Note: In the following joint Blu-ray review both John and Dean provide their opinion of the film, with John also writing up the Video, Audio, Extras, and Parting Thoughts.
The Film According to John:
In the Fifties and early Sixties, Hollywood was desperate to lure viewers away from their newfangled television sets and back into movie theaters, using ultrawide, star-studded super spectaculars as bait. By 1962, MGM, which had seen success with 1959's "Ben-Hur," attempted to replicate their accomplishment with an ultrawide, superspectacular remake of their 1935 Clark Gable-Charles Laughton hit, "Mutiny on the Bounty." Only this time, while they got the spectacle right, the miscasting of star Marlon Brando rather undercut the movie's appeal. I found I didn't like the film much more today on Blu-ray than I did when I first watched it almost fifty years earlier.
Screenwriter Charles Lederer based his script on a book by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall, which colorfully recounted the mostly true story of the H.M.S. Bounty. The Bounty was a merchant ship commissioned by the British Navy for an expedition to Tahiti to pick up breadfruit, a plant the British hoped would be a cheap food source for the West India Company's slaves in Jamaica. The ship set sail on December 23, 1787, from Portsmouth Harbor, England, for the South Seas, with Captain William Bligh in command and Lieutenant Fletcher Christian as First Mate (or Master's Mate). On the return voyage from Tahiti, because of alleged brutalities on the part of Bligh, the crew, under the leadership of Mr. Christian, mutinied, about half of them sailing back to Tahiti and then on to a remote and incorrectly charted island, Pitcairn, where they settled in and lived for some time. Meanwhile, the mutineers set Bligh and those loyal to him loose in a small boat, and they eventually made it back to England. Christian died a few years after the mutiny (although actual accounts vary considerably), and the British Navy acquitted Bligh of any charges against him.
Among the best things about this 1962 account of the story are the photography and the storms at sea. Cinematographer Robert Surtees captured the beauty of land and sea with exquisite delicacy. Filming largely on location in Tahiti helped a lot, too, with the filmmakers using some of the actual locations visited by the real Bounty on its adventure. Then, too, veteran director Lewis Milestone ("All Quiet on the Western Front," "Of Mice and Men," "Pork Chop Hill") and the special-effects department did a terrific job recreating the windswept seas, with a violent storm off the coast of Cape Horn a highlight of the movie.
Perhaps the best thing about the film, however, is the performance of Trevor Howard as Captain Bligh. Howard at first didn't want to accept the role because he felt he was too old for it; the real Captain Bligh was in his thirties when the story took place, and Howard was about fifty. Nevertheless, he took on the part, and we are the better for it. He makes a genuinely evil villain, not the kind of two-dimensional villains we get in Bond or "Pirates" adventures but a thoroughly dislikable character, one we begin to hate practically from the first time we meet him. He's a self-righteous prig who metes out punishment for the slightest offenses and then takes delight in the suffering of those he has had lashed or keelhauled. Whether any of his cruel and unusual punishments actually occurred aboard the Bounty is beside the point; as a movie villain, Howard is tops.
Now, what isn't so great about the film is Brando. By 1962 he had become one of the biggest, most-important, and most-influential movie stars in the world. What he said pretty much went, and when it came to "Mutiny on the Bounty," what he said was more consequential than what anyone else on the set said or thought. In that regard, he was more powerful than the director, the producer, or the studio. Unfortunately, he apparently didn't make some great decisions. Apart from his performance, which I'll go into in a minute, he made the other actors in the cast loathe him. Director Milestone practically turned the film over to him, and by the end of the picture, co-star Richard Harris wouldn't even appear in the same scene with him. Brando delayed the production and cost it millions more than MGM had budgeted for it. Eventually, the movie lost a good deal of money at the box office, and Brando never again had the kind of clout on a film that he once had.
