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Hawaii on DVD

Julie Andrews gets top billing, though it’s really Max von Sydow’s movie, in this film adaptation of James Michener’s epic novel, directed by George Roy Hill. The film has impeccable credentials; besides the abovementioned names, we get Richard Harris in the cast as Andrews’ unlucky former beau, Walter Mirisch as producer, music by Elmer Bernstein, and a screenplay from the pens of Dalton Trumbo and Daniel Taradash.

How could this be anything but a winner?

Hawaii appears to be a forgotten classic and, though it drags a tad toward the end, it has a lot to offer.

Max von Sydow is frustratingly annoying (which means he plays the part brilliantly) as the Reverend Abner Hale, the uptight and overzealous missionary sent to Hawaii to convert the heathen natives to Christianity. But first he must find a wife who’ll go with him, and this presents what seems to be an insurmountable challenge to the awkward cleric. Fortunately, Julie Andrews’ character Jerusha has plenty of character and she not only willingly falls in love with the guy, but embraces the dangers of the journey around Cape Horn to the island kingdom willingly as well.

Once there, he does everything wrong if the goal is to win over the natives. Fortunately, the natives have plenty of character of their own, despite being heathens, and their good will as well as some good ambassador work by Jerusha gets them over the culture shock and a working relationship is born.

The movie spans many years (and that doesn’t count the prolog), giving us an interesting look at the transition of Hawaii from unspoiled heathen paradise to commercialized Christian tourist trap and while the natives gain a lot in the bargain, they lose a lot too, and not just their innocence. But the movie doesn’t really moralize excessively about white Man's guilt, and that’s a good thing; it just unfolds and lets us draw our own conclusions. We do get to see clearly that one of the benefits of “civilization” is disease and corruption in a place where, pre-white man, the people were full of health and life and happiness.

There’s incredible beauty here, indomitable human spirit, and pain, suffering and loss as well. It’s about the evils of intolerance, greed, power, but also about the beauties and joy of love, forgiveness and mercy. Why it’s just like real life!

It takes a while for the movie to actually reach Hawaii, but that exposition of the recruiting of Von Sydow and his compatriots (including a young Gene Hackman) and their harrowing voyage serves not only to introduce these vital characters but to humanize them as well.

The supporting cast is excellent. Jocelyn LaGarde as the wise Hawaiian matriarch is particularly worthy of mention, a natural screen presence who’s funny and human, but strong and worldly as well.

Julie Andrews is always great, and her performance here is no different. She is no Mary Poppins nor Maria von Trapp – yet she’s still sweet and wise and appealing. She lights up the screen every time she’s there. Von Sydow is also very good, though his accent is harder to ignore than Andrews’. Richard Harris gets third billing for what’s basically a supporting role, but he’s still very good as the jilted lover who has surprising depth of character.

The locations are awe inspiring, which makes it all the more unfortunate that the DVD is apparently of an unrestored and unremastered version of the movie. We also read it’s really a shortened version (despite it being the original theatrical version) and that there’s a longer, better one out there. We’re not sure about that; by the time Hawaii’s final fames unspool we were ready to move on regardless of how much we enjoyed the movie.

But the video on the DVD is unremarkable. There are a few shots that look great, but for the most part the movie looks old and worn out and that’s unforgivable when there are such gorgeous shots to enjoy. At least the DVD is anamorphic widescreen (16x9 TV compatible), so owners of widescreen TV’s won’t have to stretch and/or zoom the picture and make it look even worse.

Audio is Dolby Digital mono and is likewise unremarkable.

For extras, you get a short “Making of Hawaii” featurette, the video quality of which makes the movie itself look state-of-the-art, and the trailer.

Still, it’s worth at least a rental to see Julie Andrews at her best, in a compelling epic drama that many people may have forgotten existed.

Hawaii, from MGM Home Entertainment
161 min. anamorphic widescreen, (2.35:1, 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital
Starring Julie Andrews, Max Von Sydow, Richard Harris
produced by Walter Mirisch
written by Dalton Trumbo and Daniel Taradash, directed by George Roy Hill


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