Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
The Fugitive: Warner, widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, pan&scan, languages: English DD 5.1 [CC], French Dolby Surround, subtitles: English, French, Spanish, double side-single layer, 42 chapters, production notes, cast & crew biographies, rated PG-13, 131 min., $24.98, street date 9/3/97.
U.S. Marshals: Special Edition, Warner, widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, languages: English DD 5.1 [CC], French Dolby Surround, subtitles: English, Spanish, French, single side-dual layer, 40 chapters, rated 131 min., $19.98, street date 7/21/98.
The Fugitive: Directed by Andrew Davis. Starring Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones, Sela Ward, Joe Pantoliano, Jeroen Krabbe, Andreas Katsulas.
Academy Awards: Winner of Best Supporting Actor-Tommy Lee Jones. Nominated for Best Picture-Arnold Kopelson, Best Cinematography-Michael Chapman, Best Original Score-James Newton Howard, Best Film Editing, Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing, 1994.
Catch him if you can. The Fugitive is on the run! Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones race through the breathless manhunt movie based on the classic TV series. Ford is prison escapee Dr. Richard Kimble, a Chicago surgeon falsely convicted of killing his wife and determined to prove his innocence by leading his pursuer to the one-armed man who actually committed the crime. Jones is Sam Gerard, an unrelenting bloodhound of a U.S. Marshal. They are hunter and hunted. Directed by Andrew Davis, their nonstop chase has one exhilarating speed: all-out.
So catch him if you can. And catch an 11-on-a-scale-of-10 train wreck (yes, the train is real), a plunge down a waterfall, a cat-and-mouse jaunt through a Chicago St. Patrick's Day Parade and much more. Better Hurry. Kimble doesn't stay in one place very long!
U.S. Marshals: Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Wesley Snipes, Robert Downey Jr., Kate Nelligan, Joe Pantoliano, Irene Jacob.
In 1993 audiences everywhere held their breaths as the unstoppable U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard inexorably closed in on the one-armed man. The Fugitive became a worldwide blockbuster, earned seven Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Picture, and earned an Oscar for Tommy Lee Jones as Best Supporting Actor as it thrilled viewers with its mix of suspense, action and strong characters.
Now, Tommy Lee Jones, in a reprise of his Oscar-winning performance as U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard, is back in another chase, joined by his crack team of Deputy Marshals.
A ruthless and mysterious assassin (Wesley Snipes) is on the run from the law while trying to discover who implicated him in two murders in New York City.
Gerard and his team are newly joined by a cocky government agent (Robert Downey, Jr.) they don't yet know or completely trust. Bent on uncovering their quarry's true identity and his role in a possible government conspiracy, they bring intelligence, experience and street-smart common sense to a relentless hunt.
The fugitive, deceptive and cunning, vows never to be caught. The U.S. Marshal, obsessive in his commitment, promises to bring his prey to justice.
And the chase begins -- again!
Picture/Sound/Extras The Fugitive (B+/B+/D-) / U.S. Marshals (A-/A-/B-)
Hey, let's play a little Jeopardy! Here's the answer: The Flintstones, My Favorite Martian, The Brady Bunch, The Avengers, Maverick, Lost in Space, The Saint, McHale's Navy, My Mother the Car, Mission: Impossible, and Leave it to Beaver. So what's the question?
(Doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo...)
(That was the Final Jeopardy music, by the way...)
Question: "What compiles a list I can make off the top of my head of TV shows that were turned into bad movies?"
(Honesty time here: I actually liked Lost in Space, but since I'm radically in the minority about that one, I put it on the list.)
Think about it: it's very hard to conjure a roster of TV shows that have been adapted for the big screen that weren't almost total disasters. Yeah, The X- Files Movie was pretty decent, and Star Trek certainly has done well theatrically over the last twenty years (though it certainly started out poorly with Star Trek: The Motion Picture). However, both of those franchises really had a life of their own. Their reputations had really well transcended the confines of television by the time they appeared theatrically and each strongly belonged to the national consciousness.