As for Brando's performance, I've read that he was essentially making it up as he went along. Not the script, mind you, but his interpretation of it, experimenting endlessly. What he wound up with in Fletcher Christian was a prissy fop, an overly sensitive ladies' man dandy who seems to have gone to sea as a lark. As an officer he's indecisive, and it's only the severest cruelties on the part of Bligh that drive him to take action against the captain. Even then, he broods endlessly, regretting his decision. This is not the ruggedly masculine man's man that Clark Gable portrayed years earlier. Indeed, it's hard to tell just what Brando was up to in his reading of the part. In some scenes he's light and humorous; in others he's either tough or wimpy. He's all over the place. What isn't hard to tell, though, is the folly of Brando's British accent, which varies from scene to scene and sounds anything but English. Did he intend that, too? I hope not.
Finally, I wasn't too keen on composer Bronislau Kaper's overwrought musical score that underlines every event, no matter how trivial, as though it were the coronation of a monarch; nor the film's excessive length, over three hours, complete with overture, entr'acte, and closing music. Its grandiose gestures wear thin after a while.
So, it's best to watch this "Mutiny on the Bounty" for its glorious cinematography and South Seas settings, and forget about Brando's participation in the project.
John's film rating: 6/10
The Film According to Dean:
Marlon Brando quickly cemented himself as one of the greatest actors of all time with his performances in the film "A Streetcar Named Desire" in 1951 and "On the Waterfront" three years later in 1954. "A Streetcar Named Desire" started a streak of four years, starting in 1952, where Marlon Brando found himself nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role. "Viva Zapata!," "Julius Caesar" and "On the Waterfront" all followed that first landmark film with Academy Nominations. Brando finally took home a gold statue in 1955 for "On the Waterfront." Brando would be nominated three more times in his career by the Academy for Best Actor in a Leading Role and once for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. He'd win his second Best Actor, though refuse it in 1973 for "The Godfather." Other society's and groups would honor and nominate Brando and the sheer number of awards won by Marlon Brando easily makes a case that he is one of the greatest actors of all time.
The world always needs reminders of the greatness of Marlon Brando, as younger audiences remember Brando as an older, heavy man and not the sturdy, handsome leading man of the 1950s. Marlon Brando was a method actor who worked very hard to fit into each role he took on, and in his prime, there were not many equals to his acting skills. He influenced many men from Elvis Presley and James Dean to today's young actors.
Based upon historical events, but taking plenty of artistic license in bringing the story to the big screen, the three-hour epic "Mutiny on the Bounty" features Marlon Brando as First Lieutenant Fletcher Christian, Trevor Howard as Captain William Bligh, and Richard Harris as Seaman John Mills, "Mutiny on the Bounty" has a solid cast and tells a great story that may not be entirely historically accurate but is epic in length and scale. To produce the film, a larger and more camera-friendly version of the HMS Bounty was built. Tall sailing ships have not been built for a very long time, and it is quite noteworthy that the Bounty used in the film was not necessarily a set but a brand new replica of the original boat that was created for the purpose of making this film. The picture was also filmed at sea and in exotic locations like Tahiti.
The Bounty set sail from England in 1787 en route to Tahiti to collect breadfruit. Breadfruit was said to have the ability to fully nourish men and Britain had decided to collect the fruit and test its usefulness by making it the primary nourishment for their black slaves. William Bligh is given his first command on this voyage of the Bounty, but is a harsh commander that believes in overly strong punishment and is quick to put the voyage ahead of the lives of his crew. When Bligh forces the ship and her crew to sail around Africa's Cape Horn, lives are lost and Bligh finds his decision was ill-made and they must retrace much of their steps to take the long voyage through the Cape of Good Hope. This delays the journey and they must then spend five months in Tahiti until the breadfruit matures enough to be taken to Jamaica. On the trip to Jamaica, Bligh has taken too many breadfruits to be sustained by the amount of water on ship and instead of allowing a few plants to die, Bligh decides the lives of his crew are of lesser importance. With this decision, Fletcher Christian takes control of the Bounty via mutiny.
