Mutiny on the Bounty

Mutiny on the Bounty on Blu-ray disc

A big budget widescreen remake of the classic 1935 Clark Gable/Charles Laughton film, 1962's epic production of the true story of Fletcher Christian, Captain Bligh and their less-than-merry band of sailors comes to Blu-ray in a decent, if not perfect, presentation.

This version stars Marlon Brando in Gable's role of Bounty first mate Christian, with Trevor Howard doing as good as he can with the thankless task of replacing Laughton in film goers' memory. Laughton was simply outstanding as Bligh and, while Howard does a fine job, Laughton's shoes proved to be nearly impossible to fill, such was the power of his performance.

If you haven't seen the original black and white version, however, you won't know the difference and in that case you'll probably find the performances here first rate in their own right.

Brando was a true superstar back in these days, thanks to his performances in such classic films as A Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront. He brings his formidable talents to what apparently was a troubled production (rumored to be due to Brando's off-screen performances).  We weren't there and don't necessarily trust media reports, so we'll limit our comments to the movie itself, which is a good but not great widescreen epic from that age of the best of the species – movies such as Lawrence of Arabia, Ben-Hur, and the like.

Brando's Fletcher Christian is a foppish sailor, a supposed gentleman with an ego, who arrives on the Bounty dressed to kill (and definitely not in the naval uniform he's supposed to be wearing) with an entourage of lovelies on his arm. That alone rubs Howard's Bligh the wrong way, getting them off on the wrong foot right off the bat.

Not that Bligh was Mister Sweetness and Light, of course. His regime doesn't take long to rub his men the wrong way, as his penchant for harsh discipline appears almost as soon as their voyage to Tahiti begins.

The Bounty's mission was to take breadfruit plants from the south Pacific to Jamaica – supposedly, the powers that be hoped the stuff could revolutionize the food market, feeding millions and helping reduce hunger throughout the British Empire.

The first of Bligh's victims we get to meet is played by Richard Harris, who is given a vicious whipping after accusing his captain of theft. That pretty well sets the tone for the rest of the voyage, an unhappy trip made worse by Bligh's failed attempt at navigating the ship around Cape Horn to save time rather than taking the more favored Cape of Good Hope route around South Africa. It wasn't the crew's fault the Cape Horn attempt failed – it was just the conditions in that part of the globe – but Bligh blamed them anyway and made life worse for them because of it.

They finally make landfall in Tahiti, a paradise where they're forced to spend months waiting for the breadfruit plants to be ready for transplanting – during which time the sexual proclivities of the locals have managed to create a wonderfully bawdy atmosphere for the sailors on leave.

But when it's finally time to leave and take the breadfruit plants to Jamaica, the plants require far more water to keep alive than had been assumed and, rather than have his beloved mission fail, Bligh forces his men onto strict water rations while the resident botanist and his plants got all they needed.

Needless to say, this rubbed the crew the wrong way. Push comes to shove after a crewman is found to have drunk seawater, which makes him very ill. Christian tries to give him ship's water and is assailed by Bligh for it, providing the last straw that breaks the Brando's back.

It's a compelling story, told well, with lush landscapes and excellent special effects for the era. Visually and aurally, it's a giant leap forward from the 1935 version, which only makes sense considering the onward march of moviemaking technology between the two films.

Helping things, undoubtedly, was the fact that MGM had a new replica of H.M.S. Bounty built for the production, and it appears that much of the film was shot either on it or of it (from a camera ship nearby). This adds a sense of realism difficult to get from models, especially since in those days it was very hard to make believable "miniature water" of a scale that matched the models.

It also didn't hurt that the south seas parts were shot in the south seas, with local actors and the beautiful landscapes available there.

So how's the Blu-ray? It's very good, though not quite as good as we'd hoped.

Presented, of course, in 1080/24p at a very wide aspect ratio of 2.77:1, it's very sharp and clean and colorful. It doesn't appear to have been given the kind of meticulous restoration Warner Brothers has lavished on such other classics as Ben-Hur, and that Paramount gave The Ten Commandments, but it's still a darn fine transfer – very watchable, indeed.

Still, the colors are gorgeous, which really comes in handy during the south seas scenes, and there's plenty of fine detail – just look at the fabrics of the costumes, for example.  

Warners has also done a nice job with the audio, which is presented in a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that really opens up the film's soundtrack – from Bronislaw Kaper's epic score to the sound effects of an old style sailing ship at sea. There's creditable low end and very good use of the surround channels. Dialogue comes through beautifully, usually centered in the front center channel but also using the left and right speakers as needed.

Extras include a few features that actually become quite redundant after you've seen one, specifically "After the Cameras Stopped Rolling: The Journey of The Bounty" and "The Story of H.M.S. Bounty," both of which are mostly about the construction of the replica for the film.

There are also two vintage featurettes that recount the new (at the time) voyages of the new Bounty, one from the west coast perspective and one from the east. If nothing else, they provide interesting looks at what the various cities featured looked like nearly 50 years ago.

Also interesting is the inclusion of the film's original prologue and epilogue, which bookend the film nicely. It would have been nice to have these given the same quality of treatment as the film and to have had them put back in so you could watch them with the movie, perhaps with branching technology, but such was not to be.

You also get the theatrical trailer.

Mutiny on the Bounty, from Warner Home Entertainment
185 min. 1080/24p widescreen (2.76:1), DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio
Starring Marlon Brando, Trevor Howard, Richard Harris
Screenplay by Charles Lederer, Directed by Lewis Milestone
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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