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Dustin Putman

On Golden Pond  (1981)

Reviewed for by Dustin Putman

The Film
3 Stars
(Release Date: January 20, 2015) – Nominated for ten Academy Awards and winner of three (Best Actor - Henry Fonda, Best Actress - Katharine Hepburn, and Best Adapted Screenplay), "On Golden Pond" is a poignant, delicately imagined drama that has barely aged a day since its theatrical release in 1981. Directed by Mark Rydell (who would go on to helm one of my personal favorite underappreciated gems, 1994's "Intersection") and written by Ernest Thompson (based on his play), the film stars Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn as a married couple in the twilight of their lives who arrive to spend the summer at their bucolic lake house. The cantankerous Norman is struggling with deteriorating health and is in the early stages of Alzheimer's, leading him and wife Ethel to confront the bitter truths of aging and their own mortality.

Henry Fonda (in his final major film role before passing away in 1982) is a force to be reckoned with as Norman, at once stubborn and achingly fallible, while Katharine Hepburn is his lovely partner in crime as Ethel, using "You old poop!" as her most tried-and-true term of affection. Jane Fonda is also deeply moving as their grown daughter, Chelsea, forever yearning to be accepted and loved by her dad, while Doug McKeon exhibits an infectious self-confidence as Billy Ray, the 13-year-old son of Chelsea's new beau who ends up staying with Norman and Ethel for the season. Lensed with the tranquil, nostalgic beauty of its country setting by cinematographer Billy Williams, "On Golden Pond" mostly escapes its stage-play origins while offering up genuine, lived-in performances from its actors. The story, predominately made up of a collection of smaller moments rather than big, earth-shaking occurrences, is on the sleepy side, but the truth of its characters and emotions carry the film from start to finish.

Blu-ray Picture/Sound

The 1080p transfer of "On Golden Pond" could use a fresh re-mastering, but until that day comes this is easily as good as this picture has ever looked on any home video format. There is mosquito noise early on during the opening credits, while age-related dirt, white specks and lines pop up on occasion, but these traits are positively offset by the healthy boost in depth and clarity brought to the image. Colors are rich, infused with golden yellows and rustic browns, grain looks pure and natural, and the frame overall is pleasingly filmic. There is room for improvement, but the picture satisfies all the same. The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio has few faults. Dialogue is clear, and Dave Grusin's wonderful music score is deservedly highlighted in the mix. This is not the most active soundtrack—it is dialogue-driven to a fault—and, thus, is far from demo material. Still, it gets the job done and serves the movie's demands well.

Blu-ray Features
  • Audio Commentary with director Mark Rydell
  • "Reflections on Golden Pond" Featurette (30:03, SD)
  • "A Woman of Substance: Katharine Hepburn Remembered " Featurette (15:53, SD)
  • Theatrical Trailer (2:53, SD)
Bottom Line
Shout! Factory's Blu-ray release of "On Golden Pond" is solid, from the A/V specs to the collection of special features offered. The studio should be celebrated for taking care of this worthy catalogue title and sending it out into the world of high-definition video where it belongs. Fans will be in heaven while viewers unfamiliar with the film owe it to themselves to take a look, too. A touching slice-of-life about the process of life and an affectionate tribute to the ageless talents of Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn, "On Golden Pond" comes highly recommended on Blu-ray.

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© 2015 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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