8/19/08 Edition -- The AISLE SEAT BLOG Is Also Live

Aisle Seat Olympic Edition
PROM NIGHT hustles its way to disc

As the express train of horror remakes rolls along, it’s worth noting that I’m not against the notion of reworking old genre films per se – especially not when the originals weren’t all that great to begin with. The problem, naturally, has been that, so far, most of them haven’t been very good, ranging from bland (“The Amityville Horror”) to disappointing (“The Fog”) and just plain bad (“When a Stranger Calls”).

Now Sony and producer Neil H. Moritz (of the “I Know What You Did...” pictures) have dusted off another horror chestnut -- the 1980 slasher “Prom Night” with Jamie Lee Curits and Leslie Nielsen -- for a stylishly-assembled yet still dreadful remake of the 1980 Canadian knock-off of “Halloween.”

Writer J. S. Cardone’s script for the 2008 PROM NIGHT (*½, 89 mins., Unrated; Sony) doesn’t offer much in common with its predecessor: Brittany Snow here steps into the Jamie Lee scream-queen role of a beautiful high school senior whose family was murdered by a psycho (Johnathon Schaech, running as far away from his once-promising career as possible) years before. Sadly for Snow, crazy Schaech is back on the loose, just in time to ruin the senior prom for her and all of her nameless, attractive classmates, many of whom serve as lambs for the slaughter.

Rated PG-13 theatrically, “Prom Night” turned out to be quite a success at the box-office, raking up over $40 million in domestic receipts against a budget that was less than half that. Director Nelson McCormick, who’s currently helming a remake of the 1987 genre favorite “The Stepfather,” has fashioned a typical by-the-numbers hack n’ slash affair with threadbare characters and a lampoonish succession of faux-shocks that undercut Snow’s sincerity. It’s not the worst movie of 2008 but it’s certainly one of the more forgettable, failing totally to capture any high school angst or atmosphere and playing it by the book at every turn.

Sony’s Blu-Ray disc looks predictably glossy with its AVC encoded transfer, though the Checco Varese cinematography is on the drab side for the most part. The Dolby TrueHD sound is bass heavy but not particularly noteworthy, featuring a routine Paul Haslinger score. Extras include director and cast commentary, deleted scenes, an alternate ending, a gag reel, four featurettes, BD Live material and some unrated footage.

Also New On Blu-Ray

TRANSFORMERS (***, 142 mins., 2007, PG-13; Paramount): Last summer's "big three" sequels all managed to gross essentially the same amount (in excess of $300+ million) at the U.S. box-office -- a feat no other film in 2007 equaled outside of the gargantuan, live-action adaptation of '80s Hasbro action figures “Transformers.”

Produced by Steven Spielberg and directed (in a somewhat less chaotic fashion than usual) by Michael Bay, "Transformers" is a whizz-bang sci-fi epic that brings the toy characters into present-day "real life." The Roberto Orci-Alex Kurtman script follows the struggle between "good" extraterrestrial robot beings the Autobots and their evil counterparts, the Decepticons, as they launch their galactic battle on Earth. To be precise, both factions are seeking the whereabouts of the vile Deception leader Megatron, who was discovered in ice nearly a century ago by the great-grandfather of American teenager Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf).

Sam proves to be our Everyman as he meets all the Transformers, including their leader Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen, reprising his work from the beloved '80s cartoon version), and tries to help the Autobots' cause while matching wits with federal agents (including a cartoony John Turturro) and a tough army captain (Josh Duhamel) following the action from the Middle East.

Impressive special effects from ILM are the main reason to watch "Transformers," with the robot design and animation being positively jaw-dropping -- especially in Paramount's high-definition Blu-Ray release. In addition to the overall "believability" factor (as convincing as giant robots could ever be), the animators managed to maintain the original Transformers look from the toys and '80s TV series in a way that won't disappoint long-time fans.

Bay, predictably, keeps the action moving along, but unlike some of his past works, also does a decent job establishing the characters and keeping the humor at a "family friendly" level. This isn't a movie to be taken seriously, but it's good fun for no-brain summer thrills -- stylishly made and, appropriately, "assembled." LaBeouf, meanwhile, acquits himself nicely against the all the bombast, with a satisfying ending leaving the door open wide enough for inevitable future sequels (unsurprisingly, one is due out next summer).

On video, Paramount brought us a two-disc HD-DVD edition of “Transformers” a year ago that was highlighted by a pristine VC-1 encoded transfer and a knockout Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack.

The studio’s long-overdue Blu-Ray set basically reprises everything from that release, but with the addition of Dolby TrueHD “lossless” audio that will blow the doors off your home theater set-up.

The VC-1 encoded transfer is again outstanding, while the supplements likewise satisfy: a commentary from Bay and extensive picture-in-picture track content adorn Disc 1, while Disc 2 boasts a strong number of featurettes, including interviews with Bay, Spielberg, and the production team, all discussing how they brought "Transformers" to life. Recommended!

CAMP ROCK (98 mins., 2008, G; Disney): Remember when the Disney Channel showed old TV specials, cartoons and other nostalgic items? For adults the channel’s evolution into this decade’s version of ‘90s Nickelodeon network has been disheartening, but for the corporation, it’s been a cash cow, ramping up ratings and cornering the lucrative teen market, which flocked in massive numbers to the “High School Musical” films and other popular series on the network.

This summer’s follow-up to the “HSM” phenomenon, “Camp Rock,” was another gigantic hit, being one of the year’s most watched cable programs. The teen heartthrob Jonas Brothers here co-star in this tale of a good-hearted girl (Demi Lovato) who’s able to attend a music-oriented camp but has to spend the time working in the kitchen when she’s not crooning tunes. Naturally, the camp’s snobby girls attempt to thwart Demi’s success, and predictably freak out when they find out about her “blue collar” double-life.

