A number of people in the movie reviewing business are busy commenting on whether the team of Anthony Hopkins and Mel Gibson in 1984 measures up to Charles Laughton and Clark Gable in 1935 and/or Trevor Howard and Marlon Brando in 1962. This smacks of handicapping midget tag-team wrestling matches, so let’s ignore that whole issue. A more provocative matter is whether anyone—besides Messrs. Hopkins, Gibson, director Roger Donaldson, screenwriter Robert Bolt, and, last but certainly not least, moneyman Dino DeLaurentis—needs another go through of the bad times on the H.M.S. Bounty. A full-page ad for the latest version includes the line “After 200 years, the truth behind the legend,” which is slightly disingenuous, given that the mutiny took place in 1787. However, let that pass, too. The gist of the statement implies (A) the previous films on the subject weren’t the real thing and (B) people in 1984 want the nitty-gritty—or that someone, besides the before mentioned figures, cares. As for point A, it’s true that the ’35 and ’62 movies were based on a set of adventure books while the latest is based on Captain Bligh and Mr. Christian, a 1972 revisionist history by Richard Hough that, apparently, makes William Bligh’s surname something other than metonymy for “bastard captain.” Since the British navy didn’t clap Bligh in irons and break his sword (or whatever they did) for the contretemps surrounding the appropriation of his ship, it’s probably true that Bligh wasn’t as awful as previously depicted and was simply as unpopular as all supervisors are at any given point in time—though most bosses don’t have their subordinates spend a month in the middle of a deadly maelstrom. Making coffee or running errands are the contemporary complaints. And while on the subject of the contemporary scene, point B can be addressed: people aren’t concerned with historical exactitude but with the style of the leading men, which is why so much ink has been invested in comparisons. When it comes to accuracy, let’s face it: it’s hard to imagine that the bona fide Mr. Christian was as handsome as his 20th-century Australian interpreter—but now I’m getting into the midget wrestling ring.

“Call me Fletch.” Had The Bounty been made as a first-person recounting rather than through flashbacks from Bligh’s point of view (which leaves some questions of cinematic veracity [“the truth” says the ad] hanging in mid-air: where did the post-mutiny scenes showing the Bounty come from?), this would have made a resonant opening line. The character is generally designated “Mr. Christian” and intimately addressed as “Fletcher,” but the diminutive “Fletch” captures more of the sense of the man—the young man. When Fletch appears on the screen for the first time, he is in a London club, betting, along with his soused pals, about whether one of their colleagues, who is comatose, is merely in his cups or dead. All are having a boisterously good time. Had Fletch’s friend William Bligh not arrived and taken him away from the revels with an offer that would put Fletch on a cruise on the ocean as an officer, it’s likely that Fletch and his cronies would have left the club and gone cruising for some wenches. Although the guys would have had to use a carriage instead of a Z-28 Camaro for transportation, their ends wouldn’t be any different than those sought by yuppies who hang out in fern bars.

Being well-set and unencumbered, it’s not surprising that Fletch signed on the Bounty. When the ship entered the harbor at Tahiti, he must have felt as if he had died and gone to rake’s heaven: hundreds of savage, bronzed teenage girls without whalebone corsets or a touch of cellulite were there, anxious to greet the sailors. It’s hard to overstate the shock that this must have caused to the libido of Fletch. Those of us who spent our Wonder years with copies of National Geographic know that most of the natural beauties shown therein were, by and large, very large, the products of too much starchy poi or something. It was almost as if only chance brought an occasional native into the frame who didn’t weigh in at 15 stone. The Bounty required no Star Wars-style special effects; the money must have been used for selecting and securing these lissome extras. Before this starts sounding like notes on mud wrestling, let me simply state that Fletch had arrived at a place in the late 18th century that a late-20th-century Club Med hasn’t topped.

Lieutenant (yes, not Capt.) Bligh was a career naval man (who went to sea at age 12) and he had a wife. He had been to Tahiti before, so his blood pressure probably didn’t rise quite as high as that of Fletch when the Bounty pulled in to the harbor. Bligh had a sense of duty: to his command, to his wife, and to what he—and many others of his time—perceived as his civilization (and all that it entails). The Bligh in The Bounty is not presented—at least not initially—as some sort of hard-nobbed stick in the mud, but as a man who has a sense of humor, an understanding of the weaknesses of the flesh, and an appreciation of a higher authority. While Fletch is out cavorting and going native Bligh is not organizing a one-man antilibertine league.

But the movie breaks down primarily because writer Bolt and director Donaldson are unable to come to grips with the fact that Bligh must have been motivated by and subservient to duty. Instead, implicit—overtly implicit, if something can be so—in the film isthe idea that Bligh was driven to be nasty because of homosexual desires. As Fletch’s fires blaze in the tropical sunshine, Bligh does a slow, superhot burn. We see Fletch and his belusted splashing in the Pacific, then a quick cut to Bligh in his cabin sweating, wearing a glazed look, while the electronic music pounds like something in a commercial for an analgesic. Then it’s Fletch between the sheets. . . Bligh sweating and pounding. . . Fletch playing a percussion instrument while his babe struts her stuff. . . Bligh’s cabin becomes more confining. . . and so on. Bligh is driven to taking what are presented as Caligulaian measures: he insists that shore leave end and that preparations are made to get underway. Then, abomination of abominations, he actually forces the men to resume their mission, which wouldn’t have been all that bad, since the next stop was the Caribbean. It seems as if Bligh gave the odious orders because he desired Fletch, and lest the psychological disorder of Bligh is overlooked, the lieutenant begins having a filth fixation (manifested by his demands that the decks be swabbed clean), becomes what some paperback Freudians might call an anal-oriented personality. Admittedly, Fletch is shown as being somewhat out of sorts when he decides to take command of theBounty in order to pick up where he left off with his bathing beauty, but his impulses are presented as being “natural” and therefore with-it, while Bligh’s are “civilized” and consequently square, bogue, or whatever a sense of obligation was designated by the 18th-century coffeehouse cads .While The Bounty may, unlike its predecessors, be a blow for the name of Bligh, it is a backhanded blow that he takes on the chin. Manfully.