Harlequin (1980)

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Released 22-Oct-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Main Menu Audio
Audio Commentary
Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1980
Running Time 91:11
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (64:15) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Simon Wincer
Studio
Distributor
Umbrella
Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Robert Powell
David Hemmings
Carmen Duncan
Broderick Crawford
Gus Mercurio
Alan Cassell
Mark Spain
Alyson Best
Sean Myers
Mary Simpson
Bevan Lee
Neville Teedy
Mary Mackay
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI ? Music Brian May


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures Yes
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

††††Senator Nick Rast (David Hemmings) is a politician at the verge of securing great power in an ambiguous modern (well, as modern as a movie in 1980 gets) society (one where the inhabitants speak with a random assortment of American, English and Australian accents). The deputy Governor has disappeared under mysterious circumstances and the top dog, himself on his last legs, is poised to name Rast as his new second in command.

††††Such great power has strained Rast's marriage, however, and the senator barely has time for his leukaemic son Alex (Mark Spain). Enter Gregory Wolfe (Robert Powell), a mysterious man who first encounters the family when he acts as a clown at young Alex's birthday party. He reappears shortly afterwards in the family home and professes to be a magician and faith healer who has rid Alex of his disease. As Alex rapidly shows signs of recovery, Wolfe become part of the family. He forms a particularly strong bond with Nick's wife Sandra (Carmen Duncan) and soon becomes a gossiped-about fixture in the family's public life.

††††Nick's political backers, led by political puppet-master Doc Wheelan (Broderick Crawford), quickly begin to see Wolfe as a threat to their own influence and begin a treacherous tug-of-war for influence over Rast.

††††Harlequin is loosely based on the story of Rasputin (try spelling Rast backwards for a real giveaway - subtlety obviously wasnít screenwriter Everett De Rocheís strength). Erring a little more toward the legend than the truth, it weaves an engaging tale of deception, jealousy, corruption and murder. Gregory Wolfe, the character filling the shoes of the Mad Monk, remains an enigma throughout and Robert Powell outshines every other cast member with his vibrant performance in the role.

††††The film wisely never firmly distinguishes whether the supernatural is afoot or whether Gregory is simply a masterful illusionist. Every other story element is firmly grounded. This juxtaposition between normal and supernatural drives the whole film and, along with a fair sense as to how far to push the plausibility of the whole affair, the movie manages to remain engaging throughout.

††††Producer Antony Ginnane, Australiaís would-be Roger Corman, named Harlequin as his favourite of the films he produced during the Ozploitation era while recently promoting Not Quite Hollywood (which heavily showcases many of his productions). It is not too hard to see why even if you donít entirely agree with the man. Harlequin is undoubtedly the most ambitious film Australia produced around its time and whilst it doesn't succeed entirely, it takes a commendable stab in the right direction.

††††The film is an engaging political thriller that manages to be a good degree more intellectual than its peers without really sacrificing any of the immediate entertainment value and, despite a few obvious faults, it holds up surprisingly well today (thanks in part to it featuring fewer action scenes than many of its counterparts). To some extent, the movie has the air of being a token "serious" movie from the Ozploitation movement and it certainly treads a fine line between pulling off the tone and seeming just plain silly. Only the harshest of critics can really hold this against the movie, as despite its grand aspirations it wears its b-movie production values with pride.

††††Most viewers wonít be as passionate about the film as its producer (though Iím sure that could be said about plenty of movies), but anyone that can enjoy a colourful political thriller will find this worthy viewing.

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Transfer Quality

Video

††††The film is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and is 16x9 enhanced. It looks decent for a film from 1980, but could certainly use a bit more of a clean up.

††††The image is reasonably sharp throughout, save for a few obvious optical effects shots (49:45 presents a prime example), and presents an accurate representation of the theatrical look of the film. Some of the darker scenes are a little grainy and could do with greater shadow depth, though most of the film looks fine.

††††The colour in the video is a little musty and slightly pale, though this represents the b-movie look of the day fairly accurately.

††††The film avoids any noticeable MPEG artefacts but a number of mechanical transfer-related artefacts are noticeable. Most noticeable is an abundance of film artefacts of varying size throughout the film. Most are small, but their number and frequency is moderately distracting. More disappointing is that a few scenes feature uneven brightness across the frame, most noticeably at 43:51 where a distinct light spillage is visible form the left of the frame. Slight telecine wobble is occasionally noticeable, mostly so in the credits.

††††No subtitles are present for the feature.

††††This is a RSDL disc. The layer break occurs at 64:15 but was not noticeable on my equipment.

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

Audio

††††A single English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192 Kbps) audio track is present for the film, which sounds to be mono or very close to (which would likely be true to the original audio of the film).

††††The audio is somewhat disappointing. Beyond simply sounding its age, the levels in the mix are all over the place and there are quite a few points at which the dialogue is too quiet to easily make out. The audio sync is a little iffy, which may be a result of post-recording the dialogue. The child character in the film has almost certainly been dubbed by an adult.

††††One of the standout aspects of the film is its great, over-the-top Brian May (no, not that one, the legendary Australian film composer). The full orchestral score does a good job of covering over some of the iffy moments in the story as well as accompanying it superbly. The score itself sounds fairly good in the mix and does not noticeably suffer from the unevenness of the dialogue and effects.

††††There is no surround or subwoofer use.

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

Extras

Audio Commentary with Producer Antony I. Ginnane and Director Simon Wincer

††††A bland and fairly sparse commentary from the director and the producer. The pair share a few interesting anecdotes on production and the actors involved, but the dry tone and dead air make this a dull listen.

Theatrical Trailer

††††An incredibly retro 1980 trailer, brimming with nonsensical shock and intrigue.

Umbrella Trailers

††††Trailers for other Ozploitaion-era flicks; the entertaining but silly Survivor, toothless vampire flick Thirst, perennial favourite Roadgames and the ever-underrated Long Weekend.

R4 vs R1

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

††††Harlequin was released as the rather more ambiguous Dark Forces in the USA and had a bare bones Region 1 DVD release some time back. It has recently been released again, this time by a company calle Synapse, in Region 1, with the same Dark Forces title, on a disc that includes the same extra features as the Region 4 release as well as filmographies and a photo gallery. The transfer on the new edition is purported to be cleaner than that on the Region 4 edition. The recent Synapse Region 1 edition appears to be the version of choice, though by a slim margin.

Summary

††††An ambitious political thriller, with a touch of the supernatural, from the heyday of 10BA and Ozploitation.

††††The video transfer is fair, but far from reference material. The audio is a little uneven, with a little too much soft dialogue. The extras are slim.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Adam Gould (Totally Biolicious!)
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Review Equipment
DVDSony Playstation 3, using HDMI output
Display Samsung 116cm LA46M81BD. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL).
Audio DecoderPioneer VSX2016AVS. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials.
AmplificationPioneer VSX2016AVS
Speakers150W DTX front speakers, 100W centre and 4 surround/rear speakers, 12 inch PSB Image 6i powered sub

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