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In order to keep from being sent to fight in the Mexican War, an American soldier travels west and begins to live as a hermit. An elderly trapper takes him in and teaches him what he needs to know to survive in the wilderness. He takes a Native American wife and they adopt a child, but their idyllic existence is spoiled when he becomes entangled in a vendetta with the local Crow Indians.
For more about Jeremiah Johnson and the Jeremiah Johnson Blu-ray release, see Jeremiah Johnson Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on April 25, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Robert Redford, Will Geer, Delle Bolton, Joaquin Martinez, Allyn Ann McLerie, Stefan Gierasch
Director: Sydney Pollack
» See full cast & crew
Jeremiah Johnson Blu-ray Review
"Were it worth the trouble?" Jeremiah cocks his head at the old man: "what trouble?"
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, April 25, 2012
As 1969 gave way to 1970, the late Sydney Pollack, The Scalphunters under his belt, turned his gaze to the Rocky Mountains and all the blood and grandeur that accompanied the region's grisly frontier history. The resulting film, a quiet and withdrawn Western loosely based on the life of fabled mountain man Liver-Eatin' Johnson, has as much to say in its silence as it does when its reclusive Mexican War-veteran-turned-trapper opens his mouth. More than a beautifully shot saga of a lonely mountain man who briefly finds some measure of contentment, though, the aptly titled Jeremiah Johnson is a ballad of isolation, retribution and woe as channeled through Hemingway and penned with restraint by screenwriter John Milius (Apocalypse Now, Conan the Barbarian). And while it isn't as essential a mid-to-late 20th Century Western as Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch or as poignant or powerful a revenge tale as Clint Eastwood's The Outlaw Josey Wales, Pollack's sixth film has been tragically overlooked and all but forgotten in recent years.
His name was Jeremiah Johnson. They say he wanted to be a mountain man. The story goes that he was a man of proper wit and adventurous spirit, suited to the mountains. Nobody knows where he came from and it don't seem to matter much. He was a young man, and ghostly stories about the tall hills don't scare him none. He was looking for a Hawkin gun, 50 caliber or better. He settled for a 30, but damn, it was a genuine Hawkin. You couldn't do no better. Bought a horse, traps and other truck that went with being a mountain man. And said goodbye to whatever life was down below.
The reason for Jeremiah Johnson's self-imposed exile is never made entirely clear, nor is the reason the mountains called to someone with such little experience. Difficult as it is to start anew, though, Johnson (Robert Redford, solemn and steely) makes his way into the wilderness without a guide, a fishing rod, or a means of proper survival. There, fate -- or perhaps God, much as Jeremiah would dismiss the thought -- sees fit to bless Johnson. He finds a new rifle in the hands of a dead man, survives his first encounter with a Crow chief (Joaquín Martínez as Paints His Shirt Red), and makes the acquaintance of a wily old grizzly hunter that calls himself Bear Claw (Will Geer). The old man soon takes Johnson under his wing, teaching him the lay of the land and the tricks of the mountain man trade. And yet he moves on, ever the loner. Fate intervenes twice more: first, at the site of an Indian attack where a grief-stricken widow (Allyn Ann McLerie) leaves Jeremiah with little choice but to take in her youngest son, a near-catatonic boy he names Caleb (Josh Albee), and a second time when, again, he's left with little choice but to marry a Flathead Indian princess named Swan (Delle Bolton).
With his patchwork family in tow, Jeremiah reluctantly travels north, unsure of what to do or what to make of a woman who doesn't understand English and a boy too traumatized to speak. But it isn't long before Jeremiah begins developing genuine affection for both of them, and they for him. The trio build a cabin, hunt in the wild, and carve out a nice life for themselves... until fate comes calling one more time. Not that its cruelest intervention comes as much of a surprise. A sense of dread and inevitable tragedy hang heavy over the Johnson homestead from the outset, and when it finally arrives it does so like an unwelcome but long overdue guest. All the while, Redford nurtures Jeremiah's every painful transition -- from soldier to trapper, from outcast to family man, from widower to agent of vengeance -- with gruff frankness and understated dignity, allowing Pollack's blend of humor, pathos and legend to bloom and flower. The film's third act is a far cry from its first, with darker deeds and more serious musings than any Jeremiah endures when he first meets Bear Claw, cackling fiendishly beneath layers of matted fur, or Del Gue (Stefan Gierasch), a wild-eyed mountain man with a shaved head, a knack for trouble and a touch of crazy. Dramatically as its tone tends to shift, though, Pollack keeps a steady hand on the wheel and, in the end, carefully unites the film's episodic parts.
