When I heard about 1993’s film version of The Fugitive, I figured this would be just another lame adaptation of an old TV show, and I cringed when I first saw previews for it. I’ve been in the bag for Harrison Ford for many years, so when I saw his name attached to a TV series remake, I feared the worst. Such translations have a very poor percentage of success, so I thought The Fugitive would end up just another weak attempt to cash in on a little-remembered TV show.
I guess I should've trusted old Harry. Far from being a pathetic rehash of an old program, The Fugitive presented a tremendously vital and thrilling update on the cat and mouse chase theme. Director Andrew Davis took a well-worn plot and injected great life and excitement into it. As a result, The Fugitive made a nice piece of change at the box office and also grabbed an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, something unusual for an action movie of this sort.
The Fugitive really had it all, though when I first saw it, I thought it might have blown its wad too early. Probably the best remembered sequence in the film occurs when the bus that transports Dr. Richard Kimble (Ford), our fugitive-to-be, ends up rolling off the road. A botched escape attempt from some other prisoners caused this, and the bus ultimately comes to a rest on a train track. As they tend to do, a train cruises along this same line, much to the potential detriment of its passengers.
Suffice it to say, the ensuing narrow escape from the choo-choo completely floored me and pretty much everybody else in the crowd. Unfortunately, it seemed hard to go anywhere from there, and while the rest of the movie worked very well, it just never appeared to equal the train crash scene.
That’s why it's always good to watch movies again. Upon subsequent review, the impact of the train crash sequence diluted and the strengths of the remainder of the film became more apparent. In truth, The Fugitive is probably a little too long; the pursuit seems drawn out just a little past the point of effectiveness. Still, the movie makes for crackling entertainment, even when the conclusion is no longer in doubt.
At the very start of the movie, we witness the brutal killing of Kimble’s lovely wife Helen (Sela Ward). After questioning, Kimble’s arrested for the murder, and he’s convicted and sentenced to death before the end of the opening credits! After that, he escapes custody through the train crash, and the remainder of the movie follows a dual plot. Law enforcement officials pursue Kimble while the doctor himself tries to prove his innocence; he claimed that his wife would was offed by a one-armed man, and Richard’s determined to find him.
As with many films, much of The Fugitive's continued pleasures emanate from the solid performances of its actors. Tommy Lee Jones won an Oscar for his justly-celebrated acting as US Marshal Sam Gerard, the man who spends most of the movie in pursuit of our fugitive. All at once, Jones provides both a level of intensity and down to earth realism that would escape most actors; he truly takes over almost every scene in which he appears with this casual but passionate character.
That shouldn't denigrate the typically solid and believable performance from Ford. His work is almost as predictable as the tides; while he occasionally chooses some weak films in which to appear, it's very hard to think of any genuinely poor performances that he has given. Kimble's something of a thankless role since he’s essentially reactionary; Gerard and the other pursuers are the only ones who get to stimulate the action, though Kimble starts to turn the tables by the end of the film. Also, Kimble needs to be something of a saint; if the audience ever really questions his innocence, the movie sinks. Still, Ford does yet another solid turn on his usual Gary Cooper routine. Kimble may not be the flashiest or most memorable character he's portrayed, but he stands as a decently realistic and likable one.
The supporting cast all provide fine work, especially the crew of actors who form Gerard's "posse"; they seem very comfortable together and play off each other well. The more I watch The Fugitive, the more I recognize their strengths and just how nicely they blend together.
Ultimately, one of the most refreshing aspects of The Fugitive stems from its ending. (Yes, spoilers approach - abandon ship now if you want to avoid them.) Truth and justice prevail, of course, but in a most unusual way: neither villain dies! Think about action movies over the last twenty years or so and try to determine in how many of them the villain survives; I guarantee that'll be a pretty short list.
Add to that the fact that it’s unlikely the villains in The Fugitive could logically return for a sequel and the fact that neither Nichols nor the One-Armed Man buy it at the end of the film continues to surprise me. Sometimes the bad guy might be kept alive just for a return visit in a second film, but that would have definitely stretch believability. Maybe the prevalence of dead villains is a reflection of society's distrust of the legal system. Filmmakers may fear that audiences will be disappointed with an antagonist who just gets arrested; the viewers may think that the bad guy will get Johnnie Cochran'd out of jail. Then again, maybe people simply like the final justice inherent in a villain's death. Whatever the reason, I nonetheless truly appreciated the fact that The Fugitive took a different path.
