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"Kissed" and a Trip Back Into "The Black Hole"

...From The Aisle Seat

By Andy Dursin

While sitting through what seemed to be an endless stream of trailers last night, it occurred to me--I've seen a handful of coming attractions for comedies within the last three months that are, positively, unconditionally, unforgettably unfunny in every conceivable regard.

Granted, it's hard enough to make a comedy that actually delivers the goods without spoiling all the best lines in the ads, but consider the following trailers if you've seen them and gauge the non-existent audience response to each: EDTV, Ron Howard's first commercial failure, had one of the most agonizing trailers I've ever seen ("look, my butt is on TV!"); the David Spade film opening on Friday also boasts an ad that is totally unfunny (and is it me or does this "comedy" look like a male remake of the Uma-Janeane Garofalo fave THE TRUTH ABOUT CATS AND DOGS?); and topping it all off, the forthcoming Dreamworks production THE LOVE LETTER features a commercial so inane that there's little chance the producers will be drawing in any prospective viewers through the trailer snippets.

Whenever a comedy can't package a 2 1/2 minute trailer together with a succession of amusing lines, one can only wonder just how painful sitting through the actual movie would be. Thanks to these trailers, I for one am not going to be finding out from any of these pictures. Bring on EPISODE I (and THE MUMMY, for that matter)!

And with that, we come to this week's reviews. A look at Anchor Bay's new DVD release of Disney's THE BLACK HOLE follows a look at the week's latest teen comedy, and next week we'll be back with a look at the DVD reissue of 1941 among other goodies.

In Theaters

NEVER BEEN KISSED (**1/2): Drew Barrymore works hard--perhaps a bit too hard--to overcome a brainless script in this pre-fab high school comedy, a painless but trite movie that closely resembles one of those old ABC "Afterschool Specials" in its most mawkish moments.

Drew, looking surprisingly plain (sans make-up) throughout most of the film, plays a gawky copy editor for the Chicago Sun-Times who is assigned to write a story by going undercover at a local high school. Naturally, this affords Drew--whose high school life was tormented by snobs worse than the ones in CAN'T BUY ME LOVE, to name just one '80s classic this film emulates at times--another chance at becoming popular and falling in love, which she naturally does with her good-looking English teacher, who only briefly mentions that she looks an entire decade older than the other students. All, however, is not rosy for this reporter, particularly when she finds out the cliques and various social groupings in this high school of the late '90s are no easier to cope with than they were (for her) the first time around.

Barrymore herself executive-produced this picture, and while her first producing foray isn't a total disaster (unlike Alicia Silverstone's godawful EXCESS BAGGAGE), I'm not sure that director Raja Gosnell (a former editor for John Hughes) did her any favors by instructing the actress on how to play scenes--there are times when Drew is so overwrought here that you're not certain if the movie is meant to be taken seriously, even though David Newman's manipulative score breaks out the strings time and time again. It's as if the filmmakers thought she could single-handedly carry the movie beyond its one-dimensional script and cardboard characters, who are all stereotyped in the traditional high school movie manner.

You have the popular, snobby kids, the idiotic jocks, and the good-hearted nerds put down by the school around them (just for once couldn't we get nerds who actually are boring, and popular kids who aren't the scourge of the Earth?). You also get long-winded speeches about being true to yourself and respecting others, a prom climax that doesn't seem real whatsoever, and a final sequence that's utterly destroyed by a phony blue-screen special effects shot. Throw in a wasted David Arquette as Barrymore's brother and you have a movie that could have gone in so many different directions that it's unfortunate the writers decided to travel the most basic path possible in getting to the obvious resolution.

NEVER BEEN KISSED feels like a movie that was assembled in the editing room (minor characters come and go, and plot developments occur much too quickly), hoping to coast along solely on Barrymore's goodwill, of which there is an abundance throughout. Despite her sometimes over-eagerness to please, she makes the film work well enough to raise a smile, although the charming romantic comedy this picture could have been is ultimately bogged down in gooey moments instead of a genuine story. (PG-13, 102 mins, ** score by Newman surely not contained on Capitol's song soundtrack)



Back in the late '70s everyone, it seemed, wanted to cash in on the success of STAR WARS--from James Bond to Paramount's big-budget STAR TREK movie, George Lucas's first foray into the galaxy far, far away established an entire sub-genre of outer space adventures that lingered well into the '80s.

Disney's answer to Lucas was their elaborate and expensive 1979 effort THE BLACK HOLE (**1/2 movie, ***1/2 presentation; Anchor Bay DVD, $24.98), which, after years of being available only in cropped and ugly looking pan-and-scan transfers, has finally arrived on DVD in a spellbinding new letterboxed edition, complete with a remastered Dolby Digital soundtrack augmenting a thunderous (and sometimes ponderous) John Barry score. The movie may not be any better than you remember it being, but at least it now looks and sounds like the "event picture" it was originally intended to be back in Christmas of '79.

I was five when THE BLACK HOLE was released, and my main recollection of seeing the film a few years later on video was, "when is this movie going to end??" Granted, Disney incorporated all the standbys of STAR WARS--cute robots, big special effects, futuristic weapons, and a few cool gadgets--but did so in such an artificial, cloying manner that even kids were turned off by THE BLACK HOLE, despite its impressively mounted production. I still have 3D Viewmasters of this movie sitting somewhere in my closet, which I remember being far more exciting to look at than actually seeing them in motion in the movie.

