Chariots of Fire: 30th Anniversary Edition

Award-winning British classic swaps Gold for Blu with this timely re-release

The reputation of Hugh Hudson's award-winning film about real life athletes Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams, who competed for Great Britain in the 1924 Olympics, has come under fire over the past decade. The film has become an easy target for those who wish to condemn the kind of 'heritage cinema' that the UK film industry has struggled to escape from in recent times.

But while it's true that the UK film industry did suffer from an extrmely blinkered and myopic vision of what national cinema should be during this era, it's unfair to single out Hudson's film as the posterboy for the situation. In fact, Chariots of Fire is a far sharper, wittier and more anti-authoritarian film than you may remember, spending as much time exploring issues like class, faith, bureaucracy and anti-Seitism as it does on thrilling you with its painstakingly recreated sporting events. And 20th Century Fox's timely Blu-ray release is a great first step in the process of rehabilitating the film's reputation.

Picture: Visually, Chariots of Fire's AVC 1.85:1 1080p Blu-ray encode is unlikely to win Gold from those AV fans looking for the absolute pinnacle of hi-def imagery. However, for a piece of British cinema of its vintage, this Blu-ray release appears to do a pretty good job of capturing the authentic look of the original filmstock and measures up well to films of a similar age that have been given a Blu-ray release.

Things get off to a pretty rough start with the legendary opening sequence of the runners sprinting along a beach. Thanks to the optical overlays for the titles it all looks incredibly soft and doesn't really auger well for what's to follow. However, once the opticals are out of the way things improve considerably with a much more clear and detailed image, rife with a deliciously cinematic layer of rough grain.

That's not to say it's perfect. While facial close-ups stand up to intricate inspection, other sequences struggle. During several interior scenes the blacks can vary from completely crushed to somewhat washed-out, giving the entire encode a rather inconsistent feel when it comes to contrast. And while the fine detailing really impresses during numoerous shots, others appear singificantly less robust and refined, lacking a similar level of clarity.
Picture rating: 4/5

Audio: This Oscar-winner makes its high-definition debut with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. Before any purists start moaning about the lack of the original soundtrack, it's worth pointing out that this 5.1 mix is still very heavily weighted towards the front of the soundstage giving me the impression that it's fairly sympathetic to the design of the original mix. Indeed, apart from a roll of thunder in the rear speakers during Liddell's talk during a storm in Chapter 4 and La Marseillaise expanding through the surrounds as the crowds sing along during the Olympiad's opening ceremony in Chapter 16, it's difficult to highlight any particularly notable use of the full soundstage.

So given the limitations of the mix, how does the rest of it hold up? Pretty well actually. Dialogue sounds entirely natural throughout, as does ambient sound. Admittedly, it's not a particularly ambitious piece of sound design, so there's not that much to deal outside of maintaining a sense of clarity and authenticity to the source - both of which it appears to do. The mix also works well at bringing the very best out of Vangelis' iconic score.
Audio rating: 3/5

Extras: This single-disc Blu-ray platter also serves up an agreeable assortment of supplementary material. All of the extras from Fox's 2005 Two-Disc Special Edition UK DVD release are present, including director Hugh Hudson's informative audio commentary, the polished 27-minute Wings on Their Heels: The Making of Chariots of Fire documentary, 19-minute Chariots of Fire: A Reunion roundtable featurette, seven additional scenes and the thatrical trailer. Also present are Ben Cross and Ian Charleston's screen tests, which previously appeared on Warner Bros' 2005 US DVD release.

Two other sub-2-minute standard-definition extras are included in the form of Reliving the Spirit and Filming the Opening Shot. The first, a brief addendum of sorts to the reuinion featurette, the other discussing the iconic opening shot. Fans of the film's score will also be pleased to find an isolated version on the disc - albeit only as a 'lossy' Dolby Digital 5.1 track.

Newly commissioned hi-def features come in the form of three new featurettes. The 27-minute Paris 1924: Birth of the Modern Games looks back at the event itself, while the 24-minute David Puttnam: A Cinematic Champion and 14-minute Hugh Hudson: Journey to Gold are extended interviews with the film's producer and director.
Extras rating: 4/5

We say: It's unlikely to win any awards for hi-def performance, but this is undoubtedly the best the film has ever looked or sounded since its original cinema release.

20th Century Fox, All-region BD, £13 Approx, On sale July 15

The digitally re-mastered version of Chariots of Fire will be released in cinemas from July 13th and on Blu-ray from July 16th