Billy Jack (1971)

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Released 19-Dec-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1971
Running Time 109:24
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Tom Laughlin
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Tom Laughlin
Delores Taylor
Clark Howat
Victor Izay
Julie Webb
Debbie Schock
Teresa Kelly
Lynn Baker
Stan Rice
David Roya
John McClure
Susan Foster
Susan Sosa
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $14.90 Music Mundell Lowe


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio Unknown Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Billy Jack is a film that has high ideals, but it doesn't do a very good job of conveying them. There was some conflict during the making of this film, and that probably didn't help.

    This film was made at the start of the 1970s, when there was a great earnestness, a desire to educate the masses about alternative ways. It looks so dreadfully dated today, when life has changed considerably, and when we've all heard of yoga, meditation, and role-playing. The representation of Billy Jack's fighting skills looks horribly dated too, when we've seen so much more in the way of martial arts.

    Billy Jack (Tom Laughlin) is a half-breed (do we still use that word?), a half white, half Native American (although this film was made when the term "Indian" was still in use, which makes things confusing when they start talking about yoga and Maharishis...). He was a Green Beret, and fought in Vietnam. He lives on an Indian reservation, seemingly acting as an enforcer of the law — that includes stopping a bunch of white folks who come onto the reservation to hunt wild mustangs (the US equivalent to brumbies) for dog meat. The bunch is led by the local big man, named Stuart Posner (Bert Freed), and includes a deputy, Mike (Ken Tobey) — the local sheriff, Sheriff Cole (Clark Howat) has already warned the deputy that hunting mustangs is illegal.

    Also on the Indian reservation is a school, called the Freedom School, run by Jean Roberts (Delores Taylor). She preaches real pacifism, freedom and non-violence. Her school isn't just open to Native Americans, but to any kids with problems — there are children of various ages and most races at the school. There is major conflict between the children at this school and the townsfolk, apparently due to a mixture of racism and unfamiliarity. When the children come into the town, and go into a store to buy ice cream, there's a ruckus instigated by Bernard Posner (David Roya), son of Stuart Posner; things get worse when Billy Jack shows up and beats up Bernard and his cronies.

    This film follows the conflict, and the parts played in it by Billy Jack, Jean, Posner, Bernard, Sheriff Cole, and the children.

    The film was written by Tom Laughlin (as Frank Christina) and Delores Taylor (as Teresa Christina); it was directed by Tom Laughlin (as T C Frank); and it was produced by Tom Laughlin (as Mary Rose Solti). I suspect this film might have been better had these roles really been performed by separate people. The holes in the script might have been addressed by a separate director (there's always a risk with a writer/director), for example.

    The most entertaining parts of this film are the segments of improvised theatre — I really loved the street theatre about the mugging.

    The most earnest dialogue in this film is stilted and badly delivered — they are trying far too hard for their message, and hurting it as a result.

    I hated the apparent mistreatment of the horses during the opening credits; particularly around 2:35 — those falls down the rocks look like they are real, and there's no Humane Society marking on this film. I was also uncomfortable with the portrayal of Native Americans — it disturbed me that they are always referred to as "Indians" (even Billy Jack, possessed by the spirit of a great holy man, calls them Indians), rather than identifying them more specifically as Navajo, or Hopi, or ...

    In all, this film is rather dated, belonging to the Age of Aquarius, before the general populace grew long hair and knew the difference between yoga and meditation. It features some fairly poor acting, and some really questionable stunts. It caused a big stir back when it was made, but it's really only of historical value now.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    This DVD is strange. I have never before come across a disc where the aspect ratio was uncertain. The image fills the frame, so it's either 1.33:1 or 1.78:1, depending on whether it is 16x9 enhanced or not. The transfer is marked as 16x9 enhanced. So you'd think the film has been transferred as 1.78:1, right? Certainly the Warners logo is right for that. But I'm dubious about the film — viewed in 16x9 mode everyone looks plump, and some things look distinctly out of proportion; viewed in 4x3 mode, everyone looks fairly normal, with a few people looking slim. It makes me think that this is a 1.33:1 pan-and-scan transfer, mistakenly labelled 16x9 enhanced. But I'm really not certain. I would not be surprised to learn that this was transferred in an unusual ratio — something like 1.45:1 (no, that is not a standard ratio). To forestall further questions: no, I don't think that 1.66:1 (the European ratio) would yield these results — it's too close to 1.78:1 to produce this effect.

