An unconventional Hollywood blockbuster, On Golden Pond is a character driven drama that explores aging, mortality, and reconciliation. Based on the play by Ernest Thompson, On Golden Pond finally earned legendary actor Henry Fonda a Best Actor Academy Award in what turned out to be his final film performance. Co-star Katharine Hepburn picked up her fourth Academy Award for Best Actress, while Ernest Thompson, who adapted his own play, took home an Oscar for Best Screenplay.
The story begins with the arrival of an elderly, long married couple, Norman (Fonda), and Ethel Thayer (Hepburn) at the New England lakeside cottage where they have summered for many years. Ethel, the somewhat younger of the two, has a rather sunny personality, and knows her husband very well, perhaps better than he knows himself. Norman, a retired professor, is a rather crotchety fellow, none too positive, he talks about death a lot. For all his bluster, and seeming distaste for others, one wonders if Norman is actually hiding his shyness. Before long, Ethel gets a letter saying that their daughter Chelsea (Jane Fonda) is coming in from Los Angeles to celebrate Norman’s eightieth birthday. Joining her for the visit will be her fiancé (Dabney Coleman), and his thirteen-year-old son Billy (Doug McKeon).
With the arrival of Chelsea, comes the obvious conflict. Chelsea has felt like she was never good enough for her father; he wanted a son. Then again, maybe he just never knew how to be a father. Ultimately, Chelsea informs Ethel that she and her fiancé are going to Europe for a month. Would it be okay if they left Billy at the lake with them? Ethel talks Norman into it. Billy is none too pleased to find himself left with two “geezers” he doesn’t really know or like.
Not surprisingly, the irritable Norman, and young Billy slowly begin to forge a bond through fishing, and the attempt to catch “Walter,” reputedly the lake’s largest beast. The relationship is further strengthened through a boating accident, and a resolution that makes everyone realize that life is precious. Through learning to relate to Billy, Norman learns, albeit belatedly, how to communicate with his daughter. Billy provides Norman with a lesson in how to be a father.
While the fairly happy ending of On Golden Pond is predictable, it has moments of greatness because of the acting, and solid screenplay. Ernest Thompson provides several wonderful conversations between characters. There are several between Hepburn and Fonda. People talk about the importance of chemistry between movie couples all time, and it’s easy to believe that the Thayer’s have been married for decades. No matter how many times I see On Golden Pond, in one of the final scenes when Ethel fears that Norman is dying, her emotions seem real and true. I only wish Hepburn and Fonda had worked together more. And let’s face it, it’s fascinating to watch Jane Fonda working with her father, particularly because they apparently had a somewhat difficult relationship.
To top it off, Billy Williams’s cinematography makes On Golden Pond absolutely gorgeous to watch. His use of light and his surroundings is simply fantastic. Also of note, the melodic score of Dave Grusin, who just seemed to understand just how his score could serve to enrich the pictures on screen.
Presented by Shout Factory in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer is a fairly solid one. Though there’s some minor crush in a few scenes, the grain looks pretty good throughout. The clarity of the outdoor scenes is quite stunning, showing off vivid hues, and excellent detail. Billy Williams uses filters for some shots, which lends to a gauzy appearance at times (notable in some of the Hepburn close-ups). Scenes shot on the pond look marvelous, with a nice use of depth, and shadow. The print itself is in pretty good shape, though there’s a bit of a quiver during the opening credits. There’s no real signs of DNR.
On Golden Pond features a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono track the serves this dialogue heavy film very well. The ambient sounds around the lake, and Dave Grusin’s memorable score are reproduced well, sporting a surprising fullness. There are no audio issues, and fidelity is solid.
English subtitles are included.
The extras have been ported over from the previous DVD release:
- Audio Commentary with Director Mark Rydell: Rather dry, Rydell does provide some nice tidbits about what it was like work with acting legends Hepburn, and Fonda.
- Reflections On Golden Pond (SD, 30:03) is a good vintage piece that includes a lot of interviews interspersed with scenes from the film.
- A Woman of Substance: Katharine Hepburn Remembered (SD, 15:53) Folks involved in On Golden Pond discuss Hepburn’s influence on Hollywood.
- Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2:53)