• Billy Jack (Image Entertainment) Blu-Ray Review



    Released by: Image Entertainment
    Released on: September 29th, 2009.
    Director: Tom Laughlin
    Cast: Tom Laughlin, Delores Taylor, Clark Howat, Victor Izay, Julie Webb
    Year: 1971
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    Billy Jack – Movie Review:

    “I’m gonna take this right foot…and I’m gonna whop you up that side of your face. And you wanna know something? There’s not a damn thing that you’re gonna be able to do about it.” – Tom Laughlin, BILLY JACK

    Welcome to Smalltown, USA, 1971.

    Years before Steven Segal was introducing the slo-mo, “Ain’t-I-Cool” posturing for the camera to a whole new generation, Tom Laughlin became the embodiment of the ass-kicking, army of one against society in the film Billy Jack, fighting tyranny and oppression on behalf of the little man. Sound familiar? Sure it does. From John J. Rambo to John Matrix, the storyline has been done a million times, and this is certainly no different.

    Released in 1971, Billy Jack is one of those movies that you’ve probably (if you’re my age, anyways) heard your parents talk about seeing in the theatre, and how great of a film it was. Upon hearing this, you may have been inspired to check out the film yourself, to see if it has the timeless quality that they speak so highly of. Well, I’m here to tell you that it most certainly does not. I recently grabbed a decent bottle of whiskey and wandered into the fray so that you wouldn’t have to.

    Billy Jack is about as dated a film as they come. With the peace and love movement long gone, and the plight of the American Indian already exposed to the masses, Billy Jack has little to say on the topic of injustice. At the time of its inception, it was more than likely brought about to showcase an older generation’s resistance to social change, or as an exaggerated statement on the superiority of the hippy culture; unfortunately, in present times, it’s a lot more effective as a, “so bad, it’s good” film.

    The plot is as follows: Tom Laughlin plays the title character of Billy Jack, a very Caucasian looking half Native American ex-Green Beret. His sole purpose throughout the 114 minutes running time seems to be to shadow the students of the progressive Freedom School…a hippy-based commune located on the outskirts of the most redneck town EVER…and the school’s founder (and Billy Jack’s love interest) Jean.

    Because one of the town deputy’s daughters has run away to become involved with the Freedom School, the more close-minded of the townsfolk decide that they’re going to shut down the school, and reclaim the runaway by any means necessary. Unfortunately, they’re unable to come up with anything more inventive than physically and verbally harassing the students in town, which inevitably leads to Billy Jack arriving to sort things out ex-commando style, which leads to the townsfolk retaliating by harassing the students, which inevitably leads to Billy Jack arriving to sort things out…well, you get the idea. Finally, the cycle is broken when a prominent redneck’s son takes the harassment too far, and Billy Jack goes on a semi-murderous rampage, climaxing (sort of) with a classic Mexican Standoff at the school.

    If it sounds like there’s nothing here worth watching, you may be right. Billy Jack is one of those movies that gets made fun of more than Ishtar, yet it still maintains an almost cult status. It could be the appearance of a young Howard Hesseman as one of Freedom School’s students…it could be a comment on the gullibility of the film fans that make up the “cult” genre…it could be the film’s catchy theme song, One Tin Soldier. Entirely predictable, lacking in originality, character development, and well-choreographed fight scenes (while still, somehow, remaining valid enough to spawn multiple, horrid sequels), Billy Jack still offers one integral element of film viewing: amusement. If you feel so inclined, check out what Billy Jack has to offer, but take my advice…bring a bottle of whiskey with you. And if you’re still not amused, check out www.billyjack.com to see how seriously Tom Laughlin actually takes his role as Billy Jack…over thirty years after the film’s release.

    Billy Jack – Blu-ray Review:
    (by Ian Jane)

    Billy Jack looks surprisingly good in this AVC encoded 1080p 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Restored from the original elements by Tom Laughlin's son, Frank Laughlin, the image has been nicely cleaned up without excessive DNR or grain reduction. Some minor print damage pops up here and there but if you're not looking for it you probably won't notice so much. Color reproduction is strong though there are some spots where brighter colors like orange and red are just a bit too hot looking. Black levels are strong and consistent and contrast is good as well. Detail levels are far, far stronger than any previous DVD incarnation of the film ever was and while this still looks like an older modestly budgeted picture, you'll pick up a lot more texture and tone in this picture than you have before. Skin tones look pretty good for the most part if a bit pinkish in spots, but overall, this is a really nice looking transfer.

