Review The Bounty (1984)

Doctor Omega

Member: Rank 10

This version was originally a longstanding project of director David Lean and his frequent collaborator, Robert Bolt, who worked on it from 1977 until 1980. It was originally to have been released as a two-part film, one named The Lawbreakers that dealt with the voyage out to Tahiti and the subsequent mutiny, and the second which was to have been named The Long Arm, a study of the journey and the mutineers after the mutiny, as well as the admiralty's response in sending out the frigate HMS Pandora. Lean could not find financial backing for both films after Warner Bros. withdrew from the project; he decided to combine it into one, and even looked at a seven-part TV series, before finally getting backing from Italian magnate Dino De Laurentiis. Unfortunately for Lean, the project suffered a further setback when Bolt suffered a massive stroke and was unable to continue writing; the director felt that Bolt's involvement would be crucial to the film's success. Melvyn Bragg ended up writing a considerable portion of the script.

Lean was ultimately forced to abandon the project after overseeing casting and the construction of the Bounty replica; at the last possible moment, Mel Gibson brought in his friend Roger Donaldson to direct the film, as producer De Laurentiis did not want to lose the millions he had already put into the project over what he thought was as insignificant a person as the director dropping out.[1]

Anthony Hopkins was one of two actors considered for the role of Captain Bligh by David Lean. The other was Oliver Reed. Christopher Reeve, Sting and David Essex were considered for the role of Fletcher Christian. The role of Peter Heywood (who inspired the character 'Roger Byam' in the novel and earlier film versions) was originally intended to be played by Hugh Grant.

The replica of the Bounty used in the film was built in New Zealand before the script was even completed at a cost of $4 million; the entire film cost $25 million. However, unlike many other films filmed on water, The Bounty was finished under budget.[2] As well as the New Zealand–built Bounty, Lean had also looked at refitting the frigate Rose to play the role of Pandora. The latter has since gone on to become HMS Surprise in Peter Weir's Master and Commander. For the storm sequences a detailed 25-foot model of the Bounty was built.

The film was shot on location in Moorea, French Polynesia, New Zealand and at Greenwich Palace and the Reform Club, Pall Mall, London. Many of the shots of the ship were filmed in Opunohu Bay, Moorea, which is the same bay Captain James Cook anchored in, in 1777.

Gibson described the making of the film as difficult because of the long production time and bad weather: "I went mad. They would hold their breath at night when I went off. One night I had a fight in a bar and the next day they had to shoot only one side of my face because the other was so messed up. If you see the film, you can see the swelling in certain scenes." Anthony Hopkins, who had battled with alcoholism until becoming abstinent in 1975, was worried about Gibson's heavy drinking, saying, "Mel is a wonderful, wonderful fellow with a marvelous future. He's already something of a superstar, but he's in danger of blowing it unless he takes hold of himself." Gibson, who likewise self-identified as an alcoholic, agreed with this concern, and added his admiration for the Welsh actor: "He was terrific. He was good to work with because he was open and he was willing to give. He's a moral man, and you could see this. I think we had the same attitudes."

Doctor Omega

Member: Rank 10
Differences from earlier versions

The first version, an Australian silent film, The Mutiny of the Bounty, was made in 1916. The second, In the Wake of the Bounty (1933) was another Australian production, starring Errol Flynn in his film debut.

The third and most famous version, Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), starred Clark Gable, Charles Laughton and Franchot Tone. The fourth, a remake of the third film, released in 1962, starred Marlon Brando, Trevor Howard and Richard Harris.

