FUGITIVE, THE - Blu-ray review

This is a film that may be overlooked by some because of its age, but there are not many higher quality films currently available on the Blu-Ray format.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.
Puccio

Summary by John J. Puccio:

"The Fugitive" from 1993 is one of the best films Harrison Ford or Tommy Lee Jones ever made, and, more important, it is one of the best action-thrillers of the past few decades.

I admit I never cared much for the old David Janssen TV show on which it's based. Once the premise was established of an innocent man on the run for murder, there wasn't a lot left to do week after week except repeat small variations on the same theme. But the movie is something else. Even when we know full well what is basically going to happen, we are never quite sure just how it is going to happen or when, thanks to a smart script by Jeb Stuart and David Twohy and to some imaginative direction by Andrew Davis.

The plot is straightforward and by now pretty well known. A Chicago surgeon, Dr. Richard Kimble, played by Ford, is framed and convicted for the murder of his wife (Sela Ward). Through an inadvertent series of incidents on the way to prison, Kimble escapes. His job through the course of the film is to elude capture and prove his innocence. Of course, in order to prove his innocence, he has to find his wife's real murderer, the infamous one-armed man or whomever else is behind the crime. What should he do first, where should he go, and whom should he trust? Doggedly pursuing him is Deputy U.S. Marshall Sam Gerard, played by Jones, who grudgingly gains respect for his quarry and gradually comes to sympathize with him.

The movie succeeds on a number of levels. First, it's largely plausible and intelligent, something a lot of action dramas disregard in their attempt to shock or thrill an audience. Jumping from the top of a dam is a bit of a stretch, as is the saving of a young boy's life, but mostly the movie stays in the range of believability.

Second, the characters are three-dimensional, not the usual cardboard cutouts one finds in these sorts of things. Ford and Jones make admirable adversaries, Ford a resourceful but vulnerable hero and Jones a tough and relentless cop ("I don't bargain") with a touch of compassion he doesn't want many people to see. Jones won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in the part and went on to reprise the role in "U.S. Marshals."

Third, the movie is outright suspenseful and exciting, thanks in part to its superb directing (Andrew Davis) and editing, and that's what most people want in an action film. It's hard to forget the spectacular train wreck (using a real train and bus, amazingly, no miniatures), the aforementioned dam and waterfall stunt, the St. Patrick's Day parade, and similar tension-filled scenes. Like Hitchcock's "North By Northwest," which involved Cary Grant in a similar situation, "The Fugitive" pits a blameless, everyday man against the forces of both good and evil, obliging him to survive by his wits alone.

It is a tribute to Ford, Jones, and the rest of the filmmakers that "The Fugitive" stands up so well to the best adventure movies in memory. In fact, it was recently voted the thirty-third best thriller of all time by the American Film Institute. Oh, yes, and a good musical background track by James Newton Howard helps, too. It's always there underlining the action, never calling attention to itself or annoying us with its bluster.

Technical Review by Dean Winkelspecht:

Video:

"The Fugitive" arrives on Blu-Ray after a maligned entry on HD-DVD. The transfer was commonplace on my "Worst-Of" lists for HD-DVD transfers. It's soft and grainy image was definitely an improvement over the standard definition release, but it could not compete with the majority of releases on the high definition format. With its debut onto Blu-Ray, "The Fugitive" remains on par with the HD-DVD transfer. It neither improves nor worsens from the other high resolution format release. Considering the film is only around thirteen years old, one would expect a fairly sharp picture, and "The Fugitive" is sharp, but when you compare the transfer of this film to other films of the same vintage that have made their way to high definition, it truly is a disappointment.

What I noticed the most in this transfer was the heavy moments of film grain and the subdued color palette. Much of this has to do with the film stock used back in 1993 and films of the era did not have the digital mastering of today's films. However, with watching the Universal mastered "Backdraft" on HD-DVD, which is two years older, you get the impression that "The Fugitive" could certainly look better. Black levels were alright and in some scenes very good. The early sequence where Harrison Ford escapes the train and Tommy Lee Jones joins the crime scene is quite grainy and the night sky looks very washed out and unimpressive. Additionally, many of the reds and yellows in the film are not as sharp as they should be. Image quality is sharp, but not spectacular. Comparing the standard definition release certainly proves that the new transfer is updated, but it is just not as next-gen feeling as other releases.

Sound:

The English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of "The Fugitive" has held up better than the visual presentation of the film. The film does sound marginally dated, but overall, the soundtrack is fairly impressive. The train derailment sequence was notable for its surround sound presentation back in the LaserDisc days. I remember using this title to show off my surround sound and subwoofer capabilities. There have been a lot of far more impressive sounding titles to grace home theater systems in the past dozen years, but the infamous train crash still sounds quite good and aggressively uses all six channels. It is a sonic affair and sounds even better with the volume cranked up.

The rest of the film has its ups and downs. The more intense and aggressive action scenes are still very lively and make good use of all available channels. The scenes are loud and full of sound. Stereo imaging is quite good across the board. The train scene is a great example of this as sounds come seemingly from everywhere. The crunching of the metal, sparks and booming explosions sound wonderful. Bass response is very good throughout the picture. Rear surrounds are heavily used during action sequences, but the film does not contain a lot of ambient or environmental effects, so they remain mostly silent when what is happening on-screen is more serene. Dialogue is pretty good, but a few times it did drop off and was slightly difficult to understand. For most of the film, "The Fugitive" sounds fairly impressive.

Extras:

Warner Bros. has been doing a great job with their Blu-Ray releases when it comes to value-added content. "The Fugitive" may not have near as impressive an array of bonus materials as other releases, but it does have a couple nice additions tacked on. The Commentary by Tommy Lee Jones and Director Andrew Davis. I was excited for a Tommy Lee Jones commentary, but honestly, the star is very quiet through much of the film and only responds when the director brings him into the conversation. Regardless, the commentary track provided a lot of great pieces of information on the film and even though Tommy Lee Jones wasn't as involved as I had hoped, it was a nice listen.

An Introduction by Andrew Davis can be watched from either the menu or preceding the main feature. This feature is redundant if you have the commentary track selected. If you don't intend to listen to the commentary, it isn't a bad two minutes and includes Jones as well as the film's director. Two documentaries are also included. The first one, Derailed: Anatomy of a Train Wreck looks at the explosive action sequence. It only runs for eight minutes, but it is quite impressive to see how the sequence was made, especially considering it was a real train and a real bus. The second documentary, On the Run with the Fugitive Is a much longer feature and clocks in at twenty-three minutes. This is a patched together taking-heads feature with lots of interviews with the cast and crew of the film. It is worth a look and a nice supplement to be found on the Blu-Ray disc. Finally, the Theatrical Trailer is thrown in.

Closing Comments:

I must agree with John J. Puccio and say that "The Fugitive" is one of the more intelligent action/thrillers released over the past decade and a half. It is one of Harrison Ford's better performances and one of the performances that put Tommy Lee Jones on the map. An inferior sequel was produced featuring Jones, but it could never equal the magic of this great film. The Blu-Ray release borrows all of the supplements from the HD-DVD and the second standard definition DVD release. The picture quality is an improvement over the DVD release and from my knowledge, nearly identical to the HD-DVD title. The sound still holds up nicely after all of these years and the big train crash scene is still very impressive at loud volumes. This is a film that may be overlooked by some because of its age, but there are not many higher quality films currently available on the Blu-Ray format, even if the sound is not exactly eye popping.

Ratings

Video
6
Audio
7
Extras
5
Film Value
9