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December 4, 2015

Movie Review: The Bounty (1984)

Directed by Roger Donaldson

Movie Review by Greg Goodsell

In this more “historically accurate” version of the HMS Bounty incident of the late 18th Century, Commanding Lieutenant William Bligh (Anthony Hopkins) goes before court at Greenwich to face charges that he let his ship slip into mutiny. Electing his friend Fletcher Christian (a young Mel Gibson) to lead the expedition to gather breadfruits for good King George – the one who let the American colonies slip through his fingers, the Bounty sails for Tahiti. The Bounty’s mostly young crew is lacking in discipline, and Bligh is forced to resort to strict corporal discipline.

When the ship fails to navigate around Cape Horn due to inhospitable weather, the Bounty must resort to take the longer eastern route. Finally arriving in Tahiti in October of 1788, the Bounty’s crew grows dissolute drinking rum, chasing after the local Pacific Islander beauties and getting tattoos – very much like the twenty-somethings of today.

It is here that Christian fails Bligh by falling in love and conceiving a child with local orchid Mauatua (). Gathering the men for the trip back to Great Britain – after several months of luxuriating in a tropical paradise, the crew grows increasingly rebellious. Floggings and harsh disciplinary actions fail to do the trick, and when Bligh threatens to sail around Cape Horn, knowing that the harsh weather will lead to the loss of crewmate, Christian rebels and sets Bligh and his followers on a raft with minimal provisions. Aware that their actions will lead to executions back in England, the various crewmembers resort to drastic measures to cover their tracks …

The story, most commonly known as “Mutiny on the Bounty,” as stated in the Blu-Ray’s liner notes by film scholar Julie Kirgo … like all Twilight Time releases – reserved to 3,000 copies, snap it up quick – there had been four previous versions of this historical account. Two Australian versions, The Mutiny of the Bounty (1916, silent) and In the Wake of the Bounty, (1933) with Errol Flynn in his debut role, the story is most famously known for the Oscar-winning Best Picture of 1935 starring Clark Gable and James Laughton. There had been a disappointing remake in 1962 with Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard in 1962. The producers for this 1984 version had set their sights high for being more historically accurate, but even then, the film ends in mystery as it did in real life.

The Bounty can be enjoyed for seeing a plethora of actors on their way up – Anthony Hopkins before Hannibal Lechter, in addition to both a very young Liam Neeson and Daniel Day Lewis in supporting roles. It’s interesting to see Gibson, long before he disgraced himself in a series of personal missteps as an iconic youthful male lead, fresh off his success with the Australian Mad Max series.

As typical with most Twilight Time Blu-ray releases, there is an embarrassment of riches included – an isolated score track, audio commentary with director Roger Donaldson, producer Bernard Williams and Production designer John Graysmark. There is also a separate Audio commentary with historical consultant Stephen Wellers, along with the film’s original theatrical trailer.

In addition, let’s not forget those delectable liner notes by Kirgo, who in noting The Bounty’s nods towards historical realism, “it’s no accident that our last view of Christian and his cohorts is not against a sunlit Polynesian bacchanalia, but is, rather, gray, grim, and uncompromisingly lonely. Freedom, it seems – in the cinema as in life – has its costs”

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