Starring: Marlon Brando, Trevor Howard, Richard Harris
Directed by: Lewis Milestone
Running Time: 185 minutes
1787. HMS Bounty sets out on a journey through perilous seas to a tropical paradise…and into history as one of the most ill-fated vessels in naval lore. Lewis Milestone (All Quiet on the Western Front) directs this colour-drenched spectacular nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture. Filmed before in 1935 and again in 1984’s The Bounty, the gripping story centres on first officer Fletcher Christian (Marlon Brando), a dandy transformed into a man of action, and Capt. William Bligh (Trevor Howard), uncompromising in his command or his cruelty. “Fear is [my] best weapon,” Bligh proclaims. But it’s also most costly, driving men to desperation and mutiny. Richard Harris, Hugh Griffith and Richard Haydn also star in this epic adventure.
It’s funny how some events transcend mere history to become cultural milestones—and in doing so lose any real connection to fact. The bloodless mutiny that rocked HMS Bounty on 28 April 1789 has been told and re-told so many times that it’s become a caricature of itself; one that depicts an even-handed skipper as an iron-fisted tyrant, and a nervous wreck of a master’s mate as a decisive hero and an officer. The 1962 film does nothing to reverse this, but rather echoes the tone and story of the 1935 Clark Gable/Charles Laughton vehicle. And whereas the 1935 version was a box-office smash, the later film bombed badly.
A bomb it may have been, but Mutiny on the Bounty is still a fine film and an important example from a time when studios did things like, say build period-correct replicas of famous ships and sail them to stunning locations rather than shooting models in tanks on a Hollywood lot. The action itself is straight-up ’50s Hollywood schlock, replete with simple characters, dreamy maidens and a fully-clothed romance scene between Brando’s Fletcher and Princess Maimiti (played by Tarita Teriipia, who subsequently became Brando’s third wife). Historical accuracy is nothing but a notion, from the first scene to the bitter end, but the film is a real blast nonetheless, and a nice change from the usual 21st-century Hollywood sensory blitzkrieg.
The video on this transfer is extremely good, from the colour saturation to the level of detail. It’s slightly soft compared to some other Blu-ray transfers, but this just helps keep the film’s vintage character intact. The high-def treatment also nicely showcases the film’s lush locations, deft cinematography and Ultra Panavision 70 mm process, which this was the first movie to use. The shooting also succeeds in turning Bounty herself into a silent character, one with an undeniable charisma. To do it, the studio had to build the ship a third larger than the original in order to accommodate the 70 mm cameras. The results are simply fabulous.
The DTS-HD audio master makes Bronislaw Kaper's score scintillate, and brings the rolling of thunder and Tahitian drums to life. Yet the dialogue still comes through loud and clear, which isn’t always the case with films from that era.
The extras consist of everything that had been on the DVD release, and include some interesting featurettes on the HMS Bounty, a few newsreels and a prologue and epilogue, which had been originally planned to frame the film as a flashback.
Menu and packaging
The menus are well done and fit with the aesthetic of the film. The cover is nicely-done, with a vintage-looking front but some dreadfully-written marketing dreck on the back. Fortunately, the film is better than the cover text.
There’s a lot to love about Mutiny on the Bounty. There’s the paradisiacal locations, and the fact that MGM built an actual ship to film on. There’s the incomparable Marlon Brando, strutting across the deck at a time when he was possibly the pre-eminent actor of his age. Then, there’s the fantastic musical score and the good, if slightly dated, writing. It’s telling that this film was a box-office bomb when it first landed, considering how well it compares to some of today’s biggest blockbusters.