I interviewed William Friedkin back in 2012 (read part one here and part two here) and asked about the status of Sorcerer back then, knowing of the legal issues it was facing as Paramount and Universal couldn't seem to decide who owned the rights to the film. Friedkin was suing both studios in order to figure that out and hopefully get a remastered version of, what I believe is best called a "cult classic" at this point, the film released. Two years later, it finally arrives courtesy of Warner Home Video in all its tension laden madness.
While Friedkin doesn't like the term, Sorcerer is a remake of French director Henri-Georges Clouzot's Wages of Fear (which itself was based on Georges Arnaud's novel), an amazing movie and one I've written about before, including my 2009 review of the Criterion Blu-ray. I can understand Friedkin's aversion to the word "remake" as he has done everything in his power to make this film his own and it doesn't disappoint, even for someone such as myself, that holds Clouzot's film in very high regard.
Simplifying the story at hand, Socerer tells of four men hired to drive two ancient trunks through the muddy, rain-soaked South America jungle, transporting wooden boxes of unstable nitroglycerin to a raging oil well fire. Matching Clouzot, Friedkin manages to make the task of watching two trucks slowly drive over rough terrain absolutely riveting, maintaining a measure of political intrigue while adapting the scenarios from the original film to his own environment, including a suspension bridge scene that cost over $3 million to shoot but is undoubtedly one of the most intense scenes ever captured on film.
While Friedkin originally sought the likes of Steve McQueen, Marcello Mastroianni (8 1/2), Lino Ventura (Army of Shadows) and Robert Mitchum (The Night of the Hunter) for the cast, which would have made it a much bigger, worldwide box office sensation regardless of reviews (which weren't kind upon release), the ultimate cast, led by Roy Scheider and supported by Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal and Amidou is well up to the task and more fitting for a feature venturing into unknown territory. The actors convincingly convey the struggle and fear as a result of the situation, keeping the audience on edge, which is a particularly notable task given the background of each of these characters.
This new Blu-ray transfer is certainly better than the DVD copy I've seen in the past, but it isn't without its own curiosities. While the image certainly retains the gritty nature of the film stock it was shot on, the jungle greens are so vibrant there are times it looks incredibly manipulated. It's interesting because everything else looks as it should, skin tones look natural and nothing else looks like it was heightened to such a vivid extent, but I'll be damned if those greens look natural. Not that the overall appearance isn't a treat, but you do take notice.
The audio is a different story as I feel safe describing it as perfect. From Tangerine Dream's much-loved, late '70s synth score to just the overall aural treatment, placing you in the midst of a torrential downpour and rocking your system with massive explosions. This thing kicks.
Most disappointing is the lack of any special features, though this Blu-ray does come in digi-book packaging with included liner notes adapted from Friedkin's recently released memoir, "The Friedkin Connection", along with a small insert from Friedkin briefly discussing the film's near-40-year journey to Blu-ray.
If you've paid any attention to the stories surrounding the film, the production troubles and the film's ultimate box office demise as Star Wars captured audience imaginations there won't likely be any surprises inside these liner notes, but it remains a fascinating story leading up to what is truly an excellent film.
The storytelling from the four opening prologues, establishing the characters' histories rather than relegating them to being told to us, to the South American jungles where Friedkin proves a true master, paying homage to the filmmaking of H.G. Clouzot while making Sorcerer all his own, a task when it comes to American remakes of foreign films I've delved into before.
Despite the lack of features and my concern over the vivid (and seemingly out of place) greens, this is the best Sorcerer is likely to look and for that reason I can't help but recommend it. Whether you look at it as a rugged and tough adventure story or a thrilling drama tinged with political commentary, in the end it is all of those things and every little aspect of the film, from its making to its new release on Blu-ray is fascinating.
You can buy a copy of Sorcerer from Amazon.com by clicking here.