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Release Date(s)1977 (March 11, 2014)
Studio(s)MGM (Twilight Time)
Released in 1977, Equus is based on the stage play of the same name by author Peter Shaffer (who also wrote the screenplay). The film was directed by Sidney Lumet and stars Richard Burton, Peter Firth, Eileen Atkins, Joan Plowright, Colin Blakely, and Jenny Agutter.
Equus (Latin for “Horse”) tells the story of a young man who becomes so obsessed with horses that he cares for that he ultimately becomes sick in his mind and brings the horses to harm, purposefully blinding six of them. It is the duty of an a rather unhappy psychiatrist to try and understand why the young man did what he did and if he can help him.
I can’t say that I’ve ever seen the stage version of this story, so I can’t really attest to what the major differences between the two would be. I do know that the film is filled with some wonderful images of scenic beauty, something that a play can’t fully convey. To my understanding, the play, as performed on stage, uses pantomime horses instead of real ones like the film, and by making this change, the nature and tone of the story were altered. My only real discrepancy with the film is its length. It goes on far longer than it needs to and various scenes feel as if they could get to the point quicker. And that’s not a matter of impatience. It’s just what I was feeling as I was watching it. The climax is very effective, but everything leading up to it could have been shaved a bit in editing.
To be completely truthful though, I was feeling a bit indifferent towards Equus while I was watching it. I think the main reason for this is that the ‘troubled patient who eventually alters the mind of the psychiatrist’ story has been done so many times that it feels a bit stale. To be fair, this film, and the stage play, were both made before this kind of story became a bit of a staple. The main thing that I enjoyed about the film is how wonderfully it was shot, thanks in no small part to director of photography Oswald Morris. Many scenes have the potential to be burned into one’s memories once you’ve seen them (and not just because of the nudity). The performances are very good and the story has merit to it, but the main draw of the film is its visuals, at least to me. All in all, the beauty of it is what makes it worth watching.
Twilight Time’s Blu-ray transfer of Equus offers a very solid and nearly perfect presentation. There’s strong image detail with a great amount of depth to be had and a very pleasant and unobtrusive grain structure. Colors pop quite well and skin tones are remarkably accurate. Blacks, especially shadow detail, are quite deep as well. Contrast and brightness are perfect, and I saw no signs of any digital manipulation. It’s also a transfer that’s virtually free from blemishes, but closer inspection will reveal some unnoticeable defects, like a very slight film warping at around the 16:47 mark. Most are not likely to notice though. So besides those little minor flaws, this is a spectacular transfer otherwise. The film’s soundtrack, which is an English mono DTS-HD track, offers no great sound capabilities but still has some nice depth to it, particularly with the score and sound effects. Dialogue is always clear and audible as well. This is a film that doesn’t really require a surround sound experience, but it could benefit from one if it were available. So overall, it’s as immersive a presentation as you could get with a mono track. There are also subtitles in English SDH for those who might need them.
The extras selection for this release isn’t grand, but certainly offers up some goodies. First up is an isolated audio track of the film’s score (in 2.0 DTS-HD), an audio commentary with film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, the two-hour documentary In From the Cold: The World of Richard Burton, the film’s theatrical trailer, an MGM 90th Anniversary trailer, a scroll-through of Twilight Time’s current Blu-ray catalogue, and a 6-page insert booklet with liner notes by Julie Kirgo.
All in all, this is a very good release from Twilight Time. Equus definitely isn’t one of my favorite films, but I do consider it lovely in a lot of ways. The material is a bit tired by modern standards, but it’s still worth a watch or two, especially for cinephiles.
- Tim Salmons