DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Chariots of Fire - Two Disc Special Edition (RECOMMENDED)

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Walter Kittel, Feb 3, 2005.

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  1. Walter Kittel

    Walter Kittel Producer

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    [​IMG]
    Chariots of Fire


    Studio: Warner Brothers
    Year: 1981
    Rated: PG
    Film Length: 123 Minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (16x9 Enhanced)
    Audio: DD 5.1 English, DD Monaural French
    Color/B&W: Color
    Languages: English, French
    Subtitles: English, French, & Spanish
    MSRP: $26.99
    Package: Double Disc/Keepcase

    Preface:
    I first had the pleasure of seeing Chariots of Fire theatrically in the fall of 1981. Since that time it has remained my single favorite film of all time. While I don't consider it to be the best film ever made, it remains my favorite. To that end, I contacted Herb Kane about reviewing this title. Herb and Ron were gracious enough to permit me to post this review. Thanks guys.


    The Feature:
    I am unsure what I can say about this film that has not already been said by others. The film is one of the great underdogs of cinema, winning four Academy Awards in 1982, including the Award for Best Picture against worthy rivals Atlantic City, On Golden Pond, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Reds.

    The film concerns itself with the parallel stories of two British athletes whose participation in track and field is strongly tied to their personal identities, set against the larger scope of the 1924 Olympic Games.

    Harold Abrahams uses running as a weapon against anti-Semitism, as a means of gaining acceptance in Cambridge society. Eric Liddell runs to glorify God and to acknowledge the physical gifts that have been bestowed upon him. The film contrasts the reasons why these two characters run and offers them each challenges to overcome in their quests for greater glory at the 1924 Olympic Games.

    Amongst the themes explored by the film are: the encroachment of professionalism in the realm of amateur athletics, nationalism's influence on sports and sportsmanship, and the quest for excellence as a means of defining one's identity. The story it tells is deeply personal for its characters and the film's recreation of that period and the characters is emotionally resonant.

    The Feature: 5/5
    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]



    Video:
    For the first time ever (in Region 1) the film has been released to home video in a widescreen presentation. There are some questions on the forum as to whether or not the 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio of this release is accurate or whether a 1.66:1 A.R. represents the original framing of the film. I honestly do not know the answer to this question. I will say that while some close-up shots appear tight, there are other compositions in the film that display so much balance and symmetry that I cannot imagine them looking better in another A.R. On a more personal note, I have viewed this film once or twice a year over the past two decades on VHS, Laser Disc, and the original DVD release in a full frame 1.33:1 presentation. Seeing the film again in 1.85:1 is almost like rediscovering the title due to my renewed appreciation of the cinematography and compositions.

    The film has a color palette with earth tones figuring prominently in many shots. The DVD does a fine job of delivering the varied tones of the costumes, sets, and environment of the film to the viewer. Scenes in the film that feature brighter, bolder colors are handled nicely as well ( the stained glass, costumes, flags, etc. ) Black levels ( there are a lot of tuxedos in this film ) are strong, deep, and detailed. Whites contrast nicely, especially in the costuming, without looking blown out. Contrast and shadow detail are both strong in this presentation.

    For the most part, image detail is impressive with good sharpness on display. There is minimal grain through most of the feature and the transfer is smooth and film-like. One caveat - the opening credits with the British athletic team running upon the beach has never been particularly handsome, from the standpoint of video quality. There is quite a bit of grain and dirt in this sequence. First time viewers of the film should not be discouraged by the opening credits as the film cleans up nicely after them.

    Aside from the opening credits, the film does display intermittent and minute film defects through most of the feature. These defects primarily consist of small white speckles (in many cases a single white dot) whose duration renders them nearly subliminal. They vary in frequency with some sequences being pristine and others featuring a handful in a relatively short duration. I mention this for the sake of completeness and do not wish to overstate their effect. From a casual viewing perspective they were not intrusive and did not degrade my enjoyment of the film.

