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Paramount Studios presents
The Hunter (1980)

"He's not as fast as he used to be... That's what makes him human. He's a bounty hunter... And that's what makes him dangerous."
- Tagline

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: September 14, 2001

Stars: Steve McQueen
Other Stars: Levar Burton, Ben Johnson, Kathryn Harold, Eli Wallach
Director: Buzz Kulik

MPAA Rating: PG for (violence, sensuality)
Run Time: 01h:36m:35s
Release Date: August 14, 2001
UPC: 097360119244
Genre: action


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
C- C-C+B- D-

DVD Review

Steve McQueen, through his long career, amassed a more than respectable resume. Throughout the 1960s, he was one of Hollywood's top leading man, featured in such fondly remembered pictures as Bullit and The Magnificent Seven, to name but two. He was remarkably consistent in the '70s, and though he starred in some clunkers, most of his films were successful, and some (Papillion) have come to be regarded as classics. It looked like he was all set up for a long career that could've lasted well into the '90s and beyond. Could've, that is, if he hadn't died of cancer in 1980, shortly after completing The Hunter. For the man who put his mark on the world as the ultimate in effortless cool, this sloppy, contrived, and choppily directed bounty hunter yarn is by no means a fitting tribute.

McQueen stars as Ralph Thorson, an aged bounty hunter (based on a real person, profiled in a book by Christopher Keane) who will do anything to get his man. A plot synopsis is almost impossible, as rather than selecting a particular, monumental case in Thorson's life, the filmmakers decided to just try to cover most of the book at once. The result is very episodic and poorly paced, but with brief moments of excitement (due to nice chase scene or two). Just some of the wildly varying threads include: A) Thorson's mentoring of a former criminal (played by Levar Burton, of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Reading Rainbow fame); B) a hunt for two brothers suspected to be terrorist bombers; C) another case, this one the tracking of a homicidal maniac (this section includes the film's one redeeming portion, a tense chase through Chicago's streets); and still, D) a retread of the classic "hunter to hunted" scenario, as a former bounty of Thorson's is released from prison and decides to get revenge. Thrown into the mix are alleged characters moments with Thorson's unhappy, pregnant girlfriend and his depressed friend on the police force. All this plot, packed into barely 90 minutes of screen time.

The Hunter certainly had potential, and McQueen was the right man to bring the character to life. You can see the effects of his failing health on screen, of course, but the aged, tired feel is somehow appropriate to the character. Unfortunately, McQueen, when unsupported by an excellent script and director, wasn't the best actor, and while he is appealing in his final role, he isn't able to elevate the material much through his performance. The rest of the cast blurs into the background, with every role aside from Burton's relegated to little more than a cameo.

Of course, such an overreaching script, if it were to succeed at all, would need a very strong director, one able to balance elements of both character and action. Buzz Kulik was not that director. All his previous work had been in television (and, incidentally, all his following work, too), and his inexperience in working with the larger canvas of film is quite apparent. Some of his work in the character moments is quite nice, but whenever the script calls for action, things falter. Many of the more elaborate scenes suffer from poor spatial editing and a dull visual style. Some end up looking ludicrous, such as an unintentionally funny chase on a wheat thresher. Kulik did some decent work in the TV miniseries genre, but The Hunter was too ambitious a project for a first time director, and the film was such a mess that he never got the chance to hone his craft.

Every great Hollywood actor deserves a fitting final film. Sometimes things work out (John Wayne, poignant in The Shootist), but usually they don't (Audrey Hepburn in Always, and, uh, John Candy in Wagon's East). The Hunter doesn't gel, but in the end, it does little to damage the memory of one of Hollywood's signature leading men.

Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: C-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The Hunter looks decent for a film of its age, but it has many of the problems inherent to films shot during the era (the likely culprit: inferior film stock). Colors appear fairly accurate, but are rather muted and dingy looking. Blacks are solid, but darker scenes have a tendency to show a bit of film grain. On the plus side, there was no obvious edge enhancement or artifacting. The print used was in only fair shape, and it shows some lines and scratches throughout.

Image Transfer Grade: C+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The only audio option is the original English mono track, and it isn't bad. Dialogue is always clear and it always sounds supported and natural. The score is also well represented, with some nice support from the low-end frequencies. Sound effects, on the other hand, don't sound quite as full and would have benefited from some LFE. Again, I'm not one to fault a faithful representation of the original elements, and this is good for what it is.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: As is the norm for most Paramount titles, extras are limited to a faded theatrical trailer.

Extras Grade: D-

 

Final Comments

Die hard fans of Steve McQueen may wish to own his final performance, but a fitting swan song it ain't. The high price point and lack of supplements make it tough to recommend to anyone else.

 


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