- Movie Rating -

The Bounty (1984)

| May 4, 1984

Being that this is the third cinematic version of the story of the 1797 mutiny aboard the H.M.S. Bounty, I guess I thought I knew what I was in for.  In both versions, the story is told frankly and honestly with the tyrannical captain William Bligh (played in 1935 by Charles Laughton and in 1962 by Trevor Howard) playing to the letter of the law at the expense of his crew while the master’s mate Fletcher Christian (played in ’35 by Clark Gable and in ’62 by Marlon Brando) watches the deterioration of his men until he decides to participate in a takeover.

The Bounty imagines a different story.  Christian and Bligh (played here by Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins respectively) are actually friends, men who have different personalities then what has been portrayed before.  Bligh, in particular, is very interesting here.  Far from the blustering insecurities of Charles Laughton’s performance, Hopkins brings his performance down to a more rational level.  His version of Bligh is a competent man, a complex individual whose machinations are not nearly as one-sided as we have seen before.  Christian admires his captain, has great respect for this man who has a command of the sea the he perhaps knows that he can never achieve.

The characters are a bit different but the story essentially remains the same.  It is the late 18th century, and a voyage in the south seas bids dangers in every form.  This is a perilous journey and there is tension on board.  Then the ship drops anchor on a Polynesian island.  The crew carouses with the natives and Christian’s mind begins to wander.  What if they were to simply stay on this paradise island?  Tired of the dangers of the journey and the perils that lie ahead, Christian organizes a mutiny with those who wish to stay.  Where Hopkins performance veers from Laughton and Howard is that his rethinking of this character is that he is not so rigid as to have blinders on.  He’s a man sworn to duty and loyal to the crown who cannot bring himself to break away from it.   He’s not stubborn, just loyal.

The mutiny itself is interesting too.  It isn’t as clean or as well-paced as we have seen before.  Christian is frightened by what he is doing.  The deck of the ship is full of screaming and confusion.  There’s no order because order has been broken and both sides want to pull it back together which they know is impossible.  Even more interesting is that the reasons for the mutiny are given consideration too.  Christian isn’t simply breaking from tyrannical rule but teetering on a balance between the rigid order of the British navy and the freedoms represented by the island and the woman that he has come to love.

This is a surprisingly good movie, far from the retread that I might have expected.  Unlike most remakes, it reconsiders the story, moves some facts and some motivations around so that the story comes at us from a different angle than it did from the previous versions.  I was surprised how much I liked it.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1984) View IMDB Filed in: Action, Drama