    There are two scenes in the film that exhibit some distracting jitter ( due to gate weave?) The scenes in question are: 1) Harold's discussion of his family history with Aubrey and 2) Harold's meeting with the Two Masters (John Gielgud and Lindsay Anderson.) These were the only scenes in the film where I noticed this type of effect.

    Haloing is apparent in some scenes: a few scenes with caps or characters heads against the sky, the statue in the courtyard during the College Dash, on the curtains and windows in the Liddell household, and when Lord Birkenhead speaks to Eric Liddell prior to his meeting the Prince of Wales. To be fair I have listed almost all of the occurrences of haloing that I can recall and most of the sequences are brief. Edge enhancement is minimal and is not apparent through the vast majority of the film.

    Otherwise, compression was handled quite nicely. The various tweeds and patterns in the character's costumes exhibit no compression artifacts. The transfer has a very smooth, clear appearance and was a real joy to watch.

    While there are some flaws present, and I fear I may have overstated some of them, the new DVD is easily the best version of the film that I have had the pleasure to view on home video. For fans of the film that have had to endure previous releases, you should have few qualms about this transfer. It really is an exceptional step up from what has come before.

    Video: 4/5
    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]



    Audio:
    The English soundtrack is presented in remastered DD 5.1. I realize that the inclusion of original audio formats is a strongly held opinion by many on the HTF but in this particular case I believe that the 5.1 mix is very faithful to the original sound mix and offers superior sound reproduction in terms of clarity.

    Dialog tends to be anchored in the center channel, with the front mains nicely reproducing the music and non-dialog audio portions of the soundtrack. Some ambient noises (rain, crowds, etc. ) are sent to the rear channels but the levels are extremely low. Virtually all of the audio information is presented in the front three channels.

    In terms of clarity, dialog is clear and does not exhibit hiss. The music, which is critical to this film, is cleanly driven from the front mains and was very satisfying. The punctuation points in the score, such as during the hurdles, are clear and precise. The more dynamic moments in the soundtrack, such as the train and boat sounds are delivered cleanly and without distortion.

    One disappointing note is an altered audio transition in this release. Previous home video versions have included a rather dramatic transition point between the quiet environment of the cinema in Paris to the American athletes training, accompanied by a rather bold jump in the audio track from the period music of the cinema to a dynamic composition by Vangelis over the training athletes. The new release mars this transition by ramping up the audio following the edit, consequently diminishing the effect of the transition. A quibble to be sure, but I did notice the difference.


    Audio: 4/5
    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]


