Back Comments (3) Share:
Robert Redford is one of Hollywood’s most iconic stars. A prolific actor, he is probably best known for movies like his great Paul Newman Western collaboration, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, or his politically charged Watergate drama, All the President’s Men, where he teamed up with Dustin Hoffman. There are plenty of other greats: Three Days of the Condor, Out of Africa—the list probably nearing triple figures by now and he is still going strong. Since the Millennium we’ve had The Last Castle, the fantastic Spy Game and his latest drama An Unfinished Life, opposite the ever-amazing Morgan Freeman. This Screen Legends box set collects four classic Redford movies: The Way We Were, The Sting, The Natural and Out of Africa.

Screen Legends: Robert Redford

The Way We Were


The collection kicks off with Redford’s 1974 collaboration with the massively irritating Barbara Streisland. I’m sure fans of her music have reason for their affection towards her, but those who don’t particularly like to listen to cats being strangled are likely to be put off by her film work because, not only is she not a poor actress, but she also insists on doing the songs for her movies (although I must admit that Ja Rule is just as bad at doing this). Before discarding this movie completely, I decided to try and clear my mind of prejudices and give it one chance.

Katie and Hubbell have been skating around each other for all of their lives at Varsity. Katie is a no-nonsense political activist, desperate to encourage those around her to take an interest, despite their distinct lack of maturity. Hubbell is sporty, fun-loving and carefree, almost the complete opposite to Katie, and yet they can both see something in one another—something special.

The movie charts the lives of these two characters, who were destined to be a part of one another’s lives even if it sometimes seems that they were never meant to be together. Their relationship is disrupted by war, by different attitudes and by circumstances, as well as the added conflict of third parties who get between them. Through thick and thin they still seem to end up involved, even if it never turns out the way they exactly expected it to.

The Way We Were is quite a warm romance, with all the classic elements that are still used in similar romances these days: opposites attracting, misunderstandings, denial of feelings and heartache, as well as sweet reunions, undeniable chemistry and playful humorous bantering. However much I do not appreciate Streisand, she was perfectly acceptable playing opposite Redford, although he was clearly the star of the show.

Screen Legends: Robert Redford

The Sting


The Sting was Redford’s 1974 reunion with Paul Newman. After the success (and fun, no doubt) they had with Butch Cassidy, it is no wonder that they chose to do this whimsical drama together. Set in Prohibition-era thirties America, Redford plays a small-time crook with a good heart, who inadvertently cons an organised crime boss out of several thousand dollars, causing mob retribution. He is forced to team up with veteran con-artist Paul Newman and pull off the biggest scam of their careers—trying to take down the vicious crime lord who is after them.

Hoping to recapture the magic of Butch Cassidy, Redford and Newman are on great form in this semi-serious crime caper. The setup seems—initially—fairly simple, but the plot does become fairly contrived: only in a good way. It allows the viewer to sit back and watch the story unfold rather than guess exactly what is going to happen at each stage. The humour is pretty dry, giving it that timeless feel and keeping the proceedings entertaining without ever diluting the more dramatic aspects of the escapade.

Aside from the two leads, we also get a substantial role for the great Robert Shaw ( Jaws), who is on superb form as the tough mafia target that they want to take down. All in all, The Sting is a classic, critically acclaimed comedy crime caper with superb stars, a great script and a cunning story. Chronologically it is the second movie made in this collection and, given that it is one of Redford’s best, it is going to be hard for it to be topped.

Screen Legends: Robert Redford

The Natural


The Natural tells the tale of Roy Hobbs, a young country boy who, from an early age, realises that he has an amazing baseball arm. He can hit and throw the ball like you would not believe. When he’s picked up by a Baseball league, it is his chance to prove just how great he is, but a chance encounter with a mysterious woman shatters his dreams. Many years later and Hobbs returns to the Baseball field to try and prove that he still has the magic. Unfortunately he’s middle-aged, sporting an old injury and surrounded by young hopefuls and doubtful coaches who just want to see him out of the game. Despite the odds, can Hobbs finally fulfil his dream?

