The Fugitive Review
The MovieSay the words 'movie update of a TV show' and most people will roll their eyes, having become inured against the regular stream of soulless retreads and crassly humourous 'reimaginings'. But the road to this particular hell was paved with good intentions, chief among them the startling success of 1993's The Fugitive. Taking its lead from the fondly remembered '60s series about a wrongly convicted doctor hunting for the one-armed murderer of his wife, Arnold Kopelson's production relocated the action to modern-day Chicago (which is a refreshing change from the standard LA/NY locales) and put Harrison Ford in the role of Dr. Richard Kimble, with Tommy Lee Jones in the opposite corner as US Marshal Samuel Gerard.
The genius of The Fugitive is that it takes the premise seriously, weaving an ever more prescient allegory about the corruptive influence of big business around one man's quest to clear his name, and it doesn't attempt to dilute it with hokey callbacks to Roy Huggins' original series and/or pointless cameos from geriatric former cast members. Kimble's search for the one-armed man dripfeeds us information in a tightly controlled manner, neither telegraphing it too early nor leaving a bunch of loose ends for the sake of it, and it makes for gripping entertainment. Andrew Davis' direction is unfussy and straightforward, smoothly gliding his camera around when needed, giving the viewer a sense of energy and involvement without resorting to overtly shaky handheld. His penchant for multiple camera coverage also conveys that feeling of momentum via Don Bruch's economical editing. James Newton Howard's excellent music score flits between brooding menace and propulsive action beats with ease, adding a jazzy flourish for good measure.
Harrison Ford's presence helps to underline that feeling of serious intent, Ford expertly deploying his stock qualities of an intelligent everyman combined with true star power - cinematic alchemy which could only be topped by an even better performance, and Tommy Lee Jones delivered. Jones' award-winning appearance as the relentless lawman on the trail of the good doctor is shot through with an uncompromising attitude, punctuated by some wonderfully human touches that prove he isn't just the hardassed robocop that he appears to be. The rest of the cast is great value too, with the ad-libbed banter between Gerard and his team (including Joe Pantoliano) adding a realistic sense of camaraderie and workaday humour, and Jeroen Krabbe is suitably shifty as Kimble's friend Dr. Charles Nichols. Andreas Katsulas adds some villainry as Sykes, the one-armed man. Julianne Moore and Jane Lynch pop up in small but vital roles, as does Sela Ward who plays Helen, Kimble's unfortunate wife.
But, even given how well-made The Fugitive is, no-one could've predicted the runaway critical and commercial success of the film. It took $183 million dollars in domestic receipts alone (equivalent to nearly $300m in today's money) and won a raft of awards, chief among them the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Tommy Lee Jones. The movie itself got a Best Picture nomination, standing alongside dramatic heavyweights such as The Piano and Schindler's List (which took the gong), but it was no less deserved because of the peerless execution of the piece, and it stands head and shoulders above the other 'man on the run' movies from the same period. It's fair to say that The Fugitive runs out of puff near the end, with the finale in a laundry room seeming somewhat low rent after the immense scale of the earlier set pieces, including the now legendary train crash, but it remains one of the best thrillers ever made.
The DiscThis American all-region Blu-ray disc features a multitude of language options, with a static menu and no forced trailers.
First of all, forget about the 1.85:1 ratio listed on the cover, because Warners have opened up the mattes to 1.78 as per their usual M.O. This fresh AVC encode does away with the vertical aliasing that blighted the old Blu-ray, and it also corrects the slight pink tint. The colour now has a more neutral appearance, allowing for greater variation in skin tones and the green dye in the Chicago River for the St Paddy's Day parade really pops. Blacks look good in more contrasty shots and hold plenty of shadow detail, though night exteriors look a little thinner, as well they should.
There's an unobtrusive layer of grain throughout which naturally spikes during the aforementioned night scenes, and don't be fooled by the rough looking opening reel, that's simply what opticals (titles, in this case) will do. Detail is very strong, letting us see every wisp of Ford's beard and Jones' pockmarked face. Long shots also hold up very nicely in that regard. I thought I spotted a fleeting glimpse of haloing on some high-contrast edges, other than that this is an encode that's as efficient and tidy as the movie itself, with no obvious compression issues. Oh, and the crew member visible in the train wreck aftermath has been erased once again (he was removed for the 2001 DVD transfer, which the co-producer brags about in the extras, but he inexplicably returned on the transfer used for the previous BD).
The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track springs a surprise by sounding quite cultured, even by modern surround standards (the movie was released in 1993, at the outset of the digital 5.1 revolution). The discrete rears come into play right from the off, as Kimble's wife fights for her life and her exertions echo around you. What's great about this mix is the attention paid to the 360-degree sound field, i.e. the rears aren't just employed in the big action moments, delivering plenty of authentic ambience throughout. My sonic highlight is the scene where the cops swoop on the house Kimble's staying in to arrest the landlady's son, because you can hear the shouts and footsteps and creaking floorboards coming from above, and it's breathtakingly realistic. The showdown in the Hilton's laundry room pays similar attention to detail, the pulley system whirring and clanking all around you.
It'd be remiss of me to not mention the train crash which, as you'd might expect, sends stuff flying all over the room in a not-so-subtle manner. That scene also shows off the LFE, pumping out some suitably chunky bass, but the low-end is also capable of nuance too. Just before Kimble reaches the end of the line at the storm drain, you can hear an ominous rumble which develops into a full-throated roar as he peers over the edge and realises that the only way is down. Dialogue is reproduced with authority, even during scenes such as the hectic storm drain chase, and the music score has a nice amount of punch and clarity to it.
The extras are a mix of old and new. The new stuff is led by The Fugitive: Thrill Of The Chase, a 28-minute featurette that brings back all the major players (Ford, Jones, Davis, Kopelson, Joey Pants, even Jane Lynch) to gush about how awesome the movie is, and they're not wrong. When you actually manage to get Tommy Lee Jones in front of a camera to talk about a movie he did you know it must've been special, though he's as wryly laconic as ever. On The Run With The Fugitive is a 23-minute holdover from the 2001 DVD, and it's a step above the usual studio puff pieces, with lots of interesting insight and thankfully there's minimal crossover with the new featurette.
Derailed: Anatomy Of A Train Wreck is a similarly informative look at the key action scene from the film, co-producer Peter Macgregor-Scott taking the lead in this 9-minute piece. Warners have also carried over the introduction from the 2001 DVD and a trailer. The 45-minute pilot from the perfunctory 2000 TV revival is also here and presented in 1080p, which is a nice touch. Lastly there's the existing audio commentary from Davis and Jones. It's a bit of a stop-start affair, Jones sounding thoroughly disinterested in the few times that he pipes up, but Davis is articulate enough to hold your attention.
OverallThe Fugitive is quite simply one of the best American action-thrillers, and is one of the few TV updates that takes the original material and makes it its own, without selling the premise short through tons of geeky in-jokes and references. This 20th anniversary edition Blu-ray presents the film with best ever picture and sound quality, plus some incisive extras. Recommended.
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