    I'm not sure what the original theatrical aspect ratio was, but I suspect it was 1.85:1. Certainly the case claims that this disc is 1.85:1, 16x9 enhanced.

    The image is quite soft on long shots, and a bit soft on medium shots and close-ups. Film grain ranges from light to medium. Shadow detail looks OK, but is actually not too good. There is no low-level noise, though. There is some inconsistent lighting, resulting in a few scenes where the lighting varies between shots.

    Colour is fairly well-rendered, although it's not completely consistent from shot to shot. There are no colour-related artefacts.

    There are plenty of film artefacts. The most obvious are what look like a series of tears in the film that have been glued back together using splicing glue (the joins are yellow-brown) — some of them even run across multiple frames: two frames at 24:19, three frames at 24:42; single frames at 56:34, 64:41, for example. There are reel-change markings, indicating that this transfer comes from a display print. There are lots of scratches, some splotches, and plenty of nicks, flecks, and specks. Basically, this film looks like a 32 year old film that's had a hard life and not been restored.

    There is some minor aliasing, but it is no problem compared to the film artefacts. There some slight moiré, too. There are no MPEG artefacts. There seems to be some haloing, but it is minor compared with everything else.

    There are subtitles in English, and English for the Hearing Impaired. I watched the latter — they are reasonably accurate, easy to read, but they often run a little behind the dialogue, which is irritating.

    The disc is single-sided and single layered. There is no layer change, which is good, but doesn't leave room for much else.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The soundtrack is only provided in English. It's Dolby Digital 1.0 at 192kbps — there's no possible confusion, this is mono.

    The dialogue is generally clear, but there's some distortion on louder lines, and hiss on some of the quieter ones. There are some obvious slips in audio sync, with the worst coming at 72:15 (there's also a microphone clearly visible on the ground in this scene). There's some pop and crackle in the soundtrack, too.

    The score is credited to Mundell Lowe (apparently not another alias for Tom Laughlin). There are some songs sung (often not very well) by students during the film. The theme song, One Tin Soldier, is good, though.

    The only speaker this disc will use is your centre channel.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    There are no extras on this disc.

Menu

    The menu is static and silent. It's simple to use, because it offers so little.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This film was released on DVD in Region 1, way back in 1999. The Region 1 disc is a pan-and-scan 1.33:1 transfer and comes with a Dolby Digital 1.0 soundtrack. The R1 has the same cover art as the R4, albeit on a snapper case.

    I'd call this a tie if the Region 4 disc weren't labelled as 16x9 enhanced. As it is, I'm confused. The R4 looks pan-and-scan, which would mean that the comparison would be a tie (except for the horrible snapper case, which would tempt me to give it to the R4). But it may be widescreen, which would be a definite win to the R4.

Summary

    A film that was once avant-garde and controversial, but is now quite dated, on a DVD that's not very good.

    The video quality is fairly poor, and the aspect ratio is questionable.

    The audio quality is not good.

    There are no extras.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Tony Rogers (bio-degrading: making a fool of oneself in a bio...)
Wednesday, December 24, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony VPH-G70 CRT Projector, QuadScan Elite scaler (Tripler), ScreenTechnics 110. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE
SpeakersFront Left, Centre, Right: Krix Euphonix; Rears: Krix KDX-M; Subwoofer: Krix Seismix 5

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Comments (Add)
one tin soldier - orangecat (my kingdom for a decent bio)
"we've seen so much more in the way of martial arts" - REPLY POSTED
Re: We've seen so much more... -
Censored version? -