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A group of outcasts from different backgrounds/nationalities are forced by misfortune to work in a remote oil drilling operation in South America. When fire breaks out of control, four of the outcasts are given the opportunity to earn enough money to get out by transporting six crates of unstable dynamite through miles of jungle in two ancient trucks. Will they succeed and regain their honor and citizenship, or get blown up for their efforts?
For more about Sorcerer and the Sorcerer Blu-ray release, see Sorcerer Blu-ray Review published by Michael Reuben on April 19, 2014 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Roy Scheider, Peter Capell, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal, Friedrich von Ledebur, Joe Spinell
Director: William Friedkin
» See full cast & crew
Sorcerer Blu-ray Review
A Long Time Ago Somewhere Else Far, Far Away . . .
Reviewed by Michael Reuben, April 19, 2014
William Friedkin's Sorcerer has grown in reputation since its disastrous release in 1977, but the film had nowhere to go but up. Bedeviled by production delays and cost overruns, Sorcerer was a gift to everyone in Hollywood who was eagerly waiting for Friedkin to fail, after back-to-back hits with The French Connection and The Exorcist. Almost as if he were deliberately courting failure, Friedkin set out to remake Henri-Georges Clouzot's 1953 masterpiece, The Wages of FearŚthough Friedkin insists that his film is "a totally original scenario, not a remake"Ś and to do so on location in some of the most difficult conditions imaginable. Director, cast and crew braved bad weather, unexpected drought, a terrorist attack and dangers galore to capture some of the most realistic footage of jeopardy every filmed. But Sorcereráhad the bad luck to be released at the same time as a surprise blockbuster called Star Wars, a film that irrevocably altered the public's conception of the moviegoing experience Śand it had nothing to do with gritty realism. People who bought tickets to a film called Sorcerer, prominently advertised as "from the director of The Exorcist", expected to see something fantastic and mystical. Instead, they were served a downbeat thriller about desperate men in impossible circumstances. Several major theaters, including Mann's Chinese in Hollywood, replaced Sorcerer with a return engagement of Star Wars after only a week, because Friedkin's film was playing to empty houses. It didn't help that, with a few exceptions, the critical reaction was savage. Over time, though, the very qualities that alienated early viewers have gained Sorcerer a devoted following. Like another passion project of the same era, Apocalypse Now, also shot on location, over budget and behind schedule, the film has a unique quality that could not have been created under more disciplined circumstances (and certainly not in today's world of CGI). Whatever their success or failure as commercial properties, these are distinctively personal films that bear their creators' stamp and point of view. Love 'em or hate 'em, there's nothing else like them. Unlike many troubled films of the Seventies, Sorcerer did not benefit from the home video revolution. Part of the problem was confusion over who controlled the rights. The issue was only recently resolved as a result of legal action by Friedkin, which is why this restored version can now be released on Blu-ray.
