- Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
- Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
- Resolution: 1080p/24
- Audio Codec: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
- Region: A
- Rating: PG
- Discs: 1
- Studio: Image Entertainment
- Blu-ray Disc Release Date: January 12, 2010
- List Price: $35.98
[amazon-product align="center"]B002C39T2S[/amazon-product] BestBuy.com: Purchase Billy Jack on Blu-ray at CD Universe Download: Shop With Us for More Blu-ray Titles at Amazon.comOverall The Film Video Quality Audio Quality Supplemental Materials
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People tend to credit Steven Spielberg’s 1975 thriller Jaws as being the film that announced the age of the Hollywood blockbuster forgetting that this independent film from Tom Laughlin laid the groundwork for all of those films to come. The Billy Jack character first appeared in the 1967 film, The Born Losers, in which Billy Jack defended a Northern California town overrun by a motorcycle gang, but it wasn’t the film Laughlin and his wife Delores Taylor really wanted to make.
For some years since the 1950’s, the mistreatment of Native Americans Laughlin had witnessed when visiting his then girlfriend in her home state of North Dakota near a federal reservation had bothered him. He wanted to make a film about a man who championed those people against those small minded people mistreating them. The film went into production in 1968, but it wouldn’t see its initial release until 1971. The first distributor, American International Pictures, dropped out and production came to a halt. Then Twentieth Century Fox took over, but they refused to distribute the film, so Warner Bros. took it over. Warner Bros., however, did not put their full weight behind the picture and gave it hardly any marketing dollars. The film was even playing in adult theatres in some markets. As a consequence, Billy Jack’s box office take was hardly stellar on its initial run, but it was still larger than expected.
Tom Laughlin sued Warner Bros. for complete marketing control over the film, and in 1973 Billy Jack was re-released to theatres two years after its initial run. It was a great risk to re-release such an “old” film, particularly in those days, but Laughlin hit upon the idea of running regional television ads to promote the film. It was still a novelty in 1973 to run commercials on television for movies. It was a success. Billy Jack would go on to make an unheard of $30 million that year, even higher than such box office smashes like Dirty Harry of the same year. It would set the stage for Laughlin’s next brainchild, the next year’s sequel to Billy Jack, Billy Jack on Trial, and the new concept of marketing the film with expensive national TV ads, to be paid for by immediately opening the film to extremely wide release across the country, something that was not done at the time. The Billy Jack sequel would go on to take in $50 million dollars and become the first true “blockbuster” success out of Hollywood.
But, back to the story of Billy Jack; it is a film definitely in a time capsule. A half-Native American/half white former Green Beret Vietnam veteran hapkido expert returned from the war defends a small counterculture school on a reservation from the racist townsfolk. The politics are all over the place in Billy Jack; it’s hawks versus doves with Billy (Laughlin) not even bothering to walk the line of pacifism. The film’s central martial arts sequence in which Billy defends some of the school’s native American kids who have gone into town to buy some ice cream only to be humiliated by having flour poured over them predates the Bruce Lee/kung fu exploitation explosion of the 1970’s that was soon to come in the U.S.. Certainly the entire film’s use of violence is a precursor to the late-70’s and 1980’s violent boom in Hollywood filmmaking. Billy Jack’s late-60’s/early-70’s idealism is clearly at odds with the iconic protagonists violent tendencies, but perhaps that is one of the ideas the film is trying to put across — there is no prefect world.
For this new release to Blu-ray Billy Jack has finally been restored to its original 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio over the previous DVD releases’ 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratios. The film has been newly restored in an AVC/MPEG-4 high definition encoding from Image Entertainment and it looks quite solid, with clear details, accurate color reproduction and a fine level of grain structure. Naturally, there is some apparent source damage present in this 38-year-old film, but overall Billy Jack looks relatively clean and it hasn’t been scrubbed clean of all its detail, which is a plus.
Billy Jack has been given an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack as its sole audio option. The sound is clean and open with a wide soundstage and no evidence of clipping or other audio anomalies. The surround channels are filled with a good amount of audible ambience, but otherwise the surround mix does not add much to the original monaural track, which hasn’t been provided here, unfortunately.
Supplements are rather thin on this release. There’s a surprisingly detailed, even if incredibly short, Mini-Documentary on the travails of bringing Billy Jack to the screen. The real bonuses, however, are the two audio commentaries by Tom Laughlin and Delores Taylor.
The supplements available on this release are:
- Filmmaker Commentary with Tom Laughlin & Delores Taylor; recorded 2000
- Filmmaker Commentary with Tom Laughlin, Delores Taylor, & Frank Laughlin; recorded 2005
- Mini-Documentary on the making of Billy Jack (1.78:1; 480i/60; 0:14.00) — This short documentary chronicles Tom Laughlin and Delores Taylor’s struggles to film and get Billy Jack shown.
- TV Commercials (1.33:1; 480i/60; 0:07.50) — The television commercials run through the 1973 re-release of Billy Jack.
The Definitive Word
Billy Jack’s ideals may seem a little long in the tooth today — watching it is certainly like slipping through a time warp — but it was ahead of its time and it looks and sounds pretty good on this Blu-ray release from Image Entertainment.
BestBuy.com: Purchase Billy Jack on Blu-ray at CD Universe Download: Shop With Us for More Blu-ray Titles at Amazon.com