Plus: September Calendar, THE WHITE DAWN, and More!
The Star Trek franchise might appear to be in a downward spiral, what with UPN's "Enterprise" barely hanging on by a thread and murmurs of a possible "prequel" film sounding like the very definition of a bad idea (if there's no "Young Kirk" or Spock, what's the point?).
While future Trek prospects may appear to be grim at the moment, Paramount is celebrating the better days of Gene Roddenberry's inspired creation with three major new DVD releases both this week and next.
First up is the eagerly awaited Complete First Season box of STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES, which arrives today in an eight-disc set with appropriately colorful packaging.
The set is a must for anyone who didn't buy the initial 40 Original Series DVDs, since it houses all 29 Season One episodes (the original "Cage" pilot is NOT included) in a convenient package that carries a much lower price than those individual discs. Transfers and sound appear to be identical to the original DVDs, which isn't necessarily a bad thing since the previous discs housed colorful, remastered transfers with 5.1 stereophonic soundtracks.
What's more, Paramount has included a host of new special features that both casual and die-hard Trekkies should enjoy. These include several text commentaries by Michael and Denise Okuda (on episodes "Where No Man Has Gone Before," "The Menagerie" Parts I & II, and "The Conscience of the King"), plus a handful of newly-produced featurettes on the eighth and final DVD. The latter include "The Birth of a Timeless Legacy," which examines the original, unused "Cage" pilot and how it was reworked by Roddenberry into the standard "Trek" we all know and love; "To Boldly Go*," examining first season episodes like "City on the Edge of Forever" and "The Squire of Gothos"; "Reflections on Spock," with Leonard Nimoy comments; "Sci-Fi Visionaries," sporting interviews with series veterans D.C. Fontana, Robert Justman, and John D.F. Black; and "Life Beyond Trek: William Shatner," with Bill showing us around his ranch and love of horses.
Now, those of you who bought all 40 individual DVDs of the original series might well be asking whether they should "upgrade" to this compact box set. The answer is: if you're just going by the transfers and soundtracks, no. If you're a completist, however, or just a casual Trek fan who didn't purchase any of the preceding discs, the added features and convenience of housing the entire 1st Season in one snappy package ought to be highly appealing. The featurettes are fun, with everyone from Shatner, Nimoy, producer Robert Justman, George Takei, and Nichelle Nichols, to guest star villains Ricardo Montalban and William Campbell ("The Squire" himself!) newly interviewed, and the text commentaries more colorful than their previous vanilla incarnations. While one could argue that these episodes demanded an even more thorough supplemental presentation, this is still a satisfying release that ought to please most Trekkies. (If you're wondering, Seasons Two and Three will be out in similarly-packaged presentations by the end of the year).
Somehow or other, though, I always envisioned Captain Kirk going out with more of a bang than being beaten up by Malcolm McDowell's forgettable bad guy on the top of a giant rock. That's one of the major problems with this uneven, occasionally tedious and sporadically entertaining film, which works best when Shatner and Patrick Stewart's Captain Picard share the spotlight in the film's concluding minutes.
Up until that point, screenwriters Ron Moore and Brannon Braga spend too much time on scientific mumbo-jumbo, a murky plot involving "The Nexus" (didn't "Star Trek V" already handle the mystical Eden at the end of the galaxy?), and supporting players who walk around without a whole lot to do. The movie -- as evidenced by the supplementary features in the new Special Edition DVD -- was obviously treated with kid gloves by the studio, which viewed "Generations" as a major property and launching pad for future "Next Gen" movies, and David Carson's film feels more "safe" than inspired as a result.
What a shame, too, since the movie has some excellent moments, sparkling cinematography by John A. Alonzo, and an excellent score by Dennis McCarthy which I felt was unfairly maligned by some fans upon its initial release. Years later, in the wake of Jerry Goldsmith's disappointingly routine scores for "Insurrection" and "Nemesis," McCarthy's score has held up even better than I thought it would, with the composer offering a fresh slate of themes and a more majestic, ethereal sort of score than the later TNG films contained.
Paramount's two-disc DVD set includes a terrific new 16:9 enhanced transfer with 5.1 DTS (yes!) and Dolby Digital soundtracks. Due to Alonzo's cinematography, I always felt that "Generations" was one of the best-looking Trek films, and it still holds up splendidly on a technical level. McCarthy's score sounds terrific in the 5.1 soundscape, and the DVD is jam-packed with special features as well.
