Witness

Picture
Sound
Extras

Many were the times I thought of reaching out to my contacts at Paramount to give them a friendly nudge toward a 4K release of Witness, a treasure from their vault and a personal favorite of mine since its theatrical debut. My grumblings were silenced earlier this year not by one of those fancy Paramount Presents editions but with the announcement of an even fancier limited-edition box set from third-party boutique label Arrow.

Dismissed by many as “another cop movie” before its production, the script by William Kelley and Earl W. and Pamela Wallace would go on to win the Oscar and even be analyzed and lauded in subsequent screenwriting textbooks. Under the direction of hot new import Peter Weir (Gallipoli, The Year of Living Dangerously), the great material was elevated even further, yielding a deeply felt tale of a stranger in a strange land.

Harrison Ford absolutely shines as Philadelphia police detective John Book in quite possibly the best performance of his career, when an explosive case sends him from the big city to the horse-and-buggy world of Amish country. One of the secrets of this film’s irresistible pull is its minimalism, as pages of dialogue were reportedly thrown out, replaced by…acting — the wordless expressions of Ford and romantic lead Kelly McGillis working as much magic as what they say out loud. It’s a remarkably honest love story, a suspenseful thriller, and simply one of the best movies to come out of the ‘80s.

Working with a studio-supplied master, Arrow presents Witness at its proper 1.85:1 aspect ratio and with HDR10 and Dolby Vision high dynamic range. The movie is quite naturalistic in its style, shot in Pennsylvania locations and often indoors with Vermeer-inspired use of light and color. Undulating tall grass looks like a painting come to life, subtleties of color are conveyed as never before, and beads of sweat are precisely rendered.

The HDR glow of the oil lanterns is downright respectable. Some shots are truly gorgeous, others are plagued by video compression and video noise rears its head, too. The resolution of the stark Amish black varies but is often crushed. A mild but undeniable flickering in some fast-action shots, the sort I seldom see in the modern 4K era, suggests an older video master was used — disappointing for a film of this stature. In fairness, director of photography John Seale chose a deliberately grainy film stock, which explains some of the issues with the image, which I’d put a notch above HD Blu-ray.

The lossless 5.1-channel remix of the original theatrical stereo (which is also included) is likely the same track that was included on Paramount’s prior Blu-ray releases, here in DTS-HD Master Audio format. It offers some welcome immersion such as the quiet creaking and echo in the corn silo, and later during the massive grain dump. At this level of clarity, we can appreciate the moments where post-production dialogue looping was required.

For the most part, the use of the rear surrounds is not particularly aggressive, with nothing coming from behind during a rainstorm, for example. Utilizing synthesizers to create an otherworldly mood, Maurice Jarre’s operatic, at times hypnotic musical score typically displays a stereo configuration with strong moments of percussion, the iconic barn-building sequence expanding to fill all the speakers as the transcendent sense of community washes over us all. Also included is a “home video” 2.0 soundtrack, ostensibly tweaked for more limited nearfield audio setups.

Among the legacy extras are a five-part, hour-long documentary featuring all the participants we’d hope for plus a deleted scene from the TV version of the movie. New for this edition are an expert audio commentary, an interview with John Seale, and a visual essay, in addition to a 60-page booklet, a double-sided poster, and six photo cards. As the title suggests, you must see Witness for yourself.

ULTRA HD 4K BLU-RAY
STUDIO: Arrow, 1985
ASPECT RATIO: 1.85:1
HDR FORMAT: Dolby Vision, HDR10
AUDIO FORMAT: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
LENGTH: 112 mins., R
DIRECTOR: Peter Weir
STARRING: Harrison Ford, Kelly McGillis, Lukas Haas, Josef Sommer, Jan Rubes, Alexander Godunov, Patti LuPone

COMMENTS
dommyluc's picture

I just watched it last night on Paramount+, having not seen it in almost 25 years. It still packs a powerful emotional punch. Great performances by Harrison Ford, Kelly McGillis, and especially 8-year-old Lukas Haas. The wordless good-bye between Ford and McGillis at the end is absolutely heartbreaking. It really deserved to win the Best Picture Oscar of 1985 instead of that that deadly dull and overrated "Out of Africa". Perhaps in the near future Paramount will put out a better 4K release this movie truly deserves.

xocotew170's picture

The blend of minimalism and powerful acting creates an irresistible and timeless experience. | best concrete company in Frisco

hopkins3's picture

Once you take down the leader, you're usually faced with a few enthusiastic flankers, but the remaining two always end monopoly go up running away.

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