With a big year critically and commercially ending on a high note, 1985 provided its share of films that made lots of money like Back to the Future and the years best picture went to Out of Africa. In a year of such great movies as Prizzi’s Honor and Brazil, this was a year where the Best Picture award truly went to the wrong film. One film that was amongst the big five nominees for best picture came from a foreign director, a big star and a simple story that is summed up in one word: Witness.
A mother and her young son (Kelly McGillis and Lukas Haas) of the Amish country go on a train bound to visit a relative. During one stopover, a normal restroom visit turns into something more as the little boy is the sole witness to a killing seen through the door of a stall. Sensing many might come out to the Amish country searching for him, Detective Captain John Book (Harrison Ford) goes into hiding to protect the boy awaiting trial on those responsible for the crime. It’s in this hiding out that it becomes more than a job as Book learns the ways of the Amish and gives the mother of the story a little bit of life outside the Amish country.
For a Best Picture to be spoofed in other films tell a viewer how memorable the film is and years later after its release, it still remains so. Director Peter Weir’s less is more dialogue approach with actors works very well here thanks to its main leads Ford and McGillis. Ford is a cop who’s life gets turned around for a certain amount of time and does everything possible to make sure a little boy is protected amongst a certain kind who does not raise their hands to others. McGillis, the female lead, provides what she doesn’t have on the outside but also an expression of settling in her kind without any kind of regret despite a slight curiosity.
It seems that every once in a while when the film happens to be on television, it’s one to lock the channel for. This viewer has always indicated that its a sign of a great film rather than a good film and within the originality of its story and its structure under the simple hands of Peter Weir, Witness is something to look at every once in a while for its a most entertaining thriller that is not afraid to take a step back itself from becoming cliched.
Video: How does it look?
Witness has always had a very muted and subtle look to it. The 1.85:1 AVC HD image certainly looks improved over the previous LaserDisc and DVD versions as a fair majority of the grain and dirt have been removed. I don’t recall exactly how many times I studied the barn raising scene in my film class, but I know that I wasn’t able to watch the movie for quite some time after it. That said, detail has been improved and colors do seem a bit more saturated. If anything it shows us that Kelly McGillis was once a very beautiful woman. While a new 4K master was not made for this movie, the upturn in the video quality is noticeable.
Audio: How does it sound?
A new Dolby TrueHD (yes, you read that right) sound mix has been given to this movie for its Blu-ray release. The film has always had a very subtle, yet powerful score and it’s a testament to Maurice Jarre’s Oscar-nominated score. Vocals are rich and pure, Harrison Ford’s deep yet mumbly (is that a word?) voice still manages to convey tone and passion. The uncompressed sound mix has a depth that isn’t present in the DVD version. It’s an improvement, for sure.
Supplements: What are the extras?
In spite of the fact that there’s a Special Collector’s Edition DVD out there produced by Paramount, this featureless disc comes to Blu-ray from Warner, who has stripped any and all supplements off the disc.
The Bottom Line
Taking a break from his fedora and whip, Harrison Ford ventured into some unfamiliar territory with this mid 80’s classic. Director Peter Weir is in top form and it showcased a pre-Top Gun Kelly McGillis as well as a pre-Lethal Weapon Danny Glover. It’s a well-made film that, sadly, has had all of its supplements removed. The bump in audio and video quality is notable, but if you’re looking for the supplements – you’ll need to hold onto your DVD.