Witness - Arrow Limited Edition 4K Ultra HD Blu-rayOverview -
One of the best thrillers of the 1980s, Peter Weir’s Witness comes to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray in a Limited Edtion from Arrow Video. Featuring Harrison Ford’s only Oscar nomination, the film is a thoughtful romance wrapped around a classic crime thriller. The Dolby Vision transfer shows the hallmarks of old "Paramounting," but it’s clear Arrow did extra work to alleviate the worst issues. With excellent audio options and packed with some terrific bonus features, fans tired of the anemic previous releases will for sure want to take a look. Recommended
Harrison Ford (The Fugitive) and Kelly McGillis (The Accused) star as would-be lovers from two different worlds in Witness, director Peter Weir’s (Picnic at Hanging Rock) Academy Award®-winning neo-noir thriller which pits modernity against tradition.
When a young Amish boy inadvertently witnesses a brutal murder while en route to Philadelphia with his recently widowed mother, Rachel (McGillis), Detective John Book (Ford) is assigned to the case. With the perpetrators desperate to silence the sole witness, Book and his two wards are forced to hide out in the heart of the Amish community. As passions between Book and Rachel ignite, the killers close in, culminating in a dramatic, life-and-death clash of cultures that will change the lives of those involved forever.
Noted for its sensitive portrayal of the Amish community, Witness features a career-best performance from Ford, earning him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Now fully restored in 4k, Witness proves as timeless as it is masterful.
- 4k (2160p) Ultra Hd Blu-ray presentation in Dolby Vision (hdr10 compatible)
- Original lossless 2.0 stereo audio
- Optional 5.1 Dts-hd Master Audio
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- Brand new audio commentary by film historian Jarret Gahan
- Brand new video interview with cinematographer John Seale
- Brand new visual essay on the film’s performances by film journalist Staci Layne Wilson
- Vintage 1985 interview in which Harrison Ford discusses Witness with critic Bobbie Wygant
- Between Two Worlds - five-part archival documentary on the making of the film, featuring interviews with Harrison Ford, Kelly McGillis, Peter Weir, John Seale, producer Edward S. Feldman, and actors Lukas Haas, Patti LuPone and Viggo Mortensen
- A Conversation with Peter Weir - archival interview with the film’s director
- Two vintage Epk featurettes
- Deleted scene from the network Tv version of the film
- Theatrical trailer
- Image gallery
- Limited edition packaging with reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Tommy Pocket
- Limited edition 60-page perfect bound booklet illustrated by Tommy Pocket, featuring new writing on the film by Dennis Capicik, Martyn Conterio, John Harrison and Amanda Reyes
- Fold-out double-sided poster featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Tommy Pocket
- Six double-sided collector’s postcards
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
The 1980s was a hell of a decade for films. Maybe it’s my own biases of the era I grew up in that’s making me say that but there was something about the flavor of ‘80s action films and thrillers. There was a gritty and grungy undertone to these films that felt distinct from any other era. Amid all the grimy urban thrillers from the likes of Walter Hill and other contemporaries is Australian director Peter Weir’s relatively quiet and contemplative entry Witness. The film starts like your quintessential thriller with a ghastly murder in a train station bathroom then switches gears for a fish-out-of-water romance that never loses pace or feels forced.
Our film opens with Lucas Haas as young Samuel and his mother Rachel played by Kelly McGillis traveling to Baltimore to see her sister. Setting them apart from the other passengers on this routine run is the fact they are Amish. While in Philadelphia waiting for their next transfer, Samuel goes to use the restroom and accidentally witnesses the murder of an undercover narcotics cop. Harrison Ford enters the scene as Detective Captain John Book. Eager to I.D. the killer, Book is reluctant to let the pair too far out of his sight. But when Samuel identifies the killer as a fellow police officer, Book uncovers a drug ring of corrupt fellow officers. Returning the mother and son to their rural farm, Book slowly integrates into their daily lives enjoying a peaceful life he’d never known as a cop. Peace is short-lived when his location is found out and those corrupt officers come for blood.
Witness is one of those films that if left in any other filmmaker’s hands, it never would have worked. The screenplay by Pamela Wallace, Earl W. Wallace, and William Kelley is earnest enough. It’s not tawdry or salacious. It’s a true and honest-feeling romance between two unlikelies wrapped up in the trappings of a gritty urban thriller. Peter Weir deftly kept the focus on the relationship between Kelly McGillis and Harrison Ford’s characters while finding essential moments to build suspense and tension.
Obviously from the start, there is an attraction between Book and Rachel but it’s not cheap. There’s a conflict with the worlds they respectively come from that they struggle with as much as their feelings. Their growing affection and interest feel organic and true but so does the tension in their interactions. More is said with body language and simple expressions than speeches. With Peter Weir at the helm, the film maintains that course. Given the glut of salacious Thrillers in the 80s, in lesser hands Book and Rachel would have been knocking hooks and eyes long long before the second act was over. While I love Harrison Ford in numerous other films, you can see he really shot for the moon for this one. It’s easily his most understated and nuanced performance relying more on what’s behind the eyes than what’s being said to sell the character.
Thankfully the entire film doesn't have to rest on the romanticisms of Ford and McGillis. Young Lucas Haas was terrific as our titular witness who looks to Book as a needed father figure. Jan Rubes is just as wonderful as the Grandfather Eli. It's a small role but Danny Glover stands out as one of the corrupt police officers (he'd get a far meatier role the same year in Silverado). Before he terrorized Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis, Alexander Godunov turned in a lovely performance as Daniel, a rival for Rachel's heart without simply being a cheap addition for romantic tension. Also, keep an eye out for the future King of Gondor Viggo Mortensen as well as Rebel Fleet Y-Wing Gold Leader Angus MacInnes.
