The bird has come for its prey! Newly re-mastered in HD! Screen legends Robert Shaw (Taking of Pelham One Two Three) and Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange) co-star as desperate fugitives in an unnamed foreign land, wanted for unknown crimes by a nameless, faceless enemy. Against a raw, unforgiving backdrop of parched desert and frozen mountains, MacConnachie (Shaw) and Ansell (McDowell) run for their lives, but even as they cross a seemingly endless expanse of open territory, the walls of their cage begins to close in as a relentless helicopter pilot stalks them in a deadly game of cat and mouse. Legendary blacklisted filmmaker Joseph Losey (Eva, The Romantic Englishwoman) directed this thrilling adventure yarn with nonstop suspense and exhilarating action photography that is a jolt of pure adrenaline.
“Why don’t we just dig ourselves a couple of graves and go to sleep.”
On the surface Joseph Losey’s 1970 action film ‘Figures in a Landscape’ is a cat-and-mouse chase between two men and one tenacious helicopter. Starring Robert Shaw and Malcolm McDowell this sparse action thriller shows us everything, yet tells us nothing. Based on a novel by Barry England with a script by Shaw, ‘Figures’ tells the story of two escaped convicts running for their lives across an unnamed landscape from an unnamed army. This ambiguity allows us to see it as more than just an action film, but an existential statement about freedom, authority, and humanity.
The film opens with two men running across a beachhead with their hands tied behind their backs. A black helicopter crosses the red sky splitting the sunrise. The orchestral score attempts to keep up with the chopper as it now speeds across mountainous landscapes. From inside the cabin we see two ominous black helmets pushing the machine faster and faster in pursuit. As the men now continue their way through mountains we cut back to the chopper on it’s hunt. The chase is on. No information. No details. Hunter and prey. The aerial photography is on point. Losey’s camera placement allows us to fear the chopper without having it on top of us. The helicopter SCREAMS across the hillside in pursuit! Seeing it bob and weave only a few meters above the men’s heads is crazy. Traveling sideways across the hill in pursuit I’ve never seen anything like this before! These pilots are equally professional and insane.
Shaw is MacConnachie, a bitter middle-aged man with some survival training under his belt. He clearly despises his younger companion Ansell (McDowell) for his lack of guts and gusto. Ansell represents the young care-free generation and is constantly under fire not only from the men chasing him, but also MacConnachie's berating insults. Extreme circumstances force these men to work together to survive the terrain and escape the advancing forces. Unfortunately, we aren’t given much information about Ansell and MacConnachie, their captors, their destination, or their motivations. It’s all survival. Through small victories over the hostile forces, they develop an admiration for each other that culminates in Mac reminiscing about his wife to an exhausted Ansell. Clearly, Shaw gives himself the better parts in the script while McDowell is handed the scraps. In this particular scene shades of Shaw’s ‘Quint’ character from that shark movie can be seen.
Losey takes full advantage of the natural landscapes available to him.. Immense wide shots establish the setting for our chase. These men are in the middle of nowhere with barely a goat in their path. Beautiful scenery, but isolated and treacherous. POV shots of the chopper pilots and the men on foot allows the viewer be in the middle of the action constantly. Frankly, this movie could be watched without the sound! Between the chase sequences and scenery (which should be considered a character) this is the perfect movie to have on and just enjoy every frame. Trudging through a snowcapped mountain pass the men are sunburnt, blistered, and look like hell. MacConnachie looks down the hillside at the encroaching soldiers, “Maybe I can hold them back.”
Typically a film like ‘Figures in a Landscape’ would be incredibly frustrating to watch with it’s bare-bones plot and minimal character development. However, with Shaw at his prime delivering a powerful performance up against his polar opposite of McDowell is a joy to watch. The natural beauty of the landscape juxtaposed against the menacing helicopter chasing our protagonists is something quite special. Leaving so much of the story up to our imaginations allows this film to be relevant in any time. Made after Losey was blacklisted by the HUAC, ‘Figures in a Landscape’ is a thrilling statement about the pursuit of freedom that is as relevant today as it was in 1970.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
‘Figures in a Landscape arrives on Region A Blu-ray thanks to Kino Lorber. The movie is pressed onto a BD25 disc housed in a standard blue case with slipcover. The disc opens to the KL Studio logo before settling into a static Main Menu screen.
‘Figures in a Landscape’ is presented in 1080p HD resolution with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Colors are rich and vibrant throughout the feature. Losey frequently uses wide establishing shots which showcase a wide color spectrum from desert to mountaintop. It’s a rich earth tone palette that just sings! Losey used 3 cinematographers on the film whose combined work includes ‘Naked Lunch’, ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, and ‘The Longest Day’. Fine detail is consistent and black levels maintain sharpness. Specks, fragments, and image distortion are visible in the transfer from time to time. It’s clear the transfer needs some work, but with stable contrast levels and visible film grain this is a presentation worth enjoying.
The DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio track supplied on the Blu-ray is acceptable. For an action film with screaming helicopter engines and gunfire the film has minimal audio effects. Dialogue is clear and clean throughout the feature with no pops or hisses. During high action scenes the 2.0 track becomes uneven and severely taxed to the point of tinny output and occasional slight distortions. I found myself adjusting the volume frequently to compensate for the discrepancies between action and dialogue scenes. With a 5.1 mix that helicopter could really scream across your living room!
There are no supplements.
Though not a critical or financial success, Kino Lorber has resurrected a solid action thriller that plays well whether you’re into a lazy Sunday action flick or an existential thrill ride. ‘Figures in a Landscape’ is given an adequate Blu-ray presentation but without some special features or an improved transfer it’s tough to give this film high marks. With a no frills script, thrilling cinematography, and Robert Shaw this film is worth a watch. For those looking to pair an excellent film for your next ‘Blue Thunder’ or ‘Duel’ double feature, look to ‘Figures in a Landscape’. Recommended.