*** THIS REVIEW IS FOR THE USA 'BOOK PACK' BLU RAY REISSUE and THE 2 UK VARIANTS ***
Little will prepare fans of "Chariots Of Fire" for this BLU RAY reissue - the picture quality is SENSATIONAL - and for a British film made on a budget in 1981 - that says a lot. Also - re-watching it in 2012 (the year of the 30th Olympiad in England) - it's nice to find that this homage to Sporting achievement and human spirit hasn't lost any of its capacity to stir the soul and bring a tear to the eye. It was nominated for 7 Oscars at the time and won 4 - including Best Picture.
The first thing to note is that even though the print quality and abundant extras are the same for the UK and US versions - they differ greatly in their 'packaging' and there's actually 3 variants of the BLU RAY to choose from. The UK issue comes in two versions - a simple uninspiring plastic clip-case with just 1 disc at around ten pounds (type in barcode 5039036052344 into the Amazon Search Bar) and a second issue with the music CD as well for a few quid more (type in barcode 5039036051163).
This US Warner Brothers version (at about twenty pounds) that I'm reviewing however comes in a beautifully presented 36-page embossed hardback 'Book Pack' (or Digibook as its sometimes called) with an outer page attached to the rear (type in barcode 883929093946 into Amazon). Regardless of which issue you buy or where you live - ALL ARE 'REGION FREE' - so will play on every machine.
The booklet for the US variant is beautiful - featuring articles and pictures on Producer David Puttnam, Director Hugh Hudson and Writer Colin Welland. There's also text and photos on the principal cast members as well as notable supporting roles by John Gielgud, Ian Holm, Alice Krieg and Cheryl Campbell. There's also a page on the huge contribution made by Greek keyboardist VANGELIS - whose musical score has been both revered and parodied in equal measure ever since (most notably in the opening ceremony for the 2012 London Olympics just a few days ago).
This US issue and the UK double also house a 4-track music CD by VANGELIS (13:47 minutes) that features 2006 remasters of "Titles" (A Number 1 US hit in February 1982), "Abraham's Theme", "Eric's Theme" and "Jerusalem" (Vangelis with The Ambrosian Singers).
But the big news is the print - which has been FULLY RESTORED and defaulted to 1.85:1 aspect ratio - thereby filling your entire screen. Even in the notoriously difficult-to-light indoor sequences there is only slight blocking and grain - but on all outdoor scenes (of which there are many) - the clarity is exemplary. The DTS-HD Master Audio is English 5.1 Dolby Digital and Subtitles are English for Hard-Of-Hearing and French. Extras are discussed below...
Taking its name from William Blake's preface to the epic "Milton: A Poem" - it focuses on the team who secured 4 medals for Britain in the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris - in particular the two Gold winners - Eric Liddell for the Men's 400 metres and Harold Abrahams for the Men's 100 meters. Nicholas Farrell (as Aubrey Montague), Nigel Havers (as Lord Andrew Lindsay) and Daniel Gerroll (as Henry Stallard) make up the other runners. Blink and you'll miss them cameos are - two sightings of American Comedienne Ruby Wax as a lady spectator in the Olympic crowds towards the end of the movie and an uncredited Stephen Fry in the "HMS Pinafore" chorus line-up.
Born in China but raised in Edinburgh - Eric Liddell (nick-named "The Flying Scotsman" after the famous steam train) was the son of a devout Missionary - and like his father before him cherished and practiced his religious convictions. Played to perfection by Scotsman Ian Charleson - Liddell often said that he was 'running for God' or 'felt His pleasure' as he speeded around track after track leaving all in his wake. Both King and Country would sorely test these implacable beliefs in Paris when they asked him to run on the Sabbath - and he refused. A little jiggering of racing dates saved face and the day...but it was the measure of the man that he withstood all that pressure and still won...
His principal rival was Harold Abrahams (played with huge gusto by Ben Cross) - a Jewish Cambridge University intellectual determined to deal with society's bigotry towards his kind by crushing all detractors in his path - including Liddell - whom he both feared and admired. But when he finally faces Liddell in a run and looses by a ticker-tape inch - the outsider is crushed. But help is at hand in the shape of an unorthodox Jewish coach called Sam Mussabini (a fabulous turn by veteran actor Ian Holm) who promises to make Harold faster and better (and does).