Commentary from screenwriters Ron Moore and Brannon Braga is included, and it's one of the best talks yet contained on a Trek DVD. The duo point out development problems behind the scenes, elaborating upon the movie's sometimes turbulent pre-production. The latter included not one but TWO scripts being written (one sans the original cast), and the brief, failed courting of Leonard Nimoy to direct the picture. Both writers seem to have a good handle on the movie's strengths and weaknesses, and the challenges involved in shooting a movie that had big expectations written all over it. Solid, insightful stuff, and their commentary is complimented by another fine collection of text anecdotes from the Okudas, plus another disc of special features.
Of chief interest on the supplemental side is the inclusion of four deleted scenes, including the movie's original ending. Yes, hard as it may seem to believe, but Captain Kirk suffered an even more dishonorable discharge in the first ending shot for "Generations," and it's seen here for the first time -- along with the much-discussed excised opening scene with Kirk skydiving down to meet old chums Scotty and Chekov. The footage is in workprint form but fans will be fascinated to see these much-discussed scenes at long last. The other two discarded scenes ("Walking the Plank," an alternate intro to the TNG crew, and "Christmas with the Picards") aren't as substantial, and it's surprising that Paramount didn't include MORE deleted scenes here, since fans are well aware of the cutting that was done to ensure a PG rating (this included the chopping down of McDowell's torture scene with LeVar Burton).
The various Making Of featurettes are more typical DVD fodder, grouped into categories including "The Star Trek Universe" ("A Tribute to Matt Jefferies," the "Enterprise Lineage," "Captain Picard's Family Album" and "Creating 24th Century Weapons"), "Production" (with vintage production footage and interviews discussing the coupling of the original and TNG casts), "Visual Effects" (elaborating upon ILM's work on the film), "Scene Deconstruction" (visual effects footage and interviews), "Archives" (storyboards, production galleries") and trailers, one of which includes Kirk dialogue not seen in either the finished film or the DVD's deleted scenes.
At around $15 (less in some outlets), this two-disc package is another solid addition to Paramount's Special Edition re-issues, with the deleted footage and excellent commentary making this one of the better Trek SE's at that.
Director Roger Nygard and co-producer/host Denise Crosby are back for another go- around, which also boasts updated profiles of original "stars" Barbara Adams (the Whitewater alternate juror who wore her costume to court) and teen Trekkie Gabriel Koerner.
If you haven't seen the original "Trekkies," you might find this sequel entertaining to a point. For everyone else, though, "Trekkies 2" sadly offers less of the same. There are more clips of fans congregating at conventions, more outlandish costumes, more discussions on how positive an influence the series has had on its fans -- yet this time, the finished product is less incisive, more rambling and not nearly as entertaining. The sequel lacks the more developed individual profiles of its predecessor, and basically reinforces the same message that the original film did, albeit far less effectively. Despite good intentions, "Trekkies 2" feels like a heaping of left-overs, so unless you're a real die-hard, stick to the original.
Paramount's DVD does boast several special features, including a pair of cute fan films (one of which was directed by the now 21-year-old Koerner), some deleted scenes, and commentary with Nygard. The full-screen video transfer is fine and the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack perfectly adequate, sporting a theme song performed by former B-52's lead man Fred Schneider.
Dawn of the Dead (1978; New 4-Disc Special Edition)
Dracula (1979; Hopefully With Theatrical Release [Color] Cinematography)
Ghost Story (1981)
Ginger Snaps III: The Beginning
Island at the Top of the World
Jim Henson's The Storyteller: Greek Myths
Kaena: The Prophecy
Last Flight of Noah's Ark
Mangum PI: Season One
Mork & Mindy: Season One
Murder on the Orient Express
Resident Evil (New Special Edition)
Star Trek: Generations (Special Edition)
Dazed and Confused (New Special Edition)
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (New Special Edition)
Judgment at Nuremberg
Ladykillers (2004; Reviewed Below)
Popular: Season One
Star Wars Trilogy
The Alamo (2004)
Christine (Special Edition)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Super Size Me
Tess (Special Edition)
Walking Tall (2004)
THE WHITE DAWN (***, 1974). 109 mins., PG; Paramount. DVD
FEATURES: Commentary by Philip Kaufman; Introduction by the director;
featurettes; 1.85 Widescreen, mono sound.
Philip Kaufman's adaptation of James Houston's novel centers on three New England sailors in the early 1900s who become stranded in the Arctic during a whaling expedition. The trio (Warren Oates, Timothy Bottoms, Lou Gossett) is saved by native Eskimos, but tragic cultural differences ultimately follow. Working with a small crew, Kaufman filmed "The White Dawn" on location in the Canadian Arctic, and the result is a magnificently shot picture that compensates for its sometimes heavy-handed script with authentic atmosphere and locales. Henry Mancini's score and Michael Chapman's cinematography combine with Kaufman's filmmaking to create a pseudo-documentary approach that's impossible to forget in spite of its flaws, and is enriched on DVD by an assortment of superlative extra features.
