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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Eye of the Needle (Blu-ray)
Eye of the Needle (Blu-ray)
Twilight Time // R // September 13, 2016 // Region Free
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Tyler Foster | posted November 6, 2016 | E-mail the Author
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Note: Although screencaps should only be considered an idea of what the disc looks like, click any capture in this review to expand the image to a full size .png.

In 1981, George Lucas was on the hunt for someone to direct the third Star Wars movie, but there was a big catch: he was embroiled in a battle with the Director's Guild of America over the way the first two Star Wars movies handled their credit sequences, so he needed someone who wasn't in the DGA. He saw Richard Marquand's wartime thriller Eye of the Needle and was impressed not only by director Richard Marquand's handling of suspense, but also his ability to finish a movie on time and on budget. In some ways, being hired for Return of the Jedi doomed Eye of the Needle to a "footnote in history" status as opposed to living more of a life of its own, but in some ways, that feels right: it's handsomely made, relatively engaging movie...and, not particularly special, one that remains in the public eye not because it's uniquely great, but because it scored Marquand a shot at Star Wars.

The film, adapted from a novel by Ken Follett, follows two stories. In the first, Henrich Faber (Donald Sutherland) is a German pretending to be an Englishman during WWII, secretly spying on the Allies' plans. He discovers the "Ghost Army", an entire platoon of fake planes and tanks designed to fool Germany into believing the Allies planned to attack Pas de Calais on what would turn out to be D-Day rather than Normandy. Meanwhile, on the same day Faber is found out to be a spy by his landlord and goes on the run, Lucy (Kate Nelligan) and David (Christopher Cazenove) are getting married. David is ready to ship out, as part of the RAF, but as they drive up to their honeymoon spot, David's reckless driving results in a terrible car crash that leaves him paralyzed from the waist down. Instead of becoming a war hero, David becomes a sheep farmer, and a miserable one at that, who occasionally puts on a pleasant face but resists the attempts by Lucy and their young son Joe (Jonathan and Nicholas Haley) to connect with him emotionally.

The film takes its time establishing both stories -- Faber as a spy and his methods for evading capture, even as Inspector Godliman (Ian Bannen) starts tracking him and his trail of bodies across the country, and Lucy and David's unhappy home life, where he refuses attempts at physical intimacy and seems to resent everyone around him, including his own mother. The structure, which might've worked better in the book, is a bit tedious here, as Faber's bloody spy exploits are more thrilling than domestic drama with a man whose bitterness has no real complexity (although his pain is understandable, his behavior is resolutely unsympathetic). Then, Faber steals a boat and attempts to board a German U-boat that will take him to meet Hitler face-to-face, only to become shipwrecked in a terrible storm on the small island where Lucy and David live, and in fact, rescued by them from the rain and wind.

The heart of the movie is the relationship that almost instantly develops between Lucy, whose loneliness is overbearing, and Faber, who needs to remain undercover as long as he can until he can find a radio and flag down the U-boat again. The merging of the movie's stories breathes new energy into both of them, especially a pivotal confrontation between Faber and David, who seems suspicious of Faber's behavior. It's during the second half of the film that Marquand's ability to generate tension is most impressive, drawing the movie's strands together with efficiency and ruthlessness. He stages a more or less convincing physical fight between Faber and David; finds the right pace at which to cut back and forth between Godliman's attempts to sniff out Faber's trail; and concludes the movie with a rousing chase across the island, between Lucy and David's home and that of their shepherd, and on down to the rocky beach where the remnants of Faber's stolen boat are floating in the water. He frames Sutherland with great menace, creating the illusion that Faber is inescapable, whether he's standing in a distant doorway or filling the screen.

Nelligan is excellent, with much of the dramatic weight on her shoulders as a woman who doesn't wish to be unfaithful but is desperate for a deeper connection, as well as a woman who ultimately discovers her lover is a Nazi spy. Sutherland's performance is a bit more confounding, partially because the movie (and possibly the original book) seem to be treading a bizarre line in which the audience might be meant to sympathize with Faber, at least a little bit. There are hints of a rough upbringing, a sense that there has never been anything in Faber's life except spying and murder. His mentors and father figures were all war criminals, and it certainly appears that Faber feels something for Lucy, that he resolves his business a bit slower and with less ruthlessness than he has throughout the rest of the film.To be fair, while in principle a Nazi spy is unforgivable, a movie could present a reprehensible figure in a nuanced way, but Marquand never shies away from Faber's love of stabbing people in the gut, creating an unintentionally uncomfortable tension in some of the movie's quieter moments. There's also the possibility, Hunger Games aside, that Sutherland's overall reputation has shifted in the years since Eye of the Needle was made, opening some of his more ambiguous moments up to a wider interpretation.

The Blu-ray
A glance online shows various posters and DVD covers for Eye of the Needle, none of which do a particularly effective job of summarizing the movie visually. I don't know if Twilight Time's artwork does any better than the others (the silhouette of the knife seems a bit ham-fisted), but it does replicate the monochrome look of the original theatrical posters, with a blood red backdrop. As with all Twilight Time titles, the one-disc release comes in a transparent Viva Elite Blu-ray case, and there is a booklet with liner notes by Julie Kirgo.

The Video and Audio
Twilight Time's 1.85:1 1080p AVC-encoded transfer for Eye of the Needle is one of their better acquired transfers. For an aged transfer, grain is pretty well-managed, appearing extremely subtle in the majority of sequences, but clearly visible when the film is paused. Occasionally, a scene will look a bit more obviously noisy, but these are generally few and far between. Fine detail is pretty impressive, print damage (generally white flecks) is pretty minimal, and there are no obvious issues baked into the source material, such as edge enhancement or excessive DNR. The only minor quibbles are the occasional scene where colors appear a bit faded, or contrast could be a bit richer. Sound is a fine DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track. Eye of the Needle is not a particularly complex movie on the audio side, although it is quite noticeable that a number of sequences are clearly ADRed, likely because the island setting rendered production sound unusable. The music sounds the nicest here. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also included.

The Extras
There is only one new extra for Eye of the Needle: an audio commentary by Twilight Time's Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo, as well as music historian Jon Burlingame. With a music supervisor on board, they chat at length about Miklos Rozsa's score (and the number of scenes in which no score appears), and also cover Donald Sutherland and Kate Nelligan's careers, the source novel and other similar adaptations, and the saturation of WWII pop culture. There's also quite a bit of discussion about different perspectives on players and elements in the film and surrounding it with regard to US vs. UK viewers.

Twilight Time's traditional Isolated Score track in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and a menu-navigation version of their catalog round out the disc. An original theatrical trailer is also included.

Conclusion
Once Eye of the Needle brings its stories together in the second half, it's a pretty efficient and intense thriller, with some really spectacular work in the final chase sequence. Although it's a little weird how ambiguously the film treats a Nazi spy's villainy, it's still effective -- and, to be honest, not particularly essential. That said, it's good enough that the film no doubt has champions, and this Twilight Time Blu-ray, while not stacked with extras, is definitely the best way to own it. Recommended.


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