The Aisle Seat Spring Training Report
DVD Round-Up, PITCH BLACK, and Rants on the Year's First Dumped Scores
By Andy Dursin
A few quick tidbits and takes before we get into this week's DVD rush:
I thought it was a sad day when the only movie John Barry could get
an assignment on was THOMAS AND THE MAGIC RAILROAD. I guess the only thing
that's worse is when Barry's music is removed from THOMAS, despite the
fact that he and lyricist Don Black were to play a major role in writing
the movie's songs.
No offense to the famous Tank Engine, but it's been a sparse last couple
of years for Barry, whose scores have either been tampered with (PLAYING
BY HEART), removed completely (THE HORSE WHISPERER), or never fully recorded
(EVER AFTER). Certainly it can't possibly the music itself, since you know
what you get every time Barry scores a film. From what I have heard from
various sources, it's Barry himself who is partially to blame -- he insists
on total control and refuses to give an inch to the filmmaker?which has
given him a bad reputation around the film scoring scene. What's worse
is that studios now don't want to work with him for fear that he'll walk
out of their picture -- leaving the movie without a score and, more significantly
in financial terms, a composer who commands top-dollar getting his usual
salary regardless. Seems like nothing has changed, unfortunately.
I was also excited to learn that John Williams is scoring THE PATRIOT,
but a bit saddened for David Arnold at the same time. Apparently Dean Devlin
and Roland Emmerich, those wacky guys who catapulted into fame thanks to
STARGATE, didn't care for what they heard of Arnold's score and decided
to get Williams as a replacement (or perhaps they learned Williams was
available and willing, and opted not to retain Arnold's services accordingly).
Now, don't get me wrong; this is John Williams we're talking about here,
but just the same, Emmerich & Devlin never would have gotten to this
point if it wasn't due to STARGATE and, principally, Arnold's music, which
gave that movie a sense of grandeur and romanticism predominantly absent
from the duo's often insipid script. True, INDEPENDENCE DAY was only so-so,
but there was nothing wrong with his GODZILLA score, particularly when
you consider the soundtrack people were more concerned lining up the likes
of Puff Daddy and the Wallflowers to contribute to the album than giving
the composer free reign to do what he pleased.
Arnold's James Bond scores have been the most successful non-Barry scores
ever written for a 007 adventure -- certainly TOMORROW NEVER DIES more
than THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (too techno-heavy for most tastes) -- but
it was his gorgeous score for LAST OF THE DOGMEN that signaled to me that
Arnold had a future scoring large-scale orchestral works. Unfortunately,
Arnold hasn't received many opportunities to follow through on that success.
A few years later, his big chance to score another movie like that -- THE
PATRIOT -- has gone the way of the axe. Too bad, but something tells me
we haven't heard the last from David Arnold, either.
My own prejudice against Patricia Arquette was enough to make me stay
away from STIGMATA (**1/2, $24.98) in theaters, but after catching up with
MGM's DVD, I have to admit that it wasn't quite as bad as I initially thought.
This stylish supernatural thriller stars the soon-to-be-former Mrs.Nicolas
Cage as a Pittsburgh hairdresser who improbably winds up with a "haunted
rosary" that causes the poor girl to bear wounds from Christ's crucifixion.
Gabriel Bryne plays the Vatican investigator sent to uncover the cause
of Arquette's visions and injuries, with Jonathan Pryce turning up as a
Holy City big-wig who may just be part of a bigger conspiracy to suppress
a recently-uncovered Gospel that offers a different interpretation of Christ's
Director Rupert Wainwright uses all the tricks in the MTV playbook --
including montages, techno soundbytes, heavily filtered cinematography,
and plenty of candles -- in crafting a good-looking thriller which was
sold as if it was the next EXORCIST.
