When you hear Sidney Lumet's name, you probably don't instantly think of his fine film called 'Equus'. You more than likely go to 'Dog Day Afternoon', 'Serpico', '12 Angry Men', 'Murder on the Orient Express', and even 'The Wiz'. But in 1977, Lumet adapted the incredible stage play from Peter Shaffer. You might have recently seen the word 'Equus' in headlines as Harry Potter himself Daniel Radcliffe was the lead in a revived play where he got fully naked. This story is over 40 years old now and has been revived for the stage many times with top notch actors playing each role through the years. And it comes as no surprise that someone like Lumet and actors Richard Burton and Peter Firth all worked together on the film.
Often, when someone adapts a stage play for the big screen, it is met with much criticism, as some think it strays to far from the original story or becomes something completely different. At other times, the movie versions capture everything the stage play had and more. With a play like 'Equus', it is quite complicated to tell the movie version, given what takes place on stage. Lumet went for a very realistic version of 'Equus' as the story centers on a very disturbed young man who has a bizarre fascination with horses and has committed an unspeakable act of violence against his favorite animal.
In the stage play, the horses are played by humans in horse masks, while at times, there is only one person on stage talking to us, the audience. I don't think that would make for a great film, and might be met with laughs. And often times when adapting a play to the big screen, some might tell the story from the most basic point of view, rather than dive into the more intellectual and psychological issues that are at bay. Luckily, Lumet captures most of the original screenplay quite well. But instead of people with masks, Lumet used real horses and real settings to give a more organic and realistic approach to this tragic story.
'Equus' follows the struggle of Dr. Martin Dysart (Burton), a psychiatrist who comes across a teenage boy named Alan Strang (Firth) who has blinded several horses fairly violently in a stable. Some of the story plays out like a mystery as Dysart tries to understand what brought Alan to do such a thing. Dysart tries to connect with the boy, but Alan is not willing to fully communicate with him yet. It's a little similar to how Matt Damon and Robin Williams' first sessions started out in 'Good Will Hunting'.
We find out that Alan has been raised by two parents who couldn't be more opposite from each other on the religious side of things, where both are trying to fill their son's heads with two different spiritual notions. On one hand, his mother is devout Christian who makes her son read the bible daily and is constantly telling him things are wrong. On the other hand, his father is an atheist, who seems like an easy going guy for the most part. From Alan's love of Westerns to his grandfather's stories and having horses in his neighborhood, Alan begins to believe that God is actually a horse. In fact, he believes that all horses are Gods and he begins to confuse his worship and love for horses as being in a sexual relationship with horses.
Meanwhile, Dysart is making more headway with Alan in trying to figure out why he did these horrible things to these horses. But Dysart is having trouble finding his lot in life in that he doesn't believe that what he's doing is helping anyone or anything, and that Alan might have a better grip on what life really means than himself. And when Alan meets a pretty teenage girl by the name of Jill who offers him a job at a local horse stable, his inability to connect deeply with a human is heightened. But that's not where the darkness ends. Dysart has his own demons that involve a recurring dream he has involving gory child sacrifices. Needless to say, this is not a happy-go-lucky horse movie.
Lumet crafted an exceptional film from a story that seemed almost impossible to recreate for the big screen. But due to Lumet and the other actor's talents, the film received numerous Oscar nominations and Golden Globe wins for that year. This version of 'Equus' is on a grander scale than that of its stage version, but in this case, it's a good thing. 'Equus' is one hell of a fine film.
'Equus' comes with a fantastic 1080p HD transfer presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio. For a film being almost forty years old, it looks pretty impressive. Twilight Time has done an excellent job in cleaning up this image. The detail is phenomenal, with very vivid and sharp closeups that reveal individual hairs on the actor's heads and faces and delicate stitching in their costumes.
The horses themselves look amazing here too. Even in the lower lit scenes, the detail doesn't suffer a whole lot. The colors pop off screen here and are very vibrant throughout. There is excellent shadow detail and great contrast too. The green pastures and trees look amazing. the skin tones are natural and the black levels are deep and inky. There are a few small instances of dirt and warping from time to time, but other than that, this video presentation is amazing.
This release comes with a lossless DTS-HD 1.0 mono mix, which authentically re-creates the original soundtrack for the movie. The dialogue is crystal clear and very easy to understand. It is free of any pops, cracks, and hissing. For being a dialogue heavy film and in mono, the fidelity is great with a wide dynamic range. Richard Bennett's score is very good too, but is often used. The sound effects of the horses and other nature noises sound very good as well and realistic. There isn't much to this audio mix, but for what it is, it sounds amazing. There is also a separate option to listen to the score only track in DTS-HD 2.0.
Audio Commentary with Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman. - Julie and Nick are film historians who give an inteleectual and fact filled commentary, despite the two of them being ill while recording this commentary. They dive into information on how the film was made to cast and crew bios, and the origins of the story. This is definitely worth listening to.
In From the Cold: The World of Richard Burton (HD, 126 mins.) - Yes, you read that right. This great extra is over two hours long and is an excellent documentary from 1988 on Richard Burton. There are tons of great interviews with archival interviews of Burton himself. Clips from his film are also shown here as well. This is the ultimate Richard Burton documentary.
Trailers (HD, 4 mins.) - Trailers for the film.
Booklet - Contains artwork, production stills and an essay by Julie Kirgo.
'Equus' is a somber yet powerful film. Shaffer and Lumet masterfully crafted this stage play into a masterpiece on the big screen, which earned them tons of awards and nominations for outstanding filmmaking. Of course, the stage play is where you will get every layer of story, emotion, and character. But with this film version, you still get a great dose of what Shaffer was trying to say with the top notch performances from each actor. The video and audio presentations are the best this film has ever had, with a few excellent extras. This limited-release Blu-ray is highly recommended.