What begins as a Rocky Mountain ballad, one just south of an American tall tale, quickly evolves into a song of one man's struggle against the full fury of nature: his nature, his enemies' nature, the nature of fate and, of course, the natural world, more pitiless and spiteful than his greatest foes. What is it that draws Jeremiah to the mountains? More importantly, once he's familiar with the death, pain and heartache that comes with the territories, why is he compelled to continuing venturing deeper and deeper into the mountains? It isn't a death wish; the Crow warriors that come, one after the other, could easily oblige if that was what he really wanted. It isn't an obsession; he's too willing to adapt and bend to the wilderness's will. It isn't a gnawing hopelessness; his is a driven odyssey, not a cowardly retreat. It isn't a compulsion to overcome either; when asked "were it worth the trouble," he replies, "what trouble?" Whatever it is, Jeremiah feels a kinship with the mountains he doesn't feel with anyone else, and it's that kinship that gives him cause to press on. It's that unspoken bond that bridges the legend and the legendary, the ballad and the tragedy, the man and the mountains, the film and its audience. Jeremiah Johnson isn't the most accessible or timeless classic Western, but it's a classic Western all the same. And it would be a shame for it to fall any further into obscurity. So give it a try. You just might feel the same kinship with the story as Pollack, Milius and Redford, and the same awe of the mountains as Jeremiah Johnson.
Jeremiah Johnson Blu-ray, Video Quality
Don't mistake the softness that comes to bear on Jeremiah Johnson as the product of egregious noise reduction. Pollack's 1972 Western has never been as sharp as a well-kept Bowie knife, and Warner's 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer stays true to Duke Callaghan's original photography. There are minor edge halos, a few instances of soupy grain, and some murky moonlit shots to endure, but, for the most part, the image is quite pleasing. Colors are warm and earthy, blood-red wounds and brilliant blue skies pop, black levels are deep and cavernous, and only a handful of faces appear slightly over-saturated. Otherwise, skintones are lovely (in that early '70s Technicolor sort of way) and contrast, though a touch dark, rarely falters. The film's grainfield is intact too, as are its fine details. Textures aren't always as crisp as they are during closeups, but hair, furs, trapper stitches and the like fare well, edges are nicely defined, and any softness is inherited from the source. Thankfully, the print is pristine, with no serious damage to report. And the same can be said of the encode itself, which doesn't exhibit any significant artifacting, banding, aliasing or other troubling issues. All in all, Jeremiah Johnson's presentation isn't as stunning as Warner's most thorough remasters or ground-up restorations, but there isn't a lot of room for improvement either.
Jeremiah Johnson Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Jeremiah Johnson's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track wisely sticks to its mono roots, retaining the tone and tenor of its '70s sound design, tinny rifle fire, stagy punches, canned horse whinnies and all. The rear speakers are used to enhance the lifeblood of the wilderness and mountains, but only insofar as rusting trees, quiet breezes, cracking twigs, and chirping birds are concerned. The mix remains a front-heavy affair on the whole, and only a few effects -- generally those that occur when Jeremiah and those he meets aren't speaking -- warrant much attention. The same could be said of the LFE channel; it handles its wares well enough, yet only occasionally injects a sense of legitimate weight or power into the experience. Even so, dialogue is clean, clear and intelligible throughout, and only a bit of glaring ADR spoils the goods. Ultimately, I would have preferred a lossless mono track (including both would have been even better), but I doubt anyone will be terribly disappointed with the 5.1 remix as is.
Jeremiah Johnson Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Jeremiah Johnson Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Jeremiah Johnson has all but been forgotten. There are better Westerns, more timeless classics, and more enduring stories after all. But that doesn't mean it should be forgotten. An imperfect classic but a classic just the same, the late Sydney Pollack's sixth film still has plenty to offer modern audiences and hasn't aged as poorly as other widely known and critically hailed Westerns. Thankfully, its Blu-ray release won't give anyone a good reason to pass it over. With a faithful video transfer, a solid DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, an excellent commentary with Pollack, John Milius and Robert Redford, and a tempting price point (that will only fall in the coming months), Jeremiah Johnson has never looked or sounded better. If you have any love of classic Westerns, add this one to your cart today.
Jeremiah Johnson Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Jeremiah Johnson Blu-ray - January 5, 2012
This summer, Warner Home Entertainment will bring Jeremiah Johnson to Blu-ray. Filmmaker Sydney Pollack's classic adventure tale stars Robert Redford (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) as the title character, a veteran of the Mexican War who leaves the military ...
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