Release Date(s)1977 (April 22, 2014)
Studio(s)Paramount/Universal (Warner Home Video)
There aren’t too many movies that have been more deserving of a critical re-evaluation than William Friedkin’s Sorcerer. Released in 1977, the existential thriller was a flop with audiences and, perhaps more surprisingly, critics alike. Over the years, a fervent cult developed around the film and it’s now considered by many to be one of Friedkin’s best.
Even so, it’s isn’t hard to understand why 1977 critics had their knives out. For one thing, it’s a remake of a genuine classic, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages Of Fear. Then as now, remakes are rarely welcomed with open hearts and minds. Friedkin was coming off of the one-two punch of The French Connection and The Exorcist but it had been five years since then. A lot of critics probably felt it was time to take him down a peg or two. And if you go into Sorcerer looking for reasons not to like it, the movie gives you plenty of ammo. It’s one thing for a movie to be challenging but Sorcerer is deliberately, almost antagonistically obscure, from its what-the-hell-does-that-mean title on down.
It’s even easier to understand why the public stayed away from Sorcerer in droves. This movie was never destined to be the feel-good hit of the summer. It’s dark, violent, and features exactly one recognizable, if not necessarily bankable, American movie star (Roy Scheider). Most damaging of all, it takes its time. It’s about an hour into the movie before Friedkin deigns to start cluing you in to what the story’s even supposed to be about. American movie audiences are many things but patient isn’t one of them.
But for those willing to put in the effort, Sorcerer is an incredibly rewarding film. The film’s first half borders on the hypnotic, drawing you in slowly. It’s like the slow winding up of a rubber band, letting go a sustained burst of tension in the second half. Scheider and his costars, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal and Amidou, are terrific but this is the kind of movie where you suspect there wasn’t a lot of “acting” involved. These are highly physical performances and you can feel every bead of sweat and every strain of muscle. Friedkin achieves a state of almost unbearable tension with this film, creating not just one but several of the most nerve-racking sequences ever captured. It’s an extraordinary achievement on any number of levels.
Sorcerer has had a long, difficult journey on home video with most, if not all, previous presentations looking pretty terrible. The new, Friedkin-approved Blu-ray is an absolute revelation with an image that is nothing short of breathtaking. This is a stunning, state-of-the-art transfer that is guaranteed to blow you away. The remastered audio is also extremely impressive, with the grinding gears really putting you on the edge of your seat.
The disc comes in a handsomely designed Digibook with extensive liner notes by Friedkin, excerpted from his essential memoir The Friedkin Connection. There is quite a bit of information packed in here but unfortunately, the book is the only extra. That’s a bit of a drag, especially since Friedkin had previously indicated that he’d be recording a commentary at the very least. Even with that disappointment, this is still a must-own disc.
Considering all those years during which the only way you could see Sorcerer at all was in a substandard, pan-and-scan version, it’s impressive that the movie picked up as much of a cult following as it did. With its release on Blu-ray, Friedkin’s unfairly maligned masterpiece is now poised to win over a new generation of admirers. And those of us who have been championing it for years have been richly rewarded for our support.
- Adam Jahnke