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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Figures In A Landscape (Blu-ray)
Figures In A Landscape (Blu-ray)
Kino // R // January 12, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted January 20, 2016 | E-mail the Author

Based on Barry England's breakout novel of the same name, Joseph Losey's Figures in a Landscape (1970) only sounds like a drab, navel-gazing drama. It's actually a tight, suspenseful tale of two prisoners on the run from their captors, usually represented by an ominous black helicopter that seems to follow them with an ever-present gaze. Trapped in the wide-open landscape of an unnamed South American country in the middle of July, these two perfect strangers---MacConnachie AKA "Mac" (Robert Shaw, chewing the scenery as usual) and Ansell (Malcolm McDowell, in only his second big-screen appearance after If...)---must work together to cross the border to freedom.

Most movies live or die by the strength of their lead performances, especially when said performers are front and center on just about every frame. This 108-minute film is dominated by a slowly evolving relationship: there aren't many scenes that don't feature Mac and Ansell widening the generation gap, gradually coming to terms with their co-dependence, learning to work together, and everything in-between. Shaw and McDowell are cast perfectly in these roles: the former rarely has trouble playing a brash, grizzled man of experience (Jaws immediately comes to mind), while the latter easily inhabits the identity of a "trainee" who flatly refuses to play second fiddle. It's also worth noting that Shaw replaced Peter O'Toole (Joseph Losey also took over for a much less experienced Peter Medak early in the production), possibly due to both his credit as the film's screenwriter and his more imposing physical presence.

Either way, Figures in a Landscape works for more reasons than its two leads. The film's eerie atmosphere retains an air of mystery at almost every turn, and rarely spoon-feeds its audience more than the bare minimum. It's more ambiguous than England's source novel, with a minimalist approach that effectively drops unsuspecting viewers smack in the middle of foreign territory without a map. The god-like helicopter that screams past our hapless "heroes" only adds to their sense of dread, especially since we're never explicitly told why they're being hunted. Steven Spielberg covered similar ground in his made-for-TV debut Duel the following year, swapping the helicopter for an equally menacing truck...but at the risk of writing a second review, let's just appreciate Figures in a Landscape for its accessible story, strong lead performances, and effective "less is more" approach. It failed at the box office and is rarely named in the selected filmographies of its lead actors, but this one's well worth a second look on Blu-ray.

In all honesty, it'll be more of a first look for most audiences, as Figures in a Landscape was never released on Region 1 DVD (a non-anamorphic Region 2 disc was released in 2006). As such, it's great to finally have in good condition, but tough to evaluate objectively from an A/V standpoint. This is certainly a rough-looking film at times, but more from the lack of restoration than any limitations with its original source material. Either way, the only real disappointment here is a complete lack of bonus features...but the film itself is the real draw, and this is a good one.

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality

Presented in its original 2.39:1 aspect ratio, Figures in a Landscape looks reasonably good in high definition with a few obvious problems. On one hand, it's hard to judge the film's visual merits: it was a low-budget production shot in a rough environment and never released on Region 1 DVD...so having not seen it theatrically, there's no comparison. But since it takes place mostly outdoors in the daytime, a certain level of image detail is assumed. What's here is more inconsistent than expected: wide shots (including aerial photography) look terrific and close-ups also have a strong amount of texture, but other segments of the film look much softer by comparison. Additionally, there's plenty of dirt and debris here, as well as lots of other noticeable damage marks, flickering, and faint color fluctuations. A handful of nighttime sequences look very rough too, but that's almost expected. Either way, what's here is mostly good enough if you keep your expectations in check, but there's definitely some room for improvement.

NOTE: The promotional images featured on this page are strictly decorative and do not represent the title under review.

The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio mix splits Figures in a Landscape's original one-channel audio into a 2.0 spread with relatively clear dialogue and sound effects. Though obviously limited by its source material (think of how much more menacing the ever-present helicopter would be on a multi-channel track), this is still a competent presentation that I'm glad wasn't given a faux-surround remix. Even so, there are problems: small amounts of clicking, popping, and hissing can be a little distracting at times, which sound more like damage that could've been repaired instead of the blanket excuse of "source material issues". Unfortunately, no optional subtitles or captions are included.

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging

The basic interface includes separate options for playback and chapter selection (there are 8), with relatively quick loading time and minimal pre-menu distractions. This one-disc package arrives in a standard keepcase and includes poster-themed artwork; no insert, slipcover, or Bonus Features are included, which is disappointing.

Final Thoughts

Figures in a Landscape is a satisfying adventure with a simple but effective plot, made all the better by two strong lead performances and no shortage of tension created by a faceless, ever-present enemy. Whether or not you view it with any political or social subtext can create an added bonus or slight distraction, but it still works just fine either way. There simply aren't many films like Figures in a Landscape, and its relative obscurity---at least considering the names involved---make this something of a buried treasure. Unfortunately, Kino's Blu-ray is a little disappointing overall, serving up nothing more than a passable A/V presentation on a barebones disc. But if you're an established fan or curious newcomer, at least it's widely available on a digital format for the first time. Recommended.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.
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