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Late Summer Tidings from the Aisle Seat

by Andy Dursin

Usually we lament the disappointment of the summer season each year at this time, dissing the lame blockbusters that didn't really work and hoping there will be better films to come in the Autumn months ahead. However, this year, I'm not going to indulge in a post-mortem, since this really, truly has been a good summer for movies. Yes, Hollywood may have been disappointed that there wasn't a single, huge financial blockbuster as in years past; there was no ID4, MEN IN BLACK, or FORREST GUMP (neither the high-priced GODZILLA nor ARMAGEDDON brought in as much dinero as their studios had hoped), yet there were a lot of fine films that were released this summer, different kinds of pictures that appealed to all sorts of audiences. BULWORTH, TRUMAN SHOW, MASK OF ZORRO, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, EVER AFTER, LAST DAYS OF DISCO and OUT OF SIGHT all proved to be excellent films, and solid escapist entertainment was provided by movies like THE X-FILES, DEEP IMPACT, and BLADE (see below), while we also had surprise hits like THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY, which is poised to be the most profitable film of the entire year (with its relatively "low" budget of $16 million, Fox has reaped big bucks with its gross over $100 million domestically). I can't recall the last time that we had so many films of varying genres spread out over an entire summer, and while there were a few mistakes along the way (one of which was called THE AVENGERS), there really did seem to be something for everyone this summer. We can only hope this pattern holds for the Fall and next year as well.

New in Theaters

BLADE (***): I don't think any of us who grew up reading Marvel Comics thought that we'd live long enough to finally see a successful movie adaptation of a Marvel Super Hero. After all, between the unreleased FANTASTIC FOUR fiasco to Menahem Golan's CAPTAIN AMERICA debacle, Marvel heroes have found more success on the small-screen than they ever have in theaters. With James Cameron's favorite webslinger, Spider-Man, having been held up in legal entanglements for years now, it didn't look like Marvel's batting average was going to change...at least until now.

While New Line's big-screen movie version of BLADE isn't exactly a strict, faithful rendering of its Marvel origins, it does look and feel like a slick comic-book come to life, filled with thundering action sequences and polished direction that make for perfect entertainment for horror and comic aficionados alike.

Wesley Snipes co-produced this solid genre effort, which stars Snipes as the half-human, half-vampire hunter of the undead, who patrols the streets on his motor cycle at night with sword and shotgun in tow, the latter always filled with silver bullets to pierce the fanged monsters. Turned into a half-vamp by his mother, who was bitten while pregnant, Blade says more with weapons than he does in words, at least until head vampire Deacon Frost (Steven Dorff) shows up in L.A. with his gang of bloodsuckers and a dastardly plan to resurrect some sort of "Blood God" that will spawn an apocalypse of nosferatus around the world. Outfitted by weapons master Kris Kristofferson and aided by hematologist N'Bushe Wright, Blade takes on evil with swashbuckling swordplay and a handful of moves he must have picked up from watching a Hong Kong kung fu movie.

Director Steven Norrington and writer David Goyer (DARK CITY) have fashioned a movie that will appeal to comic-book buffs, horror fans, and anyone who has ever enjoyed a Schwarzenegger-styled action romp. Most impressively, though, BLADE actually attempts to tell a story and develop its leading characters, at least until the elaborate fight sequences take center-stage at the climax. The story is given time to unravel and the motives of Blade are logically presented, which is certainly commendable in a movie like this. While Norrington and Goyer eventually are unable to properly build up an emotional release for its protagonist or a final confrontation that truly feels apocalyptic, they still receive points for trying.

Snipes definitely looks the part of Blade, a character that found success on the comic-book shelves a few years after I stopped avidly consuming Marvel titles. Muscular and brooding, Blade is definitely one-bad-you-know-what, and Norrington photographs Snipes with the proper lighting and atmospheric touch, rarely bordering on camp and strictly along the lines of a comic-book. The film's action is wildly cinematic, much like Schwarzenegger crossed with MORTAL KOMBAT, though Norrington's visual style is more hypnotic than recent attempts at similar material (i.e. New Line's ugly SPAWN). The film runs a full two hours, but it moves briskly, enabling you to forgive its few missteps (like a gigantic, 800 lb. sloth vampire that I could have lived without seeing). In the acting department, Snipes clearly relished his big chance to play super-hero here, and his few forays into comical one-liners provoked laughter and applause from the audience I viewed the film with. Also worth noting is Steven Dorff's manic performance as Deacon Frost, who suggests what would happen if you mixed Brad Pitt's performance in INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE with Denis Leary's sarcasm. He proves a potent menace for Blade, even if his sort-of transmutation into a super-vampire at the end doesn't really makes sense.