Almost eight years after its theatrical release, The Fugitive remains an oddity. It was based on an old TV show but it was neither campy nor silly, and it actually worked extremely well on its own. Director Andrew Davis maintains a fairly solid pace throughout its 130 minutes and it continues to be an exciting and compelling program.
The Fugitive appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This new special edition disc marks the film’s second release on DVD; the original movie-only package was one of the very first DVDs to hit the streets back in the spring of 1997. Some of those platters showed various concerns, but The Fugitive seemed reasonably well-executed, and the transfer on this new disc seemed to closely replicate the old one.
For the most part, sharpness appeared nicely crisp and detailed. At times, the picture exhibited modest softness; interiors toward the end of the film suffered most from this minor concern. Nonetheless, the majority of the movie looked clear and accurate, without any substantial problems on display. Jagged edges appeared absent, but a few small examples of moiré effects cropped up during the movie. I detected slight shimmering from blinds and the wall of an elevator, but otherwise the image appeared solid.
Print flaws presented a modest problem. Occasional examples of speckles were the main culprit, and I also witnessed periodic showings of grit and light grain. No major defects like scratches, tears, blotches or marks could be seen. All in all, the flaws remained fairly minor throughout the movie.
To my surprise, The Fugitive provided a fairly broad palette, and the DVD replicated these colors nicely. At all times I felt the various hues seemed clear and vivid, and the different tones showed good accuracy and subtlety. During the St. Patrick’s Day parade, we witness excellent greens, and the rest of the film also displayed solid colors. Black levels seemed equally deep and rich, and shadow detail was quite good. The movie featured a fairly high number of dimly-lit sequences, and all of these appeared appropriately clear without excessive thickness. Ultimately, a few concerns kept The Fugitive from providing a consistently fine transfer, but the result still looked good during the majority of the film.
The movie’s Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack also appeared to replicate the mix heard on the older DVD. While the soundfield definitely favored the forward channels, it still offered a very engaging and active experience. The front speakers received a strong workout as they constantly featured a wide variety of unique audio from all three channels. Stereo imaging for the score seemed excellent, as the instrumentation was clearly defined and spread, while the effects created a realistic and involving atmosphere. At virtually all times, I heard vivid and appropriately located sound from the forward speakers, and the audio blended together in a natural and fairly seamless manner.
Surround usage appeared somewhat subdued, but the rears kicked in with useful sound at times. For the most part, their activity tended toward general atmosphere and also some reinforcement of the score; I didn’t detect a tremendous amount of information that seemed to be specific to the surrounds. However, they did provide appropriate action during logical scenes. Most of those involved vehicles. During sequences that involved trains - whether freight or elevated - or those with helicopters, the rears became fairly involved in the mix, and they showed decent split surround effects as well.
Audio quality appeared to be generally solid. On a few occasions, dialogue showed modest signs of edginess, but these were extremely infrequent. For the most part, speech came across as reasonably natural and distinct, and the lines lacked any concerns related to intelligibility. I felt that the musical presence could have been a little stronger. The score seemed fairly robust, but the highs failed to deliver much punch, and low-end response could have been tighter. Nonetheless, the music generally appeared clear and acceptably vibrant.
Effects consistently provided clean, realistic sound. Even during the loudest parts of the train wreck, I detected no distortion or other flaws. These elements seemed vivid and accurate, though bass response was somewhat vague. Low-end sounds appeared a little boomy and indistinct; when the track became loud, the bass did too, but I thought that response could have been clearer. In any case, the soundtrack for The Fugitive offered a generally satisfying auditory environment that complemented the film.
As I already noted, this special edition DVD takes over for the old 1997 release. That one included almost no extras; all we got were some cast and crew biographies. The new disc definitely expands upon the original’s supplements, but whether there’s enough here to merit a repurchase for current owners remains to be seen.
First up is a running audio commentary from director Andrew Davis and star Tommy Lee Davis. Though the two interact during the track, they actually were recorded in two different locations; Davis was in California while Jones sat in Oregon. Davis strongly dominates this screen-specific piece, as Jones rarely offers any remarks. Toward the end, Jones tosses in some interesting insights about the way he felt during the filming of the climax, but otherwise his statements are almost totally banal. Here are a few examples: “I like this part”; “These are really cool titles”; “They dye the river green on St. Patrick’s Day”. These aren’t minor aspects of Jones’ side of the track; they are very representative of his infrequent notes.
