There is a persistent, but unsubstantiated rumor that the real Fletcher Christian did not die on Pitcairn Island, but made it back to England. Several of his relatives later swore that they had spoken with him, and that he lived out the rest of his life in hiding.
Mel Gibson was disappointed with his performance and the finished movie. He later said of the movie, "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."
Captain William Bligh's later career was peppered with further mutinies and complaints about his "oppressive attitude". His tyrannical nature later sparked the Rum Rebellion in New South Wales in 1808, which led to his being forcibly deported.
The re-creation of the "Bounty" specially built for the movie had, for many years, been used as a tourist cruise ship at Darling Harbour, Sydney, Australia, until 2007 when it was sold to HKR International Limited. The ship is now on Lantau Island in Discovery Bay, Hong Kong, and continues to function as a tourist cruise charter.
Because of his invalid union card, Hugh Grant was dismissed from this production. Grant had been originally cast in the role of Peter Heywood, who inspired the character of Roger Byam in the original Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall novel and earlier movie versions. Grant later said in an interview on The Howard Stern Show, how infuriated he was from being dropped, given the salary and that he'd already been fitted for costuming.
One significant historical event, which is completely omitted from this movie, is the initial attempt by Fletcher Christian and the mutineers to found a colony on the island of Tubuai, south of Tahiti. Christian landed on Tubuai shortly after the mutiny and, after finding nearly three thousand hostile natives, established a fort on the northern side of the island, using weaponry from the Bounty. After nearly two months of constant skirmishes with natives, Christian and the mutineers abandoned the island, and only then returned to Tahiti for more men and supplies, before heading east towards Pitcairn. Thomas Burkett, who had been severely wounded on Tubuai fighting natives, stayed behind in Tahiti, even though he was clearly a mutineer, and would be hanged if ever found by the Royal Navy (Burkett was in fact captured and executed for mutiny).
Sir Anthony Hopkins, who had battled with alcoholism until becoming abstinent in 1975, was worried about Mel 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."
Mel Gibson has expressed a belief that this movie's revisionism did not go far enough, believing that his character should have been portrayed as the antagonist. He praised Sir Anthony Hopkins' performance, as Lieutenant William Bligh, as the best aspect of the movie.
Despite the twentieth and twenty-first century based judgment of the punishment meted on-screen by Sir Anthony Hopkins, historians determined that Lieutenant Bligh's disciplining of his sailors as less severe, by comparison to his peers.
In addition to the replica of "The Bounty", Sir David Lean also supervised the refitting of the frigate Rose that would play the role of the frigate H.M.S. Pandora, the ship sent by the Admiralty to hunt the mutineers. The idea was scrapped, but the frigate later became the H.M.S. Surprise in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003).
Mel Gibson described the making of this movie 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."
Warner Brothers, then hugely over budget with Superman (1978), withdrew from the project, when Director Sir David Lean and Screenwriter Robert Bolt decided to film Bolt's sprawling screenplay as two movies, or rather, one massive epic released in two parts, one year apart, though filmed simultaneously.
The closing epilogue states: "The mutineers' fate remained a mystery for eighteen years, until their island was discovered by an American whaling ship. They found one man, John Adams, with nine women and twenty-three children. What happened to Fletcher Christian remains uncertain. Some say he was murdered on Pitcairn Island, but then there were reports that he returned safely to England. However, his descendants live on Pitcairn Island to this day."
Despite the twentieth and twenty-first century judgment of the punishment meted on-screen, historians determined Lieutenant Bligh's disciplining of his sailors as less severe, by comparison to his peers.
The hull of the reproduction of the H.M.S. Bounty, built for this movie, was built of steel, and only clad in wood. The reproduction of the H.M.S. Bounty built for Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) was built of wood, in the traditional manner.
Katherine Hepburn personally recommended Christopher Reeve, with whom she had worked on a play, and became good friends with the then-unknown actor, for the part of Fletcher Christian to Producer Dino De Laurentiis. After considering it, Reeve turned the part down, feeling he would be miscast, and Mel Gibson was hired instead for the role. He expressed no regrets years later over his decision, and felt Gibson was much better suited for the role.
There are shots through the movie (notably while the Bounty is attempting to round Cape Horn and as it approaches Tahiti) where Lieutenant Bligh is shown at the ship's wheel. This would never be done by the commander of a British Naval Ship, the wheel was always manned by crew members.
It was originally to be released as a two-part movie, 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 H.M.S. Pandora. Sir David Lean could not find financial backing for both movies after Warner Brothers withdrew from the project, so he decided to combine it into one, and even looked at a seven-part television mini-series, before finally getting backing from Producer Dino De Laurentiis.
The replica of the Bounty used in the movie was built in New Zealand before the script was even completed, at the cost of four million dollars. She was later destroyed and sunk in hurricane sandy off the coast of the carolinas with a cost of several lives, including her captain
Despite the fact that Vangelis had previously won an Oscar for Chariots of Fire (1981), and had a successful solo music career, there was no official soundtrack issued concurrent to the movie's release in 1984. In fact, a complete soundtrack CD wouldn't be issued until 2010.
Sir David Lean oversaw the construction of "The Bounty" replica ship, which was paid for by Producer Dino De Laurentiis, and constructed in New Zealand's most northern city Whangarei on its North Island's Northland Region.
Sir Anthony Hopkins and Daniel Day-Lewis played U.S. Presidents, and received Oscar nominations in the part. Day-Lewis won Best Actor for Lincoln (2012). Hopkins was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for playing John Quincy Adams in Amistad (1997), and Best Actor for Nixon (1995).
Though there was some filming done in Gisborne, on the New Zealand coast, and Kiwis provided actors, actresses, extras, and crew, including Second Unit, this movie is a U.S. and U.K. co-production, without any financing from New Zealand, and is such, is not classified as a New Zealand film, as evidenced by its non-inclusion in the book "New Zealand Film 1912-1996" (1997).
As previously pointed out, William Bligh eventually attained the rank of Vice Admiral in the Royal Navy, yet during his various tenures in command he faced three separate mutinies and was acquitted in all three. The first and most famous, the Bounty in 1789; HMS Director (a 64 gun ship of the line) during the Nore Mutiny in 1797; and finally as Governor of New South Wales, Australia partially over his strict discipline.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
When Fletcher Christian returns to Tahiti after the mutiny, he informs King Tynah that they had set Captain Bligh adrift. In real-life, Christian lied to Tynah, telling him that Bligh had met up with Captain Cook and together were founding a new settlement, and that they had sent Christian back to Tahiti for men and supplies.