Jurassic-Sized DVD Round-Up!
From JURASSIC PARK to goodies from Buena Vista, Paramount,
and Columbia, a Round-Up of New Releases on DVD!
By Andy Dursin
Because I've been frantically trying to keep up with the amount of new
DVDs pouring into our Aisle Seat offices, space considerations have curtailed
several new cinematic reviews I promised I'd write up.
Briefly, I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed GODZILLA 2000, which
is now on its way to video where it may become a cult favorite for quite
some time. A full-fledged Japanese epic (the latest in a lengthy series
of new Toho films, apparently), I had a nostalgic blast watching this entertaining
monster opus, which features some decent special effects and a tremendous
final brawl that will not disappoint anyone who grew up watching Gojira
films on "Creature Double Feature" as a youngster. The dubbing
was right at home with the Godzilla of yore, though with a kind of affectionate
nod, right down to the hilarious final discussion of Godzilla's place in
this world of ours. If you were at all interested in seeing this one, make
it a point to view it on video when the time comes.
I've also seen NURSE BETTY and BRING IT ON, the surprising
box-office hit that has generated surprisingly good word-of-mouth. BETTY,
the latest from Neal LeBute, is a quirky, strange fairy-tale/black comedy
with several wonderful moments. LeBute's direction is more subdued and
effective than his past work, but there's an inconsistency in the material
that never clicks, and an opening murder that is the single most gratuitous
and unnecessary sequence in any film I've seen this year.
The cheerleader competition epic BRING IT ON is a guilty pleasure, but
you can see why audiences embraced this late-summer sleeper: the picture
is bright and energetic, making it an engaging teen comedy that arrived
just when it looked as if this particular genre had run its most recent
course. I'm betting that it will be a staple on video and cable TV for
years to come.
Now, back on with the (DVD) show, once again going studio-by-studio
through some upcoming new releases...
UNIVERSAL: After last year's
generally superb first batch of Classic Monster Collection releases, the
studio has returned for an encore of four new titles, each remastered with
new transfers and a generous assortment of extras. The new titles originate
from a variety of different eras in monster-moviemaking, and each have
their own distinct charm.
James Whale's brilliant, often chillingly comic THE INVISIBLE MAN
(***1/2), the 1933 adaptation of H.G. Wells' novel that established Claude
Rains as a star, holds up perhaps the best of the entire batch. Rains's
performance as a scientist driven mad after he takes a serum that renders
him invisible is maniacally amusing, while the R.C. Sherriff screenplay
includes ample doses of humor and horror that make it one of the best of
Universal's original, golden-age horror efforts. The trick cinematography
holds up remarkably considering the film's age, and you needn't look any
further than this summer's so-so "Hollow Man" to know that the
plot remains an enduring blueprint in the mad scientist genre.
Rains appeared in the lead role (albeit third-billed) in Universal's
lavish, 1943 color version of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (***), starring
as the mysterious masked figure who designs to make diva Susanna Foster
a star, while top-billed Nelson Eddy sings a few bars as the leading man.
Not generally regarded as a classic, there is nevertheless a great deal
to savor in the picture, especially if you're an opera fan or aficionado
of Eddy. The cinematography is saturated with warm, primary colors, and
the technical element of the picture garnered the film three Oscar nominations
(for photography, art direction, and Edward Ward's music and adaptations).
Underwater cinematography is what made the 1954 Saturday matinee chiller
CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (***) an enduring part of '50s sci-fi
cinema. Perhaps the quintessential Universal film from that era, CREATURE
marked the first of three flicks starring the Gil-Man from deep under the
ocean, in a kind of sympathetic, aquatic version of the "Frankenstein"
monster. Jack Arnold's direction set the standard for many an imitation
to follow, while the Henry Mancini/Hans J.Salter/Herman Stein co-score
is bombastic and a great deal of fun.
The fourth and final new DVD release in the series (officially labeled
as a part of "Universal Studios' Comedy Legends") is a classic
of a different kind -- the hilarious ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN
(***1/2), a 1948 post-mortem to the entire cycle of Universal's pre-1945
horrors, with Bud and Lou meeting Dracula (Bela Lugosi), Frankenstein's
monster (Glenn Strange) and the Wolfman (Lon Chaney, Jr.) in a frantic
farce that still tickles the o'l funny bone to this day. The Robert Lees/Frederic
I. Rinaldo/John Grant script is filled with hilarious sequences while the
tone and look of the picture effectively hearken back to the initial wave
of Universal horrors, managing to be spooky and funny at the same time.
