The Trip to a Full Bounty
When The Bounty (1984) unfurled its sails in theaters 32 years ago today, it had changed ship’s personnel, corrected its course and altered its scope in a long-gestating voyage from page to screen. The starting point was Richard Hough’s 1972 book Captain Bligh and Mr. Christian, which reexamined the 1789 mutiny aboard the fabled vessel with an eye toward greater historical accuracy than that of the Charles Nordhoff and Norman Hall trilogy of novels that formed the basis of four previous movie depictions of the story. Director David Lean was to man the helm, and his colleague of three fabled epics – Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago and Ryan’s Daughter – screenwriter Robert Bolt, would adapt. It would be two films, one focusing on the events that culminated in the mutiny and a sequel that would deal with its aftermath among the mutineers and the naval quest to bring them to justice. Lack of studio backing and Bolt’s catastrophic 1979 heart attack and stroke would combine to sideline that dream. Executive producer Dino de Laurentiis persisted, and the costly preproduction work would be channeled into a restructured single film from Bolt’s draft script (with uncredited reworking by noted British broadcaster Melvyn Bragg) and a new occupant in the director’s chair, Australian Roger Donaldson, recommended by the actor cast as mutineer leader Fletcher Christian: white-hot Mel Gibson. Anthony Hopkins, graduating into leading roles of late after 16 years on screen, would play ship’s master Edward Bligh, and one fresh revelation for audiences provided by this version of events would be that, unlike past screen portrayals by the likes of Clark Gable/Marlon Brando and Charles Laughton/Trevor Howard, Christian and Bligh were friends who had previously served together. Another would be that Bligh was a commendable seaman of maturity and ability, a hard taskmaster but not a martinet, and that Christian was a promising but still callow trainee troubled by the yoke of military discipline and unraveled by the temptations of an uninhibited Tahitian paradise. Therefore, a tale traditionally framed as a clash between class-conflicting opposites became even darker and more tragic: personal betrayal on a shattering scale. And the cast is indeed another revelation including, in addition to the deeply riven Gibson and the defiantly strong Hopkins, Daniel Day-Lewis, Liam Neeson, Edward Fox, Bernard Hill, John Sessions, Dexter Fletcher and Laurence Olivier. Their collective intensity makes the film’s 131 minutes as fully epic as if it had been a seven-hour, double-movie marathon. Two Audio Commentaries, one with director Donaldson, producer Bernard Williams and production designer John Graysmark, the other featuring the production’s historical consultant Stephen Walters, serve as excellent guides to the scenic and reverberant discoveries of The Bounty on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray.