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This retelling of the classic tale of James Hilton's Utopian lost world plays out amid musical production numbers and pop music. While escaping war-torn China, a group of Europeans crash in the Himalayas, where they are rescued and taken to the mysterious Valley of the Blue Moon, Shangri-La. Hidden from the rest of the world, Shangri-La is a haven of peace and tranquility for world-weary diplomat Richard Conway. His ambitious brother, George, sees it as a prison from which he must escape, even if it means risking his life and bringing destruction to Shangri-La's ancient culture.
For more about Lost Horizon and the Lost Horizon Blu-ray release, see Lost Horizon Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on December 10, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Peter Finch, Liv Ullmann, Sally Kellerman, George Kennedy, Charles Boyer, John Gielgud
Director: Charles Jarrott
» See full cast & crew
Lost Horizon Blu-ray Review
Shangri-La dee da.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, December 10, 2012
Lost Horizon isn't just a guilty pleasure of mine, it's something of a guilty obsession. For years I sought out the reportedly "long lost" sequences that had been quickly excised after the disastrous roadshow premiere of the film, ultimately getting a VHS (!) copy of the old laserdisc which presented some of the material in pretty shoddy form. I also managed to get a rare promo release of Burt Bacharach singing the entire score, printed on blue vinyl. Another promo record ultimately entered my collection featuring early mixes of the final score which in some ways differ rather markedly from those used in the final film. I long treasured the original Bell Records soundtrack LP (and snapped up the needle drop CD as soon as I first laid eyes on it), but have also gotten a wide variety of sometimes hysterically funny cover albums that were released around the time of the film's theatrical exhibition and which obviously sought to cash in on what was considered to be a sure fire box office sensation. A little over a year ago, I was shocked and thrilled to hear that Columbia Classics MOD was releasing the film on DVD, and was even more shocked and thrilled when that DVD turned out to be a completely restored version featuring all (or at least almost all) of the excised material, with the restored footage looking absolutely fantastic. I was so shocked and thrilled that I actually posted about it in our DVD Forum here. Now little more than a year later, shock has turned to awe as Twilight Time has done the unimaginable and released Lost Horizon on Blu-ray. For any of you needing a ready made guilty pleasure (and/or obsession), look no further.
For those not acquainted with Lost Horizon in any of its many forms, the story concerns an international peacemaker named Richard Conway (Peter Finch) who finds himself, along with several "innocent bystanders", spirited away to a mysterious mountain lamasery where there is no war, no conflict, and where indeed time seems to have stood still for untold millennia. Conway soon discovers that his arrival in Shangri-La is no mere accident, and he must decide whether he should remain in this sequestered environment or attempt to return to the "real world". The others who were dragged along with Conway have a similar decision to make, but all for different reasons.
The idea of making James Hilton's immortal (no pun intended) 1933 novel Lost Horizon into a musical must have seemed like a good idea, and in fact it had been tried previously to this 1973 film, with the ill fated 1956 Broadway musical Shangri-La, an attempt that lasted a lamentable 21 performances despite having a score by the redoubtable Harry Warren, and book and lyrics by Hilton in conjunction with the Tony Award winning team of Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. Maybe producer Ross Hunter wasn't aware of the absolute flop that musical Lost Horizon had been, or maybe he simply thought he had a better hand to play, with then au courant songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David and a starry cast including Peter Finch, Liv Ullmann, Michael York, Olivia Hussey, George Kennedy, Bobby Van, Sally Kellerman, and just for good measure Charles Boyer and John Gielgud. And despite the reputation that has long trailed this Lost Horizon like the wake of detritus after the Titanic sank, early word was quite promising, including a laudatory article in Life Magazine about Ullmann and artists lining up right and left to cover the Bacharach-David score.
Many have placed the perceived flaws of Lost Horizon squarely on the shoulders of director Charles Jarrott, but I for one take exception to that thesis, at least for the most part. Many of these same critics have pointed out that Jarrott virtually apes Frank Capra's 1937 film version shot by shot in the early going (and who would claim to find fault with that version?), and the "hijacking" sequence is also extremely well staged, including a fantastic tracking shot as the plane comes in for refueling. A lot of the Shangri-La sequences are stunning as well, courtesy not just of Jarrott's framings but also due to Robert Surtees' luscious cinematography (see screencap 5 for a particularly gorgeous offering). The performances are uniformly excellent throughout the film, some of which must certainly be attributable to Jarrott's helping hand. Now it's true that Jarrott struggles at times in the musical sequences. "The World is a Circle" is obviously meant to mimic the ebullience of "Do Re Mi" from The Sound of Music, but Jarrott decides (unwisely, in my opinion) to let the actors do all the moving rather than his camera, which remains steadfastly bolted to the ground for the most part. Other sequences, like the disastrous "Fertility Dance" that is restored in this edition (and which certain "experts" insisted was forever lost at the time of the laserdisc release) simply can't overcome the devastatingly bad choreography of Hermes Pan. Pan in fact is one of the major detriments to this production, though even he tries to invest some numbers (like "Share the Joy") with a modicum of grace.
