Mutiny on the Bounty Reviews
It doesn't take a brain surgeon to see that this was filmmaking on a grand scale at the time of its release but even watching it in that mindset, we can see that it isn't quite as polished as many of the other epics of its day. Certain elements feel slapped together while others are beautifully rendered (anytime the sunset is involved the movie looks remarkable) at the highest quality so cinematically, this is a bit of a mixed bag but with an engaging story and good performances it's a worthwhile watch for fans of classic cinema.
The film is plenty entertaining, with colorful direction and plot structuring, yet it can only go so far before slipping into dry spells, which are never so cold that the film devolves into dullness, and rarely, if ever bland the film up all that much, but still stand as just pronounced enough disengage and leave you drifting away. Again, more often than not, the film does a pretty good job of holding your attention, and never really loses your investment, yet dry spells still stand through all of the entertainment value, and I can't really say that I'm all that surprised, as director Lewis Milestone must have had some trouble trying to sustain intrigue through a film this overlong. The film is enough of an epic for its sprawling three-hour runtime to not come off as punishingly unfitting, but make no mistake, the final product outstays it welcome, taking on so much excess material, if not filler, that, before too long, plotting begins to meander into limp spells, perhaps even repetition. Don't get me wrong, I like a good long film, and sure enough, this film takes plenty of it wealth of time to flesh things out, yet for every compelling piece of expository meat, there is fat around the edges that only serves to retard momentum, generally into simple repetition, and sometimes into total aimlessness. I suppose you could call this film a character study, and you can certainly call it a dramatic epic that takes its time fleshing things out, so it's not like this film was to ever have as much momentum as your typical adventure epic, but the gaps between rises and falls in plotting are much too often blown out way too far, leaving you with more than enough time to meditate upon the thin spots in this story concept, rather than the high spots, of which there are plenty. I must admit, almost all of the first hour of this film, while not truly excellent, is really, really good, with high compellingness that can be occasionally found through the film's body, but after a while, the story concept's kick starts to slow down, and the story concept's execution's finds itself continuing to rarely pick up all that much, leaving you to get too used to an aimless formula to be truly gripped, for although the final product is never less than good, it's not quite what it very well could have been and almost is. That being said, what the final product ultimately is is reasonably rewarding, with compellingness that isn't as fleshed out as could have been, but still stands firm, backed by a sweeping feel that is supplemented by even the lightest of artistic touches.
Bronislau Kaper's score for this film came along at a formulaic time, and sure enough, it fails to deliver all that much uniqueness as an epic score of the 1960s, yet where Kaper's efforts could have gone the way of plenty of other scores of the type and time by blandly tossing out conventions just for the sake of tossing out conventions, they genuinely celebrate the wealth of their formula, whose dynamic musical flavor and sweeping soul help in gracing the film with entertainment value, while complimenting the film's distinguished sense of sweep. Even the musical aspects of this film breathe life into a feeling of broad scope, but really, the aesthetic attribute that really does about as much as anything in defining the sweep of this epic is, of course, Robert L. Surtees' then-outstanding and still-striking cinematography, whose tasteful coloring provides plenty of consistent handsomeness, broken up by unexpectedly truly stunning moments, that attracts attention, while cleverly tight framing and dynamic camerawork truly immerses you into the grand environment, further sold on you by excellent production designs. Aesthetically and technically, this film had to have stood out for its time, and is still worthy of praise to this day, crafting a vision of the HMAV Bounty's infamously troubled late 18th century voyage that is grandly immersive, in spite of shortcomings in storytelling that distance you a bit from the final product's substance. I wish I could say that the telling of this tale is as commendable as the look of this world, but really, when it's all said and done, there is a reason why this story, interpreted into the book upon which this film is based by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall in 1932, has stood the test of time, as it is so intriguing, with human depth and dramatic potential that could have been more thoroughly explored in this film, but is still brought to the silver screen with enough inspiration to compel quite well, with Charles Lederer putting together a script that may get to be excessive, but generally keeps tight in its fleshing out rich characterization that is complimented by strong, if a bit underwritten performances. Whether it be Trevor Howard as the despicably harsh captain with no regard for the lives of his men, or layered leading man Marlon Brando as a strong, but humanly flawed leader whose actions will leave him to face great changes and great risks, or even a charming supporting cast, most everyone in this cast pulls weight, and while the performers can't carry the final product into the high strength that it sometimes flirts with, they join decent writing in fleshing out a worthy, epic-length character piece, further brought to life by what is, in fact, done right in Lewis Milestone's direction. Were Milestone more focused as storyteller, this film would have stood a chance of consistently sustaining strength, maybe even achieving bonafide excellence, yet his inspiration never loses so much momentum that you lose your investment, secured by dramatic efforts that were audacious at the time, and are most often than not still effective to this day in their establishing tension within the conflicts - thin though they may be - and heart within the character drama. At the very least, Milestone keeps things entertaining, not so much so that you don't fall out more often than you probably should, but nevertheless enough so that liveliness keeps you awake enough to get a good feel for the technical proficiency, good script and charismatic performances that would have made an excellent film if they weren't so opposed by some serious shortcomings, and go into making a final product that is still worth watching.