Although Davis talks during much more of the track, he doesn’t offer a great deal that seems incisive or interesting. For the most part, Davis tends to relate the names of various cast members, tell us where scenes were shot, or narrate the story. On occasion, he adds some useful tidbits. For example, we learn that Richard Jordan was originally supposed to play Jeroen Krabbe’s part, and he also discusses a few deleted scenes; it was especially good to hear more about the ways in which Julianne Moore’s character was reduced. Regrettably, those kinds of moments are rare, and most of the commentary seems slow-paced and dull. I found it to be a serious disappointment, as I learned very little about the film during this tedious track.
After that bland experience, I hoped that the DVD’s two new documentaries would add some spark to the package. Unfortunately, they failed to deliver much compelling information either. The first program is called “Derailed: Anatomy of a Train Wreck” and its focus seems obvious. Through a mix of footage from the set, film clips, and recent interviews, we learn a little more about how the movie’s most famous segment was created. Director Andrew Davis, star Harrison Ford, producer Arnold Kopelson and coproducer Peter MacGregor-Scott all participate in this eight minute and 50 second show.
As with the commentary, this is another disappointment. It seems rather glossy and insubstantial, and I didn’t learn many hard facts about the shoot. Yes, the basics of the production receive notice, but I simply don’t feel like I know much more about the way the scene was created. The piece was watchable but it lacked depth.
Similar sentiments apply to the second documentary, “On the Run With The Fugitive”. This 23-minute program features the same interview subjects we saw during “Derailed”, though there’s one small twist; Ford also appears via some 1993 clips. Otherwise, the formula is the same, as the show compiles interviews, movie snippets, and shots from the set.
It also fails to deliver much substantial information. Much of the program sticks to the superficial as we hear the various participants praise one another. Quite a lot of time passes before anyone really starts to talk about the movie itself, and when that finally occurs, we hear some decent details about the production. For example, we learn a few nice tidbits about the manner in which the St. Patrick’s Day parade was filmed. However, this is too little, too late, and the program soon ends. While “On the Run” wasn’t a terrible documentary, it lacked the depth that would make it worthwhile.
When you fire up the DVD, a new Introduction precedes the feature. This 110-second piece combines short statements from director Davis and stars Ford and Jones. Ford’s remarks come from the same new interviews that appear during the documentaries; he essentially tells us that The Fugitive was a great experience. As for Jones and Davis, the “Introduction” simply plays the first few moments of their commentary; we watch Davis as he chats on the phone with Jones. It’s basically a waste of time, and it’s a nuisance as well thanks to poor design. It always pops up before the movie, and it can’t be avoided easily; the “chapter skip” function on my remote was disabled, so I had to fast-forward through it. The best way to bypass it would be to start the film with chapter one in the “scene selections” menu, but that doesn’t negate the bad choice made here.
A few basic extras round out the DVD. We find updated Cast and Crew biographies for the same seven folks detailed on the original disc. There are very brief listings for actors Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones, Sela Ward, Joe Pantoliano, Andreas Katsulas, and Jeroen Krabbé plus director Andrew Davis. In addition, we discover the film’s theatrical trailer plus a text page that shows the movie’s “Awards”.
As a special edition, The Fugitive isn’t a terrible package, but I thought it was a serious disappointment. It was definitely a missed opportunity, as the new supplements add little to the experience. I found it especially frustrating to hear of deleted scenes during the audio commentary but see none of them here. The Fugitive remains an exciting and compelling flick, and if you don’t already own a copy of the film of DVD, the new special edition is the one to get. It provides largely positive picture and sound plus this smattering of extras. However, anyone who already possesses the old DVD of The Fugitive should skip the special edition; image and sound seem to duplicate the original release, and the supplements aren’t worth the money.
Final note: as also occurred with 2000’s special edition re-issue of Twister, both the original and new DVDs of The Fugitive look a lot alike. The covers are identical except that the special edition has a red border. It also boasts a sticker that mentions its new features. If you examine the back of the case, the special edition becomes more obvious since this area lists the supplements, but I don’t understand why Warner Bros. refuse to create more distinctive packaging for their re-released DVDs.