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MGM Studios DVD presents
Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (1985)

"We need you. Our cops are corrupt, our judges bought, our politicians up for sale. Everywhere you look, slime is on the loose. You're going to be the Eleventh Commandment. 'Thou shalt not get away with it.'"
- MacCleary (J.A. Preston)

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: July 14, 2003

Stars: Fred Ward, Joel Grey
Other Stars: Wilford Brimley, J.A. Preston, George Coe, Charles Coffi, Kate Mulgrew
Director: Guy Hamilton

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for (action violence)
Run Time: 02h:01m:17s
Release Date: July 15, 2003
UPC: 027616887702
Genre: action comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C- D+D+C- D-

DVD Review

If you believe the hype on DVD posting boards and Internet movie forums, just about every film ever made has a cult fan base of rabid devotees. Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, based on the Destroyer novels and starring Fred Ward as the least believable secret agent since George Lazenby played James Bond, is supposedly one of those films (so much so that a group of fans produced an unofficial sequel in 2001). I guess I'm missing something key, because I found most of this sloppy excuse for an action/comedy to be a total bore.

Perhaps it isn't the action, storyline, acting, or dialogue that has attracted all those fans over the years. Perhaps it's the fact that that this is, truly, one of the most '80s movies ever made. Remo Williams was released in 1985, and it must have looked dated almost immediately. For one thing, there is beefy hero Remo (Ward), an amiable, friendly-looking guy who the film considers to be sex on toast (if all the sly smiles he shoots at the camera are any indication). The score sounds like the music from Superman, if John Williams composed only on Casio keyboards. Then there's the script, an incomprehensible bit of Cold War/military corruption fluff about a company laundering all the money they've been given to design a satellite for the Star Wars defense program (though I suppose, in retrospect, the idea that any of the Star Wars money wasn't wasted is kind of amusing). Also laughable is the secret agency known as CURE, which recruits Remo. It's three guys, including Remo, and they are led by Wilford Brimley, who takes a break from shilling Quaker Oats to sit immobile for the entire film in front of the least realistic supercomputer ever conceived (it can talk and think, and it works like a closed-circuit TV to everything, everywhere).

I was stunned to learn Joel Grey actually picked up a Golden Globe nomination for his role as Remo's Korean martial arts guru Chiun. Yes, that Joel Grey (the one who won an Academy Award® for Cabaret), and no, I don't know what the filmmakers were thinking throwing a pound of stiff latex on a guy from Ohio and calling him Asian. In one sense, Grey is the best thing about the film-his character gets all the funny lines (he hates everything non-Korean except American soap operas, our "one true contribution to the arts")-but, as likeable as he is in the role, his casting is rather offensive (what, were there no good actors of Asian descent in Hollywood at the time?), and his accent, little better than the "me so solly" shtick that makes Mickey Rooney's role in Breakfast at Tiffany's particularly wince-inducing these days, does little to help matters. Capt. Janeway herself, Kate Mulgrew, is likeable as a feisty army officer also investigating the corrupt weapons manufacturer, but she's given little to do once she meets Remo and sacrifices her feminist strength so he can save her life. 

Director Guy Hamilton should have had a sure eye for action sequences after directing four Bond pictures (including the best of the bunch, Goldfinger), but all of Remo Williams' big set pieces fall flat, slowed by confusing camera work and poor fight choreography. Even a fist fight high atop the Statue of Liberty (recreated with surrounding scaffolding, as the monument was being restored in the mid-'80s) is a lifeless affair. With a subtitle like The Adventure Begins, Orion Pictures must have been expecting big things from Remo and Co. But for a successful franchise to work, you need a premiere picture that people actually like (and not only after seeing it a few too many times on HBO).

Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: D+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: MGM has slowly risen in esteem over the last few years to become one of the best DVD studios in terms of quality catalogue releases. They frequently put out DVDs of films that most other studios would leave to rot. Remo Williams is such a film, but it hasn't received the usual MGM treatment. The mattes have been removed from the original 1.85:1 image, leaving us with a full-frame transfer that sacrifices the increased resolution of anamorphic enhancement. Even a nicely produced ful-frame transfer can be watchable, be Remo has other problems.

Edge enhancement is a constant factor, especially visible during the opening credits set against the New York skyline. The source print is in only fair condition—there are more than a few scratches and specks throughout, and tons of grain, way more than could be considered "natural" or "film-like." Colors look bland, but are fairly stable, though black level is very poor (many dark scenes look no better than they would on VHS). A very poor effort, particularly for a film that isn't even 20 years old.

Image Transfer Grade: D+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is a bit better than the video, but still none too impressive. The biggest problem area is the dialogue—more often than not, it sounds flat and lifeless, and it is frequently muffled or placed too low in the mix (I ended up watching the movie with the subtitles turned on). The front soundstage handles pretty much all the action, with fair fidelity for the score and occasional stereo separation. Surround action is basically nonexistent, though occasionally the bombastic score does leak into the rear channels.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: I understand Remo Williams has a semi-vocal cult fanbase that has been agitating about the film's DVD release for quite some time. The supplemental features won't soothe those disappointed by the full-frame transfer—only the trailer is included.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

When the adventure begins with a movie as wrongheaded as Remo Williams, it's a safe bet that it's never going to continue. It's also a safe bet that fans of the film won't be too pleased with this lackluster DVD from MGM.


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