All told, BLADE is good fun if you're into this sort of thing, and the ending sets us up for a sequel that I wouldn't mind seeing. It's not high art, it's vampire action, and pretty good stuff at that. With Snipes and Dorff creating solid adversarial sparks against each other, Stan Lee has finally seen the day when his name graces a theatrical movie that truly lives up to its Marvel Comics billing. 'Nuff said! (R, 120 mins., ** monotonous score by Mark Isham on Varese in Sept., song album currently on TVT Soundtrax. Perhaps Isham's score, mixed relatively low in the film, will fare better apart from the film, but there isn't much thematically of interest on-hand in the movie)


Video News: Composer Commentaries on DVD?!!

The new print FSM is now hitting the streets, which this month means there's a new Laserphile column with some severely dated news in there. Or, at least a couple of comments that need updating for anyone following this exciting new format.

First, DARK CITY does not contain an isolated score track. I wrote that several weeks ago here in The Aisle Seat, but my dated Laserphile column in the current FSM says otherwise. Needless to say, please disregard and don't purchase if you only want Trevor Jones's original score! Dan Goldwasser also informs me that the WAG THE DOG DVD also lacks an isolated score.

Secondly, Paramount and Fox have both officially joined the DVD club with their first batch of releases scheduled for October and November, respectively. More details can be found on the net at www.dvdresource.com, one of the better internet sites for DVD news, and we'll run down the specifics in the next Laserphile column for FSM as well.

However, the big news is that the first isolated score tracks with composer *commentaries* are headed to DVD! That's right, both Warner's CITY OF ANGELS Special Edition ($24.98, September) and MGM's TOMORROW NEVER DIES Special Edition DVD ($34.98, November) are both scheduled to contain isolated stereo score tracks with comments from Gabriel Yared and David Arnold, respectively, whenever the scores aren't being heard on-screen! Both DVDs will also feature plenty of other additional supplements to justify their price-tags, yet film-music fans ought to be excited by this new development alone. Now, let's hope these releases truly do happen, and aren't sabotaged somewhere along the line!

There have also been some developments on the VHS front, of all things. First, Patrick Serediuk wrote in concerning the new VHS Limited Edition of John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN...

Just to let you know that a 20th anniversary edition of Halloween is out on video limited to 40,000 copies all numbered (kind of like one of those limited bootlegs). It contains two cassettes. The first is the letterboxed version of the film and the second in interviews and ALL the scenes filmed for Halloween that weren't used in the film.

It's a great collectible. The movie is remastered (sound wise) so the score is bolder and scarier than ever. Now if they only release an expanded score for the film but Varese owns it and I see no chance in hell.

I've seen this floating around in stores, and if you're a collector, it sounds like this release may be well worth picking up. The movie has been remixed for true Dolby Surround, which is exclusive to this VHS edition (all prior VHS, laser and DVD mixes have been in mono), and the second cassette is reported to contain newly-filmed interviews with the filmmakers in addition to, as Patrick notes, scenes that were cut from the original (which I assume would be the scenes filmed for HALLOWEEN's network TV airings, and included in the Criterion Special Edition laserdisc). This 2-tape release retails for $39.95 in most of the retail stores I've seen it in, though perhaps you can find it lower at specialty outlets. No word on this version making the rounds on DVD, but I'd doubt it at this point (though there has been talk of Criterion reissuing their HALLOWEEN laserdisc release onto DVD).