    Special Features:
    A commentary track by director Hugh Hudson accompanies the feature presentation on disc 1. All other supplements are contained on disc 2 and are presented without 16x9 enhancement, with the exception of a theatrical trailer, in a variety of aspect ratios.
    [*]Director's Commentary is presented through the length of the feature in a stop and go fashion. The rhythm of the commentary is fairly uniform as the film progresses with Hudson interlacing his comments through the feature; sometimes prefacing a scene, in other cases commenting after the fact, etc. Some of the subject covered in the commentary include production details, Hudson's own opinions of the themes covered in the work ( his view of the Two Masters was pretty strong ), praise for his actors and members of the production, some apparent disdain for CGI, and comments upon his background as it relates to the film, amongst other things. My opinion of the track is somewhat mixed, but I believe that fans of commentary tracks or the film should certainly give it a listen. Some of the details surrounding the production are quite interesting, and Hudson's own background as revealed in the track gives the film added resonance.
    [*] Wings on Their Heels - The Making of Chariots of Fire features video clips of interviews with the filmmakers and cast, in some cases interposed with film footage. A variety of personal anecdotes, ruminations on the film, production details, the 1982 Academy Awards, etc. populate this feature. Unfortunately no interview footage with Ian Charleson (who passed away in 1990) was presented. Considering when this feature was made I don't fault the producers, but merely wish that some footage had been available. Personally speaking, one of the more interesting pieces of information in this feature was the existence of an alternate theme for the film's opening credits. The film's composer Vangelis briefly relates how the now classic theme came into existence. A bit of footage with the British runners on the beach, set to the original, alternate theme is included. Duration: 27:14
    [*]Chariots of Fire - A Reunion features a gathering of director Hugh Hudson, producer David Puttnam, director of photography David Watkin and actors Nigel Havers and Nicholas Farrell. They reminisce about the feature and provide personal anecdotes about the film, cast, and production. This particular supplement has a very warm tone and is nicely done. Duration: 18:56
    [*] Additional Scenes - Deleted and alternate scenes including:
    • Cricket in the Ballroom is an alternate opening scene that exists in the European cut of the film. Included with this scene is an optional commentary track by director Hugh Hudson. Hudson relates how this scene was always intended as an introduction for the film's characters but at the insistence of the American distributors this sequence was cut. Apparently the distributors felt that American audiences would be confused by the game of cricket. During the main feature on disc one, Hudson's commentary track discusses the alternate opening featuring the initial meeting of Aubrey and Harold. Duration: 2:06
    • Two Masters and Abrahams Duration: 1:04
    • Tea Dance Duration: 3:08
    • Nationalism Duration: 0:41
    • Eric and Jennie Liddell argue Duration: 1:18
    • Harold Abrahams Running Past Car Duration: 1:24
    • Harold Abrahams and Sam Mussabini Speak of Speeding Up the Pace Duration: 1:14
    [*]Screen Tests
    • Ben Cross Duration: 4:11
    • Ian Charleson Duration: 4:31
    [*]Theatrical Trailer Duration: 1:31
    [*]Easter Eggs - Two Easter eggs are contained on the supplements disc. Both are accessible from the Additional Scenes menus. In one extra Ben Cross discusses the arduous nature of the run along the beach in the opening credits. The other features Nigel Havers, David Puttnam, and Hugh Hudson visiting the quad at Eton (Caius College, Cambridge in the film) and reminiscing about the College Dash.

    Special Features: 4/5
    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]

    **The Making of and Reunion pieces are the strongest supplements on the disc. **

    Final Thoughts:
    In my somewhat biased opinion, Chariots of Fire is a splendid film filled with a great cast of actors, excellent production values, a distinctive score, and a strong storyline that is evocative and filled with emotional resonance. I am very happy to finally experience a DVD release that does justice to this fine film. Certainly, like every film in existence, it has its detractors and this release will not change that; but for those who enjoy the film this DVD is an easy recommendation. The new DVD is unquestionably one of the best upgrades of a prior home video version that I have ever experienced. Personally, it was a great pleasure for me to re-experience this film via this release. For the undecided or uninitiated, I would recommend the film to those who value dramas that feature strong personal stories.


    Overall Rating: 4.5/5 (not an average)
    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]

    Recommended!!

    Release Date: February 1st, 2005
     
  2. Haggai

    Haggai Producer

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    Outstanding review, Walter. I haven't picked this one up yet, but I certainly will very soon.
     
  3. Tim Glover

    Tim Glover Lead Actor

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    Great review Walter! You should do more of these. [​IMG] Chariots of Fire was a favorite of mine when it debuted in 1981 and remains in my top 25 films of all time. So many great moments, sometimes the small moments that carry so much weight.

    Nice to see that COF finally gets it's due until we get the high def version in a few years.[​IMG]

    Again, great review. [​IMG]
     
  4. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    [​IMG] Walter! Good job!

    I am looking forward to seeing Chariots of Fire for the first time since its initial release. At the time, through the eyes of a 22-year old, I found the film rather slow-moving and hard to follow because of the accents. I am willing to guess that 24 years of seasoning will increase my appreciation of the film greatly.

    I have seen clips of its here and there over the years but have stayed away from the prior release. I've already watched the first twenty minutes or so (through the school yard dash) of the new release and find the transfer delightful and am anxious to get the time to finish off the rest of the film with my family.
     
  5. Parker Clack

    Parker Clack Schizophrenic Man
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    Mike:

    I was bored to tears when I saw it at the movies when it first came out. Upon watching it again a second and third time on video I was overwhelmed. I used to run track when I was a kid and sprints in particular. It brought back all the joys of running and really hit home. It is right up there with one my all time favorites now.

