The Last Morse.
Inspector Morse has become something of an institution in Britain, and has found audiences all around the world. A series of novels, a television series that ran 14 seasons, and many films all have been made around the curmudgeonly brilliant detective. Approximately 85% of the population of England has watched his exploits, and American audiences can still see him on A&E and PBS "Mystery." I came late to the party; this film is the last anyone will get to see of Inspector Morse. Not the best place to start, I'll admit, but "Inspector Morse" is considered by many to be the ultimate television series ever made, and fans of the books, films, or television show will want to add this fine disc from BFS Entertainment to their collection.
Facts of the Case
Chief Inspector Morse (John Thaw) is a complicated individual, to say the least. He is arrogant, pompous, never misses a chance to show off his superiority, and drinks to excess. On the other hand, he is cultured, a lover of classical music, a romantic, and has a brilliant intellect. He is reserved in his own way; he is refined and always out-thinks rather than outruns those who commit murder in Oxford. Those around him, including his partner Detective Sergeant Lewis (Kevin Whately) and his boss Superintendent Strange (James Grout), put up with his curmudgeonly manner and even care about him.
At this point in the saga Morse is getting old and he knows it. His drinking has given him stomach ulcers; his doctors tell him to slow down and quit drinking. Those who know Morse knows what chance there is of that. He struggles against imminent retirement, and when a lead to a case that was taken away from him the year before comes up, he jumps back in, despite it being Sergeant Lewis's case. As usual, the case is complex—bodies keep turning up, there is a gallery of suspects, and the motives for the killings are many. Expect Morse to unravel it all in good time, and then see how the saga ends.
I had no idea what a phenomenon this franchise was until after I received this disc, and did a little research. There are Inspector Morse Society chapters that are groupies for the show somewhat like those for rock stars. This is the 33rd installment in the film series. The television show had over 14 million weekly viewers in Britain alone, and over a billion have seen some part of the series or the films worldwide. How could I have missed this? I probably didn't pay enough attention to what A&E and PBS were showing.
What made this character and the books, series, and films so popular? After all, the lead character is not a young and handsome hunk, he drives a Jaguar but never chases anyone in it, and the murders are off screen. There isn't a titillation or explicit violence factor involved. It seems an unlikely candidate for such fame.
What it does have is a complex and intelligent plot, with stories that weave to and fro and leave the audience wondering whodunit right until the end. Red herrings there are a-plenty, and it takes a bit of effort to keep all the possibilities straight in your head. Maybe we've underestimated the masses capability to be entertained by something smart rather than somethings jiggling inside a woman's shirt. Could it be?
At the beginning, I wasn't quite so enthusiastic. The story in this film is a bit maudlin; we are seeing the end of a brilliant career rather than an ongoing saga. The story is engaging enough, but there are so many characters thrown at us that I was a bit confused at first. There are several murder cases, one old and the others new, and how they are related is something it takes a Morse to find out.
It did grow on me as the film progressed. The interplay between Morse and Lewis is excellent, even for a neophyte to the franchise like me. I understand it is even better for those who have followed their exploits and have a background in which to frame it all. The mystery remains complex but doesn't use some out of left field gimmick to bring the story together. It all fits, but only after each piece of the puzzle is brought out throughout the film. The end is bittersweet, especially for those who have followed it all through the years. But every saga has an end, and this is that end.
This is television material, even though it is a feature length film, so the transfer on DVD is in full frame. The image is a bit soft, the color palette typically muted, but those colors are accurate and when the bright red Jaguar is shown you can see that this is so, rather than a faded source print. The picture quality is probably about the same you could expect from television. The sound is likewise fairly typical for television fare; it is completely dialogue driven. I did notice some moments when lines were hard to understand; they became slightly muffled and the volume level decreased slightly. Unfortunately there are no subtitles to help you get over the rough spots. Fortunately the film kept my interest enough to make me want to make out the words.
For those who are like me and are new to this phenomenon, the extra content is important and illuminating. "The Last Morse" is a 50-minute documentary about the whole saga, from its origins in the novels to its adaptation for television and film. Numerous interviews with all those involved cover virtually every area of the show and how it came about. It is a fitting extra for those fans of the series, and a big help if you want to put this film in context if you are new to it.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Despite the documentary, I have to admit this is a poor place to start watching Inspector Morse. I'd rather start at the beginning than the end. Unfortunately, on DVD at least, the pickings are pretty sparse. Only one other film is currently released on DVD, with another soon to arrive. The 14 years of the television series are not yet available in this format. You'll either have to find it all on VHS or read the books.
I realize why I wasn't so quick to jump on the bandwagon when it came to US broadcasts of the programs. It is so British. It takes a certain mindset to jump into it. Now that I have seen what so many others have seen, I'm ready to see more. It is too bad I had to wait until the end to find out.
If a smart story and complex characters, along with an involving mystery is to your liking, then Inspector Morse should be a good fit. Certainly fans of the series, books, or films will be happy to add this to their collections; the documentary alone would warrant that.
It is too late to sentence Inspector Morse or his comrades to anything; the saga is over. BFS is congratulated for exposing this judge to the franchise, and hopefully there will be much more content to come.
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