• Hell In The Pacific

    Released by: Kino Studio Classics
    Released on: June 27th, 2017.
    Director: John Boorman
    Cast: Lee Marvin, Toshiro Mifune
    Year: 1968
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    The Movie:

    Set during World War II, Hell In The Pacific tells the deceptively simple story of an American pilot (Lee Marvin) who is shot down in the South Pacific. He manages to make his way to a small island that would seem to be completely uninhabited. He soon learns, however, that he’s not alone. A marooned Japanese navy captain (Toshiro Mifune) has also recently decided to call the place home, at least temporarily, and understandably there is some obvious tension between the two men.

    Despite neither man speaking the other man’s language, they do realize fairly early in their relationship that they should work together. However, they’ve also been trained to see one another not as friend, but foe. A battle for dominance ensues, with each man trying to one up the other, but as both characters find themselves in a situation where they could kill the other, they hold back, and eventually decide to collaborate on making a raft that could get them both off of the island for good.

    A very expensive film to make, the picture was a fairly massive flop when it hit theaters in 1968 (the fact that the Japanese language bits spoken by Mifune’s character probably didn’t help much even if from an artistic standpoint it was the right call to make). Time has been kind to the film, however, with the picture taking on what were some pretty rocky politics between the United States and Japan in the years after the Second World War and doing it without pandering or sugar coating things. The metaphors are easy to see – each actor representing his native land, engaging in conflict and then ultimately trying to work together – but this never feels ham fisted or overdone. The story isn’t complex and there’s very little dialogue here at all, but it succeeds quite well in achieving what it sets out to do.

    At the heart of all of this are Marvin and Mifune. Marvin had just made Point Blank with director John Boorman a year before this film was made and the two got along quite well. Mifune, however, proved to be quite difficult for the director to deal with. Having famously ‘broken up’ with Akira Kurosawa a few years prior to this film, their last collaboration at this point in time having been Red Beard, Mifune and Boorman frequently butted heads on the set particularly when it came to how the two men felt the Japanese character should be portrayed in the film. Regardless of the conflict that existed during the making of the film (sometimes these things result in a better picture, just ask Werner Herzog!), the results are excellent. Both men, the only two actors in the picture, deliver top notch work here. We feel for them, we get to like them for different reasons and even if we don’t know all that much about them we care for them enough that, once enough time passes, we’d rather see them work together than try to kill one another.

    Production values are also top notch. Conrad L. Hall's cinematography captures the locations perfectly, creating for us a world that is as beautiful as it is dangerous. At the same time, Lalo Schifrin's score accentuates the action as well as the drama in equal amounts.

    The film was famously taken out of Boorman’s hands at the producers’ request and the ending changed without his okay, a move that softened the fil quite a bit and that definitely takes away from its intended impact. The original ending was included on the DVD release and is also included on this Blu-ray release. If you’ve never seen the film before, watch it with the original ending.


    Hell In The Pacific arrives on a 25GB Blu-ray disc from Kino Lorber framed at 2.35.1 widescreen in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer. By and large, this is a pretty solid picture and a nice step up from the old DVD release, but keep in mind that the movie has always had a sort of soft, hazy look to it. as such, detail doesn’t always jump out at you the way it would on the best HD transfers out there. Some minor print damage is fairly common and a bit more cleanup work would have helped here, but it’s nothing distracting. Colors look really good, the blues of the ocean and the lush greens of the plant life on the island pop quite nicely, while skin tones look nice and accurate. There are no problems with edge enhancement, compression artifacts or noise reduction to note. Reference quality this is not, but it’s pretty solid.

    The only audio option on the disc is an English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track with removable subtitles provided in English only (and a second track available that translates all of Mifune’s dialogue, which is a first – to the best of my knowledge this was never offered before, his dialogue has always been untranslated). There isn’t a lot of dialogue in this movie but what is here sounds just fine. Background details like the crashing of the waves on the shoreline and the sounds of the jungle sound good and the score is fairly impressive with good depth and range to it.

    Extras for this release start off with an audio commentary courtesy of film historians Travis Crawford and Bill Ackerman. Lots of interesting information here about not only how Mifune and Marvin got along on set (their collective love of a stiff drink apparently didn’t hurt!) but also how they did, and sometimes didn’t, get along with Boorman. They talk up the performances, details of the production, the locations used for the shoot, Boorman’s directing style and quite a bit more.

    John Boorman himself shows up in a thirty-three minute long interview that has a lot of emphasis on the difficulties the director experienced when dealing with Mifune in regards to their conflicting opinions on how his character should be portrayed in the picture. Boorman tells some seriously interesting stories about this fairly notorious aspect of the production, but so too does he talk about his working relationship with Marvin (which was much less tempestuous) and a fair bit more. A second interview gets Art Director Anthony Pratt in front of the camera for eleven minutes in which he shares some insight into how he came to work on the film, his thoughts on the changes that were made to the ending, difficulties of the location shooting and more.

    Although Kino hasn’t included the film’s original theatrical trailer (although there are bonus trailers here for Prime Cut, The Challenge, The Spikes Gang, Gorky Park, and The Emerald Forest) they have included the alternate ending which, anyone who has seen it will tell you, is a much better finale than the version used in the theatrical cut of the film. You can watch the feature either way via seamless branching.

    It’s also worth noting that Kino has supplied some reversible cover art for this release, allowing you to display your choice of two different options, each one based on an original theatrical poster.

    The Final Word:

    Hell In The Pacific holds up really well, an excellent film featuring two nearly perfect performances and anchored by a great score and some amazing cinematography. Kino’s Blu-ray release is a good one, giving fans a much needed and very welcome upgrade over the past DVD edition and including a nice selection of supplements that detail the film’s rocky history. Don’t miss this one.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!