Unfortunately, while MGM's marketing department did a savvy job selling
the picture, the horrific build-up promised by the theatrical trailers
doesn't actually represent what STIGMATA is about. If you go in expecting
a terrifying, blood-curdling chiller, you're likely to be disappointed
by a movie that grinds you through a lengthy series of ordeals for Arquette
before it tells us what the fuss is all about -- and when that moment finally
comes, it's a let-down since it's just so?well, ordinary. The biblical
mumbo-jumbo also doesn't make much sense when closely scrutinized, either,
with the screenwriters holding an axe to grind against established religions
(principally Catholicism) that is so utterly simplistic it makes END OF
DAYS look like a theological masterpiece by comparison.
However, all that being said, STIGMATA still looks good and that's half
the battle in this movie's case. Wainwright paces the move quite well and
MGM has sweetened the pot with a terrific DVD presentation, featuring one
of the most effective Dolby Digital soundtracks I've ever heard. The transfer
(2.35:1 widescreen) is not quite as exemplary, appearing a bit "smoky"
at times (no great surprise given the reliance on filters, smoke machines
and the like), but it's certainly on the acceptable side.
The supplemental materials add a great deal to the DVD's appeal as well;
a handful of deleted scenes are included as a separate chapter, giving
some additional character depth or alternate angles to many scenes (Patrick
Muldoon of STARSHIP TROOPERS has more time in the excised scenes than he
does in the finished film). The DVD also enables you to watch the movie
as it was shot, or with Wainwright's original ending, which is a bit more
poignant but a trifle confusing given the movie's final sequence. The supremely
effective theatrical trailer is included along with a music video of lovely
Natalie Imbruglia's melancholy end credits ballad.
There have been a great number of Special Edition titles released out
there of late, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention Image's recent
DVD releases from the Ed Wood, Jr. Library Collection: PLAN NINE FROM OUTER
SPACE, GLEN OR GLENDA?, JAIL BAIT, and BRIDE OF THE MONSTER.
Each of these wacked-out '50s classics retails for $24.95 and contain
crisp, black-and-white transfers culled from the Wade Williams library
of bizarre cinematic achievements.
Now, if your only exposure to Ed Wood is from Tim Burton's 1994 mostly-fictional
biopic, chances are good that you'll get a huge kick out of these Golden
Turkey-certified, unintentionally hysterical Wood productions, courtesy
of a man who carved himself a niche as one of the worst filmmakers of all-time
via the 1959 epic PLAN NINE -- a movie which ultimately drew attention
to his previous "hits" (1953's GLEN OR GLENDA?, 1954's JAIL BAIT,
and 1955's BRIDE OF THE MONSTER).
As you have likely heard, PLAN NINE has a reputation as being the worst
movie ever made, but while it certainly qualifies as ONE of the worst,
I'd rather watch Wood's magnum opus with its hokey production values and
inept acting than many of today's "bad" movies, which have the
budgets that Wood lacked and still can't get their act together (half of
Wood's problem was financial constraints -- or at least one of Wood's many
problems was that, to be more specific!).
PLAN NINE has been given the deluxe treatment in Image's batch of Wood
DVDs, and it looks the best that I've ever seen it, particularly considering
the amount of public domain releases the movie has had over the years (including
a Passport DVD which pales in comparison to Image's transfer).
To top it off, Image has included a lengthy, two-hour documentary on
the movie's phenomenal rise as a cult classic, interviewing directors like
Joe Dante, fans and non-fans, and comments from cast members Gregory Walcott,
Carl Anthony, Paul Marco, Conrad Brooks and Vampira herself. The program
is a bit long and was obviously a labor of love, but for anyone interested
in Wood or the film, it should be an essential view.
As far as the other Wood pics go, GLEN OR GLENDA? explored Wood's fetish
for dressing up in female attire, and in many ways it's even funnier than
PLAN NINE -- complete with Bela Lugosi introducing the picture as a God
who enjoys interfering in human lives. The movie is hilarious and includes
Wood starring himself as a normal, heterosexual guy who enjoys wearing
a bra and panties.
