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Chariots of Fire: Special Edition

The problem with annual awards is that some years there's a glut of greatness (think of 1974, when Chinatown lost to The Godfather Part II) and other years someone simply has to win. Chariots of Fire won the Best Picture Oscar in 1981 and has left many viewers scratching their heads ever since. Then again, using a list of Academy Award-winners as a signifier of great films is about as smart as using haddocks as snow shoes. Chariots of Fire tells the story of two Olympic runners from 1924: Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) is Jewish and must fight against the mild prejudices held against him, while the Scot Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) is a devout Protestant and won't run a qualifying match on a Sunday. For the most part, the film is made up of little dramas, such as Harold's romancing of stage actress Sybil Gordon (Alice Krige), and his work with the trainer Sam Mussabini (Ian Holm), who is not allowed into the Olympics because of his professional status. Otherwise, the picture focuses on the beauty of watching men run… often in slow motion. Chariots is rather successful at conveying how beautiful these men are while running, but otherwise, it's a modest film that bows under the weight of its prestige. There are some grace notes: It's luminously shot by cinematographer David Watkin (who won an Oscar for 1985's equally questionable choice for Best Picture, Out of Africa), but such highlights that director Hugh Hudson's training came from making commercials. The other strong element is the score by Vangelis (credited as Vangelis Papathanassiou), which has been oft-parodied, and still remains brilliant and yet completely incongruous to the period setting. It should also be noted (it was a surprise to this reviewer) that the film is only 124 minutes long. Warner presents Chariots of Fire in a two-disc Special Edition, with the film presented on Disc One in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio — the release is a substantial upgrade over the poor quality full-frame disc that arrived in 1997. The only feature on the first disc is a commentary by director Hudson. On Disc Two there's "Wings on Their Heels: The Making of Chariots of Fire" (27 min.), which features Hudson, producer David Puttnam, screenwriter Colin Welland, performers Ben Cross, Alice Krige, Nicholas Farrell, Nigel Havers, Dennis Christopher, athletic consultant Tom McNab, cinematographer Peter Watkin, editor Terry Rawlings, and Vangelis. This is followed by "Chariots of Fire: A Reunion" (19 min.), which brings together Hudson, Havers, Puttnam, Watikin, and Farrell, 11 minutes of deleted scenes (with optional commentary by Hudson), screen tests for Ben Cross and Ian Charleson (9 min.), and the theatrical trailer. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.

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