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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Hopscotch
Hopscotch
Criterion // R // August 20, 2002
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted September 4, 2002 | E-mail the Author
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The spy story is a genre that attracts a variety of approaches, from broad comedy to action-adventure to cerebral thrillers. The 1980 film Hopscotch is presented as a blend of approaches: a "comedy thriller." Author Brian Garfield comments in the special features that he wanted to write a spy adventure in which nobody got hurt, and indeed that's a perfectly worthwhile aim, one that could lead to an interesting story that relied on other means than gunshots and death threats to be interesting.

But Hopscotch, while it lacks violence, also lacks spark. The story is simple enough: CIA agent Kendig (Walter Matthau) finds himself behind a desk as a result of doing things "his own way" once too often. Rather than submit to this indignity after a lifetime of field operations, Kendig takes off on his own, threatening to write and distribute a manuscript of his memoirs that will embarrass not only the CIA but also other intelligence agencies around the world. They're out to get him; he's out to stay away from them while stringing them along in his little game. Hilarity ensues... or, I suppose, is intended to ensue, because in actuality, it doesn't.

Hopscotch isn't a terrible movie; in fact, someone out there must think it's an outstanding one, for it to have made it onto a Criterion edition. However, from the standpoint of viewing it just as a movie on its own, apart from whatever place it may have in the larger culture of film history, I simply found it to be... uninteresting.

The trouble with Hopscotch is that it's neither fish nor fowl: neither funny enough to be a comedy nor exciting enough to be a thriller. Throughout the entire film the plot limps along in a decidedly uninspired manner. It might be more interesting if we cared about Kendig, but there's very little reason to: Kendig himself is so utterly nonchalant about his self-made dilemma that it hardly gives the viewer a reason to be on the edge of his or her seat. Nor is Kendig a particularly likeable character. Fans of Walter Matthau may find him likeable on the merits of the actor, but taken as a character, he's less than one-dimensional; there's never any significant insight into what makes him tick. Matthau plays the character as such a blasé, cool operative that it's impossible to tell what matters to him and what doesn't. The result? Nothing appears to matter, and 105 minutes later, when the end credits roll, there's no sense of satisfaction with the resolution.

Video

Criterion's release of Hopscotch presents the film in 2.25:1 anamorphic widescreen, its original aspect ratio. The image quality is reasonably good, though I'd have thought that for a film from 1980 it could have been better. The picture looks fairly soft, with the image overall being slightly blurry both in mid- and long-range shots. There's a smattering of print flaws such as speckles and small scratches that appear throughout the film, and a mild level of noise as well. One of the strengths of the film's transfer is its colors, which look warm and natural. There's a liberal use (but not overuse) of color in Hopscotch, and the transfer gives a generous and rich presentation of the full spectrum.

Audio

The DVD of Hopscotch includes only its original mono soundtrack. Purists may be pleased with this audio presentation, but I found the audio experience to be lacking in Hopscotch. It's far from terrible, but the sound is flat and at times the dialogue is less than clear. As a special feature, the edited-for-language TV soundtrack is also supplied as an alternate track.

Extras

The best special feature on the disc is a 21-minute introduction to the film by Brian Garfield, the author of the original novel, and Ronald Neame, the director. It's a substantial piece consisting of interviews with these two creative minds on the development of the film, and will be enjoyed by fans of the film. As an added bonus, this introduction is presented in anamorphic widescreen.

Apart from this featurette, there's not a whole lot of interest in the supplements of Hopscotch. For the curious, there's an option to play the film with the television broadcast soundtrack, in which "foul language" was edited for family viewing. There's also a teaser and a trailer for the film, and a set of color bars for adjusting one's television.

Final thoughts

I found Hopscotch to be flat and uninvolving; while it wasn't a terrible experience to watch it, I could have found better uses of my time. I'd certainly advise a rental for this title for anyone who is interested but unsure; on the other hand, those viewers who know that they like the film will be pleased with the overall good DVD presentation.
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