However, the movies I listed at the start of this article have been viewed more modestly by the public at large. Virtually all of those series were successful TV shows, but they weren't seen as anything much more than that. Certainly, I don't recall seeing any advertisements for McHale's Navy conventions.
So is the lesson that it's futile to attempt to translate TV shows that AREN'T cultural phenomena to the big screen? Maybe, but there remains one HUGE exception to that rule: 1993's The Fugitive.
I cringed when I first saw previews for this film. If you've read many of my other reviews, you know that I'm firmly in the bag for Harrison Ford, so when I saw his name attached to a TV series remake, I feared the worst. Obviously, those translations have a very poor percentage of success, so I thought The Fugitive would end up just another lame attempt to cash in on a vaguely recalled TV show.
I guess I should've trusted old Harry. Far from being a pathetic rehash of an old show, The Fugitive presented a tremendously vital and exciting update on the cat and mouse chase theme. Director Andrew Davis took a well worn plot and injected great life and excitement into it. The result? A terrific take at the box office and an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, something almost unheard of for an action movie.
The Fugitive really had it all, though after I first saw it, I thought it might have given it up too early. Probably the best remembered sequence in the film occurs when the bus on which our fugitive to be, Dr. Richard Kimble, is being transported ends up rolling off the road after a botched escape attempt from some other prisoners. The bus comes to a rest on a train track, but the train just keeps a-rolling!
Suffice it to say, the ensuing narrow escape from the choo-choo completely floored me and pretty much everybody else in the crowd. Unfortunately, it was hard to go anywhere from there, and while the rest of the movie worked very well, it just never could equal the train crash scene.
Well, that's why it's always good to watch movies again. Upon subsequent review, the impact of the train crash sequence dilutes and the strengths of the remainder of the film become more apparent. In truth, The Fugitive is probably a little too long; the pursuit seems drawn out just a little past the point of effectiveness. Still, the movie makes for crackling entertainment, even when the conclusion is no longer in doubt.
As with many films, much of The Fugitive's continued pleasures emanate from the solid performances of its actors. Tommy Lee Jones won an Oscar for his justly celebrated performance as US Marshal Sam Gerard, the man who spends most of the movie chasing our fugitive. Jones really provides both a level of intensity and down to earth realism that would escape most actors; he truly takes over almost every scene in which he appears.
That shouldn't denigrate the typically solid and believable performance from Ford. His work is almost as predictable as the tides; while he occasionally chooses some weak films in which to appear, it's very hard to think of any honestly poor performances that he has given. Kimble's something of a thankless role since it's essentially reactionary; Gerard and the other pursuers are the only ones who get to stimulate the action. Also, Kimble needs to be something of a saint; if the audience ever really questions his innocence, the movie sinks. Still, Ford does yet another solid turn on his stolid Gary Cooper routine. Kimble may not be the flashiest or most memorable character he's portrayed, but he stands as a decently realistic and likable one.
The supporting cast all provide fine work, especially the crew of actors who form Gerard's "posse"; they seem very comfortable together and play off each other well. Jeroen Krabbe is also good as our (ultimate) villain; his Dr. Nichols appears just weaselly enough to suit our needs.
Ultimately, one of the most refreshing aspects of The Fugitive stems from its ending. Truth and justice prevail, of course, but in a most unusual way: neither villain dies! Think about action movies over the last twenty years or so and try to figure in how many of them the villain survives; I guarantee that'll be a pretty short list. Add to that the fact that there's no way the villains in The Fugitive can logically return for a sequel - since sometimes the bad guy might be kept alive just for a return visit - and the fact that neither Nichols nor the One-Armed Man buy it at the end of the film continues to surprise me. Maybe the prevalence of dead villains is a reflection of society's distrust of the legal system; filmmakers fear that audiences will be disappointed with an antagonist who just gets arrested because the viewers may think that the bad guy will get Johnnie Cochran'd out of jail. Or maybe people simply like the final justice inherent in a villain's death. Whatever the reason, I nonetheless truly appreciated the fact that The Fugitive took a different path.
