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4K UHD Review: Arrow Video’s Witness (Collector’s Edition) 


The first of the Peter Weir and Harrison Ford collaborations Witness comes to 4K UHD from Arrow Video with a new 4K Restoration and Special Features. 

The Film 

There was a moment.  An all too brief moment where Harrison Ford truly and deeply cared about the acting.  More than that, Ford’s skill as a performer was as adroit as any of the greats working in that era.  Yes, as good as DeNiro, Pacino, Hackman, Streep, or any other number of goats you could list off from the mid-80s to the early-90s.  The high-water mark for this work came earlier though.  His one-two punch of Witness and Mosquito Coast with director Peter Weir stands as his best work (minus Presumed Innocent and The Fugitive).  

Weir understood what made Ford both a superstar and a compelling Actor (that’s actor with a capital “A”).  He saw beyond the bravado and charisma that the actor made his brand as early as American Graffiti and vaulted him to Super Stardom with Star Wars and Indiana Jones.  The director saw glimpses of more substance in the heavy atmosphere of Bladerunner and leaned on the actor to get those glimpses to turn into full-on projected in 35mm glory.  Underneath all the charisma was a living breathing man with faults and humanity as deep and vast as an ocean.  

Part of what is so wonderful about Witness is Peter Weir.  The director has never found a project he could not make a full meal out of.  Working with cinematographer John Seale they create a film that for all its complex visual style (and there’s complexity AND style to spare here) is one that always puts its characters in the forefront.  There is an economy and purpose to the way the camera moves that’s rare for a genre film.  Even one this uncommonly good.  Watch how Weir and Seale film the corrupt cops as they descend onto the farm in the final act.  It’s a single camera shot that’s both audacious and strictly adheres to the visual storytelling of the film set by Weir and Seale. 

Though the performances are never to be outdone by anything in the film.  Witness’s power comes in the silent moments shared between characters.  That silence allows volumes more than what’s spoken. This does not just benefit Ford but every actor in the film.  Kelly McGillis, Lucas Haas, Josef Sommer, Alexander Godunov, and others all get these moments, and none are wasted.  There is a purpose either dramatic, comedic, or romantic for this negative space.  The way the actors fill them in shows you just how great a film Witness truly is. 

Nearly four decades later, Witness still manages to transcend the procedural thriller genre to be something more.  

The Transfer

The film has been fully restored in 4K, by Paramount Pictures, and presented here for the first time in 4K UHD with Dolby Vision and compatible HDR10.  There cannot be enough said about just how gorgeous this transfer is.  It will make sense to those who love Weir and cinematographer John Seale’s respective works (and their amazing collaborations).  Their use of low-level lighting translates to a transfixing hypnotic image.  The Dolby Vision/HDR gives this lighting scheme more depth in the contrast and black levels that are just amazing causing subtlety in the blacks – and they never get the dreaded crushed blacks.  Arrow’s 4K disc for Witness may be one of the best that UHD has to offer, and at the very least is one of the best, if not the best, transfers of 2023.  

The Extras

They include the following; 

  • Brand new audio commentary by film historian Jarret Gahan
  • The Eye of Witness 
  • Show…Don’t Tell 
  • Vintage 1985 interview with Harrison Ford discussing Witness 
  • Between Two Worlds – five-part archival documentary
  • A Conversation with Peter Weir
  • Two vintage EPK featurettes
  • Deleted scene from the network TV version of the film
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Image gallery

NOTE: Arrow Video has included the Special Features on BOTH the 4K UHD and Blu-ray Discs. 

The all-new audio commentary by film historian Jarret Gahan opens with a high-level overview of what his track will discuss.  Some of the details include a detailed discussion of the origins of the screenplay which started as a TV movie – including a description of the original plot;  the reasons why the film never came to fruition; the famous TV shows that the writer tried to rework for those various TV series to make them work in context; how after those TV Shows during the ’81 writer’s strike turned the script into Witness; the purchase and develop of the script; how Harrison Ford became attached to the film – his initial thoughts on the script; a discussion of Ford’s earlier career and how he attainted super stardom; where Ford was in his career at the time; how director Peter Weir became attached – following Mosquito Coast, a film eventually Ford and Weir would make – and the various directors that became attached and unattached; the various cultural touchstones of the Amish – which is a larger discussion throughout the track; the various “fish out of water” films that were released in 1985; the casting of Kelly McGillis – and the various actors that were up for the film; the research that both McGillis and Ford did for the film; the work of Danny Glover and how it helped his career; the work Lucas Haas – and how he got cast in the film and post-Witnesscareer; the locations that the production used in Pennsylvania – and how it affected the Amish; the films that the Amish had appeared both before Witness and after; the reasons why Thom Noble was brought on after trouble with the first editor; the test screening, world premiere, and release – along with the box office success; a great anecdote about Weir meeting Ford for the first time at the actor’s home in Wyoming; and much more.  Gahan does a great job of giving a detailed account, with a few asides that matter to the film itself, of the film’s development, production, release, and reputation.  

