The Wicker Man. Film Review

the-wicker-man-final-cutTHE WICKER MAN

DIRECTOR: Robin Hardy 

Screenplay: Antony Schaeffer

STARRING: Christopher Lee, Edward Woodward, Britt Ekland, Ingrid Pitt

FORMAT: 4 disc DVD/ 3 disc Blu-Ray/limited cinema release.

RELEASE DATE: 14th October.

Reviewed by Guy Adams

I have something of a troubled history with THE WICKER MAN, though, I’ll confess, not as apparently troubled as the production of the film itself.

It seems to me that the majority of its status as classic, a towering sacred cow of British Horror, is earned through two main assets: it’s climax (and, by God, it is a wonderful climax) and the vague ambiguity as to what the film might have been if left to its own devices.

This latter quality, a common thread in the appreciation of so many films, is the hardest to ever truly quantify. We have always been told that the most commonly viewed version of the film, in the UK at least, was hacked to pieces, leaving only a shadow — a hulking, man-shaped, shadow — of what it might have been. Christopher Lee, who has made no bones about lauding the movie as the best he has ever made (I am assuming he has forgotten the triumph that is POLICE ACADEMY 6: MISSION TO MOSCOW), made an attempt at quantifying the loss in a 2007 interview , claiming that the original cut, should it ever be found would have been “ten times as good”. Perhaps it is so, though my problem — and it’s not one many viewers have so feel free to help yourself to a judicious quantity of salt in order to stomach it — is that when further material came to light and the predictable DVD release of an extended cut was released, I found myself distinctly ambivalent towards it.

The so-called “director’s cut” of the film was released in 2001, with fifteen minutes of restored material bringing it within spitting distance of Robin Hardy’s preferred length.  Nothing is a greater threat to enjoyment than expectation and what I had hoped to be an utter revelation was instead a clunky and awkward experience. Some of the added material simply wasn’t terribly good, diluting, rather than increasing the overall experience. I, like many, had always classed THE WICKER MAN as a favourite, now I somehow liked it a little less. Still a good film, with an absolute corker of an ending, but not quite the perfect jewel in British horror cinema’s crown that received opinion claims it to be.

To celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the film, StudioCanal have released another cut, this time on Blu-ray as well as DVD. This version, labelled “The Final Cut” is a shorter version than the previously released director’s cut, being a halfway-house between the two, prepared from the 1979 US release of the film. While some have been a little disappointed that Robin Hardy’s much-publicised plea for hitherto unseen material has culminated in what is actually a more edited release than before, I think it’s probably for the best. The Final Cut retains some of the more interesting extra scenes while ditching a handful of the more awkward material. A compromise that sees me cautiously falling in love with it again. I still have reservations, and it certainly isn’t the cinematic perfection some consider it, but it is a fine film and one that deserves a suitably lavish and definitive version for our collections.

StudioCanal’s release is certainly belt and braces. The director’s cut is still there for those who want to compare, nestled amongst a positive bacchanalia of special features. There is even a disc of the soundtrack so true fans can strip off and smack their naked buttocks to their heart’s delight.

The big news for most will be the fact that the print has been digitally restored for Blu-ray. Unfortunately I only have the DVD for review so can’t really comment though I’m sure StudioCanal have done a decent job given their other releases (their Ealing restorations have been pure, distilled, loveliness).