and Ethel Thayer, an elderly couple spending another summer at their
lakeside cabin, are faced with several distressing issues: first,
Norman's angst about growing old, and then, when their daughter
Chelsea (Jane Fonda) shows up with her new boyfriend and his son in
tow, the need to come to terms with all of their relationships. Henry
Fonda and Katharine Hepburn both received Academy Awards for their
performances as Norman and Ethel in On Golden Pond; whether
the 1981 film has really held up in its own right over the past
20-odd years is a matter of opinion that will likely differ from
viewer to viewer.
Golden Pond is based on a play, and indeed it feels like a filmed
play, in many respects. To be sure, the film doesn't restrict itself
to just one or two sets; we get to see the lake and the town as well
as the interior of the cabin. Nonetheless, On Golden Pond has
an oddly static feel to it, both in the overall construction of the
film, in the staging of individual scenes, and in the dialogue.
That's not necessarily a bad thing, but in this case, it makes the
film feel constrained and, ultimately, a little forced.
Golden Pond touches on themes that have a lot of potential: love,
the fear of death, overcoming family conflicts. But in the end, some
of these feel hollow, and others don't work as well as they might.
We're not given much of an indication of the underpinnings of these
reactions in the characters. We're told several times that Norman has
always been obsessed with death and dying, but this somehow doesn't
connect with the moping around that we see in his actual scenes;
being told something isn't as potent as being shown it. Similarly,
the conflict between Norman and his daughter
Chelsea is simply assumed. Other than a vague sense of "they
didn't relate to each other very well when she was growing up,"
there's little depth to the relationship; it's simply used as the
starting point for the interactions between the characters. The
result is that many scenes that should feel emotionally charged
simply feel shallow; we don't know these characters, we don't feel
for them, and we certainly don't understand why they behave as they
The latter half of the film, which has the relationship between
Norman and young Billy as a central element, ends up feeling rather
trite. At first hostile to each other, the old man and the young boy
end up finding a common bond, the older developing a new lease on
life and the younger developing a respect for his elder. It feels as
sappy as it sounds; more critically, it doesn't feel real, instead
seeming like a rather obvious vehicle for showing Norman's changing
perspective on life as the film runs its course.
the end, On Golden Pond may simply be a film that will
resonate with particular viewers based on how they feel about the
themes that the film touches on. I do think that viewers who have
begun to grapple with the issues of aging and dying will find more to
connect with than those who haven't reached that point in their
lives. It's not a bad film, and certainly it's one that has found a
place in many viewers' hearts, but it's one that needs viewers to
supply a great deal of their own meaning, rather than creating it on
Golden Pond appears here in an anamorphic widescreen transfer at
the film's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Overall, the image
quality is very good, with generally natural-looking colors and skin
tones, reasonably good contrast even in dimly lit scenes, and an
absence of print flaws. It's not as sharp as it could be, as there's
a moderate amount of graininess in the image.
The film was previously available in a non-anamorphic edition; while
I didn't have the older DVD available for a direct comparision,
viewers may be interested in the side-by-side
comparison at DVDBeaver.
Two audio options are presented: the original Dolby 2.0, and a
remastered Dolby 5.1 track. The sound is handled well, with dialogue
sounding clear, if sometimes slightly flat. The music and
environmental effects are nicely balanced and always sound
satisfactory. There's not much use of surround in the 5.1 track, but
this is after all a dialogue-focused film; it does offer a slightly
more immersive listening environment.
Fans of the film will find the special features here to their liking.
A 30-minute documentary called "Reflections on Golden Pond"
takes a look at the cinematography and lighting done by the director
of photography, Billy Williams. There are some interesting insights
here about the way he handled the shooting, which was done entirely
on location in New Hampshire. The second featurette is a 16-minute
tribute to Katharine Hepburn, called "A Woman of Substance:
Katharine Hepburn Remembered." We get an overview of her life
and her upbringing, and a sense of what she was like as a person.
Two audio commentaries are also included. The first, which is not
mentioned on the DVD packaging, is an "archival audio
commentary" by director Mark Rydell; the second is a commentary
by writer Ernest Thompson. Both offer a reasonable level of
interesting comments on the film, with relatively few long silent
periods; both do have the habit of speaking very slowly, with odd
pauses between words, though.
suspect that On Golden Pond is one of those films that you
either really love, or that leaves you entirely cold. Neither the
characters nor their relationships ever "clicked" for me,
leaving me uninvolved enough to note the somewhat stilted dialogue
and the trite story elements. I'd suggest it as a reasonable rental
choice for viewers who haven't seen the film yet. For those who know
they enjoy the film, On Golden Pond: Special Edition is worth
buying, as it has a solid anamorphic transfer and a nice selection of
quality special features.