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Chariots of Fire(1981)
The story of two British track athletes, one a determined Jew, and the other a devout Christian who compete in the 1924 Olympics.
For more about Chariots of Fire and the Chariots of Fire Blu-ray release, see Chariots of Fire Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on July 3, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Director: Hugh Hudson
Writer: Colin Welland
Starring: Ben Cross, Ian Charleson, Nicholas Farrell, Nigel Havers, Ian Holm, John Gielgud
» See full cast & crew
Chariots of Fire Blu-ray Review
The Running Men.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, July 3, 2012
There were only two sure fire guaranteed reactions I could count on in my long career of playing piano in lounges and cruise ships: if I launched into Vince Guaraldi's "Linus and Lucy" from the Peanuts television specials, a hush would fall on the crowd and I could be certain of two or three minutes of rapt listening; and if I played Vangelis' iconic theme from Chariots of Fire someone somewhere would instantly start "slow motion running", even if they were sitting down at the time. This hugely popular film has so entered the general public consciousness that even the opening few notes of Vangelis' Academy Award winning theme instantly bring to mind visions of runners seemingly floating across a beach in slow motion, a rather odd associative proclivity given the fact that Vangelis' score was a synth-heavy, ultra-80s sounding endeavor while the film itself was an evocative recreation of several years spanning the late teens to the mid twenties of the twentieth century. The epic historical film had fallen largely out of favor in the 1970s, but it's rather interesting that the British reinvented the genre rather dramatically with Chariots of Fire in 1981 and Gandhi in 1982. Chariots of Fire is by far the more intimate film, if less historically epochal than Sir Richard Attenborough's account of India's guiding prophet of independence. However, the films share a certain tether in their portrayal of a British Empire dealing with social sea changes it can't quite keep its thumb on, whether that be one of its former colonies deciding to cut the figurative umbilical cord, or in this instance, the personal dramas of two radically different athletes who ended up each earning Gold Medals for Britain in the Olympic Games of 1924.
Chariots of Fire rather evocatively (and not always rosily so) recreates the distinct class consciousness of 1920s Cambridge as Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross), a Jew with a penchant for running, shows up to study and instantly rubs up against an incipient, if reserved (in that oh, so British fashion) anti-Semitism. Meanwhile in Scotland Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) discovers that while his penchant for running gains him near heroic status among a lot of his kinsman, his younger sister Jennie (Cheryl Campbell) is adamantly against her brother continuing his hobby as it will keep him from the family's "trade" of missionary work in China. Screenwriter Colin Welland does an exceptional job of quickly introducing both Abrahams and Liddell, as well as several supporting characters who will factor into the story as it goes along, managing to quickly inform the audience as to the duo's basic motivating principles as well as to the obstacles each of them in their own way faces.
The film is a rather potent albeit quite subtle examination of prevailing attitudes, even if it's wrapped up in a more or less conventional sports story. Therefore we get hints of the almost genetic anti-Semitism that colors an elder generation's view of Jews when an imperious college master (John Gielgud, who would trump Ian Holm from this film for the 1981 Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his hilarious turn in Arthur) tries to convince Abrahams that undergoing training to better himself wouldn't be "gentlemanly", when of course the real subtext here is that no one thinks a Jew should ever become good enough to represent the nation in an Olympic Games. (Holm portrays the trainer who takes Abrahams under his wing and helps develop his talents for the Olympics.)
While Liddell, a devout Christian, doesn't encounter that kind of discrimination, he's in for his own brand of trouble when his religious devotion keeps him from competing on Sundays, something that turns out to be a major (if somewhat fictionalized) plot point in Chariots of Fire. (It's interesting to contrast Liddell's decision with another famous decision—by a Jew—when Sandy Koufax refused to pitch the opening game of the 1965 World Series because it fell on the Jewish High Holy Day of Yom Kippur.) Liddell finds himself a social pariah when his deeply held beliefs put him at odds with a ruling class that sees him as one of its best chances to bring home Gold from the Games. This plays as a rather nice flip side to Liddell's arguments with his sister, who finds his emphasis on running deplorable (since it supposedly keeps him from worshiping God), to which Liddell calmly replies that running is in a very real way sacred to him and a way of worshiping his Creator who saw fit to give him this talent.
Chariots of Fire is an impeccably handsome film, one suffused with a certain British reticence, but also one that seethes with passion, albeit passion kept nicely tucked just beneath the surface. One might not think that a film this Anglo-centric would have much universal appeal, and yet the film went on to become a box office sensation and ended up winning four Oscars that year, including Best Picture. The film is incredibly heartfelt and manages to craft an engaging story of unlikely rivals who become friends and even comrades, even as they each deal with different kinds of religious prejudice ("prejudice" in its purest sense, as in pre-judging). The film manages to work in some piquant commentary on religion and even the pseudo-religion of sports, while at the same time focusing on the triumph of the spirit that Abrahams and Liddell each in their own way embodied.
Chariots of Fire Blu-ray, Video Quality
Chariots of Fire is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Warner Brothers with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.78:1. A lot of this film was purposefully shot in diffuse light with soft focus, and that may lead some to believe that this transfer is less than exceptional. It isn't. This is yet another gorgeously cinematic experience from Warner, a studio which consistently seems to recognize the value in doing the best possible job with its catalog assets. The elements here are in wonderfully excellent shape, and David Watkin's gorgeous cinematography, which more often than not utilized natural lighting schemes, is presented without any noticeable digital tweaking. Grain remains natural, and no egregious digital sharpening or noise reduction is on display. Colors are wonderfully well saturated and the image is decidedly sharper and more precise than it's even been on home video (the uptick is immediately noticeable from the first frames, with the beach scene finally popping with a clarity that was previously like visual mush, especially in the wide shots). There are some minor stability issues on the usual suspects like costumes made of tweed or even stair banisters and the like, but generally this is an incredibly sharp and pleasing transfer that offers abundant fine detail, strong contrast (with the understanding that some of the film is quite dark due to some of those natural lighting conditions) and a very commendable filmic appearance.
Chariots of Fire Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Chariots of Fire features a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that may strike some as being uncharacteristically reserved for a sports oriented film. While it can't be denied that the mix does tend to favor the front channels, several key sequences nicely open up into the surrounds, including several of the running segments and scenes which feature large, boisterous crowds. The surround channels probably are most clearly exploited by the interesting Vangelis score, a contemporary achievement that would seem to be completely "wrong" for and at odds with a film like this, but which works amazingly well nonetheless. It's even more remarkable when you consider that the film also works in all sorts of source cues, including a copious amount of Gilbert and Sullivan, but things still sound coherent and consistent. Fidelity is very strong in this presentation, with dialogue well prioritized and cleanly presented.
Chariots of Fire Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Chariots of Fire Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Chariots of Fire is one of the smartest films about athletes that's ever been made. Liddell and Abrahams make for two extremely articulate heroes, and as they comment about their various trials and tribulations, the film manages to work in a whole critique of British society even as it manages rather improbably to be a "rah rah" flag waving celebration of British "superiority". The film is impeccably well crafted and remains one of the most handsome films of its era, full of epic sweep but always staying focused on its main characters. This Blu-ray offers excellent video and audio and a nice mix of new and returning supplements. Highly recommended.
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• Chariots of Fire Blu-ray (Updated) - March 30, 2012
This summer, Warner Home Entertainment will bring Chariots of Fire to Blu-ray. Director Hugh Hudson's sports drama stars Ben Cross (Star Trek) and Ian Charleson (Gandhi) as two British sprinters competing in the 1924 Olympics. Chariots of Fire streets on July ...
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