“I didn’t kill my wife!”
When you say to a movie fan, “It’s a blockbuster Hollywood movie based on an old TV show,” you’ll likely get a groan. The studios have mined TV nostalgia in exchange for big screen cash for years now, leading to filmic stinkers like Dark Shadows, Lost in Space, or Wild Wild West. Every once in a while, though, they get it right. Case in point, 1993’s The Fugitive, on shelves anew as The Fugitive (Blu-ray) 20th Anniversary Edition.
Dr. Richard Kimball (Harrison Ford, Raiders of the Lost Ark) is a fugitive, on the run after being charged with his wife’s murder. He insists that a one-armed man killed her, and now, while avoiding the cops, he’s out to find the real killer. Enter U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones, Men in Black) and his team, who will stop at nothing to catch Kimball.
While The Fugitive is often heralded as an action movie standard, it’s interesting how it doesn’t follow the typical beats and patterns of most action flicks. In others, the action scenes are like movies-within-the-movie, each with its own beginning, middle, and end. It’s as if the movie says, “OK, this is the chase scene,” then there’s a chase, and afterwards the plot continues on. Not so with The Fugitive. Aside from a couple of big stunts at start, the action beats are best defined as “scrapes,” where the cops bear down on Kimball and he just barely finds a way to elude capture—for the moment. Where The Fugitive has action is in its overall pacing and tension. The movie is relentless, always moving forward, never stopping to rest, even in its calmer moments. Even though there aren’t punches, kicks, or squealing tires every few minutes, it feels like we’re watching big, big action, because the intensity is so cranked up so high. According to always truthful internet rumors, director Andrew Davis (Under Siege) obsessively cut and re-cut the movie over and over to maximize the fast pace and the suspense.
Tommy Lee Jones is often praised for his performance as Gerard, and rightfully so. Gerard is a force of nature, continually pursuing his target when everyone else is ready to throw in the towel. At one point, when other cops believe Kimball is dead, Gerard insists on keeping up the search, just because he knows he’s right. It’s important to note that Gerard is not just a tough guy, but the “just doin’ my job” breed of tough guy. I love Gerard’s laid back, “buddy cop” camaraderie with the cops in his team. This not only adds a few moments of levity to the film, but it humanizes Gerard, so we get a sense of him as a genuine individual, rather than just a never-say-die cop.
The other performances are excellent as well. We get both the “Harrison Ford intense stare” and the “Harrison Ford haunted stare.” I’m half-joking of course, because Ford really is good in a mostly silent role, saying it all with just his face. The always-great Andreas Katsulas (Babylon 5) is perfectly sinister as the one-armed man, and Joe Pantoliano (The Matrix) is his usual fast-talkin’ self as one of Gerard’s team. There are also some before-they-were-famous performances from Julianne Moore (The Forgotten) and Jane Lynch (Glee).
Purists of the original series are sure to balk at how the ending has been changed this time around. Similarly, the third-act twist—it’s a thriller, so there’s gotta be a twist—is predictable, telegraphed to audiences way ahead of time.
The Fugitive has already been released on Blu-ray and HD-DVD, so it’s already received the high-def treatment a couple of times over. The picture might not have the razor-sharp clarity and super-naturalistic skin tones of top of the line releases, but it’s nonetheless clean and clear, without any noticeable defects. Audio is good as well, making the most of the pulse-pounding score from James Newton Howard (The Hunger Games).
Bonus features include a new 20th anniversary featurette, looking back at the film and its history. We also get the pilot episode of the 2000 reboot of The Fugitive, starring Tim Daly (Wings) as Kimball and Mykelti Williamson (Kidnapped). This was a lavishly produced series, one that made full use of the then-internet technology in fugitive hunting, giving it a different feel than the movie or the original series. The rest of the extras have been ported over from previous releases, including an introduction with Ford and Davis, and commentary with Davis and Jones in which Davis does most of the talking, two more behind-the-scenes featurettes, and the theatrical trailer.
Relentless pacing and excellent performances make The Fugitive a genuine thrill ride. It’s a must-buy for action fans, and this 20th Anniversary Blu-ray is the one to own.