On Golden Pond – Collector’s Edition (Blu-ray Review)

On-Golden-PondOn Golden Pond was a sort of swan song for legendary screen actors Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn back in 1981.  The film was critically heralded and come awards season, handsomely rewarded.  The film received ten Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture.  It wound up taking three home, but two of them being the important “farewell” awards for Fonda and Hepburn in their respective roles.  The film was also well represented at rival awards ceremonies The Golden Globes and BAFTAs as well.  On Golden Pond was a film that was a pretty big deal back when it arrived and for some time after, but I think has sort of been lost in the conversation over the years and I’m not sure if today’s youth or up and coming film buffs would even know what you’re talking about if it was brought up.  Maybe its just one of those “in the moment” or “of its time movies” that are hot in awards season and are quickly forgotten as the years move on and because they didn’t win the big one, we become foggier on them.  I had always heard of it and knew what it dealt with, but until now for this review, I’d never had the pleasure of viewing it.  

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Norman and Ethel Thayer spend their summers at Golden Pond.  They’ve become quite elderly has the years have worn on, and their escape isn’t as easy and simple as it used to be.  Norman particularly, is struggling with his memory as they arrived and he doesn’t recognize photos of themselves in the cabin.  Their estranged daughter, Chelsea, shows up unannounced with her fiancee and his son in the hopes of becoming a regular part of their lives again and mending fences.  Its not as easy and tensions do flare, but Golden Pond happens to be a place where they might just be able to all come together and work it out looking forward to a brighter future (Yeah, I can write cheesy schmaltz pretty well).

So this was a majorly decorated and lauded film for Academy glory back in 1981.  I guess, I myself do not share that sentiment as I struggled to get myself through this slug of a film.  Its competently made and has some gorgeous cinematography, but the subject matter and story its trying to tell was one that was almost begging me to drift off.  Once Jane Fonda shows up in the movie, you know exactly where this is going, and then the film goes EXACTLY as you just imagined it was.  It just takes longer than your brain did to make it there.

The script and dialogue for the film is especially paint by numbers and offputting.  I have eyes, I can see the actors onscreen, they’re old…I get that.  I don’t really need the first half hour of the film to have the characters explaining to me in conversation how they’re old and things aren’t what they used to be for them.  I can see.  Its REALLY REALLY on the nose and so forced and overdone I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  And then thinking of all the critically praise about (Roger Ebert even!) that I felt dumbfounded.

There is also a level of pretentiousness in On Golden Pond that kinda spun me the wrong way as well.  Henry and Jane Fonda appear to have some real life issues of being father and daughter that they’re trying to air out or come face to face with by making this movie.  How about you two, you know, just do it off the camera and get it out.  Or they DID make up off camera and both thought they were so great that they decided to share it with the world.  Some may find it extra emotional or gripping, but I just found it to be them yanking their own chain.

To the fans of On Golden Pond, I’m sorry I’m not one of you.  I was looking forward to seeing this film for the first time, and I was surprised to see how unengaging and paint-by-numbers the script was.  If this film was release just like this today, bloggers and critics would have its head for being so route and corny.  There’s no way it’d be a prestige film filling out all the awards ballots.  Hepburn even won an Oscar for this, and I almost found her performance laughable and something of self parody.  I’m just not seeing the same movie everyone was from back then at all…I suppose I’m on the other side of the pond.

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Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Clarity/Detail: This is a solid transfer that does look of a film from its time.  There is a nice array of detail and you can make out plenty of things from in the woods from leaves to dirt.  Detail on clothing fabric and the like is solid.

Depth: A kind of flatter looking picture, there are some nice moments inside the cabin.

Black Levels: Blacks are a bit faded, but still solid.  No real crushing or any major discrepancies noticed.

Color Reproduction: This isn’t really a colorful film, and seems to carry a very fall kind of look to it.  They look a little more worn and natural.

Flesh Tones: Natural and consistent.  You can make out those old wrinkles just fine.  Heck, counting them might be more exciting than paying attention to the film.

Noise/Artifacts:  A nice healthy layer of grain accompanied by a few specs/dirt here and there.

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Audio Format(s): English 2.0 DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: N/A

Dynamics:  The film is really not asking for much in terms of fantastic sound, but this track does the trick.  Placement of voice and sound to screen and volume is accurate.  Foley and effect work is distinct and carries much clarity.

Low Frequency Extension:  N/A

Surround Sound Presentation: N/A

Dialogue Reproduction:  Clean and clear.  There’s a little bit of analog sourced sound to it, but that’s to be expected.

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On Golden Pond features additional artwork on the reverse side of the cover image.

Audio Commentary

  • With Director Mark Rydell

Reflections On Golden Pond (SD, 32:03) – The crew of the film look back at the project and discuss the performers and the making it from the ground up.

A Woman Of Substance: Katharine Hepburn Remembered (SD, 15:53) – People associated with On Golden Pond as well as writers and film historians take a look back at the life and career of the legendary actress.

Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2:53)

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While I was no fan of On Golden Pond, Shout! Factory has put together a nice little release for the (going to be) 34 year old film.  There are supplements that appear to be imported from other releases that cover a juicy bit of material on making the film and one of its stars.  The film also sports a solid audio and video presentation, really capturing and displaying the film’s cinematography quite beautifully.  If you’re a fan of the film or a collector of award winners from years back, then this is a definite pickup.



Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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