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Lion in Winter/The Soldier

The Lion in Winter

(50th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray release March 13)
Behind the great stone walls of an English castle, the world's most powerful empire is in crisis. Three sons struggle to win their father's favor, as well as his crown. King Henry II (Peter O'Toole) and his queen, Eleanor (Katharine Hepburn), engage in a battle of royal wits that pits elder son Richard (Anthony Hopkins) against his brothers, John (Nigel Terry) and Geoffrey (John Castle), while the cunning King Philip of France (Timothy Dalton) takes advantage of the internal fracturing in his bid to destroy their kingdom. (From Kino Lorber’s official synopsis)

Anthony Harvey’s The Lion in Winter represents a last gasp of a decadent ‘50s/’60s Hollywood, before the so-called “New Hollywood” swept in and stopped studios from churning epic, star-driven historical dramas. It’s big, lush, melodramatic, and, of course, was rewarded with Oscar nominations, including best picture, Best Actor for Peter O’Toole, Best Director for Harvey, and costume design. It won Best Adapted Screenplay for James Goldman (from his own play), musical score for James Bond regular John Barry, and Best Actress, which Katharine Hepburn shared with Barbra Streisand. Not surprisingly, the film’s greatest appeal is found in its performances, especially the way that Hepburn’s sarcasm and O’Toole’s bratty bravado bounce off each other and the more understated, stiff-upper-lipped performers around them.

Harvey is not quite the household name one would expect from an Academy Award-nominated director. The Lion in Winter was his biggest hit in terms of recognizability, followed by a 1971 adaptation of James Goldman’s They Might Be Giants. He worked as an editor on Kubrick’s Lolita (1962) and Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), and the skills he developed are certainly on display, specifically when it comes to balancing the graceful scope with the intensive, expository dialogue. Generally speaking, Harvey’s work is at the service of his actors and pricey sets/locations (the scene where King Henry and all of his sons end up in the same room eavesdropping on and plotting against each other is amazingly staged), but what he lacks in pure cinematic awe, he tends to make up for with his pacing and a natural, downtrodden visual tone. The Lion in Winter isn’t quite the bleak modern take on legendary history that Roman Polanski’s Macbeth would be four years later (in 1971), but is an notable step towards the muddled morality of the ensuing decade.

The Lion in Winter has been released twice on DVD – once on non-anamorphic disc from Polygram and once on anamorphic disc from MGM Home Entertainment. Like many high-profile MGM titles, there was an HD version made for television, but Kino Lorber’s 50th Anniversary Blu-ray debut is taken from a 2016 transfer that restored in 4K from original film materials. There were 2.20:1 70mm blow-ups during re-release, but Harvey and cinematographer Douglas Slocombe’s original footage was shot on 35mm and framed at 2.35:1. The image quality is strong, as expected from such a remaster. The rich and consistent colours are the most impressive element. Elements are neatly separated, despite the occasional presence soft edges and lens distortion. Prevalent darkness also has a tendency to overwhelm the finer details, but that’s part of Slocombe’s design. The only issue I notice is a smidge too much DNR enhancement, which has blurred some of the film grain and other textures during key shots.

This disc includes the original mono sound in 2.0 alongside a 5.1 remix, probably made using the 6-Track 70mm stereo mix. Both are presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. I spent the most time with remix, though there isn’t a massive difference between the two tracks for the most part. The 5.1 track has the advantage in terms of a truly centered dialogue and its slight stereo spread, but is, generally speaking, a mostly single-channel affair that is respectful of the original audio’s limitations. Those limitations seem to be inherent in the material, such as the inconsistent dialogue volume as actors move through the echoey sets/locations; however, the extremely low sound floor, which creates utter silence between words and effects, might be a minor restoration problem. John Barry’s trumpeting choral arrangements are the main event as far as both tracks are concerned. The extra LFE doesn’t make a huge difference, but the stereo enhancements are impressive.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with director Anthony Harvey – This track was originally recorded in 2000 and included on the MGM DVD. Too often, earlier director’s tracks are slow-moving and devoted to describing on-screen action, but Harvey comes to the recording booth well-prepared with loads of amusing behind-the-scenes tales, some screen-specific, others tangential. It’s a long movie, so he can be forgiven for losing steam about an hour in.
  • Interview with sound recordist Simon Kaye (10:22, HD) – Kaye describes the process of capturing usable, on-set sound from ‘active’ locations, which were not designed for good recording quality. Harvey was adamant that they didn’t ADR/loop any of the performances and often the actors would perform entire scenes without pausing for additional coverage/angles.
  • Trailer and trailers for other Kino releases