"Mutiny on the Bounty" is a beautifully shot film that greatly benefits from the large sailing ship built entirely for the production. The film feels wonderfully authentic and considering the picture was made in 1962, "Mutiny on the Bounty" is very impressive for its seafaring sequences. The beauty of Tahiti brings additional visual aesthetic to the film and if anything, "Mutiny on the Bounty" deserves accolades for how great of a looking picture it is. The boorish attitudes of the ship's gentlemen officers are well-done by Trevor Howard and Marlon Brando. The crew is scruffy and rough around the edges, and Richard Harris is a good representation of the crewmates. The story holds up and does entertain, but at a running time of three hours, "Mutiny on the Bounty" ends up feeling overly long, and the final conclusion oddly feels rushed considering the allotted time for the entire picture.
Sitting through "Mutiny on the Bounty" for a second time after watching it first on standard definition DVD, I found myself discovering details and imagery that were lost the first run through. At 185 minutes, this is a very long film that covers a lot of ground in its three hours. The story improved with the second viewing, which is always a good sign for any film. If you start to question a film on repeated viewings, then there must be some question as to the value of the film. If you don't question a film, then there is only a question of how much more value does the film now have? While I enjoyed the film the first time through, I found myself appreciating it with a second viewing. Marlon Brando does an amazing job with "Mutiny on the Bounty," but the conclusion still seemed just as rushed the second time through.
Dean's film rating: 8/10
MGM shot the film using something they called Ultra Panavision 70, a 70 mm process that yielded an enormous screen size stretching to 2.76:1, which the Warners video engineers preserve in this dual-layer BD50, MPEG-4/AVC encoded transfer. The Technicolor is bright and vivid, with only faces a tad too dark for reality (even for weatherworn seafarers). Definition will not disappoint, and the screen shows no signs of age deterioration, scratches, lines, flecks, or specks. Nor could I find any evidence of filtering, softening, or edge enhancement in the image, which is quite handsome.
Using lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 to reproduce the movie's multichannel soundtrack, WB have probably done about what they could with the audio. There is a very wide front-channel stereo spread to match the superwide screen dimensions, and there is a healthy bloom in the surrounds for musical ambience, wind, and environmental noises most of the time. Although there is not the deepest bass involved, the midrange sounds clean. What's more, the midrange and treble are reasonably smooth for so old a soundtrack, older soundtracks sometimes showing up a bit edgy but not here.
The disc includes a number of featurettes, all of them in standard definition and most of them concerning the ship in the movie. "After the Cameras Stopped Rolling: The Journey of the Bounty" is twenty-four minutes long, made in 2006, and tells how the filmmakers had the ship built especially for the film and where the ship is now. The next featurette, "The Story of the H.M.S. Bounty," is twenty-eight minutes long and provides more information on the ship used for the film, mostly on its building. Then, "The Bounty's Voyage to St. Petersburg," twenty-five minutes, details the ship's trip to St. Petersburg, Florida, for display. "The Bounty: Star Attraction at the New York World's Fair," six minutes, tells of the ship's appearance at the fair. And "H.M.S. Bounty Sails Again: Millions Cheer Famous Ship on Exciting Voyage," eight minutes, again traces the travels of the movie's ship after the moviemaking ended.
After those items, we get a prologue and an epilogue the filmmakers originally intended for the beginning and end of the movie but which they cut at the last minute. They restored these portions for the movie's television première in 1967, and then cut them again after that. You can decide for yourself if their inclusion made the film any better or any worse.
The extras conclude with forty-six scene selections; a widescreen, standard-def theatrical trailer; English, French, and German spoken languages; French, Spanish, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, and other subtitles; and English and German captions for the hearing impaired. The disc comes housed in a flimsy Eco-case in the event you want to save the world one piece of plastic at a time.
Trevor Howard is terrific as the tyrannical caption. The photography is often stunning. The scenes of storms at sea are stirring. But Brando practically scuttles the ship as the brooding Mr. Christian with the bad English accent. Go with the Gable-Laughton version; it's the safer, if not the more picturesque, account of the story.