These indomitable boors inhabit a world of privileged chums wearing boater hats and striped blazers - men who sing Gilbert & Sullivan's "HMS Pinafore" songs with alarming relish. This is Britain after the senseless generation-depleting butchery of World War I - but still with that inbred sense of Empire coursing through their veins. You'd be right in thinking that all this snobbish elitism could become quickly tedious (and it threatens to do so for the first half hour), but the script rightly concentrates on something all the more compelling - their dedication, self-sacrifice and guts. Genuinely inspiring a hurting-country hungry for something noble to celebrate - you could even say they joined Christianity and Judaism on the Sports field for the National good. And on it goes to the 8th Olympics Games in 1924 and a funeral in London in 1978 (making it contemporary).
The wad of extras are superb - modern day interviews with all the protagonists - Ben Cross and Nigel Havers particularly animated and witty and pouring praise on Ian Charleson who sadly passed away in 1990. And again when they use the old stock footage of the film - you see just how glorious the full restoration truly is.
Like "The King's Speech" in so many ways - "Chariots Of Fire" is filled with British pride - but in a good way. This is a story about people worth remembering - their struggles - their heartbreaks and triumphs - their journey. Having not seen it in probably 30 years - I found it moving, inspirational and not in the least bit dated. And now it has the transfer and format it deserves. I know the US version may cost twice as much as the UK issue - but if you can go the few quid - then do so.
When Screenplay Writer Colin Welland accepted his Oscar - he famously announced "The British Are Coming!" Well, they're back...because this really is a fantastic reissue of a great movie.
I'm off now to run in slow motion by the sea and surf with that synth riff pounding through my very tight Speedos...nice!
BLU RAY versions:
UK 1 disc - barcode 5039036052344
UK 2 disc - barcode 5039036051163
USA 2 disc 'Book Pack' - barcode 883929093946
This is a beautiful film, well directed by Hugh Hudson in his theatrical film debut. It features the true life story of two Olympic runners, Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) and Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross), who ran for Great Britain in the 1924 Olympic Games and brought home the Gold.
The film tells the story of these two individuals, who are as different from each other as different can be, and explores their personal drive and reasons for running. Eric Liddell is a staunch Scot and a fervid Presbyterian. The son of a missionary and himself a missionary by avocation, he runs because "God made him fast for a reason". His running is a reconciliation of his faith and his passion. He runs for the glory of God. His faith always remains constant and pre-eminent in his life. His devotion to it causes some controversy during the Olympics, as a consequence of the stance he takes when he discovers that the preliminary mete for the 200 metre race would be held on a Sunday. Liddell simply refuses to run on the Sabbath! Luckily for Great Britain, Lord Andrew Lindsay (Nigel Havers), a gentleman and fellow competitor, graciously steps in and, as he had already won a gold medal in the hurdles, gives him his place in the 400 metre dash, which would take place on a Thursday. This would never happen today in the dog eat dog world of competitive sports, much less in the Olympics of today!
Harold Abrahams is completely different. A secular Jew and Cambridge scholar, he studies in the bastion of upper crust British society, struggling to fit in but always remaining the proverbial outsider. He has a passion for running that is motivated by his passion for winning. In his world, God has nothing to do with it. Winning is merely an affirmation of himself in a world that he believes thinks less of him because he is a Jew. Consequently, his desire to win is superceded only by his fear of losing. When two Cambridge dons, the Master of Trinity, played by the late John Gielgud, along with the Master of Caius, meet with Abrahams, they are concerned that his hiring of a professional personal trainer, Sam Mussabini (Ian Holm), to help him with his running is not quite in keeping with the amateur tradition of the Cambridge gentleman. Implicit in their criticism is an undercurrent of anti-Semitism, one to which Abrahams does not take kindly. It is that moment that defines what makes Abrahams run.
This is ultimately a story about faith. With Liddell, it is about his faith in God. With Abrahams, it is about his faith in himself. Both were propelled to Olympic glory by it. It is a story sublimely told, though a little slow at times. It is not an action type of sports movie. It speaks gently of a time long passed, when the Olympics was truly the bastion of amateurs. It is amazing to see track events of the Olympics of 1924 depicted in all their simplicity...no flash, no glitz, no gimmicks. The runners ran on dirt tracks. They all carried spades in which to dig their footholds for their starting "blocks", something that surprised me. This attention to detail permeates the entire film, and its evocation of a bygone era makes the film linger in one's memory long after it has ended.
