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Lata Gator (err, Croc)

Plus "V" and "V: THE FINAL BATTLE" on Laserdisc

An Aisle Seat Entry

By Andy Dursin

We may be on vacation but that hasn't stopped us from providing you with all-new material this week, so following a review of LAKE PLACID you'll find a look at Image's V laserdiscs and Silva Screen's new re- recording compilations. Then, to top it off, a brief Mail Bag for one and all to enjoy.

So, without further delay, here's this week's new Aisle Seat--even if we're all on the beach as you read this!

In Theaters

LAKE PLACID (**1/2): The word spoof doesn't tend to mean anything these days, since most critics who see a monster movie couldn't care one way or the other if the movie is being serious or not. Case in point is this goofy David E.Kelley written and produced comic-thriller, which attempts to do for crocodiles what JAWS did for sharks and ALLIGATOR did for...well, you know.

Not that LAKE PLACID is a great movie by any stretch, but taken on its own terms as a joke (most likely an excuse for Kelley and the cast to take a vacation on scenic lake vistas), and the film comes off as a pleasing summer diversion.

Bill Pullman, wasted for the most part, plays the Maine wildlife expert called to the scene of a boating accident when small-town sherriff Brendon Gleeson witnesses an environmentalist's death while diving in the lake -- the kind of demise that Michael Ironside suffered in STARSHIP TROOPERS, to be more specific. Along with Pullman comes Bridget Fonda, a museum aide sent packing by ex-lover Adam Arkin to take a glimpse at the mysterious goings-on. Once Croc expert Oliver Pratt decides that this the work of no dinosaur, but rather a 30-foot crocodile, the group sets out to trap the Croc before...well, since nobody else lives on the lake except batty o'l Betty White, there's no big pressing need to dispose of the creature except that the movie ends at the 90 minute mark.

Directed efficiently by Steve Miner and with some competent digital effects work turned in by Stan Winston's group, LAKE PLACID is pretty much of a throaway joke: the dialogue is often amusing, as is the interplay between the various characters. Gleeson tends to get most of the good lines, but even Pratt's whiny spoiled brat--the sort of character Kelley writes week after week on ALLY McBEAL--has his moments. None of it, though, is quite as funny as it sometimes thinks it's being, and there's little suspense in the picture as much of it takes its derivative set-pieces straight from JAWS and JAWS 2. (And could it have killed the filmmakers to throw in a climactic kiss between the two leads? I know I may be a romantic, but gee whiz, don't tease us with it and then don't do it!).

John Ottman's score is usually sufficient, particularly in its establishing opening themes, but each time the movie stops to establish a relationship between Fonda and Pullman, it becomes clear that the composer's forte is NOT underscoring romantic sequences (any warmth supposed to be generated by the two leads is squashed by the fact that Ottman's music just isn't lyrical or melodic enough to work with). The cinematography by Daryn Okada, though, is excellent and on a wide theater screen LAKE PLACID is like taking a fun trip up to the take for the weekend--with the added excitement of seeing a crocodile swimming around looking for tasty tidbits on the side.

If you saw the trailers for this movie and have felt compelled to see it, LAKE PLACID won't disappoint. If, on the other hand, you weren't that juiced by the movie in the first place, chances are that you can wait for video on this one. That's the kind of movie LAKE PLACID is--no substance or great style, just the kind of movie you sit back with some popcorn and a pop and enjoy. (R, 90 mins)


Laserdisc: "V," Straight from the Fifth Column Critic

V (1983, Image Entertainment/Warner laserdisc, $49.98) and V: THE FINAL BATTLE (1984, Image/Warner laserdisc, $79.98): A lot of us growing up in the early '80s found the ideal outlet for our earlier STAR WARS fixation by gravitating towards the "V" franchise--a tale of an extraterrestrial race that lands on Earth pretending to be friendly, but really is out to steal our water for their barren planet and bring all of us back to their home as food! Implementing a fascist rule over Earth, the Visitors conspire to cover up their deadly deeds through the manipulation of media and propaganda, creating some none-too- subtle comparisons to Nazisms in the process. Fortunately enough for us, a growing resistance movement offers some hope for humanity, even if it's in the form of a TV camerman (BEASTMASTER's Marc Singer), a med student (Faye Grant, then hot from THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO), and a collection of folks from all walks of life, not to mention a sympathist alien played by Robert "pre-Freddy Kruger" Englund. Together, the resistance takes on the conniving, rodent-consuming lizards, led by the seductive Diana (Jane Badler), a sexy, slinky villainess who wolfs down a full-sized gerbil in one of the program's most memorable moments.

