Although it's only the middle of November, seven inches of snow fell in parts of New England this past weekend, forcing the Laserphile to leave his keyboard and actually shovel for a few minutes Saturday morning. Indeed, let's hope it's one of those years where Winter arrives early and often, and fizzles out after that (hey, it's happened before!).
At the movies, this past weekend's box-office race was won by THE INCREDIBLES (***1/2 of four), the latest Pixar/Disney effort.
Brad Bird had been the creative force behind "The Iron Giant" as well as the memorable "Amazing Stories" episode "Family Dog," and his penchant for strong characterizations and amusing comedic moments are on-hand throughout "The Incredibles." This super- hero saga is great fun for viewers of all ages, though perhaps older kids and adults will get the most mileage out of it, since the film is more story-heavy than most Pixar films, and offers brilliant animation in full 2.35 widescreen proportions.
One thing that did bother me about the film, however, was Michael Giacchino's score. Giacchino is clearly a composer on the rise, and has done superb work on TV series like "Lost" and "Alias," not to mention countless video games (the "Medal of Honor" series in particular) that first gained him notoriety in the soundtrack world.
John Barry was initially contacted to write "The Incredibles" score, though Barry ultimately departed from the project (despite early trailers that prominently featured music from "On Her Majesty's Secret Service"). That didn't stop the filmmakers from having a "John Barry score," however, because Giacchino's music extends beyond mere homage, sounding at every turn like a Barry soundtrack -- complete with a recurring motif that sounds suspiciously like OHMSS with a note changed.
This wouldn't have been questionable had Giacchino brought more of his own "style" to the score as a whole. Instead, his score often sounds so much like the work of Barry than it ultimately comes across as less the work of Giacchino and more of a wannabe, an imitation that would have been better had Barry actually scored the picture himself. At times, it almost sounds unethical, with long sections of music bearing Barry's trademark sound and writing. Certainly it's the most obvious soundtrack written in the vein of another composer in recent memory (at least going back to the days of John Williams imitators in the wake of "Star Wars").
"Chucky" creator Don Mancini's picture starts off on the wrong foot (with a series of ersatz "scares") and then quickly descends into an unfunny succession of gory murders and Hollywood in-jokes, with Chucky's son "Glen" arriving in Hollywood to find his parents as props in a "Chucky" film. No sooner do the murderous Chucky and Tiffany dolls come back to life than another rash of murder and mayhem begins, all the while Jennifer Tilly plays "herself" in a "real" Chucky film shooting at the same time.
The satiric targets (if you can call them that) are obvious and the whole picture sits in no man's land, neither a horror film (Chucky and Co. are now bout as scary as your typical Smurfs episode) nor an amusing spoof (Mancini's jokes worked a lot better in a semi- traditional genre framework like its predecessor). Hopefully the foul stench left over from this first release from Universal's boutique label "Rogue Pictures" won't extend to their next effort: a remake of John Carpenter's "Assault on Precinct 13," starring Ethan Hawke and Laurence Fishburne, and due out in late January.
Criterion's latest assortment of quality DVD releases includes box-sets for both Ingmar Bergman's FANNY & ALEXANDER and Robert Altman's SHORT CUTS.
Clearly the most intriguing disc of the week is the Special Edition of Bergman's FANNY AND ALEXANDER (***1/2, 1982, The Aisle Seat DVD Pick of the Week), which includes both the 188-minute theatrical release version and Bergman's original Swedish television cut, running 312 minutes.
Bergman aficionados have long waited to see the movie's five-hour original version, and Criterion has at last provided that cut -- plus Bergman's superb, 110-minute 1983 documentary "The Making of 'Fanny & Alexander'" -- in a three-disc set with countless special features.
The 1.66 high definition-remastered transfers look terrific, while Peter Cowie offers a fascinating audio commentary on the theatrical cut. There's also a one-hour conversation between Bergman and Nils Petter Sundgren, culled from Swedish TV in 1984, plus the new documentary "A Bergman Tapestry," introductions by Bergman to eleven of his films, trailers for numerous Bergman pictures, new storyboards, costume sketches, and a 36-page booklet sporting new essays and reflections on the film. On the audio side, the monaural sound is just fine, and there's a worthless English-dubbed track (on the theatrical version) included for prosperity.
In addition to an isolated music track of Mark Isham's score, the set also includes a new conversation between Altman and star Tim Robbins, a feature-length documentary on the making of the film ("Luck, Trust and Ketchup"), a PBS documentary ("To Write and Keep Kind") on Carver's life, a BBC TV excerpt on the development of the script, a one- hour 1983 audio interview with Carver, demo recordings of songs performed by Dr. John, deleted scenes, and a look at the film's marketing.
There's also a new digital transfer with 5.1 surround sound, and a special reprinting of Carver's short stories, packaged with an essay by film critic Michael Wilmington. Recommended!
THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK (**, 2004). 135 mins., Unrated,
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Longer Director's Cut, Deleted Scenes,
Set Tour With Vin Diesel, Trivia Track; 2.40 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby
Dour, depressing sci-fi actioner picks up years after "Pitch Black," with Vin Diesel's Riddick running around the galaxy, trying to escape the clutches of nefarious bounty hunters. Soon, Riddick is unwillingly propelled into a war being waged by a dark race of evil doers (lead by Colm Feore and Thandie Newton), who are attempting to exterminate the good people of the galaxy (Judi Dench among them).
Writer-director David Twohy's movies usually have a good deal of humor lurking within them, but not "The Chronicles of Riddick," which comes across as one of the densest sci- fi movies to appear since "Dune." This is a deadly serious, pretentious film filled with unappealing characters, claustrophobic action scenes, and a leading man who looks out of his element at every turn. It's no surprise, then, that the film flopped at the box-office, despite a huge budget and massive advertising campaigns.
Universal has released several DVD variants of "Riddick" this week. The version I received includes an Unrated Director's Cut, which runs 15 minutes longer than the theatrical version, and incorporates what Twohy describes as a substantially different ending (at least in terms of its editing). The "tragic, ironic" finale seems to open the door for yet another sequel, but it's doubtful how much even "Pitch Black" fans will want to see it.
The DVD's 2.40 transfer is exceptional and the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound full of bass, effects, and throbbing Graeme Revell score. Other supplements include another five minutes of deleted scenes, a set tour with Vin Diesel, a Virtual Guide to the "Riddick" Universe (the opening narration even sounds like "Dune"!), an on-screen trivia track, plus the first level of the Xbox "Escape From Butcher Bay" game, which is a lot more fun than watching the film itself.
A WRINKLE IN TIME (Buena Vista, $19.99): Madeleine L'Engle's award-winning children's book finally reached the screen in the form of this made-for-TV production, which was supposed to have been a four-hour mini-series. After sitting on the shelf for over a year, this inaugural Dimension Films TV production was run in a three-hour block on ABC last May with little fanfare -- though despite its mixed reviews, the picture itself isn't all bad, and is worth seeing for family audiences. Disney's DVD includes a rare interview with L'Engle, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and interestingly, over 16 minutes of deleted scenes (fully completed and scored). It's curious that Disney didn't include the longer mini-series version (if there was one) of "A Wrinkle in Time" on DVD, yet perhaps there was a reason why the production was edited down.