The Bounty

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This article is about the 1984 film. For other uses, see Bounty (disambiguation).
The Bounty
The Bounty.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Roger Donaldson
Produced by Bernard Williams
Dino De Laurentiis
Screenplay by Robert Bolt
Based on Captain Bligh and Mr. Christian 
by Richard Hough
Starring Mel Gibson
Anthony Hopkins
Laurence Olivier
Edward Fox
Daniel Day-Lewis
Liam Neeson
Music by Vangelis
Cinematography Arthur Ibbetson, BSC
Edited by Tony Lawson
Distributed by Orion Pictures Corporation
Thorn EMI Screen Entertainment
Release date(s)
  • 4 May 1984 (1984-05-04)
Running time 132 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $25 million
Box office $8,613,462

The Bounty is a 1984 British adventure drama historical film directed by Roger Donaldson, starring Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins, and produced by Bernard Williams with Dino De Laurentiis as executive producer. It is the fifth film version of the story of the mutiny on the Bounty. The screenplay was by Robert Bolt and it was based on the book Captain Bligh and Mr. Christian (1972) by Richard Hough. It was made by Dino De Laurentiis Productions and distributed by Orion Pictures Corporation and Thorn EMI Screen Entertainment. The music score was composed by Vangelis and the cinematography was by Arthur Ibbetson.


The film follows both the efforts of Fletcher Christian (Mel Gibson) to get his men beyond the reach of British punishment, and the epic voyage of Commanding Lieutenant William Bligh (Anthony Hopkins) to get his loyalists safely to the Dutch East Indies in a tiny longboat.

Setting out from Britain in December 1787 for the Pacific island of Tahiti to gather breadfruit pods for transplantation in the Caribbean as slave fodder, the Bounty sailed west to round the tip of South America, but failed, due to harsh weather, and had to take the longer eastern route. Finally arriving in Tahiti in October 1788, Bligh found that due to the delays the wind was against him for a quick return journey, so he decided to stay on the island for four months longer than originally planned.

In that time, it would be fair to say that ship discipline became problematic, and many of the crew developed a taste for the easy pleasures that island life afforded, making the relation with their Captain tense. Bligh, at the same time, constantly subjected the crew to pressure, eventually reaching a breaking point.

Bligh is shown, not as a cruel tyrant, but instead as a traditional British naval captain and a man of his times. The worst acts of Bligh are compared with those of the crew, and he is ultimately portrayed as a man who takes his sense of discipline and command too far, exceeding the limits of the ship's company; while at the same time he protected his loyal non-mutineers, when he guided their overcrowded boat to safety without any firearms or navigational equipment.

The crew is portrayed in a different light than the previous films. They are shown as a group of typical 18th-century sailors—a much more "rough and tumble" group, some of whom use the "might-is-right" principle to impose a hierarchy of sorts below decks. Their motivations in this film were not as noble as in the other two films. Previous films portrayed the crew's desire for freedom from Bligh's oppressive behavior; in this version of the story the desire to return to Tahiti is shown to be one of the primary motivations behind the mutiny. Also, they are shown as having more responsibility than they did in the other versions of the event.

Fletcher Christian is a much more complex character than in prior films, and he is shown less sympathetically than he was in those prior films. He and Bligh are at first friends, and Bligh even asks him to sail for a second time with him. But both men turn against each other over the course of the events. Matters become worse when the ship leaves Tahiti, as Fletcher is forced to leave his wife, Mauatua, behind. Christian's Tahitian wife is given as more of a reason that Fletcher led the mutiny than before. Fletcher shows regret over one of his decisions; he tells another mutineer that he wished he had supplied Bligh with muskets before setting him adrift.

The resumption of naval discipline, and a Bligh who has slowly turned into a tyrant not willing to tolerate any disobedience whatsoever, creates an atmosphere of tension and violence. Corporal punishment is meted out for the slightest offence. Bligh insists that the boat is dirty and orders the crew to clean up several times a day. Many of the men, including Christian, are singled out for severe, even hysterical tongue-lashings by Bligh. His announced intention to try once again to round Cape Horn in attempts to circumnavigate the globe pushes the crew to the breaking point.

