An American missionary and his wife travel to the exotic island kingdom of Hawaii, intent on converting the natives. But the clash between the two cultures is too great and instead of understanding there comes tragedy.
George Roy Hill was a terrific filmmaker, but he's rarely mentioned these days when discussing great directors, which is unfortunate, because his resume includes 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid', 'The World According to Garp', 'Funny Farm', 'Slap Shot', and 'The Sting' to name just a few. Back in 1966, Hill directed a film called 'Hawaii', which starred a young Max von Sydow and Julie Andrews. A very young Gene Hackman even shows up here too.
'Hawaii' was nominated for seven Oscars and a few Golden Globes, winning a couple of the latter. This being the case with such high critical praise and awards, 'Hawaii' is usually left out of talks amongst film buffs. I can see why, because it doesn't have a whole lot of action beats or real suspense really throughout. Instead, this is a character study that dramatically follows a young couple on a trip to Hawaii with a certain mission, which is to spread the word of Christianity to the natives there.
The character transformations over the course of this very long drama are wonderful, but also a little tiresome. The film is an adaptation of part of the large novel of the same name from 1959, written by James A. Michener, and takes place in the early 1800s. We meet a young man named Abner Hale (Max von Sydow), who is a student at Yale, who is about to travel to Hawaii and spread the gospel on a mission trip to convert the "savages" to a much more civilized way of life. Abner is a lonely man, but great at his studies and work, and has no time for love. In fact, his parents lived a loveless life and had no fun, telling Abner that romance and love is a sin.
Before he leaves for his trip, an arranged marriage takes place between him and Jerusha Bromley (Julie Andrews), who is part Mary Poppins and part Sister Maria from 'Sound of Music'. Basically, she's amazing and beautiful, which in a few comical moments, Abner has trouble articulating his speech and feelings around her. The two set off on a wooden boat to Hawaii, which is treacherous at times, but they end up on the Hawaiian islands. It's here where Abner slowly learns the true meaning of life and that there is love, passion, and romance everywhere, and that life is not just all about religion. Abner and Jerusha build a life in Hawaii, learning the native's way of life and vice versa.
There are a ton of new character that enter the fray here and some side storylines that could have been left out, but it all culminates into a charming yet heartbreaking finale as Abner has the joy and wonder that Jerusha has had all along. It's a very sweet, endearing, and sometimes tragic film, in which writer Dalton Trumbo explores these characters and emotions perfectly, even some fifty years ago. This is a very intimate film, one that has a big and broad scope, but keeps things close to home as it all focuses on this one couple and their new friends and surroundings.
Max von Sydow and Julie Andrews deliver amazing performances, perhaps some of their best work. They just capture the true heart and soul of these characters, their flaws and all. 'Hawaii' is an epic movie for sure in terms of scope, locations, and heart, but the true gem and meaning of this film is as simple as it comes, which is why this film still stands the test of time in being one of the great dramas of the silver screen.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Hawaii' comes with a 50GB Blu-ray Disc from Twilight Time and is Region A locked. There are two version of the film presented here, one of which is in standard definition and the other one in 1080p. The longer version, which is in standard definition runs about thirty minutes longer. The disc is housed in a hard, clear plastic case and comes with a booklet with an essay from Julie Kirgo.
'Hawaii' comes with a 1080p HD transfer presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio. This film is fifty years old and still shows some signs of its age. I will say that this is the best this film has ever looked, when remembering the past releases of the film. There is more depth and clarity to the image for sure, but it isn't the perfect transfer by any means. Detail throughout is improved upon where closeups in a lot of natural light show the best details in the actor's faces, textures in the costumes, and props on set.
You won't spot too many individual hairs or anything, but detail is strong in other areas. Wider shots are a little softer, but during the daytime sequences, look better, especially when on the island. Grain is natural, however there are some fluctuations on the heavier side of things from time to time, particularly during darker sequences. Colors look decent, but nothing ever really pops off screen. Blues, greens, and reds still look brighter than what you'd expect from a film of this age, but colors look a bit muted, which is unfortunate, because the on set locations are stunning.
Black levels are mostly deep and inky, however there are issues with crush and shadows are a little pale. Skin tones are somewhat natural as well, but look a little darker than normal.There are still some dirt, debris, warps, and scratches to see as well. Still, this video presentation is an improvement on previous releases, despite the flaws.
This release comes with good DTS-HD MA 1.0 Mono mix, however I wish there was an extra option for something a little bigger sounding, since this has an epic score by Elmer Bernstein and some powerful sounding moments. There is an isolated score track in 2.0, but that does nothing for sound effects or dialogue. Sound effects are full, particularly during the storm at sea scene where the thunder and crashing waves are robust. Ambient noises of people chattering and island life also sound good, however not as fully immersive as it could be.
It would have been nice to have the bass rumble here too. The score is a shining moment here. It's one of those sweeping scores from old Hollywood that adds to every dramatic moment. These types of scores are very rare in modern days. The dialogue is always clear and easy to follow, with zero cracks, pops, or hiss. Louder moment never sounded like a tin can either, leaving this mono mix presentation with solid marks.
Two Versions of the Film - You can choose between the theatrical cut or the Roadshow cut, being 161 minutes or 189 minutes respectively. The Roadshow version is in standard definition with tons of issues. Still, it's nice to have this option.
Isolated Score Track - Both versions of the film presented on this disc have the option of a music only DTS-HD 2.0 mix.
Trailer (HD, 3 Mins.) - Trailer for the film.
Booklet - Illustrated booklet with an essay by Julie Kirgo on the film.
'Hawaii' is one of the better films ever made, but it rarely gets the respect or attention it deserves. The A-List cast of then young stars is phenomenal, and the direction is superb. The changes in each character are dynamite and endearing all at the same time and well worth the long run time, and the score is fantastic throughout. Even after fifty years, 'Hawaii' still holds up. The video and audio presentations though are not the best I've seen, and I think there could be a better presentation and transfer on down the line. Besides another audio option or an extra thirty minutes to the already long film, the bonus features are zero. Still, that being said, this is the best this film has ever looked and going by the film itself, this one comes recommended!