So what is it about this film that strikes so many as so inherently wrong? Forgive me my trespasses, for I am about to state some heresy: I think the main fault in Lost Horizon is the anachronistically contemporary sounding song score by Bacharach and David. Now, I am a huge Bacharach fan (I admittedly have had some niggling qualms with the late David's trendy lyric writing from time to time). I've conducted Bacharach shows, I've arranged a lot of Bacharach material for a number of singers and as I've often joked through the years, "No one does major sevenths as well as Burt Bacharach". But Lost Horizon is about a timeless place. In that regard, Bacharach's score is squarely of its era, despite some obvious attempts to aggrandize his approach (some of that due to the sweeping orchestrations of Jack Hayes and Leo Shuken). Bacharach obviously knew what he wanted to depict musically, and he attempts at times to introduce "Eastern" motifs to various effect throughout the film (note the evocative use of minor ninths throughout "Share the Joy", with an unusual modulation from Em to C#m right off the bat that creates some interesting tonal ambiguity). But a lot of the score, as winning as it may be (and I absolutely love most of the songs in Lost Horizon) simply doesn't work within the context of a place divorced from the contemporary world. Nowhere is this more evident than in what is arguably the low point of the film, the hysterically inept "Living Together, Growing Together" production number. Ironically this was the one song that had any real chart action outside of the film, courtesy of a minor hit version by the Fifth Dimension.
Still I think Lost Horizon really hasn't been given its due over the years. The film was butchered shortly after its premiere and disappeared quickly from multiplexes even in its redacted form. The failure of the film famously brought about the dissolution of the storied Bacharach-David collaboration (at least for a while), and with such zingers as Bette Midler's infamous "I never miss a Liv Ullmann musical" ringing in our collective ears, it's been easy to dismiss Lost Horizon as an overblown case study in camp. I personally think that's giving the film short shrift. Yes, some of it is absolutely God-awful, including some of the Hermes Pan choreography. But a lot of the film is moving and heartfelt. Even the ultra contemporary sounding score has its moments, notably some of the quieter songs like "I Come to You" and "I Might Frighten Her Away", both of which are absolutely lovely ballads and among Bacharach's sturdiest melodies.
Lost Horizon's enduring message of longing for a place beyond the tumult of our everyday world seems more relevant than ever. This gargantuan Ross Hunter production may have missed the figurative boat in some salient ways, but there's still a lot of meaning to be found in Hilton's eloquence, no matter how gussied up with singing and dancing it's been delivered.
Lost Horizon Blu-ray, Video Quality
Lost Horizon is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Twilight Time with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.40:1. My hunch is this must be the same master that Columbia Classics utilized for their MOD DVD last year; I had a sneaking suspicion it was an HD master based on the clarity of the image, and I'm now more convinced than ever. This also puts the lie to those who spout "insider knowledge" about elements being "permanently lost" when no such thing has happened. For years the prevailing wisdom was that the sequences excised from Lost Horizon after its roadshow premiere were gone forever, but they're obviously here, intact, and looking just fantastic. (There is perhaps— emphasis on perhaps—one brief reprise of "Living Together, Growing Together" missing, right at the edit where George Kennedy's water delivery system is introduced.) The image here is very sharp and well detailed for the most part, though some midrange shots show a somewhat soft ambience, especially toward the middle of the frame, strangely enough. Colors are bright and vivid, if just slightly red tinged some of the time. Robert Surtees' glorious cinematography pops with a lot of clarity and precision here, though the increased resolution of the Blu-ray does reveal some of the literal seams in things like matte paintings (see screencap 1 for a potent example).
Lost Horizon Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Lost Horizon features a great sounding lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that very ably supports both the dialogue and sung moments of the film. (If you're a true Lost Horizon freak, you know that Columbia Classics MOD mistakenly released the first batch of DVDs with only a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix, despite advertising a 5.1 mix. To their credit, they quickly corrected the error and released a new batch with a nice sounding Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. And, yes, of course I have both.) The surround activity here is probably a bit on the conservative side, though the Bacharach score regularly spills into the side and rear channels. There are some great foley effects however that do populate the surrounds, notably the whistling winds the intrepid survivors encounter as they make their way to Shangri-La. Fidelity is excellent and dynamic range is quite wide for a musical.
Lost Horizon Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
All but one of the extra features from the Columbia Classics MOD DVD have been ported over to this release (the longer Ross Hunter featurette is missing), along with some new items.
Lost Horizon Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Lost Horizon helped pound the nail in the coffin of what was already a dying genre in Hollywood, but time has been rather kind to this oft-derided film. Is it some forgotten masterpiece? Hardly. But it's a good sight better than you've probably been led to believe. The principal cast is all outstanding, the story is still sound and meaningful and at least a few of the musical moments really have some emotional depth and resonance. Somewhere Bette Midler is probably placing an order for this Blu-ray right now. Recommended.
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Lost Horizon Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Twilight Time Blu-rays for September and October - August 8, 2012
Twilight Time has revealed its Blu-ray selections for November and December. The newly announced Blu-rays include The Rains of Ranchipur, Bonjour Tristesse, Beloved Infidel, The Blue Lagoon, and Lost Horizon. The Rains of Ranchipur and Bonjour Tristesse street ...
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