Director Hugh Hudson Takes Us Back with Revolution

The director of the 1985 film talks about the new director's cut of the Al Pacino film

Sometimes, in the movie business, things just don't work out the way they should have, and one such instance would be the box-office and critical bomb Revolution. The film starred Al Pacino, right off the heels of Scarface, and also starred Donald Sutherland, Natassja Kinski and Joan Plowright in this epic tale set against the backdrop of the Revolutionary War. Director Hugh Hudson had come off such hits as Chariots of Fire and Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes also, so you would've thought this would be a massive hit... but it wasn't even close. The film, which cost an estimated $28 million to produce, took in less than $350,000 at the box office in 1985, and the overwhelming failure of the film apparently even cause Pacino himself to go on an acting hiatus, since he didn't do a film for four years after this film. However, now the film has been re-released in the version that it was finally meant to be seen in with Revolution Revisited, which hits the shelves today, May 26. I had the chance to speak with the director, Hugh Hudson, over the phone to talk about this film and the new Revisited version, and here's what he had to say.

This film was your follow-up to Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes and before that Chariots of Fire, so what initially drew you to this project?

Hugh Hudson: Oh, the script. The man Tom Dobb, who avoids the fights and then, from losing his son to the fighting, slowly has to go and be a part of the collective endeavor of trying to be free from Britain. He finally finds his voice, and I like that story.

So was Al Pacino attached before you came on?

Hugh Hudson: No no. I went out and got Al Pacino because I wanted a person from that kind of background, from the back streets, literally. Pacino is somebody who would understand that, this rebellious character, and I thought he had that quality and I went and persuaded him.

The film really didn't do so well, despite this amazing cast and the Christmas Day release. So did you just think it wasn't the right time?

Hugh Hudson: Well, I think there are a number of reasons, actually. I think, first of all, it was not quite the right time, under the Reagan Administration. The anti-hero wasn't quite what people really wanted. Maybe it was in the way we did it, because the film was incomplete, when it went out. It didn't have a narration to it at all. We put the narration on because we always wanted to do that and we were denied the narration because they wanted the film to get out, the British distributor wanted the film to be put out and they wouldn't let us. Writing narration is quite hard and it takes to get it right. It's a very delicate and subtle thing to do. The narration was vaguely indicated in the original script, but it hadn't been written. We needed more time. We asked for more time, and we were refused it by the British distributor and that basically is the story, why it's coming out again, because for the last 20 years, Pacino and myself have always said we must do this and Warner Bros. agreed to it.

Besides the narration, are there any other major changes to the film?

Hugh Hudson: We cut off the end, the last 10 minutes of the film, because the film was originally written as it was a story of a father and his son, he had lost all his family except this one son and the son grows up with him during the war and at the end of the war, the son decides to go off with his new wife and forge his own life. That was the end of the story and that was how it was written. One of the demands of financing was to have an ending where he meets the girl again, so we cut that off, because really that wasn't the story. It's a distraction, the girl. The girl is there, and, like in any conflicts, people just disappear. Maybe she'll come back, but more realistically, she disappears. The film was shot in such a way that it was not fashionable to shoot films in that way, 20 years ago, handheld, rough, like you're a television reporter watching this. It's very much a current style, people are making a lot of films like that now, if you look at Paul Greengrass' The Bourne Ultimatum. It's on the move all the time, and many other films as well. It's a very fashionable style and we were a little bit out of time, I think. That film is more present to what's going on in America today, in a way.

It doesn't sound like it was out of time, more like it was ahead of its time, actually.

Hugh Hudson: Well, maybe. That's not for me to say, but the result was nobody went to see it. I think if it would've had the narration, it would've been better received and the reception would've been good, I think. I have no way of proving this, but I think more people would've gone to see it.

You said you wanted to do this new edition for awhile, so when did you actually get the ball rolling with this new DVD?

Hugh Hudson: Oh, about 18 months ago. We had to write the narration, work on it with Al, try different things, and then mix it all in and get it ready for distribution.

On the new DVD there is a conversation with you and Al on this whole process, so can you just talk a bit about working with Al on this again after all these years?

Hugh Hudson: That conversation, it's quite explicit of what happened and what we feel about it. He's very fond of this film and I think his performance is very very good. He was completely demolished by the critics.

Yeah, he didn't do a film for four years after this, I believe.

Hugh Hudson: He was attacked on all fronts, and that's just not fair. Why shouldn't he do a period film and not just have a gun in his hand like a cop or a gangster? He gives a very interesting performance in this.

So now that this is coming out in this time, do you think this is really the right kind of time and atmosphere for this film, instead of when it was originally released?

Hugh Hudson: Films like this, big films are made still, but big period films are still rare today, and they were even less rare then. I don't know how to answer this question, because I can't predict what the audience wants. Would a film like this probably get made today? I think, probably not, you know. Unless you put a very very young movie star in, but of course, Pacino was young-ish, early 40s, and he was a big star. That's what got the film, I suppose, originally made. I don't even think Chariots of Fire would get made today.

So I see you've been hitting up the festival circuit lately with this, so is there anything else that you're lining up in that area?

Hugh Hudson: On the festival circuit? Yeah, I'm going to show it in an Italian festival in June, so it should be interesting.

Do you have any other films that you're lining up right now?

Hugh Hudson: Yeah, I'm preparing a film for next year. I'm preparing it now and we're going to shoot it early next year.

Is there anything you can say about that, story-wise?

Hugh Hudson: Well, it's based on a book. It's a war picture, set in the Civil War in Spain in '36, based on a book by George Orwell. I think it's very impressive. It's going to have good actors in it, top actors, and there are all these freedom wars going on in countries all over the world and plus it's about control, totalitarian control and the control of the population. It's going on a lot, even though we have a democratic government, they're very much in control of the people.

So do you have any of your cast lined up for that as of yet?

Hugh Hudson: I've got Colin Firth playing George Orwell and Kevin Spacey. I'm looking for the girl right now. It's a three-sided story, a triangle situation set in the war. It's called Catalonia.

Sounds excellent. I'm looking forward to that.

So, finally, for those who saw the film in its original release, how do you think those who didn't like the film will react to this new revisited director's cut?

Hugh Hudson: Well, they'll see what we wished them to see 20 years ago, and we weren't able to do it. Now they'll see a whole film and they'll have to judge it for themselves, but a lot of people who I've showed it to said, 'Oh my God. This is really interesting, this film.' They had thought of it as a disastrous film when it came out.

Excellent. That's about all I have for you, Hugh. Thanks so much for your time and the best of luck with your new film.

Hugh Hudson: Thanks a lot.

You can find Hugh Hudson's new and improved Revolution Revisited on the DVD shelves now.