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Alien on DVD, Suburban Aliens on Laserdisc

...and Assorted Reader Ramblings

An Aisle Seat Entry

By Andy Dursin

A scheduling snafu nixed my hopes of catching TARZAN this weekend--after the movie's excellent reviews (and being a fan of the Lord of the Jungle, of course), I'll be sure to take in a viewing of Disney's latest next week.

In the meantime, we get Adam Sandler's latest excursion, BIG DADDY, which appears to be his LIAR, LIAR (aka a manic comedy with gobs of saccharine 'emotional' moments), on Friday. Beyond this sure-to-be-big-money hit, I'm still looking forward to THE WILD WILD WEST--reshoots and all--on June 30th, the same day that the SOUTH PARK movie opens nationwide. (Is it me or isn't it true that most flash-in-the-pan cult TV phenomenon end up running their course by the time their movie versions hit theaters?) AMERICAN PIE and ARLINGTON ROAD appear to be promising (both open July 7th), and even though Jeff Bond informed me that it's less than good, LAKE PLACID looks like it'll be amusing before we get a couple of nifty looking thrillers:--THE HAUNTING remake and the shark thriller THE DEEP BLUE SEA (Renny Harlin's comeback film)--in late July. By August we'll be into also-rans like THE 13TH WARRIOR and THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR (two John McTiernan films opening within two days of each other!), but you never know, a gem could lurk somewhere around the horizon--as could a typical August slate of bombs like we've seen in the last few years (i.e. EVENT HORIZON, KULL THE CONQUEROR, SNAKE EYES and THE AVENGERS).

As usual, pass along your comments to dursina@att.net and we'll spend this first week of summer delving into recent video releases and reader comments for your seasonal reading pleasure.


New On Video

THE FACULTY (**1/2, 1998, 104 mins., R; On laserdisc from Image, $34.98, also on DVD and VHS): Robert Rodriguez and Kevin Williamson's much-awaited collaboration from last year is a hodgepodge of sci-fi/horror cliches from some of the last half-century's most celebrated genre films: INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, John Carpenter's THE THING, etc., all mixed with the teen angst drama of John Hughes's THE BREAKFAST CLUB. Yet, as an individual piece, THE FACULTY feels a bit shallow, more than it ought to be, in its depiction of an alien plague that possesses the teachers of a small-town high school (shades of INVADERS FROM MARS and THE PUPPET MASTERS) and the group of kids from various cliques (Hughes territory) who join together to stop the evil foe.

Despite the movie's sometimes uneven pacing and tendency to gravitate towards juvenile humor (frequently drug-oriented), there's still a lot to like in the movie--Rodriguez's derivative but effective climax for one, and a frequently on-target sense of humor for another. The relationship between some of the kids could have been further elaborated upon, but at least THE FACULTY scores a few points for actually trying to develop its protagonists, and the casting of the teachers (even if they're under-utilized) is excellent--Jon Stewart, Bebe Neuwirth, Famke Jenssen, Piper Laurie and Robert Patrick among them. If the movie feels overly predictable, that's because it is, and while Williamson's script (reportedly more the product of co-authors Bruce Kimmel and David Wechter, who receive a 'Story' credit, than Williamson himself) lacks the satirical or insightful perpsective he brought to the SCREAM films, THE FACULTY makes for ideal summer-time video entertainment, where its flaws will be less of a distraction and the movie can work on its own terms. In fact, I enjoyed the movie more at home the second time around than I did when I paid $7.75 to see it in theaters last Christmas.

Image has released a good-looking laserdisc of the film with a matted, non-anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer and a potent Dolby Digital soundtrack, complete with blaring rock songs and a generic Marco Beltrami score. If you're up for creature-feature frights with a mildly better-than-average script, THE FACULTY gets a passing grade.


ALIEN LEGACY Box-Set (**** for ALIEN and ALIENS, ** for ALIEN 3, *1/2 for ALIEN RESURRECTION; Fox Home Entertainment; $110 retail on DVD, lower at various online and retail venues, or $29.95 individually; also on VHS): Fox Video's long-awaited, THX remastered editions of the ALIEN series have premiered on DVD with more pros than cons. The good news? The individual transfers mark the best that all four films have ever looked on home video. The bad news: The sound is fine but not a great improvement on what has come before, the supplemental sections are interesting but lack the detailed information found in their laserdisc counterparts, and in order to get the 5th DVD--a 'Making Of Alien' documentary--you have to splurge for the 4-DVD box-set (it comes packaged with the VHS release). That's not, however, to say that this box-set isn't worth picking up--on the contrary, the ALIEN DVD by itself is worth every penny. First for the best news--the new THX transfers really do make a great deal of difference. ALIEN's transfer had to have been culled from one of the darker-tinged 70mm prints of the film (the CAV laserdisc release originated from a much brighter looking 35mm print), and it looks more properly balanced in its 2.35 aspect ratio than any other letterboxed disc or tape. ALIENS, meanwhile, gets a new 'high definition digital transfer' that blows away the old CAV laserdisc release, which was hurt by a persistent grain in the image. ALIEN 3 also gets a much-needed, cleaned up transfer (you can read the opening obituaries now without the lettering wandering off the side of the frame), and curiously enough, ALIEN RESURRECTION also gets a new transfer. The letterboxed laserdisc of this Super 35 (non-anamorphic movie) framed the action at 1.85, while the DVD goes to the full widescreen ratio and presents the 2.35 version as screened in theaters (trimming off action on the top and bottom of the frame in the process).

The most lavishly designed and atmospheric of all the films in the series (which compensates for a plot framework no different than many '50s B-movies like IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE), ALIEN still holds up in every aspect of its production. Ridley Scott's commentary track, along with the isolated original Goldsmith score track (and alternate 'music and effects' audio), will be of interest to fans and music aficionados everywhere on the '20th Anniversary' ALIEN DVD. In addition, a handful of trailers (one with extremely muffled sound) and carry-over supplements from Fox's 1992 CAV laserdisc box-set have also been included. As I have written before, the one downside to DVD is that still-frame text supplements do not translate all that well in this new medium--typically, there's no logical progression, or at least a sense of a linear presentation, through the supplementary material. The CAV laserdisc box-set guides you through the material from one step of the film's production to the next, and also contains a wealth of additional behind-the-scenes info (from treatments to script excerpts) that aren't present on the DVD. (In other words, the DVD makes for a better-looking companion piece to the original laserdisc set.) This is also true of the supplements on James Cameron's ALIENS (which primarily rehash the laser extras without the depth of information), though the picture is so superior to the transfer on the old laser box set that there are times when you think you're watching a different movie. Fox has used the 'Director's Cut' of Cameron's dynamite action-horror epic, which restores many sequences that embellish and improve the original version with one notable exception. That caveat is the superflous sequence in which Newt and her family uncover the alien ship, a set-piece outside of Ripley's point-of-view that not only tends to throw off the pacing of Cameron's film, but also ruins the mystery inherent in Ripley and the Marines' first landing on the planet later in the movie. In the original version, their first steps on the planet are the first we've seen of the colony, and the restoration of the Newt sequence into the fabric of the film robs the picture of the suspense that it originally contained. ALIEN 3 and ALIEN RESURRECTION are the black sheep of the series, two movies that were greeted with indifferent critical and box-office reception. It's a shame, when you consider how good ALIEN and ALIENS are, just how poor these follow-ups were, although given the formulaic aspect of the series itself (they're really just variations on monster movies with people running around in the dark), maybe we shouldn't have been surprised. Removed of all of its bad press, ALIEN 3 still plays like a disappointment--the movie's turbulent production resulted in countless writers, premises, and scripts being discarded (with disparate ideas retained), and a stormy shoot marked by troubles between the studio, producers, and filmmakers. All you need to do is check out ALIEN 3's original theatrical trailer, in which it's implied that the Aliens are coming to Earth, to know the extent of the mess Fox found themselves in with ALIEN 3 (the studio was going to splurge for extensive reshooting intended to change the movie's setting to Earth, an idea shot down by Sigourney Weaver after she refused to shave her head again. Thus, the movie ultimately was released 'as is,' with only a bit of special effects work re-filmed).

Still, David Fincher's movie is enough of an interesting failure to remain watchable (and the new transfer goes a long way to reaffirm that statement), which is more than you can say for ALIEN RESURRECTION, a total misfire that plays like leftovers from Jean-Pierre Jeunet's CITY OF LOST CHILDREN, here with mutant Aliens and a vamping Sigourney. It seemed impossible that someone like the prolific Joss Whedon (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER) would have been involved with a turkey like this, and indeed Whedon himself came out and denounced the movie a year ago, saying his original ideas were jumbled by Jeunet during production. In terms of DVD extras, ALIEN 3 and ALIEN RESURRECTION only contain promotional featurettes and trailers, though both transfers are exceptional. The sound on both films are also superior to ALIEN and ALIENS which, despite containing new Dolby Digital soundtracks, lack the all-encompassing power of their laserdisc counterparts and are recorded much too low to be supremely effective. Still, Fox has done a good job overall with these discs, and the visual enhancements given to both of the original movies--the true classics in the series--will make at least ALIEN and ALIENS essential purchases for fans. We'll have a look at the isolated ALIEN score track in the next LASERPHILE column in FSM (and if I don't do it, surely someone else will), and hopefully a peek at the 'Alien Legacy' documentary by then as well.


Andy's Archive: A Must-See Comedy (for all the wrong reasons)

After his comeback with last fall's RONIN, TCM has been screening a number of John Frankenheimer pictures this month, and last Friday morning they truly opened up the vaults by dusting off his rarely-seen 1969 flop THE EXTRAORDINARY SEAMAN (*), a wacky WWII comedy so inept that you wonder how it ever was released.

David Niven stars as a ghostly WWI captain of a floating wreck that's uncovered by a group of American servicemen lost in the fog. Alan Alda, Mickey Rooney, and Jack Carter play the confused Yanks; Faye Dunaway (!) later shows up in this incomprehensible bomb, which was cut down to 80 minutes (I would assume by someone who had nothing to do with the filming of the movie) and, subsequently, offers no semblance of a logical, coherent plot.