Sorcerer was scripted by Walon Green (The Wild Bunch) with Friedkin's participation. Friedkin later conceded that neither of them read Georges Arnaud's 1950 novel on which the Clouzot film was based, because there was no English translation. They simply borrowed the story and created new characters. In a style that recalls The Exorcist, the film begins with apparently unrelated events in different parts of the world. These sequences are usually referred to as "prologues". In Veracruz, a man who will later be identified as Nilo (Francisco Rabal) shoots an unidentified apartment dweller in what appears to be a professional hit. In Jerusalem, terrorists stage a bombing; the only one who escapes is Kassem (Amidou). In Paris, businessman Victor Manzon (Bruno Cremer) faces ruin and scandal amidst accusations of fraud. In Elizabeth, New Jersey, four armed and masked men rob a Catholic church of its bingo collections, but the driver of the getaway car, Jackie Scanlon (Roy Scheider), loses control and crashesŚspectacularlyŚkilling every robber but himself. The church is under the protection of mob boss Carlo Ricci (Cosmo Allegretti), who puts out a contract on Scanlon. Months later, all four men are fugitives who end up in a South American hell hole called Porvenir, where they eke out a meager living working for an American oil company. Desperate to get out, none of them can afford fake passports. The work permit that Scanlon uses, under the name "Dominguez", is of such poor quality that the local police can easily shake him down for a third of his salary. Their opportunity for a payday arrives when one of the company's wells ignites into a fireball, courtesy of an insurgent bomb. If the fire cannot be promptly extinguished, the company will simply declare the facility a loss and close it down, which is an outcome its manager, Corlette (Ramon Bieri), cannot accept. He offers a huge bonus for four drivers willing to risk their lives to drive two trucks 218 miles overland to the burning well, carrying enough dynamite to put out the fire. The drivers have to be highly skilled, because the dynamite was improperly stored and is leaking nitroglycerine. Too much vibration, and it will explode. After qualifying test drives and some last-minute changes, the two trucks depart with three cases each of explosive (packed with sand all around to absorb vibration) and driven by teams of two: Scanlon/Dominguez accompanied by Nilo, and Manzon (now known as "Serrano") accompanied by Kassem. Everyone knows that not all of them will make it. Sorcerer's dialogue is minimal. It's a film about physical action, whether the mechanics of a robbery, the laborious preparation of the two trucks (named "Sorcerer" and "Lazaro") for their journey, or the grueling challenges of the trip. The film's most memorable set pieces occur during the journey. One is a perilous crossing over a rickety suspension bridge that makes the one in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom look sturdy by comparison. The sequence alone accounted for several million dollars of extra cost, especially after the river over which the bridge was initially built dried up and the rig had to be disassembled and relocated. Another set piece involves the painstaking removal of a huge tree blocking the road; Kassem's background as a maker of bombs turns out to be a valuable skill. Yet a third critical sequence concerns a gang of bandits who attempt to hijack one of the trucks. It's understandable that audiences in 1977 were more intrigued by the novelty of lightsabers and TIE fighters, but Friedkin's sequences haven't aged a day since he shot them. They still have the raw physicality of real actors driving real trucks and frequently risking life and limb (which they often were). No one would be crazy enough to replicate these feats today, even if insurance companies would let them, which makes Sorcerer a unique experience. Friedkin wanted to put raw desperation on the screen, and he succeededŚperhaps in more ways than he imagined.
Sorcerer Blu-ray, Video Quality
Friedkin has said repeatedly that the negative of Sorcerer is in excellent shape but that the colors have faded. In a letter included with the Blu-ray, he thanks Ned Price, Warner's Vice President of Mastering, for making "a new film out of an old one". The colorist for the transfer was Bryan McMahan, currently at Modern VideoFilm, who has worked on Friedkin's projects for years. The results of these efforts, as reflected on Warner's 1080p, AVC-encoded Blu-ray, are astonishing. No one will mistake Sorcerer for a film shot yesterday, but it has a clarity, depth and detail rarely encountered in films shot documentary-style (and often handheld) almost forty years ago. The worn metal and rubber of the two trucks, the lush density of the undergrowth, the sweat and grime on the faces of the men, the rotting deterioration of the suspension bridgeŚall these can be seen in a way that has never been possible on any previous home video version. So can the driving rain that makes the suspension bridge crossing even more perilous, as well as numerous visual details of the oil rigs, the workers' living quarters and the various locales in the prologues. The color palette has been carefully controlled so that it "pops" only in select scenes. Sunny Jerusalem reveals bright colors, as does Paris (known as "the City of Light"), whereas New Jersey and Veracruz are both duller. The fireball of the oil well explosion is bright orange, and the jungle between the company facility and the well favors bright green. A final leg of the trip proceeds through a ghostly landscape resembling the moon, but filled with odd hues from the night sky. Blacks are solid, and contrast is never overstated. The image has a healthy-looking grain pattern, though the amount of grain will probably be too much for some viewers and not enough for others. The average bitrate of 17.99 Mbps seems shockingly low for a film of this length (122 minutes), visual complexity and importance. After all the extensive restoration work, couldn't Warner have sprung for a BD-50? Still, no notable compression errors appear at a screen size of 72". Perhaps they will reveal themselves at larger sizes, but until then I am rating the video according to what I saw.
