Blu-ray Review: Fate is the Hunter - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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Despite its dated, melodramatic tendencies, the 1964 plane crash drama Fate is the Hunter remains an interesting piece. Aviation disaster-based movies were relatively uncommon at the time and even actual, real-life plane crashes were not exactly at the forefront of the public’s mind (the first wide-body airline crash, Eastern Flight 401, was still eight years away). Director Ralph Nelson (Lilies of the Field, Father Goose) keeps the tone exceedingly serious as we watch airline exec Sam McBane (Glenn Ford) investigate a crash that claimed the lives of 53 people.

Twilight Time has issued Fate as part of their Limited Edition Blu-ray series (3,000 copies), pairing it with an excellent, feature-length documentary about the film’s co-star Nancy Kwan (she plays ichnologist Sally Fraser), To Whom It May Concern: Ka Shen's Journey. Directed by Twilight Time’s own Brian Jamieson, the film charts the life and career of the Hong Kong-born actress. It’s an illuminating piece that sheds light on a pioneer who, from her breakthrough performances in the films The World of Suzie Wong and Flower Drum Song, helped open doors for Asian actors. The film takes a deeply emotional turn when it focuses on the premature death of Kwan’s beloved son, Bernhard Pock. The inclusion of this “bonus” film greatly increases the inherent value of Twilight Time’s Blu-ray, which is essentially a double feature.

Fate is the Hunter (214x280).jpgAs for Fate is the Hunter, the fatal plane crash occurs very early—pre-title sequence in fact. The casual attitudes of the crew, led by pilot Jack Savage (Rod Taylor), extend right up to the moment of their crash landing on a beach. It’s only an unfortunately-placed pier that strikes panic in their hearts as they realize the plane doesn’t stand a chance. The now-dated visual effects, coupled with the way the film’s title literally zooms out from the flames of the wreckage as Jerry Goldsmith’s theme solemnly plays, will likely draw laughs from today’s viewers. But Ford conveys the right degree of sobering resolve as his determined investigator McBane seeks answers. Everyone, save flight attendant Martha (Suzanne Pleshette), perished. Savage was McBane’s longtime friend and military colleague. McBane believes his friend was not at fault, even though pilot error (and alcohol intoxication) is quickly assumed to be the cause.

The most interesting aspect is the film’s unusual structure. After the viscerally explosive opening and expectedly heated rush to find answers, the film settles into a series of flashbacks detailing Savage’s past as a military pilot. The two time periods don’t really mesh together as well as intended, with the early material serving mainly to expand on Savage’s character. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just irrelevant in a way. Those with even a vague familiarity of how modern plane crash investigations are handled (not exactly a process that translates well to cinema; see Robert Zemeckis’ awful Flight for a key recent example) might not quite buy the proceedings as depicted here. Again, considering this was still fairly early in the evolution of crash investigations, maybe this is closer to how it was actually done in those days.

The only real issue with the 1080p visual presentation is some print debris that crops up from time to time. To be fair, much of this is actually part of the stock footage used of plane footage, but there are still occasional specs and scratches on the primary footage. Optical effects for the crash sequences are also responsible for some overly heavy grain and inconsistent contrast levels, but this isn’t the fault of the transfer. Otherwise the picture is generally quite detailed and sharp throughout. The DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono mix is simple but allows for all audio elements to be heard clearly, without any background distortion.

In addition to the aforementioned Nancy Kwan documentary, Twilight Time’s supplements include an interesting hybrid of audio commentary and isolated score track. It’s a great idea, as it offers the best of both worlds. Many audio commentaries includes patches of dead air, while I’ve never understood the desire to watch an entire film while listening to an isolated score track (except for film scoring students). Here we get Twilight Team team member and filmmaker Nick Redman with actress Nancy Kwan. Given Kwan’s relatively brief screen time, her comments understandably tend toward the superficial. Still, she offers numerous interesting anecdotes and she and Redman’s chat is well worth listening to. They pause for Goldsmith’s cues, which are infrequent enough that the commentary doesn’t feel at all choppy.

As is standard for Twilight Time, the Blu-ray booklet includes an essay by film historian Julie Kirgo. To order Fate is the Hunter (while supplies last) visit Screen Archives.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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