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Bullitt and Papillon on DVD

A classic if only for its outstanding car chase between a 1968 Mustang and a ’68 Charger, Bullitt is a moody cop drama based on the novel “Mute Witness.”

Steve McQueen stars as Frank Bullitt, a San Francisco police lieutenant whose team is assigned the apparently easy gig of protecting an important witness for a couple of days so he can testify in court.

Naturally, things don’t come off in as straightforward a manner as Bullitt and his gang anticipate; the stool pigeon and one of McQueen’s cops get shot up and hospitalized.

Meanwhile, the slimy and opportunistic politician behind the case (played by Robert Vaughn) who’s turning up the heat on Bullitt through his boss (Simon Oakland) wants answers fast, more it seems to help his political career than to actually serve justice.

And who can object to Jacqueline Bisset, even though she’s little more than decorative window dressing in her role as Bullitt’s girlfriend?

The plot is tightly written and directed, and it’s quite remarkable how McQueen can craft a character with about three lines of dialog through the film (okay, we exaggerate a tad).

Bullitt is most famous, of course, for one of the greatest car chases in movie history. McQueen did his own driving and the chase scene builds beautifully. It starts with the two hit men in their Charger trailing Bullitt in his Mustang, then they lose him – only to suddenly discover him behind them, filling their rear view mirror.

So far the chase is pretty straightforward and low speed – then we see Bullitt’s quarry take the time to buckle up – in an age when seatbelts were only starting to become popular – and we realize that all heck is about to break loose, motorcar-wise.

And it does! While today’s chases seem to generally fall into the “special effects super stunts” category, with vehicles that leap and bound and seem nearly invulnerable as if they’re looking for “best stunt” Oscars, the chase through San Francisco streets has a gritty reality to it. Here, when they head over a hill, they land with a thunk that looks like they’re really trying to wreck the cars. And the speeds look very real, like something out of a John Frankenheimer chase (watch Ronin to see what we mean).

The special edition DVD features two discs, obviously with plenty of extras to tempt Bullitt fans. Disc one features the movie, in a new digital transfer the features anamorphic widescreen (16x9 TV compatible), and with Dolby Digital surround stereo audio. The picture quality is good but not great (the film could use a good restoration as well as the digital remastering), with some grainy sections. Overall, however, the color is good and the picture is quite sharp.

Audio is okay.

Extras include: two new, feature length documentaries "Steve McQueen: The Essence of Cool" and "The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing" as well as a vintage featurette. There's also a running commentary by director Peter Yates and the trailer.

Bullitt, from Warner Home Entertainment
114 min. anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1, 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Surround Stereo
Starring Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn, Jacquenline Bisset
Produced by Philip D'Antoni,
Written by Alan R. Trustman and Harry Kleiner, Directed by Peter Yates


Papillon on DVD

From the Oscar-winning director of Patton and Planet of the Apes (Franklin J. Schaffner) comes the movie version of the true story of Henri Charriere, better known as Papillon (French for butterfly), a man who refuses to give up his quest for freedom regardless of the personal cost.

It’s a dark and haunting film, with some scenes that will stay with you long afterward, assuming you didn’t cover your eyes during them in the first place.

Though not gratuitously violent, there are definitely some sections here that depict the horrible conditions of France’s Devil’s Island prison – and “man’s inhumanity to man” (remembering, of course, that these are hardened criminals for the most part) in realistic ways that will make you glad you weren’t there!

Steve McQueen gives one of his best performances as Papillon. Sentenced to Devil's Island, the movie follows his trip there via ship and his multiple escape attempts - and their consequences. He’s a man whose spirit will not be broken, despite those consequences of his escape attempts that we get to see so well.

Dustin Hoffman is also excellent as Louis Dega, a counterfeiter also sent to Devil’s Island. The two men struggle to survive their ordeal, the only thing keeping Papillon going, it seems, being his visions of escaping Devil’s Island and freedom.

One can understand why Papillon would risk escape attempts; the conditions under which the prisoners lived were indeed horrible, and many would probably rather (and undoubtedly did) die.

This is an unpleasant, though fascinating, movie, and despite the fact that it tends to glorify these criminals, it is definitely worth a view for its realism, its story, its performances and direction, and even its great Jerry Goldsmith score.

The DVD is presented in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, and the picture is generally very good. There’s some grain, but for the most part the disc looks very film like, with terrific color and sharp edges.

Audio has supposedly been remixed into 5.1 surround, though there isn’t a huge amount of surround. What you do get is a nice spreading across the front of the dialogue and sound effects (center channel, mostly) accompanied by a good stereo soundfield for the musical score. Audio quality is pretty good.

Extras include the trailer and a promotional documentary that includes cast/crew comments and a look at the real Papillon, Henri Charierre, who was on hand for the filming.

Papillon, from Warner Home Entertainment
150 min. anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1, 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital 5.1
Starring Steve McQueen, Dustin Hoffman
Produced by Robert Dorfmann
Written by Dalton Trumbo and Lorenzo Semple, Jr., directed by Franklin J. Schaffner


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