Sorcerer Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Sorcerer was released in stereo, but the soundtrack has been "reimagined" (in Friedkin's term) by Aaron Levy of Todd-Soundelux, who worked on Friedkin's Bug and Killer Joe. The 5.1 remix is presented on Blu-ray in lossless DTS-HD MA, and it is excellent. The rear channels are used sparingly but effectively; when planes fly over the oil company facility, you hear them pass from front to rear or vice versa. The driving rain surrounds the listener with its fury. Explosions and crashes register powerfully, with deep bass extension. The engines of the two trucks, each with a distinctive roar created by original sound designer Randy Thom, rumble across the front soundstage. The dialogue, minimal though it is, is clear enough when it's in English and subtitled when it's in Spanish, French or, occasionally, German. The electronic score by Tangerine Dream might seem dated, except that its otherworldly quality suits the film's mood, and the mix prevents the score from overwhelming the sound effects. The action always remains foremost.
Sorcerer Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The only extra is the DigiBook packaging, which includes stills from the film and an extensive excerpt from Friedkin's memoir, The Friedkin Connection. The lack of extras is no doubt attributable to the fact that, Warner, the studio releasing Sorcerer on Blu-ray, was not involved in its production and had no access to deleted scenes, dailies or other materials typically utilized in creating special features for home video, assuming such items were even preserved. Friedkin has also included a letter to viewers acknowledging the key personnel involved in the restoration and thanking fans for their loyalty.
Sorcerer Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Friedkin has repeatedly (and perhaps imprudently) said that he didn't get the cast he wanted for Sorcerer. He originally wanted Steve McQueen to play Roy Scheider's part, and if McQueen had done the film, he would have been joined by Marcello Mastroianni and Lino Ventura playing Manzon and Nilo. Even after McQueen dropped out, followed by Mastroianni and Ventura, Friedkin reportedly pursued a major star for Scanlon, asking Clint Eastwood and Jack Nicholson, among others. Despite the success of Jaws, Scheider was never a box office draw, and Friedkin considered him strictly "second banana" material. (The two had fallen out when Friedkin refused Scheider the part of Father Karras in The Exorcist.) Sorcerer might have performed better on initial release with a big name as headliner, but it has aged well precisely because there are no obvious stars making an effort to "de-glam" for a role into which they can never completely disappear. Over the course of the film, Scheider and his co-stars effectively become the men who are so far over the edge that they'd actually take on the suicide mission of driving trucks packed with nitroglycerine 218 miles over wild and treacherous terrain. Their believability and commitment to such a lunatic project is a big part of what makes Sorcerer fascinating to watch. Despite the lack of extras and low bitrate, highly recommended.
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Sorcerer Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Sorcerer Blu-ray - Exclusive Giveaway - April 21, 2014
Blu-ray.com and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment are offering members the opportunity to win a copy of William Friedkin's Sorcerer (1977) signed by the filmmaker. The film stars Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal and Amidou, and arrives on Blu-ray on April ...
• This Week on Blu-ray: April 22-29 - April 20, 2014
For the week of April 22nd, Warner Home Entertainment is bringing William Friedkin's Sorcerer to Blu-ray. Other Tuesday titles include two Warner noirs - the 1971 Mike Hodges classic Get Carter and its 2000 remake of the same name - Magnolia Pictures' Big Bad Wolves, ...
• Sorcerer (1977) Blu-ray - January 6, 2014
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has officially announced the Blu-ray release of William Friedkin's Sorcerer, starring Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal and Amidou. The cult suspense thriller that has been largely overlooked since its 1977 release, but ...
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