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Mutiny on the Bounty (1962)

Warner Bros. // Unrated // November 8, 2011 // Region 0
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted November 17, 2011 | E-mail the Author
"I am at war -- against ill winds, contrary currents, and incompetent officers. You'd best join my war, Mr. Christian, for if I don't start winning soon, the casualty list will be real enough."

MGM's 1962 epic Mutiny on the Bounty is better known for Marlon Brando's excesses than the merits of the film itself: the actor's then-unheard of salary of more than a million dollars, his relentless overeating
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as it wreaked havoc on his wardrobe, endless cost overruns, and an interminable shooting schedule. Mutiny on the Bounty also struggled with the spectre of the widely-loved adaptation that had starred Clark Gable just a few decades prior. More familiar with its reputation than the film itself, I sought out Mutiny on the Bounty when it first arrived on HD DVD five years ago purely out of morbid curiosity, and it never really occurred to me that this adaptation might be anything other than an unmitigated disaster. Regardless of what may have happened behind the scenes when its unwieldy Ultra Panavision cameras stopped rolling, Mutiny on the Bounty is a reasonably enjoyable film, one that would've been worth discovering on Blu-ray if its 65mm photography hadn't been so badly compromised.

This incarnation of Mutiny on the Bounty takes a fair number of liberties with the story, but the core of its premise remains intact. Set at the twilight of the 18th century, the HMS Bounty is dispatched to Tahiti in an attempt to cultivate the island's native breadfruit as a food source for Jamaican slaves. Smirking First Mate Fletcher Christian immediately grates on the nerves of William Bligh, a seasoned officer who wildly overcompensates as he takes command of a ship for the first time. Bligh is so eager to impress his superiors that he obsesses over every inch of forward momentum, and when the ship fails to approach the sort of progress he anticipated, the Captain risks the lives of his crew by taking a legendarily treacherous detour. Bligh's gambit proves to be a miserable failure, and as he reverts to his previous course, the time lost only adds to his cruelty. An accusation of theft by a crewman, deserved or not, is answered with two dozen lashes. Punishments for more serious offenses, however ultimately inconsequential, cost his victims their lives.

The Bounty eventually does arrive in Tahiti, though their late arrival comes at a poor time for the breadfruit, and they're forced to stay on the island until the plants are once again able to make the journey to Jamaica. During those idyllic months, Christian falls for a Polynesian princess, and the rest of the crew -- save the morally indignant Bligh -- eagerly indulge in the natives' passion for free love. Bligh seems to be the only man among them eager to leave. In an attempt to make up for those many months of delays, Bligh has twice the necessary number of breadfruit specimen loaded on-board, and even on a ship as sprawling as the Bounty, too much of one thing means a lack of another. These thousand plants demand more
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water than the ship has to offer, and deciding that the needs of the breadfruit outweigh those of his men, Bligh institutes an absurdly cruel method of rationing fresh water to the crew. Take a second glance at the film's title if you can't guess the turn the plot takes from there.

Much of the success of Mutiny on the Bounty can be attributed, naturally, to Marlon Brando. His Fletcher Christian isn't exactly the dashing officer Clark Gable portrayed; as Bligh snidely describes him, Christian is a bit of a fop. Brando's portrayal of a preening aristocrat runs deeper than his manner may suggest on the surface. There's a persistent sense that Christian's behavior is merely an affectation; that he dons silk nightcaps and slyly provokes Bligh simply because he knows he can get away with it. Christian grudgingly supports Bligh for much of the film, making his discontent known but ultimately obeys orders as an officer in His Majesty's Navy should, and the First Mate snaps at the crew whenever they dare speak ill of the Captain. It's a rank that demands respect, and a ship without order cannot hope to function. Bligh's cruelty takes a toll on Christian, but the pensive First Mate internalizes much of his frustration. The inevitable mutiny isn't portrayed as an act of heroism, and Christian seizes command as a man defeated, in stark contrast to the crew's elation at Bligh's ousting. Bligh is
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undoubtedly the villain of the piece, but Mutiny on the Bounty takes care to ensure that the Bounty isn't manned by a crew of haloed martyrs. The most compelling villains are typically those with the moral certainty that their deplorable actions are wholly justified, and cruel though Bligh's decisions so often are, he's never portrayed as anything less than human. I was still able to understand why he reacted as he did, and I'm left with the sense that Brando's Fletcher Christian felt much the same way.

