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Director Andrew Davis On The Legacy Of ‘The Fugitive’

the fugitive andrew davis
Getty Image/Merle Cooper

The Fugitive was nominated for seven Academy Awards and was the second highest-grossing film of 1993 – and if not for Steven Spielberg, it would have most likely gone down as the greatest cinematic success story of that year. (The Fugitive lost a lot of Oscars to Schindler’s List and only made less money than Jurassic Park.)

For its 30th anniversary Warner Bros. has released a truly stunning 4K disc – which is available as you read this – with details and textures (and for people who love film grain, a lot that, too) we haven’t seen since theaters – a major upgrade over the notoriously subpar Blu-ray transfer. Well, that might not be true since, ahead, director Andrew Davis says he thinks it’s never looked as good as it does now and that’s probably correct.

Ahead, Davis takes us through some of the technical magic that made this disc look so great, and he gets into how the final film differs drastically from the first script he saw. In early drafts, Tommy Lee Jones’s Sam Gerard has an actual vendetta against Harrison Ford’s Richard Kimble, as opposed to just “doing his job.” But, first, I had to bring up the film he made right before The Fugitive, Under Siege. Namely, Gene Siskel’s love for that movie. In fact, he loved it so much it was on Siskel’s top 10 list for 1992. Something apparently Davis did not know until this interview.

Before we get to The Fugitive, I’m curious how many times have you have watched Gene Siskel’s review of Under Siege?

Did he hate it?

He put it in his top 10 best movies of the year.

Siskel did that? Oh, great. I know his Fugitive review was mind-boggling too. He was a tough cookie. It’s interesting because I just showed Stony Island at the Siskel Center. And Ebert, my first movie, he gave it a rave review and Siskel thought, “No, no.” So I thought it was funny. But he was another Chicagoan. You get your Chicago boys together, they give you good responses.

This new 4K of The Fugitive, it looks incredible. The Blu-ray was notoriously not great and this new transfer just looks incredible. I can tell there was some painstaking work put into this.

Well, that’s very kind and perceptive. Well, so this is interesting, because in the old days all we could do is make things brighter, darker, bluer or redder in terms of film. What the print could do, right? And now with the evolution of digital technology, you can change contrast, you subtly can control colors and skin tones and things like that. So when Warner Bros. agreed to remaster The Fugitive, one of the original audio mixers of the movie got involved. They went back to the original negative, pulled it out of a vault, scanned it in 4K or maybe 8K…

I think it was 8K…

Yeah. And then I was able to come in after they did a pass on it and just fine-tune all kinds of things that I couldn’t do before. For example, there’s a shot of Tommy Lee leaning up against the trailer and then when you come around the front, the lighting doesn’t quite match what it should be. So I was able to darken half of his face very subtly to make it match. I can make things look colder in the winter in Chicago. I can make the blacks at night look better. So what you’re seeing now in the 4K remaster is actually better than you can see in any theater because the projectors and the screens cannot capture the amount of information that you can see on a 65-inch television from this Blu-ray 4K.

It’s interesting, obviously, the television series was very popular…

72 million people watched the last episode, I think.

But it doesn’t have any real footprint today. This movie is now The Fugitive. Have you thought about that?

Well, it’s interesting, one of the best reviews I got was from Roy Huggins who created The Fugitive series, who saw the movie. I met with him and he was just so gracious about loving the movie. So if you satisfy the creator of the original idea… but the original idea comes all the way back from Les Miserables. And so the spine of it was something he took and then we had to take it and make a standalone thriller. Tommy Lee and Harrison and I were not watching The Fugitive in the ’60s. [Laughs] We were doing other things. And when we came upon this, when I had the opportunity to work on this movie, we had to fix the script. We had to find a reason for the doctor to really be in trouble. It was not in the draft I got, it was nothing like it.

The draft I got had Tommy Lee’s character wanting to kill Harrison’s wife because Harrison screwed up on Tommy Lee’s wife in an operation. It was crazy. So we had to figure out how to create a problem for this doctor. And it was this drug protocol. My sister, a nurse and a young resident, came up with and said, “What if there’s a drug protocol and this doctor says it’s killing people, it’s making them bleed?” And that became Provasic.

So I think that it’s relevant today because there’s been so much coverage of misdeeds by pharmaceutical companies who are trying to sell things that aren’t good for you and things like that. People can relate to that, it’s a good bad guy. And the fact that the film has a pace and a rhythm that doesn’t seem dated. And yet it doesn’t have this kind of frenetic, everything’s cut two frames at a time, so people can watch it and still feel like they’re in motion.

There’s no way in real life someone could jump into that waterfall and survive right?

Well, it’s Harrison Ford.

That is true. That’s a good point.

