Wicker Man, The (artisan)
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1973 Version. Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland. Before it was horribly re-made a few years ago, this thriller following an overworked police sergeant in his search for a missing girl, won a Saturn Award for horror. Now with interviews of the cast and filmmakers! 1974/color/88 min/R/widescreen.
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Earlier in 2013, it was announced that a print of a 94 minute version of the film was found and that this version had actually been prepared by the director for release in North American in the late 70's. While this version only keeps the bit of Howie going to church prior to his flight to the island in question, all of the events of the movie are in their proper order though there are bits here and there still missing out of this version. A full HD restoration of the 94 minute cut was prepared and released in a limited theatrical run as well as in a 3 disc deluxe British edition containing the 94 minute and 88 minute cuts in full HD as well as the 100 minute version in standard definition only. A huge documentary was included in addition to some nice interview extras on the main disc as well as a restoration comparison.
Lionsgate though for some reason decided in their infinite wisdom for the North American release to leave out the 2nd and 3rd discs from the Britsh set and only include the 1st "Final Cut" disc of the film containing the restored in HD 94 minute cut. So, if you were one of the lucky ones like me to get the Anchor Bay 2 disc set as it was limited to a run of only 50,000, make sure to hold onto that version due to Lionsgate deciding to not port the full UK edition to American shores.
How does the 94 minute cut work? Since I'm so familiar with the almost 100 minute extended version, I do sorely miss those extra scenes. However, the information contained in the mainland prologue section concerning Sgt. Howie is given throughout the main plot of the film but it does help set up his character a lot better. The other bits missing throughout the film don't really detract from the plot but once again, being so used to the long version, I realized when every little trim was not there. The movie though still works like gangbusters even in the 94 minute cut and since the scenes are in their proper order unlike the 88 minute original theatrical release, it's easy to follow what is going on with Sgt. Howie's strange interactions with the island's inhabitants during his search for the missing girl.
The picture quality overall is stupendous though some of the extra scenes included are of a rougher quality than the rest of the film (The "Gently, Johnny" sequence comes to mind). But this is the best that the film has ever looked and fans will be pleased with how much of a huge upgrade in picture quality the film has received for its HD debut. The audio is presented in the film's original 1 track mono in lossless audio. Extras contain interviews with various people talking about how much they love the film as well as the film's writer, a focus on the film's famous musical score and also a restoration comparison too.
If you have a region free blu-ray player, go ahead and import in the 3 disc British set as it's the truly definitive set for this amazing film that seems to keep getting better with age over 40 years since its original release. If you don't have access to a region free blu-ray player, then go ahead and get this set but also see if you can get one of the limited edition 2 disc Anchor Bay DVD sets so you can have both the 88 minute theatrical cut and almost 100 minute extended cut too. I have no idea why Lionsgate decided to do this with the North American blu-ray release and it's also a shame that the complete 102 minute version has still not been found and possibly at this point is unlikely that it will ever be. At least the film has been preserved in some digital fashion in both its DVD and new blu-ray releases so that future generations will be able to discover this film and get to see one of the greatest and most original films ever released.
TWM is a very strange movie and very much a product of its time (early 70s), but keeping that in mind it's very well done. The research put into creating the Pagan religion of the island was obviously thorough, and the setting is gorgeous and perfect. The acting by the principals is well done too, even though a bit over-the-top by modern standards. There are moments that will make you laugh out loud, and moments that will creep you out. Well balanced all around.
Make some popcorn and have your favorite recreational substances on hand... definitely a trip worth taking.
It's hard to imagine that there are people out there who don't know the story especially as the core of it was seen more recently in the unfortunate Neil LaBute 2006 remake with Nicholas Cage. With over 400 other reviews to choose from there are plenty that go into the story in great detail but here is only a basic outline. A deeply religious policeman (Edward Woodward) investigates the report of a missing child on a remote, privately owned island off the Scottish mainland. The island is inhabited by modern day pagans whose joyous, happy lifestyle contrasts greatly with the dour, puritanical officer. They are led by the local squire (Christopher Lee) whose family has owned the island for generations and who actively encourages the pagan practices. Writer Anthony Shaffer (SLEUTH), twin brother of playwright Peter Shaffer (EQUUS, AMADEUS), has constructed, on the surface, a simple mystery. Police officer investigates the disappearance of a child. His investigation is obstructed by the locals. He perseveres and finds the child alive. The End. Not quite. There is much more to it than that. It is that "much more" that makes THE WICKER MAN the classic that it is. Great soundtrack too. If you've never seen it you should. If you've only seen the Nicholas Cage version than you really need to see it the way it was intended and this set is an excellent way to do just that.
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