Donaldson had quite the cast to work with, which not only included Hopkins and Gibson, but the legendary Laurence Olivier (near the end of his career, and life). Olivier plays Admiral Hood, presiding over the court martial of Bligh. The English high court is attempting to determine exactly how and why the Bounty was lost. We flip back and forth between the courtroom and incidents being described by Bligh. This leads to a significant narrative flaw commonly found in flashback-driven films. After Bligh and those loyal to him are cast adrift, he would’ve had no idea what happened to Fletcher and those who sided with him. In fact, history knows not what became of Fletcher, at least not for sure. What’s delivered here via Robert Bolt’s screenplay is a justifiable case where a certain amount of speculation was necessary. But suggesting this information was being relayed by Bligh and Admiral Hood is obviously problematic.
Some of the young supporting cast members, in fact, were to become future stars. Sailing master John Fryer is portrayed by Daniel Day Lewis, while the Ship’s Corporal Charles Churchill is played by Liam Neeson. Neither actor is given terribly showy roles, but their respective talent and magnetism is easily recognizable nonetheless. The languid pacing is a bit of a detriment overall, with the first act specifically in need of some judicious editing. What’s ultimately quite interesting, however, is that The Bounty presents the mutiny as something of a Rorschach test for viewers. Who do you personally side with? Bligh is undeniably hardheaded and even, at times, reckless in his command. Once the Bounty reaches its Tahitian destination (to harvest fruit to be transported to Jamaica), he’s relentless in his punishments of rule-breaking crew members.
On the other hand, it seems entirely hard to blame Fletcher entirely when he finally decides to rise up and take the ship, steadfastly refusing to shoot Bligh (or anyone) dead. Those who side with him are a surly bunch of immature hedonists, however. Their interest in returning to Tahiti to reunite with their islander girlfriends is a purely selfish one and unbecoming of enlisted men. It’s all delivered with a deliberately calm maturity by director Donaldson in a film that is beautiful to look at and quite absorbing from a narrative standpoint.
Twilight Time’s Blu-ray presentation is superb, with a nearly flawless transfer of Arthur Ibbetson’s evocative cinematography. Shot in some absolutely stunning locations (including the French Polynesian island of Mo'orea, as well as New Zealand), this is the kind of film that demands excellent high definition visuals. Aside from the very occasional spec of print debris, this is a marvel to look at. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 is remarkable immersive for a film of this vintage. The stormy seas sequences are replete with crashes, creaking wood, and the frantic shouts of seaman from all directions. Vangelis’ score pulsates nicely throughout.
Speaking of that Vangelis score, it’s available here as a DTS-HD MA 2.0 isolated track. There are two audio commentaries: one with historical consultant Stephen Walters, the other with director Roger Donaldson, producer Bernard Williams, and production designer John Graysmark. A sampling of these tracks offers ample evidence that both contain plenty of nuggets of useful information, particularly the Walters track. Anyone new to the story of William Bligh would do well to give it a listen to understand what is accurate and where liberties were taken. The Blu-ray booklet contains a new essay by film historian Julie Kirgo.
For those interested in purchasing the limited edition Blu-ray of The Bounty, while supplies last, visit Screen Archives.