Playing on Christian's obvious resentment against Bligh's treatment of both him and the men, the more militant members of the crew finally persuade Christian to take control of the ship. Bligh is roused from his bed and arrested, along with those considered loyal to him, and all of them are forced into the ship's launch, minimally supplied, and cast adrift.

Blissfully happy at their new-found freedom (though Christian feels remorse, and understands the implications of what has been done) they naively sail back to Tahiti to collect their wives, girlfriends, and native friends. King Tynah (Wi Kuki Kaa), however, is shocked by this turn of events. He makes them aware that, as mutineers, their presence on the island could incite King George to declare war against Tahiti and his people. Realizing the folly of staying, though some do, they gather supplies and sail away to try to find a safe refuge. Christian pleads with Tynah to allow Mauatua to decide her own destiny. Tynah concedes, and Mauatua chooses the uncertainty of a life with Christian over remaining with her father but without her husband.

Bligh, through courage and excellent seamanship — and also a return of his good character and leadership qualities — successfully manages to reach civilization (Coupang, in Dutch West Timor) after a very harrowing journey. One man, however, was killed by natives as the crew stopped for supplies in a hostile island.

The search for a safe haven is long and seemingly impossible, as they all realise that any pursuing Royal Navy vessels will search all known islands and coastlines to find them. By this point, those that remained on board the Bounty are so frustrated that they are ready to rebel against Christian to turn the ship back towards Tahiti. After Christian forces the crew to continue on, they eventually find Pitcairn Island, a place which Christian realizes is not marked on British maps of the region. (The charts indicated that the island was sighted but no landing was made due to the lack of suitable terrain, and the island's location was recorded only by its latitude; the lack of a precise longitude made its location unknown, and therefore, their best hope of avoiding the Royal Navy.)

As the crew of the Bounty burn the ship to keep it from being found (as well as to motivate the crew to tough it out on the island), the judgment of Bligh's court martial is read: Bligh is found to have not been responsible for the loss of the "Bounty," and is commended for the voyage of the open launch, although the members of the inquiry board do not feel inclined to shake his hand. Meanwhile, Fletcher Christian and his men realize that they will never go back to England.

Cast and characters[edit]


This version was originally a longstanding project of director David Lean and his frequent collaborator, Robert Bolt, who worked on it from 1977 until 1980. It was originally to be released as a two-part film, one named The Lawbreakers that dealt with the voyage out to Tahiti and the subsequent mutiny, and the second named The Long Arm that studied the journey of the mutineers after the mutiny, as well as the admiralty's response in sending out the frigate HMS Pandora. Lean could not find financial backing for both films after Warner Bros. withdrew from the project; he decided to combine it into one, and even looked at a seven-part TV series, before finally getting backing from Italian magnate Dino De Laurentiis. Unfortunately for Lean, the project suffered a further setback when Bolt suffered a massive stroke and was unable to continue writing; the director felt that Bolt's involvement would be crucial to the film's success. Melvyn Bragg ended up writing a considerable portion of the script.

Lean was ultimately forced to abandon the project after overseeing casting and the construction of the Bounty replica; at the last possible moment, Mel Gibson brought in his friend Roger Donaldson to direct the film, as producer De Laurentiis did not want to lose the millions he had already put into the project over what he thought was as insignificant a person as the director dropping out.[1]

Anthony Hopkins was one of two actors considered for the role of Captain Bligh by David Lean. The other was Oliver Reed. Christopher Reeve, Sting and David Essex were considered for the role of Fletcher Christian. The role of Peter Heywood (who inspired the character 'Roger Byam' in the novel and earlier film versions) was originally intended to be played by Hugh Grant.

