Blu-ray Review: The Harder They Come [Collector’s Edition] | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Monday, April 6th, 2020  

The Harder They Come [Collector’s Edition]

Studio: Shout! Factory

Aug 19, 2019 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

“So as sure as the sun will shine /

I'm gonna get my share now of what's mine /

And then the harder they come /

The harder they'll fall, one and all”

Jimmy Cliff’s most famous song, first recorded as the title track for the film in which he stars, only runs a few short verses but summarizes its main character’s attitude perfectly. The Harder They Come centers on a young Jamaican man, Ivanhoe Martin (Cliff), who dreams of escaping poverty. When his attempts at making money—as a low-level drug peddler and as a reggae singer—return little financial reward, Ivanhoe’s lack of patience and violent tendencies rear their ugly head. He’ll take what he feels he’s entitled to, no matter who it hurts or what comes in his way.

On its most basic level, The Harder They Come is a top-notch crime story. Ivanhoe’s fall into nihilistic criminality is sudden, precipitous, and tragic. As played by Cliff, there’s a glimmer of hope in the character we meet early on; you feel that if he’d caught one more break, or perhaps tempered his arrogance, he’d have been content to live a poor, but happy, life with his sweetheart working odd jobs and attending church. Ivanhoe truly believes he’s meant for bigger things, however, and you can’t fault him for it. His tendency to lash out at adversity leads to his downfall, and watching his violent outbursts are as heartbreaking as they are frightening.

During what likely would have been a relatively minor drug arrest, Ivanhoe fatally shoots a cop and commits himself to a life on the run. It’s an act that changes him from the character we met at the film’s beginning. He’s no longer a man with dreams of wealth and love. He’s a man who knows he’s living on borrowed time—one that knows every time he steps out of the shadows and into the sun may very well be his last. He’s a walking dead man.

Throughout his crime spree and the ensuing manhunt, Ivanhoe becomes a folk anti-hero. Where the police see a remorseless murderer and cop-killer, many of the impoverished people of Kingston see him as something of a Robin Hood figure. On the radio, “The Harder They Come”—a song he recorded and sold for a measly $20 back when he still dreamed of being a reggae singer—soars to the top of the charts, fueled as much by its catchy hook as it is by the news of Ivanhoe’s criminal antics.

An incredibly important film within the history of Caribbean cinema, The Harder They Come was a roaring success in Jamaica, where the locals were seeing their patois, traditions, and lifestyles portrayed realistically on screen for the first time. The movie traveled internationally and played to critical success in the United States, despite it being misguidedly marketed as a Blaxploitation movie. Its bigger impact stateside was made by the film’s soundtrack, credited for bringing reggae music to the U.S.—beating Bob Marley’s first charting single by several years.

The music is the movie’s second star, with several of the album’s now-famous songs being performed in the film by their original artists. While many of its tracks naturally come from Cliff, it also features contributions from classic artists such as The Melodians, Toots and the Maytals, and Desmond Dekker. A hit in its own right, The Harder They Come is one of those rare movie soundtracks strong enough to have a life separate from its accompanying film—but this one’s far better than The Big Chill or Saturday Night Fever.

A relatively piddly DVD edition of the film joined the Criterion Collection way back in 2000 and then went out of print almost immediately, leaving The Harder They Come trapped in limbo-like obscurity for almost 20 years. This newly-restored, three-disc Blu-ray from Shout! Factory has been not only a long time coming, but is the sort of special edition that dreams are made of. More than just making the movie available to viewers in a nice presentation for the first time since almost the last century, Shout! has packaged The Harder They Come with hours of bonus content that honor and contextualize its legacy. The first disc features a 4K restoration of the film and a new commentary by David Katz, the biographer of director Perry Henzell. It’s rounded out by a lengthy menu of vintage and archival features. Skipping ahead to disc three, Shout! have newly commissioned nearly a dozen new featurettes that pay tribute to Henzell and his film; the disc functions as a broad history of Jamaican cinema, and focuses on Henzell’s role in kickstarting the local industry.

Disc two contains the set’s most exciting feature: Henzell’s feature-length follow-up movie, No Place Like Home, restored from 16mm and released here on the first time on home video. Following an American commercial director on a work visit to Jamaica, the film’s footage went missing during production and the movie was abandoned for decades. Henzell finally located the reels many years later and shot new scenes to finish the movie. The filmmaker screened the film to acclaim at TIFF in 2006, but he died of cancer before he was able to continue on its screening tour. Included here with bonus materials, fans of The Harder They Come will have their first chance to see its long-lost successor.

With six hours of bonus materials and two fully-restored, feature-length films, Shout!’s The Harder They Come is easily one of the most robust and exciting home video releases of the year. The only other thing more we could have wished for would have been the inclusion of the original film soundtrack on CD, but given the known difficulties and expense of music licenses we have to figure that would have been too much to ask for. Both this release—and the movie’s soundtrack, available separately—deserve our highest recommendation.



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