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MGM Studios DVD presents
Hawaii (1966)

"I have no graces. I'm strange and awkward in—in...worldly surroundings. But until now I've always thought myself at least an honest man."
- Reverend Abner Hale (Max von Sydow)

Review By: Nate Meyers   
Published: May 12, 2005

Stars: Max von Sydow, Julie Andrews
Other Stars: Richard Harris, Gene Hackman, Jocelyne Lagarde, Manu Tupou, Yed Nobriga, Elizabeth Logue, Carroll O'Connor, Joan Cullen, George Rose, Torin Thatcher, Robert Oakley, Henrik von Sydow, Clas S. von Sydow, Bertil Verjefelt
Director: George Roy Hill

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, native nudity)
Run Time: 02h:47m:33s
Release Date: April 12, 2005
UPC: 037429174623
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ C+B+B C-

DVD Review

James A. Michener's novels are so long that even Tolstoy would raise an eyebrow. The fact that Walter Mirisch's lavish adaptation of Michener's Hawaii tells a coherent version of the tale about 19th-century missionaries on the tropical islands is a feat worthy of much praise. Yet, like the novel itself, the film is too long considering its thematic content; but it is exactly these themes that make it worth watching—an odd dichotomy to be sure.

The recently ordained Yale student Abner Hale (Max von Sydow) and his doctor associate, John (Gene Hackman), listen to the inspired lecture of Keoki (Manu Tupou), who is a Christian convert from the Hawaiian Islands. Reverend Hale feels a profound calling to take up a ministry in Hawaii, but prior to leaving must find someone to marry him. Fortunately, the awkwardly introverted Reverend is arranged to meet with and court the lovely Jerusha Bromley (Julie Andrews), a 22-year-old New England woman who is infatuated with a sailor she met a few years prior. Despite Abner's disoriented advances, Jerusha agrees to marry him and they set sail for Hawaii.

After surviving the hardships of the sea voyage (which are quite spectacular for a film of this era), the Reverend Hale and his wife arrive on Hawaii and begin their attempts to convert the natives, who are led by Keoki's mother, the rambunctiously bossy Malama (Jocelyne Lagarde). The well intentioned Hale seeks to bring the natives into accordance with what he perceives to be God's laws, but his approach is too aggressive and Anglo-Saxon to effectively convert the Hawaiians. Even as Keoki and his own wife make small victories by showing the natives how Christianity parallels their current religion, Hale cannot keep himself from spouting fire and brimstone concerning the customary practices of adultery and incest prevalent on the island.

This is the heart of the film, a sort of allegory about Vietnam, which was just beginning to become the lightning rod of the '60s when the movie hit the cinemplexes. It's fascinating to see a story where the lead character has all the right intentions, but lacks the humility and graces to realize those intentions. Things are bogged down, unfortunately, by the introduction of Capt. Rafer Hoxworth (Richard Harris) in the film's second half. Hoxworth and his men oppose the puritan rule of Hale, who by that time has worn away at Malama and implemented a rigid code of Christian ethic against the will of the natives. But what is more unnecessary is that the captain is the whaler who Jerusha fell in love with years earlier. Sadly, the handling of this subplot is highly formulaic and basically prolongs the film without adding any new insights into the narrative's drive.

There is not a single moment in Hawaii that doesn't look fantastic, due to the breathtaking scenery captured by the cinematography and the stunning production design that subtly shows the passage of time as Reverend Hale and Jerusha raise a family. Unfortunately, director George Roy Hill's supervision of the story is labored and at 168 minutes, wears on the viewer. At times I found myself wanting the gorgeous scenes to never end, but having a greater desire to have the script make its point and move on. Written by the master of unsubtly, Dalton Trumbo, and Daniel Taradash, the script would make Kubrick role his eyes with the shameless symbolism and unlikelihoods assaulting the viewer. Does anybody truly believe that an American ship captain in 1820 would read Voltaire, just so the Reverend could shame him about reading such "filth?"

More to the point, the script simply doesn't successfully pull of the character transformations. Von Sydow and Andrews give admirable efforts and, especially in the early scenes, make great strides in relaying Michener's characters. Yet, Reverend Hale's drastic change from meek and naïve greenhorn to audacious, offensive pontificator is too drastic here. Sadly, Andrews' talents wind up going to waste, since her character is barely noticeable after the first 90 minutes, spending the rest of the film as little more than a prop. The highlight of the cast is Jocelyne Lagarde, whose inspired performance as Malama is a scene-stealing delight.

Despite all the gifted craftsmanship, Hawaii suffers from the same problem as its lead character. It is a sincere, earnest attempt at exploring the consequences of certain behaviors (no matter how well intended), but it is far too blatant and long; being at best exhausting and at worst abrasive.

[NOTE: I seem to recall an intermission from way back when I first saw Hawaii, though none is present here. I suspect that, if the intermission in fact ever existed, it follows the scene after Rev. Hale is thrown off of Capt. Hoxworth's ship. Buyer beware!]

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen image looks awfully good, with solid contrast and rich blacks. Detail is acceptable (nothing special), but there's a fair amount of depth in the image. Some print defects occur throughout, but nothing distracting.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The mono sound mix is crisp and clear, creating an aesthetically pleasing presentation of Elmer Bernstein's score and the dialogue.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:40m:48s

Extras Review: Apart from a nonanamorphic 2.35:1 presentation of the theatrical trailer, the only feature on this disc is the 1966 featurette, The Making of Hawaii (09m:51s). Containing plenty of information about the production difficulties and consisting primarily of behind-the-scenes footage, it's a decent extra. However, it's nothing but a promo piece, so don't expect any significant insights.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

Despite its flaws, Hawaii still has its endearing qualities. The image and sound mixes seem to preserve the original theatrical experience very nicely, though the extras are pretty scarce.


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