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Video Review: The Fugitive (1993)

June 21, 2011
  • Dir. Andrew Davis
  • Released by Warner Bros.
  • Based on the Roy Huggins TV series
  • Rating: ****

Original Laserdicks Review:

In 1954, Sam Sheppard was falsely convicted for the murder of his wife. In 1963, David Janssen won over audiences as Richard Kimble, a Sheppard-esque character on the run, in the now-classic television series The Fugitive. In 1966, Sheppard was found not guilty of the crime, and Kimble was found not guilty on television at the end of the accompanying season of the show. In 2000, Kimble would find himself on the run again for a few episodes on CBS, but that show did not catch on like the original ABC series did. However, a previous incarnation of the story proved to be quite a hit: the 1993 film adaptation.

The movie arrived shortly after the successful cinematic adaptation of The Addams Family, and it undoubtedly encouraged Hollywood to keep scouring their old TV Guides to find new movie material. Not only was it followed by movie versions of Mission: Impossible and the like, but it also inspired some knock-offs, a 1998 sequel from Stuart Baird entitled U.S. Marshals, and a disappointing Leslie Nielsen spoof from that same year called Wrongfully Accused. The film’s popularity showed that audiences were more than willing to pay for something that they could see on TV for free (and were not particularly concerned with Star Trek-esque fidelity to the source material), but does a hit movie equal a good movie?

In this case, it does. Not a great movie, but certainly a good one. As in the show, Dr. Richard Kimble (now played by Harrison Ford) is on the run after receiving the blame for his wife’s death at the hands of a mysterious one-armed man (I guess that would actually be “hand,” wouldn’t it?). However, the obsessive Lieutenant Girard (played by Barry Morse in the TV show) is now the obsessive U.S. Marshal Girard (played by Tommy Lee Jones, who returned for the sequel). Also, the time constraints posed by a feature film ensure that Kimble has little time to take on new identities and help out people in need as he did every week on the show, so fans wanting the same experience on a bigger budget will likely be a tad disappointed.

However, the man-on-the-run thrills made the translation, and the movie is hardly the insult that 1995’s Mission: Impossible would be to that show’s loyal fanbase. Plus, it’s quite entertaining in its own right, and viewers unfamiliar with the series would find the film easily accessible, moreso than The Brady Bunch Movie, Scooby-Doo, or other movies with built-in in-jokes for devotees. Even more impressive is its ability to establish iconic moments in its own right, such as the confrontation between Kimble and Girard at the dam. Sure, the Star Trek films had their own classic scenes that have become part of pop culture vernacular, but no one forgets that they were based on a great TV series.

Thanks to some taut chase scenes that are well-executed by action flick director Andrew Davis, a well-written script performed by well-cast actors, and a genuine sense of tension throughout the picture that is somehow not lessened by the knowledge that Kimble will eventually prove himself innocent (since there was no way that this particular detail would be changed from the show), The Fugitive holds up as one of the better TV-to-cinema adaptations. Even so, the original show is still better, and you know it.

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From → Film Criticism

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