Comparing The Fugitive to Les Miserables may seem like a serious stretch, but film critic Kenneth Turan goes there in the new Thrill of the Chase bonus feature on this 20th anniversary Blu-ray release of the classic Harrison Ford thriller.
His point is that Dr. Richard Kimble is comparable to Jean Valjean in the sense that both are unfairly punished and find themselves hunted by law enforcement when they try to seek redemption. Yeah, it’s still a stretch, but Turan’s point had me thinking about the nature of justice in the modern world. While we’ve come a long way from the days when someone could be sentenced to 15 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread, we still live in a world where a powerful corporation could frame a well-to-do doctor for the murder of his wife and prevent him from discovering their misdeeds.
While Valjean’s story in Les Miserables is more tragic because he is a poor peasant brought even lower by the heavy hammer of the law, we can still sympathize with a wealthy man being forced to outwit a US marshal or end up on Death Row with no hope of a reprieve. We know that could be us, if we found ourselves in the wrong place and time, and that fear keeps us glued to the screen as Kimble scrambles through purgatory, from that thrilling train wreck early in the film to his leap into a waterfall to his final desperate confrontation with the man who orchestrated his downfall.
Sure, there are some moments of narrative convenience, particularly early in the film when Kimble wanders into a hospital to shave off his beard and attend to a wound. He manages to spend an awful lot of time in an examination room without being caught, and somehow a nurse doesn’t manage to see him behind the door in an old man’s room even though she has turned toward him. And then he lingers to eat off the man’s tray. I would have expected him to grab what he needed and dress his wound and shave in a fast food or gas station bathroom, which would have highlighted his desperation, but that’s a minor quibble.
I don’t mind giving a protagonist a deus ex machina or two, especially early in a story when he needs a few breaks to go his way. If they pop up in the third act, though, that’s when I roll my eyes, and The Fugitive manages to avoid such cheats as the story builds to its climax.
So is this film worth an upgrade? My understanding is that the picture is improved from the earlier Blu-ray release, so that’s a point in its favor. If you have the earlier DVD edition, you’ll be glad to know that all of its extras are included on this disc. The only new documentary piece is Thrill of the Chase, a 28-minute look back at the movie with many of the cast members as well as director Andrew Davis and producer Arnold Kopelson. It’s a nice piece that puts the film in context 20 years later, and it has some interesting insights into the evolution of some of the film’s iconic moments, such as the “I didn’t kill my wife!” / “I don’t care!” exchange.
The other new extra is the 45-minute pilot for the 2000 reboot of the The Fugitive TV series, which lasted just a season and was cancelled without resolving a cliffhanger. Mykelti Williamson, an actor I’ve always enjoyed, takes on the Gerard role and gives it a unique spin different from how Tommy Lee Jones played the character, but in the end, the story is a fairly pedestrian rehash of a tale told a few decades ago on TV and then again on the big screen. It would be more interesting to see a reboot that takes the core concept in a new direction.
The extras imported from the DVD (and previous Blu-ray) include: a very short, but amusing, introduction by Davis, Jones, and Harrison Ford; On the Run With the Fugitive (23 minutes), which features a lot of behind-the-scenes footage; Derailed: Anatomy of a Train Wreck (eight minutes), which digs into an incredible sequence that had to be filmed with a real train and bus in the days before widespread CGI use; a commentary track with Davis and Jones that offers additional information but also has some dead air and a few “let me describe what you’re seeing on the screen without saying anything interesting” moments; and the film’s trailer.
Finally, the disc’s menu is pretty cruddy, with a static picture and ugly icons; there’s nothing on this Blu-ray that takes advantage of the format’s unique features, such as Internet access, the ability to bookmark scenes, and so forth. It’s not a huge deal, but I was surprised they didn’t come up with something nice for the 20th anniversary of a classic film.