At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Bounty “84”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Bounty “84”

MPAA Rating: PG/Genre: Epic Historical Drama/Stars: Mel Gibson, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Olivier, Edward Fox, Daniel Day-Lewis, Bernard Hill, Philip Davis, Liam Neeson, Wi Kuki Kaa, Tevaite Vernette, Philip Martin Brown, Simon Chandler, Malcolm Terris, John Sessions, Andrew Wilde, Neil Morrissey, Richard Graham, Dexter Fletcher, Pete Lee-Wilson, Jon Gadsby, Barry Dransfield, Steve Fletcher, Jack May, Sharon Bower, Mary Kauila/Runtime: 132 minutes

On the 28th of April in the long-ago year of 1789, an event would occur that wound being of some importance to the history of nautical travel on this planet. No, it wasn’t the first time a boat decided to go on a pleasure cruise only to wind up at what would become Gilligan’s Island. Nor for that matter was this the day, month, and year that the series The Love Boat premiered. Rather, this was an incident that involved two men by the names of Fletcher Christian and Lt. William Bligh, a crew of 44 (down from 46) men, an expedition to Tahiti to retrieve and bring back breadfruit, and the ship they were all working on known as the HMS Bounty respectively. Yet even though this particular blot on the history of British naval exploration had, until the year of 1984, been explored by the land of movie magic in both 1935 and 1962 respectively there was one key thing that seemed to be a bit off about both films. No, it wasn’t the fact that a motorboat could be seen in any of the shots out at sea (at least I don’t think) and no it wasn’t the fact that the acting was poor (it wasn’t) nor for that matter could one really find anything negative to really be said about the work done by the crew behind the camera. Rather, it was the fact that, for as entertaining and as engaging as they are, they weren’t exactly painting for audiences an accurate telling of events. Perhaps this is why in the year 1984, a filmmaker by the name of Roger Donaldson was brought on by super producer Dino de Laurentis to direct yet another adaptation of this story alongside a cast of players that included such talents as Mel Gibson, Anthony Hopkins, Daniel Day-Lewis, Edward Fox, Liam Neeson, and even acting royalty Laurence Olivier in a key supporting role. The result was a slice of cinema aptly named The Bounty and honestly, I have always dug the heck out of this movie dear reader. Of course, when the Blockbuster near League City, Texas where my dad lived seemingly always had a copy of it in stock on VHS and you’re a young kid who sees the PG rating and doesn’t know any better (whereas now I would just conveniently overlook it) you can kinda begin to see how this film really got a chance to work its magic on me. Sarcasm aside dear reader, this slice of cinema might have its issues, but with the aid of a powerhouse cast of players in front of the camera and top-tier work behind the camera The Bounty “84” is definitely one historically accurate telling of this iconic incident that is sure to keep you intrigued from beginning to end.

Based on historical records detailing what occurred on the actual HMS Bounty as well as an adaptation of the 1972 book Captain Bligh and Mr. Christian by Richard Hough, The Bounty gets its seaworthy yarn underway at a place that could best be described as the end of another movie altogether. That being at the court martial (or trial if you prefer) of one Commanding Lt. William Bligh in the long-ago year of 1792. A court martial that has been convened, we soon learn, to inquire about and potentially pass judgment upon the “good lieutenant” for the loss of his ship known as the (get this) HMS Bounty. From there, the film then takes us back in time to December of 1787 where we witness as Bligh recruits a friend, and fellow seaman, named Fletcher Christian to sail with him again on another voyage. It appears that Bligh has been assigned by the British Navy to go to a particularly noteworthy spot (to British sailors at that time at least) known as Tahiti to collect breadfruit. The reason being that breadfruit had been chosen by the British government to serve as a cheap food to serve to the slave populations being forced to work on British plantations in the Caribbean islands at this time in history. Yet even though Bligh has been assigned a seemingly upstanding individual to serve as sailing master by the name of John Fryer to say nothing of a fairly sturdy and steadfast crew, good ol’ Bligh would still like someone on board that not only has he sailed with before, but who he knows he can depend on should things get rough hence why he would like Christian to come along. Yet by saying yes to his old friend’s request, we see that Christian is doing more than just signing up for a potentially long, arduous, and quite tasking sea voyage. Rather, he is also unknowingly taking the first step on a journey. One that will see our pair desperately try to sail the Bounty around Cape Horn in order to fulfill Bligh’s desire to try and use the trip to circumnavigate the globe, go through thick and thin together especially in the middle of a fierce storm, and eventually arrive in the island paradise of Tahiti to accomplish their mission for King and Country. Yet despite making landfall at this exotic locale as the best of friends, it isn’t long before we see that the temptations of this paradise begin to slowly but surely wreak havoc on that long-standing friendship let alone the dedication of the crew to the main objective of their voyage. As to the events that this eventually winds up leading into to say nothing of the impact that they have on both this dynamic duo as well as the rest of their shipmates that is something that I think I shall leave for you to discover for yourself dear reader….

Now right off, it should be noted that the work done behind the camera on this particular cinematic outing is nothing short of incredibly well-done. This starts with the top-tier work done by Roger Donaldson at the helm. Indeed Donaldson does an outstanding job at making this less a film about an act of insurgency on the high seas and more in the vein of a riveting drama about two friends whose longstanding friendship is presented with perhaps the ultimate hurdle to overcome and the effect it has on both of them to say nothing of the rest of the crew as well.  Alongside the work done from the director’s chair, this film also contains a terrific screenplay from scribe Robert Bolt. Indeed Bolt manages to do a terrific job of not only making the events that we witness in the narrative as accurate to the way that historical record claims that they did, but also with respect to how he paints the two main characters of Bligh and Christian respectively. I say that because, unlike previous cinematic interpretations where Bligh is clearly meant to be portrayed in a villainous light and Christian in a tragically heroic one, this film’s screenplay is not content with that. Not just because it wishes to distinguish itself from the pack, but because of that aforementioned devotion to being as historically accurate as possible. Therefore, we see that this film actually does a phenomenal job at showcasing these two men as genuine people, in terms of both the good and the bad, rather than just as caricatures we as movie goers are supposed to jeer or cheer whenever they show up on screen. We as movie goers are also treated to a brilliant job from Arthur Ibbetson and the rest of the cinematography department. Indeed not only did this team do a brilliant job of dressing quite a few of the filming locations to look like they would have back in the late 1780s/90s, but they also do a fantastic job at making each place be it the phenomenally constructed replica of the actual ship, the court-martial location, the island of Tahiti, or even Bligh’s home feel like their own characters in this film. Without question however, the cherry on top of this undeniable cinematic sundae however would have to be the absolutely mesmerizing work done by the iconic Vangelis in terms of the musical accompaniment. Indeed ever since his iconic work in both Chariots of Fire and Blade Runner, I have admired this truly one of a kind composer and the musical vision he brings to a film and here is definitely no different. I mean not only is the score for The Bounty one that, right from the word go, manages to lure you into the story, but then proceeds to become at different points a beautiful blend of uneasy, poignant, and wistful all wrapped into one. Suffice it to say that it is gorgeous work from a composer who definitely deserves more recognition than he gets at times. With all of that praise however, this is still sadly by no means a perfect cinematic affair. For instance, this is one slice of cinema that I definitely feel could have benefited from a longer runtime than the 131-minute runtime, including credits, that it finds itself being saddled with. Not just because the overall narrative at times does feel a bit on the rushed side, but because there are quite a few moments let alone characters amongst the cast that could’ve been properly fleshed out if the runtime had been expanded even 20-30 more minutes. As it is, the work done behind the camera on this film is to be sure really freaking good, but it also could have been a heck of a lot better than what we are given in the final product as well.

