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The COMET returns to orbit
'80s Cult Favorite Finally Arrives on DVD

One of my favorite cult sci-fi films of the ‘80s has at last arrived on DVD in a no-frills but at least agreeably-priced edition from Fox.

Thom Eberhardt’s NIGHT OF THE COMET (***, 95 mins., 1984, PG-13) is a goofy, highly entertaining cinematic brew that’s more fun than most gloomy films about The End of Civilization As We Know it, and as such has dated better than the majority of its genre brethren.

Though a firmly a product of the ‘80s, there’s a certain energy present throughout “Night of the Comet” that has made it an enduring fan-favorite, its premise offering a sort of “Twilight Zone” tale that John Hughes might have written had Rod Serling’s series been around at the time of its production.

Catherine Mary Stuart (who starred in “The Last Starfighter” earlier in ‘84) and Kelli Maroney play a pair of siblings from The Valley who find themselves two of the only humans alive after a comet passes by and wipes out nearly all of the world around them. Instead of moping about, though, the duo opt to party like it’s 1999, though a pair of bad guys (Geoffrey Lewis, Mary Woronov) ultimately appear with some very “Omega Man” like shenanigans in tow, wanting the ladies’ un-infected blood to prevent themselves from turning into zombies!

Even though its climax is tired and the villains uninteresting, “Night of the Comet” is otherwise a gem, capped by a totally satisfying ending that strikes the perfect note for the material. The appealing performances of Maroney and Stuart carry the film while Eberhardt manages to get the most out of the picture’s limited budget, especially from a visual angle. Dramatically, it’s no great shakes, and the last third of the picture does drag, but “Night of the Comet” effectively mixes satire, sci-fi, zombies and valley girls together in a splendid concoction that has lost little of its appeal over the years.

Fox and MGM have dusted off this Atlantic Pictures release (which CBS/Fox first issued on VHS back in 1985) for its long-overdue DVD edition and pretty much hit the bullseye here. Though lacking in supplements of any kind (not even the trailer is on-hand), the movie has never looked better in its fresh 16:9 (1.85) transfer. Though initially released in mono, a 2.0 stereo remix here gives a bit more “oomph” to the soundtrack, with the picture’s bouncy pop tracks suitably complimenting the action throughout (I love the mellow ‘80s soft-rock duet which closes the film -- “Learn To Love Again” -- which is surely deserving of its own CD release by now as well).

Needless to say I strongly recommend “Night of the Comet” as one of the best “little” genre films of the ‘80s, with Fox/MGM’s DVD retailing for a hair over $10 in most outlets.

A bigger-budgeted misfire from producer Mel Brooks, SOLARBABIES (*½, 94 mins., 1986, PG-13) has also been newly released on DVD from Fox/MGM.

Whereas “Night of the Comet” had fun spoofing its post-apocalyptic premise, the 1986 “Solarbabies” wants nothing to do with originality -- recycling “Mad Max” shamelessly by way of the roller-skating phenomenon that was all the rage thanks to the success of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical “Starlight Express” at the time.

What ended up on-screen in this Alan Johnson-directed mess is an embarrassing, juvenile sci-fi film about a desert planet with orphaned kids running around on skates, trying to avoid the one-note bad guys (including Richard Jordan) siphoning their world’s precious water, and using a magical ball of energy named “Bodhi” who apparently has come to set them all free...or something.

Having never seen “Solarbabies” before (the film died at the box-office back at Thanksgiving ‘86, raking up only $1 million in ticket sales), I was hoping that Fox’s new DVD would offer some entertainment -- even of an unintentionally amusing variety.

Sadly, despite offering a game cast (Jason Patric and Jami Gertz -- prior to their “Lost Boys” pairing just a few months later -- Lukas Haas and Adrian Pasdar among them), widescreen cinematography, and a score by Maurice Jarre (regrettably an all-synth affair that clumsily enhances the cartoonish aspects of the Walon Green-Douglas Metrov script), “Solarbabies” is just terrible, a relic of the decade that likely should’ve remained dead and buried for all involved.

Fox’s DVD edition does look nifty in 16:9 (2.35) widescreen and sports an active 2.0 Dolby Surround mix (a cropped full-screen version is available on the disc’s flip side).

Tellingly, the movie concludes with a laughable end credits sequence, sporting the cast jumping into the ocean while the hideous Smokey Robinson song “Love Will Set You Free” (“Available on Motown Records!”) closes out the soundtrack. Ugh!

Upcoming DVDs From Fox

SHIRLEY TEMPLE: America’s Sweetheart Collection Volume 5 (Fox, available March 27th): Three-disc box-set offers new transfers of Temple classics “The Little Princess,” “The Blue Bird,” and “Stand Up and Cheer,” all having been digitally remastered and presented in their proper color/black-and-white versions for this latest Fox anthology. Strongly recommended for all Shirley fans!

THE SHIELD: Season 5 (2006, 546 mins., Fox, available March 27th): The fifth season of the acclaimed, award-winning F/X cable series finds Forest Whitaker on-hand as an internal affairs cop, out gunning for detective Michael Chiklis’ head. Fox’s four-disc box set includes all 11 episodes from the fifth season in full-screen transfers with 2.0 Dolby Surround sound; extras include deleted scenes, commentaries, and a Season 6 prequel segment.

FANTASTIC FOUR: Animated Series Volume 1 (2006, 87 mins., Fox, available March 27th): Four episodes from the most recent animated adaptation of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes makes for a somewhat thin DVD (only 87 minutes of content with no extras), but comic completists may still be interested if they can find it at a discount. Fox’s DVD sports full-screen transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks.

New and Coming Soon on DVD

RUN’S HOUSE: Seasons 1 & 2 (2005-06, 316 mins., Paramount): Run-DMC member Joseph Simmons served as the basis of this reality show -- but the good news is that this family-friendly program is a great deal more substantive than, say, your typical Anna Nicole or Osbornes episode. Simmons is a family man and minister trying to raise his kids the right way, and while there’s ample humor to be mined from this MTV series, the message is a positive one and the series doesn’t pander to its audience the way so many other reality programs do. Paramount’s DVD edition is a three-disc set sporting its entire first and second seasons (season three is currently airing on MTV) with bonus content including extended sequences, music videos and cast interviews. Recommended.       

PUMPKINHEAD: ASHES TO ASHES (2006, 95 mins., R; Sony): Evil town doctor Doug Bradley is harvesting organs and dumping bodies in the local swamp, which brings out undead town sheriff Lance Henriksen and the vengeance seeking demon Pumpkinhead to gain retribution for their nefarious crimes. This belated follow-up to Stan Winston’s above-average late ‘80s creature chiller is substantially better than the last “Pumpkinhead” entry, with effective enough make-up effects compensating for a tired script and brain-dead characters. Sony’s DVD offers an excellent 16:9 (1.85) transfer that’s absolutely flawless, while the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound packs a decent punch. Not bad for a night’s rental, with what’s apparently an even better follow-up (“Blood Feud”) having already been shown on the Sci-Fi Channel and due out on DVD in the near future.

NEXT TIME: New HD Releases and More! Until then, don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards, check out the new Aisle Seat Blog, and direct any emails to the link above

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