Kaufman's fascinating audio commentary is one of the most insightful
and informative DVD talks I've heard this year. The director discusses
the challenges of working with an intimate crew in physically demanding
locations and within the confines of a limited studio budget. His video
introduction and supporting featurettes likewise touch upon the
of the film and its lasting impact. (FSM aficionados will appreciate
comments about Mancini's score, including the use of an Eskimo tune in
his 1983 classic "The Right Stuff").
Paramount's 16:9 enhanced transfer is quite good while the Dolby Digital mono sound respectably translates Mancini's score. All in all, a splendid budget package for an interesting film that represents '70s maverick filmmaking at its most audacious.
Tom Hanks gives one of his most entertaining performances in this droll, entertaining Coen Brothers remake of the Alec Guinness '50s classic.
Here, the Coens update the original "Ladykillers" script by William Rose to the present-day South, with Hanks and his band of criminals (Marlon Wayans, J.K. Simmons, Tzi Ma, and Ryan Hurst) attempting to break into a riverboat casino via the cellar of a devout, church-going old lady played by Irma P. Hall. Their greed is contrasted by the innocence of Hall's sage, domineering grandmother figure, who outwits the mob at every turn.
With a tuneful gospel soundtrack produced by T Bone Burnett, "The Ladykillers" is the best Coen effort since "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" Though not entirely successful on the comedic end, Hanks and Hall's performances anchor the offbeat sensibilities of "The Ladykillers" and allow the alternately subtle and bombastic humor of the movie to flow in a typically laid back Coen fashion. The cinematography of Roger Deakins is top-notch and, along with the music, carries the film through its more uneven portions.
Buena Vista's DVD, out in two weeks, offers a few supplements of interest. Full- length gospel numbers are included (portions of which are seen in the finished film), along with outtakes and a lengthy featurette on Danny Ferrington, who created the musical instruments the bad guys use to practice on in the film. A "Scriptscanner" feature is enabled for PC users, while the 16:9 enhanced transfer is perfectly adequate. The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound fares even better, offering a boisterous soundtrack that's an asset to the picture at every turn.
Unsurprising but effectively handled thriller stars Angelina Jolie as an FBI profiler working to solve a series of serial killings in Canada. It seems the culprit has been brutally murdering his victims, stealing their identities, then moving on to claim another life. Jolie's first assignment up north is to verify the story of Ethan Hawke, who claims he was at one of the crime scenes, and has a seemingly combative relationship with a "business associate" (Kiefer Sutherland, in a blink-or-you'll-miss-him supporting role).
"Taking Lives" isn't groundbreaking by any means, but at least screenwriter Jon Bokenkamp (adapting Michael Pye's novel) and director D.J. Caruso develop supporting players and give the material some much needed atmosphere. Thankfully, neither are trying to make another "Silence of the Lambs," and the material feels less formulaic than most cookie-cutter Hollywood thrillers (say, "Kiss the Girls" or "Along Came a Spider"). The performances are strong, from Jolie's heroine to Oliver Martinez and Tcheky Karyo as her Canadian counterparts, while Gena Rowlands also offers support as the mother of one of the victims.
Warner's Special Unrated Edition DVD offers a sterling 2.35 widescreen transfer that's well composed and simply looks smashing. The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is also robust, sporting a generally unobtrusive Philip Glass score. Extras include a somewhat lengthy "Making Of" split into four featurettes, which examine the production with cast and crew interviews. It's mostly fluffy, but seems to confirm that the filmmakers had a good time making the picture, which is also evidenced by the three-minute gag reel which rounds out the supplementaries.
Greg Kinnear and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos (not exactly convincing as a couple) play parents whose beloved son (Cameron Bright) is killed in a tragic accident. No sooner does their period of grieving begin than doctor Robert DeNiro shows up with a plan to "clone" their "Adam" via amazing new scientific advances. It's a plan Kinnear and Romjin-Stamos agree to -- and a decision that soon looks less than well-informed when the "new" Adam begins to experience hallucinations of another existence and downright homicidal tendencies.
"Godsend" had a terrible looking trailer, and sure enough, it makes for an appropriately poor, tedious movie that's not even so bad it's good. DeNiro seems to be sleepwalking through his performance, while the casting of Kinnear, Romijn-Stamos, and Bright makes for a silly movie that might have been unintentionally funny had director Nick Hamm's film not been so dull. Lion's Gate's Special Edition DVD includes commentary and no less than three alternate endings, none of which would have improved the final result of the picture. The 2.35 Widescreen transfer is decent, as is the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, which features a formulaic Brian Tyler score that -- much like the movie -- offers no surprises at all.
