Roots of Heaven, The

  • Reviewed by: Barrie Maxwell
  • Review Date: Feb 23, 2012
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Director

John Huston

Release Date(s)

1958 (January 17, 2012)

Studio(s)

20th Century Fox (Twilight Time)

Review

The Roots of Heaven is in some ways a failed epic, but there is so much still to like about it that it's a pleasure to report that Twilight Time's Blu-ray presentation is quite admirable.

The screenplay is rather murky at times and one senses real passion behind the tale of trying to end the merciless slaughter of the great African elephant only sporadically, but the cinematographic trappings and the earnest efforts of a rather impressive cast shine through. Produced by Darryl Zanuck, released through 20th Century-Fox, and shot in CinemaScope mainly on location in Chad by director John Huston, The Roots of Heaven is at least a very impressive-looking document both in the vast African terrain and the herds of magnificent elephants. Its story about an idealist, Morel (Trevor Howard, replacing William Holden who was unavailable due to other commitments), trying to save the elephants from extinction due to senseless poaching for their ivory tusks is based on the prescient 1950s novel by Romain Gary. Though some progress has been made in the past half century, poaching is still an issue and it gives the film a resonance with contemporary audiences. Morel tries first through moral suasion (petition, leaflets) to gain support until he must finally resort to armed conflict to counter the poachers. In his endeavours, he is aided among others by a disgraced former British soldier (Errol Flynn, partly cast for his marquee value after Holden was unavailable for the Morel part), a world-weary bar girl (Juliette Greco), and an African nationalist (Edric Connor) with his own political agenda. Also appearing are Orson Welles as an American broadcaster and Eddie Albert as an eager news photographer. All the main players are very effective, particularly Howard but also notably Flynn playing a role that for him offered little scope indeed.Twilight Time presents the film on Blu-ray in a very impressive 2.35:1 transfer. Colours are bright and accurate while the image as a whole is very sharp and offers excellent detail both in facial features and the various textures of the magnificent exteriors while retaining a pleasingly modest level of grain. There is no evidence at all of any untoward digital manipulation. The 2.0 DTS-HD Master audio does an at-times surprisingly effective job with Malcolm Arnold's fine score. The music is dynamic and even suggests some modest LFE on occasion. Dialogue is clear and exhibits some directionality. There are no subtitles. The only supplement is a very good one - an isolated score track that allows one to enjoy a reprise of Arnold's efforts. Highly recommended.

- Barrie Maxwell

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