    I have been waiting for this disc to be done right for years. Seeing it again with an animorphic widescreen transfer in 5.1 was like seeing the first again for the first time only with a great appreciation of the film this time.

    Way to go Warner Brothers. [​IMG]

    Parker
     
  6. Herb Kane

    Herb Kane Screenwriter

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    Terrific job Walter - I'm really looking forward to seeing this new version.
     
  7. John Hodson

    John Hodson Producer

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    Give me a break; I love baseball films and I haven't got a clue how the game is played (and I don't care before anyone tries to educate me [​IMG] ). I wish they would (a) credit the audience with more sense (b) have included the deleted scene with seamless branching.

    Nice review Walter.
     
  8. oscar_merkx

    oscar_merkx Lead Actor

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    Great review Walter.

    Watching COF as I write this
     
  9. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    Parker: Just finished it a few minutes ago with my wife (14-year old son only made it about a half-hour). I suspect he will appreciate the film much more in another 30-years himself!

    I was floored by the film's message and its beauty. [​IMG]

    Youth is, indeed, wasted on the young. I'll make no cracks, Parker, about men of our ages....
     
  10. Walter Kittel

    Walter Kittel Producer

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    Thanks for the kind words, fellas. It was fun putting some time into that review given my feelings about the film. I left the feature portion of the review undeveloped since I feel that section is almost entirely subjective.

    Writing one of these reviews certainly makes you appreciate the time and effort that Herb and the other HTF reviewers put into these reviews.

    - Walter.
     
  11. Dennis Nicholls

    Dennis Nicholls Lead Actor

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    "The chariot was a powerful religious symbol for ancient Israel: not the ordinary chariots used for war, but what the Bible calls "chariots of fire." The first mention of chariots of fire is in 2 Kings 2:11. This is the story of Elijah being caught up into heaven. Although tradition imagines it was the chariot that carried him away ("Swing low, sweet chariot"), the Bible says a fiery chariot and its horses separated Elijah from Elisha, his disciple, while a strong storm-wind snatched Elijah away. Who was driving the chariot? It doesn't say ... very mysterious."
    - Jeffrey J. Harrison
    www.totheends.com/chariot.html

    [​IMG]


    There are several things that attract me to the film Chariots of Fire. The first is the strong but subtle ecumenical story. If nothing else, it’s the story of a Christian, a Jew, and a coach who’s half Arab striving together for a victory of the spirit. Another aspect is the sad contrast to where sport has currently evolved. Nowadays athletics has been replaced by professional sports, which have become little more than criminal conspiracies full of greed, violence, dope, rape, and murder, which are used to shake-down local governments for money.
     
  12. Scott Merryfield

    Scott Merryfield Executive Producer
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    Very nice review, Walter. This is one of the films that I have really wanted on DVD since getting into the format almost seven years ago (I couldn't bring myself to buy the MARed version, and settled for a widescreen version recorded from TCM until this release). I am happy to read that this wonderful film has finally received a decent quality DVD release.
     
  13. andrew markworthy

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    If we're going to push this reasoning further, then I eagerly look forward to the British version of The Natural, in which after a promising early career as a seam bowler, Robert Redford mysteriously reappears as an opening bat, and single-handedly wins the Ashes in a thrilling test match at Lords.

    Look guys, cricket really isn't that hard to understand. We make the effort with baseball (though admittedly we have a v. similar game played by schoolgirls before they graduate to proper sports to base our understanding on). [​IMG]
     
  14. Haggai

    Haggai Producer

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    I watched the movie last night, plus the two docs on the bonus disc. One thing I had wondered about when I first saw the movie some years ago was Eric Liddell's running style down the stretch of his races, which seemed sort of unlikely, arms flailing everywhere in an unorthodox way. In the reunion featurette, producer David Puttnam said that when they brought in Eric's still-living sister, Jennie, to see the film, she praised it enthusiastically, with a slight protest that Eric didn't run like that. But, according to Puttman, they based it on film footage that still existed of some of Liddell's races, so the one thing she thought was unrealistic was one of the few things about him that they were absolutely sure of!

