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Hopscotch – The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray Review)

Hopscotch was a great film to catch up with. It’s a spy movie where action and thrills are hardly the point. While The Criterion Collection has a huge selection of films spanning decades of cinema and coming from all over the world, some may characterize the selections as stuffy dramas. That’s hardly the case and what better way to see that than by taking on a globetrotting spy comedy starring Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson. Hopscotch was an early entry into The Criterion Collection (it arrived on DVD in 2002), but it has now been given a Blu-ray update resulting in an excellent way to see and hear this forgotten cold war comedy gem.

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Film:

Matthau stars as CIA field officer Miles Kendig. Great at his job, Kendig decides to reject upcoming changes, as his Washington supervisor, Myerson (Ned Beatty), attempts to force Kendig into a desk job. As a result, Kendig unofficially resigns, shreds his personnel file and flees to Austria where he begins to write a tell-all memoir about the incompetence within the CIA. Kendig joins up with his old flame, Isobel Von Schoenenberg (Jackson), who helps by mailing out copies of the various chapters of the memoir. All the while, Myerson and Kendig’s protégé (Sam Waterston) do their best to try and catch Kendig, as he hops from country to country.

Interestingly, the film’s script was adapted from a Brian Garfield novel of the same name. It’s interesting because the book was structured as a thriller, opposed to a laid back comedy. Garfield adapted the novel with Bryan Forbes and ended up putting together the perfect sort of movie that captures the magic of Matthau. Acclaimed British director Ronald Neame was behind the camera for this one, and it appears as if this is the sort of film where everyone got along while making it.

It is easy to see why, as the level of comfort makes Hopscotch into an ensemble comedy, not unlike something from a modern day director like Steven Soderbergh’s wheelhouse. That in mind, a movie like Hopscotch doesn’t exist today. For all the globetrotting and natural chemistry that is on display, there is little in the way of action that could be associated with a film about a spy on the run. This may not be a movie that would be deemed “commercial” nowadays, but it is a lot of fun to watch.

As mentioned, Matthau is magic in this film, and he brings an outstanding quality to his CIA spy character, who fittingly looks like what you would expect a person who practices spy craft to look like. Jackson makes for an exceptional partner to go along with him as well. The two are great together. You also have Beatty, who effortlessly embodies the exacerbated CIA supervisor who can’t believe what Kendig can pull off. Meanwhile, Waterson (actually exhausted from previous film work, before arriving on the set of this one) glides through this movie with ease, admiring what his mentor is up to, despite being a part of the group chasing him.

There’s a fantastic look to this film, as the audience is taken to Austria, Bermuda, Germany, London, and France. While not the sort of film that relies on depicting exotic locations to help in keeping the viewer’s eyes occupied, it’s a neat sense of scale for a movie that works as a lighthearted send-up of 70s-era cold war thrillers. Not hurting is the Mozart-infused score, which helps in finding a balance for the tone of this film, along with satiating Matthau’s true life love of classical music.

A lot is to be admired in Hopscotch. It comes from an era where breeziness was hardly something a studio would scoff at. Rather than punctuate every 15 minutes with an exciting action scene, the film happily plays off of the chemistry in the cast, with some very amusing moments that coming in the form of comedic misdirection. Matthau is fantastic in the lead role, and the whole thing never forgets that it’s trying to have fun, even when considering the subject matter being lampooned.


Video:

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1

Clarity/Detail: Hopscotch arrives on Blu-ray with a new 2K digital restoration that was produced from a 35mm internegative. It’s the standard move by Criterion, and they have done a superb job in cleaning up this film. The film may look its age, given the natural grain that comes from how it was filmed, but there are plenty of rich details to be found. Seeing the various interiors, exteriors, costumes and more helped sell me on just how clear the transfer for this film truly is.

Depth: Similarly, the level of depth is impressive. With characters always bouncing dialogue off each other as they move about various rooms, you never get a sense of flatness to upset the picture.

Black Levels: Black levels are quite strong, as you get a lot of dimly lit indoor scenes and shadow elements that look deep and rich.  There’s honestly not too much darkness to be found in Hopscotch, but the moments do play well on this front.
Color Reproduction: Given the sunny look of the film that is occasionally countered by the implied blandness found in office jobs taken up by the CIA, there are a lot of colors that pops here. The costumes and production design provide a film that does well by the use of color, which was a nice thing to see for a movie that’s so cheery while dismissing naysayers after Kendig.

Flesh Tones: Facial textures are great. Plenty of detail can be found in the characters we meet.

Noise/Artifacts: This film has been cleaned up incredibly well, with no traces of scratches, lines or any other distortion.

 

 

Audio:

Audio Format(s): English LPCM 1.0 (Original Theatrical Soundtrack), English Dolby Digital 1.0 (Television Soundtrack)

Subtitles: English

Dynamics: Interestingly, you can choose between the theatrical or television soundtrack (in case you want a version without swear words). Regardless, this remasted audio track is great. The use of music and dialogue always plays well throughout, despite being a somewhat limited track.

Low-Frequency Extension: N/A

Surround Sound Presentation: N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: You can clearly hear all discussions and banter.

 

 

Extras:

There are only a few extras to be found on this disc, which is a shame, as I would have enjoyed hearing what sort of reactions people had to this film in some retrospective. Not even a commentary track from a movie historian can be found, but at least a neat documentary and an archival episode from The Dick Cavett Show are here to be enjoyed.

Features Include:

  • Interviews with Brian Garfield and Ronald Neame (SD, 22:00) – A 2002 documentary going over the film’s transition from a novel to a feature.
  • Walter Matthau in a 1980 Appearance on The Dick Cavett Show (SD, 22:00) – A funny episode that features Matthau discussing his life and experiences.
  • Trailer (HD, 3:00)
  • Teaser Trailer (HD, 2:00)
  • PLUS – An essay by critic Glenn Kenny

 

 

Summary:

Hopscotch is a lot of fun to take in. It’s witty and anchored by delightful performances from true pros. The kind of spy comedy I wish we could see more of today. Additionally, this Criterion Collection release presents the film as well as it can be seen and heard. More extras would have been nice, but this is still a solid release for a movie that should receive more attention.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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