Original film poster
|Directed by||Roger Donaldson|
|Produced by||Bernard Williams
Dino De Laurentiis
|Written by||Robert Bolt
Richard Hough (book)
|Cinematography||Arthur Ibbetson, BSC|
|Editing by||Tony Lawson|
Thorn EMI Screen Entertainment
|Release date(s)||USA 4 May 1984|
|Running time||132 minutes|
The Bounty is a 1984 historical film made by Dino De Laurentiis Productions and distributed by Orion Pictures Corporation and Thorn EMI Screen Entertainment. It was directed by Roger Donaldson and produced by Bernard Williams with Dino De Laurentiis as executive producer. The screenplay was by Robert Bolt and was based on the book Captain Bligh and Mr. Christian (1972) by Richard Hough. The music score was composed by Vangelis and the cinematography was by Arthur Ibbetson.
The film is based on the real life story of Lieutenant William Bligh, against whom a mutiny is led by Master's mate Fletcher Christian. This version follows both the efforts of Fletcher Christian (Mel Gibson) to get his men beyond the reach of British retribution, and the epic voyage of Captain Bligh (Anthony Hopkins) to get his loyalists safely to the Dutch East Indies in a tiny lifeboat.
Setting out from Britain in December 1787 for the Pacific island of Tahiti to gather breadfruit pods for transplantation in the Caribbean as slave fodder, the Bounty sailed west to round the tip of south America, but failed, due to harsh weather, and had to take the longer eastern route. Finally arriving in Tahiti in October 1788, Bligh found that due to the delays the wind was against him for a quick return journey, so he decided to stay on the island for four months longer than originally planned.
In that time, it would be fair to say that ship discipline became problematic, and many of the crew developed a taste for the easy pleasures that island life afforded.
In this movie, Bligh, who at the time of the voyage was not, technically, a full captain, but a lieutenant, isn't (initially) shown as a cruel tyrant, but instead is shown as a traditional British naval captain and a man of his times. While the discipline was sometimes harsh (though no harsher than on many naval ships of the time) Bligh seems to be no worse than the crew, and is portrayed as somewhat of a hero when he guides the overcrowded boat of loyal non-mutineers to safety without any firearms or navigational equipment.
The crew is portrayed in a different light than the previous films. They are shown as a group of typical 18th-century sailors—a much more "rough and tumble" group, some of whom use the "might-is-right" principle to impose a hierarchy of sorts below decks. Their motivations in this film were not as noble as in the other two films. Previous films portrayed the crew's desire for freedom from Bligh's oppressive behavior; in this version of the film a desire to return to a life of ease and sexual excess is shown to be one of the primary motivations behind the mutiny. Also, they are shown as having more responsibility than they did in the other versions of the film.
Fletcher Christian is a much more complex character than in prior films. He and Bligh are at first friends, and Bligh even asks him to sail for a second time with him. But both men turn against each other over the course of the film. Matters become worse when the ship leaves Tahiti as Fletcher had been forced to leave his wife Mauatua behind. Christian's Tahitian wife is given as more of a reason that Fletcher led the mutiny than before. Fletcher shows regret over what had happened, and tells another mutineer that he wished to God that he had supplied Bligh with muskets before setting him adrift.
The resumption of naval discipline, and a Bligh who has suddenly turned into a tyrant who will not tolerate any disobedience whatsoever, creates an atmosphere of tension and violence. Corporal punishment is meted out for the slightest offence. Many of the men, including Christian, are singled out for severe, even hysterical tongue-lashings by Bligh. His intention to round Cape Horn once again in attempts to circumnavigate the globe pushes the crew to the breaking point. This is the one major inaccuracy in the film. The Bounty would have been heading against the prevailing currents and winds to have headed south. The cold temperatures around the horn would also have killed the plants. The script writers added the scene to try and condense the growing tension aboard as Bligh struggled to try and restore discipline aboard the ship. Effectively he was not being supported by his officers and hence the crew were not functioning as a unit. Bligh could see it affecting the safety (and cleanliness) aboard the ship but could not really do anything about it.