RESIDENT EVIL: Special Edition (**1/2, 2002). Columbia TriStar, R, 101 mins., available September 7th. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Alternate Ending with introduction by director Paul W.S. Anderson; cast and filmmakers commentary; 11 Making Of featurettes; trailer; 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
A scantily clad Milla Jovovich and zombies running amok proved to be a decent cinematic combination in this adequate adaptation of the Capcom videogame series, which garnered nearly $40 million in domestic box-office and spawned a sequel due out on September 10th. Here, an evil corporation working on a top-secret and deadly virus sends a team of military types -- including amnesiac agent Jovovich -- to clean up the mess after the plague breaks out of containment, turning an entire building into foul, blood-sucking zombies.
Paul W.S. Anderson (of "Alien Vs. Predator" fame) directed this U.S.-German co- production, which boasts generic characters and situations, along with a cliché-ridden script. If you've seen "Night of the Living Dead," "Aliens" or Anderson's "Event Horizon," you have some idea how nearly every scene in this predictable horror flick plays out. Still, despite the thinness of the material and a mind-numbing, overbearing rock score by Marco Beltrami and Marilyn Manson (which was so loud in theaters that I had my hands over my ears for nearly the entire duration of the film), "Resident Evil" works on a mindless, trashy level. Jovovich packing heat and shooting the heads off zombie workers, zombie dogs, and a -- well -- whatever the heck that monstrosity is at the end, is all kind of entertaining, particularly on DVD where you can lower the volume at your leisure.
Columbia TriStar's new Special Edition DVD is out just in time for the release of the Anderson-penned (but not directed) "Resident Evil: Apocalypse" (it even includes a free ticket, or at least a matinee since it covers a single admission up to $7.50), offering the same cast and crew commentary from the previous DVD and some 11 Making Of featurettes (including the "Scoring 'Resident Evil'" featurette).
What the new DVD includes that its predecessor didn't, however, is an additional visual F/X commentary and the movie's alternate ending, which fans will find of major interest and is introduced by Anderson himself here. It's nothing overly substantial, but "Resident Evil" buffs should find it essential to own just the same. The DVD offers the same solid 1.85 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital track from the previous release, and comes most recommended for RE fans who can't wait for either the release of the movie sequel or "Resident Evil 4" on GameCube next winter.
Tackling similar supernatural terrain as "The Sixth Sense" (it was released several weeks later in 1999), this David Koepp adaptation of Richard Matheson's novel "A Stir of Echoes" drew unfavorable comparisons to the Bruce Willis surprise blockbuster of '99. Despite its flaws, Kevin Bacon gives a fairly good performance as a blue-collar everyman whose mind is opened by an unknowing psychic pal (Illeana Douglas), allowing him to receive messages from the netherworld -- and, specifically, a missing girl whose ghost appears in Bacon's house. His wife, Kathryn Erbe, can't understand the goings-on, but his little son sure can, as he himself has been directly communicating with the spirit, who appears in mirrors and seems to Have Something to Say to the living.
Koepp adeptly generates suspense in the early going of "Stir of Echoes", using sound effects and James Newton Howard's eerie score to properly set the table for the spookfest that the picture promises. Bacon's initial "glimpses" of his newfound physic visions are jolting and effective, but right when the movie seems to be building up a head of steam, the roof caves in -- literally AND figuratively. Indeed, the mystery of the girl's disappearance and the resolution to the film are contrived and distressingly predictable, thanks to a well-worn "ghost story" retribution angle and an overdone climax that finds Koepp indulging in silly thriller genre conventions -- the exact sort of thing that M. Night Shyamalan smartly sidestepped in his own film.
Moreover, the film's continuously dour mood and lack of humor leave a bitter taste in the mouth when it's all said and done. It also seems apparent that there must have been more interplay between the characters, particularly the girl's surviving relatives (including her sister and mother, who appear, then are never seen again) and Bacon's son, since without those elements, the movie's final shot feels unwarranted and needlessly downbeat (the DVD's deleted scenes only partially address this problem).
Lion's Gate Special Edition DVD package offers a superior 1.85
transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, both of which are improvements on
the earlier DVD release. Supplements include commentary from Koepp,
scenes, standard Making of featurettes, screen tests, and more. If
a "Stir of Echoes" fan, this is well worth the upgrade.
I have what I feel is a pretty good threshold for bad movies: witness my reviews over the years of "Grease 2" and "Can't Stop the Music," both of which I still have in my collection and pull out for some laughs once in a while.
