Wicker Man, The (UK - BD RB)
Marcus hangs out with the heathens and wonders what the wood man is for
Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) is a Christian policeman sent from the Scottish mainland to investigate the disappearance of young girl on the remote island of Summer Isle. Howie encounters the island community's hostility and their highly sexualised pagan rituals and his distaste of their ways grows as he realises the missing girl may be involved in the dark goings on. Things slowly get more twisted on the small island and when the Laird of Summer Isle (Christopher Lee) reveals his master plan for Howie, the terrifying climax solidifies the place The Wicker Man has in movie history.
It’s been too long since I’d seen The Wicker Man. One way or another I don’t think I've actually owned this British masterpiece since VHS days but this has now been rectified. Revisiting this weird but wonderful story was a joy and it didn't take me long to kick myself for leaving the return to it for so long.
The Wicker Man still remains quite unique. Maybe not so much in the story its telling but it certainly its own beast when it comes to how the story is told. It’s so weird but always believable as reality. Dialogue and scenes can feel odd but it all works within the structure and at the core of it all is Sergeant Howie, who is so righteous in his beliefs and British about it all that it’s hard to imagine the character being able to exist in anything other than this story. I love how he’s one guy on an island of misfits and even when he knows they are all in it together he remains focused on the job at hand and isn't afraid to air his feelings on the pagans way of life.
Too many modern thrillers/horrors/dramas play the villains as obvious villains from the get go or play scenes with the sole purpose to creep us out, The Wicker Man breaks all of those conventions. Sure the film has a dark undertone and a seriously dark climax but everything is so light and cheery. The Pagan songs and dances, the costumes, the fact that most of the movie is set in bright daylight, it’s all so... so... jolly. The darkness of events are in the reveals and the odd feeling getting there and it makes the forty year old film still feel fresh and interesting.
Of course, not mentioning Christopher Lee in this review would be a crime. His performance here is amazing and so unlike his usual dark roles. He’s so light and joyful, full of smiles and has a twee charm that has to be lost on many an international audience member.
Re-visting the film, the character almost felt like one that Steve Coogan would create and the knowing grin on Lee’s face and the sheer certainty of his actions treads a line between humour and utter scares. He’s pretty mesmerising here and it’s no surprise he touts the role as one of his favourites.
The Wicker Man’s arguments about religions and gods adds a whole other level to the importance of the film. It almost legitimises all of the events and somehow sums up many the problems caused in human history due to absolute beliefs. Howie’s dedication to his religion and how it is consistently put to test generates so much drama within the film, without having to spell it all via dialogue and the visuals in the film sell it even harder. Whether it be a dancing naked Britt Eckland or the visions of madness in the pagan costumes, everything feels like it's there to break Howie and it adds so much tension.
People could easily write off The Wicker Man as amateurish or low key but it’s the film’s intelligence within the story its telling and where it all goes that is still as hard hitting as it ever was and somehow the real world looks to the film just sell it all the more. Forty years on and The Wicker Man hasn't lost it’s greatness but is the Blu-ray release a reason to celebrate or should it be burnt with the livestock?
I’ll cover the Final Cut here and move on to the other versions later.
The film in HD isn't going to be winning any awards on the video front but it will probably win the hearts of the fanbase because the HD improvements here are very very noticeable. Maybe not during the fairly ropey looking credits sequence but once we get through them the natural lighting and realistic setting really begins to come to life.
Immediately it's refreshing to see skin tones so natural and under real world lighting too. Textures are also not hidden under make up or clever lighting so stubble, rosy cheeks and clothing look crisp and realistic in the almost documentary style visuals. As we reach the local shop colour begin to show through. Some of the wider shots are a little muted and soft but the close ups handle reds, pinks, yellows and blues very well and even offer up some elements that leap out of the largely autumnal colour scheme in the film. Black levels are good but not always pin sharp, glints of light in eyes look fantastic and the image also shows off some fine examples of depth, though it’s never consistent.