Playing on Christian's obvious resentment against Bligh's treatment of both him and the men, the more militant members of the crew finally persuade Christian to take control of the ship. Bligh is roused from his bed and arrested, along with those considered loyal to him, and all of them are forced into the ship's launch, minimally supplied, and cast adrift.
Blissfully happy at their new-found freedom (though Christian feels remorse, and understands the implications of what's been done) they naively sail back to Tahiti to collect their wives, girlfriends, and native friends. King Tynah, however, is shocked by this turn of events. He makes them aware that, as mutineers, their presence on the island could incite King George to declare war against Tahiti and against his people. Realising the folly of staying, though some do, they gather supplies and will sail away to try and find a safe refuge. Christian pleads with Tynah to allow Mauatua to decide her own destiny. Tynah concedes, and Mauatua chooses the uncertainty of a life with Christian over remaining with her father but without her husband.
Bligh, through courage and excellent seamanship - and also a return of his good character and leadership qualities - successfully manages to reach civilization after a very harrowing journey. One man was killed by savages as the crew stopped for supplies in a hostile island.
The search for a safe haven is long and seemingly impossible, as they all realise that any pursuing RN vessels will search all known islands and coastlines to find them. By this point, those that remained on board the Bounty are so frustrated that they are ready to rebel against Christian in order to turn the ship back towards Tahiti. After Christian forces the crew to continue on, they eventually find Pitcairn Island, a place which Christian realises may not be marked on British maps of the region. Christian notes that his charts indicate that the island was sighted by a sailor named Pitcairn but no landing was made due to the lack of suitable terrain, and that the island's location only was recorded by its latitude; the lack of a precise longitude made its location an unknown and therefore their best hope of avoiding the Royal Navy.
As the crew of the Bounty burn the ship to keep it from being found, the judgment of Bligh's court martial is read - Bligh is found to have not been responsible for the loss of the Bounty, and is commended for the voyage of the open launch.
This version was originally a longstanding project of director David Lean and his frequent collaborator, Robert Bolt, who worked on it from 1977 until 1980. It was originally to be released as a two-part film, one named "The Lawbreakers" that dealt with the voyage out to Tahiti and the subsequent mutiny, and the second named "The Long Arm" that studied the journey of the mutineers after the mutiny, as well as the admiralty's response in sending out the frigate HMS Pandora and her famous box in which some of the mutineers were imprisoned. Lean could not find financial backing for both films after Warner Bros. withdrew from the project. He decided to combine it into one, and even looked at a seven-part TV series. The project suffered a further setback when Bolt suffered a massive stroke and was unable to continue writing. Melvyn Bragg ended up writing a considerable portion of the script. Lean was ultimately forced to abandon the project.
Anthony Hopkins was one of two actors considered for the role of Captain Bligh by David Lean. The other was Oliver Reed. Christopher Reeve, Sting and David Essex were considered for the role of Fletcher Christian. The role of Peter Heywood (who inspired the character 'Roger Byam' in the novel and earlier film versions) was originally intended to be played by Hugh Grant.
The replica of the Bounty used in the film was built before the script was even completed at the cost of $4 million, and the entire film cost $25 million. However, unlike many other films filmed on water, The Bounty was finished under budget. As well as the New Zealand–built Bounty, Lean had also looked at refitting the frigate Rose to play the role of Pandora. She has since gone on to become HMS Surprise in Peter Weir's Master and Commander. For the storm sequences a detailed 25-foot model of the Bounty was built.
