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Chariots of Fire VHS
The come-from-behind winner of the 1981 Oscar for bestpicture, Chariots of Fire either strikes you as either a cold exercise in mechanical manipulation or as a tale of true determination and inspiration. The heroes are an unlikely pair of young athletes who ran for Great Britain in the 1924 Paris Olympics: devout Protestant Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson), a divinity student whose running makes him feel closer to God, and Jewish Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross), a highly competitive Cambridge student who has to surmount the institutional hurdles of class prejudice and anti-Semitism. There's delicious support from Ian Holm (as Abrahams's coach) and John Gielgud and Lindsay Anderson as a couple of Cambridge fogies. Vangelis's soaring synthesized score, which seemed to be everywhere in the early 1980s, also won an Oscar. Chariots of Fire was the debut film of British television commercial director Hugh Hudson (Greystoke) and was produced by David Puttnam. --Jim Emerson
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Little will prepare fans of "Chariots Of Fire" for this BLU RAY reissue - the picture quality is SENSATIONAL - and for a British film made on a budget in 1981 - that says a lot. Also - re-watching it in 2012 (the year of the 30th Olympiad in England) - it's nice to find that this homage to Sporting achievement and human spirit hasn't lost any of its capacity to stir the soul and bring a tear to the eye. It was nominated for 7 Oscars at the time and won 4 - including Best Picture.
The first thing to note is that even though the print quality and abundant extras are the same for the UK and US versions - they differ greatly in their 'packaging' and there's actually 3 variants of the BLU RAY to choose from. The UK issue comes in two versions - a simple uninspiring plastic clip-case with just 1 disc at around ten pounds (type in barcode 5039036052344 into the Amazon Search Bar) and a second issue with the music CD as well for a few quid more (type in barcode 5039036051163).
This US Warner Brothers version (at about twenty pounds) that I'm reviewing however comes in a beautifully presented 36-page embossed hardback 'Book Pack' (or Digibook as its sometimes called) with an outer page attached to the rear (type in barcode 883929093946 into Amazon). Regardless of which issue you buy or where you live - ALL are 'REGION FREE' - so will play on every machine.
The booklet for the US variant is beautiful - featuring articles and pictures on Producer David Puttnam, Director Hugh Hudson and Writer Colin Welland. There's also text and photos on the principal cast members as well as notable supporting roles by John Gielgud, Ian Holm, Alice Krieg and Cheryl Campbell. There's also a page on the huge contribution made by Greek keyboardist VANGELIS - whose musical score has been both revered and parodied in equal measure ever since (most notably in the opening ceremony for the 2012 London Olympics just a few days ago).
This US issue and the UK double also house a 4-track music CD by VANGELIS (13:47 minutes) that features 2006 remasters of "Titles" (A Number 1 US hit in February 1982), "Abraham's Theme", "Eric's Theme" and "Jerusalem" (Vangelis with The Ambrosian Singers).
But the big news is the print - which has been FULLY RESTORED and defaulted to 1.85:1 aspect ratio - thereby filling your entire screen. Even in the notoriously difficult-to-light indoor sequences there is only slight blocking and grain - but on all outdoor scenes (of which there are many) - the clarity is exemplary. The DTS-HD Master Audio is English 5.1 Dolby Digital and Subtitles are English for Hard-Of-Hearing and French. Extras are discussed below...
Taking its name from William Blake's preface to the epic "Milton: A Poem" - it focuses on the team who secured 4 medals for Britain in the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris - in particular the two Gold winners - Eric Liddell for the Men's 400 metres and Harold Abrahams for the Men's 100 meters. Nicholas Farrell (as Aubrey Montague), Nigel Havers (as Lord Andrew Lindsay) and Daniel Gerroll (as Henry Stallard) make up the other runners. Blink and you'll miss them cameos are - two sightings of American Comedienne Ruby Wax as a lady spectator in the Olympic crowds towards the end of the movie and an uncredited Stephen Fry in the "HMS Pinafore" chorus line-up.
