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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Literature > History > Hawaii (1966)

Hawaii (1966)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: C     Film: B-



With Julie Andrews red-hot off of The Sound Of Music (1965), old friend Walter Mirisch convinced her to star in an epic big screen adaptation of part of James A. Mitchener’s novel Hawaii (1966), pairing her with Max Von Sydow and Richard Harris in a tale about how the famous islands of the title became part of the United States eventually.  They play missionaries trying to convert the natives to Christianity.  Needless to say what really happens was not simple or easy.


The film runs 161 minutes and that is probably stretching the screenplay a bit, but that is par for the course with Dalton Trumbo, who co-wrote the adaptation with Daniel Taradash.  Trumbo, politics aside, tends too often to take each item and stretch them out much further than they should be stretched.  No wonder Stanley Kubrick was not happy with Spartacus, thinking all story points have endless elasticity, but the dialogue is intelligent.  All the writers involved can claim credit for, but it takes about an hour after Sydow has chastised the natives before he is taken to task for overdoing it, though the final hour of the film is the best.  Andrews saw this and Alfred Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain arrive the same year, but she did not click in either film, though she fared better in the thriller.  The idea was that this film might appeal to The Sound Of Music audience with its family, other-world and conservative themes, but it was only a modest success.


It seemed she could carry another epic hit, and she did here, as she did in the outright box office and critical disappointment of the 1968 Robert Wise film Star!  I give her credit for trying to stretch in the roles following The Sound Of Music and am impressed by how good she is here.  The film gets melodramatic, but it is not totally such a film, and its best moments are when it gets away from that and into the heart of the story.  Gene Hackman, Carroll O’Connor, Michael Constantine, John Harding, Heather Menzies (the TV version of Logan’s Run), and even Bette Midler (a brief scene as a boat passenger) also star.


The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image is from an aged print and is not the most color rich we have seen, needing some work.  Video Black and Gray Scale hold up better than expected under the circumstances, but cinematographer Russell Harlan, A.S.C., delivers memorable images that sometimes save the film from itself.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono is not bad, but a big disappointment considering a 6-track magnetic stereo version of the sound exists from the 70mm blow-ups of the film.  Instead, the five channels behind the screen of traveling dialogue, sound effects and Elmer Bernstein score are bottled up by this sad tradedown.  Hopefully by the time a digital High Definition version arrives, those sound elements will have been recovered.  The oddest thing is that the 12” LaserDisc version was in stereo, so what gives?


It should be said that this is one of Bernstein’s best scores for a film few have seen and has a deserved following.  It saves the film in ways that are sometimes profound.  He was very ambitious in what he composed and it is a serious standout.  Extras include a theatrical trailer and original featurette (9:38) that is not in the best of shape.  At least it is more than just a trailer for a change.  Not enough of these archival items are making DVD, but this one is here.  New interviews would have been nice.  Now, we’ll see if MGM releases its sequel, The Hawaiians on DVD.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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