Pedestrian and yet so wholeheartedly earnest you can understand why kids would like it, “Camp Rock” hits Blu-Ray in a terrific looking package next week. The 1080p transfer is excellent while uncompressed PCM sound will enable all would-be kid rockers to bounce along to the bubblegum soundtrack. Ample extras here include a Blu-Ray exclusive set tour with the Jonas Brothers plus numerous Making Of featurettes and music videos.

DVD Capsules: New & Coming Soon

THE PRESIDENTS (25 hours, 2008; PBS/Paramount): Outstanding assembly of recent PBS “American Experience” documentaries include lengthy profiles of some of our nation’s more noteworthy leaders, including Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Truman, the Kennedys, LBJ, Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George (H.W.) Bush.

Copious interviews, endless reams of archival footage, a broad overview of what made each president tick both internally and politically make for a massive, sprawling box-set that’s perfect for history buffs, students and casual viewers alike.

PBS’ presentation includes 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks and fine transfers. An outstanding release that’s highly recommended!

CHICAGO 10 (***, 90 mins., 2007, R; Paramount): Brett Morgen, who directed the fascinating portrait of producer Robert Evans, “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” returns with this unusual, vividly shot pseudo-documentary of the infamous 1968 Democratic National Convention and the trial that ensued. Utilizing rotoscoped animation with actual archival footage and photographs, this is an offbeat and yet consistently compelling film with visuals that should appeal to younger audiences while there’s enough history to captivate adults who lived through the era. Paramount’s DVD, out next week, includes a fine 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital audio and a video “remix.”

THE BEST OF COMEDY CENTRAL PRESENTS: Uncensored (1999-2008, 176 mins., Paramount): Nearly three-hours of uncut stand-up comedy is on-hand in this latest Comedy Central compilation, featuring clips with Dave Attell, Mike Birbigilia, Frank Caliendo, Zack Galifianakis, Stephen Lynch, Patton Oswalt, Nick Swardson and Daniel Tosh among others.

THE LITTLE MERMAID - ARIEL’S BEGINNING (77 mins., 2008, G; Disney): Enjoyable prequel to the 1989 Disney classic profiles everyone’s favorite mermaid as she attempts to spread the joy of music to the underwater world of Atlantica. Jodi Benson and Samuel E. Wright are back to reprieve their vocal work as Ariel and Sebastian, respectively, in this well-animated, amusing direct-to-vid production that’s basically along the lines of “Bambi II,” making it one of the better Disney small-screen efforts. Disney’s DVD, out on August 26, includes a 16:9 (1.78) transfer with DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound offerings, plus deleted scenes, featurettes on the production of both this and the Broadway musical, games for kids and more.

CHEERS: Season 10 (10 hrs., 1991-92; CBS/Paramount): The next-to-last season for the long-running NBC series hits DVD shortly in another fine box-set from Paramount, once again utilizing uncut broadcast versions that look exceptional in their remastered full-screen transfers and stereo soundtracks. By this point “Cheers” was starting to show its age just a bit, though some gems do sprinkle the collection, which is comprised of 25 10th season episodes: “Baby Walk, “Get Your Kicks On Route 666,” “Madame LaCarla,” “The Norm Who Came to Dinner,” “Ma’s Little Maggie,” “Unplanned Parenthood,” “Bar Wars V,” “Where Have all the Floorboards Gone?,” “Head Over Hill,” “A Fine French Whine,” “I’m OK, You’re Defective,” “Go Make,” “Don’t Shoot...I’m Only the Psychiatrist,” “No Rest for the Woody,” “My Son, The Father,” “One Hugs, the Other Doesn’t,” “A Diminished Rebecca With a Suspended Cliff,” “License to Hill,” “Rich Man, Wood Man,” “Smotherly Love,” “Take Me Out of the Ball Game,” “Rebecca’s Lover...Not,” “Bar Wars VI,” “Heeeere’s...Cliffy!,” and the two-part season finale, “An Old Fashioned Wedding.”

HAUNTED HISTORIES COLLECTION (6 hours, 2008; History Channel/Newvideo): Excellent compilation of five History Channel documentaries for enthusiasts of spooky horrors includes “Haunted Houses” and “More Haunted Houses: Tortured Souls and Restless Spirits,” focusing on supposed real-life haunts; “Zombies” as well as “Voodoo Rituals”; and “In Search of the Real Frankenstein,” which uses Mary Shelly’s original classic novel as a springboard into scientific studies of bringing the dead...back to life! Transfers and soundtracks are all on-par with their original broadcast versions, making for a pleasing release for all “pretend” ghosts and goblins as we near Halloween.

DC COMICS SUPER HEROES: THE FILMATION COLLECTION (126 mins., Warner): Warner already issued superb DVDs from the ‘60s Filmation adventures of Superman and Aquaman, though the studio trimmed some of the “smaller” self-contained stories starring a few of the smaller names in the DC canon in the process. The good news for fans is that those shorts have all been compiled into one handy double-disc set, “DC Super Heroes: The Filmation Collection,” offering 18 cartoons with the Justice League, the Teen Titans, Green Lantern, The Flash, Hawkman and the Atom. The animation isn’t spectacular but it’s sturdy, colorful stuff of the old-fashioned comic book variety, and fans will love seeing these cartoons restored to their remastered glory at long last. Colorful packaging, meanwhile, is complimented by a profile of Filmation genius Lou Scheimer. Highly recommended!

NEXT TIME: THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM and More! Until then, don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards, check out the Aisle Seat Blog, and direct any emails to our email address.  Cheers everyone!

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