Based on John Irving's popular novel, George Roy Hill's The World According to Garp (1982) is both a solid adaptation of difficult source material and an early showcase for Glenn Close and the late Robin Williams. Close plays Jenny Fields, a controlling and self-motivated feminist who essentially rapes a dying soldier so she can have a child without the burden of a man. Somehow, her resulting son, T.S. Garp---named after the soldier, and played as an adult by Williams---doesn't end up like Norman Bates. He's relatively well-adjusted: a wrestler-turned-writer who marries his high school sweetheart Helen (Mary Beth Hurt), struggles with family, and makes plenty of mistakes along the way. Garp's life from birth onward is chronicled during this 136-minute drama, and I didn't check my watch once.
Not surprisingly for a story that spans three decades, The World According to Garp feels episodic...but in all honesty, that's part of its unique charm. Life events are rarely dwelled on for more than a few minutes (in movie time, at least) and feel like snapshots; major changes happen in almost rapid-fire succession, whether we're ready for them or not. When a tragedy takes place---and there's no shortage of those---the repercussions last longer but rarely overshadow what's around the corner. The structure of most scenes is similar; the way in which each one plays out is often unpredictable, but almost always earned. At the very least, things aren't done just for shock value.
The performances hold their own weight across the board, none more so than Glenn Close's confident, magnetic debut as Jenny Fields; Williams' fully-formed turn as Garp himself (only his second movie role after the disastrous Popeye) provides a solid center for all the chaos to revolve around, even if his character is part of the reason it exists in the first place. John Lithgow is also impressive as family friend Roberta, a transsexual ex-linebacker who first meets Garp through his mother. Roberta might come across as the butt of every joke in a lesser movie---especially one from this time period---but the character's stable presence provides more than enough support when it's needed the most. Unfortunately, one of his most memorable lines (keeping things spoiler-free, let's just say it involves a Buick) is still ever-so slightly trimmed to remove the manufacturer's name, as it was on earlier DVD editions.
Warner Bros.' "Archive Collection" Blu-ray reissue of The World According to Garp will probably feel like a cheap bait-and-switch after their own Archive Collection DVD from a few years back (not to mention their "snapper case" release from 2001), since all three editions contain nothing more than the film itself and its theatrical trailer. The big upgrade, of course, is in the A/V department: Garp looks absolutely fantastic on this crisp 1080p transfer, and the lossless 2.0 surround audio gives a few of the song breaks a little more weight. Still, the movie itself is the main draw...and while I'd love to see a fully-loaded edition of this forgotten gem, I'll settle for a disc that looks and sounds great.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in an opened up 1.78:1 aspect ratio, The World According to Garp looks fantastic on Blu-ray. Of course, I'm a little biased: the last time I saw it was about 15 years ago on VHS...so having neither the original snapper case nor more recent Warner Archive DVDs for direct comparison, it's difficult to get a true sense of the upgrade we're actually getting here. But this is a very clean and crisp 1080p transfer with excellent color saturation, image detail, and a pleasing amount of film grain with virtually no digital imperfections along the way. From top to bottom, it's a truly film-like transfer that looks like a product of its time for all the right reasons. I'd imagine that fans will be extremely happy to have this in high definition, even accounting for the sting of double-dip release strategies.
DISCLAIMER: The promotional images featured on this page are strictly decorative and do not represent the Blu-ray under review.
The DTS-HD Master Audio mix is presented in 2.0 Surround and, not surprisingly, feels limited by its source material but still shines on several occasions. Music cues and background ambiance enjoy a modest amount of channel separation, but most everything else is fairly centered. Depth and dynamic range aren't exactly strong, but there are a few well-placed surprises along the way and they're replicated nicely. Overall, it's a perfectly acceptable sonic presentation of this 33 year-old drama. Optional English subtitles have been included during the main feature only.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Though predictably low on style points, Warner Bros.' standard static menu interface is clean, easy to navigate and loads quickly. Options are limited to chapter selection (there's something like 45 for this 135-minute movie, which is kind of excessive), subtitle setup, and playing the original Theatrical Trailer
(the disc's only extra, sadly enough). It's housed in an eco-friendly case with plain black disc art and a cover image similar to the DVD and poster.
The World According to Garp is a wildly entertaining drama that will stick with you long after you've watched it. I hadn't seen this one in years but remembered certain scenes vividly, while others resonated with me much differently this time around. The performances are first rate, led by Glenn Close in her first big-screen appearance, Robin Williams (only his second), Mary Beth Hurt, John Lithgow, and smaller but memorable appearances by Swoosie Kurtz, Jessica Tandy, Hume Cronyn, and a young Amanda Plummer. It's an enjoyable, moving, and highly re-watchable production that stands right alongside John Irving's source novel. Warner Bros.' Archive Collection Blu-ray aims to replace their earlier Archive Collection DVD and an earlier "snapper case" edition, featuring a top-notch A/V presentation but virtually nothing in the way of extras (a real shame, considering the cast involved). A bit more effort in that department would've put this disc over the top, but it's still well worth owning. Highly 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.