Jonathan Livingston Seagull (film)
|Jonathan Livingston Seagull|
|Directed by||Hall Bartlett|
|Produced by||Hall Bartlett|
|Written by||Hall Bartlett
Richard Bach (uncredited)
|Music by||Neil Diamond|
|Edited by||Frank P. Keller
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|October 23, 1973|
|Box office||$1.6 million|
Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a 1973 American film directed by Hall Bartlett, adapted from the novella of the same name by Richard Bach. The film tells the story of a young seabird who, after being outcast by his stern flock, goes on an odyssey to discover how to break the limits of his own flying speed. The film was produced by filming actual seagulls, then superimposing human dialogue over it. The film's voice actors included James Franciscus in the title role, and Philip Ahn as his mentor, Chang.
Whereas the original novella was a commercial success, the film version was poorly received by critics and barely broke even at the box office, though it was nominated for two Academy Awards, for cinematography and editing. The soundtrack album, written and recorded by Neil Diamond, was a critical and commercial success, winning a Golden Globe Award and a Grammy Award.
As the film begins, Jonathan Livingston Seagull is soaring through the sky hoping to travel at a speed more than 60 miles per hour. Eventually, with luck he is able to break that barrier, but when Jonathan returns to his own flock he is greeted with anything but applause. The Elders of the flock shame Jonathan for doing things the other seagulls never dare to do. Jonathan pleads to stay and claims that he wants to share his newfound discovery with everybody, but the Elders dismiss him as an outcast, and he is banished from the flock. Jonathan goes off on his own, believing that all hope is lost. However, he is soon greeted by mysterious seagulls from other lands who assure him that his talent is a unique one, and with them Jonathan is trained to become independent and proud of his beliefs. Eventually, Jonathan himself ends up becoming a mentor for other seagulls who are suffering the same fates in their own flocks as he once did.
Director Hall Bartlett came onto the project in the wake of a mid-life artistic crisis. Bartlett was not proud of the films he had made in the last ten years, during which he had directed several major critical and commercial misfires—among them, All the Young Men. By this point Bartlett was attempting to make films independently from Hollywood, often with his own money. It was at this time that his then-wife, Rhonda Fleming, had given him a copy of Richard Bach's novella of Jonathan Livingston Seagull. So fascinated was Bartlett by the story that he immediately decided to make it his next feature film; when production began, he declared, "I was born to make this movie." 
In order to make seagulls act on cue and perform aerobatics, radio-controlled model aviation pioneer Mark Smith built radio-controlled gliders that looked remarkably like real seagulls from a few feet away.
The film was critically panned at the time of its release in 1973. Roger Ebert, who only awarded it one out of four stars, confessed that he walked out of the screening after forty-five minutes, making it one of only three films he walked out of (the other two being Caligula and Tru Loved), writing: "This has got to be the biggest pseudocultural, would-be metaphysical ripoff of the year". Others used bird-related puns in their reviews, including New York Times critic Frank Rich, who called it "strictly for the birds". In 1978, Jonathan Livingston Seagull was included as one of the choices in the book The Fifty Worst Films of All Time by Harry Medved, with Randy Dreyfuss and Michael Medved.
The film was the subject of three lawsuits that were filed around the time of the film's release. Author Richard Bach sued Paramount Pictures before the film's release for having too many discrepancies between the film and the book. The judge ordered the studio to make some rewrites before it was released. Director Bartlett had allegedly violated a term in his contract with Bach which stated that no changes could be made to the film's adaptation without Bach's consent. Bach's attorney claimed, "It took tremendous courage to say this motion picture had to come out of theaters unless it was changed. Paramount was stunned."
Neil Diamond also sued the studio for cutting too much of his music from the film and after his experience with the film, Diamond stated that he "vowed never to get involved in a movie again unless I had complete control." Bartlett angrily responded to the lawsuit by criticizing Diamond's music as having become "too slick... and it's not as much from his heart as it used to be." However, Bartlett also added, "Neil is extraordinarily talented. Often his arrogance is just a cover for the lonely and insecure person underneath."
Home video release
Previously only available on VHS, it was released on DVD in October 2007. It was released again on DVD on a manufactured-on-demand (MOD) basis through the Warner Archive Collection June 25, 2013.
- "Jonathan Livingston Seagull review". Film4. Retrieved November 11, 2011.
- "Jonathan Livingston Seagull box office data". The Numbers. Retrieved November 11, 2011.
- "People, Oct. 22, 1973". Time. October 22, 1973.
- "Jonathan Livingston Seagull". Chicago Sun-Times.
- Movie - Film - Review, Jonathan Livingston Seagull
- Campbell M. Lucas, 80; Judge Became an Entertainment Law Mediator (obituary), Elaine Woo, Los Angeles Times, May 13, 2005
- Having Survived a Tumor and The Jazz Singer, Neil Diamond Eases His Life Back into Shape, Carl Arrington, People, April 5, 1982
- Jonathan Livingston Seagull TV Guide review
- "Warner Archive Collection".