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On Golden Pond
Even when it was first released thirty-three years ago, On Golden Pond already felt dated, so it's no surprise that viewing it now makes it look older than it actually is. Apart from the obvious use of acting legends who already belonged to the older albeit golden age of Hollywood, the lush, almost soft-focus cinematography had a 60s feel to it, and its attempts at injecting some PG-rated edge via free-flow cursing belonged to the 70s.
Yes, it feels old, quaint and dated, yet that's part of its charm. It's a heartfelt and positive look at aging, death and complex relationships between generations with just enough depth to give it credibility as a legitimate Hollywood prestige drama while steering clear from too much dark and perhaps more honest material in order to let the audience enjoy the beautiful scenery and the joy of watching the swan songs of two legendary stars.
Based on Ernest Thompson's play, who also adapted his work for the screen, On Golden Pond is about an elderly couple who try to reestablish an emotional connection with their daughter as they face death and dementia. Norman (Henry Fonda) is the personification of the "Cranky old fart", a bitter man obsessed with his own mortality. His wife Ethel (Katharine Hepburn), on the other hand, is still full of life and is able to appreciate the smaller things in her simple existence.
When Norman and Ethel's estranged daughter Chelsea (Jane Fonda) begrudgingly visits them at their idyllic lake house with her new boyfriend Bill (Dabney Coleman) and his 13-year-old son Billy (Doug McKeon) in order to celebrate Norman's 80th birthday, feelings of resentment between daughter and father resurface.
Yet after Chelsea and Bill dump Billy off at the lake house for the summer so they can enjoy their romantic European getaway, a close relationship between Norman and Billy develops, softening the cranky old man's heart and hopefully opening him up to an amicable reunion with his daughter.
On Golden Pond's long, chamber drama-style scenes (It was based on a play after all) capture the distinct, universal and timeless voices of three different generations. Even though it takes place in the early 80s, the generational conflict between the characters, the motivations behind their behavior towards one another will always be relevant. Therefore, regardless of the film's dated look and feel, its appeal and charm will likely never fade.
Both Hepburn and Fonda scored Oscars for their roles in On Golden Pond, which can easily yet cynically be attributed to a sort of lifetime achievement award. This was Hepburn's fourth acting Oscar, and to be fair she could still bring a certain level of depth and emotion to her performances.
Fonda, on the other hand, basically sticks to his single note irritable old man caricature as the character's arc is communicated via the external influences of the story, as well as the impressive performances by Doug McKeon and Jane Fonda. If this performance deserved an Oscar, the first and only acting Oscar in Fonda's career, then he should have been given a ten-foot gold statue for his incredible performances in 12 Angry Men, Grapes of Wrath, and especially Once Upon a Time in the West.
One of the most important reasons to check out On Golden Pond is Billy Williams' gorgeous cinematography full of bright greens, blues and of course, yellows. This 1080p transfer is as good as On Golden Pond will look on home video for a long time. There are barely any scratches and dirt on the presentation, the transfer sticks to the source material as the colors pop and come to life.
On Golden Pond's DTS-HD 2.0 presentation utilizes one of my pet peeves, which is a mono mix coming out of the two stereo channels instead of only from the center channel. Apart from that, this is a clean and very clear transfer that does justice to the dialogue, of which there is a lot of, as well as Dave Grusin's sublime piano score.
Reflections On Golden Pond: A 30-minute featurette on the making of the film. Pretty predictable stuff for a DVD retrospective, as we get more testimonials from the crew rather than the cast, especially in this case since literally half the cast has passed away.
A Woman of Substance: A 15-minute tribute to Katharine Hepburn as the crew of On Golden Pond discusses her influence on Hollywood. Both of these featurettes were ported over from the film's DVD edition where the documentary is shown in 4:3 aspect ratio while clips from the film are letterboxed, resulting is a weird box-within-a-box look on 16:9 HDTVs.
Audio Commentary by Mark Rydell: The director mostly talks about his experiences working with Hepburn and Fonda. Be aware, he has a very soft and monotone voice that can put you to sleep.
I'm going to use the word "Charming" to describe On Golden Pond yet again, because that's what it has chock full of in order to cover for some of its dated visual and acting choices. This gorgeous Blu-Ray presentation should please the film's fans.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com