All four DVDs retail for $29.98 each and include commentary tracks and
documentaries on each picture: CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON offers a
fine commentary by historian and author Tom Weaver in addition to a documentary
featuring interviews with surviving cast members and even Monstrous Movie
Music's David Schecter, who analyzes the popular Universal genre music
of the period in several generous minutes of screen time.
THE INVISIBLE MAN features a commentary by historian Rudy Behlmer and
a documentary that -- like the other DVDs produced from James Whale's horror
classics -- spends too much time dissecting Whale's personal life, with
needless clips from "Gods and Monsters" interspersed into the
presentation. Scott McQueen's comments on PHANTOM OF THE OPERA are often
enlightening, and the documentary may be the best of this new wave of DVDs,
since it contains an intriguing look at Universal's studio politics and
the film's production history, featuring interviews with Turhan Bey and
Susanna Foster among others. Finally, ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN
contains analysis from historian Gregory W. Monk and a documentary looking
back on Abbott & Costello's career in addition to the elements that
made the picture a bona-fide comedy classic.
The soundtracks and transfers are generally in good condition on all
features, though the PHANTOM OF THE OPERA looks to be in the best shape,
with bold colors that never bleed. Production stills, notes, trailers (often
of the re-issue variety) and cast bios are included on each DVD, making
for must-purchases for the Universal horror fan -- and a great gift come
Halloween or the subsequent holiday season.
Speaking of must-purchases, there aren't many out there who haven't
been craving the long-awaited DVD arrivals of JURASSIC PARK and THE LOST
WORLD (okay, so maybe more have been anticipating the former instead of
the latter). Fortunately for you dino-seekers, you're less than a month
away with both flicks scheduled for release on October 10th ($29.98 each,
in separate Dolby Digital and DTS versions).
I've received advance copies of both titles, and unless you were only
purchasing these DVDs for the "Jurassic Park III" trailer, the
news is good on all fronts.
The original JURASSIC PARK (***1/2) looks and sounds sensational
in its 5.1 mix and enhanced 1.85 transfer. The soundtrack will knock your
socks off and the visuals look crisper than any laserdisc presentation
I have seen. On the supplemental side, the DVD contains the outstanding,
50-minute "Making of Jurassic Park" documentary which first aired
on NBC, with an abundance of behind-the-scenes footage including a revealing
look at the various stages of special effects production that will provide
buffs with plenty to chew on. Other supplements carried over from MCA's
"Making of Jurassic Park" laserdisc release include Spielberg's
camcorder scouting of Hawaiian locations, storyboards, and other goodies.
The movie remains a blast of entertainment and wonderfully realized set
pieces (and special FX, of course), even though some of the casting still
feels awkward (Laura Dern in particular) and the script could have used
a polish or two.
All of the original's flaws were magnified in the hugely disappointing
1997 sequel THE LOST WORLD (**), which for me remains Spielberg's
worst movie. Not that the film is totally devoid of entertainment (John
Williams's score is a highlight), but this misconceived, poorly-written
sequel never gets its act in gear, from abandoning characters like Pete
Postelthwaite near the end for a lackluster climax set in San Deigo, or
a preachy environmental message that ruins the picture's final minutes.
And I can never forgive Spielberg for the "Power Rangers"-like
sequence where Jeff Goldblum's daughter uses some gymnastics moves to fend
off a group of raptors -- an incredibly embarrassing sequence that likely
would have been more harshly criticized had anyone other than Spielberg
The DVD, to its credit, stresses the film's high points, with a kicking
5.1 track and razor-sharp 1.85 transfer helping to overcome some of the
deficiencies in Janusz Kaminski's drab cinematography and the gaping plot
holes of David Koepp's script. The supplements here seemed to have been
compiled for a planned 1997 Special Edition Laserdisc that never materialized,
at least judging from the copyright on Laurent Bouzereau's 50-minute documentary.