The plot--like an intergalactic 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA--finds madman Maximilian Schell hinged in the far reaches of space in a vessel that disappeared many years before. After being discovered by an Earth Discovery probe headed by Robert Forster, physic Yvette Mimieux, dashing young Joseph Bottoms, crusty old salt Ernest Borgnine and the quirky Anthony Perkins, Schell--who has by now turned his entire crew into a group of zombified automatons--thinks it's time to head on through the Hole and start ruling the galaxy (or what's left of it on the other side). Oh, and I did I mention the robots voiced by Roddy McDowall and Slim Pickens?

As you might have guessed, story, screenplay, direction, and acting aren't major assets in THE BLACK HOLE. The script's dialogue is as mechanical as the wooden performances (though Perkins's death sequence manages to generate an unintentional giggle), and director Gary Nelson's pacing is languid at best.

Fortunately, Disney spent so much on the effects and production design that THE BLACK HOLE does manage to hold one's interest, provided you don't have a short attention span and meet the film halfway. Shot in Technovision by Frank Phillips, THE BLACK HOLE's look is arresting and the film's effects still hold up today as some of the finest of their time. John Barry's score is based on an electronic 3/4 ostinato that is reprised at an almost obnoxious rate throughout the film, but there's still something distinctive and effective about Barry's music--it was also the first soundtrack that was digitally recorded--that makes you overlook how grating his main theme can be at times.

Without its widescreen dimensions and often lacking a stereo soundtrack, THE BLACK HOLE became even more of a misfire on TV and video than it was in theaters, where it was a critical disaster and only a modest success at the box-office. Thanks to Anchor Bay's new DVD--their first release from the Disney vaults--at least viewers who didn't see the film in theaters can now see the expense that the studio didn't spare for this production.

AB's transfer is stunning and remarkably crisp, exhibiting only some minor print wear and a few source speckles. The original Technovision frame is preserved in a clean 2.35:1 transfer, while those who crave a pan-and-scan copy will be satisfied with a new, remastered full-frame transfer that looks far superior to the prints that have been screened on Cinemax and HBO over the last few years.

The Dolby Stereo soundtrack, which seems to have been remixed from its earlier incarnations, is potent and does full justice to both the picture's sound effects editing and Barry's music; in fact, there's even an "Overture" of Barry's "Heroic March" music preceding the film in the letterboxed version. Someone on the net reported last week that there's a flaw in the Dolby Digital soundtrack, where one of the discreet audio channels is allegedly not working during the film. While apparently this glitch is not all that noticeable (several reputable online sites reviewed the disc and didn't even mention it before word got out), Anchor Bay is correcting the problem, which was the result of defective source materials provided by Disney, and will have a repressed version in stores by April 19th.

A theatrical trailer (voiced by the fellow who did all of Universal's trailers for years) is included along with a "slide show" presentation of about 30 still-frames, including a shot of the LP jacket. Anchor Bay has also released a more expensive VHS "Collector's Edition," which has some behind-the-scenes info detailing a planned alternate ending reshoot (the jumbled, filmed finale is something like the end of 2001 crossed with FANTASIA) among other extras. While this has lead a few folks to carp about the lack of supplements on the DVD, I say this package more than delivers the goods given the list price ($24.98, less from many online venues).

Anchor Bay will follow with premiere widescreen DVDs of CONDORMAN (music by Henry Mancini) and MY SCIENCE PROJECT in May, with the prospects of a widescreen RETURN TO OZ hopefully looming on the horizon for later this year. We'll keep you updated!

On laserdisc, Image has released Disney's entertaining remake of MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (***) from last Christmas.

Bill Paxton and the extremely attractive Charlize Theron star in this updating of the original RKO fantasy, which here substitutes a few pedestrian plot twists in favor of the original script's scenario, which aped KING KONG and even co-starred Robert Armstrong himself. The big draw to this redo is Rick Baker's excellent special effects and make-up design for the big but lovable gorilla, who comes to the States after being captured by poachers and exploited. The bad guys are more cardboard and the sentimental elements of the picture less colorful than they were in the original--who will ever forget Joe saving the orphanage and the use of the classic "Beautiful Dreamer"--but on its own terms, the film works despite the shortcomings and the lead performances are sufficiently engaging.

Ron Underwood (TREMORS) handled the directorial chores, Don Peterman and Oliver Wood contributed to the cinematography, and James Horner wrote a poignant and effective orchestral score containing African choral passages akin to CONGO and THE LION KING. All of it makes for fine family entertainment, and Theron is easy enough on most adults' eyes to maintain one's interest.

Image's laserdisc looks fine and contains a Dolby Digital soundtrack; the title is also available on DVD.

Andy's Forgotten Film of the Week

You may believe that George Pal's best work was confined mainly to the '50s (WAR OF THE WORLDS) and '60s (WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM), but for me, his final movie--the campy 1975 adventure DOC SAVAGE: MAN OF BRONZE (***)--will remain a personal favorite. Starring former TV "Tarzan" Ron Ely, DOC SAVAGE is based on Kenneth Robeson's popular pulp novels and is an interesting precursor to the Indiana Jones heroics that would hit screens just a few years later. While Spielberg and Lucas eschewed camp for a more noble approach, Pal's film (directed by Michael Anderson) is pretty much a product of the Adam West "Batman" school of superhero adaptation-as in, it's strictly, broadly comic.

That doesn't mean the movie isn't any fun, however. Frank DeVol and Don Black's terrific adaptation of John Philip Sousa marches is wonderfully effective, and the movie's innocent, playful tone makes for great entertainment for kids and buffs alike. Available from Image as a widescreen laserdisc ($34.98) and on tape from Warner Home Video, DOC SAVAGE is infectious and silly, alright, but superior to most of today's comic-book heroics nevertheless. Worth a view just for the soundtrack alone.

And don't send all comments to Back next time with more reviews n'comments and until then, 'Nuff Said!

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