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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Games
The Games
Fox Cinema Archives // G // July 21, 2015 // Region 0
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Jesse Skeen | posted November 15, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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Although I'd heard a few negative comments about Fox's "Cinema Archives" DVD-Rs, most of the ones I've seen so far have been decent. This release of 1969's The Games, which hasn't been available on any home media before, certainly indicates that the quality of these discs is not exactly consistent. Although this movie was shot in 2.35 Panavision, it's presented here in 4x3 pan and scan. The back cover accurately indicates this saying "4:3 (pan&scan)", not even using the common "fullscreen" misnomer, but being that this disc is primarily available through mail order that doesn't help those in deciding whether or not to place the order.

The Games is certainly an interesting film: it follows four aspiring runners in four countries as they find their talent and progress through races until they reach the Olympic Games held in Rome. (Although the most recent Olympics held there were in the year 1960, this movie clearly takes place closer to 1969. The 1968 Olympics were in Mexico City.) We first meet Harry Hayes (Michael Crawford) in England, a milk deliverer who spontaneously tries to outrun a professional runner he sees going by who then sees great potential in him and gets him signed on to his team. In the United States at Yale University, we then meet Scott Reynolds (Ryan O'Neal) who is already a big track star there. In Australia, hunter Jim Harcourt (Jeremy Kemp) and his friends are out hunting kangaroos and have brought along their mechanic, native Aborigine Sunny (Athol Compton). When they suddenly take off after a ‘roo, Sunny is forced to run behind them in their truck and Harcourt not only sees that he's got talent but could also make him a few dollars. Finally in Czechoslovakia, has-been marathon runner Pavel Vendek (Charles Aznavour) is talked into making a comeback.

From here, the movie flips between the four storylines, with each character seen in training and running in local races. Harry is a relatively awkward newcomer but is pushed by coach Bill Oliver (Stanley Baker), Scott's fame rises and takes him to Australia and Japan with his friend Richie (a very young-looking Sam Elliott) tagging along and pushing him to take some "magic pills" to help him win. Pavel is played as an "old guy" but his age turns out to be less than mine currently, and I certainly don't feel as old as he seems to here. Similar to many of Robert Altman's movies, the four characters don't directly interact with each other but the time spent with each of them gives their perspective on their road to competing in the Olympic marathon through the city of Rome. The movie itself changes a bit as it progresses, with early scenes (from a script by Erich Segal who previously wrote the animated Beatles movie Yellow Submarine and after this wrote Love Story also starring O'Neal) playing out in standard scripted movie fashion but taking on a more documentary feel by the end, with many performances appearing improvised.

Picture:

While the arrival of The Games on DVD might be good news, the bad news is that it is sourced from a severely outdated transfer. Keep in mind that I actually keep around many old video releases of movies on various formats, mainly because the primitive transfers on them amuse me and watching them on a widescreen TV with black side bars is a bit ridiculous (although stretching or cropping the image would be even more so.) I tried to keep in that frame of mind while watching this disc. I would guess that this transfer was done somewhere near the mid 1990s, as the opening and closing credits are fully letterboxed to allow all the text to show onscreen (an older transfer would have squeezed the picture instead) but switches to 4x3 pan and scan for the rest. (Each country is introduced with on-screen text, with "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA" forcing a roughly 1.85 letterbox in order for that to display completely, while "AUSTRALIA" and "CZECHOSLOVAKIA" fit within the 4x3 cropping.) The presentation here isn't as hard to watch as some panned-and-scanned transfers are, as most of the "relevant action" takes place within the 4x3 confines and doesn't often appear obvious that so much of the image is being cropped- the worse are a couple pans across a table during a conversation, and a left-to-right pan so that we can read all of a banner reading "AUSTRALIAN CHAMPIONSHIPS" which got a good laugh out of me. I don't know how we put up with this as the rule rather than the exception for so long in the 1980s, and I'm glad that cropped presentations of 2.35 films on home media are now few and far between even with wider 16x9 screens being the norm- I've seen a few 16x9 cropped and scanned 2.35 movies on Netflix and even those are quite obvious. Other than the cropping issue, the picture quality is adequate but could be better, as I detected a bit of analog noise and aliasing just as if I were watching any movie from an old analog format on my system. It looks better than the first Fox movies released on the Magnetic Video label in the late 70s, but that's not saying much. (Had this movie actually been released by Magnetic Video back then, I'd probably prefer that to this disc.)

Sound:

The 2-channel Dolby Digital encode of the mono audio (via Westrex Recording System) is likewise adequate and typical of most movies from this period. There isn't much noise and there's a bit of distortion in some of the music if you're nit-picky enough to listen for it, but it's passable.

Final Thoughts:

I found The Games to be an interesting and somewhat unique film, with some great scenery across the world including the Sydney Opera House still under construction. The characters were great to follow as some of them rose from rather ordinary to extraordinary, and the late-60s atmosphere was fun as well accompanied by Francis Lai's mostly jazzy but sometimes orchestral music score. (The psychedelic poster art shown on the front cover was what mainly drew me to this movie, but there are no effects of that kind in the film.) Being rated G by the then-new MPAA ratings system, it's also amusing to see how lenient they initially were as the drug content and a few words that wouldn't have been allowed on TV at the time would merit it a PG today- it seems the majority of films released then were rated G or X with few in between. I would recommend the movie itself, but purists will most likely want to Skip It from the panning and scanning alone- I'll leave my final rating in the middle.

Jesse Skeen is a life-long obsessive media collector (with an unhealthy preoccupation with obsolete and failed formats) and former theater film projectionist. He enjoys watching movies and strives for presenting them perfectly, but lacks the talent to make his own.

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