10/4/05 Edition

Aisle Seat October Mania!

THE WARRIORS Director's Cut, THE FLY Special Editions and More:
Which New Special Editions Truly Are Special?

Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn give strong performances in Sydney Pollack’s leisurely THE INTERPRETER (**1/2, 129 mins., 2005, PG-13; Universal), a classically constructed thriller that harkens back to the good, old-fashioned days of star-powered moviemaking.

Kidman plays a United Nations interpreter who -- after working late one night -- happens to overhear what she believes is an assassination plot. Penn and Catherine Keener play secret service agents assigned to protect Kidman, who holds citizenship in Matobo, an African country lead by a dictator (Earl Cameron) whom the experts believe is the target for the assassination -- and with good reason, since Matobo has been home to the kind of ethnic cleansing that we’ve seen tragically throughout the actual region.

Seasoned scribes Scott Frank and Steven Zaillian are among the five credited writers on “The Interpreter,” which among many things marks director Pollack’s return to not just the widescreen scope format but also a “Three Days of the Condor”-esque political thriller. Kidman and Penn give mostly subdued performances in this sleek, well-designed thriller, which was filmed on location in N.Y.C. (with some rare footage shot at the United Nations itself) and looks and feels authentic as a result.

Everything about the movie is classy -- from Pollack’s assured direction to Darius Khondji’s cinematography and James Newton Howard’s no-nonsense score -- but unlike top-notch genre fare like “Condor,” for example, “The Interpreter” just doesn’t have a sense of urgency. The movie is clinical and efficient, but never truly suspenseful or compelling enough to make you care about what’s going on. Penn and Kidman each add interesting shadings to their emotionally wounded characters, but because Pollack refrains from any sort of romantic involvement, there’s no fire between them, either.

As a result, “The Interpreter” is a polished, slightly underwhelming film with a few noble ideas, intriguing political subtext, and capable performances. Worth a rental, at least, for those seeking a modestly entertaining picture from a veteran director and a pair of stars working in top form.

Universal’s DVD offers commentary from Pollack and a pair of featurettes with the director (“From Concept To Cutting Room” and “Interpreting Pan & Scan Vs. Widescreen”), who talks about his methods and why he hadn’t shot a film in widescreen in over 20 years (he regrets not filming “Out of Africa” in scope). An interesting alternate ending that would have added some much-needed emotion to the conclusion and a couple of very brief deleted scenes are also on-hand, plus a look at real U.N. interpreters and the movie’s location shooting in the General Assembly quarters. The 2.35 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound are both superlative.

Super "Fly" Special Edition DVDs

During the summer of ‘86, even though I wasn’t quite 12 years old, I was able to convince my dad to take me to see “Aliens.” After all, I was a battle-scarred veteran of seeing “Alien” on the ABC Sunday Night Movie, and although the film was “Edited For Television,” it nevertheless captured the intensity of Ridley Scott’s original vision, trimming just a few shots of gore and profanity for its broadcast airing.

While I could handle “Aliens” at my relatively young age, it was decided by the experts NOT to take me to David Cronenberg’s “The Fly,” which opened just a few weeks later. Growing up, I was a devout “Creature Features” viewer and because I had watched all of the old ‘50s and ‘60s “Fly” movies, I naturally wanted to see the remake. Still, something about the movie sent up a red flag in my parents’ minds: maybe it was the scene in the trailer with a mutating Jeff Goldblum hanging out with a hooker, or the general tone that indicated “The Fly” ‘86 wasn’t just an old-fashioned fright flick.

Whatever the case may be, they made a wise choice, as Cronenberg’s “Fly” remake more than justified its R rating -- though the irony is that, once I WAS old enough to see the movie, I realized the “new” THE FLY (**½, 116 mins., R, Fox) was still pretty juvenile for an “adult” film.

Cronenberg’s update and reworking of Charles Edward Pogue’s original screenplay chronicles the step-by-step transformation of scientist Jeff Goldblum into a full-sized insect, his relationship with Geena Davis (who loves him despite his...shall we say increasingly eccentric behavior?), and futile attempts to reverse his metamorphosis.