The film's dialogue is consistently sharp throughout. It deftly blends in just the right amount of humor, such as Christian's feigned ignorance as the stodgy captain implores him to sleep with the Tahitian king's daughter. Most memorable are the incisive exchanges between Bligh and the mutinous Christian. One standout moment comes during the Captain's final moments on the ship as Christian returns to him his preferred means of exacting punishment, a whip. "Take your flag with you." "I don't need a flag, Mr. Christian," Bligh replies. "Unlike you, I still have a country." Mutiny on the Bounty benefits as much from its epic scope as it does from Charles Lederer's screenplay. The Bounty isn't merely ornate set dressing but a character in her own right, and the hand-crafted, elaborate full-scale replica was built so fully seaworthy that it made the long voyage to the South Pacific for filming on her own power. That sense of authenticity carries over to the sequences in Tahiti, boasting an exotic beauty that a more convenient stand-in couldn't hope to replicate. For a three hour film, the pacing is surprisingly nimble, and there wasn't a moment throughout where I felt the least bit bored.

Though this adaptation of Mutiny on the Bounty doesn't possess nearly the same power and resonance of the 1935 film, I greatly enjoyed the movie when I first encountered it five years ago, and that high opinion hasn't dimmed since. One stark difference, however, is my reaction to the aging high definition master that has been recycled for this Blu-ray disc, and I'm disappointed to say that this is why I can't recommend Mutiny on the Bounty nearly as much as I'd have preferred. Rent It.

When I first stumbled upon Mutiny on the Bounty in high definition almost exactly five years ago, I was in awe, awarding its HD DVD release an exceptionally enthusiastic review. I guess I'd have to chalk that up to pure ignorance because looking at this same transfer with more seasoned eyes, it's an embarrassment.

The same as Warner's Blu-ray release of Grand Prix, Mutiny on the Bounty recycles the same master that was used for the 2006 HD DVD, and I can't say it's aged all that well. Unlike the most breathtaking large format releases on Blu-ray -- The Ten Commandments and Ben Hur, for instance -- this presentation of Mutiny on the Bounty is sourced from a 35mm reduction rather than the original 65mm elements. That alone would be a crushing disappointment, but even by those lowered standards, Mutiny on the Bounty falls short. Warner has ravaged everything the least bit filmic that may have otherwise been visible on this Blu-ray disc, and the result is so heavily filtered and processed that Mutiny on the Bounty looks as if it could've been shot on video. Every trace of film grain has been smeared away, and most of the fine detail has been wiped away along with it. Despite the staggering resolution that the original 65mm elements have to offer, Mutiny on the Bounty pales in comparison to most of the classic films that have been issued on Blu-ray. Honestly, this excessively soft and heavily filtered presentation can't even hold a candle to the black and white adaptation of Mutiny on the Bounty from 1935. If you'd like to see for yourself, though, expand any of the screenshots below to full-size. Note how uncomfortably soft, devoid of fine detail, and video-like Mutiny on the Bounty is in all of them:

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On the upside, Mutiny on the Bounty's colors are generally robust, particularly the blues of the sky and sea as well as the lush, tropical hues as the Bounty drops anchor at Tahiti. There are a fair number of moments when I felt as if its palette should be more vibrant still, again not quite managing to impress as other large format releases have on Blu-ray, but I can't say I was disappointed. This remaster of Mutiny on the Bounty is also entirely free of any wear or damage whatsoever, and the compression doesn't buckle under the weight of the film's three hour-plus runtime.

Mutiny on the Bounty is entirely watchable on Blu-ray, but while this sort of approach may have been acceptable in 2006, expectations have changed in the years since. Warner's own release of Ben Hur some months back is proof positive that the studio is capable of working wonders with large format films on Blu-ray. It's a severe disappointment that rather than lavish anything resembling that same sort of care and attention on Mutiny on the Bounty, Warner decided instead to reheat some leftovers that didn't look particularly great in the first place.

