DVD Movie Guide @ dvdmg.com
Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main


John G. Avildsen
Marlon Brando, George C. Scott, Marthe Keller, John Gielgud, G.D. Spradlin, Beatrice Straight, Richard Lynch
Writing Credits:
Steve Shagan (and novel)

In a world starved for energy, no secret is more valuable.

A detective uncovers a formula that was devised by the Nazis in WWII to make gasoline from synthetic products thereby eliminating the necessity for oil - and oil companies. A major oil company uncovers this and tries to destroy the formula and anyone who knows about it.

Box Office:
Domestic Gross
$8.849 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Monaural
French Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 117 min.
Price: $59.98
Release Date: 11/7/2006

Available Only as Part of “The Marlon Brando Collection”

• Audio Commentary with Director John G. Avildsen and Producer Steve Shagan


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


[an error occurred while processing this directive]

The Formula: Marlon Brando Collection (1980)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 25, 2008)

When two acting titans pair up for a flick, viewers expect something monumental to result. Unfortunately, in the case of 1980’s Marlon Brando/George C. Scott collaboration The Formula, the results were less than spectacular.

A prologue takes us to Germany at the end of World War II. The Nazis hope to trade some secrets to the Americans to obtain amnesty and keep away the Russians. US military forces do take control of the German files, but the movie doesn’t reveal their content to us before it leaps ahead to the then present day.

Back in 1980, we meet detective Barney Caine (Scott). He investigates the murder of former police chief Tom Neeley (Robin Clarke), an old friend who got into some seedy affairs. As Caine digs into the case, more folks end up dead, and a suspicious path leads toward Adam Steiffel (Brando), a high-powered oil tycoon. Caine eventually learns the reason for all the mayhem: a secret formula for a non-polluting synthetic fuel that would obliterate the oil industry. The film follows Caine’s endeavors as he attempts to find the truth and deal with those responsible for the crimes.

It’s interesting how history can repeat itself. With its references to the gas crises of the late 1970s, The Formula could’ve seemed awfully dated. And it does in some ways, but not due to its subject matter. The prospect of oil company conspiracies to keep afloat their profits feels all too real in the current environment, so the flick gets credit in this realm. Brando’s Steiffel even comes across as a Dick Cheney clone many years in advance.

Otherwise, it comes across as a pretty “by the numbers” detective story – and a damned chatty one at that. For a thriller, I find it awfully hard to locate anything thrilling on display here. Formula is almost all tell, no show. We hear about events after the fact and rarely see anything occur.

Is it possible to make a movie that’s 99 percent exposition with little actually plot? Apparently, because that’s what it feels like we get here. Lots of things happen, but the majority of them occur off-screen, and we just hear about them later.

This leads to a dreadfully slow-paced piece that always feels stalled at best. Don’t expect much from the Brando/Scott pairing, either. Brando’s role is little more than a glorified cameo; he only appears a handful of times and doesn’t get much to do, even as the flick’s head baddie. He and Scott spend a few minutes on screen together but don’t have a lot of sparks on display. They plod along and don’t invest their roles with much real character.

Not that great performances would’ve done much for Formula. Director John G. Avildsen – not long removed from his Oscar victory for 1976’s Rocky - seems unable to develop the story in a compelling manner. Saddled with such a dialogue-heavy script, he appears clueless about methods that could spice up the material. Instead, he gives in to the chattiness and delivers a flick with almost no drama.

And that makes The Formula a long 117 minutes. The premise has potential, and like I mentioned, it remains timely 28 after its release. The end result just fails to go anywhere, and it bores as it takes us on its plodding journey.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio C-/ Bonus C-

The Formula appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While it occasionally showed its age, the transfer usually satisfied.

Very few issues affected sharpness. A few shots came across as a bit soft and ill-defined, but these didn’t come as a rule. Most of the flick seemed pretty concise and accurate. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I noticed no edge enhancement.

Unfortunately, source flaws created more prominent distractions. I witnessed periodic examples of specks, marks and debris. These tended to pop up in small batches, so most of the movie passed without concerns. Nonetheless, the sporadic examples of defects could leave us with a messy product.

Colors seemed fine. The film boasted a low-key but natural palette that showed pretty good delineation. The hues never leapt off the screen, but they lacked the blandness that often mars flicks from this one’s era. Blacks were deep and dense, while shadows showed nice clarity and definition. The occasional softness and dirtiness knocked my grade down to a “B-”, but I thought this was a generally good presentation.

Unfortunately, the monaural soundtrack of The Formula held up less well. Speech was intelligible but the lines tended to be stiff and flat. Music was dense and without much range; the score sounded stuck in mid-range and appeared muddy. Effects fell along the same lines. Those elements lacked distortion but they weren’t particularly natural or distinctive. This was a drab soundtrack.

Only one extra appears here: an audio commentary from director John G. Avildsen and producer Steve Shagan They offer a running, screen-specific chat that looks at cast and performances, locations and sets, the story and some facts behind the fiction, and a few production specifics.

Expect a pretty dull chat here. Though the commentary occasionally shows glimmers of life – such as when the participants allude to complications related to the lead actors – it usually lacks much useful information. Add to that a lot of dead air and it becomes a slow two hours of commentary. You’ll learn a little about The Formula from it but not enough to sustain you over its length.

Note that although the DVD’s case promises a “Marlon Brando Trailer Gallery”, none appears here.

Despite the presence of two legendary actors and an Oscar-winning director, The Formula turns into a dud. Sure, it boasts an intriguing plot on the surface, but the film fails to mine that material for anything interesting, and it burdens us with a tale overwhelmed by dialogue. The flick likes to tell us everything and show us nothing, a recipe that marks cinematic tedium. The DVD provides erratic but generally good picture, but audio seems lackluster at best, and only one supplement appears, a pretty boring audio commentary. This turns into a mediocre DVD for a bad movie.

Note that you can purchase The Formula only as part of “The Marlon Brando Collection”. In addition to Formula, this package includes Mutiny on the Bounty, Julius Caesar, Reflections in a Golden Eye, and The Teahouse of the August Moon. The set retails for $59.98.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.3333 Stars Number of Votes: 6
2 3:
View Averages for all rated titles.

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main