Ian Charleson gives a notable performances as Eric Liddell, infusing him with a gentleness and purity of spirit that is compelling, while Ben Cross plays Harold Abrahams with an intensity and singularity of purpose that is riveting. Their stellar performances, as well as those given by the excellent supporting cast, coupled with exquisite cinematography and the excellent direction of Hugh Hudson, make this film worthy of its 1981 Academy Award for Best Picture. The beautiful and soaring, synthesized music of Vangelis also won an Academy Award and went on to become a number one hit in the pop charts in 1982.
on 31 August 2004
The film is, of course wonderful. I will not go over ground covered in the other reviews here, except to say that this is a beautiful, moving and inspiring film. I remember seeing it in my school hall when I was 9 years old and hadn't seen it again until I viewed this DVD. The years have only sderved to improve the film; comparing it to modern movies is a bit like comparing the 1924 Olympiad to Athens 2004- we seem to have lost something wonderful in the interim.
The DVD, however, is terrible. Others have mentioned the sound: this is not an isolated problem. Throughout the film the speech is muddy, the music harsh and distorted. Often there is mismatch between speech and film- an unforgivable offence. For such a beautiful film the picture itself is grainy; although this may be a deliberate cinematic effect (I can't quite believe that!), given that the sound is so bad it is more likely just poor transfer. As for extras, erm... what extras? I'm not usually too bothered but in a film like this, a Best Picture Oscar winner and a historical tale to boot, I would expect a little more, even a short documentary of the true facts, pictures of the athletes or brief biographies of the protagonists would be nice. Particularly galling as that this is billed as a "Special Commemorative Edition" yet is identical to the previous edition bar a cardboard slipcase bearing the words "Commemorative Edition"!; commemorative of what, exactly? 80 years since the events shown? Then why no documentary abut the 1924 Olympics or the development of the Olympic movement? Or perhaps commemorative of this year's (Athens) olympics? I suspect the words "cash" and "in" are involved here.
I can't help but feel that the producers of this DVD have betrayed the ideals which they promote so highly in this film.
2 Kings 6:17 "And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and CHARIOTS OF FIRE round about Elisha." Thus the name came for the movie...
Chariots of Fire is sometimes known as the greatest sports film ever; wether you agree it or not, this film is one of the greatest human drama, inspirational tale, heart-warming saga, and the gem of a film. Everything in the movie is nothing short of greatness. The acting by the talented Ian Charleson, Ben Cross, Ian Holm as Sam Mussabini, Cheryl Campbell as Eric's sister Jennie Liddell, and Alice Krige (misidentified as Sybil Gordon, actually Abrahams' fiancée was Sybil Evers) lived their roles with great perfection. Ian Charleson as Eric Liddell and Ben Cross as Harold Abrahams acted rather lived their roles as they were born for those characters.
The theme and the original score by Vangelis, is another perfect score for this film. Seldom legends come together, this one is an exception. The amazing soundtrack of Vangelis is the doorstep to heaven.
This DVD is a must for everyone's collection, an amazing piece of art, history and sports entwined together.
Now the DVD
Please note, this DVD has great quality and I believe is re-mastered. The quality is much better, but don't expect the sharp colours and high definition display resolutions. Some DVDs on Amazon are VHS to DVD with no subtitles, which often dubbed as poor quality. This DVD is not that one. True, it has a very basic menu but imporved quality picture and a variety of subtitles.
The menu has only three selections.
2. Chapter Selection
3. Language Selection, which is mainly about subtitles
No extra features, which may be the only con in this DVD. Though it's not a big negative for the great re- release of the Chariots of Fire.
Apart from the main language, which is English, The subtitles include Ceske, Suomi, Norsk, Dansk, Hebrew, Polski, Magyar, Portuguese, Islenska, Svenska and English for the Hearing Impaired. In other words, the subtitles are Czech, Danish, Finnish, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, and Swedish
English is the only audio language in this DVD. Audio quality is really good, and improved from the VHS.
