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"Tarzan" Swings, Readers Respond

A Fourth of July Aisle Seat Edition

By Andy Dursin

To start things off this week, I'd like to wish everyone out there the most celebratory of all Fourth of July weekends. Here in the east, some firework displays may be negated by a decided lack of rain, but otherwise, I'm betting it's going to be a cool one all the way. I hope to say the same for THE WILD WILD WEST (what a segue, huh?), which opens on Wednesday to mixed word-of-mouth, but what kind of holiday would it be without a big blockbuster to talk about?

When I went through a listing of possibly interesting July films last week, I neglected to mention a couple of intriguing pictures: EYES WIDE SHUT (July 16), which will be fascinating no matter if it's a masterpiece or a misfire, and DROP DEAD GORGEOUS (July 23), the beauty pageant spoof which has been receiving all kinds of positive notices.

I also find it interesting that director Jan DeBont and company were downplaying the amount of special effects in their eagerly anticipated remake of THE HAUNTING (July 23rd), since all signs point to an effects-filled haunted house movie--if not, then why did the movie cost $90 million, and why did DeBont, known for helming tech-heavy pictures like SPEED and TWISTER, get the directing gig? Such suspicions were easily confirmed when I caught a TV trailer during a baseball game last week, which was overflowing with special effects. I'm not saying that it's anything to worry about (the trailer looked great), since DeBont certainly has the cast (Liam Neeson, Michael Douglas's new squeeze Catherine Zeta Jones, and the underrated Lili Taylor) and composer (Jerry Goldsmith) aboard to make it interesting. But "psychological"? Sure, and so was POLTERGEIST. Still, looks like it'll be worth a look.

In Theaters

TARZAN (***1/2): Leave it to the Lord of the Jungle to put Disney's animation unit really back on track.

After turning out a pair of modestly entertaining features that were far from classics (HERCULES, MULAN), Disney here has crafted a marvelously drawn, often thrilling animated adaptation of Edgar Rice Borroughs' famed hero, sticking fairly close to its literary (and past cinematic) origins while adding just a bit of traditional juvenile humor along the way.

Set to Phil Collins's surprisingly energetic songs, TARZAN opens with an amusing though derivative first half-hour that feels a bit too much like THE LION KING for comfort. After a shipwreck strands his family (subsequently killed off-screen by a jungle predator), the infant Tarzan is raised by his adopted family--a band of gorillas--and learns the ways of the natural world through trial and error. The beginning feels familiar, in part because we have seen the story told so often, though the trappings themselves feature obvious standbys of its backing studio: there are domineering father figures (voiced by Lance Henriksen), sympathetic mothers (Glenn Close), and wacky sidekicks (including Rosie O'Donnell), and while all of this is fine for kids, too much of it feels like cutesy kidstuff, drawing off formulas and Disney cliches.

Thankfully, things pick up once Tarzan grows into a Wisemuller-esque young man swinging from vine to vine, clad in his loin cloth and ready to protect a British expedition searching for the gorillas of Africa. Once he realizes that the foreigners resemble him, and not his gorilla clan, Tarzan experiences an identity crisis--and also a romantic one when he meets Jane (voiced by Minnie Driver), the charming young lass who somehow connects with the jungle man despite his decided lack of experience in communicating with humans. It may not be Wisemuller and Maureen O'Sullivan, but hey, it's close.

The second half of the movie is so good, in fact, that TARZAN quickly goes from being an entertaining exercise in late '90s Disney animation to one of the best efforts the studio has easily turned out in the wake of BEAUTY & THE BEAST. There's plenty of action, a great fight onboard a steamship (which looks so close to live-action that you think, at times, that it IS real), gorgeous character design, and a succession of classy montages that propel the story forward thanks to Collins's story-intensive songs. (It's a shame, however, that Disney's meager soundtrack album is lacking so much of Mark Mancina's original score, and also several Collins songs that are actually extended in the film.)

With the relationship between Tarzan and Jane unexpectedly poignant and charming, TARZAN should even fit the bill as a pleasing date movie for anyone who already had to suffer through NOTTING HILL. TARZAN really does have something for everyone, and after a slow start, it's yet another triumph for its studio'intelligently thought out and magnificently drawn, and obviously highly recommended. (G, 95 mins)


Video: CADDYSHACK Anniversary Edition and New Release News

CADDYSHACK (***, Image/Warner Special Edition laserdisc, $29.98): The slobs take on the snobs in director Harold Ramis's 1980 comedic classic, a movie that features some of Rodney Dangerfield's best shtick, one of Chevy Chase's more enjoyable performances, and a few of Bill Murray's best lines. If THE BLUES BROTHERS was too excessive and ANIMAL HOUSE just mildly amusing as opposed to raucously funny (the movie still peters out for me once John Belushi isn't onscreen), CADDYSHACK remains blissfully stupid in its depiction of morons ruining the posh country club lifestyle, and Ramis's direction enables all three stars--plus Ted Knight--to take the spotlight and generate a large quotient of bellylaughs. It's rarely mean spirited despite being tasteless in parts, but it's right in line with the kinds of films John Landis was turning out around this time on a regular basis.