Due to added scenes in this cut not all of the film retains HD quality enhancements. A small amount of scenes and transitions can reduce in quality quite drastically and offer up a closer to VHS look to things with lessened colour, more grain and much softer elements. You can’t really miss these scenes because they stick out like sore thumbs but when we bounce back to the fully restored film you really do appreciate the vast and extremely natural looking improvements here.
Dialogue is clear and central and while the louder elements can sometimes sound a little muffled, the layers of sound are still presented well. The SummerIlse folk range from sounding natural to sounding overdubbed (Britt Eckland was of course dubbed with a Scottish accent) but placement is good and there’s no obvious sense of the film’s age.
The musical numbers (which there are enough of to make the films a contender for a musical really) feel full with various Folk instruments and vocals adding a nice bit of oomph to proceedings. Fiddles, flutes and drum sound fresh and crisp throughout the film.
Groups of island folk or school kids sound quite spread within in the limited stereo track and of course when it all kicks off everything at the ends and everything comes together, the track is pushed to its well handled limits.
So the first disc houses the Final Cut(93 mins) and a bulk of the extras.
‘Burnt Offering : The Cult of the Wicker Man’ (48:19 HD) is the Mark Kermode documentary an it’s as detailed as you'd expect from the Film critic. There’s lots of cast insight, plenty of detail around the film's production and its legacy and of course more focus on the cult backgrounds the film is built on. This is a great retrospective documentary and gives a great overview of the film.
‘Worshipping The Wicker Man’ (22:37 HD) is a ton of filmmakers talking about their love of The Wicker Man. Finding reasons for why the film works and exactly how unique it is is discussed. Eli Roth is the only non-Brit talking about the film and all of the views cover exactly why the film has had such a lasting effect.
‘The Music of the Wicker Man’ (15:22 HD) has Gary Carpenter. (the associate musical director) discussing how the film's music came to be.
The ‘Interview With Robin Hardy’ (16:18 HD) talks to the director and his intentions for the film and shares some more stories from the production.
‘Interview with Christopher Lee and Robin Hardy’ (24:50 SD) is from a 1979 Critics Choice US TV special. It’s pretty bad video quality but audio and content is top notch.
‘The Restoration Comparison’ (01:53 HD) is a great reel highlighting the improvements made to the film.
Last up on disc 1 are some trailers (01:28 HD)
The second disc features the UK theatrical Cut (88 mins) which is DVD quality and the Directors Cut (99 mins) which feels closer to VHS quality. I guess depending on your preferences you’d want these in full sparkling HD too but it’s good to see the various states of the film and it really highlights the improvements in the Final Cut.
The ‘Making of Audio Commentary’ (15:52 HD) features Christopher Lee, Edward Woodward and Robin Hardy. It’s moderated by Mark Kermode and isn’t really a commentary at all. It’s footage of them all recording the commentary.
The full commentary track is on the Director's Cut and is very much a celebration from all involved with Kermode setting a bit of direction and pulling the participants back onto more interesting subjects before it turns into patting each other on the back too much.
Disc 3 is the film's soundtrack but I did not get that with my review discs so am unable to comment on its quality.
The Wicker Man arrives on Blu-ray and I for one am pretty impressed with it. I guess a fair chunk of the extras have been available elsewhere but the new stuff is still very good and the HD presentation of the film is pretty stunning even if the film’s age and general state will probably prevent new-comers from getting too excited about the good looks.
Multiple cuts, tons of great extras the soundtrack and a solid video and audio presentation for the film itself. What more could you ask for? A Steelbook maybe? Well there’s a pretty one of them too. Go forth Wicker Man fans, celebrate this classic like it’s a May Day parade.
Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and 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.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 14th October 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: LPCM 2.0 Stereo English
Extras: Multiple Cuts, Documentary, Featurette, Commentary, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Robin Hardy
Cast: Edward Woodward, Britt Ekland, Christopher Lee
Length: 93 minutes
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