The most recent film, starring Mel Gibson, is generally regarded as more revisionist as well as a more historically accurate depiction of the mutiny than the two earlier film versions. According to director Donaldson,

"The major difference between our film and the other versions is that none of the others pointed out that Bligh and Christian were friends. They'd made voyages together before they sailed on the Bounty. And while they were on the Bounty, Bligh demoted another officer and promoted Christian, who was at that stage nothing but a midshipman, and made him second in command. What interested me was to explore how their relationship deteriorated from that point to where Christian leads a mutiny against Bligh."[2]

Unlike earlier versions, this film did not portray Bligh as a villainous character. According to Gibson, "It was a kind of fresh look at Captain Bligh, and I think of all the renditions of who Bligh was, his was probably the closest. His Bligh was stubborn and didn't suffer fools, but he was brilliant and just had a lot of bad luck."[4] The Bounty also paints a far less heroic portrait of Christian. In Gibson's description, “Fletcher was just a lad of twenty-two and he behaved like one. The first time he decided to test his horns and fight for the herd, it was a mistake. He shouldn't have done it.” Gibson later expressed the opinion that the film did not go far enough in correcting the historical record.

"I think the main problem with that film was that it tried to be a fresh look at the dynamic of the mutiny situation, but didn't go far enough. In the old version, Captain Bligh was the bad guy and Fletcher Christian was the good guy. But really Fletcher Christian was a social climber and an opportunist. They should have made him the bad guy, which indeed he was. He ended up setting all these people adrift to die, without any real justification. Maybe he'd gone island crazy. They should have painted it that way. But they wanted to exonerate Captain Bligh while still having the dynamic where the guy was mutinying for the good of the crew. It didn't quite work."[4]

The film also portrays the sailors exploiting the islanders. Unlike the earlier film versions, the native women are shown (accurately) totally topless. Gibson said, “It was a complete culture shock and it was unbelievable to them. It was paradise in terms of personal freedoms – freedoms that shouldn't have been taken advantage of. They exploited the people, fooled them and didn't tell them the whole truth”.[5] Gibson chose to suddenly erupt in violent emotion during the mutiny scene because eyewitness accounts had described Christian as 'extremely agitated' and 'sweating and crying'.

Doctor Omega

Member: Rank 10
Historical errors

Advisor Stephen Walters was responsible for much of the film's great attention to historical detail. However, director Roger Donaldson also noted that dramatic licence was taken in the areas where factual evidence is lacking.

  • Admiral Hood is shown presiding at Bligh's court martial for the loss of the Bounty at a location presumably intended to represent the Admiralty building. In reality Hood did preside at the court martial of the alleged mutineers in 1792 but not at Bligh's in 1790. In addition both courts martial were actually held aboard warships at anchor.
  • Australia is mentioned in the dialogue even though it would be more than a decade before Matthew Flinders would promote that name for what was then known as New Holland. However, Bligh also mentions 'New Holland' when discussing how he will proceed after being cast adrift.
  • The Bounty's logbook is shown with the title "H.M.A.V. Bounty, her log" on the front cover and on the first page before Bligh makes an entry dated 23 December 1787, recording the first day at sea. The actual log, now in the State Library of New South Wales, has only 'Bounty's Log' in Bligh's hand on the spine and begins with 'Remarks at Deptford' describing preparations for the voyage with the first daily entry being the initial unsuccessful attempt to leave Spithead on 1 Dec 1787.[7]
  • Bligh's decision to make a second attempt to round Cape Horn and circumnavigate the globe is a fictional plot device serving to trigger the mutiny in the film. The real Bligh had strict orders to take his cargo of breadfruit plants from the Society Islands to Jamaica via the Endeavour Strait, Sunda Strait and Cape of Good Hope, and to embark additional useful plants en route.[8] To attempt the homeward journey via Cape Horn would have endangered the cargo of tropical plants due to the near Antarctic temperatures to be encountered en route.

