God bless the 1920s, when everyone ran in slow motion to the strains of a synthesiser, and the Olympics was like a giant version of a school sports day. It’s 30 years since Chariots Of Fire was released and stormed to Best Picture Oscar glory, and it’s no surprise the film is getting a Blu-ray release shortly before the 2012 Olympics get underway.
Since it came out, there’s been much debate over whether it’s really a good movie or not, with some classing it as one of the most overrated films ever. That’s partly because many don’t understand how it won Best Picture (and to be honest, I’d be willing to bet it was of a split vote on the other contenders – Reds, Atlantic City, On Golden Pond and Raiders Of The Lost Ark. However it’s not a bad movie, it’s just not a great one.
The film is about Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) and Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson), two men from very different backgrounds whose rivalry culminates in a trip to the 1924 Olympics. Abrahams is a young Jew attending Cambridge, who’s determined to become the best runner the university has ever seen, even if that means flouting some age old traditions. Liddell meanwhile is a Scot whose life is dedicated to God and who sees running as a way to give praise to the Lord. Chariots charts the build-up to the Olympics, with Harold’s single-minded determination threatening to destroy him, and Liddell facing difficulty when it turns out the heats from his race is on a Sunday.
The first hour is pretty dull to be honest, with the attitude far too jolly hockey sticks (Abrahams is supposed to be battling against the system from within, but he just comes across as a particularly single-minded part of the establishment), while Liddell’s story isn’t given enough screentime. In fact the start is a bit of a mess (barring the famed opening sequence, of course), with a pace that varies from meandering to slightly disjointed – and it’s more than a little dull. It’s in the second hour that the film comes to life and becomes the inspirational and sometimes moving drama that ensured it scored a multitude of awards. It has some excellent scenes and some truly stirring moments.
Few films have owed so much to music, in this case Vangelis’ wonderful score, which should seem incongruous – synths in a period drama – but works spectacularly well to create some incredibly memorable and powerful sequences. I also think Nicholas Farrell as Aubrey Montague is vitally important, as the film is essentially told through his eyes, and it’s the way he looks at the people around him that creates much of the empathy and emotional power of the movie (indeed his look of concern at Ben Cross almost reach homoerotic levels).
You’ve probably seen the film before, so me prattling on about it isn’t going to change your opinion. The real question is what it looks like on Blu-ray. On this score there are no complaints. Chariots has been given a great transfer, with excellent detail and colours that show off the wonderful locations and set design. It does highlight the fact a few of the slow-motion shots are slightly out of focus, but largely it looks great. The audio meanwhile does a superb job showcasing Vangelis’ score, which really lifts the movie every time it revs up.
There’s also a plethora of special features, many of which are new for the Blu-ray release. The likes of ‘Filming The Opening Shot’ help uncover some of the more iconic aspects of movie, while ‘David Puttnam: A Cinematic Champion’ is well worth a look, giving a short history of the prolific producer who’s been so important to British film. ‘Paris 1924: Birth of the Modern Games’ is fascinating although perhaps a tad misjudged, as it suggests just about everything at the 1924 Olympics was more interesting than Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams. There’s plenty to dig your teeth into, much of which is very interesting and well worth watching. In fact at times the story of the movie is more interesting than the film itself.
Overall Verdict: Chariots Of Fire is a decent film that’s rather overrated, but it’s been given an excellent HD makeover that more than does justice to the movie’s iconic moments.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac