The Getaway is the second Steve McQueen classic to get an HD-DVD release from Warner Brothers, released day-and-date with Bullitt, which I reviewed on Saturday. Unfortunately it's by far the weakest of the two releases.
Age hasn't been kind to the film, which may well have seemed innovative and daring when originally released, but now just seems dull. Very dull! Insomniac-curingly dull! Numerous dead-ends which add nothing to the plot, and seem to be there just to pad the film out to a ridiculous running time, are one part of the problem.
McQueen's co-star is another!
As the film opens McQueen is doing time, but up for parole for good behaviour. He loses his parole case and tells his wife she needs to visit a crime boss friend to get him out before he goes mad.
Weeks later McQueen is released, his parole decision having suddenly and miraculously been reversed. He is finally reunited with his girlfriend, but finds he owes a big favour to the crime boss his wife visited. He has to rob a bank to repay his debt, although it later transpires his wife may already have paid a huge price for his release regardless. A very silly sub-plot involves a double-crossing colleague, that McQueen has to 'kill' when his own life is threatened, foolishly not bothering to check he's done the job properly. The supposedly seriously injured gangster manages to kidnap a bored, married couple and their vehicle, and the trio pursue McQueen and his wife across the country.
As if that weren't stupid enought, the ditzy wife of the couple falls for the overweight crook, pretty much abandoning her husband to endless mockery and humiliation, and becoming some sort of comedic gangster's moll.
There's also an unnecessary detour involving a part-time crook stealing McQueen's ill-gotten money, which he subsequently retrieves, before we get to the climax of the movie, which involves lots of guns and violence in a hotel shoot-out. This shoot-out is pretty much director Sam Peckinpah on auto-pilot, but it all arrives too late in the film to rescue it. The film runs at just over two hours, but by the time we get to the interesting stuff it feels like it's been running for four!
Steve McQueen is fine, playing his usual 'cool' sardonic persona, but he's not given enough to do, and unfortunately every time the film feels like it's about to get a lift his real life squeeze, Ali McGraw arrives on the scene to kill it stone dead. The woman has all the stage presence of a plank of wood, and every time she opens her mouth you can feel the temperature drop a few degrees. Some reviewers have talked about the on-screen chemistry of her and McQueen - presumably they're talking the sort of chemistry that involves mixing two warm chemicals together to create frozen crystals!
The transfer to HD-DVD is pretty good, but not what one could call 'top tier'. There are random flecks and scratches, particularly in the first reel of the film, and grain is evident throughout. It's not quite as bad as Bullitt, but it's not much better than a good standard DVD release either.
Extra's wise, the disc has also had most of its thunder stolen by Bullitt, with no high-definition features included this time round, and no need for an excellent documentary on the film's star because that's already been done on the Bullitt release. As a result the extra's are almost exclusively about the original composer, Jerry Fielding, which seems an odd choice given that he was 'let go' from the film and his score for the film was never used.
A virtual commentary lasting about 11 minutes screens the first reel of the film with interview excerpts from McQueen, McGraw and Peckinpah laid over the top. Quite entertaining, but the pictures projected have little to do with what the commentators are actually saying, making the featurette title something of a misnomer.
There is a good commentary track by a group of film historians, including Peckinpah's biographer, and they give some background detail about the fall-out between McQueen and the film's original composer Jerry Fielding, which is also covered in excruciating detail in a long feature Jerry Fielding, Sam Peckinpah and The Getaway. This is actually a very long 'at home' interview with Fielding's widow and one of her close friends who just happens to have been a former companion of Peckinpah's, intercut with similar interview footage with Fielding's daughter. Whilst it gives some insight into the workings of Hollywood, and the monstrous ego's of McQueen, Peckinpah and Fielding, it's the sort of interview that only Fielding obsessives and close friends and family are likely to find riveting.
Fielding's soundtrack is also included as an alternative soundtrack to the fourth reel of the film, with the whole score also being made available as an audio feature. Completists will no doubt love it.
The low price means that this is probably worth checking out if you're a fan of one of the Hollywood greats, but I'd advise a rental before purchase. For me the main film is too fundamentally flawed to be of any real interest, and were it not for its main star the film would have undoubtedly been consigned to the dustbins of film history, in spite of its high profile director. I found the film hard work, mainly because of McGraw's appalling acting, and felt that the quality of the source material really didn't warrant a high definition transfer. All-in-all, a miss, despite the generous extra's.