DVD REVIEW: Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1973)

4 point 5

This Warner Archive release is a Manufacture-On-Demand (MOD) DVD. It is made to be played in “play only” DVD devices, and may not play in some DVD recorders or PC drives. This DVD, however, played with no problems in the Toshiba DVD recorder used for this review. This title is available directly from WBShop.com by clicking here.

A disillusioned seagull (voice of James Franciscus) is banished from his flock after he rebels against tradition and wishes for a life without limits. Features the music of Neil Diamond.
Directed by Hall Bartlett. 

The classic novel by Richard Bach was adapted to the big screen in 1973 under the guidance of Hall Bartlett, who produced, directed, and wrote the screenplay. Bartlett’s experimental style is evident throughout this odd (but oddly entertaining) film, which is both a positive and a negative.

The positives are obvious: the Oscar-nominated cinematography is incredible, and it helps with the suspension of disbelief for a film with talking seagulls. An excellent voice performance by James Franciscus (Beneath the Planet of the Apes) truly grounds the film, and the outstanding music by Neil Diamond, which won a Grammy, is a beautiful companion to the visuals.  

However, the second half does falter. The first half of the film was a straight-forward nature film that served as a metaphor for individualism vs. the status quo. The second half gets strangely metaphysical, and it has a new-age attitude that is senseless and pretentious instead of enlightened.  When Chiang the seagull (who mentors Jonathan in his “new life”) begins moving instantly to different places because he has transcended time and space, the film steps into the absurd, but it doesn’t totally sink the film. For many, however, the shot of seagulls flying in space may be too much to bear.

The shallow existentialism that takes over the narrative never lets up, even though you really hope for some bit of sanity to close the film. Ultimately, the film is more frustrating than memorable, a tease of what could have been. At times stirring and triumphant, and at other times, silly and incoherent, Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a unique cinematic experience. Unfortunately, it is a flawed one. Like Jonathan himself, this film soars high initially, then takes a deep, sharp dive. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t pull up before it hits bottom.


Jonathan Livingston Seagull features some outstanding visuals, and the cinematography is superb. The standard definition video transfer uses a fairly clean print, so we do not get much dust or debris on the image. Since this is an older transfer from the original Paramount DVD release about seven years ago, the film did not seem to be restored or remastered. As such, there isn’t nearly the sort of detail you would hope for, and the colors are a bit washed out. This movie begs for a high-definition restoration.

The audio is a real disappointment. Only a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix (just the original mono soundtrack through both channels) is included. Surely the original music elements could have been utilized to provide a new soundtrack. Instead, the sound has no depth, and the music, while great, doesn’t get the full presentation it deserves. English subtitles are included, and although the set-up menu does not mention it, a French subtitle option is available, and can be selected through your remote.



Ratings (1-10 scale)

Movie: 6

Video: 6

Audio: 5

Extras: 1

Overall score: 4.5

If you can get past the new-age gobbledygook, Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a beautiful-looking film. It just doesn’t soar. The film does have a loyal following, which will likely welcome the DVD, but only the very curious should rent it.

Release Date: July 2, 2013

Running time: 99 minutes

Rating: G

Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Audio: English and French 2.0 (Mono track)

Subtitles: English, French

Special features: None

Label: Warner Archive

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