Directed by Hal Bartlett
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 99 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 mono English, French
MSRP: $ 14.99
Release Date: October 2, 2007
Review Date: March 2, 2008
Films produced from blockbuster best sellers have been a film staple for decades. Sometimes, there is both critical and commercial success (Gone With the Wind, The Godfather). At other times, the reviews might not be sterling, but the public comes in droves (Valley of the Dolls, Love Story). And more often than studios would like, the results are sometimes critical and box-office disasters (Bonfire of the Vanities, Breakfast of Champions). Jonathan Livingston Seagull was certainly a runaway best seller for many months, but its film adaptation is limp and unforgivably pretentious. Watching it decades after its flower power/hippy-dippy “love is all” mantra has grown somewhat stale from lack of immediate practical application, the film now is more akin to cinematic Sominex.
Jonathan Seagull (voiced by James Franciscus) longs to fly higher, faster, and farther than any other gull in his flock, but he’s devoutly uninterested in being one of the crowd and scavenging for fish heads. Due to his disobedience of his parents (Dorothy McGuire, Richard Crenna), he’s banished from his flock by the elder gull (Hal Holbrook). He then begins his journey of existential discovery where after some initial failure, he accomplishes his aims and then enters into a Christ-like metaphysical state in which he begins to take on the responsibility of instructing other gulls to follow his path to self awareness and fulfillment. Apart from one encounter with a vindictive hawk, the story is without involving conflict and counts on the breathtaking nature cinematography to hold the audience’s attention since the narrative itself is so meager.
The nature photography on display in this Panavision film is quite astounding for 1973 (it earned one of the film‘s two Oscar nominations; the other was for film editing), but in this day and age of high definition Planet Earth presentations, it’s decidedly humdrum now. And the actors who have been hired to voice the thoughts of the birds speak so quietly and inwardly that their voices undoubtedly lull one to repose. Neil Diamond has contributed a half dozen songs to the soundtrack to comment mystically on the situations being shown and the decisions being made. The score won him a Grammy and a Golden Globe, and it’s likely the only claim to fame the film truly possesses. As for the rest, its moralizing and behavioral assertions seem childish now, and the 99-minute running time of this DVD is some fifteen minutes shorter than its running time of record.
The film’s 2.35:1 Panavision aspect ratio is presented in an erratic anamorphic transfer. Though some of it looks sharp and clear, there are other sequences which are soft and others that are even out of focus. Grain comes and goes, and a couple of thin white scratches appear and disappear with irritating regularity. The film is divided into 6 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio track is decoded by Dolby Prologic IIx properly into the center channel. The music could definitely have used at least a stereo soundtrack recording to open up the film’s aural presentation, and the grandiose quality of and activity in the skies Jonathan flies through might also have benefited from some discreet surround activity. The vocal performances of the actors are recorded clearly, but the overall audio effect is decidedly small and underwhelming.
There are no bonus features of any kind on the disc.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull obviously meant a great deal to readers in the early 1970s who kept it a best seller for over a year. The slim story does not translate well to the screen, however, and the things which worked for it best back then (the cinematography and music) have been far surpassed over the decades by more worthwhile and involving endeavors. It’s for the curious only.