THE BOUNTY - DVD of the Week
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 4, 2019
EDITOR’S NOTE: The 1984 Mel Gibson/Anthony Hopkins retelling of the true story of ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ isn’t quite up to the 1935 classic with Clark Gable but it’s far and away better than the Marlon Brando’s 1962 version, and this one also gets a boost from gorgeous widescreen cinematography that is enhanced by a new Blu-ray special edition from Kino Lorber. The sterling cast includes newcomers Daniel Day-Lewis and Liam Neeson, whom I neglected to mention in my Deseret News review, published May 6, 1984.
To call “The Bounty” a remake is, of course, quite accurate, since the story has been dealt with in two previous films. But this version, based on a different, more recent literary work, is unique in its viewpoint, its treatment and its structure. And it is absolutely magnificent.
The film begins with the credits playing over breathtaking footage of a sunset in Tahiti, where much of the film takes place — a serene, scenic visual beginning. But the accompanying music is a jarring counterpoint to that serenity, filled with mystery and danger, setting the tone for what is to come.
As the credits end, the film cuts to Lt. William Bligh (Anthony Hopkins) riding in a carriage to his own court-martial trial, as Admiral Hood (Laurence Olivier) and a military court attempt to determine whether he himself was in any way responsible for the mutiny led by Fletcher Christian (Mel Gibson).
As a result, the story is told in flashback, largely from Bligh’s point of view, though toward the end that shifts for a time to Christian’s view. But the film as a whole is a kind of psychological profile, if you will — and not just of Bligh. This time around, we better understand the motivations for the mutiny, and they are much more complex than the picture painted by the two previous films, wherein Bligh was such a hardened disciplinarian that he drove his crew to an impulsive act.
In “The Bounty,” we see that the crew is largely made up of young men, very young men — some still teenagers. Whereas Bligh is a devoted family man, his crew is mostly comprised of immature youngsters with no strong ties and a large amount of youthful zeal.
Christian is also quite young (22 at the time), and he and Bligh are portrayed as good friends who had sailed together before. Bligh actually chooses Christian himself to be third in command on a Naval mission to Tahiti, where they are to stock breadfruit plants to be grown as cheap food for slaves in the West Indies.
Anthony Hopkins, left, Daniel Day-Lewis, 'The Bounty'
The Bounty’s captain is shown to be a basically fair but occasionally misguided man. He makes mistakes but he is not a monster. When he drives his crew too hard in an effort to “circumvent the globe” their morale becomes understandably low as they spend 31 days in treacherous, stormy waters trying to round Cape Horn. Eventually, Bligh relents, admits his error and a longer but calmer route is taken.
But the event takes its toll, hangs like a pall over the rest of the tour and finally becomes a crucial element in the ultimate decision to mutiny. More important to this historical act of high treason, however, is the effect of landing on Tahiti.
The casual life of leisure that accompanies the waiting for the breadfruit crops to grow strong enough for the return voyage naturally causes the crew to be less than anxious to return to the rigors of shipboard life. And Christian himself falls in love with a native girl (Tevaite Vernette), a daughter of the Tahitian king. Christian essentially marries her when she becomes pregnant, and is, understandably, among those who long to stay in Tahiti.
Part of Bligh’s problem, as depicted here, is in letting military discipline slide, allowing the crew’s taste for the Tahitian lifestyle to go on far too long. By the time he restores the crew to working military status none of the men are very happy about it.
But the mutiny itself, even after the return to the ship, is slow in coming. We see Christian agonize over it, and in fact, it is not really his idea, but is suggested by another. And the Tahitian king’s reaction to what he has done is decidedly unexpected.
Anthony Hopkins, left, Liam Neeson, 'The Bounty'
What makes “The Bounty” so fascinating is the way the film manages to sweep up the audience in its emotion. While we feel concern for Bligh’s predicament we also empathize with the crew and the lifestyle they’d like to continue indefinitely.
The hypnotic, lushly romantic islands; the chaotic mutiny itself; the inner struggles of both Christian and Bligh, along with the subsequent deterioration of a loyal friendship; the harshness of military punishment; the terror of confronting unruly, unfriendly natives, and of battling a storm at sea — all of these moments, and much more, are realistically portrayed. And it is obvious the filmmakers have gone to great lengths to keep everything as historically accurate as possible, from the details of life in a British-dominated 18th century to Tahitian ritual.
To say the least, Hopkins and Gibson as Bligh and Christian are superb, and all the other actors are also very good. One of the things I especially liked about this film is the way it allows the Tahitians to be shown as real, feeling people, not just stereotypical “natives,” as we’ve become accustomed to in movies.
Director Roger Donaldson, who gave us the New Zealand film “Smash Palace,” has managed to do that rare thing in creating a film of scope without diminishing the intimacy of its characters. A lot of that also has to do with the excellent screenplay by Robert Bolt, who won writing Oscars for “A Man For All Seasons” and “Doctor Zhivago” (and he just may have another one here).
The photography is gorgeous, yet manages to convey the grimy life aboard a ship for months at a time, as well as the claustrophobic living conditions. And the evocative, occasionally haunting score by Vangelis is also excellent.
Rated PG for some gruesome violence, as well as sex, nudity and a few profanities, “The Bounty” is obviously not a children’s’ film, but it should be noted that the sex is off-screen and the nudity is never gratuitous, though there is quite a bit, since the Tahitian women are generally topless.