Doctor Omega

Member: Rank 10
Critical response

The film received generally favourable reviews, many liking the film for realism and historical accuracy as well as being entertaining. It has received an 81% rating from 16 critical reviews on film aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes.[9] Roger Ebert gave the film a very impressed review, stating, "this Bounty is not only a wonderful movie, high-spirited and intelligent, but something of a production triumph as well."[10]

However, others were disappointed with the film, especially given its distinguished cast. Many critics singled out Gibson's performance as bland, particularly when compared to the performances given by Clark Gable and Marlon Brando in two earlier adaptations. Vincent Canby of the New York Times stated, "Both Bligh and Christian are unfinished characters in a screenplay that may or may not have been tampered with... The movie seems to have been planned, written, acted, shot and edited by people who were constantly being over-ruled by other people. It's totally lifeless.[11] The film was entered into the 1984 Cannes Film Festival

Doctor Omega

Member: Rank 10
Anthony Hopkins was one of two actors considered for the role of Captain Bligh by David Lean. The other was Oliver Reed. Christopher Reeve, Sting and David Essex were considered for the role of Fletcher Christian.

In his autobiography, Christopher Reeve said that Anthony Hopkins rang him up and told him to stop being silly and sign the contract. I I think Reeve was haggling over pay.

Am not sure if Reeve would have been better in the role.

Sting..... Not sure about that choice either.

But Oliver Reed as the Captain....

In some alternative universes, all the above choices happened, of course! :emoji_alien:
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Doctor Omega

Member: Rank 10

Design and construction

For the filming of The Bounty, a replica of William Bligh's ship, HMS Bounty was required. The Bounty replica was built by Whangarei Engineering Company at Whangarei, New Zealand during 1978 and 1979.[3] The ship was designed to externally conform to the original Bounty.[4] The replica is 40.5 metres (133 ft) in length overall, with a beam of 8.5 metres (28 ft) and a draught of 3.8 metres (12 ft).[5]

To reflect the international legacy of the Mutiny on the Bounty, materials for the ship were sourced from across the British Commonwealth.[4] The hull was fabricated from Australian steel, which was carvel-clad in New Zealand iroko.[4] The decking is New Zealand tanekaha.[4] The masts and spars were made of Canadian pine, with sails made from Scottish flax, and blocks of English ash and elm.[4] The sail plan was of a barque: some sources describe the layout as a full-rigged ship, but the ship lacks a topgallant on the mizzen-mast.[4] The ship's mast height is 29 metres (95 ft), with a sail area of 650 square metres (7,000 sq ft).[5] Auxiliary propulsion is provided by two 415-horsepower (309 kW) turbocharged Kelvin 8-cylinder diesel engines, which can propel the ship at 7 knots (13 km/h; 8.1 mph).[5]


The film The Bounty was completed and released in 1984.[4] Bounty was laid up in Los Angeles until 1986, when Bounty Voyages purchased the ship.[4] She was sailed to Vancouver, refitted, then sailed to Australia.[4] From here, she proceeded to England via the Suez Canal to join the First Fleet Re-enactment Voyage: a historical re-enactment for the Australian Bicentenary.[4] She left England for Australia in May 1987, and sailed with the fleet via Tenerife, Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town, Mauritius, and Fremantle before arriving in Sydney on Australia Day (26 January) 1988.[6] Bounty was originally to be flagship of the re-creation voyage (due to the ship's similarities to HMS Sirius, flagship of the original First Fleet), but the fleet commodore instead selected Søren Larsen for the role.[7]

For many years she served the tourist excursion market from Darling Harbour, Sydney, Australia, before being sold to HKR International Limited in October 2007.

She is now a tourist attraction (also used for charter, excursions and sail training) based in Discovery Bay, on Lantau Island in Hong Kong, and has an additional Chinese name 濟民號[8] (Cantonese Jyutping: Zaimanhou ; Mandarin Pinyin: Jiminhao ; English: Bounty).



Member: Rank 9
An absolutely excellent film with a stellar cast and a fantastic soundtrack.

I enjoy this brilliant film more and more each time I watch it.

Doctor Omega

Member: Rank 10
Yes, I really like it too. It gets to be the closest historically, of course. And Hopkins is brilliant.

But my favourite version, despite all it's inaccuracies, is the 1962 Brando/Howard version, as much for it's turbulent behind the scenes making-of as for the drama on screen. :emoji_alien: