Eye of the Needle [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (26th September 2018).
The Film

"Eye of the Needle" (1981)

Henry Faber (played by Donald Sutherland) seems to be an ideal and patriotic English Army officer during World War II. But what lies beneath is much more sinister. He is a German spy nicknamed "The Needle" as his preferred method of killing is with a stiletto, stabbing his victims without mercy and cleanly. On one mission he is to deliver photographs of aircraft and information on the allied forces retaliation plans, but during a chase from Scotland Yard in a storm, his boat crashes, stranding him on a small island named "Storm Island", where only four people live. The drunken lighthouse keeper and shepherd Tom (played by Alex McCrindle), along with the Rose family - fellow shepherd David Christopher Cazenove) who lost his legs in a road accident four years ago, his wife Lucy (played by Kate Nelligan) who miraculously survived the road accident unscathed, and their young son Jo (played by twins Jonathan Haley and Nicholas Haley). For Faber to recover and get in contact with the German U-Boat which would wait for him at only a specific time will be crucial, but when David uncovers some of Faber's secrets, the simple escape off a rural island turns deadly...

Ken Follett's 1978 spy novel "Storm Island" and later renamed "Eye of the Needle" became the author's first award winning best seller. It wouldn't take long for an adaptation to the screen, which would be produced only three years later. The adaptation of the book kept the structure which was slightly unusual introducing two parallel storylines that seemingly had nothing to do with each other. One was a German spy on the run using his cunning skills and deadly weapon. The other about a happy wedding with a couple which tragically is cut short with a car accident on the way to their honeymoon, which then cuts to four years later with the couple retreated to an isolated island where the husband lives in disgrace and the wife depressed. In the filmed version it is structured where a lot of time is put on the cat and mouse spy game with Inspector Godliman (played by Ian Bannen) just one step behind. The story of David and Lucy becomes the substory and completely unbalanced, making the audience wonder why the other story was introduced at all since there is no connection between the two until nearly halfway into the film. This structure is one of the weaker points of the production, which could have set the wedding and car accident as a flashback rather than having a parallel story. But where the first half may be a little slow in moving the plot forward, it is the second half that truly brings the best in the film.

The interactions between Faber and the Roses on the remote island is where the best elements of the story lie. From David's depression from losing his legs and suddenly an able man appearing making him feel even less of a man than before, Lucy's unsatisfied life in a sexless relationship in the middle of nowhere and having to take care of a child, and Faber's risk taking actions on the island. Without giving away too many spoilers, blood is shed, sexual tension rises, and nail biting suspense escalates completely, and the actors give excellent performances. Donald Sutherland - a Canadian playing a German playing an Englishman is an exceptional performance with coldness and precision. Kate Nelligan, also a Canadian gives a wonderful performance as the neglected wife and mother who has the biggest emotional moments in the film, from the happiest she could be at the start to a broken woman and later a reinvigorated woman. Alex McCrindle as the crippled husband is also a great performance, though his screentime is a bit shorter than the other two leads. Their child was actually played by twin boys, though IMDB mistakenly credits them as one person. His voice has been dubbed over most likely to make the three year old sound more intelligible, but in effect makes his character sound a little unnatural.

Directed by Richard Marquand who was known for his lengthy work on television and for the 1978 horror film "The Legacy", the director wonderfully filmed the quick action sequences as well as the complimentary emotional scenes in the production, which caught the eye of director George Lucas, who hired him to direct "Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi". While "Return of the Jedi" was more or less a Lucas production with little for Marquand to show his personal touches, the acclaim would continue with "Jagged Edge" in 1985. Unfortunately his career would be cut short as he died on September 4, 1987 from a stroke at the young age of 49. His final film "Hearts of Fire" starring Bob Dylan and Rupert Everett was a critical bomb and has never been released on DVD or Blu-ray. "Eye of the Needle" is one the director's very few theatrical feature films to be made, and even with its flaws of pacing and structure in the first half, the direction of the action and the emotional scenes are top notch with a few twists and turns along the way.

Note this is a region B Blu-ray and region 2 PAL DVD set

Video

The BFI presents the film in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio in 1080p in the AVC MPEG-4 codec. The remastered HD transfer comes from MGM. The picture quality is very good, though not particularly exceptional. Colors are a little on the faded side, though it remains consistent with the pinkish skintones and brownish hue. Primary colors like blues or greens are not very vivid, though the yellow raincoats, the shots of blood do carry some vibrancy. There are minor specs that are visible, though major damage such as cuts and warps are non-existent, though only if you discredit the stock footage scenes which have inconsistent damage in the picture. Not a stellar transfer by any means, but is a consistently good one.

The film's runtime is 111:43, which uses the shorter, "director preferred" ending of the film. The alternate longer ending is offered in the extras.

Note the screencaps are from the standard definition disc



















Audio

English LPCM 2.0 mono
The original mono track is present, and is again like the picture being fairly good but unexceptional. Dialogue, music, and effects are well balanced, with Miklos Rosza's score heard very clearly while not overbearing the actors' performances. There are no issues of hisses, pops, or crackle in the audio leaving a very clean source.

