• Vigil (Arrow) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Arrow
    Release date: July 26, 2018
    Directed by: Vincent Ward
    Cast: Penelope Stewart, Fiona Kay, Bill Kerr, Frank Whitten, Gordon Shields, Eric Griffin
    Year: 1984
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    The Movie:

    Lisa Peers, also called “Toss” (Kay), is an 11-year-old girl who lives with her mother, Elizabeth (Stewart), her father, Justin (Shields), and her grandfather Birdie (Kerr) on a remote New Zealand sheep farm. One day as she’s out tending the flock with Justin, he falls to his death while attempting to rescue a ewe stranded on a ledge. Another man named Ethan (Whitten), an itinerant who happens to be in the area killing goats, carries Justin’s body back to the Peers’ home. Birdie offers Ethan a position on the farm, and Ethan agrees to stay and help maintain things. Gradually, he builds a friendship with Toss, who is just beginning to experience puberty. But then, much to the budding young woman’s consternation, Ethan’s duties expand from tending sheep and helping Birdie invent things to include keeping Elizabeth’s bed warm.

    Writer/Director Vincent Ward was twenty-seven years old when he crafted Vigil, his first full-length film. (Two previous works, 1978’s A State of Siege and a 1980 documentary called In Spring One Plants Alone, each clock in at around 50 minutes; his best-known film, The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey, followed Vigil in 1986.) Putting together this coming-of-age tale was reportedly a five-year process, much of which Ward spent visiting hundreds of New Zealand schools in search of the perfect person to play Toss and scouting out the perfect filming location.

    The direction is evocative of a silent film, and there are, in fact, long stretches of quiet, with Ward exhibiting quite a talent for conveying, as Roxy Music put it, “much communication in a motion.” For the most part, Vigil was part well-reviewed. It was also the first film from New Zealand to be selected for competition at the Cannes film festival. (It didn’t win anything, but it got a standing ovation regardless.)

    The little-known cast does a uniformly good job. Penelope Stewart was an Australian actress who seldom ventured far from television work. Her career began in 1976 with a recurring role in Australia’s The Sullivans. She’s done little since the Australian series MDA in 2002. Young Fiona Kay rarely set foot in front of the camera after Vigil, working mostly behind the scenes in various technical capacities. She did appear in Jane Campion’s An Angel at My Table in 1990, however.

    Vigil was the first film in which Frank Whitten appeared. He kept busy afterward, most notably as Starkey in P.J. Hogan’s 2003 version of Peter Pan and on the series Outrageous Fortune, which ran on New Zealand television from 2005 to 2010. South African-born Bill Kerr likewise appeared in Peter Pan, one of many roles in an international career that ran from 1933 to 2006. Films in which he appeared include A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966), Gallipoli (1981), The Year of Living Dangerously (1982), and The Coca-Cola Kid (1985). He passed away in 2014 at the age of 92.


    Arrow brings director Vincent Ward’s first feature-length film to Blu-ray courtesy of an MPEG-4 AVC encode in 1080p high definition. The film is presented in its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio and was overseen by the New Zealand Film Commission and Ward himself. Ward’s efforts to find the perfect shooting location paid off both visually as well as dramatically. The naturalistic greens and browns of New Zealand’s Taranaki region, along with its occasional admixture of grey rain and/or fog, look amazing on BD. They also result in a presentation that is ‘organic’ in more than one way (the image is more often than not of organic material such as leaves and trees, while there’s a light amount of grain to bolster the image detail without supplanting it). Fabrics and facial detail betray a similar level of clarity as well. Even foggy or misty moments that usually devolve into a noisy mess look fine here. It’s been alleged that the film was shot on 16mm and blown up to 35mm, but nothing about this image suggests that to be true, unless technology has changed so much that details never before seen in materials originating on 16mm can now be drawn out. (One of the extras, as pointed out by Vincent Pereira in a Facebook discussion, glimpses a 35mm camera.) And if there’s one thing true about this release, it’s that the image is crystal clear and super sharp, retaining the kind of look that 35mm features when properly restored and remastered in hi-def. There are no compression issues, thanks to the fact that Arrow has opted for a BD50 and a high bitrate.

    Audio is presented in LPCM Mono. There are no issues; the track has been remastered nicely, and individual sounds have been separated fairly well, particularly given that this isn’t a loud or effects-laden soundtrack. Dialogue is clear, though people talking lowly may result in viewers holding the remote near regardless. Arrow has also included English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired.

    Extras include film critic Nick Roddick discussing Vigil’s history and attributes; it was shot specifically for Arrow and runs 13:22. Roddick does a similar featurette for The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey (1986). His voice is a little difficult to understand at times (at least for this Yank, but also partly because of the bass in his voice). The featurette is sometimes spiced with behind-the-scenes photos and shots from the film itself. Country Calendar runs a little over 14 minutes. Featured as part of a television series from New Zealand that has run from 1966 to today, it covers the shooting of Vigil and includes archival behind-the-scenes footage, including shots of the apparent 35mm camera used to make the film. NZ Cinema: The Past Decade is an excerpt from a documentary about films made in the country and focuses on the 7:30 minutes that cover Vigil. All three of these programs are presented in 1080i.

    Also included is the original theatrical trailer, which runs 2:14 and has clearly been remastered in hi-def.

    Rounding out the ‘extras’ is a 20-page booklet containing an essay by Carmen Gray. This was not provided to Rock! Shock! Pop! for review.

    The Final Word:

    Vigil is a strong feature film debut from Director Vincent Ward, and anyone interested in the beginnings of a career that included The Navigator will want to check it out. The image looks superb, while the sound is solid. There are also enough extras to provide viewers with background information about the work without seeming like overkill. Overall, Arrow’s release is highly recommended.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Horror Films of the Silent Era and Horror Films of the 1930s are currently available, with Horror Films of the 1940s due out in 2019.

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