After the resounding success of The Fugitive, you could literally hear many Hollywood heads being scratched as producers tried to figure out how to squeeze a sequel out of it. Logically, you want a similar situation, but what are the chances Kimble's going to be unjustly arrested again? Yeah, that kind of gambit worked in the Die Hard sequels, but that seemed more acceptable than the prospect that a good guy like Kimble once again find himself on the run from the law.
The trick for a Fugitive sequel was to create a similar story but somehow keep some characters from the original constant. The producers did a pretty good job of that in US Marshals, which moves the point of view over to the pursuers. Jones and his associates all return in their roles as The Law, plus we receive introductions to new characters in the form of Wesley Snipes as Mark Sheridan - our NEW fugitive - and Robert Downey, Jr. as an FBI agent who gets involved in the chase.
While the premise made sense, unfortunately the execution doesn't come close to living up to the first film. US Marshals suffers from a plot that's entirely too similar to that of the first film. Another fugitive who has to prove his innocence, another escape from a crashed public transport, another betrayal from an apparent good guy, another death-defying leap from a high spot - been there, done that. And the film lacks much of the spirit and panache found in The Fugitive; US Marshals simply is another competent but unexceptional action film in a world littered with such movies.
Really, the only significant difference in story that I can find between the two films stems from the fact that we remained very sure of Kimble's innocence throughout The Fugitive. Though the film never explicitly says that he didn't kill his wife, we knew they wouldn't deviate strongly from the original series and besides, they aren't going to play with our emotions and end up with Harrison Ford as the bad guy; again, that's why he had to come across as such a saint - our belief in his innocence could never be in doubt or the film would falter. Sheridan, however, though played by a fairly big time actor, wasn't our nominal hero, so the audience could question his ultimate culpability or lack thereof. Granted, it seemed likely that he would eventually be exonerated - it WAS the same story, after all - but a small kernel of doubt existed that never appeared during the first film. It's a minor difference between the two films, but at least I found ONE way that the stories diverged.
There was literally no reason for this film to exist other than as a vehicle to capitalize on the success of the first picture. Technically, Jones' Gerard is the protagonist of this piece, so the focus resides firmly on him. Nonetheless, we don't actually learn any more about him or his compatriots than we did in The Fugitive. It seems that since we had a whole new cast of characters to introduce, the filmmakers just didn't have time to increase the amount of character development they received the first time around, so we get these folks exactly as they existed five years earlier. Granted, no one went to see US Marshals for its indelibly drawn characters, but it would have been nice to see some extra information provided about them.
(You know what movie I'd like to see? The Fugee-tive, in which Lauryn Hill struggles to escape the clutches of her old band mates in their attempts to cash-in on her enormous success. You know the soundtrack'd go to number one!)
Despite its extremely derivative nature, US Marshals actually plays pretty well as long as you don't expect too much from it. For instance, I wouldn't want to watch it right after I saw The Fugitive. But as I said, it's certainly a professional, competently made film that provides a reasonable amount of excitement over its length. Overall, it's a fairly likable but ordinary movie. I guess we should take something from the fact that it certainly could have been much worse.
Since we live in such a cruel, unjust world, I suppose it was inevitable that while The Fugitive remains by far the more compelling film, US Marshals offers a vastly superior DVD release. The latter wins out over the former in every possible DVD quality category. Both movies boast very nice pictures, with consistently crisp and well-defined images. However, The Fugitive offers a few somewhat muddy and hazy scenes, problems that US Marshals almost completely avoids. The latter truly looked great; only a few print flaws prevented it from earning a full "A" rating. Still, The Fugitive shouldn't disappoint you either.