Of course, the other big element that helps to keep this cinematic voyage afloat would undoubtedly have to be the work done by the phenomenally talented cast of players in front of the camera as well. Without a doubt in my mind, I feel that this has to start with the work done by Anthony Hopkins and Mel Gibson in the lead roles of William Bligh and Fletcher Christian respectively. Indeed in regards to the work done by the former, there is no denying that Anthony Hopkins is a titan of the silver screen and in the role of Bligh, he manages to give us a fairly nuanced and quite riveting performance. Yes his take on Bligh does eventually contain the bullying and seemingly tyrannical nature that the other takes on this infamous individual showcased. With that said though, Hopkins also makes sure to show us that his take on Bligh can be a genuine human being to say nothing of possessing a sense of decency, ambition, and even brilliance toward his chosen career path in life that, by film’s end, will undoubtedly leave you in awe of what he is able to accomplish. Suffice it to say it is a wonderfully intricate turn and one that Hopkins pulls off beautifully. The same I feel can also be said for what Gibson brings to the role of Fletcher Christian. I say this because in previous cinematic takes on this character, Christian is usually presented as the hero of the story who saves the day from the “wicked and tyrannical Capt. Bligh”. In this film however, Gibson does a terrific job at giving us a take on the guy who yes is still a decent and affable enough chap, but who also in quite a few respects is a far less sympathetic individual than those other takes made him out to be. Suffice it to say that both Hopkins and Gibson give such powerful turns here that don’t be surprised if you find yourself unsure of who really to root for as the movie goes on. Alongside the terrific work done by Hopkins and Gibson in the lead roles respectively, this slice of cinema also reinforces their performances with a gallery of compelling support performances. This starts with screen icon Daniel Day-Lewis who, as John Fryer, does a terrific job at giving us a character that feels very much like the British Navy equivalent to Frank Burns from M*A*S*H right down to Frank’s distinct condescending attitude. In other words: you might find yourself saddened by what happens to a lot of the characters, but certainly not this one. Alongside Day-Lewis, this film also has another absolute legend in its cast of players in the form of Laurence Olivier as Admiral Hood. Yes he maybe only has about 20-30 minutes of screentime tops in this (due to being a part of the scenes interspersed throughout where he and the other judges are interrogating Bligh about the events that led up to his court martial), but Olivier does a wonderful job at giving this character a blend of gentle humor, fairness, inquisitiveness, and decency all rolled into one individual. Suffice it to say it is a winning effort from a talent who was known for always bringing his A-game to any part he played no matter how big or small his amount of screentime turned out to be. Suffice it to say that when you also include wonderful work from such talents as the always engaging Edward Fox, Future Child-Kidnapping Preventor Liam Neeson, Bernard Hill, Philip Davis, Simon Chandler, Andrew Wilde, Richard Graham, Neil Morrissey, and future director of 2019’s Rocketman Dexter Fletcher among others it’s clear that the majority might not be given much in the way of characterization, but the performances given by this cast of talent definitely do help to make up for that.

All in all and at the end of the day is The Bounty a perfect cinematic cruise by any stretch of the imagination? Sadly, as much as I would love to say that I must confess that this sadly is not the case though certainly not for lack of effort by any stretch of the imagination. At the same time however, does that make this the worst cinematic cruise since the 2010 Asylum disaster (in both genre as well as overall execution) film Titanic II? Thankfully, I can also say that is not the case though I have yet to see anything as bad as that (and I hope I never have to). To be sure, this is one slice of cinema that definitely could have benefitted from a longer runtime than it is ultimately given since it does feel like some events have placed more of an emphasis on than others. Along with that, a lot of the characters in this either aren’t really given much in the way of characterization so as to distinguish them from everyone else or just get a scene or two and then unexpectedly disappear from the rest of the film. With that said though, the direction is solid, the camerawork is top-notch, the soundtrack is nothing short of riveting, the work done by the costume department is spot-on, some of the support performances are actually really good even if the characters themselves are a bit on the one-note side, and the lead performances by Anthony Hopkins and Mel Gibson as Bligh and Christian respectively are not only top caliber acting wise, but also in regard to presenting these two men less as either an archetypal hero or villain, but rather the mix of both that the historical record has shown them to be. Suffice it to say then that The Bounty might not be the best of the best when it comes to riveting maritime period pieces to say nothing of entries in its creative team’s various filmographies, but thankfully there is a lot here to both keep it afloat and even ensure that this is a solidly made little film that you and the history-loving aficionados are sure to enjoy time and time again even IF you find yourself not wanting to travel on a boat for a while with your closest friends for some time after watching it. Make of that dear reader what thou will. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Bounty “84” a solid 4 out of 5.