That’s funny because we wound up finding a mannequin, a dummy, threw it over. And my dear editor, Dennis Virkler, would say, he called it a stick man, “It’s never going to work.” And then audiences saw it. “Oh my God, it works.” So you never know what’s going to happen. The dummy put his arms up the right way.

You should still have that dummy. That’d be a good prop to own.

I don’t own that. I have the shoes from Holes, but I don’t have the dummy.

Do you have anything from The Fugitive?

A jacket.

Considering you didn’t know that Siskel put Under Siege in his top 10, I’m guessing you haven’t read the reviews of this disc, but I’ve been reading them and the message boards. All the tech people are over the moon for this. You should read the reviews.

Really? That’s great. Because the people who worked on this did a great job. And the great story with Frank Montaño, because he was the original sound mixer, a 27-year-old, he did Under Siege and The Fugitive. He was the young effects mixer. So when he heard that we were going to remaster it, he called me up, says, “Andy, you got to let me do it. This is my legacy. I don’t want anybody else to remix this movie. I know what it should sound like.” And the Warner people graciously have so much respect for Frankie, they said, “Okay, let Frankie work on it. He knows the picture. He worked with Andy before.” So when we remixed it, the first time I heard it, I said, “Frankie, it sounds looped. It’s so clean. There’s no noise. There’s no background.” And I had to sort of readjust myself because the dialogue is just so pristine now.

Especially the score. Because there’s so much montage in the movie. And when you hear James Newton Howard’s score coming over the whole room, it’s almost like an opera. It’s like a concert because there’s all this montage going on. And so I was very, very touched and happy with both revisiting what everybody contributed to the movie from the crew and the actors and everybody’s involvement and the production team. And then seeing what we could do visually to adjust each little nuance of the color and the contrast in the picture. It was a great opportunity.

What’s really interesting, I’m wondering, because the fact that Warner’s has taken the time to remaster this thing and put it out here, how many people are going to buy it? How many people are into this high-tech quality stuff? And it turns out…

Oh, a lot.

It’s a real global audience that wants the best stuff. And I think it’s a dilemma because the fact that the quality of these discs are so good now and you can watch them on a great monitor with a great sound system, people say, “Well, I don’t need to go to the theater.” And yet being with an audience and watching … we had a great screening at the Aero Theater a few weeks ago, and it was like watching a Stones concert. People knew the dialogue! It still works. So it’s wonderful to see with a full house of people, and the same time, watching it this way by yourself or with your friends is also great.

Apparently, a lot of the actors were concerned this movie wouldn’t turn out well. But were you concerned?

No, I was never concerned that it wasn’t going to work. I didn’t know if it was going to be as successful as it was. I was very happy with the dailies. I was very happy with everybody’s performances. I thought the picture would look great. And I had a great team to cut it. And a great composer. And we had no time to consider anything else. Barry Reardon at Warner Bros. said, “Can you give us this picture for August?” And we’re like, “Are you kidding?” He wanted it in August. And so we put the thing together I think in eight to 10 weeks? It was the whole process of post-production, which was unheard of.

It’s interesting you made these huge hit movies, Under Siege and The Fugitive, that are still beloved today, and there are sequels to both you did not do.

Well, I didn’t want to do Steven Seagal again on a train.

You had obviously worked with him more than once.

Yeah. I did his first movie and that movie. And then I was busy doing A Perfect Murder with Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow and Viggo Mortensen when they did the sequel. And it’s funny, because we had dinner when they were doing the U.S. Marshals movie – we had dinner in New York with Joey Pants and Robert Downey Jr. and Tommy. And then the crew that had worked on The Fugitive were now working in A Perfect Murder. we all had dinner together, and so we all spent time together. But I wasn’t involved in the sequel. And I don’t know, I mean, I would like to make a sequel to The Fugitive. I’d like to figure out how to get Tommy Lee and Harrison back together and figure out a storyline that would make sense. It might be a very interesting story about doctors and marshals. I don’t know.

U.S. Marshals, it’s entertaining.

You know what? I don’t think I’ve ever watched the movie all the way through.

Oh, wow. Okay.

I need to watch it. Maher Ahmad, my production designer, art director who worked on The Fugitive under Dennis Washington was the designer of that movie and did a great job I know with the plane and everything.

The plane actually is really cool. But it’s great you get to do this press tour and do a victory lap for The Fugitive.

Well, it’s nice that the people who worked on it get the attention besides me. I mean, everybody did such a great job working on that movie. And if you look at people’s credits, if they worked on The Fugitive, it’s usually the first thing they list in IMDb. It’s the credit that lives on. So I’m just glad that the movie has a home where people can appreciate it and make it available. Supposedly it’s being released in small art houses around the country now, but I think there’s going to be a major push on Saint Patrick’s Day. Saint Patrick’s Day parade, they’re going to try to put it out in some theaters then.

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