DVD Review HTF REVIEW: White Hunter, Black Heart (RECOMMENDED)

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Herb Kane, Sep 11, 2003.

  1. Herb Kane

    Herb Kane Screenwriter

    May 7, 2001
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    White Hunter, Black Heart

    Studio: Warner Brothers
    Year: 1990
    Rated: PG
    Film Length: 112 Mins.
    Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Enhanced Widescreen
    Audio: DD 5.1
    Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, Thai & Korean

    The Feature:
    This is one of the few Clint Eastwood movies I had never seen. To appropriately review White Hunter, Black Heart, I believe we first have to go back in time and take a brief, sneak peak at another classic many of us are waiting to be released on our beloved format; The African Queen.

    By all accounts, John Huston who is responsible for many of the legendary movies that occupy prime real estate on our DVD shelves (The Maltese Falcon, Treasure of the Sierra Madre - soon, Key Largo, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean just to name a few), may have been a brilliant director but not necessarily a nice guy. In fact, he was an eccentric, egotistical tyrant who couldn’t be reasoned with. Perhaps, all qualities that made him the legend he was.

    Peter Viertel, who collaborated and co-wrote (uncredited) the script for The African Queen was present with Huston during the filming in 1951. Two years later (in 1953) Viertel wrote a novel called White Hunter, Black Heart which is an account of the experiences (some of which were unpleasant ones) while working with the legendary director. In addition to his co-writing, he tries to be the voice of reason to the director, usually with little or no success. The story is more than a documentary account of the filming of the classic The African Queen, its about obsession and the persistence of a man willing to put the entire cast and crew of a movie on hold… until he gets what he wants.

    Great effort went into making the cast and atmosphere of the movie look (and feel) as authentic as possible (including an attempt to cast look-a-likes portraying Hepburn and Bogart) yet, not overbearing as to think the focus of the film should be about The African Queen. In fact the small steamboat used in the film is rumored to be the same boat used in the 1951 classic.

    The story is a “loosely based” account of John Huston (whose character in the film is John Wilson, played by Clint Eastwood), during the filming of The African Queen (referred to as “The African Trader” in the movie). Wilson, who is on the brink of bankruptcy, enlists the aid of a writer to help clean up the script; Pete Verril (portrayed by Jeff Fahey) who was with Wilson throughout much of the African adventure.

    Before they leave for the great continent, they plan a safari adventure as Wilson is absolutely obsessed about shooting an elephant. His plan is to go on safari after completion of the movie shoot, but that quickly changes after they arrive. Soon he realizes that is if doesn’t do it now, he won’t get the opportunity to do it after the movie has been completed. With that, he and a young Verril set out in search of a great tusked animal only to find it isn’t as easy as originally planned.

    Before the filming commences, we see many of the struggles Wilson has with the various members of the production company and people at the resort where they were staying, all of which clearly define how obstinate the man could be.

    After an unfortunate accident with his safari guide, they head back to camp. As the African talking drums begin to play, he asks a local hunter what it is they are playing. The solemn looking man says it always starts the same, with the words White Hunter, Black Heart

    Absolutely stunning. To say I was impressed would be an understatement. Yes, a few flaws, but we’ll get to those.

    As you can imagine, the cinematography for this film was beautiful and many of the scenes were quite breathtaking. Some of the sunsets and scenery actually looked surreal at times.

    The colors were gorgeous and nicely saturated. Skin tones looked very accurate. Detail was exceptionally sharp and the image for the most part looked wonderful. Contrast levels and black levels were excellent. What stood out more than anything was the film-like look. It had a richness to it that seemed very 3D like at times. The amount of film grain was minimal and never distracting.

    Now the bad… don’t worry though it’s negligible… During the start of the film, we see some film dirt and mosquito noise. Fortunately it doesn’t last. I could see the odd speckle here and there of mosquito noise throughout the movie but it was almost non existent. Also only a couple of scenes where EE was present (even at that, ever so slightly).

    The video is outstanding…

    After the surprisingly good video presentation, I’m afraid the audio falls a little short. That is not to say it is bad… its not. It just could have been a lot better. There were many action scenes, including a whitewater river ride, hunting and gunshots. The depth of audio was about average.

    Dialogue was very clear and there was a nice sense of spaciousness with much of the African themed music and drums playing. The dynamics of the gunshots lacked the type of punch we see with many of today’s current films. Surround use was effective but minimal. There were many fierce thunderstorms and torrential downpours which sounded great… but there were other effects where they could have been used as to enhance the envelopment but were absent. LFE was present but again minimally. There is one nice water scene where we hear a great rumble, however, that was about it.

    Audio… in light of the setting, the audio could have been used as an enhancement but wasn’t used to its full potential… average.

    Special Features:
    The only special features that accompany this disc are Cast & Crew, a text list of all the involved members. Clint Eastwood’s name can be highlighted taking you to a 5 page filmography of the actor’s successful career.

    Also included is the Theatrical Trailer which is in pretty good shape.

    Final Thoughts:
    When the movie started to play, listening and watching Eastwood trying to imitate the voices and mannerisms of the great John Huston seemed, well, kind of awkward. I was able to suspend my initial feeling and thought Eastwood was fabulous. This is another example of the great actor’s range which is also underrated. As for what’s “loosely based” and what’s not even in the ballpark, that’s up to you to decide. Don’t go into this with the hope of getting an A&E Biography – its not.

    This is a highly entertaining movie about a man and his character, that links us to a great classic movie of the past. While the audio presentation could have been more prominent, it is certainly compensated for at the video end. Although, extras are sparse, fans of Eastwood and of old movies alike, should take a look.

    Released: September 2nd, 2003
  2. Peter Apruzzese

    Peter Apruzzese Producer

    Dec 20, 1999
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    Peter Apruzzese
    Nice review of one of Clint's most unappreciated films - I'll be getting this one for certain.
  3. Walter Kittel

    Walter Kittel Producer

    Dec 28, 1998
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    I'm glad to hear that this title received a good transfer from Warner Bros. (As usual) I agree with Pete; this film is one of Eastwood's lesser known and most unappreciated films. My only viewings have been at 1.33:1 on VHS, so I'm looking forward to finally having the opportunity to see the film (more) properly, as I missed the very limited theatrical run.

    Nice review, Herb.

    - Walter.
  4. BrianP

    BrianP Supporting Actor

    Dec 8, 1999
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    Watched my copy tonight and must say your review was right on target. Actually this film and DVD should be highly recommended for Eastwood fans.
  5. StevenFC

    StevenFC Second Unit

    Aug 23, 2003
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    Hey, this should be every Eastwood fans favorite flick. There ain't nothing bigger than an elephant gun.[​IMG]
  6. Will K

    Will K Screenwriter

    Feb 6, 2001
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    I look forward to seeing this one again. It's definitely an oddity in Eastwood's film cannon but a memorable one. It's easy to see why the studio had marketing issues, but a fascinating film nonetheless.

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