Based on a long series of pulpy adventure novels, Guy Hamilton’s Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins obviously was intended to be the first in a film dynasty that never materialized.
The Production: 3.5/5
Based on a long series of pulpy adventure novels, Guy Hamilton’s Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins obviously was intended to be the first in a film dynasty that never materialized. The hero, a blue collar crusader for justice, just didn’t seem to catch the wider public’s fancy, but that’s a shame since a few years later, a similar common man hero, John McClane, began with Die Hard a well-received series of films which Remo Williams might have actually been partly the inspiration for. Certainly now, the film has attained cult status, and the finished work, while undeniably flawed, is still quite entertaining.
Left for dead after an encounter with some street punks, a New York City beat cop has his face reconfigured and emerges as Remo Williams (Fred Ward), the new enforcement officer of a secret governmental agency called CURE who is tasked by the President to make sure big shots breaking the law with impunity are caught and handled with a swifter form of justice. In order to carry out his mission, Williams is handed over for advanced training to Chiun (Joel Grey), a Korean master of the martial art Sinanju. Remo’s training is a lengthy trial and error process and not really finished when he’s targeted by George Grove (Charles Cioffi), a weapons manufacturer ripping off the government for millions with defective merchandise and faking the building of a “Star Wars” weapon that’s not even operational. The target on Remo’s back is a large one once Grove realizes he’s on to his phony operation, and Major Rayner Fleming (Kate Mulgrew), also a witness to Grove’s corruption, is also targeted for extinction.
The screenplay by Christopher Wood based on the Destroyer series of novels by Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy spends more than an hour establishing the back story of how Remo came under the jurisdiction of CURE and showing various training exercises which slowly demonstrate that he’s little by little learning the martial arts techniques that will inevitably save his life once he begins to be stalked by the bad guys. Those training sequences featuring Joel Grey’s amusingly deadpan Chiun, addicted to TV soap operas and with a growing camaraderie with his pupil, are the film’s lightest and most entertaining even if they tend to go on a bit too long (in the theater, one could almost sense the audience getting impatient for the hero to mix things up with the bad guys). The action set pieces are all wonderfully staged including the movie’s highlight: Remo against several bad guys trying to kill him at the Statue of Liberty. It’s a lengthy action sequence but pure gold (filmed partly in New York City on actual locations and partly in Mexico City on a replica of Lady Liberty) even if one isn’t quite sure why Remo isn’t employing his newly acquired skills traversing narrow rails of the scaffolding around the statue while it was undergoing renovation and jumping from post to post while keeping his balance, all elaborately displayed in a previous training sequence back home. Guy Hamilton, master director of Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever, has the action covered thoroughly with a couple of spectacular car crashes and a James Bond-like death chamber escape Remo effects cleverly. He may go too far with some out of the ordinary Dobermans who think quickly through adversities, and he is saddled with some less than compelling villains in this first adventure, but the faults with the picture aren’t with the direction.
Fred Ward is an excellent Remo, the anti-James Bond if there ever was one and yet with the premise being very Bond-like with an everything-but-so-named license to kill. He’s clearly doing many of his stunts and is believable in his growth from brawling street cop to more seasoned martial arts technician. Joel Grey, of course, steals all his scenes as Master Chiun, quick to put down and sparse with praise but clearly proud of his trainee. If Kate Mulgrew’s Major Fleming was meant to be a romantic interest for Remo, it never materializes (not that a romantic interest is needed in an action film; the Die Hard films do just fine without romantic interludes), but her character is rather an appendage to the movie and not a necessity for the story to work. As the good guys at CURE, we long to know more about head honcho Wilford Brimley’s Harold Smith and J.A. Preston’s recruiter Conn MacCleary, but information isn’t forthcoming. The villains are all a rather colorless lot and likely the film’s biggest noticeable flaw. Charles Cioffi as the industrialist Grove, Michael Pataki as his second in command, George Coe as the governmental liaison, and Patrick Kilpatrick as their enforcer Stone all look dour but don’t invest their scenes with any great sinister vibes apart from Kilpatrick who can grin with malicious intent (with a diamond embedded in one of his front teeth) but isn’t much in the way of a physical threat to back it up.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio is faithfully presented in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness isn’t always consistent, and some close-ups can be surprisingly soft and lacking detail. Color is very good, however, with believable flesh tones. Black levels are impressively deep, and contrast has been consistently applied to make for a balanced image even if grain levels are sometimes more noticeable than at other times. The main titles are noticeably dirty, and there are dust specks here and there throughout. The movie has been divided into 24 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo sound mix is very effective. There is the well-recorded dialogue which is mostly placed in the center channel with an occasional excursion elsewhere, and the entertaining Craig Safan score which along with the atmospheric effects gets the full stereo treatment. No age-related problems with hiss or other aural artifacts are present.
Special Features: 4.5/5
Audio Commentary: Paul Scrabo makes some introductory remarks about the film but turns most of the commentary over to historians Eddy Friedfeld and Lee Pfeiffer. Though one of the three claims to love the movie, you’d never know it by the almost continual potshots taken at almost every aspect of the production, denigrating the movie for what it doesn’t have instead of praising it for what it does contain. Fans of the movie should listen to this at their own risk.
Isolated Score Track: Craig Safan’s celebrated score is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo.
Created, The Destroyer: Writing Remo Williams (17:08, HD): the son of original novelist Warren Murphy gives a brief biography of his father, discusses how the original novel series came about, and compares how the film and the books differ.
Unarmed and Dangerous: Producing Remo Williams (21:50, HD): producers Larry Spiegel and Judy Goldstein discuss the gathering together of the production team for the movie and the New York City and Mexico City locations used for filming.
Secrets of Sinanju: Training Remo Williams (8:45, HD): actor Joel Grey recalls his experiences in making the film including his daily 4 ½-hour make-up job (which was later nominated for an Oscar) to portray Chiun and his delight with the finished product.
Balance of Power: Designing Remo Williams (15:04, HD): production designer Jackson De Govia discusses the elaborate preparations for the Statue of Liberty sequence in both New York and Mexico and the difficulty of working outside the comforts and professionalism of the American studios.
Assassin’s Tune: Composing Remo Williams (13:45, HD): composer Craig Safan talks about his goals for the movie’s music and the research he did to assure authenticity of the Korean elements of the score.
Stills and Promotional Gallery (7:08, HD): a montage of stills, posters, Oscar ballots, reviews, and other memorabilia connected with the movie.
Theatrical Trailer (2:57, SD)
MGM 90th Anniversary Trailer (2:06, HD)
Six-Page Booklet: contains some color stills, original poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s entertaining analysis of the movie.
More entertaining than it’s generally been given credit for, Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins is a mostly delightful adventure romp with a couple of very ingratiating starring performances and some great action set pieces that give the film its own identity. There are only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray available. Those interested in purchasing it should go to either www.twilighttimemovies.com or 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.