Overall, bland spells dilute engagement value, while ironically calling your attention more toward repetitious bloating and dragging that thin plotting momentum out too much for consistent high strength to be sustained, thus leaving the final product to fall short of its potential, even though it still accels enough to reward, to some degree, thanks to the strong score work, excellent cinematography, fine production designs, and inspired writing, acting and direction that make Lewis Milestone's "Mutiny on the Bounty" a compelling epic that leaves much to be desired, but still delivers on plenty that thoroughly entertains.
3/5 - Good
I really do believe it's possible to make a good epic. I've even seen some. Oh, they're rare, but they exist. Indeed, I think most of them were from this era. The fifties and sixties were, as I see it, the golden era of the epic. Probably my all-time favourite came out in the same year, in fact. So what's the difference? Why do I love that one so much and think this one is so terrible? Well, there are a lot of reasons. Probably first and foremost is the fact that, not long after this movie started, I was editing in my head. The important factor in an epic as I see it is having an epic-length story to tell. There are other issues, naturally, and we'll get to some of them in a minute. However, it's generally the fact that if you find yourself checking the time during a movie, that is not a good sign about the quality of the movie, and just the first disc of this felt too long.
In this telling of the familiar story, Fletcher Christian (Brando) is a fop who also happens to be an officer of the Royal Navy. When he goes to his new posting on the [i]HMS Bounty[/i], a pair of fashionable women tag along to see what the ship looks like. Anyway, it's under the command of William Bligh (Trevor Howard). They are to sail to Tahiti, where they will take on a cargo of breadfruit cuttings to use to feed the slaves in His Majesty's colony in Jamaica. As is the general impression of the man, and we won't get into how unfair the whole thing is this time, Bligh turns out to be a rampaging tyrant, having the men flogged on the slightest provocation. Christian is concerned, and it's only after they leave Tahiti that he realizes that he's the men's only chance of survival. After a man dies from being keelhauled in shark-infested waters, Christian has had enough. He leads the men in a daring daytime mutiny, taking over the ship and setting Bligh and various of the others adrift in a small boat.
According to legend, Marlon Brando's weight was seesawing so much over the making of this film that he split the seats of fifty-two pairs of pants, finally ending in the costume department's giving up and using stretch fabric. He married Tarita, the Tahitian woman who played (if I remember correctly) Christian's Tahitian wife in the movie. Clearly, he fell in love with the island just as Fletcher Christian did, though Brando was also a bit more free to just move there, especially given that this movie didn't do very well at the box office. I will say, however, that I'm fine with the casting here. I've seen movies where I thought Marlon Brando did a fine job at acting (though I don't think this was one of them, and don't get me started on the accent), but I don't think I've ever heard a claim that he was a good person. He doesn't seem to have been crazed in the same way as Fletcher Christian, but he was still a loon.
So okay, what would I have trimmed? Fair question. Honestly, most of the Tahiti bits. The whole thing about how Bligh ordered Christian away from Maimiti and then ordered him to go after her again after the chief gets all offended that Christian isn't sexing up the chief's daughter. It's silly. The stuff about the growing cycle of the breadfruit tree is unnecessary. A lot of Christian's character development only goes to make me really dislike him, not understand his motivations any better. I have a hard time caring about why he shows interest in the lower-class men, given that he's an upper class fop himself. I don't need the scene of his first appearance on the ship with his pair of women. Of course, without them, we only have one real female character, but even with them, we don't have one well-developed female character. The whole thing about the botanist from Kew Gardens can go. Christian's claim that they're going to go back and clear their names is unbelievable and only makes things worse.
What I would really like is a telling of the story that really developed the characters properly. To be fair, I don't know what the deal was with the historical Fletcher Christian. I don't know as much about him. William Bligh is just more interesting, which I guess is just going to keep being a problem for me about these movies. I'd kind of like to see one where the mutiny is just prelude, one that really goes into detail about his amazing feat of seamanship. Or maybe about the other time he was accused of cruelty, where it turns out he was just trying to root out corruption. As it turns out, Bligh (eventually Admiral Bligh, though he never commanded a ship again) was in many ways a very cool guy. It's also worth noting that Trevor Howard didn't want to take the part, because he knew he was far too old for the role. While he is traditionally shown as an older man, he was actually younger than I am at the time all this took place. Honestly, I think that's more interesting, but no one ever shows it.