Image has released a laserdisc-only Special Edition that contains a 16-minute featurette, THE 19TH HOLE, fetauring new interviews with most of the principal and cast and crew members. Some amusing outtakes and other behind-the-scenes footage are interspersed with recent comments from the producers and stars, and despite its brevity the program will be of interest to all CADDYSHACK fans.

The disc also features the first letterboxed transfer of the film (matted at 1.85:1), the original theatrical trailer, and even--for all Johnny Mandel fans--an isolated, monophonic music and effects track. All in all, this "19th Anniversary Edition" is a must-have for fans of the movie, and a title that will likely remain exclusive to laserdisc for a while--Warner received a public backlash last year when they released two versions of THE EXORCIST within a few months of each other, so the studio likely will not be rushing to turn out a Special Edition release of a DVD they already have available (like THE SEARCHERS and now CADDYSHACK). Pick one up while you can; the LD is currently available from Ken Crane's (www.kencranes.com) and other online dealers.

In recent developments, there's good news for Goldsmith fans: Jerry's score from THE MUMMY will be one of the many extras contained in Universal's "Collector's Edition" DVD. Due out on September 28th, the $29.98 DVD will include deleted scenes, commentary, a 40-minute documentary, still photos, production art, and Goldsmith's isolated stereo score.

As you are undoubtedly well aware from reading the Aisle Seat, Anchor Bay's DVD collection continues to snag one cult classic after another, and the company recently announced their projects for the next year'which should continue to provide viewers with an eclectic and exciting array of new titles.

The Collector's Edition of ARMY OF DARKNESS is not only in the works but nearing completion. The DVD will contain at least the extended version (with the film's alternate ending) and possibly the theatrical cut as well, a "Making Of" featurette, commentary by Bruce Campbell, a new THX transfer, and other goodies. Expect the disc in time for Halloween.

In the interim, Anchor Bay has scheduled a Collector's Edition of THE CAR (7/20), two separate versions of Disney's musical THE HAPPIEST MILLIONAIRE (7/20, the theatrical cut and original roadshow release with 20 minutes of extra footage), the oft-delayed HALLOWEEN 4 (7/20) and the 2-DVD Limited Edition release of John Carpenter's original HALLOWEEN (August), with a remixed stereo soundtrack, trailers, TV spots, the extra footage Carpenter shot during filming of HALLOWEEN II, and other extras (though no audio commentary--reason enough to hold on to your Criterion laserdiscs). Also due out this summer are a letterboxed release of the underrated RETURN TO OZ (8/10) with a newly filmed introduction by Fairuza Balk (and what a thrill it will be to see the film in widescreen with David Shire's magnificent score), and a Collector's release of Dennis Hopper's 1981 film OUT OF THE BLUE (7/27).

For the remainder of '99, expect DVDs for NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, THE IPCRESS FILE with audio commentary, THEY SHOOT HORSES DON'T THEY?, the Brooke Shields guilty pleasure BRENDA STARR, MELVIN & HOWARD with commentary, BLUE COLLAR with Paul Schrader commentary, COP-OUT, SUPPOSE THEY GAVE A WAR AND NOBODY CAME, I'LL NEVER FORGET WHAT'S 'IS NAME, and the classic thriller THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE--all before the end of the Millennium.

The interesting though compromised Ray Bradbury fantasy SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES is also on track for a September release, though sadly it doesn't appear as if Anchor Bay will be producing a Special Edition--which is a shame since this would have been a welcome opportunity to do so, given that Jack Clayton's original version was overhauled in post-production, discarding Georges Delerue's original score in the process. However, there WILL be a Special Edition of the heavily re-cut THE WATCHER IN THE WOODS coming out, which will contain two different versions of the film and all snippets of cut scenes, and is likely to be released in September or October (Lynn-Holly Johnson fans rejoice!).

In development but not due until 2000 on DVD are the European version of SUPERGIRL, THE JOURNEY OF NATTY GANN, THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS, HALLOWEEN 5, KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE (one of the all-time greats), several films announced long ago by Elite Entertainment that were never released (WILD AT HEART, MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE), a host of Paul Verhoeven films (including SOLIDER OF ORANGE), and several more Dario Argento titles.

Anchor Bay continues to aggressively license titles from the likes of Disney and now Universal (THE CAR, Friedkin's THE GUARDIAN, and ARMY OF DARKNESS are the first of these licensed films), and has not only stepped up their transfers in the last year but also dug into the vaults to release the kinds of movies that buffs love. We'll continue to keep you updated on their latest releases as we get more info, as always.


Mail Bag

From Sean Carpenter <SCarpenter@cpr.org>

    What means this "anamorphic" vs. "matted, non-anamorphic"? I know about screen ratios, and prefer seeing movies on video in their original ratio, but I'm mystified by this terminology and what it actually means for the image we see.

    Answer personally, or perhaps say it in your column for us cinemanoramuses, but please clear this up for me. Thanks.

For all you soundtrack lovers out there who may have felt the same as Sean, this is a great time to do a brief lesson on aspect ratios and widescreen formats. I know Jeff Bond and Lukas have both recently picked up DVD players, so I can only guess how many other score-philes out there have done the same of late?

Basically at home we have two aspect ratios which tend to indicate whether or not a movie is shot in genuine widescreen: 2.35:1, which has the greatest amount of black borders and the widest frame, and 1.85:1.

Generally speaking, anamorphic means the 2.35:1 WIDE aspect ratio--indicating a movie was shot in a true widescreen process like Cinemascope, Panavision, etc. You see these movies when they're NOT letterboxed and they're a mess, suffering from constant cropping and pan-and-scan (JAWS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, BRAVEHEART, GHOSTBUSTERS, etc.)

Non-anamorphic means that a movie wasn't shot in a genuine widescreen format, and most transfers of these films end up at 1.85:1. On MOST of these films, the camera aperture is opened up enough so that when the movie comes on video or is shown on TV, they simply umask (unmatte) the picture area at the top and bottom. It may be dead space, but in many of these instances you're GAINING picture at the top and bottom that wasnt there in theaters (where the frame is matted out, blacked out, etc.) Hence the term "matted," meaning in theaters this area is blacked out at the top and bottom. Needless to say, in instances like these, you generally arent missing anything when such films are not being letterboxed (although the screen composition looks more properly balanced when you see it matted--you're not seeing things that AREN'Tmeant to be there, like dead space at the bottom of the frame).

Of course, 2.35 doesn't ALWAYS mean that a movie was shot anamorphically. There are also some processes like Super 35, which is a non-anamorphic process that allows filmmakers to shoot for 2.35 in theaters, and then on video the frame is reconfigured for your TV frame (1.33:1)--again with picture often added at the top and bottom of the frame that wasn't visible in theaters (and a little lost off the sides). James Cameron shoots most of his movies in Super 35--TITANIC, T2, TRUE LIES, THE ABYSS, etc. SEVEN, STAR TREK VI, and FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF are other Super 35 films. These movies don't lose as much when they're not being letterboxed as you may think, because of the process they were filmed in.

I know it's confusing, but I hope this helps! Now that we've gone through that, this next question should make more sense?

From Neil Bulk (Indysolo@webtv.net):

    My Alien Resurrection LD is the domestic version. Was there an import? On the back it says, "Alien Resurrection is presented in its 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio." It also has notes on the back as to how the film was shot, and it states that the film was shot "in Super-35 with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio."

    In fact, I just compared the 2 of them (the LD and the DVD), and the aspect ratios are identical. I used the scene where they were underwater, and the pictures were almost identical, except for a little noise that was present on the LD. The aspect ratios were the same.

    I got my LD last year from Ken Crane. It is from Image (Fox's LD distributor) and as I've stated above is 2.35:1. Video Watchdog is clearly wrong. Check it out for yourself.

    Now if you want to talk about Super-35 films composed for 2.35:1theatrically but letterboxed at about 1.85:1 on video, that list would include Top Gun, Star Trek VI-The Undiscovered Country and Ferris Bueller's Day Off, but not Alien Resurrection.

Neil isn't wrong here, apparently, but neither am I. It seems likely that Image originally pressed ALIEN RESURRECTION, a Super 35 movie, on laserdisc in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. I reviewed it for Home Movies last year and wrote (and remembered) that the ratio on that disc was 1.85:1--after receiving Neil's email, I then double checked generally reputable sources like Video Watchdog and Douglas Pratt's LaserDisc Newsletter, and both, also, wrote that the aspect ratio was 1.85:1 on the disc. I would doubt that both of those sources, plus my own review, were all way off the mark on that call.

However, Neil and another fellow both fervently claim their laserdiscs are 2.35:1, and while I couldn't get a firm answer from Image on this, I bet that ALIEN RESURRECTION was indeed repressed on laserdisc in a corrected transfer soon after the first batch of erroneously framed discs were produced (which apparently went out to the folks who receive review copies--like VW, Pratt, and the copy I received). So, if you have that 1.85 ALIEN RESURRECTION sitting around, it may be a collector's item!

From Charles T. Chapin (Charles.Chapin@worldnet.att.net):

    I am responding to the review of the director's cut of Aliens. In it, Andy stated that the added scene of Newt's parents discovering the aliens was a giveaway to the whole basis of the film. I have to say that it was a much needed enhancement rather than a giveaway.

    I had never seen the whole cut of Aliens before until the new DVD release and I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by it. Many gaps were filled that had made the film come together with a much greater impact. The previously cut out scene of Newt's parents discovering the Aliens answers the question of how the hell the terraformers could live on the planet so long without being wiped out by the aliens. It was a very well filmed scene and added more intensity to the film. I couldn't believe that so much detail was omitted from the original cut. I viewed 'Aliens' before as just an action film but, after seeing the Director's cut, it feels more balanced and thorough. It is certainly much better than the original.

NEXT WEEK... WILD WILD WEST, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN on laserdisc, and your comments. Remember to send them in here at dursina@att.net and have a happy Fourth!


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