The original V was one of the top-rated mini-series of its day when it aired in the Spring of 1983. INCREDIBLE HULK series creator Kenneth Johnson wrote and directed the two-part, 205 minute telefilm, which moves at a breakneck pace and features an abundance of then-excellent special effects work. It's clear from watching Johnson's effort--which does an outstanding job setting up the various characters and then, as the first part progresses, shows us how clearly their lives are intertwined--that a great deal of time and effort was taken to establish the scenario as a horrifying parallel to all forms of fascism, though some heavy-handed moments do ensue at various points. Joe Harnell's orchestral score is more than a little reminiscent of NORTH BY NORTHWEST but it works, as do the engaging performances. One thing I did notice after watching V again on laser (my first viewing since watching it on the tube back when I was eight years old) is that Singer's posturing is a bit much (you can feel him "acting!" throughout), but as both a sci-fi thriller with generous doses of action, as well as a soap opera (with its juvenile love story between human teen Blair Tefkin, a Visitor played by Peter Nelson, and the grandson of a Holocaust survivor who becomes obsessed with the Visitors), V still proves to be fully satisfying and great fun.

The time and effort that went into V did not go into the following season's six-hour follow-up, V: THE FINAL BATTLE, which shows every sign of having been rushed into and out of production. Johnson was replaced by director Richard T.Heffron and producers Daniel Blatt and Robert Singer, and a collection of nameless screenwriters (try seven of them!) to continue the story. While most of the cast returns, some of the minor supporting players have been re-cast and there are several scenes--particularly in the first part--that contain plenty of unintended laughs, looped dialogue, and signs that money was low and time was short during production. Despite this, somehow or other this 268-minute follow-up remains strangely compelling. The various character subplots are respectably carried forth, the relationship between Grant and Singer is further developed, and the show gives you more vamping by Jane Badler's evil Diana and a howler of a cliffhanger at the end of Part 2 (which scared the hell out of me when I was a kid and made me giggle this time) involving the birth of Blair Tefkin's....well, offspring. It doesn't have the subtext of Johnson's original, and is more of an explicit, TV-like "event," with its cliffhangers and over-the-top dramatics, but it's no less enjoyable because of that.

As far as the music goes, it too was tarnished by the behind-the-scenes troubles. Barry DeVorzon and Joseph Conlan originally scored the entire production with an unappealing, Brad Fiedel-ish TERMINATOR synth sound (the main theme is either a blatant rip-off of Fiedel or a very curious predecessor to it), so the producers wisely decided to have as much of the show re-scored as they could before it was aired. Dennis McCarthy was given a scant couple of weeks to re-score half of V: THE FINAL BATTLE, his music primarily appearing in the climactic Part 3 (where the show needed it most) and most of Part 2 (I can't tell if it's his music or not, but there are also one or two spots in the first entry where McCarthy's talents were apparently utilized). McCarthy deserves kudos for his work, however, since it really helps to smooth over some of the script's holes far better than the dreary electronic music from Part One does.

Image has released both V and V: THE FINAL BATTLE exclusively on laser in sterling new transfers. There are a few splices in the film during the first V, but the print looks bright and as good as it did (if not better) than its original airing on NBC. The same applies to V: THE FINAL BATTLE, with only the stock footage shots (including miniature FX taken from SUPERMAN!) exhibiting a loss of detail in the picture. The punchy monophonic sound is more than adequate on both productions. V: THE FINAL BATTLE is contained on three discs in a bound-box package, and includes NBC's original teasers for the separate parts in the series (featuring that guy who was the voice of NBC during the '80s. Remember him? The guy who used to say, "An All-New A-TEAM tonight at 8. Be there!"); V is found on two discs in a traditional laserdisc sleeve.

For those of us who grew up on these shows, as well as the somewhat disappointing subsequent weekly series (which was actually released on laser as "V2," a Japanese import box set years ago), these laserdiscs reveal that the programs have held up as well as to be expected, and make revisiting V an enjoyable and welcome trip.


Soundtrack Corner: New Silva Screen Recordings

Silva America continues its run of re-recording classic film scores and releasing them as compilations with a pair of new releases -- CLOSE ENCOUNTERS: THE ESSENTIAL JOHN WILLIAMS FILM MUSIC COLLECTION (2-CD set, SSD 1098) and DR. STRANGELOVE: MUSIC FROM THE FILMS OF STANLEY KUBRICK (SSD-1097). Now, before you run and hide from the billing of the City of Prague Philharmonic on the cover, the Williams CD does have a few rarities on it and a generally improved performance by the orchestra under the baton of either Paul Bateman or Nic Raine. Yes, the electronics on CLOSE ENCOUNTERS fail to do justice to the original, while the tempos on SUPERMAN and STAR WARS are slowed down, and the synths added to AMISTAD obscure some of the more ragged performance by the orchestra--but the Crouch End Festival Chorus (recorded in England) sounds fine on EMPIRE OF THE SUN and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, and the entire performance in general is more polished than some of the earlier, and inferior, Silva Screen recordings one recalls. On the whole I'd still say they're a notch below the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, utilized in Varese recordings, but the gap between the two is nowhere near as wide as it once was.

The rare material here consists of a generous, 18-minute suite from one of Williams's earliest scores, THE RARE BREED--it's a western score that evokes brief comparisons with THE COWBOYS but, on the whole, feels more influenced by the work of Dimitri Tiomkin (HIGH NOON), in its idiom and movement.