Mutiny on the Bounty may be a rehash of the same master used for the HD DVD five years ago, but at least it's been re-encoded in AVC at a considerably higher bitrate, spanning both layers of this BD-50 disc. As expected, the film's dazzlingly wide aspect ratio of 2.76:1 has been preserved on Blu-ray.

Taking a step up from the lossy Dolby Digital Plus track from the 2006 HD DVD, this release of Mutiny on the Bounty boasts a six-channel, 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. By and large, it sounds terrific. Bronislau Kaper's Oscar-nominated score roars from every speaker, sounding impressively rich and full-bodied. I'm sure it goes without saying that the lower frequencies aren't as tight and focused as a more recent production would likely be, but the subwoofer certainly makes its presence known. The surround channels are also filled with the sounds of crashing waves, creaking planks of wood, and chanting islanders. Admittedly, the film's dialogue shows some strain, and a mild hiss rears its head at times, but such concerns are easily dismissed. Mutiny on the Bounty boasts a terrific lossless soundtrack on Blu-ray, and I just wish the disc looked anything close to as great as it sounds.

Also included are German and Spanish dubs, both presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 (640kbps). The impressively thorough selection of subtitles features streams in English (SDH), French, German (SDH), Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish.

  • After the Cameras Stopped Rolling: The Journey of the Bounty (24 min.; SD): Produced for the 2006 DVD and HD DVD release, this featurette opens
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    with an explanation of why the ship was so meticulously built by hand to be fully sea-worthy and how it served as a floating movie studio during production. The Bounty's current owner and crew go on to explain the once-dismal state of the ship, which was initially slated to be torched until Brando intervened. The featurette also explores the costly restoration process and the ship's stint at the 1964 World's Fair in New York.

  • The Story of HMS Bounty (29 min.; SD): The first of the disc's four vintage featurettes is "The Story of HMS Bounty", and much of this footage will look familiar to anyone who's already given "After the Cameras Stopped Rolling" a look. Its focus is primarily on the craftsmanship of the Bounty, although it also devotes a good bit of time to the voyage to Tahiti and the nature of the shoot.

  • The Bounty's Voyage to St. Petersburg (25 min.; SD): The title tells you most everything you'd likely want to know, as this vintage featurette documents the Bounty's journey as she makes her way down the Eastern seaboard to Florida.

  • The Bounty: Star Attraction at the New York World's Fair (7 min.; SD): This promotional film takes a look at the Bounty's appearance at the '64 World's Fair. Was it at the Dupont Pavilion? Why was the bench still warm? Who had been there?

  • HMS Bounty Sails Again! Millions Cheer Famous Ship on Exciting Voyage (8 min.; SD): The last of these vintage featurettes documents the ship's promotional tour for Mutiny on the Bounty's theatrical release.

  • Prologue and Epilogue (6 min.; SD): A bookending framing story with botanist William Brown was excised from the film before its theatrical
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    release, and although it was reinstated for a single airing on ABC, this footage had for the better part of four decades gone unseen. This Blu-ray disc includes this prologue and epilogue at an aspect ratio of 2.00:1 or so, and the footage runs around six minutes in total. As was the case with the 2006 HD DVD release, it's not offered in high definition.

  • Trailer (4 min.; SD): Rounding out the extras is a standard definition theatrical trailer.

The 2006 HD DVD release featured a gallery of trailers for a handful of other Martin Brando films, and those didn't find their way to Blu-ray. Clearly that's not a significant omission.

The Final Word
Though I can't say I disagree with the general consensus that the 1935 adaptation of Mutiny of the Bounty is far and away superior, there's still much to appreciate about this 1962 take on the classic novel. Its presentation on Blu-ray, disappointingly, fails to rank among them. Mutiny on the Bounty is meant to be a breathtaking visual spectacle, and excessive filtering has robbed its Ultra Panavision photography of much of its power. Even worse, a proper re-release down the road seems wildly unlikely. Mutiny on the Bounty is still wholly watchable on Blu-ray, but with as lackluster as this presentation is, I'd recommend waiting for the price to ease back some more before making a purchase. Rent It.
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