    The sole audio option is an English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix which will annoy those who wanted the original mix to be included but probably please everyone else. The music sounds nice and punchy, particularly 'One Tin Soldier' as it plays over the opening and closing credits, while dialogue stays consistently clean. There's some quirks in the levels and you'll notice sometimes that the sound effects are pretty high up in the mix, but the film has always had this going on. Surround usage is sparing at best and this is a pretty front heavy affair but the low end sounds okay and for the most part there's really not too much to complain about here. No subtitles or alternate audio tracks are provided.

    Image has supplied a pair of commentary tracks for this release, the first of which features Tom Laughlin and Delores Taylor and is from 2000, the second of which also features Laughlin and Taylor in addition to Frank Laughlin, and it was recorded in 2005. These two tracks cover a lot of the same ground and there's a ton of repeated information in them so you probably won't need to listen to both of them - with that said, the addition of Frank to the second track helps flesh it out a bit more as he was on set as a young teenager when the movie was being made and offers up some additional input that his father and Taylor don't touch in the first track.

    A fourteen minute standard definition documentary on the history of the film is also included, and it's worth checking out. It starts off by explaining how atypical the set was during the production of this film by explaining how all involved were worried about what an owl might be telling them. From there it talks about how it brought together such an unlikely group of people to make a movie together. The piece continues by discussing the picture's remarkably box office success, how it was re-released by Warner Brothers after much wrangling on the part of Laughlin, and about the film's influence.

    Rounding out the extras are seven and a half minutes of standard definition television spots, animated menus and chapter selection.

    Billy Jack – The Final Word:

    Billy Jack is worth checking out, if you’ve got nothing better to do. There’s a reason that the film has survived for more than 30 years…and I dare you to find out what that reason is.

    Click on the images below for full-sized Billy Jack screen caps!
    Comments 7 Comments
    1. Ian Jane's Avatar
      Ian Jane -
      John Matrix rules.
    1. David H's Avatar
      David H -
      Nooooooo!! This movie is great! The 'horrid' sequel Trial of Billy Jack is even better! I even love it sober!
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Quote Originally Posted by David H View Post
      Nooooooo!! This movie is great! The 'horrid' sequel Trial of Billy Jack is even better! I even love it sober!
      You are insane lol. I have a love hate relationship with Billy Jack. I know a lot of people dig it.
    1. Darcy Parker's Avatar
      Darcy Parker -
      I’d request that Mark review Billy Jack Goes to Washington, but I don’t want him to go through liver failure!
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Quote Originally Posted by Darcy Parker View Post
      I’d request that Mark review Billy Jack Goes to Washington, but I don’t want him to go through liver failure!
      I've actually never seen it, lol. I think that Born Losers is a fine film, Billy Jack is okay enough if the mood strikes me, Trial is infuriatingly long and repetitive, and I don't know if I need to see Washington lol.
    1. Darcy Parker's Avatar
      Darcy Parker -
      Quote Originally Posted by Mark Tolch View Post
      I've actually never seen it, lol. I think that Born Losers is a fine film, Billy Jack is okay enough if the mood strikes me, Trial is infuriatingly long and repetitive, and I don't know if I need to see Washington lol.
      There is a fantastic review of Washington on jabootu,net. The movie is basically an insane mix of hubris, ego, wingnut politics and earnestness. It sounds like the kind of thing that could only have been made in the 70s by hippies who were so high they never noticed the calendar changed.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Quote Originally Posted by Darcy Parker View Post
      There is a fantastic review of Washington on jabootu,net. The movie is basically an insane mix of hubris, ego, wingnut politics and earnestness. It sounds like the kind of thing that could only have been made in the 70s by hippies who were so high they never noticed the calendar changed.
      That was definitely Tom Laughlin to a T haha.