Friday, October 11, 2013

The Wicker Man: Final (?) Cut

This was only going to be a quick review of the new digital print making the rounds, but it got me to thinking of larger things...

Psyched were we by the recent re-release of Robin Hardy's The Wicker Man, a storied British horror movie (some would say the best ever) long unseen in its uncut version. The story of a child's disappearance investigated by devout, even prudish, police sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) is an initially whimsical tale boosted by its island location and occasionally spellbinding music. But the mystery surrounding Howie deepens to the point of real horror, even as the island residents (led by an affably unhinged Christoper Lee as Lord Summerisle) gear up for an ecstatic, unforgettable celebration.

It is fantastic to have this thing back out in the world, and making the rounds of cinemas even as I write this. It's a perfect movie for autumn, of course, with its autumnal setting and Halloween-level spookiness. And yet even with Hardy signing off on it as his final, intended cut, there remains an issue (as there always is, really) with this so-declared "final cut." Bob Calhoun makes a compelling case that some still-absent exposition is actually crucial to the structure of the movie, and it's strange that Hardy would sign off on a cut that lacks these scenes. (Though perhaps he's smarting from the movie being mainly identified mainly as a work by screenwriter Anthony Shaffer, and not his. - this is of course PURE SPECULATION on my part.) Also strange, though maybe inevitable, is the inconsistent image throughout the digital print - the thing was clearly sourced from very different film prints, and one wonders if more could have been done to provide better color correction. These things may have been out of Hardy and Rialto Pictures' hands, but one wonders if everyone involved thought that this compromised version really is their preferred version, or if it's The Final Cut by default, simply the best version they could make. Indeed, it may be the Final Cut as this will be the last time it will ever play theatrically.

These thoughts only came to me in the days after seeing it. In its moment, while watching it, there's much to enjoy in The Wicker Man: the gorgeously played conflict between Woodward & Lee; the haunting folk tunes that practically turn the movie into a musical; the intensifying, all-absorbing mystery; to the harrowing reveal of the title character. No matter what one's reservations about the state of this Final Cut (or that of digital restorations of classic cinema, which The Wicker Man certainly is), this is a movie well worth checking out in its tour of theatres - its playdates can be found here.

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