Frankenheimer, coming off a string of successful films that decade including THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, SEVEN DAYS IN MAY, GRAND PRIX, and SECONDS, must have had a good deal of leverage with a studio by the time he made this fiasco--Maurice Jarre supplied the goofy score (sprinkled with marches and period tunes, although not all of it sounds like Jarre) and the picture looks certainly appears as if it's a polished studio production, being shot in Panavision and starring a terrific cast at that.

Alas, something clearly went wrong with the movie--at its current state, it's impossible to see what ever possessed someone to be involved in its production. Frankenheimer intercuts faux-WWII newsreel footage with the story to generate intended laughs, but the end result is like the worst Bob Hope comedy of the period--painfully unfunny and annoying to boot. The movie's editing makes no sense, and it's a shame that, in this era of restoration and preservation, someone didn't allow Frankenheimer to go back and at least restore enough footage so that his movie is presentable to the public (which I have to believe that, at one point, it actually was).

Still, with that cast and director, THE EXTRAORDINARY SEAMAN is worth a look for those who think major-studio bombs with big stars are only a product of current movie-making. If you missed its showing last week, fear not and mark your calendars'TCM will run the movie once again on August 22nd at 3:30am EST, presumably so few people can continue to claim that they've actually seen it. It's the three B's--Bad Beyond Belief--and not to be missed.


Aisle Seat Mail Bag: Revenge of the Austin Powers fans

My review of AUSTIN POWERS last week provoked some extreme reaction from readers. Granted, only a pair of contrasting views, but still (we're trying to play up the controversy here), differing reviews nevertheless!

From JSchuer416@aol.com:

    Incredible! I usually agree with you, Andy, but this one just defies belief. Are you really serious with your AUSTIN POWERS review? I know I am belaboring the point, but I just can't believe it. I sat in a sold out theater with 100s of laughing patrons and thoroughly enjoyed AUSTIN POWERS: THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME. So did everyone around me. Sure, there were some jokes that just plain failed, but the laughs FAR outweighed the groans. I don't know if I've ever read a review so thoroughly off the mark. Sorry Andy.

From KBGman@aol.com

    Gee, I wonder what movie you saw here. Was it the one where Mike Myers plays Austin Powers again and goes back to the 60s and fights Dr. Evil and his midget clone? That was a very funny movie, and all the people in the audience I saw it with laughed a lot.

    Sorry you seem to have wandered into a bizarro-world theater where comedy is perceived as depressing. I really liked the Austin Powers movie I saw, and I am well over 40 years old.

From Andrew Doughty (ADoughty1@aol.com):

    Have you heard of any plans on the part of Columbia to capitalize on Natalie Portman's new "Da Bomb" status by making the longer director's cut of Luc Besson's The Professional available in the US? There's been a version floating around on a foreign region DVD--unplayable on US units--"Leon: Version Integrale," which runs a full twenty minutes longer than the existing US edition. I'm not sure if "Version Integrale" was the original European cut, or whether Besson went back and expanded the film after its original release overseas. At any rate, I'd think the studio would want to capitalize on Portman's new star power by repackaging this cult-hit. On the other hand, the studio--and some audience members--were made squeamish by the existing version, and "Post-Columbine", what with the currently very touchy subject of youths and guns getting plenty of airplay in Version Integrale along with some purported additional suggestiveness... a new video release may be the last thing on Columbia's mind. Hell, they may be burying all their remaining copies of the US version as I write this! Heard anything?

    For the record, I thought The Professional was electrifying cinema: bleak, yet sentimental, a dark, new-age fairy tale; terrific filmmaking for the end of the millennium. Besson was working in provocateur mode, so the film isn't to everyone's taste, but it's actually one of my favorite films of the nineties and I'd love to get my hands on the longer cut. I'll keep my fingers crossed. Man, I can't believe how bad the Littleton tragedy has been for art (note the recent--and possibly future--abuse of Buffy the Vampire Slayer...among other things)! Do you suppose Paul Verhoeven will ever get to make another film his way? I guess we can at least be thankful Starship Troopers was out of the gate before all hell broke loose!

Hi Andrew! I believe Besson re-edited LEON (THE PROFESSIONAL) specifically FOR a theatrical (and video) re-release overseas, adding the 26 minutes or so of bonus footage. Certainly you're right about Portman and her new status, and also about THE PROFESSIONAL's cult following--Columbia would be smart to capitalize on both and release the 'Integral' version. Perhaps in a while, after the furor over Littleton has totally died down, we'll see a DVD re-issue of the movie, particularly now that Columbia seems to be finally getting into DVD 'Collector's Editions' (with this week's GHOSTBUSTERS and the recently announced Deluxe editions of GO and CRUEL INTENTIONS). The movie is not a favorite of mine but certainly has its moments of power, and I think a good many people ever been would be interested in a restored DVD release. We'll keep you updated!

NEXT WEEK: TARZAN swings, GHOSTBUSTERS comes to DVD, and your comments! See ya then, fellow fearless readers! (And all comments can be addressed here at dursina@att.net)


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