Even with a mega-star like Harrison Ford in the lead, Witness was something of a surprise at the box office. Slow and steady, the film proved to be a sleeper hit raking in over a hundred million at the global box office. Earning the praise of critics and fans, this film stands as Harrison Ford’s only Academy Award nomination - one he understandably lost out to William Hurt for Kiss of the Spider Woman. Also aboard the awards train were Wallace, Wallace, and Kelley for their screenplay, Weir for Best Director, and Maurice Jarre for Best Original Score. Of the eight nominations, the screenwriters would take home golden statues as would Thom Noble for Best Editing. Out of Africa would slip in there and slide away with most of the other nominations including Score, Director, and Best Picture.
As for a lasting legacy, the film remains a favorite. It was a regular attraction in my house growing up. Until we got hooked on Columbia House catalogs Witness was one of the few tapes we had that wasn’t recorded from a rental. It was also one of the few soundtracks we had both a CD and cassette tape. Between home and long-drive vacations, this film was practically inescapable in my family. Faced with that impossible question of ten films I’d take with me if I was stuck on a deserted island, I don’t quite know if Witness would make the cut, but it’d certainly be a contender.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Witness arrives on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray from Arrow video with a limited edition single-disc 4K UHD set. The film is pressed on a BD-100 disc and housed in a standard black case with reversible insert art revealing alternate new custom artwork from artist Tommy Pocket. Also included in the case are art cards featuring stills from the film. Also included in the set is a reversible double-sided poster and a 60-page booklet featuring some excellent essays about the film, production images, and details about the transfer.
Witness comes to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with Dolby Vision HDR (and HDR10). Now, before getting too granular, this film appeared on digital platforms like Vudu and iTunes some time ago. Unfortunately, this was at the peak of Paramount’s frustratingly unnecessary and excessive film grain and bitrate management or “Paramonting” as we’ve come to call it. When it hit Vudu it was on sale, I had some leftover credits from a gift card so I figured “Why the hell not?” Within moments of the opening credits, I was already frustrated with the clear excessive grain management. The digital version was just flat ugly and I was worried if this master would carry over to disc. As the years went by I’d hoped a new master would be struck but that unfortunately never happened. But all is not lost for this disc from Arrow.
While this transfer still displays unnaturally gloopy-looking film grain that comes and goes without any reason, it does appear as if Arrow has taken some steps to mitigate the issue. I’m not sure what exactly was done, the transfer notes in the booklet simply state “All feature masters were supplied by Paramount.” Whatever they did at Arrow wasn’t a cure-all, but it certainly helped. I would consider the streaming version a disaster whereas this one is noticeably better. The scenes that weren’t tinkered with are just gorgeous with clear details and natural-looking film grain. The scenes that had been tinkered with still have an unresolved appearance but are at least sharper and better overall. Looking again at the streaming version, it’s still hideous and I’m sure the restrained bitrate doesn’t help things. The bitrate here remains high well into the upper 90s without cratering into the abyss.
The Dolby Vision HDR grade is uniformly impressive giving more care and attention to darker shadowy scenes than previous home video releases. Previous DVD and Blu-rays weren’t much to write home about; odd considering cinematographer John Seale was nominated for an Oscar for his efforts. Colors are now vibrant but not over-saturated. Likewise, flesh tones aren’t too pinked or peached out. Black levels are generally lovely with nice shadow details, especially for scenes on the Lapp farm. Whites are nice and crisp without blooming. While I’d love to see a new scan and transfer struck for this film without the unneeded digital fidgeting, I will say this release from Arrow is the best we’ve had on disc so far.
On the audio front Arrow slips in two options for fans, a respectable DTS-HD MA 2.0 and a very nice DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. I sampled both quite a bit between setups as I worked on this review and I’ll say both are very good. The 2.0 is very nice since it holds well to the nature of the film. Quiet and conversational, the 5.1 track keeps to the front/center channels much of the time leaving the surround channels open for music cues and some ambient effects. Key sequences open up nicely for a full surround experience. The barn-raising scene between dialog, the construction sounds, and Jarre’s exceptional music fill the soundscape nicely. Likewise, the tension-filled final act makes great use of the extra channel spacing. But when you get right down to it, you’re splitting a lot of hairs to decide which track is better when both are very good.
On the extras front, Arrow gives the film an impressive selection of materials to dig into. Historian Jarret Gahan offers up some insights for an interesting audio commentary. The five-part archival making-of documentary is the real feast for this set. At just over an hour it covers a lot of ground leaving little left to explore. Toss in some more archival interviews coupled with that selection of essays in the booklet and you’ve got some extra work to do once you’re done watching the film.
- Audio Commentary featuring Jarret Gahan
- The Eye of the Witness - Interview with John Seale (HD 14:49)
- Show… Don’t Tell (HD 15:17)
- Harrison Ford in Conversation (SD 7:07)
- Between Two Worlds: The Making of Witness (HD 1:03:56)
- Amish Country
- The Artistic Process
- The Heart of the Matter
- A Conversation with Peter Weir (SD 7:17)
- EPK FEaturettes (SD 9:23)
- Deleted Scene (HD 4:11)
- Trailer (HD 1:30)
Witness is one of the finest thrillers of its era. Suspenseful and exciting while also being a character-driven romance. Never too languid to become boring, Peter Weir, his writers, and the great cast deliver a true 1980s classic. Arrow Video brings the film to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with a Dolby Vision transfer that’s nowhere near as great as it should be, but far from as awful as it could have been. Audio options are generally strong with a fine selection of worthwhile extras. Maybe one day we can get a better transfer, but for now, this is at least better than what we’ve had, even if it’s still frustrating. Ultimately a Recommended release.
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