That being said, I couldn't in good conscience make it through all 86 minutes of Menahem Golan's unspeakably hideous, misguided, loud and gaudy bomb THE APPLE (*, 1980, PG; MGM), which has apparently developed a cult following due to its inherent awfulness.
Unlike some other "bad" movies, though, "The Apple" is almost beyond awful. Catherine Mary Stewart plays one half of a vanilla singing duo who's recruited by a devilish musical producer into singing some terrible disco tunes penned by the immortal Coby Recht (with lyrics by Iris Recht and George Clinton). That's almost as attractive a proposition as her other option: singing equally bad disco tunes also penned by Coby Recht, this time with her would-be partner George Gilmour. Oh, let's not forget that this 1980 flop is set in a "futuristic" 1994 where the police has been corrupted by "Mr. Boogalow," who ultimately meets his match in the godly Joss Ackland, who descends from the heavens in the film's jaw-dropping final scene. It all adds up to an interminable experience that makes "Can't Stop the Music" look like "Phantom of the Paradise" by comparison.
MGM's DVD offers a surprisingly pristine 2.35 Widescreen transfer (with a cropped full- frame version on the same platter) of this rarely-screened fiasco. The movie's theatrical trailer is included, with a voice-over by the guy who used to handle all of NBC's network promos ("NBC...Be There!").
A pre-exploitation Linda Blair stars as a good girl who rebukes Juilliard so she can skate-skate-skate her way with roller boogie veteran Jim Bray into certain disco stardom. Unfortunately, some bad guys decide that their local skate park is a good spot for a real estate deal, and promptly threaten the future of all young skating maniacs by wanting to trash their hangout.
Dean Cundey shot this no-brain, feel-good romp, which plays like an episode of "Chips," minus Ponch, Jon, and the California Highway Patrol. Irwin Yablans, meanwhile, presented the Compass International production (one of the few non-"Halloween" films Compass turned out), which was bought up by UA and released to what apparently were solid box-office returns in 1979.
It's silly, good-natured family fun, with MGM's DVD sporting both 16:9 widescreen and full-screen transfers, plus a pretty solid 2.0 Dolby Digital soundtrack.
Ritchie's acclaimed satire of American culture and morals remains a favorite of many viewers, with Bruce Dern and Barbara Feldon starring as two individuals overseeing a beauty pageant run amok in Santa Rosa, California. The cast of attractive young ladies includes Melanie Griffith and Annette O'Toole, and Jerry Belson's incisive script -- coupled with Ritchie's direction -- results in an almost documentary-like comedy that's impossible to resist.
MGM's DVD, though, sports an acceptable 1.85 widescreen transfer that inexplicably was not enhanced for 16:9 televisions. It's hard to believe "The Apple" could nab the 16:9 treatment but not "Smile," one of the most acclaimed films of the '70s, but that's what we have here with the Region 1 release. The theatrical trailer is also included on a disc that's a definite disappointment for anyone with widescreen TVs.
"Presented" by National Lampoon, this silly, forgettable but at least energetic film offers a few laughs for fans of the genre, with separate R-rated and Unrated versions available. Extras include commentary from filmmakers David and Scott Hillenbrand with editor Dave O'Brien, a gag reel, deleted scenes with optional commentary, "Behind the Scenes" of the movie's fantasy sequence, and a 1.85 widescreen transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
In "Relentless," Judd Nelson sought to break out of his "Brat Pack" stereotype by playing an unstable wacko who, rejected by the LAPD, opts to take down those who barred him from joining the force. Leo Rossi and Robert Loggia are the detectives hot on his trail in William Lustig's 1989 thriller, which sports a co-starring role by Meg Foster, a solid '80s action score by Jay Chattaway, and a fairly tense "B" atmosphere that pulp fans should enjoy.
The movie's success on the small screen resulted in no less than THREE sequels, one of which -- 1991's "Relentless 2: Dead On" -- has also been issued this week on DVD by Columbia. Unfortunately, with Lustig replaced behind the lens by Michael Schroeder, this follow-up lacks the punch of its predecessor, with Rossi back on the job, hunting down another killer with a possible connection to bad-boy Judd's killings in the original. Meg Foster also reprises her original role, while Ray Sharkey ("Wiseguy") is on-hand as a shady FBI insider with possible ulterior motives on his mind. It's all formulaic filler with production values inferior to the first movie.
Columbia's DVD releases both offer adequate 2.0 Dolby Digital soundtracks and transfers ranging from solid 16:9 widescreen (the original film) to workable full-frame ("Dead On").