And please, Nicholas Cage, if you’re reading this – Don’t do it.


Disc 1:
Theatrical Version (84 mins) Widescreen, Dolby audio
The Wicker Man Enigma – Documentary (35 mins)
Theatrical Trailer
TV & Radio Spots
Talent Biographies
Christopher Lee Interview (25 mins)
CD Rom Special Feature – Original Theatrical Press Brochure

Disc 2:
Director’s Cut (99 mins) Widescreen, Mono
Feature Length Commentary by Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee and Robin Hardy (UK Exclusive)


Cast:
Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland, Ingrid Pitt, Diane Cilento

Credits:
Screenplay by Anthony Shaffer
Produced by Peter Snell
Directed by Robin Hardy

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