Release Date(s)1985 (February 15, 2022)
Studio(s)Orion Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: C+
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B
[Editor’s Note: This a co-review by Jim Hemphill and Tim Salmons. The majority of the film review is by Jim, and the rest is by Tim.]
The optimistically titled Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins may not have launched a franchise when it opened in 1985, but it should have—stylish, witty, and anchored by a terrific lead performance by Fred Ward in the title role, it’s pure cinematic pleasure from start to finish. The film didn’t really resonate with audiences when it opened against films like Commando and Jagged Edge, but it’s held up well, and seems now to have been a bit ahead of its time—its origin story format, relatively fresh four years before Tim Burton’s Batman, is now the default for just about every new franchise.
The film is an adaptation of a successful cycle of male adventure novels known as the Destroyer series, which launched in the early 1970s and is still going strong with hundreds of titles in print. The film, which deviates from the books in significant ways, follows a New York cop whose death is faked by a shadowy organization that then gives him a new identity and trains him to be a kind of super-assassin. He’s given a mentor—Joel Grey, who is undeniably brilliant in a politically incorrect role as a Korean martial arts expert—and soon becomes so skilled at combat that he takes on powers bordering on the supernatural.
The premise is essentially a pretext for a series of spectacular action set pieces, the best of which is a fight scene staged on the then under construction Statue of Liberty. The financiers’ ambitions for Remo Williams to become a new James Bond are obvious right from the opening credits: the screenwriter is Bond scribe Christopher Wood (who adapted The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker), and the director is Guy Hamilton, who helmed Goldfinger and several other Bond classics. Hamilton is an ace at elaborate action sequences, and the stunts and special effects here are dynamite. What really anchors them, however, is Ward’s very funny yet convincingly tough performance as a kind of blue collar Bond; he’s authentic and likable in every frame, and his banter with Grey is often hilarious. I’m not sure why this character didn’t grab people at the time—maybe the odd mix of espionage, martial arts, and urban action-comedy was too tough to market—but Kino's Blu-ray is a perfect way for audiences to rediscover Remo’s pleasures now.
Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins was shot by director of photography Andrew Laszlo using Arriflex 35BL III cameras, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Kino Lorber Studio Classics brings the film back into print on Blu-ray utilizing the same master that was used for the previous Twilight Time and Arrow Video Region B Blu-ray releases. It’s an older master (likely from an interpositive) loaded with visible damage, and is much softer next to more modern presentations. The credits are extremely unstable as well. It offers a decent color palette with good definition and contrast, though grain and detail are lacking. It was a fine presentation for Blu-ray several years ago, but times have changed and this film is in desperate need of a fresh scan, preferably from the original camera negative.
Audio is included in English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio with optional English subtitles. The various elements are separated well with occasional pans and low end activity. Craig Safan’s score is also given an ample amount of support, while explosions and gunfire are quite powerful. Dialogue exchanges are clear and precise as well. It’s an excellent track, but a 5.1 remix is also in order.
The Blu-ray of Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins sits inside a blue amaray case with an insert and slipcover featuring the original US poster artwork. The following extras are included:
- Audio Commentary with Larry Spiegel and Judy Goldstein
- Created, the Destroyer: Writing Remo Williams (HD – 17:09)
- Unarmed & Dangerous: Producing Remo Williams (HD – 21:51)
- Secrets of Sinanju: Training Remo Williams (HD – 8:46)
- Balance of Power: Designing Remo Williams (HD – 15:05)
- Assassin’s Tune: Composing Remo Williams (HD – 13:46)
- Stills and Promotional Gallery (HD – 99 in all – 7:09)
- Radio Spot (HD – :31)
- Trailer (SD – 2:18)
- The Final Option Trailer (SD – 1:47)
- Murphy’s Law Trailer (SD – 1:30)
- Runaway Train Trailer (SD – 1:58)
- Force 10 from Navarone Trailer (HD – 1:45)
The audio commentary featuring producer Larry Spiegel and co-producer Judy Goldstein was recorded in 2014 for the Arrow Video Region B Blu-ray release. The two are more than up to the task of providing a wealth of information about the making of the film. Goldstein tends to lead the conversation most of the time with Spiegel sometimes asking for clarification, but their chat manages to stay on track with only a few minor spots of silence. Next is a series of featurettes by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures, detailing various aspects of the film including its source material, differences from the film and the books, the production itself, and the score. Participants include son of Warren Murphy, Devin Murphy, film historian Chris Poggiali, producer Larry Spiegel, co-producer Judy Goldstein, actor Joel Grey, production designer Jackson De Govia, and composer Craig Safan. The Stills and Promotional Gallery contains 99 stills of magazine and newspaper ads, storyboards, behind-the-scenes photos, telegrams, promotional photos, posters, publicity materials, and home video artwork. The rest of the extras consist of a radio spot and trailer for the film, as well as four trailers for other Kino Lorber Blu-ray releases.
Not carried over from the Twilight Time Blu-ray release is an audio commentary with film historians Eddy Friedfeld, Lee Pfeiffer, and Paul Scrabo; an isolated music and effects track in 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio; an MGM 90th anniversary trailer; and an 8-page insert booklet featuring an essay on the film by Julie Kirgo. Not included from the Arrow Video Region B Blu-ray release is the Remo, Rambo, Reagan and Reds: The Eighties Action Movie Explosion documentary, the When East Meet West: Joel Grey Remembers Chiun featurette, the Changing Faces: Carl Fullerton Discusses the Make-up for Chiun featurette, and Notes for a Nobleman: An Interview with Craig Safan featurette.
For fans of Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins who already own the previous Blu-ray releases, there’s not much of an argument to be made for an upgrade here. However, for those who missed out on both releases, it’s nice to at least have it back in print so that they can see it.
- Jim Hemphill and Tim Salmons