Goldblum’s admirable performance carries the ‘86 “Fly” to a degree, but ultimately, this icky, gooey, blood-soaked effects piece represents ‘80s horror at its most excessive. As the film goes along, Cronenberg pays more attention to the physical -- rather than mental -- decline of Goldblum as he plunges into the abyss, and the audience is treated to such heartwarming moments as our protagonist’s ear falling off, vomiting on a donut, and later having his head severed in two, all in favor of a new insect noggin.

No question, “The Fly” has its fans, but today, the film comes across as an effects/make-up showpiece for Cronenberg and designer Chris Walas, who were trying to out-do the most graphic of the decade’s F/X hallmarks like “An American Werewolf In London.” The effects were undoubtedly remarkable for their time, though today, they ultimately make the movie’s tragic love story even more unbelievable than it was at the time-- it’s just hard to take Davis’ sympathy for the grotesque Goldblum seriously as his condition worsens, and worsens, and worsens.

Still, I’m not about to rain on the parade of “Fly” addicts, who will swarm like flypaper to Fox’s two-disc Special Edition DVD, out this week. Filled to the brim with supplements, this is one of the year’s most elaborate and satisfying DVDs, topped off by a rare Cronenberg commentary and a fascinating -- if not somewhat overlong -- two hour-plus documentary. Every angle of “The Fly” is discussed, from its origins as a (Mel) BrooksFilms production, to the supposed AIDS subtext of the movie, its pre-release screenings and multiple endings. Writer Pogue had wanted some kind of uplifting coda to the film, which is screened here for the first time -- along with a lengthy excised section involving Goldblum’s “monkey-cat” hybrid, a long-lost sequence that fans will love seeing here (it’s even been tracked with music from composer Howard Shore’s dense dramatic score). The sequence is actually pretty silly, but aficionados will soak it up, just as they will the lengthy documentary, offering fresh interviews with the stars and crew (sans Cronenberg, who apparently prefers for his commentary to speak for itself).

Visually the DVD’s 1.85 transfer and matching 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks are exemplary, and a full slate of TV spots and trailers rounds out the package.

To coincide with “The Fly,” Fox has gone the extra DVD mile for the likewise gooey 1989 sequel THE FLY II (*½, 104 mins., R), which puts poor Eric Stoltz thanklessly into Goldblum’s shoes. Essaying the son of Goldblum’s scientist, Stoltz’s Martin Brundle soon begins to exhibit the same horrifying transformation as his old man did while employed as an experiment in evil CEO Lee Richardson’s company. Predictably, no amount of sympathy from girlfriend Daphne Zuniga can help as Stoltz begins to mutate, and Richardson eyes a race of Super-Flies that could help military affairs.

Chris Walas had helmed the original’s effects and took over the directorial reigns of “The Fly II.” Unfortunately for Walas, he was working from a patchwork script credited to Mick Garris, Jim and Ken Wheat, and Frank Darabont, which never channels the human element that the original had, and instead serves up a forgettable, inferior recycling of Cronenberg’s work. There are effects o’plenty, a decent score by Christopher Young, and a thankfully upbeat ending (which even recalls the original ‘50s sequel “Return Of The Fly”), but “The Fly II” is limp dramatically and comes recommended strictly for fans of ‘80s gorefests.

The good news is that Fox’s two-disc Special Edition offers, like its predecessor, a similarly satisfying assortment of DVD special features. Commentary from Walas (who seems amusingly aware of the film’s shortcomings) and horror journalist Bob Burns is included on disc one, along with a never-before-seen coda (which actually would have tied the movie even closer to the final shot of “Return of the Fly”) and one deleted scene. Disc two sports a new 50-minute documentary, “Transformations: Looking Back At The Fly II,” plus a terrific hour-long “Fly Papers” documentary which aired on AMC. Narrated by Leonard Nimoy, this is an excellent look at the entire “Fly” franchise with copious interviews. There’s also an excellent 15-minute interview with Christopher Young, discussing his work on the sequel, plus a vintage 1989 featurette, a film production journal, trailers, storyboard/photo galleries and more. The 1.85 transfer and 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks aren’t quite up to the original’s quality, but that’s undoubtedly due to a diminished budget on the part of the film itself.