The same goes for both film's Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mixes. They do the same things well, with both DVDs featuring crisp and natural dialogue and music plus nicely immersive surround mixes. However, mainly since it's so much newer, US Marshals really works the rear channels to a much greater degree; it provides the type of all-out sonic assault that we expect from modern action movies. The Fugitive provides some pretty good split surround effects, but it doesn't even really live up to other movies from 1993 (Last Action Hero and Jurassic Park spring to mind) much less approach the quality of more recent films. Again, both movies offer strong soundtracks; US Marshals simply does its audio better.
(For the record, the DVD case of The Fugitive claims that it provides a "soundtrack remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1." That's great, except I see no reason why they would have had to remaster this sucker; according to IMDB, it was released with a Dolby Digital soundtrack.)
Okay, so far we've seen that in regard to picture and sound, US Marshals gets the edge over The Fugitive but not by a tremendous margin; at this point, they're fairly close. The former film's lead dramatically increases when you consider the issue of supplemental materials. US Marshals came out of Warner Bros. initial attempts in the summer of 1998 to push some box office disappointments to success on DVD through lots of features and aggressive pricing; both it and Sphere emerged with nice supplements and list prices of only $19.98, and both sold much better than they otherwise would have done.
While US Marshals offers a nice complement of extras, the list seems more impressive than it actually is. Take the director's audio commentary, for one: it's the worst I've ever heard. Not because Stuart Baird is terribly boring; while he's not what you'd call scintillating, Roger Donaldson on Dante's Peak and Barry Sonnenfeld on Men in Black were much less interesting. No, I consider this commentary to be the worst because it only covers about half to two-thirds of the film! Entire chapters of the DVD are skipped! Thankfully, a "narrator" tells you when to skip ahead to a particular chapter; if I'd had to skim through the entire film in a search for Baird's commentary, I'd have gone insane. Nonetheless, I still can't get over how much territory was left uncovered on this track - lame!
US Marshals includes a few other bonuses. We get Anatomy of a Plane Crash, a fairly interesting "interactive" documentary. While I enjoyed the material provided in this program, I didn't appreciate the DVD's "interactivity"; this just means that instead of watching the whole thing straight through, you return to the menu and have to select the next chapter each time. Since the components only last a couple of minutes, and there are more than a few chapters, this gets old quickly; yes, I suppose it's nice that if I want to watch only one part of it, I can easily do so, but I'd rather at least have some option that would let me select to run all the segments without having to return to the menu.
Also included on the US Marshals DVD are a brief (eleven minutes) documentary about the history of the US Marshals office; it's somewhat interesting, though it strongly resembles the kind of puff piece you'd see on an office tour. A few production notes, the usual cast and crew bios, two TV ads, and theatrical trailers for both US Marshals and The Fugitive round out the package. This isn't a spectacular set, but it's certainly very nice, especially when you consider the price.
The Fugitive, on the other hand, almost completely craps out in the area of supplemental materials. All we get are very basic cast and crew biographies. Like Lethal Weapon, the DVD case claims that the program includes production notes, and while I guess these bios technically count as production notes, DVDs usually differentiate between the behind the scenes texts that we think of as "production notes" and these sorts of biographies. Well, whatever you call it, it sucks.
So if you can only buy one of these DVDs, which is it? Despite my love of supplemental materials, I have to go with the better movie: the DVD may be flawed in some ways, but The Fugitive gets the clear nod. But at prices that are so low - less than $45 list, which means you could easily get them for about $30 over the internet - why not grab them both and have yourself a little party?
Current as of 3/27/99
James Berardinelli's ReelViews--On The Fugitive: "'Innovative' is not a legitimate description of The Fugitive, but 'entertaining' is." On U.S. Marshals: "A routine exercise in stunt choreography, with more valleys than peaks, and not enough tension to keep the viewer engaged for the full length."