The replica of the Bounty used in the film was built in New Zealand before the script was even completed at the cost of $4 million, and the entire film cost $25 million. However, unlike many other films filmed on water, The Bounty was finished under budget.[2] As well as the New Zealand–built Bounty, Lean had also looked at refitting the frigate Rose to play the role of Pandora. The latter has since gone on to become HMS Surprise in Peter Weir's Master and Commander. For the storm sequences a detailed 25-foot model of the Bounty was built.

The film was shot on location in Moorea, French Polynesia, New Zealand and at Greenwich Palace and the Reform Club, Pall Mall, London. Many of the shots of the ship were filmed in Opunohu Bay, Moorea, which is the same bay Captain James Cook anchored in 1777.

Gibson described the making of the film as difficult because of the long production and bad weather: "I went mad. They would hold their breath at night when I went off. One night I had a fight in a bar and the next day they had to shoot only one side of my face because the other was so messed up. If you see the film, you can see the swelling in certain scenes." Anthony Hopkins, who had battled with alcoholism until becoming abstinent in 1975, was worried about Gibson's heavy drinking, saying, "Mel is a wonderful, wonderful fellow with a marvelous future. He's already something of a superstar, but he's in danger of blowing it unless he takes hold of himself." Gibson, who likewise self-identified as an alcoholic, agreed with this concern, and added his admiration for the Welsh actor: "He was terrific. He was good to work with because he was open and he was willing to give. He's a moral man, and you could see this. I think we had the same attitudes."[3]

Differences from earlier versions[edit]

The first version, an Australian silent film, The Mutiny of the Bounty was made in 1916. The second, In the Wake of the Bounty (1933) was another Australian production, starring Errol Flynn in his film debut.

The third and most famous version, Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), starred Clark Gable, Charles Laughton, and Franchot Tone. The fourth, a remake of the third film, released in 1962, starred Marlon Brando, Trevor Howard, and Richard Harris.

This version is generally regarded as a more revisionist as well as historically accurate depiction of the mutiny than the two earlier film versions. According to director Donaldson,

"The major difference between our film and the other versions is that none of the others pointed out that Bligh and Christian were friends. They'd made voyages together before they sailed on the Bounty. And while they were on the Bounty, Bligh demoted another officer and promoted Christian, who was at that stage nothing but a midshipman, and made him second in command. What interested me was to explore how their relationship deteriorated from that point to where Christian leads a mutiny against Bligh."[2]

Unlike earlier versions, this film did not portray Bligh as a villainous character. According to Gibson, "It was a kind of fresh look at Captain Bligh, and I think of all the renditions of who Bligh was, his was probably the closest. His Bligh was stubborn and didn't suffer fools, but he was brilliant and just had a lot of bad luck."[4] The Bounty also paints a far less heroic portrait of Christian. In Gibson's description, “Fletcher was just a lad of twenty-two and he behaved like one. The first time he decided to test his horns and fight for the herd, it was a mistake. He shouldn't have done it.” Gibson later expressed the opinion that film did not go far enough in correcting the historical record.

"I think the main problem with that film was that it tried to be a fresh look at the dynamic of the mutiny situation, but didn't go far enough. In the old version, Captain Bligh was the bad guy and Fletcher Christian was the good guy. But really Fletcher Christian was a social climber and an opportunist. They should have made him the bad guy, which indeed he was. He ended up setting all these people adrift to die, without any real justification. Maybe he'd gone island crazy. They should have painted it that way. But they wanted to exonerate Captain Bligh while still having the dynamic where the guy was mutinying for the good of the crew. It didn't quite work."[4]

The film also portrays the sailors exploiting the islanders. Gibson said, “It was a complete culture shock and it was unbelievable to them. It was paradise in terms of personal freedoms – freedoms that shouldn't have been taken advantage of. They exploited the people, fooled them, and didn't tell them the whole truth”.[5] Gibson chose to suddenly erupt in violent emotion during the mutiny scene because eyewitness accounts had described Christian as 'extremely agitated' and 'sweating and crying'.[6]

Historical errors[edit]

Advisor Stephan Walters was responsible for much of the film's great attention to historical detail. However, director Roger Donaldson also noted that dramatic license was taken in the areas where factual evidence is lacking.