The Eye of Witness (14:49) – in this all-new video interview with cinematographer John Seale opens with how quickly the film came together.  Some of the details include the production’s attention to detail to adhere to the Amish beliefs; how he approached the visual style and lighting style throughout the film and how it changed and evolved as the film’s story moved from Philadelphia to Amish Country; the difficulties of the schedule that was created; inspiration for lighting that came from Vermeer’s works; how he solved the issue of low light and achieve the look that they wanted and the unexpected after effect because of this issue; working with Weir and how much he loved his unique approach which went against the style at the time of directing on set; and much more. 

Show…Don’t Tell (15:17) – in this all-new visual essay on the film’s performances by film journalist Staci Layne Wilson.  Using quotes, research, footage from the film, and other media as references, Wilson creates an informative piece that discusses how Weir worked with the actors and how the actors approached their specific roles.  The essay is a great piece about an oft-forgotten aspect of the film – the actors’ great work within a visually complex film.  

Harrison Ford in Conversation (7:07) – is a vintage 1985 interview in which Harrison Ford discusses Witness with critic Bobbie Wygant opens with Ford discussing that he willingly is discussing the film.  Watching Ford actually be engaged and proud of the work and the film in this is almost in direct opposition to what people are normally used to seeing.  There is a great comment, 40 years ago, they were talking about Han Solo and Indiana Jones and what he has been allowed to do.  There is a wild comment about Bladerunner, and Ford’s defending it – at least politically.  

Between Two Worlds: The Making of Witness (63:56) – this five-part archival documentary on the making of the film is taken from the heyday of DVD special features.  There’s a polish to the documentary that we just don’t get, often enough in the current era of special features.  The making-of covers everything you would want to know about Witness.  The documentary is broken down into five parts: Origins, Amish Country, The Artistic Process, The Heart of the Matter, and Denouement.  Some of the bigger points are discussed in the other special features here but there is so much detail and perspective from people like Haas, LuPone, Pressman, and Mortensen that are not in the special features. Featuring interviews with stars Harrison Ford, Kelly McGillis, director Peter Weir, cinematographer John Seale, producer Edward S. Feldman, and actors Lukas Haas, Patti LuPone, and Viggo Mortensen.  

A Conversation with Peter Weir (7:17) – is an archival interview with the film’s director discussing not just making the film but why he took on the picture.  Some of the details include Ford’s commitment to the role, including Ford’s research in Philadelphia; how the throat-cutting scene was put together; his inspiration from the Dutch Masters (e.g., Vermeer); the barn raising and how it was done; the scene where Ford stands up to the kids; the romance and how delicate it was from writing, casting, and directing – including casting of Alexander Godunov helped the ending of that; and much more.  

EPK Featurettes (9:23) – in these two vintage EPK featurette the director and stars discusses the film, Ford is quite charming including a crack at Weir about the differences between American and Australian directors, both shot on location during the production.  Both EPK features some great on-location b-roll footage of making the film.  Featuring interviews with Weir, Ford, and McGillis. 

Deleted Scene (4:11) – the scene featuring Samuel being confronted with technology and modernity of the real world and how his mother deals with it along with Book’s sister’s children.  Taken from the network TV version of the film.  

Theatrical trailer (1:03)  

Image gallery – the gallery consists of 75 production stills.  The gallery can be navigated by using your remote’s next and back chapter stop buttons. 

The Final Thought 

Witness is an ‘80s classic and one of Harrison Ford’s best performances.  Arrow Video has given it a wonderful and packed Collector’s Edition.  Highest Possible Recommendations!!!

Arrow Video’s 4K UHD Edition of Witness is out October 31st

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