Even 30 years later, director Andrew Davis still remembers getting the call. "Bruce Berman, the head of production of Warner at the time, called and he said, 'Congratulations! Harrison saw Under Siege over the weekend,'" Davis recalls. "'He wants to talk to you about directing The Fugitive.'"
That Harrison was, of course, Harrison Ford. Based on the long-running television series from the '60s, The Fugitive stars Ford as a doctor falsely accused of murder and Tommy Lee Jones as the U.S. Marshal who is tasked with bringing him in. Upon its release in 1993, the thriller enthralled audiences and was a smash hit at the box office records. The film received a total of seven Oscar nominations, including for Best Picture, and won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Jones. But the path to directing the film was not without its challenges — mainly, Davis couldn't make heads or tails of the screenplay.
"It didn't make any sense to me," admits Davis. "So, I went into this meeting, and Harrison said, 'We'll figure out how to fix it.'"
Ford plays Dr. Richard Kimble, a surgeon who finds himself on the run after his wife is brutally murdered. For Davis, finding a motive for why Kimble would be framed was the key to unlocking the script. To do so, he turned to his own sister, who was a nurse at the time, and asked her, "What could get a doctor in a lot of trouble?"
What they came up with was this: A pharmaceutical company called Devlin MacGregor — cheekily named for producer Peter MacGregor-Scott — has created a new drug, Provasic. When Dr. Kimble realizes the drug is actively harming patients, the company will stop at nothing to silence him. "That became the basis of the plot," Davis explains. "It was a question as to whether I could get these great actors to help me make it come alive. Certainly, Tommy Lee and Joey [Pantoliano], and especially Harrison — everybody contributed."
Ford's performance in The Fugitive is considered one of the greatest of his career, while Jones' Oscar-winning performance as the dogged Samuel Gerard is regarded as one of his best. (Jones later reprised the role in 1998's U.S. Marshals, directed by the two-time Oscar-nominated film editor, Stuart Baird.)
The cast of The Fugitive also includes Sela Ward, Julianne Moore, Jeroen Krabbé, Andreas Katsulas, and Jane Lynch. Beyond the acting, moviegoers and critics were enamored with the film's craftsmanship, with Roger Ebert comparing Davis' direction to the work of Alfred Hitchcock and David Lean. The late Michael Chapman, for his sensational work behind the camera, received an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography. The edge-of-your-seat action thriller also received Oscar nominations for Best Film Editing, Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing, and Best Original Score.
In celebration of the film's 30th anniversary, The Fugitive has been given a new 4K restoration, complete with a new Dolby Atmos audio mix, courtesy of Warner Bros. For the director, this new restoration offers viewers the opportunity to revisit and rediscover a film that is widely regarded as a modern classic.
"It looks better on the Blu-Ray than it does on the big screen!" Davis says with a smile. "If you want to see every pixel, you have to watch it this way."
Introduced in 2016, the 4K UHD Blu-Ray format has allowed studios to give some of cinema's most revered films a fresh coat of paint, so to speak, by re-scanning the original film elements in 4K ultra-high-definition, adding High Dynamic Range color grades, and often updating the audio mix. This not only preserves the film for future generations but results in a richer viewing experience, revealing even greater detail first captured on the original film negatives — true to the filmmaker's original vision.
"We had top-grade people, and we had top-grade technology," Davis says of the process. The Fugitive's 4K transfer was led by colorist Jan Yarbrough, who previously worked on restoring such classics as The Godfather, Grease, and The African Queen. For Davis, remastering the film also provided the opportunity to reunite with some of the original creative team who worked on the film, including Oscar-nominated sound mixer, Frank A. Montaño. As Davis quips, "James Newton Howard's score, it just soars — literally!"
Warner Bros.' new release of The Fugitive (available now) includes the 4K restoration and the newly-mastered Dolby Atmos audio track, as well as an audio commentary by Davis and three behind the scenes featurettes: Thrill of the Chase, On the Run with The Fugitive, and Derailed: Anatomy of a Train Wreck, which takes an in-depth look at the making of the film's spectacular train crash sequence.
Still immensely proud of the film after all these years, Davis considers what he believes to be the reason behind The Fugitive's lasting legacy.
"You really care about the story, you have great empathy for Harrison Ford… and then there's this bulldog force of nature, Tommy Lee Jones, who doesn't care whether [Ford's] innocent or not," Davis says. "It's Les Miserable. That's the heart of it. And there's a reality to it, which I try to have in all my movies."
By Adam J. Yeend