Gibson described the making of the film as difficult because of the long production and bad weather: "I went mad. They would hold their breath at night when I went off. One night I had a fight in a bar and the next day they had to shoot only one side of my face because the other was so messed up. If you see the film, you can see the swelling in certain scenes." Anthony Hopkins was worried about Gibson’s heavy drinking, saying, "Mel is a wonderful, wonderful fellow with a marvelous future. He's already something of a superstar, but he's in danger of blowing it unless he takes hold of himself." Gibson agreed with this concern, and added his admiration for the Welsh actor, "He was terrific. He was good to work with because he was open and he was willing to give. He’s a moral man, and you could see this. I think we had the same attitudes."
This is the fifth film version of the story of the mutiny on the Bounty.
The first version, an Australian silent film, The Mutiny of the Bounty was made in 1916. The second, In the Wake of the Bounty (1933) was another Australian production, starring Errol Flynn in his film debut.
The third and more famous version, The Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), starred Clark Gable, Charles Laughton and Franchot Tone. The fourth, a remake of the third film, released in 1962, starred Marlon Brando, Trevor Howard and Richard Harris. Both versions were produced by MGM, the current rights holder of this version.
This version is generally regarded as a more revisionist as well as historically accurate depiction of the mutiny than the two earlier film versions. According to director Donaldson,
"The major difference between our film and the other versions is that none of the others pointed out that Bligh and Christian were friends. They'd made voyages together before they sailed on the Bounty. And while they were on the Bounty, Bligh demoted another officer and promoted Christian, who was at that stage nothing but a midshipman, and made him second in command. What interested me was to explore how their relationship deteriorated from that point to where Christian leads a mutiny against Bligh."
Unlike earlier versions, this film did not portray Bligh as a villainous character. According to Gibson, "It was a kind of fresh look at Captain Bligh, and I think of all the renditions of who Bligh was, his was probably the closest. His Bligh was stubborn and didn't suffer fools, but he was brilliant and just had a lot of bad luck." The Bounty also paints a far less heroic portrait of Christian. In Gibson’s description, “Fletcher was just a lad of twenty-two and he behaved like one. The first time he decided to test his horns and fight for the herd, it was a mistake. He shouldn't have done it.” Gibson later expressed the opinion that film did not go far enough in correcting the historical record.
"I think the main problem with that film was that it tried to be a fresh look at the dynamic of the mutiny situation, but didn't go far enough. In the old version, Captain Bligh was the bad guy and Fletcher Christian was the good guy. But really Fletcher Christian was a social climber and an opportunist. They should have made him the bad guy, which indeed he was. He ended up setting all these people adrift to die, without any real justification. Maybe he'd gone island crazy. They should have painted it that way. But they wanted to exonerate Captain Bligh while still having the dynamic where the guy was mutinying for the good of the crew. It didn't quite work."
The film also portrays the sailors exploiting the islanders. Gibson said, “It was a complete culture shock and it was unbelievable to them. It was paradise in terms of personal freedoms - freedoms that shouldn't have been taken advantage of. They exploited the people, fooled them, and didn't tell them the whole truth.” Gibson chose to suddenly erupt in violent emotion during the mutiny scene because eyewitness accounts had described Christian as 'extremely agitated' and 'sweating and crying.'
Advisor Stephan Walters was responsible for much of the film’s great attention to historical detail. However, director Roger Donaldson also noted that dramatic license was taken in the areas where people do not know what really happened. Despite the praise the film has received for correcting some of the mythology of previous versions, it is by no means perfect in its historical accuracy.
The film received mixed reviews, many liking the film for realism and historical accuracy as well as being an entertaining film. However, many were disappointed with the film, especially given its distinguished cast. Many critics singled out Gibson's performance as bland, particularly when compared to the performances given by Clark Gable and Marlon Brando in the two earlier MGM versions.
Vincent Canby of the New York Times expressed the opposite view stating "Both Bligh and Christian are unfinished characters in a screenplay that may or may not have been tampered with...The movie seems to have been planned, written, acted, shot and edited by people who were constantly being overruled by other people. It's totally lifeless.