Release Date(s)1993 (November 21, 2023)
Studio(s)Kopelson Entertainment/Warner Bros. (Warner Bros. Discovery Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B-
Based on the 1960s ABC television series created by Roy Huggins (which featured David Janssen and Barry Morse, and was narrated by William Conrad), Andrew Davis’ 1993 film adaptation of The Fugitive stars Harrison Ford as Dr. Richard Kimble, a Chicago-area surgeon who comes home one evening to discover that his wife has been murdered. Her one-armed killer is still there when Kimble arrives, but he escapes after a struggle. Upon calling the police however, it’s Kimble who soon becomes the prime suspect in the investigation. He’s swiftly arrested, convicted by a jury, and sentenced to death.
But en route to death row and a terrible fate, an incident results in the prison transport crashing. Kimble saves one of the guards, then uses the opportunity to escape into the forest in the hope of finding the one-armed man, both to clear his own name and give his wife justice. It’s at this point, of course, that law enforcement gets involved once again: Deputy US Marshal Samuel Gerard (played by Tommy Lee Jones, in a star-making turn) and his team soon arrive on the scene and launch a massive manhunt in a determined effort to find Kimble and bring him to what they believe is the real justice in the case.
One of the most surprising things about The Fugitive—especially given how smart and effective the film is—is learning what a mess its actual production was. It was originally developed as a franchise intended to star Alec Baldwin (though several leading actors of the day auditioned for the role) and many different writers took passes at the script (among them Jeb Stuart, David Twohy, David Giler, Robert Kamen, Larry Gross, and Walter Hill). Hill was eventually selected to direct when Stephen Frears left the project. Then Andrew Davis was brought on to direct when Hill left too. It was Stuart who helped the production recruit Ford, who had passed on the role previously. And Davis had just made Under Siege, a Steven Seagal actioner completely stolen by Tommy Lee Jones’ terrific performance, so Jones was soon hired to play Gerard.
The Fugitive began filming with a narrow production window due to Ford’s other commitments, but the script was nowhere near ready. So while its rough outline had been figured out, and the filmmakers knew basically how each scene should play out, the actors reportedly improvised as much as seventy percent of their dialogue! What’s more, Ford injured his leg while running through the forest early in the schedule, so he limped through the entire project on painkillers. Meanwhile, the studio had fired Davis’ choice for cinematographer (Frank Tidy) and replaced him with Michael Chapman (Raging Bull), but Davis and Chapman couldn’t stand each other. Yet somehow, despite all of these obstacles and more, The Fugitive is a terrific film that earned rave reviews from critics and quickly became a box office hit. Keep your eyes peeled for cameos by Richard Riehle (Office Space) and Nick Searcy (Justified), and you’ll certainly recognize Joe Pantoliano (The Matrix), Sela Ward (Once and Again), Jane Lynch (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), and Julianne Moore (The Big Lebowski) in supporting roles.
The Fugitive was shot by Chapman on 35 mm photochemical film (with a bit of 16 mm footage used as well for flashback scenes, and VistaVision for select effects shots) using Panavision Panaflex cameras and Panavision spherical lenses, and it was finished on film at the 1.85:1 aspect ratio for theaters. In honor of the film’s 30th anniversary, Warner MPI has apparently scanned the original camera negative and master interpositive elements (for optical titles and transitions) in 8K resolution (16-bit) and used that source to produce a new 4K Digital Intermediate, complete with grading for high dynamic range (available here in HDR10 only). All of this work was approved by Davis and editor Don Brochu. Negative footage looks terrific, with lots of clean detail visible in the image. Texturing is pleasing, while photochemical grain is mostly very light and organic. (Interpositive footage exhibits the usual quality step down, though it’s not distracting.) Contrast is generally excellent, with deep blacks and more apparent shadow detail, though the blacks do look a little gray on occasion due to on-set atmospherics (fog, smoke, and haze). Highlights are bold, if a bit less detailed. Colors are richer and more natural than ever, with more obvious nuance visible. Obviously, the film takes place in winter, so the palette is a little cool and muted looking. But the film has certainly never looked better than it does here in 4K.
Audio on the 4K disc is offered in a new English Dolby Atmos mix that’s quite good for this kind of film, which is largely dialogue driven. Clarity, detail, and dialogue reproduction are excellent, with good overall dynamics. This isn’t exactly a muscular mix, but in key scenes—particularly the train crash—there’s more than enough bluster to please, with solid LFE. The soundstage is medium wide generally, with nice use of the surrounds for immersive and directional effects. The height channels definitely get a bit of a workout during the train crash, as well as for helicopter flyovers, music cues, and the like. James Newton Howard’s score is well staged in the mix and exhibits fine fidelity. The previous Blu-ray’s English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is also included, as are audio options in French, German, Italian, and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, and Quebec French and Castilian Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital. Optional subtitles are available in English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, French, German for the Hearing Impaired, Italian for the Deaf, Castilian Spanish, Dutch, Simplified Chinese, Korean, Latin Spanish, Czech, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish.
Warner’s new Ultra HD package includes the film in 4K on a UHD disc, but no Blu-ray. The 4K disc offers the following special features:
- Audio Commentary by Andrew Davis and Tommy Lee Jones
- Introduction by Andrew Davis and Harrison Ford (SD – 1:47)
- The Fugitive: Thrill of the Chase (HD – 28:19)
- On the Run with the Fugitive (SD – 23:04)
- Derailed: Anatomy of a Train Wreck (SD – 8:52)
- Theatrical Trailer (SD – 1:58)
The best of this material by far is Thrill of the Chase, which was created by our old friend Gary Leva (of Leva FilmWorks) for the 20th Anniversary Blu-ray back in 2013. Running nearly half an hour, it includes interviews with Davis, Ford, and Jones, along with producer Arnold Kopelson, co-producer Peter MacGregor-Scott, editor Don Brochu, actors Joe Pantoliano (aka “Joey Pants”) and Jane Lynch, film critic Kenneth Turan, and author Bob Herzberg. It might not be a long piece, but it’s quite good, and getting all of these people back to do retrospective interviews was no small thing even at that time.
The rest of this material is carried over from DVD, including the introduction (which isn’t really an introduction per se), the original 2001 commentary and both legacy featurettes. The commentary is largely carried by Davis; Jones participates via telephone and is frequently silent unless prompted to add his thoughts. But Davis relates lots of interesting details about the troubled production, the degree to which the actors ad-libbed their banter on the fly, and how various scenes were shot. He also talks about scenes that were cut or that were planned but not shot, including a sub-plot involving Julianne Moore’s character getting romantically involved with Kimble. On the Run addresses various aspects of the production, while Derailed focuses specifically on Kimble’s escape from the bus/train wreck, which was actually shot with a real full-scale train. There’s also a trailer and a Movies Anywhere Digital code on a paper insert. Missing from the 2013 Blu-ray is the pilot episode of the 2000 CBS television remake of The Fugitive (though I’m not sure that’s really much of a loss).
The Fugitive is a tense and twisting big-screen thriller that’s impossible not to like, featuring two great actors in the prime of their careers who both deliver terrific performances. How director Andrew Davis managed to land this rickety plane on a dime on a pitching deck is one of the all-time great cinema mysteries. Maybe all that production chaos added just the right amount of tension to the mix—who knows? Either way, this is a great film and Warner has thankfully delivered it in a fine 4K Ultra HD remaster that should please fans of the film and A/V connoisseurs alike.
- Bill Hunt