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Warner Home Video presents

The Fugitive HD DVD (1993)

Kimble: I didn't kill my wife!
Gerard: I don't care!- Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones

Stars: Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones
Other Stars: Sela Ward, Julianne Moore, Joe Pantoliano, Andreas Katsulas, Jeroen Krabbe
Director: Andrew Davis

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for a murder and other action sequences in an adventure setting
Run Time: 02h:10m:25s
Release Date: 2006-05-23
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+B+B B


DVD Review

Numerous beloved television programs of the 1960s have been mined for feature films in the 1990s and since, and one of those that made the transition most successfully was this 1993 adaptation of The Fugitive. That series had originally run for four years beginning in 1963. The film version benefited from a strong and sympathetic lead in Harrison Ford, a classic setpiece, and a starmaking performance from Tommy Lee Jones.

Director Andrew Davis wastes no time whatsoever getting into the story, with Helen (Sela Ward), the wife of Chicago doctor Richard Kimble (Ford), being murdered under the opening credits, Kimble being arrested and convicted in short order, all while proclaiming his innocence and the culpability of a mysterious one-armed man (Babylon 5's Andreas Katsulas). After a train hits the bus conveying him to death row, Kimble escapes and begins trying to piece together the identity of the one-armed man. But he may not have time, since he's being pursued by the relentless Deputy U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard (Jones), who will stop at nothing to recapture Kimble, dead or alive. As Kimble gets closer to the truth, it leads him into directions that are completely unexpected, and that to the conclusion that there may be a deeper significance to Helen's murder.

Even though the leads are terrific, because of the story structure they only have a few short scenes where they are able to play off one another; each character is for the most part independently acting except within the viewer's perception. The skill of the editor here makes it feel as if it's an ensemble piece between the two, however, which lends it an entirely different perspective than what it really has. Jones gives Gerard (for some reason renamed from Philip to Samuel) a deep intensity that incorporates both pride and professionalism without making him a Javertlike obsessive. Ford is reliable as usual, the modern Everyman who is endlessly sympathetic: even while on the run for his life, Dr. Kimble can't resist treating the injured as he sneaks into a hospital to obtain clues about recent prosthetics patients. Julianne Moore snags fourth-billing even though she only has a glorified bit part in one scene (though it's a memorable one), perhaps from a publicist's effort to create a romantic interest where there is none. One can surely imagine the studio demanding such a relationship, but it wouldn't have been true to the character or the story, distracting from Kimble's mission.

There are a number of holes in the presentation (surely there is more than one Chicago hospital with a prosthetics division; Kimble seems to have little ill effect from spending several nights soaked to the skin in the middle of an Illinois winter), on the whole it works pretty well just from pure forward momentum. Like the train/bus wreck, it has a steady propulsion that doesn't slow down for much of anything. Every time Kimble starts to get close to another clue, he gets sighted and is soon on the run again. And they're quite well-done runs too, with helicopters chasing ambulances, manhunts through sewers, on rooftops and through woods and the like, but my favorite, and one of the most suspenseful, is just a pursuit up and down a staircase that eventually leads into the annual St. Patrick's Day parade. But that latter chase has a vigorous rhythm to its cutting that generates plenty of excitement without becoming so choppy as to make it hard to follow what's going on. The picture is pretty linear in general (other than two brief bits of misdirection), which helps keep the scope manageable while also maintaining clarity.

The predicament of Dr. Kimble being an innocent on death row became even more relevant ten years after the film's release, when Illinois Governor George Ryan commuted the death sentences of everyone on that state's death row based on capricious application and dubious convictions. Whatever one's feelings about the death penalty, it's hard to deny that films like The Fugitive have had an impact on how people look at it. After all, who wants to put to death an innocent Harrison Ford? But well-cloaked in an exciting and suspenseful picture, the message goes down with hardly a peep.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 16:9 HD transfer isn't exactly a showpiece. It has quite a lot of soft focus that doesn't give HD a lot of opportunities to provide the fine detail that presents the wow factor many people are looking for. But what the HD transfer does very well is subtle and in the process makes for a major upgrade. Foremost of these is the handling of grain: this is a very grainy film in its style, and the original DVD was quite a mess with sparkly grain everywhere, as a result of compression issues. The much higher bitrate of HD DVD allows the compression to be relaxed, and while there's still plenty of grain (as there should be), it looks like film and not sparkly overcompressed video.

The other area where HD excels is in the presentation of darker scenes. What was muddy and unclear on the standard DVD (such as the dim sequences in the sewers) are a revelation on the HD DVD and look quite clear. The Chicago nightscapes are absolutely gorgeous, and on a few occasions color is eye-popping (Jones' bright red vest, the neon green of the Chicago River on St. Patrick's Day). While it isn't a piece to show off HD DVD's capabilities (unless you do a direct A/B comparison), it does make for an enormous improvement over the standard DVD. There is some high contrast ringing on a few shots of dark objects against light-colored skies, but that's the only significant drawback I observed.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0French, Spanishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital+ 5.1 audio track has some pluses and minuses. On the positive side, there is plenty of surround activity and the presentation tends to be quite immersive. Directionality is often sharp and often head-snapping (such as when the train slides past the viewer). On the other hand, the big crash sequence doesn't seem to have the oomph that it ought to have; the LFE is there but it's kind of lacking in depth and loudness and doesn't have a visceral impact. Part of the problem lies in this being another disc from Warner with reduced volume levels, but even cranking it doesn't allow for much deep bass in this sequence.

On the other hand, James Newton Howard's score has plenty of presence and range, and there's no lack to the low bass there. Dialogue is clear and clean throughout, and there are a few instances of directionality applied there as well. Hiss and noise are for all practical purposes nonexistent.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Animated menu
Scene Access with 42 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Andrew Davis and Tommy Lee Jones
Packaging: Elite
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: All of the extras from the current special edition DVD are ported over, though they're in standard and not high definition. Foremost among these is a full-length commentary from director Andrew Davis, who is joined for a while by Tommy Lee Jones, but Jones doesn't add much and essentially vanishes before long. Davis does a lot of identification of actors and bit players, and identifies a few deleted scenes (which unaccountably are missing from the presentation), but it's fairly dispensable as commentaries go. There's also a brief 1m:48s introduction from 2001 that includes Davis, Ford and Jones (the latter via telephone, which was how he did his contribution to the commentary). That's expanded substantially in the retrospective documentary On the Run with the Fugitive (23m:02s). This full-frame presentation covers the lengthy writing and filming process (at one point Gerard was going to be behind the murder of Kimble's wife, which would have really gotten fans of the original exercised). The presentation is pretty good and there's a fair amount of behind-the-scenes footage.

A featurette, Derailed: Anatomy of a Train Wreck (8m:52s) takes a look at the big crash sequence, which astonishingly was done almost entirely on a practical basis, and not digitally. It's pretty impressive seeing the team go about this controlled mayhem and planning it all out. The package is wrapped up with a pan and scan trailer for the picture.

Extras Grade: B

Final Comments

A rollicking thriller that just doesn't let up, with a much-improved transfer and all the extras of the standard DVD.

Mark Zimmer 2006-06-02