..

MARATHON MAN

Review by Alex Haberstroh

Stars:  Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Olivier, Roy Scheider, William Devane, Marthe Keller
Director:  John Schlesinger
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby 2.0 (English, French)
Video:  1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Subtitles:  English
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  See Review
Length:  114 minutes
Release Date:  August 28th, 2001

"Is it safe?"

Film ***1/2

What is it about the sixties, and especially the seventies, that produced such great political thrillers?  Is it because people then had a feeling that the government might be up to something, and in turn, were fascinated by it (as compared to now when we find out things and no one really cares)?  It seems somewhat obvious that events like Vietnam and Watergate helped create fertile ground for political thrillers like The Parallax View, All the President’s Men, and Marathon Man.

Like all good thrillers, Marathon Man is a smart, crisply written piece that essentially mixes a brew of fear, tension, paranoia, and pain for the characters.  From the very first moments, director John Schlesinger keeps each scene dripping with tension, slowly moving the audience through a world of intrigue, murder, and conspiracy. 

 The film has some of the best talent available in terms of acting.  Hoffman is wonderful as the “Marathon Man,” a graduate student at Columbia, longing only to finish his thesis and run a marathon someday.  As well, apparently on a roll after his great performance in Jaws, Scheider does a terrific job with both the physical and mental demands that went with the role of Doc, Hoffman’s mysterious brother.  Still though, the Marathon Man truly belongs to Laurence Olivier, whose performance as Szell, “The Weisse Engel” or “White Angel” of Auschwitz, is so delicately and precisely delivered that his evil becomes even more horrific and unfathomable.  This role alone demonstrates why Olivier won so many awards over his career including three Oscars, five Emmy’s, and three Golden Globes.  

While some may criticize the film as too slowly paced for their tastes, I believe that the pacing is necessary to build up the tension and dread that the audience feels (if you want fast paced action, watch something like Armageddon). The result is some of the most chilling and memorable scenes I’ve witnessed for quite some time. 

Video ***

In my experience, usually anything filmed in the seventies is marked by a somewhat grainy appearance, as well as a laundry list of other glitches.  In the case of Marathon Man, Paramount has provided a very nice transfer that while certainly not reference quality, is definitely quite an improvement over the previous medium the film was in.  Colors are by and large bright, with only a few problems occurring in some of the darker night scenes, where there is considerable grain.  

All in all, this is a respectable restoration from Paramount.          

Audio **1/2

While including both a Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby surround track, the 5.1 track is not especially lively.  Occasionally the .1LFE or surrounds comes to life, but for the most part, dialogue and effects are both center channel oriented.  While it won’t blow you away, this track is overall a serviceable one.  

Supplements ***

Paramount has offered some very in-depth supplements that should please fans of the film.  Included first is “The Magic of Hollywood: The Original Making of Marathon Man.”  Narrated by Paramount producer Robert Evans, this “making of” is generally well done, offering some very good behind the scenes footage of now dead director John Schlesinger and star Laurence Olivier.  The only problem I had with this feature is that Evans seems to think he’s playing to a classroom of five year olds whenever he comes on screen.  

“Going The Distance: Remembering Marathon Man,” is a look back at Marathon Man twenty-five years later with stars Hoffman, Scheider, Keller, producer Evans, and author William Goldman.  This is a well-done retrospective, although Evans retells some of the same stories he did twenty-five years ago in the previous featurette.  Moreover, I’m confused as to why director John Schlesinger doesn’t participate in this feature, as anyone who has time to direct Madonna films like The Next Best Thing should have plenty of time on their hands for even a commentary, nonetheless a few words for a featurette.   

In addition, about twenty minutes in length, is rehearsal footage from the film with occasional commentary.  This will probably be a favorite amongst fans, and I found it appealing to see as well.  Finally, rounding out the package, is the film’s trailer in anamorphic. 

Summary:

This is a darkly written political thriller definitely worth checking if you like the genre.  So turn out the lights, pop in the DVD, and don’t turn your back.