This 1984 movie is a typical feel good movie in the style that would be later crystallised by Cruise in vehicles like Top Gun and Days of Thunder. It’s a story about a young man who gets cut down at the top of his game, who has to fight his way back up to the top, battling injury, political adversity and his own inner demons. Redford is on good form, playing this upstanding hero with equal measures of pride and innocence and he is ably supported by a star-packed cast, including Robert Duvall ( Open Range) as the reporter Max Mercer who follows Hobbs’ careers, Glenn Close ( Fatal Attraction) as his childhood sweetheart, Kim Basinger ( Batman) as his new love interest, Wilford Brimley ( The Firm) as the team coach, Barbara Hershey ( The Last Temptation of Christ) as a femme fatale and even a young Michael Madsen ( Reservoir Dogs) as one of his rivals.

The Natural is a thoroughly enjoyable baseball movie about hope and courage and reigning triumphant in the face of great adversity. It is feel-good without being sickly sweet, heart-warming without being cheesy and it is perfectly tailored for Redford.

Screen Legends: Robert Redford

Out of Africa


The final movie in this collection is Redford’s romantic journey to Africa. Meryl Streep plays Karen, the lover of one of two brothers, who finds rejection from him and then solace in the arms of the other brother. A marriage of convenience ensues and the couple movie to Africa to run a plantation out there. It is not long before the promiscuous husband decides to go on another one of his jaunts, leaving Karen behind to run the plantation and take care of the coffee business that they have.

Whilst alone, she becomes ever closer to Redford’s rough-around-the-edges hunter, Denys. They come from different worlds, with completely different backgrounds and attitudes, but they both share a great passion for Africa and this is more than enough to bring them together. Despite their obvious passion and chemistry, will this fiery love be enough to overcome Denys’ free-living independence and break Karen from her loveless marriage?

Based on the real memoirs of a Danish writer, Out of Africa is a refined, magnificent and epic romance that evolves against the backdrop of luscious green African landscapes, with blazing heat and jaw-droppingly beautiful sunsets. The richly cultural and evocative setting grounds the classic love story with a deep sense of authenticity and makes you all the more interested in the characters and their plight. Redford is on top-form (as if he ever isn’t) as the passionate and brave hunter who brings something out of the repressed and neglected Karen and his acting skills are easily matched by the ever-watchable Meryl Streep, who is simply excellent in almost every role she takes on.

Screen Legends: Robert Redford
Sydney Pollack’s epic rounds out this superior Redford collection, which showcases several of his best movies, some of which are multi-Oscar winners. There’s something for everybody here, not just those who love Redford, although if you like romances then you have certainly struck gold. These are largely feel-good efforts, lovingly created with excellent supporting talent and original stories. As collections go, this one offers four must-have additions at a reduced price, so fans of Redford should already be clicking on their buy buttons.

Video


The Way We Were is presented in a fairly decent 1.85:1 aspect ratio anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer; decent mainly because it is so old and yet still quite good-looking. Detail is reasonable, and yes there is some softness, but there’s little grain and no sign of any edge enhancement. The colour scheme is occasionally a little faded, probably to reinforce the settings and era, but some of the colours are still quite well represented and blacks are relatively decent.

The Sting is presented in a slightly dated 1.85:1 aspect ratio non-anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer. I was hoping for an anamorphic print, but the picture is not that bad, it’s just not as good as it could be. Detail is generally fine, with clarity and only a little softness. There’s no edge enhancement but grain is rife, unfortunately. The colour scheme is fairly dated as well, but that goes quite well with the thirties setting. Print damage is only to be expected, but overall it is perfectly acceptable for a print that’s over thirty years’ old.

Screen Legends: Robert Redford
The Natural comes with a reasonably good 1.85:1 aspect ratio anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer. Although there is quite a lot of softness (particularly in the dimly-lit earlier scenes where they are trying to make Redford look like he’s in his late teens), the detail is still generally quite good and there’s no sign of edge enhancement and little grain. The colour scheme is fondly nostalgic, depicting the movie’s era in browns and golds and solid blacks. The movie is often drenched in low-angle sun, shining down to make the shots almost dream-like. Overall it is a decent representation for this movie.

Out of Africa gets anamorphic treatment with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio widescreen transfer that looks pretty good. Detail is excellent, with no signs of edge enhancement, minimal grain but a little annoying softness (although arguably some of this was intentional for this romantic drama). The colour scheme is full of luscious landscapes, drenched in bright sunlight and there are some beautiful sunset sequences. There is a little negligible print damage but for a twenty year old movie this is probably not likely to look much better.