Like the original, though, “Fly” fans will be more than pleased with the presentation and supplements Fox has included here on a pair of DVDs that will likely go down as the final word on this particular horror franchise.

New DVD Re-Issues & Repackagings

‘Double-dipping’ isn’t a new occurrence on DVD, but it seems to be picking up steam each month with more and more “new” Special Editions. Here’s a round-up of the latest.

THE WARRIORS: ULTIMATE DIRECTOR’S CUT (***½, 1979, 93 mins., R, Paramount). THE RUNDOWN: Walter Hill helmed this cult classic from ‘79, chronicling the odyssey of a New York City gang as they attempt to get back home to Coney Island after a “gang conclave” among rival groups goes seriously wrong. Packed with action, memorable cinematography by Andrew Laszlo, and surrealistic moments, “The Warriors” has been a viewer favorite for years, and now Hill has slightly re-edited the movie in a beautiful new DVD. WHAT WE HAD BEFORE: A barebones edition of the theatrical version, in 16:9 but with mono sound. WHAT WE HAVE HERE: A superior, outstanding new transfer with a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack that easily tops the previous disc. The movie itself has been slightly re-edited, with Hill adding comic-book “wipes” and an introduction that places “The Warriors” firmly in the context of a futuristic, comic book updating of a Greek myth. Purists may object to the changes (although the restored footage totals less than a minute), but there’s no denying how great this transfer is, or how encompassing Laurent Bouzereau’s documentary happens to be. Offering new interviews with Hill, cast members James Remar, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, composer Barry DeVorzon and others, this four-part documentary expertly chronicles the production of this viewer fave -- which is due for a remake by director Tony Scott next year (think I can pass on that one). ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: Despite the great transfer and remixed soundtrack, “Warriors” fans will be severely disappointed that the 10 or so minutes of added footage (seen in various broadcast TV airings) aren’t present here -- nor is the original theatrical cut. Instead, Hill mentions the alternate introduction and why it was axed -- the kind of thing that drives a viewer crazy (can’t we see it and make up our own minds?). For that reason, aficionados may want to hang onto the previous DVD (now out of print) and their copy of the TV version for the complete “Warriors” experience.

STAR TREK NEMESIS: COLLECTOR’S EDITION (**½, 2002, 116 mins., PG-13, Paramount). THE RUNDOWN: The last entry in the Next Generation feature film series, "Nemesis" is a valiant attempt at making a Star Trek movie that you needn't be a Trekkie to fully appreciate. On paper, John Logan's script does all the right things: establishes a basic, central conflict with a principal villain whose motives you clearly understand, gives the supporting characters something to do (not too easy, as we know from previous Trek movies), and plays off the strengths of Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner, the cornerstones of the TNG series. I can only imagine that Logan's story must have been a great read, but something went amiss on the way to the 23rd century. “Nemesis” is flat when it ought to be thrilling, talky and dull when it should be energetic and interesting -- it's a movie that keeps teetering on the edge of being something MORE, but it never gets there. WHAT WE HAD BEFORE: A solid single-DVD edition with commentary and some deleted scenes but... WHAT WE HAVE NOW: Paramount’s double-disc Collector’s Series DVD offers even more cut sequences from director Stuart Baird’s film, along with three commentaries: one by Stuart Baird, another by producer Rick Berman, and finally, the usual, enlightening text commentary from Denise and Michael Okuda. The 16:9 transfer and 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks seem as solid as the previous DVD, and a second disc of extras contains numerous featurettes -- in keeping with Paramount’s previous Trek Collector’s Editions. “Production” includes seven behind-the-scenes segments examining the production, while “The Star Trek Universe,” “The Romulan Empire,” “Archives” and trailers round out the disc. As with before, a lot of the comments and interviews are promotional in nature and thus not overly critical of the film, which here is a problem since “Nemesis” turned out to be the lowest-grossing of all ten Star Trek movies. Additional candor would have made for a more interesting supplemental section. ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: At around $15 in many outlets, Star Trek fans can afford to plunk down a few extra dollars on a movie that remains the most frustrating and disappointing entry in the entire cinematic series (save, arguably, “Star Trek: Insurrection”). At least the supplements and presentation are solid, making for a satisfying farewell to Paramount’s double-disc Trek Collector’s DVDs.

CARLITO’S WAY: THE ULTIMATE EDITION (***, 1993, 145 mins., R, Universal). THE RUNDOWN: Brian DePalma’s stylish, entertaining thriller works as a showcase for Al Pacino as a Puerto Rican gangster whose attempts to go straight are shot down in the New York City underworld. David Koepp’s adaptation of Edwin Torres’ novels “Carlito’s Way” and “After Hours” is mostly predictable, but DePalma picks up the slack with strong action scenes, atmospheric Stephen H. Burum cinematography, and dynamic performances from Pacino and an almost-unrecognizable Sean Penn as Carlito’s lawyer. WHAT WE HAD BEFORE: A pair of DVD releases, the last of which contained a documentary on the production of the movie. WHAT WE HAVE HERE: Released to coincide with the direct-to-video prequel (which we’ll review next week), the new “Ultimate Edition” contains the same documentary and a batch of fresh extras: never-before-seen deleted scenes (nearly ten minutes’ worth) and a new featurette with Brian DePalma. The original trailer is also included, while the addition of a strong DTS track enhances the presentation. ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: The deleted scenes are intriguing but it’s the DTS track that trumps the previous “Special Edition” DVD. With the extras from the earlier disc and a superior soundtrack, this release is well worth an upgrade for fans of the film.

MALLRATS: 10TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION (***, 1995, 96 and 123 mins., R, Rogue/Universal). THE RUNDOWN: Kevin Smith’s first “studio” film is sillier, less pretentious, and in some ways more satisfying than his “indie” efforts. Jeremy London and Jason Lee head to the mall after being dumped by their respective girlfriends (Shannen Doherty and Claire Forlani), where they run into Jay & Silent Bob, try and ruin Michael Rooker’s game show, and win their significant others back. WHAT WE HAD BEFORE: An excellent, single-disc Special Edition DVD from Universal that’s been out of print for some time. WHAT WE HAVE HERE: A two-sided single DVD that includes the original theatrical cut, a newly extended version (123 minutes) of the film, and virtually all of the supplements from the superb previous DVD. A new Making Of is included along with the same commentary track, additional outtakes, featurettes and as much “Mallrats” as a Smith devotee can take. The 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack appear identical to the previous DVD. ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: View Askew aficionados will want this one, no questions asked. The extended cut offers some amusing moments, though for some viewers a little bit of “Mallrats” likely goes a long way. Still, there are plenty of laughs here, and even if some of the film is dated, Universal’s new DVD edition offers ample reason to “double dip.” Recommended!

A KNIGHT’S TALE: Extended Cut (***, 2001, 144 mins., Unrated [Previously PG-13], Sony). THE RUNDOWN: Brian Helgeland’s anachronistic medieval adventure stars Heath Ledger as a peasant who falls for a noblewoman (Shannyn Sossamon) and jousts with bad boy Rufus Sewell. Blaring rock music oddly fits this fun, if overlong, piece with enjoyable performances by Ledger plus Mark Addy, Paul Bettany and Alan Tudyk as members of his posse. WHAT WE HAD BEFORE: A satisfying, single-disc Special DVD Edition of the movie, with numerous deleted scenes. WHAT WE HAVE HERE: Those deleted scenes have been incorporated back into the movie, though for some viewers the original’s 130+ minute running time was enough. The 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack seem comparable to the original DVD, and most -- though not all --- of the original DVD’s supplements have been ported over. Though the packaging notes that the Extended Cut includes “all the original special features,” it actually doesn’t incorporate the previous DVD’s commentary track. ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: As a “Knight’s Tale” fan, I enjoyed the added scenes, and why not? If you’re willing to go along with the movie for its leisurely, lengthy journey, you won’t mind the added detail of the restored scenes, which further enhance the already well-established characters. The lack of the previous DVD’s commentary, though, is puzzling: couldn’t Sony have just included the commentary and gone to the film’s audio for the added scenes where the filmmakers didn’t chat?

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