The deleted scenes that ran on Fox's network TV airings have been included
as a supplement, along with storyboards, sketches and conceptual paintings.
Both DVDs include trailers for all of the JP movies (though the original
JURASSIC PARK trailer, featuring footage shot expressly for the ad, isn't
included), which brings me to the terrible "trailer" for JP III.
If you are only picking either DVD up for this "bonus," don't
bother: the trailer is a shoddy, brief, shot- on-tape teaser featuring
footage seemingly culled from the earlier films, a couple of sound effects,
and then the title with a "Summer 2001" tag. Hardly worth the
fuss, though the DVDs otherwise will almost certainly not disappoint (though
where are the deleted scenes on JURASSIC PARK, which reportedly contained
Samuel L. Jackson's arm being torn off?).
Finally, as a sign that all movies truly get another chance on video,
there's ISN'T SHE GREAT? (**, $24.98), the box-office bomb from
last winter starring Bette Midler in a somewhat comic biography of junk
novelist extraordinare Jacqueline Susann, author of "Valley of the
Dolls" among infamous others. A great cast joins Midler in the shenanigans
(including Nathan Lane as Susann's husband, Stockard Channing, David Hyde
Pierce, Amanda Peet, and John Cleese), but despite a few laughs and glossy
cinematic treatment courtesy photographer Karl Walter Lindenlaub and composer
Burt Bacharach (who reunited with lyricist Hal David for the first time
in many years to pen a pair of new songs), the movie is stuck in the zone
between parody and drama-edy, and never really can figure out what it wants
Universal's DVD does look good (1.85) and sound fine (5.1 Surround),
and aficionados of Midler, Lane, or Susann should find sufficient viewing
interest despite the mixed results of the final cut.
BUENA VISTA: The studio that,
once upon a time, was one of the last holdouts on the DVD format continues
to release a variety of satisfying Special Edition packages that should
be of sufficient interest for a wide array of viewers.
The multi-Oscar nominated THE CIDER HOUSE RULES (***, $29.98)
was one of last year's few genuinely acclaimed pictures, a moving adaptation
of John Irvin's only semi-controversial novel that managed to appeal to
the mainstream despite some dicey issues (like abortion) that lurked underneath
the surface of the film's gentle, beautifully shot exteriors.
As an orphan growing up in 1940s Maine, Tobey Maguire manages to exude
a little more warmth than usual as a young man who strikes out beyond the
boundaries of his youth to explore the world and its various pleasures
-- which, lucky him, include meeting up with none other than Charlize Theron.
Michael Caine's memorable character turn as a friendly neighborhood abortionist
earned him a well-deserved Oscar, while the immaculate cinematography of
Oliver Stapleton and lyrical score by Rachel Portman help the picture capture
the essence of time and place that director Lasse Hallstrom was seeking.
The 2.35 transfer and 5.0 Surround are both technically fine, but the
real gem of the DVD are the supplements, which include a commentary from
Hallstrom, Irving, and producer Richard N. Gladstein, along with a handful
of deleted scenes, a documentary featurette, TV spots and a trailer, and
full cast and crew bios.
I'm not the biggest fan of Irving's novels (much less the previous cinematic
adaptations of them), but CIDER HOUSE is less about politics and hot-button
issues than it is a coming-of-age tale told in a wonderfully realized cinematic
Supplements are also copious on the Collector's Edition release of SCREAM
3 (***, $24.98), Wes Craven's said-to-be-final installment in his enjoyable
genre semi-spoof series. Laid back with some good jabs at Hollywood filmmaking,
this one keeps leading lady Neve Campbell on the sidelines for most of
the way, spending time instead with bumbling cop David Arquette and newswoman
Courtney Cox Arquette, with excellent turns from Parker Posey and Scott
Foley on the supporting end of things. Go
here for my original review of the film.
The Dimension DVD contains a flawless 2.35 transfer and superlative
5.1 Surround track, along with a substantial amount of extras: outtakes,
deleted scenes (and an alternate ending taken off videotape), trailers,
TV spots, Creed's music video, commentary from Wes Craven, and featurettes
from all three SCREAM pictures. (Collector's Editions of SCREAM and SCREAM
2 will be packaged together in a forthcoming box-set for the entire trilogy
later this month)
Finally, while not a full-fledged special edition release, one of my
favorite comedies from the last decade -- Frank Oz's raucous 1991outing
WHAT ABOUT BOB? (***1/2, $24.98) -- has finally found its way to
Representing some of the finest work of star Bill Murray and Richard
Dreyfuss, this farce finds Murray as a neurotic patient who follows therapist
and bestselling author Dreyfuss and his clan on vacation in New Hampshire.
