Fred Ward (The Right Stuff) stars in Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins… (1985) as the titular hero, a New York City cop shanghaied and given a new face and identity as an international secret agent. Trained by a meticulous martial arts expert (played by a nearly unrecognizable but amusing Joel Grey), he is sent to battle an evil arms manufacturer (Charles Cioffi). A kind of down-market spoof of the James Bond films, it’s directed by Bond veteran Guy Hamilton (Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever) and features a score by Craig Safan, available on this Twilight Time release as an isolated track, plus an array of new Special Features produced by Daniel Griffith of Ballyhoo Motion Pictures.
I don't know if I should be proud or ashamed of the fact that I was actually one of the moviegoing patrons back in October of 1985 who saw 'Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins' during its opening weekend. The film was almost an instant flop for Orion Pictures (and the loss on the film almost certainly contributed to the studio's early 90s bankruptcy), but like many movies of the day, found somewhat of a cult status on home video. Which is not to imply that 'Remo Williams' is a great movie...it has too many issues for that, but there's enough good stuff in the film to make it worth checking out – and perhaps even warrant a purchase of this limited edition release.
The history of Remo Williams making it to the silver screen might be more interesting than anything that happens in the actual film. Based on a series of pulp novels featuring the character, the attempt to turn Remo into cinema's "Blue-collar James Bond" finally got traction when Orion Pictures (a studio founded by a quartet of former United Artists execs – the then-home of the James Bond franchise) saw the potential of a big-budget franchise. Further evidence of everyone's thinking that Remo Williams could be the next Bond came when Guy Hamilton (who helmed four Bond movies, including Goldfinger) signed on to direct. Screenwriter Christopher Wood (who wrote two Bond movies, including The Spy Who Loved Me) penned the script. The movie was given a $40 million budget (among Orion's most expensive films of the time) and tons of publicity...and promptly landed with a dud.
The story is rather simplistic given all the money that went into the film, although it's not without its moments of entertainment. New York City cop Sam Makin (Fred Ward) has just taken care of a group of thugs when his police car (with him inside) is pushed into the water. He's rescued by a secret government organization called CURE, who actually caused the accident to begin with. Sam Makin is presumed dead and Sam now goes by the name of Remo Williams (the source of his new name is one of the movie's better jokes). CURE wants Remo to take care of the problems the American legal system can't...in other words, he's to become a trained assassin. His first mission (and his only one, considering no sequels were ever produced) is to take out a crooked military defense contractor (played by Charles Cioffi) – not exactly the kind of world-dominating "supervillain" we see in the Bond flicks – yet another flaw of this film's story.
Ironically, one of the film's most controversial decisions (even by 1985 cinema standards) turns out to be one of its best: the casting of Broadway legend Joel Grey to play the role of Chiun, a Korean martial arts master who trains Remo during the course of the movie. Buried behind convincing prosthetics (which earned the movie its one and only Academy Award nomination), Grey develops a completely convincing character that is the best performance in the movie. In fact, the relationship between Remo and Chiun, more than anything else the story has to offer, is the big reason why 'Remo Williams' has attained a cult classic status.
The most dismissible character in the movie is sadly its only female role – that of Maj. Rayner Fleming (Kate Mulgrew), whose presence in the film is so unimportant, the screenplay can't even find time to develop a relationship between her and Remo. She's basically just a third wheel in the final act of the movie, during which she contributes nothing to the outcome. The character seems to have been written into the story due to its lack of female characters, but Fleming's entire subplot could be excised from the movie with no ill effect.
I have a soft spot in my heart for this movie. It's one of those titles where it's pretty obvious watching it why it wasn't successful, but also equally apparent that it contains characters and ideas that are worthy of further exploration. There was talk at Sony a couple years back that they were going to give Shane Black a shot at rebooting this character, but nothing has transpired since then, so who knows if it will ever happen. Until then, we have this movie as reminder of what almost was and maybe will be again someday.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Remo Williams' has his adventure begin on Blu-ray in this special limited edition release (only 3,000 copies are available) from Twilight Time. The 50GB disc comes housed inside a clear Elite keepcase, which includes an 8-page full-color insert featuring an essay by Twilight Time's Creative Director/Writer Julie Kirgo. The flip side of the keepcase's slipcover (seen from inside the case) features an image of the New York City skyline with the American flag superimposed against the sky. The Blu-ray isn't front-loaded with any trailers or ads, and the main menu is a still image matching that of the box cover, with menu selections listed horizontally on the bottom right side of the screen.
The Blu-ray in this release is region-free.
'Remo Williams' was shot on 35mm film and is presented here in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. When the movie first gets underway, it looks like viewers are going to be in for a really bumpy ride, as the opening credits are just full of dirt, debris, and stabilization issues. Thankfully, like many transfers of older movies, things settle down quite a bit once the title portion is over, although there are still instances of dirt/debris noticeable on the transfer throughout the remainder of the movie.
The best thing that this presentation has to offer is that most of the outdoor daylight scenes (and even some of the outdoor nighttime sequences) look quite good, with bright color, reasonably well-defined features, and a decent enough level of detail. However, almost all of the indoor sequences suffer from a heavier grain presence and a very flat look to the proceedings. Black levels are decent throughout, but even they can't help most of the dimly lit sequences.
The result is a rather mixed bag, although I think more of this transfer looks good than bad. I don't own the previously released Region B disc (from Arrow Films in 2014), but I did take a look at some screenshot comparisons online and this appears to be the same transfer as that title, although I've read that the Arrow Films' release has a higher bitrate than the one found here (which, for the record, averages around 25 kbps). Since MGM provided the transfer for both releases, it's very likely they're the same.
The featured track here is a 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio one that does a wonderful job of rendering Craig Safan's musical score and does a pretty decent job with the dialogue as well – which is clear and free of any muddiness, but does sound (at least to my ears) mixed a tad on the low side when compared to the musical soundtrack and other ambient noises in the movie.
Despite those mix issues, this is a surprisingly clean-sounding track, with not a single issue of hissing, popping, or other glitches you might find from an older film. And while I would have loved a 5.1 upgrade, the 2.0 track is actually pretty pleasing to one's ears.
In addition to the 2.0 featured track, an Isolated Score Track is also available in 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. Subtitles are optional in English SDH.
Although it was too flawed to ever catch on with audiences back in the mid-1980s, 'Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins' has obtained an ongoing cult status thanks to all the things about the film that do work. This Twilight Time release of the film is one of their better ones, with some wonderful brand-new bonus materials that fans should be quite pleased with. Recommended.