The Day of the Dolphin
The third and final collaboration between director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Buck Henry, following The Graduate and Catch-22, The Day of the Dolphin, is a true one-off. A science-fiction thriller filmed in the Bahamas, and adapted from Robert Merle’s best-selling novel, the film concerns a scientist (George C Scott, Hardcore) who is teaching dolphins to speak but finds himself embroiled in a shadowy government plot to assassinate the US president.
Indicator releases Mike Nichol’s The Day of the Dolphin on Blu-ray, presenting the film in the aspect ratio of around 2.39:1 on a dual-layer disc. The 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation is sourced from a 4K digital restoration performed by StudioCanal. The disc has been locked to region B, so North American viewers will require players that can playback region B content.
I was a little surprised that StudioCanal would go out of their way to do a full-on 4K resto for the film, though I guess Nichols' name being behind it put ahead of the crowd. At any rate, the final results have turned out rather sharp. Colours lean warmer with a bit of a yellow tint; it’s not all that heavy compared to other restorations but it can be a bit much, weakening both blues and blacks a bit in the process, blacks looking a bit thick in the nighttime/dark shots. Still, the image is razor sharp a good chunk of the time, only a few shots looking fuzzy; in a few of these cases it looks like the frame might have been zoomed in on. Outside of that, the materials appear to be in goodshape, though a few minor scratches and marks pop up from time to time.
The digital encode looks great, film grain rendered nicely, lending a photographic quality to the image. I don't recall any artifacts of any sort ever popping up. In the end it’s a pleasant surprise since I (maybe unfairly) wouldn’t have expected the film to receive the care that it has.
There are two audio tracks: a PCM 2.0 stereo soundtrack and a DTS-HD MA 3.0 soundtrack (though encoded at 5.1). I listened to the film with the 3.0 soundtrack and then sampled the 2.0 one. The 3.0 track is a bit “fuller,” I guess you could say, spreading the audio nicely between the front three speakers in a more natural manner compared to the stereo soundtrack. Dialogue sounds to be primarily isolated to the center speaker. The stereo one may be a bit louder, though. Both are sharp with excellent range and fidelity, no damage to speak of. Georges Delerue’s score (maybe the highlight of the film) shows exceptional range and clarity itself, but admittedly shows better dynamic range on the 3.0 track.
It will ultimately come down to personal preference as the general quality of both is similar.
Admittedly I’ve avoided this film through the years for several reasons and my first viewing of it, through this disc, was interesting. I’ll confess I’m not entirely sure what to make of it, but I’m glad it exists; the world would be far less interesting if it didn’t. The same could also be easily said for Indicator’s disc and its batch of extras, which together give a good argument for the film, and there is no better argument for this film’s existence than film historian Sheldon Hall’s 33-minute select-scene commentary, which covers scenes spread across the first 65-minutes of the film.
Hall confesses early he loves this film, and he provides a defense for how and why viewers should surrender themselves to it, to ignore the voice of reason that might be screaming in your head. Through Scott’s opening speech Hall argues this is Henry’s and Nichols’ attempt to tell audiences to imagine the events in this film could happen and accept the sci-fi nature of it. He then continues on to cover the various genres that are mashed up in the film (science-fiction, conspiracy, drama, horror, thriller, and more) and even places it in the context of the time it was made, following Watergate and the wave of conspiracy thrillers that came from it. He does cover Nichols’ dismissal of the movie, the film only coming about due to his contract with Joseph E. Levine, and how this film, along with Wolf, is one of the ones that Nichols would request be held back from retrospectives of his work. But Hall counters Nichols’ misgivings about the film by just acknowledging the craft and work that clearly went into it, seeing the straight-faced nature of the whole enterprise as a plus. I am a little saddened this isn’t a feature-length track, even though he peters out a bit near the end when he starts talking about the geometry of the settings, so maybe it's a good thing it's short, but I would have loved to hear his comments around the ludicrousness of the ending. I don’t know if Hall will change any minds, but I went with it and I think I get why someone would love this film. As with the film, I'm happy this exists.
There’s also another defense for the film from Larry Karaszewski for Trailers from Hell, which features Karaszewski speaking over the film’s trailer (also included on its own), appreciating how the film treats its subject matter.
Indicator then includes two lengthy new interviews, one with actor Jon Korkes (43-minutes) and the other with second assistant director Michael Haley, who had also collaborated with Nichols on a number of films. Both touch on how they came onto the film and also share stories about working with the dolphins and George C. Scott, and it sounds like the combination made the experience especially memorable. (Also, as an aside, Jason Robards was considered for a role and there was horror around the prospect of being stuck on an island with two notorious drinkers.) Korkes also had an interesting dinner experience with Scott and there were some mild tensions at one point, while Haley apparently spent his time mooning as many people as possible. Haley also gets into how Nichols was only doing the film to get out of a contract with producer Levine, and it was clear his heart wasn’t completely into the film. They're long interviews, and I feared they'd outlast their welcomes, but the two share some amusing and interesting stories from the time.
Indicator then ports over archival interviews recorded for the North American Home Vision DVD released almost two decades ago now, featuring actors Leslie Charleson (7-minutes) and Edward Herrmann (13-minutes), as well as writer Buck Henry (12-minutes). The two actors recount their respective experiences, which includes the difficulty of working on water, Charleson even recalling the same dinner event hosted by Scott that Korkes also talks about in his interview (which involved Scott getting seriously drunk). Henry’s interview is the most interesting of the three as he talks about the source novel and adapting it. He recalls the book being a mess and touches on two specific elements he had to change. This interview ends up offering a terrific look into the process and art of adapting a source novel to the screen, and Henry’s honesty (the man admitting he was more than likely out of his element) is welcoming.
Along with the trailer there is a 30-second TV spot and 3 radio spots. There’s also a decent sized gallery featuring photos, posters, lobby cards, and captures from what appears to be a Japanese program for the film. Indicator’s booklet then features a good amount of content itself. There’s a lengthy essay by Neil Sinyard offering a further defense of the film, countering the critical reaction it received at the time of its release, which is then followed by a short article around Nichols and Levine, featuring quotes and snippets from articles pertaining to them, one of which indicates Levine was interested in making a film about Gandhi starring Anthony Hopkins. That obviously never came to pass. Next is a reprint of an interview with co-star and wife of George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, and then there's a look at how the dolphins are presented in the original source novel compared to the film, pointing out there is a satirical element in the book. The booklet then closes with a selection of critical responses, though Indicator has chosen to include a few of the more balanced and positive ones, like Gene Siskel’s.
All around I was pretty impressed with what Indicator has put together here. The material does address some of the weaker and cornier aspects of the film, but they also offer a decent defense that admittedly won me over.
At least a little bit.
Though I'm not entirely sold on the film I do like Indicator's release for it a lot. The supplements are fun and engaging, offering a loving defense for the film, and the presentation is surprisingly good. This one's an easy recommendation.