 Lion in Winter/The Soldier

 Lion in Winter/The Soldier

 Lion in Winter/The Soldier

 Lion in Winter/The Soldier

 Lion in Winter/The Soldier


Lion in Winter/The Soldier

The Soldier

(Blu-ray release date: March 27)
KGB agents posing as terrorists steal enough plutonium to destroy half of the world’s oil supply and threaten to do so, unless the Israelis withdraw from the West Bank of Jordan. With the world on the brink of nuclear holocaust, The Soldier (Ken Wahl), who’s not part of the military, carries out his own unauthorized, illegal, and highly dangerous plan to preserve the delicate balance of power. (From Kino Lorber’s official synopsis)

Shortly after making his impact on the exploitation market with the vigilante fantasy The Exterminator (1980), writer/director James Glickenhaus was given the chance to broaden his horizons with a sort of grindhouse version of a James Bond flick called The Soldier. He was granted a decent budget (for the time) and permitted to expand the story’s scope with a litany of globe-trotting locations, yet the emerging feature still matches the cartoonish and uncompromising grit of the rest of the Glickenhaus canon – including The Protector (1985, his dicey attempt at Americanizing Jackie Chan) and his arguable ‘masterpiece,’ Shakedown (1988). The stage is set in The Soldier’s opening sequence, where the title character and his mercenary friends run an old lady over with a car, then mercilessly gundown the generic townspeople, who randomly produce firearms from their lunchboxes and baby buggies. It’s a joyfully mad scene that is never really explained and is taken 100% seriously (the best managed is an off-handed mention of the victim’s previous crimes). Oh, and it is outrageously violent. From here, the film rarely slows down, delivering minimum narrative explanations, even during the (usually corny) expositional scenes, which are wedged between endless DIY espionage demonstrations and some of the juiciest blood squibs this side of Sam Peckinpah.

Glickenhaus doesn’t much care for small details (the ‘seams’ of practical effects and stunt replacement work are often laid bare), but he does have a great sense of tone. Despite fitting the narrative mould that would define Reagan-era Hollywood, The Soldier has the relentlessness and ambiguity of a horror film. In this case specifically, his work feels like an uncanny blend of Walter Hill’s more impressionistic tendencies (like the ones seen in The Driver, 1978) and Maniac (1980) director Bill Lustig’s effortless New York sleaze. Yet, the film is also utterly sincere and, one rowdy brawl in a country-western bar aside, it rarely acknowledges its obvious ridiculousness, which is actually quite charming – perhaps even refreshing, given the tongue-in-cheek qualities of the bulk of later ‘80s action movies. Speaking of, The Soldier is a considerable upgrade over The Exterminator’s ‘shoestring chic’ approach to action. Glickenhaus uses low angles, slow motion, simple camera movies to convey maximum impact, and edits sharply enough to maintain genuine suspense as the film ramps (no pun intended) into its climax.

The Soldier wasn’t a big theatrical hit, but it flourished on home video via its original Embassy Home Entertainment VHS. MGM later re-released it on tape via their Movie Time line, but never bothered putting it out on any digital format. Fans were forced to import DVDs from Europe, though they had to be careful to avoid censored versions (the R2 UK disc from Cinema Club was trimmed by almost two minutes). Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray marks the film’s HD debut and has been newly mastered from an uncut source. The resulting 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer has an occasionally rough image that represents the film’s gritty intent quite well. Glickenhaus and cinematographer Robert M. Baldwin utilize a lot of wide-angle lenses, which bring out a lot of fine detail, despite the often bright lighting schemes and sanitized sets/costumes. Grain is constant, but also consistent and finely ground (aside from some particularly grimey stock footage shots). Colours are clean and steady throughout the entire runtime.

This film is presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio and its original mono (2.0). The track is pretty simple, usually dialogue-driven, and often that dialogue is iffy due to the influences of locations (i.e. echoey walls, blustery outdoor spaces, et cetera). Still, everything is understandable, the action scenes have considerable punch, and none of the distortion seems to be a compression issue. The key aural component, however, is Tangerine Dream’s evocative, electro-prog music. This was the first full soundtrack of many that the band created during the ‘80s and it really helps to sell the almost eerie tone. Minus the benefit of stereo, the score isn’t as lush as it could be, but its dynamic range is still impressive.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with writer/director James Glickenhaus – Glickenhaus gets right into spewing behind-the-scenes factoids with zero introduction, including tales of harry security situations while filming in the Middle East and Europe, technical challenges, and the basic production. His energy level is a bit low and he leaves some silent spaces, but the information is still solid.
  • Commentary with film historian Jim Hemphill – The American Cinematographer critic and director of Bad Reputation (2005) discusses Glickenhaus’ career, his contemporaries, the other work of various cast & crew members, and the making-of The Soldier.
  • Trailer and trailers for other Kino Lorber releases.


 Lion in Winter/The Soldier

 Lion in Winter/The Soldier

 Lion in Winter/The Soldier

 Lion in Winter/The Soldier

 Lion in Winter/The Soldier

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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