This suite marks the world premiere recording of the score, and additional nuggets of interest are provided by the "End Titles" from FAMILY PLOT and a 10-minute suite from BLACK SUNDAY, in the same performance by William Motzig from the Edel "Best of Adventure" compilation. If you never picked up that recording, the inclusion of the suite here may make this 2-CD set more appetizing for casual listeners. In all, it's a good package with some points of interest.

The Kubrick release, a single CD, is basically of lesser interest: the electronic recreations of synth music from A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, FULL METAL JACKET, and THE SHINING aren't half bad, but if you have the originals there's little need to obtain this. Among the requisite tracks from 2001, SPARTACUS, BARRY LYNDON and LOLITA, the major track of interest here is a suite from "The Early Films of Stanley Kubrick," which is comprised of Gerald Fried's music from THE KILLING, KILLER'S KISS, FEAR AND DESIRE, PATHS OF GLORY, and DAY OF THE FIGHT. Arranged by Fried, who seems to have had an active interest in this project, it's the real intriguing element on an album again recorded by the City of Prague Philharmonic under Bateman and Raine's direction. Some vocal pieces, including Vera Lynn's performance of "We'll Meet Again" (from DR. STRANGELOVE), have also been sub-licensed and included on the album.

Both CDs feature Dolby Surround recordings, and when played back through your Pro-Logic or Digital receiver, do sound a bit more three-dimensional than your typical stereo recording. David Wishart provides liner notes in both instances, packaged in see-through cases with rather generic artwork.

On the whole, these releases prove to be a step-up for Silva Screen in their re-recording efforts-- let's hope their eagerly awaited re-recording of RAISE THE TITANIC lives up to expectations later this year.


Mail Bag: ALIENS Reactions

We had a few responses to my review of the ALIEN LEGACY DVD box set from a few weeks back, so without further adue, here are a few reactions to ALIENS-Director's Cut, plus ALIEN 3 and ALIEN RESURRECTION as well.

From: Bob Rgutowski <Rgutowski@nycds.org>

    Andy, I like those added scenes in ALIENS, but I remember reading that Newt should be a lot older than she is by the time the task force reaches the deserted community (don't they go into hypersleep to get there?). Comments?

Bob, you're dead on about this. I dislike the whole planet sequence with Newt and her family uncovering the derelict ship since it robs us of the mystery inherent in seeing LV-426 for the first time when Ripley and the Marines land there later in the film; Bob, on other other hand, has actually raised a believable scientific objection to the sequence, which if I'm not correct was one of the reasons Cameron had cut the sequence originally (in addition to pacing, etc.)

From Eric Wemmer (miawemfam@worldnet.att.net):

    About Alien 3 and 4; yes, as you know, I think they are the nadir of suckdom and let down. The only logical (and worthy) follow up to Aliens would have been to have it on Earth. And yes, those early trailers sure had me thinking that....

    They need to go ahead and make an awesome Aliens vs. Predator. They already planted the seed at the end of Predator 2 when, during the end sequence, an Alien's skeleton is clearly and easily recognizable amongst the Predator ship's collection.

    Aint it cool news recently dropped a quick rumor about a possible Alien 5. Now, I ask you, what in hell could that possibly be about, after the way they screwed things up? There is only one solution: Get James Cameron or even Ridley Scott (or some other big timer) to come back, and officially denounce Alien 3 and 4 as non-canonical, and start over again with events after Aliens. That is the only solution I can see. I guess I can keep on dreaming, but wouldn't it be nice...

It would be nice, Eric, but not everyone feels the same way as we do!....

>From Roman Deppe (roman.deppe@metronet.de):

    I just wondered why you dislike ALIEN 3 and 4 so much. It's interesting that these two parts didn't do well in the States, but were huge hits over here in Germany (and Europe in general). I agree, that ALIEN 3 has a lot of problems, which are probably the fault of the producers and the chaos during production. Also I know that they left out a big part of the story (which I hoped they would include on the DVD, but obviously didn't). If you watch some of the trailers (but I don't know whether that specific one is on the Disc), you can see, that Ripley and Co. do manage to entrap the Alien (although it chases a lot of the guys through the exploding tunnels and kills them). The guy, named after a LORD OF THE RING-character, who went crazy after his encounter with the creature (who thinks it is a dragon) sets it free later again and gets, of course, killed. He is the one they find the last after the explosions (you can see him lying on the ground in front of a big, destroyed (?) door in the final cut of the movie). I think it is just a major action scene and had some scary moments, especially with the poor guy who gets entraped with the Alien together. With it or not, I still think it has a bad pacing and various problems, but Fincher's movie is nevertheless a little piece of art. ALIEN RESURRECTION was great again, back to ALIENS.

    I and most of the German movie audience can't wait for Part 5. I just really don't understand why the movies in some countries don't do and in others do. Do you?

Roman, it's a phenomenon I have never really been able to understand, but hey--if you like 'em, by all means you are welcome to them!


NEXT WEEK...THE HAUNTING and a plunge in the DEEP BLUE SEA when we return from vacation. All comments (negative and positive) can be sent here at dursina@att.net, and until then I'll see you on Narragansett town beach (the north pavilion, of course!).


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