There are optional English HoH subtitles for the main feature in a white font. There are some minor portions where German is spoken, and in these cases the subtitles caption the German language as German rather than translations. The film was never screened with English subtitles for those portions. The subtitles are a little thin in the font but they are clear and timed correctly, with no spelling errors to speak of.

Extras

This is a dual format release, with the film and extras on the Blu-ray, and the same content repeated on the DVD in standard definition PAL.


DISC ONE (Blu-ray)

Audio commentary by Jon Burlingame, Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman
Recorded for the US Twilight Time Blu-ray release, Twilight Time’s Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman are joined by author and lecturer Jon Burlingame for the commentary. They discuss about Miklos Rosza’s score and his career, anecdotes about many of the actors, Marquad’s career pre and post “Return of the Jedi”, and much more. There are some funny moments but also a bit too much narration on what is happening rather than behind the scenes information. In addition the commentary mentions about a “possible” extended ending which the commentators had no concrete information about. But in fact there is another ending…
in English LPCM 1.0 with no subtitles

Alternate Ending (3:38)
This alternate ending is actually an extended ending with some additional shots. It does not change the outcome but it does tie up a few loose ends with a bit more of a happy ending, though it may be considered unnecessary. There is no information where the shorter cut and the extended cuts were shown theatrically, but on DVD the US received the shorter cut and Europe received the extended cut, released by MGM. The BFI release says the shorter cut is “Richard Marquand’s preferred cut of the film”. The transfer comes from MGM, remastered in HD, and while the picture quality is on par with the main feature, the sound is a little on the lesser side.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.85;1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

"Donald Sutherland Guardian Interview" (72:35)
In this lengthy Q&A at the National Film Theatre on January 13, 1987, Sutherland is joined on stage by film critic Quentin Falk as they discuss Sutherland's career on screen. From stories about different actors, never working with the same director twice, his politics, and more are discussed in the Q&A followed by some questions from the audience. During the Q&A some film clips are shown in between, but for this extra those portions have been edited out. This is an audio only extra, which plays as an alternate audio track for the main feature for the first 72 minutes. After the Q&A finishes, the audio reverts back to the film's soundtrack.
in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

"Careless Talk Costs Lives: Wartime Warnings" short films (with Play All) (35:05)
- "Now You're Talking" (1940) (11:44)
- "All Hands" (1940) (11:08)
- "Dangerous Comment" (1940) (12:12)

Three short wartime films from Ealing Studios are presented, all directed by John Paddy Carstairs, all with the similar theme of people inadvertently slipping important information out that cause the enemy Germans to gain higher ground. Moral lesson being "careless talk costs lives" as stated, these propaganda shorts are quite entertaining but obviously with bleak endings. The first two shorts are high definition remasters from the Imperial War Museum and look quite fantastic with minor damage, grain intact, fine detail, stable image, and good sound. The third film is a standard definition transfer also from teh Imperial War Museum and the difference is very noticeable. The image is blurrier, detail is lost, and the sound is weaker. The transfer has been upscaled to high definition here.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

Theatrical Trailer (1:48)
The spoiler heavy original US trailer is presented.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.85:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles


DISC TWO (DVD)

Audio commentary by Jon Burlingame, Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman
Alternate Ending (3:29)
"Donald Sutherland Guardian Interview" 1987. audio only, plays over the film (72:35)
"Careless Talk Costs Lives: Wartime Warnings" short films (with Play All)
- "Now You're Talking" (1940) (11:17)
- "All Hands" (1940) (10:42)
- "Dangerous Comment" (1940) (11:43)
Theatrical Trailer (1:44)
The film and the same extras are repeated on a standard definition PAL DVD.


Booklet
A 10 page booklet is included with the set. There is an essay by Paul Fairclough entitled "Threading the Needle" which has its spoilers as it talks about the film, the characters, and about Marquad's career. In addition there are stills, credits, extras information, and acknowledgements.


The extras on this set are very good, but there could have been more. It would have been nice to see more with people involved int the production, possibly from Sutherland or Nelligan in retrospect, or someone such as Bill Nighy who made his film debut here, even if in a small role. The film was previously released on Blu-ray in the United States by Twilight Time in 2016, which had the same "director's preferred" version of the film, the same commentary and trailer, plus an exclusive extra with the isolated score by Miklos Rozsa. On DVD the presentations were never ideal. The US release had the shorter cut of the film only. The European releases had the longer cut of the film only. They all included the theatrical trailer as the sole extra, and the film's transfer was non-anamorphic. The BFI's dual format release is a giant step above the DVDs and has many extras over the US Blu-ray, though the isolated score is a nice touch the US release gets to keep exclusive.

Overall

"Eye of the Needle" is a great spy thriller with stellar performances and an incredibly suspenseful second half. The BFI's dual format release has good video and and audio plus some interesting supplements making this release very recommended.

The Film: B Video: B Audio: B+ Extras: B Overall: B

 


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