Release Date(s)1985 (September 13, 2016)
Studio(s)Orion Pictures (Twilight Time)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B+
The optimistically titled Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins may not have launched a franchise when it opened in 1985, but it should have – stylish, witty, and anchored by a terrific lead performance by Fred Ward in the title role, it’s pure cinematic pleasure from start to finish. The movie didn’t really resonate with audiences when it opened against movies like Commando and Jagged Edge, but it has held up well, and seems now to have been a bit ahead of its time – its origin story format, relatively fresh four years before Tim Burton’s Batman, is now the default for just about every new franchise.
The film is an adaptation of a successful cycle of male adventure novels known as the “Destroyer” series, which launched in the early 1970s and is still going strong with hundreds of titles in print. The movie, which deviates from the books in significant ways, follows a New York cop whose death is faked by a shadowy organization that then gives him a new identity and trains him to be a kind of super-assassin. He’s given a mentor – Joel Grey, who is undeniably brilliant in a politically incorrect role as a Korean martial arts expert – and soon becomes so skilled at combat that he takes on powers bordering on the supernatural.
The premise is essentially a pretext for a series of spectacular action set pieces, the best of which is a fight scene staged on the then under construction Statue of Liberty. The financiers’ ambitions for Remo Williams to become a new James Bond are obvious right from the opening credits: the screenwriter is Bond scribe Christopher Wood (who adapted The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker), and the director is Guy Hamilton, who helmed Goldfinger and several other Bond classics. Hamilton is an ace at elaborate action sequences, and the stunts and special effects here are dynamite. What really anchors them, however, is Ward’s very funny yet convincingly tough performance as a kind of blue collar Bond; he’s authentic and likable in every frame, and his banter with Grey is often hilarious. I’m not sure why this character didn’t grab people at the time – maybe the odd mix of espionage, martial arts, and urban action-comedy was too tough to market – but Twilight Time’s new Blu-ray is a perfect way for audiences to rediscover Remo’s pleasures now.
The disc contains an amiable commentary track by film historians Eddy Friedfeld, Lee Pfeiffer, and Paul Scrabo, whose casual but informative narration is unfortunately marred by an out-of-whack sound mix – Scrabo is miked far louder than the other two commentators, which makes for a somewhat unpleasant listening experience. Fortunately, even if one skips the commentary track altogether there’s a wealth of background material in the form of a superb collection of featurettes that delves into the source material, production history, scoring and visual design of Remo Williams. The transfer, in keeping with Twilight Time standards, is excellent; the cinematography is by Andrew Laszlo, the master behind such exquisitely shot action films as First Blood, The Warriors, and Streets of Fire, and his bold lighting design and palette are well preserved here. (The only thing that knocks the video grade down to an A- is the condition of the source material itself, which has occasional nicks and scratches.) A collection of publicity materials, including a trailer, stills, and advertising artwork, rounds out this excellent package.
- Jim Hemphill