Set on the edge of a South American jungle, a desperate four-man team, led by Roy Scheider, must transport a volatile cargo of nitroglycerine over 200 miles of treacherous terrain in order to stop a potentially disastrous oil fire. Featuring a beautiful soundtrack by Tangerine Dream. Also starring Francisco Rabal, Amidou, Bruno Cremer, Ramon Bieri, and Joe Spinell.
In 2015, director William Friedkin will have been making movies as a director for 50 years. Over that time, he made two that are widely recognized as classics: 'The French Connection', a crime thriller starring Gene Hackman that won five Academy Awards, including one for Friedkin, and the landmark supernatural horror film, 'The Exorcist'. Which is interesting because in his letter accompanying the new Blu-ray release from Warner Brothers, Friedkin reveals "I felt then and still do that 'Sorcerer' is the best film I've ever made."
Influenced by John Huston's 'The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,' one of his favorite films, Friedkin used the story from Clouzot's 'The Wages of Fear', which was taken from Georges Arnaud's novel Le Salaire de la peur, and altered the characters and incidents to create an original scenario. He states emphatically that he doesn’t consider it a remake. The film's production was difficult and it bombed at the box office. As a result, the film was soon regarded poorly, or flat out forgotten, like so many box office disappointments before it. Thanks in part to Friedkin's 2012 lawsuit seeking to establish who owned the film's domestic rights; Sorceror has finally received a high-definition release.
'Sorcerer' introduces four despicable characters from around the globe. Nilo (Francisco Rabal) is a hitman working in Veracruz, Mexico. Kassem (Amidou) is an Arab terrorist involved with a bombing in Jerusalem, Israel. Victor Manzon (Bruno Cremer) is a businessman caught committing fraud on the Paris Stock Exchange. Jackie Scanlon (Roy Scheider) is a part of an Irish gang from Elizabeth, New Jersey that robbed an Italian mobster and shot his brother. All four men, and many others, end up in the tiny South American village of Porvenir, working for an American oil company, making a wage so low they are stuck there and can't leave.
Then fate presents an opportunity. A massive fire breaks out at an oil well 200 miles away. The company had planned to use dynamite to stop it, but the dynamite hadn't been stored properly, resulting in the nitroglycerine becoming unstable. It is determined that the safest way to transport it, but by no means a safe way, is by placing the explosives on top of sand in the backs of trucks. This is done to limit the vibrations, which could trigger an explosion at any moment. It's a suicide mission, but the company offers a large enough wage to make it appealing.
While 1977 was the summer of 'Star Wars', it's hard to believe 'Sorcerer' couldn't find an audience. I'm not sure if people had no interest because the title suggests a fantasy film, but Friedkin and his team create movie magic, and it's a shame the film disappeared for so long. The characters are unlikable criminals, but through the directing and editing, the scenes of them driving are captivating as they slowly make their way over uneven dirt roads and rickety wooden bridges. The plot takes intriguing turns all the way until the end, showing how life itself is unstable. Towards the end, Friedkin makes a misstep with artistic choices quite different from the rest of the film. The sequence doesn't work as well as he would have liked, but it doesn’t detract from how great the film is.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warner Brothers has released 'Sorcerer' on a 25GB Region A Blu-ray disc in a 40-page DigiBook with a collection of still and notes by Friedkin and a separate note from him thanking those involved in the restoration and release. The disc boots up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements.
The video has been given a 1080p/AVC-MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio 1.78:1 and it delivers an impressive image.
Colors appear in bright hues and blacks are inky. There's a wide spectrum on display in the civilized locations like the Parisian restaurant, and then colors tend towards darker shades during the South American scenes. The green foliage is especially vibrant as is the orange from the well fire. Facial tones stay consistent. Contrast and shadow delineation are strong.
The focus is sharp and the image delivers depth and fine details, as seen in the texture of buildings and the facial hair and small beads of sweat on the actors. The picture is free from wear or damage and contains an adequate amount of film grain. I noticed no digital artifacts.
The audio is available in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0. The dialogue sounds clean and clear and is balanced well with the other elements in the mix, which include Tangerine Dream's electronic score and weapon effects.
The dynamic range is quite wide from the soft sounds of a crackling fire and Victor's wife speaking from another room, and sounding like it, to a massive explosion that jolts with power thanks to the subwoofer. The bottom end also provides a satisfying amount of oomph when the machine guns realistically ring out. However, the guns that ring out when the peasants revolt sound bigger than they should.
The surrounds deliver very good ambiance. In the Jerusalem marketplace, voices and bells fill the air. There's good movement of sounds through the channels. A plane can be heard panning across the fronts and moving from the rears to the front.
Aside from the DigiBook, there are no supplements. Such a missed opportunity.
William Friedkin's 'Sorcerer' seems to be a film whose reputation will continue to improve over time as more people discover it. This new Blu-ray from Warner Brothers will certainly showcase the film's cinematography and sound. It's unfortunate there are no extras and hard to believe a commentary track with Friedkin wasn't recorded considering what he thinks of the film and all that it took to get it completed, but that doesn't diminish the film itself nor excellent quality of this HD presentation.