A few reviews back I wrote about how interesting it is to revisit a film I watched once many years ago and haven’t seen since. It is a far different experience than viewing a new film, an old film one has never seen, or even an older film one has watched repeatedly. Chariots of Fire was another such movie for me, and it has not aged a day. Hit the jump for my review of Chariots of Fire on Blu-ray.
For the handful of you who may not yet have viewed the 1981 Oscar Best Picture winner, Chariots of Fire follows two runners, Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) and Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson), as they train and eventually win gold medals for Great Britain in the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris. What sets the film apart from other sports movies, is the intersection of Abrahams and Liddell’s running with their individual faiths. Besides the desire, ability and pure living to run, Abrahams runs for acceptance as a Jew in Christian London (specifically, Cambridge University), while Liddell struggles to reconcile his running with his Christian beliefs and mission.
I first saw Chariots of Fire as a boy living in East Africa, one of only two movies I saw in my two years there when the International School of Moshi acquired the new—and in Tanzania, where at that time even many affluent people did not even have a TV, exceedingly rare—device known as a VCR. Indeed, my only truly distinct memory from that viewing is of the iconic opening scene (one of the most iconic in movie history) of the British team running on the beach with the equally iconic main theme by Vangelis Papathanassiou playing over it.
And I believe that indelible image sums up the enduring nature of this movie perfectly. Few films leave so permanent a mark. Chariots of Fire is intricately written, brilliantly acted and acutely directed, to which four Oscar wins and three additional nominations attest. What more can you ask?
Obviously, this new Blu-ray release has been timed to coincide with the 2012 London Summer Olympics, consider the subject matter, deluxe treatment and lack of other anniversary (31st isn’t generally celebrated, last I checked). The transfer is stunning, one of the best I have seen from the time period; it certainly doesn’t look like the movie was made as long ago as it was. And the special features! Extras have been something with which I have been sorely disappointed lately, whether that be in quality, quantity or, in many cases, both—and all the more so when the disc in question is a Blu-ray.
Chariots of Fire, however, delivers, with a bonus 4-track CD of Vangelis’s music, a 36-page booklet and tons of video. Beyond the requisite commentary track and trailer, these range from deleted scenes to screen tests to featurettes on a wide range of subjects. These include “Wings on the Their Heels: The Making of Chariots of Fire,” “Chariots of Fire: A Reunion” (bring back together several key personnel to discuss the film in retrospect), “Sprint Around the Quad” & “Famous Opening Shot” (reminiscences of production on two of the most famous sequences), “David Puttnam, A Cinematic Champion” & “Hugh Hudson: Journey to the Gold”, and “Paris, 1924: Birth of the Modern Games” (about the 8th Olympiad’s particular place in the modern Olympics history). Ironically, many of these were obviously recorded for a previous release (or special) due to their being in standard definition, yet still are superior in content to the slickly but mechanically produced featurettes of modern movies.
In summation, Chariots of Fire…a triumph then, a triumph now.