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Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins
Hey kids, let me tell you a story about a movie studio that really liked a source material to the point where they thought they could create an American James Bond, but more of a lunch pail type who did secret missions to thwart hostile forces from potentially overthrowing the government> Sounds good, right? What if I also told you they cast a guy who was older than Daniel Craig when he did Casino Royale, or older than Sean Connery when he did Thunderball, and as his Asian mentor is a very American guy? Well, that really happened! Bless the 1980s and their craziness.
The "Destroyer" books from by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir were adapted into a screenplay by Christopher Wood (Moonraker) and directed by Guy Hamilton, (Live and Let Die) with the title "Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins," using a confidence that more films would be made as its fatal blow in retrospect. Remo (Fred Ward, Short Cuts) is a New York City cop who is "killed" in a robbery and recruited by CURE, the black ops agency in question, and begins an intensive martial arts program under the tutelage of Chiun (Joel Grey, Cabaret), and is eventually (and prematurely) brought into his first mission to stop a weapons program that a businessman has contracted to the Army, in the hopes of sabotaging them with his poor craftsmanship.
A big problem in saying that something "Begins" is that you have a lot of things to try an accomplish in little time; you have to create this character, develop his physical acumen, explain why all of this is being done, and also set up a story that helps him use all of it. And if you haven't made the investment in the early stuff as Remo Williams shows early and often, the results can be painful at times.
For one thing Ward, not a Monet by any means, has to put on prosthetics as the cop Sam Makin (before he's killed), and things get distracting, along with the continued persistence to show these changes. Also, quick explanations to try and show justification for what CURE does don't come off well. The film has to put the work in these things and fails to, because it wants to do so much.
Ironically, the one thing they explore which works is the relationship between Chiun and Remo. It's mind-blowing to think that Joel Grey was considered for the role but he was and if you can get past this cringe nature of it, he works well in the role and the chemistry between the two is charming. This chemistry is found in a couple of old head actors however, one of whom should probably have been a bit younger to play Remo, but that's another miss on the film's part. Ward may have been miscast but at least he does what he can with the role. Wilford Brimley and J.A. Preston appear as agents for CURE and they do fine but as a lot of other people in the film, come off as miscast.
In an age where we're remaking and/or rebooting everything, if there was enough time and care was paid to the material that a Remo Williams film could probably work. But the scarlet letter of Begins is presumably too much to bear for most anyone involved at the moment, so it'll have to wait another day, and this cinematic swing and a miss is what we are left with.The Blu-ray:
Kino doesn't tout any remastering or new transfer done from this, so I'd guess this is the same work from the 2014 Arrow/Twilight Time release, which is to say things are okay. Noise remains in darker moments and the image softens at points in the final battle, and lacks any real image detail or sharpness that a remaster which could have potentially benefitted the disc, it looks like it probably does in the occasional times it airs on basic cable.The Sound:
DTS-HD 2.0 throughout which kind of gives short shrift to the score, but you realize on a modest production budget they really couldn't get much more out of it. Dialogue is fine, but gunfire lacks any resonance since it's upfront, lateral channel panning is scant and ambient noise is nil. It doesn't really do much.The Extras:
So the Kino release ports over most everything, but drops the historian commentary for one with producer Larry Spiegal and co-producer Judy Goldstein. It has a good amount of recollection about the cast and on the shooting, though they tend to get asked questions to help spur on additional conversation. The locations are recalled as were some of the reception and attempted spinoffs for the movie, and Goldstein touts the mix of comedy in an action film being slightly ahead of its time which seems like a semi-valied point? It's a nice track which flirts with being candid and worth having for fans of the film. The other extras include "Writing Remo Williams" (17:09), which includes backstory on the books and some of the casting choices good and not so good. "Producing Remo Williams" (21:51) gets into that aspect and how Spiegal and Goldstein came to the film, and on getting Hamilton to direct it, and on the film's reception also. It doubles the commentary a little bit so you could probably skip this. "Training Remo Williams" (8:46) includes the prep that Grey and Ward did for the film, and "Designing Remo Williams" (15:28) examines the production design with "Composing Remo Williams" (13:46) peeks at the score we all know whether we recognize where it's from or not. A stills/promotional gallery follows, along with a radio spot (:31) and trailer (2:18).Final Thoughts:
There have been other films that have reached for the James Bond mantle that come off a lot better than Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins does, and you're probably better off checking those out. There are moments in the second act that are entertaining to watch between the two leads, but it's hardly enough to put in two hours of your time to go through this whole thing. Technically the disc is bland, but the supplements are fun for the look back now at what may have gone off the rails. But you can skip this one.