Format: PAL Region - 2
Subtitles: Czech, Danish, English (Hard of Hearing), Finnish, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, and Swedish
Audio Language: English
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 - 1.78:1
Number of discs: 1
on 23 November 2011
A most entertaining DVD with the addition of a separate CD of Vangelis music relevant to the film. I am not qualified to comment on the technical aspects of the film,I watch for pleasure. This film delivers the goods plus. I was a little confused by the intial reference in the advert to the "Soundtrack" but it turned out to be a big plus ( although I still have the Vangelis tape that my wife bought me years ago).
on 3 October 2001
EDIT - This refers to the original DVD release - not current releases - and was written in 2001.
Probably one of my favourite films of all time and the film deserves 6 stars!! The cast, acting, filming and music are all superb. Of course there is a lot of 'poetic license' in the content but it captures the spirit of the age beautifully. I must have seen it dozens of times but a tear still comes to the eye when Sam hears the national anthem following Abrahams' victory in the 100 yards dash final and also when Eric breaks the world record in the 400 yards final, a discipline he didn't specialise in.
An interesting fact (not mentioned in the film) is that Harold Abrahams also set the British long jump record which stood for 30 years !!
I already had it on VHS where the sound quality was somewhat iffy (even in a NICAM player) so I splashed out on the DVD. The sound quality if anything is even worse. You have to crank up the volume to hear the dialogue to the point where there is an annoyingly audible hiss, and then the music deafens you when it comes in.
As has been stated before there are no extras (apart from subtitles)
on 29 September 2001
The quality of the movie itself - acting, cinematography, script and music - is such that I risk unpopularity by giving it only two stars, but I think it's necessary to comment on the DVD itself.
The sound transfer is very bad: in order to hear much of the dialogue I had to turn the sound up to *twice* the normal volume, and then the music cut-in was so loud that it often required further readjustment. The DVD is also devoid of the extra features one would expect, despite the opportunities given for more background on the historical figures portrayed and the film's ground-breaking impact at the Oscars. The only "special features" are multiple subtitles in languages such as Finnish, Hungarian, Icelandic and Norwegian.
I hope that the makers re-issue a "special edition" that takes advantage of all the opportunities available with the DVD medium: until this happens, I would recommend that fans of the film buy the video.
on 3 November 2004
This DVD is awful. I watch on a portable player with headphones and the sound was so bad it made the movie unwatchable. A pity as the film itself is one of the greatest made in britain post sixties (the academy award winning soundtrack it's centrepiece) and certainly a favourite of mine. The picture was a little better but the dark tones are extremely grainy (would definitely benefit from an anamorphic release) and the picture at the start of the film is full of scratches and marks. Is this supposed to replicate a cinema going experience? I have serious doubts about some of the colour values too. This is just laziness by 20th century fox. Other films of this era have been successfully transferred to 5.1 sound and if this was an example of the best film negative they could find to transfer onto DVD then a full digital restoration is urgently called for. Until then, you'll enjoy this movie more on VHS.
on 26 January 2004
I saw "Chariots" on the big screen when it was released, and was glad to add it to my DVD collection of best Picture winners. The content is covered very well in above reviews. It's a great film that scores on many levels, but for me the dissapointing side of this DVD tranfer was the "sound", it seems to be set VERY low, I had to turn up the volume until you could hear the hum of the amp, also a few extra features would have been nice for a Best picture winner, theres none on this tranfer, just langague and scene selection.
I was delighted to find this DVD, as I was shopping for a suitable Christmas present for my son, who is consequently going to receive a used one, since I could not resist watching "Chariots of Fire" again. It certainly lived up to my fond memories of watching the film in the theatre.
The scene indelibly etched in my mind is of the charming Nigel Havers as the irrepressible Lord Lindsay, practicing leaping over a series of hurdles with filled champagne glasses balanced on each one. His character, who enjoys running for the pleasure of the sport, represents the perfect pivot between the two central characters (Ben Cross and the late Ian Charleson), both driven to win because of their respective polarized beliefs.
The film is still compelling after all these years; the characters are believable; the movie is inspirational, recalling an era when sportsmanship and idealism prevailed over celebrity and the bottom line.