Born in China but raised in Edinburgh - Eric Liddell (nick-named "The Flying Scotsman" after the famous steam train) was the son of a devout Missionary - and like his father before him cherished and practiced his religious convictions. Played to perfection by Scotsman Ian Charleson - Liddell often said that he was 'running for God' or 'felt His pleasure' as he speeded around track after track leaving all in his wake. Both King and Country would sorely test these implacable beliefs in Paris when they asked him to run on the Sabbath - and he refused. A little jiggering of racing dates saved face and the day...but it was the measure of the man that he withstood all that pressure and still won...
His principal rival was Harold Abrahams (played with huge gusto by Ben Cross) - a Jewish Cambridge University intellectual determined to deal with society's bigotry towards his kind by crushing all detractors in his path - including Liddell - whom he both feared and admired. But when he finally faces Liddell in a run and looses by a ticker-tape inch - the outsider is crushed. But help is at hand in the shape of an unorthodox Jewish coach called Sam Mussabini (a fabulous turn by veteran actor Ian Holm) who promises to make Harold faster and better (and does).
These indomitable boors inhabit a world of privileged chums wearing boater hats and striped blazers - men who sing Gilbert & Sullivan's "HMS Pinafore" songs with alarming relish. This is Britain after the senseless generation-depleting butchery of World War I - but still with that inbred sense of Empire coursing through their veins. You'd be right in thinking that all this snobbish elitism could become quickly tedious (and it threatens to do so for the first half hour), but the script rightly concentrates on something all the more compelling - their dedication, self-sacrifice and guts. Genuinely inspiring a country hungry for something noble to celebrate - you could even say that these athletes joined Christianity and Judaism on the Sports field for the National good. And on it goes to the 8th Olympics Games in 1924 and a funeral in London in 1978 (making it contemporary).
The wad of extras are superb - modern day interviews with all the protagonists - Ben Cross and Nigel Havers particularly animated and witty and pouring praise on Ian Charleson who sadly passed away in 1990. And again when they use the old stock footage of the film - you see just how glorious the full restoration truly is.
Like "The King's Speech" in so many ways - "Chariots Of Fire" is filled with British pride - but in a good way. This is a story about people worth remembering - their struggles - their heartbreaks and triumphs - their journey. Having not seen it in probably 30 years - I found it moving, inspirational and not in the least bit dated. And now it has the transfer and format it deserves. I know the US version may cost twice as much as the UK issue - but if you can go the few quid - then do so.
When Screenplay Writer Colin Welland accepted his Oscar - he famously announced "The British Are Coming!" Well, they're back...because this really is a fantastic reissue of a great movie.
I'm off now to run in slow motion by the sea and surf with that synth riff pounding through my very tight Speedos...oh dear!
BLU RAY versions:
UK 1 disc - barcode 5039036052344
UK 2 disc - barcode 5039036051163
USA 2 disc 'Book Pack' - barcode 883929093946
Chariots of Fire tells the true story of two British runners. But this is much more than a sports movie. One of the men (Ben Cross) is a secular Jew who runs in order to prove his worth to a subtly anti-Semitic British society. The other (Ian Charleson) is a Scottish Christian missionary who runs for the glory of God. Their lives intersect when they become rivals under the same flag during the 1924 Olympics.
This blu-ray book edition contains 36 pages of photos and behind-the-scenes information. In addition to the film (which is presented in a 1.77:1 aspect ratio), the disc contains deleted scenes, five documentaries, screen tests, commentary, the theatrical trailer and more.
The blu-ray transfer is very good, but not perfect. The level of detail is greatly enhanced from the DVD, but there is noticeable film grain in many shots. This did not trouble me, however, because the movie is set in the 1920s, and the film grain contributed to an older feel. The sound was a little more problematic, however. I am using a Sony SS-C150. Sometimes the dialogue was not completely clear. The soundtrack was fine though.
Parental Advisory: This movie is very tame by modern standards. It shows characters smoking and drinking on occasion, and there is one brief scene where a man can be seen showering in a locker room. One instance of profanity was actually added to the movie in order to avoid a G rating, which the producers thought would hurt its acceptance by critics. While it would certainly be suitable for children to watch, I do not know that they would appreciate it.
I highly recommend this movie. It is a "must see." If I had to pick one film as my all-time favorite, Chariots of Fire would get the nod.
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