Insanity ensues, along with a succession of memorable moments and big laughs,
as Dreyfuss gives a slow burn performance right up there with the actor's
best work. Murray, on the other hand, displays deft comic timing and the
two have a potent on-screen chemistry that makes this an enduring favorite.
The 1.85 transfer is quite good, the 2.0 Dolby Surround track is effective,
and a fun theatrical trailer has also been included. Tons of fun!
PARAMOUNT: It took a while,
but the long-awaited, much-requested, "where the heck is it???"
DVD of BRAVEHEART (****, $29.98) has finally arrived in a presentation
perfectly befitting Mel Gibson's stirring 1995 Oscar winner.
The best news is that the 2.35 transfer has been spruced up here: not
quite as colorful as the at-times erratic THX laser transfer but much more
consistent, the enhanced DVD picture looks good, even better than it did
in theaters. The 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is fairly elaborate considering
the film's historical-drama background, and gets quite energetic (as you
might expect) during the movie's thrilling battle sequences.
After years of rumors that Pioneer would be producing a "Special
Edition" Laserdisc release, Paramount went to the trouble of including
new supplements for the DVD, including a sporadic but satisfying commentary
from Gibson, along with an insightful 30-minute featurette, "Braveheart:
A Filmmaker's Passion," which shows the director/star at work on what
turned out to be one of the last decade's few genuine epics. A pair of
theatrical trailers round out the presentation -- one that will not let
down the legions of fans the film has picked up since its initially modest
COLUMBIA: Finally, the studio
that includes the most isolated score tracks on DVD continues to turn out
quality release after quality release for music fans.
Though not advertised on the back jacket, Maurice Jarre's score for
Hugh Hudson's box-office flop I DREAMED OF AFRICA (**, $24.98) has
been incorporated on a DVD of this great-looking but bubble-headed biopic
of Kuki Gallmann, a woman (here played by Kim Basinger) who heads with
her son and new hubby for the Kenyan countryside where all kinds of problems
ensue. Basinger delivers an OK performance but the script by Paula Milne
and Susan Shilliday is pretty terrible, compensated for to a degree by
the 2.35 widescreen cinematography and Jarre's score. Other extras include
an HBO Making Of, production notes, and a trailer.
Ed Shearmur's original score has been isolated on the DVD of WHATEVER
IT TAKES (**1/2, $24.98), one of several teen comedies that sputtered
last spring at the box-office. A surprisingly enjoyable take on "Cyrano"
by screenwriter Mark Schwahn, this engaging and often funny farce gets
a boost from a likeable cast, most specifically Marla Sokoloff from "The
Practice" as a girl set in the midst of a mix n'match relationship.
The 1.85 transfer is great, and the release also includes filmmaker commentary,
deleted scenes, trailers, a featurette, and full talent files -- not bad
for an overlooked youth comedy!
Finally, it doesn't contain isolated score, but Columbia's DVD of Michael
Crichton's insanely goofy 1984 sci-fi thriller RUNAWAY (**, $24.98)
is worth a look for genre fans and admirers of Jerry Goldsmith's electronic
score. This loopy, comic-book styled adventure features Tom Selleck in
one of his many failed '80s attempts to establish himself as a big-screen
star, as a cop in the future who finds himself taking on bad guys Gene
Simmons (from Kiss) and Kirstie Alley, while robot critters run amok causing
trouble all over the place. The film is incredibly stupid but fun for non-discriminating
viewers, and at least looks great in the 2.35 Panavision transfer included
here, while Goldsmith's score receives a better-than-expected 4.0 Dolby
Digital track. An over-the-top trailer has been included with talent files
NEXT TIME... More new releases, ALMOST FAMOUS,
and your comments. In the meantime, direct all emails to firstname.lastname@example.org
and we'll catch you then. Excelsior!