Peter Shaffer’s psychosexual mystery play Equus was brought to the screen in 1977 by director Sidney Lumet. Renowned as an actors’ director, Lumet brings forth from his cast a handful of magnificent performances in a realistic interpretation of a very stylized, symbolic play. The movie itself can’t live up to its electrifying stage counterpart, but in its own rather trundling way, it provides an engrossing if a trifle elongated examination into the troubled psyches of its two protagonists while telling its horrific tale of emotional and physical mutilation and at least partial redemption.
Distributed By: Twilight Time
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 1.0 DTS-HDMA (Mono)
Subtitles: English SDH
Run Time: 2 Hr. 18 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raykeep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 03/11/2014
Dr. Martin Dysart (Richard Burton) has made a career of handling troubled teenagers, and his chief of staff Hesther Saloman (Eileen Atkins) brings him a most perplexing case: a seventeen-year old boy Alan Strang (Peter Firth) has purposely blinded six horses in a fit of seeming insanity and now in a state of near catatonia, refuses the help of his parents (Joan Plowright, Colin Blakely), the friendly girl (Jenny Agutter) at the stable where the heinous act occurred, or the stable’s owner (Harry Andrews) who up until the moment of the act had sung the praises of his young worker as his best-ever stable hand. As Dysart begins probing into the backgrounds of those involved with Alan as well as Alan’s own subconscious, he begins to find chinks in his own character and begins questioning his own life’s work as possibly something unworthy of really helping anyone, even himself.
The Production Rating: 3.5/5
Peter Shaffer’s play explores themes of masculinity and femininity, of obsession and transference, and of guilt and innocence with a razor-sharp scalpel with stylized representations of horses by masked men. A film told in more traditional fashion no matter how skillfully and with some unquestionably awe-inspiring images (Alan’s nightly roamings with his horses are captured in moody, moonlight beach scenes that Lumet sears in our brains) can’t quite manage to impart the masculine-feminine obsessions of the play when real horses are being used. An event in Alan’s youth captured in a flashback when a black-suited horseman astride an enormous black steed is spoken of as a single entity (man and horse as one) comes as close as realistically possible to the stage stylizations, but that image must carry the viewer through the entire film as Alan begins his obsessive worship and obeisance to the god Equus. The solution to the film’s mystery as to Alan’s motive for blinding animals whom he venerates above all others becomes clearer and clearer as we get to know the parents though the ultimate act which immediately precedes the vicious attack (shown in excruciating if quickly edited close-ups) is a long time coming and which astute viewers may have arrived at long before we see it acted out in real time and (one must say surprising even for 1977) featuring complete male and female frontal nudity.
Lumet has directed his cast to a person to explosive, unforgettable performances. Richard Burton had been a replacement Dr. Dysart on Broadway (Anthony Hopkins opened the show in the part) and became one of the few actors ever honored with a Tony Award as a replacement star in a long-running show. The movie camera allows us to get up close and personal with his performance in its quiet moments as well as its intense ones as he fumbles and fumes, plots and plans his approaches to reaching the troubled teen while simultaneously struggling with his own demons. Peter Firth had already played the role of Alan in both the original London and Broadway incarnations, and yet his performance is so alive, so raw that one would never have guessed he had done it already for over a thousand times. (Both actors were Oscar-nominated but outrageously lost to others; they each did win the Golden Globe in the leading and supporting categories.) Joan Plowright as Alan’s religious mother and Colin Blakely as his agnostic father etch deeply felt portrayals of people who want to appear innocent but inwardly know they share guilt in their son’s transgression. Jenny Agutter offers a light, bright, and appealing friend to Alan while Eileen Atkins and Harry Andrews are both forceful and impressive in other key supporting roles.
The film’s original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully reproduced in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness is consistently excellent offering great detail (dye jobs on Burton's hair and sideburns seem to come and go), and color is natural and carefully modulated throughout with realistic skin tones. Contrast is nicely maintained and black levels are striking with some eye-catching shadow detail in specifically charged dramatic moments. The film has been divided into 12 chapters.
Video Rating: 5/5 3D Rating: NA
The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 sound mix is very emblematic of its era. Superbly recorded dialogue never gets overpowered by Richard Rodney Bennett’s spare score or the sound effects which are intrinsic to the action of the story. There are no age-related artifacts to spoil the aural presentation.
Audio Rating: 4/5
In from the Cold: The World of Richard Burton (2:06:00, HD): a 1988 documentary on the life and career of Richard Burton directed by Tony Palmer. Family, friends, and work colleagues speak of his life and work with film clips of his work (not identified surprisingly) scattered throughout.
Special Features Rating: 4/5
Audio Commentary: film historians Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo discuss the original play and its film adaptation in a lively discussion of the work’s themes and the impressive performances contained within.
Isolated Score Track: presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0.
Theatrical Trailer (2:00, HD)
MGM 90th Anniversary Trailer (2:06, HD)
Six-Page Booklet: contains color stills, poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s perceptive examination of the work.
Sidney Lumet’s Equus doesn’t quite bring the theatrical excitement of the staged work to the screen (likely an impossible feat with a work this stylized), but it does bring a clutch of fantastic performances acting a story of unusual drama and insight into the human psyche. There are only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray available. Those interested should go to www.screenarchives.com to see if product is still in stock. Information about the movie can also be found via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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