Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins
Released By: Twilight Time
September 12, 2016
Fred Ward, Joel Gret, Kate Mulgrew, Wilford Brimley
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When New York City cop Samuel Edward Makin (Fred Ward) reported for night shift duty, he had nothing on his mind but parking his cruiser down near the waterfront, drinking his coffee, eating his sandwich, and maybe catching a few Z's. Fate does not smile on him that evening, however, when his meal break is interrupted by two hooligans chasing an unlucky junkie into a nearby warehouse. Makin intervenes and overcomes being outnumbered swiftly, dealing out severe beatings to all three punks, before heading back to his car to finish his coffee. But the job well done goes sideways when his cruiser is hit from behind, sending the black-and-white, with Makin trapped inside, to the bottom of the river; and Samuel Edward Makin is laid to rest with full honors.
But wait! If that's his coffin being lowered into the ground, why is Sam Makin regaining consciousness in a nearby hospital? And why, upon inspecting himself in the mirror for damages, does he see an unfamiliar face staring back at him? The answers are provided by Conn MacCleary (J.A. Preston), a trench-coated and fedora'd man, who looks strangely like the driver of the truck that pushed Makin's cruiser into the river. MacCleary tells him that Makin is no more; and flipping over a bedpan to read the manufacturer's stamp, assigns Makin his new name: Remo Williams. MacLeary tells Remo bluntly that he's been recruited for a secret crime-fighting organization, and takes him to the office of his boss, Harold Smith (Wilford Brimley). Smith lays it out plain and simple; Williams is to be the fist of this organization, taking down those who operate criminally outside of the legal system, bad guys who remain above the law due to their plentiful wealth and political influence. Remo regards this information rather skeptically, but his options are made very clear by Smith; help the organization, or return to the grave of Samuel Makin.
Of course, even then though he was an effective cop, Remo is hardly an assassin, and training begins immediately when MacCleary tasks him to kill Chiun (Joel Grey) an elderly Korean man. Chiun easily bests Remo's attempts to kill him by dodging bullets and disarming the younger man effortlessly, before revealing that he is to be Remo's teacher. An unconventional training regiment is established, and Remo learns to better himself by utilizing Korean fingerboards for strength, using staggered steel poles instead of stairs in his apartment, and switching up his diet from fast food to Korean. Chiun gets Remo out into the fresh air as well, running him along the edge of tall New York rooftops and across the sandy beaches of Coney Island, not to mention a lesson in balance that involves dodging cars on the infamous Wonder Wheel. With Remo now ready for action, he can pursue his target; George S. Grove, head of Grove Industries, a man heavily involved in National Defense and the Star Wars Program. Unfortunately, Grove's shoddy merchandise includes sub-par weapons that explode in the faces of soldiers, which the Pentagon's Major Rayner Fleming (Kate Mulgrew) takes an interest in; putting her on Grove's hit list.
As Remo and Mulgrew work their respective ways through miles of corruption, they encounter a scheme that goes all the way to the top of the military, and a variety of Bond-worthy henchmen that Grove deploys to stop them from finding out the truth. Diamond teeth, stair-climbing dogs, pants-climbing rats, and a stunning battle at the Statue of Liberty provide some unconventional action and adventure that is mildly amusing at the least, and thrilling entertainment when it reaches full potential.
While it's true that Remo Williams never reached his aspiring heights as a film franchise....a made-for-TV pilot/sortafilm is the lone successor...there is a whole lot of stuff to love about The Adventure Begins. Fred Ward, who operates in a fairly one-dimensional mode, comes to life fully and extremely likably when paired with Grey's Chiun, creating a dynamic that perfectly balances comedy with drama and action. Ward's dry gruffness and Grey's dry sarcasm are a joy to behold, and are truly the talent centerpiece of the film. And speaking of centerpieces, Director Guy Hamilton has done a fantastic job of working in New York City as a secondary character, the sprawling cityscape of 1980's NYC providing a unique backdrop to Remo's adventures. Despite the lack of crowds at Coney (this was shot in the winter months), the appearance of the Wonder Wheel will also provide a thrill to viewers in the know, with the not-so-rusted Parachute Drop in the background. And then there's the has-to-be-seen-to-be-believed confrontation at an under construction and fully scaffolded Statue of Liberty, with a cameras capturing the city far beneath, causing a sweaty-palmed viewing experience. The supporting cast does very well here also, but unfortunately, don't have too terribly much to do, one of the downsides of the film.
And that's really the biggest flaw with Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins; by focusing so much on the training scenes between Remo and Chiun, the rest of the plot and character development falls by the wayside. Kate Mulgrew is wonderful when she's on screen, but she shows up briefly in the middle of the film, and then disappears until the end. Charles Cioffi is fantastically threatening in the little time he's given as Grove, but he's never given the chance to fully flesh out his villainous character; and so, by the time Remo is ready to take him on in the name of justice, we're wondering why everyone thinks that he's such a bad guy after all. Perhaps by backing off the Remo/Chiun scenes and wrapping them up a bit earlier, more time could have been given to further character development; as it stands, the film's two-hour runtime feels on the long side in the last forty minutes, especially considering that the Statue of Liberty scenes should really have appeared at the conclusion...Remo sadly blows its creative load about an hour too early and contains little substance to carry it across the finish line. Still, the makeup of the the majority of Remo Williams is stunning; a worthy contender in the genre of 80's action cinema.
Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins hits Blu-ray courtesy of Twilight Time in a 1.85:1 AVC-encoded transfer that looks pretty decent. When the opening title/credits screens started rolling, I was a little disturbed by the amount of speckling, but that cleaned up pretty quickly once the feature started. Blacks are represented well enough, with a nice range of colour, particularly in the outdoor daylight scenes, and there's a fair amount of detail on display. If screencaps are any indication, this transfer appears to have the tiniest bit of DNR applied when compared to the Arrow release, but this is not a distraction, and the film maintains a healthy amount of grain. All of that said, Remo Williams is not a film that is meant to be reference material for your high def display, and the picture does frequently exhibit softness, and does appear on the murky side here and there. None of this should be a detriment to the film-buying public, though...Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins looks as good as it ever has, a big upgrade over previous North American releases.
English Audio is provided via a DTS HD Master Audio 2.0 track, and, truth be told, it's a little underwhelming. Skip over to the Isolated Score audio track that is included on the disc, and you'll hear a different story; although it can be accepted that the score track was notched up in volume, it exhibits a punchiness and wide soundstage that is missing from the feature. Dialogue at times sounds like it's heading into muted territory, and only in some scenes do we find Craig Safan's simple but effective score shining like it should. Although this is hardly a botch job and the film is still plenty watchable, the audio track here can be described as underwhelming, and found me reaching for my volume control more than once; balance between dialogue, score, and effects can not be described as efficient.
English SDH are included and are accurate and easy to read throughout.
Anyone concerned that this release would feature a lack of extras can put those fears aside; Twilight Time has assembled an impressive group of supplements for the film. First up is Created, The Destroyer: Writing Remo Williams (17:08) an HD extras that features Chris Poggiali and Devin (Son of Warren) Murphy discussing the history of men's action pulp novels and the arrival of The Destroyer; the series of books written by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir, that first featured the character of Remo Williams, if only in name. The participants talk about the differences between the books and the film, and bring a healthy dose of knowledge and graphics to keep things interesting.
Unarmed And Dangerous: Producing Remo Williams (21:50, HD) finds Producer Larry Spielberg and Co-Producer Judy Goldstein covering a large aspect of the production of the film, including partnering with Dick Clark and their pitch to Orion of Remo Williams as a vehicle for multiple sequels and marketing tie-ins...which obviously did not happen. The two also discuss choosing Bond Writer Christopher Wood and Bond Director Guy Hamilton to lead the project, as well as the casting of the film and the recreation of the Statue of Liberty.
Secrets of Sinanju: Training Remo Williams (8:45, HD) focuses on Joel Grey and the Oscar-nominated makeup job to create the character of Chiun. Grey also discusses his interest in getting the role correct and not insulting the Korean people, and his research to be as accurate as possible.
Balance of Power: Designing Remo Williams (15:04, HD) features Production Designer Jackson De Govia detailing the logistics of shooting at New York City's Statue Of Liberty, and the rules that they had to go by....NO TOUCHING THE STATUE!...and how that translated into the scaffold beam balancing sequence and the need to build a giant replica of the head and shoulders in Mexico to get some of the close-ups. Weaving in and out of this topic are tales of working on a tight budget and maintaining an unhealthy schedule, as well as bribing the locals to get things done.
Assassin's Tune: Composing Remo Williams (13:45, HD) turns the camera to Craig Safan, composer of the score and the many wonderful pieces of music that fans have come to love. Safan showcases his simple approach to creating the score, banging it out on an electric piano with no orchestra, and then talks about the difficulties of blending synthesizers and orchestral instruments together. He also talks about his research of Korean music to come up with appropriate music for Chiun's scenes.
A Still And Promotional Gallery (7:08) contains a number of images in a slideshow, set to music, and a trailer for the film and the MGM 90th Anniversary Promo Trailer are also included, as is the Twilight Time Interactive Catalogue.
A feature-length commentary is available for the film as well, with "Film Historians" Eddy Friedfeld, Lee Pfeiffer, and Paul Scrabo. Right out of the gate, this commentary struck a wrong chord by presenting a group of folks who apparently don't think much of the film. While I concede that one does not need to be a fan of the film to provide an accurate commentary, the problem with this is (aside from the negativity), the group mainly discuss movies in general and venture off into other films as well. As a result, aside from the occasional detail about the actors on screen, we get next to no information about Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, except to find out how the commentators would have done things if they wrote the movie. There are also some pretty big gaps in conversation, and a lot of describing the plot as it appears on screen. Twilight Time, who generally provide a decent commentary for their releases, seem to have made a mistake with this one, and the negative comments made prevent the experience from being enthusiastic or enjoyable. People who shelled out for this title are most likely fans of the film, and deserve a little more than a three piece badmouthing it for two hours.
As per the usual, Twilight Time have also included a nicely-written essay by Julie Kirgo in the booklet insert.
The Final Word:
Remo Williams finally enters the North American Blu-ray market with decent video and some nice extras.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!