Audio


Screen Legends: Robert Redford
The Way We Were is presented with a Dolby Digital 5.1 effort that barely lifts it above its basic original Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono status. It sounds extremely restricted, with dialogue often muffled because of the overbearing soundtrack (yes, that booming Streisland-based offering), which makes you reach for the volume control all the time, turning it down during the music and up to hear the vocals. Effects are practically non-existent and, despite the dynamics of the surround sound channels, it is not a track that is worth giving much regard to. Considering the age of the movie, it is arguably expected, but nonetheless it is still disappointing not to have a better 5.1 remix.

The Sting is just presented with its basic original Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono track. Dialogue is perfectly audible, crisp and coherent from the frontal array and, whilst there are no really noticeable effects, the score (predominantly consisting of The Entertainer) is given good coverage. A broader, multi-directional mix would have been preferable but for a movie this old it is a bit much to ask for and considering the results seen on the previous movie, unless it is a decent remix effort, it would be pointless anyway.

Screen Legends: Robert Redford
The Natural comes complete with a rather strange Dolby Digital 4.0 track. The dialogue is normally decent, clear and coherent, emanating predominantly from the frontal array, and the effects (from the loud crowds cheering to the connection between ball and bat as the central protagonist hits his way into history) get to see a little more surround action. The score is powerful and uplifting, coming in at all the right points and pulling you into the emotion of the drama.

Out of Africa gets another odd mix, this time in Dolby Digital 4.1. Dialogue is presented clearly from the frontal array, with plenty of effects like lions growling, gunshots and the general African wildlife chirping and creeping across the surrounds. The music is easily the most important aspect, with a tremendous score by John Barry, which is one of the most evocative and passionate scores that I have ever come across, totally in line with the romantic theme and only slightly reminiscent of his Bond efforts.

Screen Legends: Robert Redford

Extras


The Way We Were get a commentary from the director Sydney Pollack, who tries his best to recall the making of this movie some thirty years ago.  He talks about the flashbacks and time-jumping that occurs during the first quarter, the way they made the characters look older, the various cast members (including noting James Woods’ film debut), the development of the characters, the fact that Redford was interested in doing a decent romance and various background notes into the production. Sometimes you get the feeling that he is just describing the on-screen action, but overall it is an interesting effort for fans of the movie.

We also get a comprehensive hour-long documentary, which has contributions from all of the main cast and crew (including the screenwriter, the director and Streisland herself but, annoyingly, no Redford), recorded relatively recently in interview. The nicest thing about this offering is the fact that each contributor is given the time to provide some very interesting anecdotes into the production, dissecting the story, the script and the overall production and filling in lots of background information that fans will simply lap up. There are plenty of on-set stills but far too much in the way of final movie clips, padding the whole featurette out, although we do get some brief b-roll footage and outtakes which are quite amusing. Finally for this movie we get the trailer and some text talent profiles.

The Sting merely gets text production, cast and filmmakers notes, as well as the original theatrical trailer, which is a missed opportunity as a commentary by Redford and Newman would have been compulsory listening.

Screen Legends: Robert Redford
The Natural has a forty-five minute documentary, split into ten chapters: Intro, Purity, Growth, Business, Media, Focus, Heroes, Magic, The Zone and Wisdom. Although these titles are relatively ambiguous, this making-of is quite interesting and goes from start-to-finish, explaining the background into the story, the true people that it was based on, the characters that were built up to represent them and the reality behind baseball and baseball players. There is a huge amount of final film footage, but it is mostly used to illustrate the narration and we get a few nice stills from real baseball action. I would have liked to have heard more from the cast and crew (there’s no sign of any actors contributing here) but as a documentary that discusses the backdrop of the movie—i.e. baseball—it is quite revealing. We also get text filmographies and theatrical trailers for both this movie and The Way We Were.

Out of Africa gets a Sydney Pollack commentary as well. He talks about the original script, how the story was based on true memoirs, the background to some of the characters, the locations they used (some of it was shot in England) and the actors they chose. The background into the source material is by far the most interesting aspect of this track and Pollack proves to be quite an engaging commentator. We also get text notes about the production, the cast and the filmmakers as well as the original theatrical trailer.

Screen Legends: Robert Redford

Overall


The boxed-set provides a nice, rounded selection of movies from Redford. Screen Legends have set about doing the same for the likes of James Stewart, Orson Welles, Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby and Cary Grant, and this set is a particularly good collection that is likely to appeal not only to fans of Redford, but fans of decent, noteworthy movies. Overall the presentation is fairly good, although The Sting is crying out for the special edition treatment that it’s twin effort, Butch Cassidy, recently received, and it is certainly value for money.


Links: