Having never been a very literary-minded lad, I must confess that I did not devote quite as much of my time as a youth to that which was printed. Well, there were those issues of Psychotronic, European Trash Cinema, Filmfax, and, of course, my father’s old Playboy and Penthouse magazines. I even buried my nose in the occasional movie reference item, such as several of the late great Phil Hardy’s encyclopedias. Needless to say, Phil Hardy was about as close as I ever got to Thomas Hardy when it came to published materials. On film, I had seen the works of Oliver Hardy, and a worn-out 16mm showing of Roman Polanski’s Tess one time at an art gallery – a viewing I recall very little of, to be perfectly honest, other than being bored out of my skull.
Mind you, I was a teenager at the time, and my attention span for motion pictures was actually greater then than it is today. So, when the Blu-ray of Far from the Madding Crowd showed up on my doorstep one day, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was in for, as it too was based on the work of that other Hardy fellow. My first attempt at sitting through the film ended in disaster, as I happened to already be extremely depressed that day before I even popped the disc in. And then I witnessed Alan Bates lose his entire flock of sheep over a cliff thanks to the poor navigation of an ill-trained dog. This happy image was followed by the sight of the aforementioned King of Hearts star shooting his canine companion dead because of the creature’s bottomless stupidity.
My second attempt at watching Far from the Madding Crowd occurred weeks later. It was directly after I had wasted the first half of my afternoon suffering through Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings, and after surviving that, I figured I was ready to make it all the way through this. So I did. And, frankly, John Schlesinger’s 1967 adaptation of the Thomas Hardy novel almost seems like a masterpiece when viewed immediately after Exodus: Gods and Kings. That said, it’s still a long, unbearably boring and dreary ol’ film. But as far as long, unbearably boring and dreary ol’ films go, Far from the Madding Crowd is a pretty well-made, long, unbearably boring and dreary ol’ film. Providing that genuinely means anything to any of you.
Here, Julie Christie plays a young, fiercely independent woman in a section of rural Victorian England, who inherits her uncle’s farm. As well as all of the many responsibilities that come with it. Alan Bates is a simple shepherd who also doubles as the only really likable person in the entire film, despite the fact that he holds a torch for Ms. Christie after she leads him on and then rejects his marriage proposal early on. Peter Finch is the nearby farmer with oodles of cash to spend on the right woman; and a cruel Valentine’s Day joke forever plants the undying seed of love in his head for his new lady farmer neighbor. And then there’s Terence Stamp, who plays a womanizing soldier with a passion for gambling and drinking. Needless to say, he’s the one who lands the dame.
I think the most depressing aspect of Far from the Madding Crowd could be just how truly close it is to real life. Sure, things have changed since Thomas Hardy’s days, but I still see young women hooking up with the bad boys – only to wind up as miserable as this whole movie is. But hey, that’s probably why everyone loves Thomas Hardy’s work. Personally, I’ll stick with Phil Hardy’s books. But, in the meantime, should you wish to watch a long, unbearably boring and dreary ol’ film based on Thomas Hardy’s book, you could do worse than to pick up the beautiful Warner Archive release of Far from the Madding Crowd, which presents the film uncut in the US for the first time (yes, it’s even longer now!) with a stellar 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC transfer and new DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix.
Accompanying the main feature are two special features. The first in a 1967 featurette that took audiences on a behind-the-scenes look at the filming of a sweeping motion picture spectacle that was doomed to bomb at the box office in the good ol’ United States, where we simply must have more violence or sex in our cinematic outings in order to draw us in. And definitely no scenes of sheep suffering from gastric dilatation volvulus. That just makes us feel uncomfortable, mostly because we eat like to stuff ourselves silly on a regular basis. Finally, the Warner Archive’s otherwise wonderful release (look, it’s just the movie itself I don’t like – the rest is fine!), also sports the original theatrical trailer for the ill-fated American debut, wherein the misleading narration will probably give you a hint as to what would inevitably go wrong.
Recommended solely for people who love sweeping romantic epics with nary a trace of romance or attraction to them.