BRIDE OF THE MONSTER reunites Eddie with Lugosi once more, and it once
again includes plenty of unintended laughs and assorted hyjinks as batty
mad scientist Bela tries to create a race of supermen via atomic radiation
experiments! Once again, former wrestler Tor Johnson establishes his acting
credentials as Lobo, Lugosi's faithful servant.
JAIL BAIT, which rounds out the releases, features Timothy Farrell as
a guy who lures young Clancey Malone into a life of crime. This rare (for
the filmmaker) police thriller isn't quite as all-out hilarious as the
other Wood features (Wade Williams calls it "his first legitimate
feature film"), so it therefore would benefit from some Mystery Science
Theater-like comments from your personal viewing audience in order to be
fully engaging. Still, you do get to see future HERCULES Steve Reeves as
a cop, and that's always good for something!
All of the Wood DVDs come packaged with brief liner notes from Williams,
and when combined with the superior transfers, should be absolute must-owns
for the apparent legion of Wood aficionados out there -- and recommended
viewing for anyone interested in some of Hollywood's most notorious and
enjoyable bad movies!
Shifting from the ridiculous to the sublime, Universal has put together
another highly recommended Collector's Edition, this time for 1985's multiple
Oscar-winner OUT OF AFRICA (***, $34.98). Robert Redford is the British
big game hunter that writer Karen Blixen becomes enthralled with while
helping her husband work a coffee farm in Kenya; Meryl Streep essays the
author, while Klaus Maria Brandauer is her philandering spouse. Together,
they form a romantic triangle sumptuously filmed by director Sydney Pollack
and cinematographer David Watkin, and beautifully scored by John Barry.
The settings and photography remain the highlights of this romantic
drama, which coasts along at 155 minutes but always remains a pleasure
to look at. On DVD, its scenic attributes become magnified, thanks to a
crystal clear transfer (in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio) and a pleasing Dolby
Digital soundtrack (in 4.1 Surround) that strive to capture the movie's
elegant visual presentation at home.
If you can't see the movie in a theater, the next-best way to appreciate
the picture is easily in its sweeping new DVD presentation, which also
benefits from a fine selection of extras. Pollack delivers an informative
commentary track on the making of the picture, and Universal has also included
"Song of Africa," an outstanding 48-minute documentary by Charles
Kiselyak that includes new interviews with Pollack, Meryl Streep, and Isak
Dinesen biographer Judith Thurman.
Film music buffs will certainly be interested in the comments of John
Barry, who talks at length in the program about his score, the creation
of the movie's central sweeping theme, and use of music in various sequences.
Combined with footage culled from the film's behind-the-scenes featurette
and a look at the actual relationship between the characters, it puts a
perfect cap on a terrific disc.
Once again shifting gears from the bad to the beautiful, and back to
the truly obscure again, we come to MGM's recent DVD release of the intended-for-theaters-but-never-got-there
THE EXTREME ADVENTURES OF SUPER DAVE (*1/2, $24.98).
If you remember Super Dave from his Showtime series back in the '80s
and early '90s, you likely remember comedian Bob Einstein (brother of Albert
Brooks) and his dead-pan, dry delivery as a hapless stuntman whose jokes
always culminated in a crash for a punchline. Who, what, or why someone
decided to make a theatrical movie based on the character some years after
his popularity ceased from existence is a good question, particularly since
this tiresome, 90 minutes (with 10 minutes of credits) crash & burn
comedy has been languishing on the MGM shelves for two years now.
Matted at 1.85:1 and with a punchy Dolby Digital soundtrack, SUPER DAVE
has been dusted off for its DVD premiere and does boast a theatrical look
at least, courtesy of co-stars Dan Hedaya as an obnoxious sports promoter
and Gia Carides as a single mom with a cute little kid. Sounds a bit like
JERRY MAGUIRE, right? Well, any other similarities end right there, with
the target audience of this production clearly aimed at the 10-and-under
To be fair, Super Dave's antics were enjoyable when I was younger and
the show ran 20 minutes, but the movie has an awfully hard time sustaining
itself and shows what a mess the MGM ownership was in just a couple of
years ago, greenlighting material like this (and the also recently-released
SUPERNOVA). MGM's DVD looks nice and lacks any special features.
