BluRay/DVD Reviews

MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY

By • Nov 22nd, 2011 •

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This is a personal favorite, and it’s not a guilty pleasure (check out the rating on IMDB). Much maligned on release because of Brando’s legendary misbehavior, because of monumental cost overruns (it was one of the biggest financial earners MGM ever had, but due to its estimated nineteen million dollar budget, never stood a chance of breaking even), and because of the perception that Brando’s performance was a frivolous indulgence (in interviews he claimed he’d taken the role seriously and done his best, and I believe he meant it), it has its odd place in film history. But there are some laudatory qualities that can’t be denied even by its detractors.

It’s a gorgeously mounted production. Shot in 70mm, and a bit stiff compositionally because of the logistics concerning camera movement on board the replica of the Bounty, it is nonetheless endlessly compelling to look at. Likewise the costumes of the ships crew are meticulously attended to, and despite the thousands of flesh-colored pasties used to keep the lady Tahitians from offending the mass audience, it’s a treat on a wardrobe level. The Bounty itself is a feat of period recreation – bigger than the original to allow for camera placement, as well as the installation of engines, etc. And perhaps most prevailing of all its virtues – Bronislau Kaper’s full-bodied score. I remember back in ’62 when I was getting ready to see the film for the first time, I sat in my seat and read the souvenir book purchased in the theater lobby, and was fascinated to discover that I was about to see an MGM spectacle not scored by Miklos Rosza.

The BluRay release of MUTINY is most impressive in its overture and title sequence scoring. On the DVD they are powerful, but the overture is a bit fragmented, a bit lacking in its use of the main theme, and a bit gaudy in the percussion section. Not so with the BluRay, where the orchestration literally makes us feel the waves crashing against the ship. I understood better what Kaper and Armbruster (his conductor) were going for. And my quibbles with the Overture no longer existed. I’ve always felt it was one of the great scores. The orchestra and the cinema speakers were so bountifully utilized. And it’s at its best here, given the strength of your audio system. Woe to the neighbors if you live in an apartment with walls that haven’t been sound-proofed. Those horns hit such peaks, and the bass is so majestic, that Brando had a lot to live up to.

Both releases make great use of the film’s rich color palette. But the BluRay may have viewers suspicious about the shades of dark brown make-up used on the sailors to simulate the effects of the merciless sun. Skin tones are often darker on the BluRay disc. The way I tend to judge home video releases of this film, finally, is in the verisimilitude of the climactic fire sequence. On the DVD I seemed to perceive, for the first time, that the foreground was real fire but the background was rear-screened. Makes sense on a safety level, but it disengaged my willing suspension of disbelief. The BluRay matches the foreground and background colors and dimensionality a little better in this regard.

Seeing the film again, I smiled at Brando’s line to Bligh during the mutiny: “You remarkable pig. You can thank whatever pig god you pray to that you haven’t yet turned me into a murderer.” Could any of the seven screenwriters listed above, except for Brando, have come up with that line? It’s so “You scum-sucking pig!” from ONE EYED JACKS.

And while the supplemental featurettes are enlightening, mainly about the Bounty, the best supplemental I’ve seen about the famous true-life incident came with the DVD of the 1935 version, a little B&W documentary visiting Pitcairn Island over a century later, to find its morose, inbred inhabitants leading tragic, isolated lives. It’s the perfect companion piece to Bunuel’s LAND WITHOUT BREAD.

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