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A&E Home Video presents

C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower: The Adventure Continues (2001)

"Here, at least one of us can face the enemy with a clear head."- Captain Sawyer (David Warner)

Stars: Ioan Gruffud, David Warner
Other Stars: Robert Lindsay
Director: Andrew Grieves

Manufacturer: United Productions
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (television series)
Run Time: 03h:09m:38s
Release Date: 2001-05-15
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-AA C-


DVD Review

A&E brings back their wonderful Horatio Hornblower series for this new set, C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower: The Adventure Continues. The Hornblower series is truly one of the best on television, and this set is definitely worth having.

Picking up where the first left off, this set brings us the latest two episodes of the series. Star Ioan Gruffudd (Titanic) returns as Horatio, that plucky lieutenant in the English navy. Gruffudd is once again spectacular, portraying Hornblower with depth and energy. Director Andrew Grieves also returns. Unlike in films, where the auteur theory often makes the director the focal point of a film, television directors are not generally household names and most TV series use a variety of different directors. I just recently saw an episode of The Sopranos directed by Steve Buscemi! But in the case of Horatio Hornblower, Grieves has directed every episode and it shows. Considering that each segment clocks in at about one hour and forty minutes, he does his job with cinematic flair. He has time to take great care with the drama, to display breathtaking action sequences, all while allowing the plot to unfold at its own pace, creating a cohesive whole.

Based on several books by C.S. Forester, the show also has some of the best writers and actors in the business working with consistently good scripts. The plots do not seem too contrived, and the characters are some of the most deeply layered that I've seen of late. There's no easy "good guy/bad guy" generalizations to be made; each character has a bit of both. The actors bring out the subtle shadings of their characters and create believable, three-dimensional portraits while still working within a greater ensemble. It's really a pleasure to see all of these great elements come together. It's not something that comes around often, and as such is something to be treasured.

Something to note: there's a reason for the second title (The Adventure Continues) on this set. The entire Hornblower series is made up of 6 episodes, of which these are the last two. The previous four have already been released in a separate box set; I would advise seeing the episodes in order. Starting with this second set may disorient some viewers; some of the characters' motivations may not appear to make sense if one does not view the previous episodes as introduction. Also, where the first box contains episodes that could stand on their own, the episodes in this set are of a piece. Do not watch the second DVD before the first; you will be hopelessly confused.

Episode 1: The Mutiny
"Asleep on the watch? You're as good as dead already." - Captain Sawyer

Horatio is on trial for mutiny. His old captain, Sir Edward Pellew (Robert Lindsay) comes to see Horatio to hear his story. In a flashback, we learn that Horatio was stationed on the HMS Renown, led by the legendary Captain Sawyer (David Warner), with a mission to attack the Spanish in Jamaica. However, Horatio and the other lieutenants start to realize something is wrong when Captain Sawyer begins to exhibit increasingly erratic and abusive behavior towards his senior officers. Tensions rise as various members of the crew side with either the captain or the victims of his wrath. While not the best episode, there are certainly exciting moments that rank up there with the best in the series. Unfortunately, this episode does not seem to have enough material to support its running time, and there are several boring moments; judicious cutting could have made it a tighter episode. David Warner is the real treat here, as he's a great actor who steals every scene he's in. This episode gets 3.5 bayonets out of 5.

Episode 2: Retribution
"I have an idea that our battle has just begun." - Horatio Hornblower

In this climactic episode, we jump back and forward in time. Through flashbacks, we learn about the fate of the Renown's mission in Jamaica, intercut with scenes from Horatio's mutiny trial. As the proceedings progress, we learn more and more of the story that brought Horatio to his trial. This is one of the best episodes of the series. Almost every scene is charged with excitement or tension, and the few that aren't allow the audience to take a breath before plunging back into the action. Unlike the previous episode, Retribution uses its time much more effectively and never drags. In fact, scene for scene, this may be the strongest episode of the whole series. David Warner adds several layers to Captain Sawyer that were not in the previous episode, making his performance even better than before. Robert Lindsay also shines as one of the men trying Horatio for mutiny, although Horatio is as dear to him as his own son. This episode gets 5 out of 5 bayonets.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

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

Image Transfer Review: The transfers on these discs are outstanding. Sharp, detailed and without any artifacts or dirt. Nary a speck to be found. I was quite surprised to find that this set looked so good. Blacks are solid, there is no color bleeding, and the transfer handles nighttime and daytime scenes with equal aplomb. Far better than seeing the series on digital cable, where pixelation was common.

Image Transfer Grade: A

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: As with the video transfer, the audio is spectacular. While only a DD2.0 track, the audio is surprisingly full-bodied. Explosions come across with lots of bass, but minimum distortion, while the softer scenes come across just as well. Dialogue is never drowned out, and the sounds of the sea are enchanting. Considering it's only 2.0, I'd say this is a near perfect audio transfer.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 40 cues
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Amaray
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Interactive 3-D Naval Cannon
  2. Guide to royal warships
  3. C.S. Forester biography
Extras Review: These discs are rather light on extras. The Mutiny has two extras. The first is the 46-minute documentary, Sail 2000: Aboard The Eagle, a History Channel program about the history of the U.S. Navy, and the role of sailing in the Navy. This is a very dry and uninteresting documentary. The fact that it ends up reading like a naval recruitment video does not help, either; I think A&E missed the mark with this extra. The second is an "interactive 3-D naval cannon." This is a CGI rendering of the type of cannon that was once used on warships. You can select a few of the various parts of the cannon, and the model will turn and highlight the selected part, while giving one or two sentences describing the function of the part. A minor diversion, momentarily entertaining.

Retribution also contains two extras. The first is a biography of C.S. Forester, which was found on the first set. This is a cursory biography, just quickly covering the most important aspects of Forester's life. The second is a guide to royal warships. This is more interesting, giving the names, pictures, and statistics of various English ships. I would have liked to see 3-D models, but we can't get everything we want.

Extras Grade: C-

Final Comments

The Horatio Hornblower series is one of the best on television. If you like intelligent scripts, stellar acting, and versatile directing, as well as swashbuckling English navymen, this is definitely for you.

Daniel Hirshleifer 2001-05-04