For those die-hard fans of SUPERGIRL (and I know you're out there), Mark Leneker informs me that Anchor Bay's new VHS release of the 1984 fantasy reportedly contains the original, 124-minute European version of the film, with some 20 minutes of extra footage not seen in the U.S. and a handful of alternate/extended cues by Jerry Goldsmith to boot. This Alexander Salkind production was cut down to 104 minutes for its U.S. theatrical release, and it was that truncated domestic version that was available on video in the '80s (and has been out of print for many years). Anchor Bay's tape lists the video as running 114 minutes, but don't be fooled, this marks the first time that the European version has been officially available in the United States. Now all we need is for Anchor Bay to reissue the title on DVD in its original widescreen format, and Helen Slater fans everywhere will have nothing to complain about! (Anchor Bay told me that a DVD release isn't in the works right now, but hopefully that will change) Still, at $10 retail, this will certainly suffice for fans of the movie right now, even if it isn't letterboxed.

Also of substantial interest for cinephiles is Fox's PLANET OF THE APES THX remastered edition, which comes letterboxed for $20 on VHS. However, for just a few extra bucks you can pick up the entire PLANET OF THE APES series, all five movies in new THX transfers, in a Collector's Edition VHS boxset ($55 for the letterboxed versions, $50 for pan-and-scan) from Fox Video. There have been the usual rumblings about a possible Letterboxed Laserdisc box-set for years, but now that the movies have been remastered, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see it happen soon courtesy of Image Entertainment, provided they can keep the costs down (over $100 dollars just to see BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES may not be worth it for most people, even Apes fans). Hopefully we'll hear more about a possible laser release soon.


Aisle Seat Reader Response

From Preston Jones:

    Funny thing about that switched ending on SNAKE EYES. I haven't seen the film, so this may be way off base, but it sounds as if the discarded climax Andy describes is the ending which Siskel and Ebert reviewed on their TV show Sunday -- and if so, apparently they didn't like it any better than the studio execs...

I can't imagine that Siskel & Ebert didn't see the same version every other critic did before the film was released, since their opinions would be utterly worthless if the movie they reviewed was changed substantially before it hit theaters! However, I did see the program in question, and also read Roger Ebert's Chicago Sun-Times print review, and it seems to me that they did see the same, refilmed anti-climax that Paramount attached to the finished film.

Remember that the setting of both endings is essentially the same--a hurricane nears Atlantic City and wrecks major havoc outside the casino in which the action takes place--but the difference is that DePalma's original finale featured a great deal of special effects by ILM, including a tidal wave that, in DePalma's words, "washed all of the evil away." In the version of SNAKE EYES that was ultimately released, you can see a glimpse of the wave as a police van cruises by the outskirts of the Jersey shore, but just as the wave looks like it's about to hit, Nicolas Cage and Gary Sinise venture outside the casino (in re-shot footage) and the terrible storm turns into something akin to a drizzling rain that wouldn't hold up so much as a baseball game. That didn't make sense at all, nor did the fact that the police's role in the story isn't explained either (is there some reason why they're driving outside the casino to begin with?).

It could very well have been that DePalma's original ending didn't work dramatically, but nothing could have been more unexciting and anti-climactic than the refilmed finale that was ultimately used here. That Paramount even retained the very last sequence, with Cage and Carla Gugino acting as if they've been through some incredible, life-changing sequence of events together--referring explicitly to an ending that wasn't shown--is equally incoherent and illustrates how ill-conceived Paramount's re-editing was on this picture.

This may not have been so obvious, but DePalma also had problems with the MPAA on SNAKE EYES, since he spent a good deal of the summer on cutting the film's violence and sex quotient down to receive a PG-13 rating. The released version is the cut that DePalma and Paramount thought would earn a PG-13 certificate, yet the MPAA still gave the film a R rating, despite a lack of gratuitous violence and profanity (though to be honest, it still felt like an "R" to my eyes).

Perhaps the uncensored and uncompromised SNAKE EYES is what DePalma will release on video, if the studio lets him. I can see how DePalma had problems on MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, where he was essentially a hired hand for producer Tom Cruise and had little say on final cut, yet on SNAKE EYES, the filmmaker helped develop the story and is also one of the producers! If DePalma doesn't have much of a say on this film and its video release, then you have to wonder how much pull and power he has left in Hollywood.

NEXT TIME we'll preview the large batch of Fall releases headed to multiplexes everywhere. Thanks for making this a great summer at The Aisle Seat, and we'll see you again once the leaves ever-so-slowly start turning towards Fall. Until then, all emails can be directed to dursina@worldnet.att.net


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