  • Admiral Hood is shown presiding at Bligh's court martial for the loss of the Bounty at a location presumably intended to represent the Admiralty building. In reality Hood did preside at the court martial of the alleged mutineers in 1792 but not at Bligh's in 1790. In addition both courts martial were actually held aboard warships at anchor.
  • Australia is mentioned in the dialogue even though it would be more than a decade before Matthew Flinders would promote that name for what was then known as New Holland. However, Bligh also mentions 'New Holland' when discussing how he will proceed after being cast adrift.
  • The Bounty's logbook is shown with the title "H.M.A.V. Bounty, her log" on the front cover and on the first page before Bligh makes an entry dated 23 December 1787 recording the first day at sea. The actual log, now in the State Library of New South Wales, has only 'Bounty's Log' in Bligh's hand on the spine and begins with 'Remarks at Deptford' describing preparations for the voyage with the first daily entry being the initial unsuccessful attempt to leave Spithead on 1 Dec 1787.[7]
  • The plot device of the mutiny being triggered by Bligh's decision to make a second attempt to round Cape Horn and hence circumnavigate the globe is non-historical. Bligh had strict orders[8] to take his cargo of breadfruit plants from the Society Islands to Jamaica via the Endeavour Strait, Sunda Strait, and Cape of Good Hope, and to embark additional useful plants en route. To attempt the homeward journey via Cape Horn would have endangered the cargo of tropical plants due to the near Antarctic temperatures to be encountered en route.

Critical response[edit]

The film received generally favourable reviews, many liking the film for realism and historical accuracy as well as being an entertaining film. It has received an 81% 'fresh' rating from 16 critical reviews on film aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes.[9] Roger Ebert gave the film a very impressive review, stating, "this Bounty is not only a wonderful movie, high-spirited and intelligent, but something of a production triumph as well."[10]

However, others were disappointed with the film, especially given its distinguished cast. Many critics singled out Gibson's performance as bland, particularly when compared to the performances given by Clark Gable and Marlon Brando in the two earlier MGM versions. Vincent Canby of the New York Times stated, "Both Bligh and Christian are unfinished characters in a screenplay that may or may not have been tampered with...The movie seems to have been planned, written, acted, shot and edited by people who were constantly being over-ruled by other people. It's totally lifeless.[11]

The film was entered into the 1984 Cannes Film Festival.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [1][dead link]
  2. ^ a b Stephen Farber (29 April 1984). "Buoyed by Fresh Insight, "The Bounty" Sails Again". New York Times. 
  3. ^ Joan Goodman (December 1984). "Mel Gibson: Living Dangerously". Playgirl. 
  4. ^ a b Michael Fleming (July 2000). "Mel's Movies", Movieline.
  5. ^ Terry Poulton (Summer 1984). "Mel Gibson". Close Up. 
  6. ^ Bob Thomas (4 May 1984). "Is Mel Gibson Australian or American?". Associated Press. 
  7. ^ "William Bligh – Papers relating to HMS Bounty, State Library of New South Wales". Retrieved 19 November 2008. 
  8. ^ "A Voyage to the South Sea, undertaken by command of His Majesty, for the purpose of conveying the bread-fruit tree to the West Indies, in His Majesty's Ship the Bounty, commanded by Lieutenant William Bligh". Retrieved 20 June 2008. 
  9. ^ "Rotten Tomatoes, ''The Bounty''". Retrieved 2013-04-11. 
  10. ^ "The Bounty". Chicago Sun-Times. 
  11. ^ Canby, Vincent (4 May 1984). "'The Bounty,' Capt. Bligh Story By Dino De Laurentiis". The New York Times. [dead link]
  12. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Bounty". Retrieved 22 June 2009. 

External links[edit]