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Mark Rydell
Henry Fonda, Katharine Hepburn, Jane Fonda, Dabney Coleman, Doug McKeon
Writing Credits:
Ernest Thompson

In his final role, Fonda masterfully plays Norman Thayer, a prickly retired professor who visits his Maine summer home with his loving wife, Ethel (Hepburn). Soon after they are joined by their daughter, Chelsea (Jane Fonda, in her only on-screen teaming with her father), her fiance Bill, and his son Billy. The cantankerous Norman develops an unlikely bond with young Billy, providing the framework for an emotional summer in which the Thayers’ strained familial relationships are finally allowed to heal and take wing.

Rated PG

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 109 min.
Price: $24.97
Release Date: 1/20/2014

• Audio Commentary with Director Mark Rydell
• “Reflections on Golden Pond” Featurette
• “A Woman of Substance” Featurette
• Trailer


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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On Golden Pond [Blu-Ray] (1981)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 7, 2015)

With 1981’s On Golden Pond, we find a remarkable confluence of talent. It acted as the first – and only – time Henry Fonda would appear on film with his daughter Jane, and it also marked the sole occasion on which Katharine Hepburn worked with either Fonda.

All that and it reunited Jane with her 9 to 5 antagonist Dabney Coleman! I never saw Pond back during its initial release – too many old folks for a then-14-year-old like me – so I thought now seemed like a good time to finally give all that acting talent a look.

Retired university professor Norman Thayer (Henry Fonda) and his wife Ethel (Hepburn) return to their beloved summer cottage on Golden Pond in Maine. As they settle into their time there, they learn that their daughter Chelsea (Jane Fonda) will come to visit along with her new boyfriend Bill Ray (Coleman) and his teen son Billy (Doug McKeon). We follow interpersonal dynamics as the generations collide.

Henry Fonda won his only Best Actor Oscar for Pond, a fact that comes as a shock. Given the length and breadth of his career, how could the Academy deny Fonda a trophy until what turned out to be his final role? (Fonda died in the summer of 1982.)

I guess that’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes. It took Paul Newman decades to finally take home an Oscar for 1986’s The Color of Money, an award that seemed to represent a “career achievement prize” more than recognition that Newman offered great work in Money. Actually, Newman was fine in the role, but I’m not sure it was really “Oscar material”.

Hepburn also won an Oscar for her work here, though this wasn’t new to her; Pond represented her unprecedented fourth Best Actress Academy Award. I suspect she received a prize for Pond as a sort of “career recognition” anyway, as I find it tough to believe many voters honestly thought Fonda or Hepburn offered award-worthy work.

I sure don’t, as I think the acting in Pond consistently comes across as broad and overdone, though I’m not sure I can totally blame the actors, as they get stuck with a terrible script. Ernest Thompson adapted Pond from his own play, and I think that was a mistake. The script strongly comes across like a stage piece brought to the screen, and I suspect someone less attached to the source material might’ve been more willing to open up the situations. Thompson gives us a product that never feels like a movie; it comes across like a play slapped onto the screen with little done to make it cinematic.

Even if Thompson managed to make Pond feel more like a film and less like a play, the actors would still be stuck cliché characters and awful dialogue. The lines always feel “written”; they’re stilted and stiff and don’t come across as real in any way. This is dialogue created for a story without an ear for how people actually talk.

Perhaps the Fondas and Hepburn overact because they feel a need to elevate the weak material – or maybe they just figured they needed to act! I don’t know – I find it tough to explain how such talented performers could create such hammy performances.

Somewhat surprisingly, Coleman does well as he plays against type. Coleman created a career based on gruff, nasty, selfish roles, but his Bill comes across as a fairly nice guy, and Coleman manages to give the role some depth and humanity. Coleman also avoids overplaying the part, which makes him stand out in the hammy cast.

Other than Coleman, we’re stuck with a mawkish, sentimental and overacted film. Since Coleman spends little time on screen, that means we find a whole lot of silly, contrived material on display. Henry Fonda deserved a much better send-off than this tripe.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture C+/ Audio C+/ Bonus B-

On Golden Pond appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Pond came with a watchable but not great presentation.

For the most part, sharpness seemed positive. Wider shots tended to be a bit soft, but those didn’t turn into a major concern. While the image lacked great precision, it appeared adequate to good in that regard. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I noticed no edge haloes. In terms of print flaws, I saw sporadic specks and marks; they didn’t become heavy, but they popped up on occasion.

Pond went with a fairly amber palette to fit the rustic setting. Colors appeared acceptably full; they could’ve been more dynamic but they remained reasonably positive. Blacks were a little inky, and shadows could be a bit dense. In the end, this came across as a “C+“ presentation; it lacked many strengths but it looked adequate.

Similar thoughts greeted the acceptable DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack of Pond. Speech became the dominant element in this chatty flick, and the lines seemed fine. They could be a little reedy but they remained fairly natural and always displayed good intelligibility.

Music and effects played a small role. We didn’t get a ton of score, and the character orientation of the story left little room for anything other than basic effects. Both of these elements came across as reasonably well-developed; they lacked much range but they seemed clean and clear. This was a perfectly suitable track for a low-key movie from 1981.

A few extras flesh out the disc, and we begin with an audio commentary from director Mark Rydell. In this running, screen-specific chat, we learn about the source material and its adaptation, characters, story and themes, cast and performances, camerawork and music, sets and locations, and anecdotes from the shoot.

Recorded in the mid-1990s, Rydell offers a mostly good track. On the negative side, his occasional complaints about modern movies get a little tiresome, as he bemoans how films are all "special effects and car crashes", which people also claimed in 1980. Otherwise, Rydell delivers an interesting set of notes, especially in terms of relationships among the actors. Even with some slow spots, the commentary succeeds.

Two featurettes follow. Reflections on Golden Pond lasts 30 minutes, three seconds and includes notes from Rydell, director of photography Billy Williams, script supervisor Marshall Schlom,The New Biographical Dictionary of Film author David Thomson, writer Ernest Thompson, and a few others. (In an annoying choice, “Reflections” fails to credit any of the participants; I was able to name the folks listed above due to their appearances elsewhere on the disc.) “Reflections” looks at cinematography, the source play and its adaptation, cast and performances, sets and locations, and related topics.

Though “Reflections” does touch on a mix of subjects, photography and Williams’ work becomes the primary focus. That’s an interesting viewpoint, as this turns into a much more detailed than usual take on cinematography. Despite the annoyance that comes with the refusal to credit speakers, we get good information here.

In addition to a trailer, A Woman of Substance fills 15 minutes, 53 seconds and offers info from Billy Williams, Ernest Thompson, Mark Rydell, Marshall Schlom, David Thomson, Lion In Winter director Anthony Harvey, film critic Richard Schickel, and A Bill of Divorcement director George Cukor. The show takes a look at the life and career of Katharine Hepburn. 16 minutes or so is way too little for a comprehensive view of this subject, but “Substance” delivers a decent mix of thoughts.

With an abundance of talent involved, I hoped On Golden Pond would deliver a memorable experience. Unfortunately, it turns into a clumsy, stiff effort without much real emotion or realism involved. The Blu-ray provides average picture and audio along with a small but informative collection of supplements. Pond doesn’t hold up well after more than 30 years.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4 Stars Number of Votes: 3
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