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Harder They Come - Criterion Collection, The

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Review by Aaron Beierle | posted October 29, 2000 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

Jimmy Cliff stars in "The Harder They Come", the 1973 picture where he plays Ivan, a young man who wants to become a reggae singer, but runs into an obstacle when he finds out getting his music played is, at first, harder than he thought. Based on an actual outlaw folk hero of the 1950's, the film remains entertaining today as we watch Ivan's attempt to escape from the authorities .

The film also introduced the music to audiences all over, with the film's fantastic soundtrack featuring the music of Jimmy Cliff, Toots and the Maytals and others. Great songs such as "Pressure Drop", which was also eventually covered by another great band(The Specials), also liven up the film as well. As the movie goes on, Ivan's music becomes more and more popular as his choices make him one of the most well-known outlaws in the area, taking on the corruption all around him and becoming a hero to the people in the process. Acting all around is pretty good, with Cliff making the character watchable. The film is suprisingly not limited by its small budget, and Henzell(who is considering doing a sequel) really puts the viewer in the middle of the area (Kingston) at the time and the feel of the area, where some people may have little in the way of posessions, but all have a wealth of dreams. An excellent film, which is well-written and intensely acted.


VIDEO: Criterion does some things right here, but there are a few problems. This is a transfer supervised by writer-director Perry Henzell, presented in the film's original 1.66:1 aspect ratio. Although Criterion has discussed presenting their efforts anamorphic, "The Harder They Come" unfortunately, is not. Sharpness isn't half bad; some shots look soft, but acceptably so. Detail and clarity fair similarly, looking pretty respectable for a movie of its age(27 years at this point).

According to the booklet, "thousands of instances of film dirt and debris were also removed with the MTI digital restoration system to further enhance the image". This looks to definitely be true, as this presentation seems far cleaner than previous versions of the film that I've seen. There are still some noticeable instances of marks and scratches that I saw turn up, but considering the age of the film, these are pretty minor and with the exception of a couple places, I was able to overlook them. I didn't see any instances of shimmer or pixelation, and aside from some slight grain now and then as well as the previously mentioned slight marks and scratches, this is a pretty good looking presentation.

Colors don't seem faded, either. They look natural on this presentation, and the colors of the area scenery look pretty rich here. Although it would have been certainly nice if Criterion had presented the film anamorphic, the fact that they have noticably done some restoration to clean up the film to the best its looked in probably quite some time certainly is appreciated by fans of the movie.

SOUND: According to the booklet, the sound was mastered from the original optical tracks. Although it's enjoyable that the original mono sound is included here, the songs are so fantastic that it all could really use some additional work to expand and restore the presentation - maybe this was not possible due to the limitations of the original elements, though. The mono audio does a decent job presenting the music and dialogue; the music comes through with pleasing clarity; the rest of the audio varies from sounding good to somewhat thin. I didn't find anything in the way of distortion or other flaws, but the soundtrack is certainly limited by the age of the movie.

MENUS:: Menus are non-animated, with the cover art serving as background. Some selections from the score playing behind the menus would have been really nice.

EXTRAS: Another difference between the laserdisc edition in 1991 and this DVD presentation is the extras - the laserdisc had nothing extra, while Criterion has prepared some interesting additions for this DVD release.

Commentary: This is a commentary track from director Perry Henzell and actor Jimmy Cliff. As with many Criterion commentaries, the participants are recorded separately and edited together; a menu screen explains that the commentary was recorded in 1999 and 2000. Henzell is quite interesting to listen to as he recalls the excitement and opinions that audiences had when the film was first shown years ago. Cliff talks about his experiences living in the area and the politics of the time, as well as obstacles that the production had to face to get the film completed. Although there are some pauses throughout the commentary, these are quick and minor. What I liked about this commentary is that not only did I get a sense of what it was like in the area at the time, but the history of the movie - from the early moments to the reaction to the final film. A very, very good track.

Interview: This is an interview with Chris Blackwell, head of Island records, who provides his thoughts on reggae music and "The Harder They Come" in a 10 minute discussion that's really quite interesting to listen to, and gives the viewer a further idea of the musical scene at the time.

Also: Color bars and bios of the musicians. The booklet provides information about the transfer and a short essay on the film by Michael Dare. A Criterion catalog is also included, and provides information on such upcoming titles as "Spartacus" and "The Rock".

Final Thoughts: "The Harder They Come" is a great movie, and although it's unfortunate that the presentation is not anamorphic, I'm pleased that effort has been done to clean up the film - although there are still some examples of wear and marks, this is probably the best the film has looked in a long time. The extras are quite good, and I'm happy to see that the film is finally being released on DVD.

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