17th Oct2013

31 Days of Horror: ‘The Wicker Man – The Final Cut’ Blu-Ray Review

by Ian Loring

Stars: Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento, Britt Ekland, Ingrid Pitt, Lindsay Kemp, Aubrey Morris | Written by Anthony Shaffer | Directed by Robin Hardy

thewickerman

It’s time once again for us to keep our appointment with The Wicker Man but this time as we’ve not seen him before. After long-thought to be lost footage was found and director Robin Hardy got back in the Wicker-way after the admittedly terrible sequel The Wicker Tree, we have here what is promised to be the ideal version of the film though interestingly, it’s not the most ” complete” version. Running longer than the truncated initial theatrical cut but shorter than the more recent Director’s Cut, this is instead an assemlage supervised by Hardy himself which is most true to what he believes is his intended version of the film.

Instead of being a NEVER BEFORE SEEN, HOLY CRAP LOOK AT THAT BIT, WOW WE’VE FINALLY GOT THIS SECTION cut, The Final Cut instead takes out some material from the Director’s Cut and adds a little which makes the film flow a little more comforably. Notably the pre-titles shenanigans of the Director’s Cut are severely shortened with Howie’s mainland activity being confined to only the scene in the church which nicely mirrors the end of the film. The only material taken out is really exposition and character work both of which are handled once Howie is on the island though significantly, this version adds a moment after Willow’s attempted seduction of Howie where he tells her he’s engaged, his moral self coming through once again and further damning him to his fate on Summerisle. These tweaks feel better for the story being told as a whole, we get to the island faster and we learn more through Howie’s encounters with its inhabitants. With some extra musical material also added, we get more of a sense of this strange community he finds himself in.

Onto the film as a whole and this mysterious oddity has still lost none of its power 40 years on, though perhaps its biggest strength is in the casting of Edward Woodward as our central tragic figure Sgt. Howie. Woodward’s morally righteous but fatally blind to anything beyond his own way of thinking, he’s a somewhat stuffy but endearing figure, barely ever letting up from the central task at hand with a keenness which you’d find it hard to not get on board with, something that makes the ending of the film, the reveal of an utterly cruel game in which he’s been nothing but a rat in a cage. We are with Howie every step of the way, we learn what he learns and if this character wasn’t as well drawn, the film’s overall impact certainly would have been dulled.

The atmosphere of the whole film is also something which must be celebrated whenever talking about it. Taking on the form of a bizarre horror-musical with much of the runtime given to Paul Giovanni’s eerie folk music, painting the picture of a society which on the face of it has the trappings of Howie’s experience on the mainland but in the lyrics reveal that the worldview of Summerisle is different indeed. Harry Waxman’s cinematography hides well the fact that the film was shot towards the tailend of the year with landscapes which are initially inviting but prove to be insanely horrific, culminating in what is probably a perfect final shot. Hardy’s own input in keeping paciness which feels unlikely given just how much world building there is in the film is also a testament to the skill at which he handled the material, something he hasn’t been able to match on-screen since. Finally, Christopher Lee’s Lord Summerisle remains as iconic as ever, ambiguous in intent but with a vein of humour throughout as he needles and jabs at Howie without ever betraying his dark intent.

A true original which remains incredibly powerful and engagaing all these years on, the Final Cut of The Wicker Man is for me the best version yet seen and I’m happy for this to be the cut that takes me through the years from here.

Coming to Blu through StudioCanal, The Final Cut is presented in a version which for most of the runtime looks stunningly good. Plenty of detail and grain is present in the image with the picture far more vivid than ever seen before. The side is let down slightly by the inclusion of material which hasn’t had nearly as good a restoration job, with the Theatrical Cut material obviously getting the best of the money and effort in the cleaning up but in the grand scheme of things this is a small complaint. Audio is handled by an uncompressed PCM 2.0 track which does its job well.

Having bought the Steelbook edition, I’ve missed out on having the Theatrical and Director’s Cuts on Blu-Ray but given these are versions I likely won’t ever watch again, I’m happy with the trade-off. That extra disc does also contain a commentary and some video footage of said commentary but this is available on the previously released DVD edition.

The disc which houses The Final Cut contains some solid extras itself. The Mark Kermode fronted “Burnt Offerings” is a cracking 48 minute run-through the film’s production history with most of the key cast and crew present, detailing the good and bad of shooting and the dark machinations which ruined its original release. We also get a new interview with Hardy himself, an odd vintage interview piece for local US TV with Hardy and Lee talking about the film post-release. There’s also a new feature looking at the film’s soundtrack and the release history around it, something which fans of cult vinyls will get a kick out of I’m sure, and we also get some trailers for the film.

With the best version of the film to date, solid extras and a great restoration, if you’re a fan of The Wicker Man, and why wouldn’t you be, you pretty much need this Blu-Ray in your life.

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