    Also, I wondered last night about the "inquisition" scene, where they're trying convince Liddell to run on Sunday. After Lindsay makes his suggestion, Lord Birkenhead refers to the Prince of Wales as "David" when he asks for his approval. Hmmm, this was the future Edward VIII, so why'd he call him David? Then the IMDB goof section revealed this:



    Serves me right for thinking that I actually knew something about British royalty. [​IMG]
     
  15. Dennis Nicholls

    Dennis Nicholls Lead Actor

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    That's OK, several years later Edward VIII was called by a lot of other names, none of them flattering.

    I always get confused because the title of a British lord has nothing to do with his given and family name. For example, Lord Birkenhead (as shown in the film) was actually named F.E. Smith. Albert, son of Queen Victoria, took the throne as Edward VII. When John Churchill was made a duke, it as as the Duke of Marlborough. I guess the same thing holds true for Popes: Karol Wojtyla took the name Pope John Paul II.

    I guess the closest parallel in this country is calling Bill Gates "Lord Microsoft".
     
  16. andrew markworthy

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    The following may help:
    (1) In the case of older peerages (i.e. the hereditary ones), the person was nearly always given the name of the area of the country they had become lord of (bear in mind that in olden times if you were 'Lord of X' then you had the rights to certain taxes, etc from the inhabitants of X). Since it's wildly unlikely that your surname would be the same as the place you were lord of, then chances are that the family name and the title were not the same thing.
    (2) Now the fun starts. In the UK there is a pecking order of titles, and if over time your family rose from e.g. being an 'ordinary' lord to being a duke, then what do you do with the old title? Generally, this is given to the heir (typically the eldest son). Thus, you could have e.g. the Smith family with dad who is the Duke of Blankshire whilst the eldest son is Lord Sidcup.
    (3) In a similar manner, you can have name differences, etc, created when his lordship dies without children and so the title passes to a cousin with a different surname, etc.
    (4) In the case of newer peerages (which generally are only awarded to the holder and cannot be passed on), I believe people are given the choice of whether they want to keep their surname as their title (e.g. John Smith becomes Lord Smith) or to choose a title from where they were born or attained fame (e.g. if John Smith was born in Temple Cloud - and I assure you there really is such a place - then he could become Lord Temple Cloud).
    Of course, after these basic levels it all becomes tremendously difficult and complicated.
     
  17. DouglasBr

    DouglasBr Stunt Coordinator

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    Lord Sidcup, huh. Wasn't he the one with the black shorts, and everyone around him shouting "Heil, Spode!"? Now, if only someone would release "Damsel in Distress" on DVD -- get my Wodehouse fix whenever possible.

    (had to bring it back on topic somehow . . .)

    Can't wait for my copy of Chariots to arrive. Great review!
     
  18. Tim Glover

    Tim Glover Lead Actor

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    Haggai,
    Eric's running style would certainly never be confused with the style of Carl Lewis. :b However, when seeing Eric run, it's not his technique so much rather his passion that drives him and obviously as the film states, "he can feel God's presence" when he runs. [​IMG]
     
  19. John Kilduff

    John Kilduff Screenwriter

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    Brief note on royalty: All I can think of is the Eddie Izzard routine. "The queeeen will love for-ever!"

    Anyway, this is one of those movies I've been meaning to see. It's a serious 80s movie, so it'll be a total 180 from personal faves like "Lethal Weapon" and "This Is Spinal Tap". Either way, it's an experience I look forward to. When I'm down in Florida later this month with my wad of cash, this will be one of my many purchases at the Virgin Megastore at Downtown Disney's West Side.

    Sincerely,

    John Kilduff...

    I love Vangelis' theme.
     
  20. Mark Bendiksen

    Mark Bendiksen Screenwriter

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    Sorry to stray off topic, but Eddie Izzard rules.

    Back on topic: I haven't seen this movie in probably fifteen years, and I haven't seen it OAR since it's first theatrical release. I'm glad Warner corrected their past mistake and pulled out all the stops this time. Sounds like a winner!
     

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