Artisan has produced a more supplemental-laden package for their release
of the disturbing and occasionally effective ghost story STIR OF ECHOES
(**1/2, $24.98), with Kevin Bacon as a man tormented by a female spirit
who died violently in the basement of his house.
Writer-director David Koepp, working from Richard Matheson's novel,
has fashioned a compelling tale with many effective jolts, but also a tendency
to accentuate the movie's more unpleasant passages, particularly a gruesome
rape sequence near the end that could have been shot just as effectively
without being quite as graphic. It ultimately leaves a bad taste in the
mouth and will certainly limit the movie's appeal to viewers on multiple
viewing. For further analysis of this one, check
out my original review here.
Artisan's DVD, contrary to the jacket annotation, is framed at the 1.85:1
aspect ratio and contains a superb, effective Dolby Digital track featuring
an atmospheric score by James Newton Howard. Fred Murphy's cinematography
is captivating and the performances are likewise excellent; it's just a
shame that Koepp couldn't find a more magical or interesting ending than
the cliched, by-the-numbers finale he came up with.
Commentary from the director, a theatrical trailer, TV spots, a featurette
and music video round out a terrific package for one of last year's more
Fox has unearthed a trio of titles from their Classic Collection that
fans of Golden Age cinema -- who undoubtedly have been turned off by the
number of new-movie-only releases we have been mostly receiving on DVD
-- will obviously want to add to their small collection of classic older
HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY, LOVE IS A MANY-SPLENDORED THING, and AN AFFAIR
TO REMEMBER will all be released on March 7th and retail for a Fox-low
price of $24.98.
All three titles look exceptionally good, free of any background pixilation
or grain that sometimes become associated with prints of older movies on
DVD (like a few of Universal's Classic Monster releases). HOW GREEN..,
John Ford's classic Oscar-winner with a great score by Alfred Newman, looks
surprisingly crisp and clear in its original black-and-white, and contains
a theatrical trailer along with a handful of still photographs. AN AFFAIR
TO REMEMBER and LOVE IS A MANY-SPLENDORED THING both come letterboxed in
their original Cinemascope aspect ratios, featuring colorful transfers
and sporting genuine stereo soundtracks.
Fox should be commended for releasing this inaugural batch of Oscar-winning
classics on DVD with their usual technical prowess and at a lower price
than usual. Hopefully this will be just the first of many more to follow.
PITCH BLACK (**1/2): The growing cult of Vin Diesel fans (don't ask
me where he came from, I'm as clueless as you are) had ample reason to
celebrate at the box-office two weekends ago, when BOILER ROOM and this
slight but enjoyable sci-fi thriller were released starring this up-and-coming
I didn't see the former but mildly enjoyed the latter, best described
as ALIENS meets THE BIRDS with a bit of CON-AIR thrown in via Diesel's
criminal hero, stranded on a barren planet along with a collection of civilian
It turns out that a group of dinosaur-like aliens fly around at night
and prove to be nasty company for the group, though fortunately Diesel
has night vision implanted in his irises so he can get a good look at the
Writer-director David Twohy last directed the entertaining 1996 sci-fi
thriller THE ARRIVAL and boasts screenwriting credits for the underrated
TERMINAL VELOCITY and G.I. JANE on his filmography. PITCH BLACK isn't quite
as good as THE ARRIVAL, and some of the characters just aren't interesting,
but more often than not the movie gets the job done, with some effective
CGI and make-up work compensating for a less-than-charismatic cast and
bland character development.
Judging from his monotone delivery, Diesel might have the makings of
the next action star, and if PITCH BLACK seems too familiar for its own
good, a delay of several months might be just the recipe for audiences
to fully appreciate it on video. (R, 120 mins, **1/2 budget-confined synth
score by Graeme Revell on that could have used some orchestral sweetening).
NEXT WEEK: Universal and Paramount DVDs, plus your comments!
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