Plot: What’s it about?
As I sit and scan the countless films in my collection, I’ve come back to the classics time and time again. Granted, the word “Classic” could mean many things, but the heyday of Hollywood’s Golden era was really only characterized by a handful of actors and actresses. And wouldn’t you know it, two of those happen to star in one of the more sappy, yet romantic movies to come along in the last twenty years. “On Golden Pond” stars Henry Fonda in his farewell performance. One of the most well-known leading men in the history of movies, he had only been nominated for an Academy Award twice before. His role as Tom Joad in “The Grapes of Wrath” is what many feel is his best role as is his work as Juror #8 in Sydney Lumet’s “12 Angry Men”. However, he would finally win the coveted statue with his role of Norman in “On Golden Pond”. On the other side of the coin, we have Katherine Hepburn, the actress who holds the record for Oscar wins in the Best Actress category (and though Meryl Streep has surpassed her in nominations, Hepburn has the most wins with 4). This would be her final Academy Award win, but the performance by these two essentially characterizes their respective careers. Add to this that Fonda’s real-life daughter, Jane (a two-time winner in her own right) stars in the film as well and you have more than just a geriatric romantic movie here.
Adapted from the stage play by Ernest Thompson (who also won an Academy Award for his screenplay), the plot isn’t really that deep. Norman (Henry Fonda) and his wife, Ethel (Katherine Hepburn) have once again returned to the New Hampshire cottage that they have had since early in their marriage. Their daughter, Chelsea (Jane Fonda), is on the verge of getting married and she feels it appropriate that she be at her father’s 80th birthday. Though their relationship has had more downs than ups, Chelsea feels that trying to solidify things before it’s too late is the best thing. The majority of the movie is the bonding between Norman and Bill Ray’s (Dabney Coleman) son. Bill is the soon to be husband of Chelsea and the teenager forms an unlikely friendship with Norman despite their somewhat 70 year difference in age. Billy Ray (Doug McKeon) is the boy in question, and as his father and Chelsea return from Europe (and are now married), she finds a sort of redemption in that he now has a relationship with her father that mirrors what she always wanted.
To call the film sappy is a bit of an understatement. The movie was one of the bright spots of a relatively bland time for movies. True, we had films like “E.T.” and “Raiders of the Lost Arc” at the time, but this was rather manufactured for awards (and it succeeded), but has also managed to stand the test of time. Perhaps the performances of Hepburn and Henry Fonda will live on as their last great ones; but when you look at it, the film stands on values that really never change. For the people that grew up with the these two great actors, this will most likely be a lot more powerful to them and older audiences in general. The film deals with impending death and trying to live life to the fullest while you still can. Though a bit dated in terms of look and feel, this has always struck me as the type of movie that won’t really ever go out of style. Much like “Annie Hall” when it comes to dating, “On Golden Pond” has a little something for everyone. In the end it will move you, make you laugh and yes…even make you cry.
Video: How does it look?
It’s been over a decade since this film first graced DVD and that was an improvement over the previous DVD release. The movie is now nearly 35 years old and though the print does appear much cleaner, the 1.78:1 AVC HD image isn’t exactly perfect. Detail has been improved, edges are sharp and well-defined (not exactly the best thing when looking at a movie featuring Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn in their “golden” years). A few scenes are still a bit soft, and while occasional debris does appear, it’s few and far between. It’s a nice, HD image that’s stood the test of time, but nothing that’ll blow you away.
Audio: How does it sound?
It seems odd that this movie has a DTS HD Master Audio sound mix, but when I saw it was also mono it seemed to make a bit more sense. A film like this really doesn’t need more than one channel to communicate what’s happening on screen. Vocals are crisp and sharp and though there’s no dynamic audio involved, the one channel seems to encompass everything and makes for a good sound mix.
Supplements: What are the extras?
There are no new supplements to speak of and those that are included came from the Artisan DVD from 2003.
- Audio Commentary – Screenwriter Ernest Thompson as he shares his reflections of the movie, meeting Hepburn and Fonda and modifying his script to make it work for the stars involved. The track is informative, but yet somewhat dry. The movie itself is a much better watch/listen, so only true die-hard fans will most likely give this track a listen.
- Reflections on Golden Pond – Essentially a tribute to Cinematographer Billy Williams. Samples of his work is shown and much is attributed to the somewhat naturalistic approach to films that he has. He was the cinematographer in “Ghandi” and, if you can believe it, is one of the best for showing the golden and brown hues of films. Hence, his work in “On Golden Pond” was essentially a no-brainer.
- A Woman of Substance: Katharine Hepburn Remembered – Film critics and others involved in her movies remember her and inter cut with scenes from some of her more popular movies. Truly she (and Fonda) will be missed and what better way to pay tribute that seeing her in her final Academy Award winning performance.
- Theatrical Trailer