Science Fiction DVD Feature
From KRULL to ENEMY MINE, an Aisle Seat Round-Up of Otherworldly
Sagas Newly Available on DVD!
By Andy Dursin
Science fiction/fantasy and DVD go together like peanut butter and jelly
(or fluff, depending on what universe you happen to be from!). The combination
of razor-sharp transfers and digital sound on DVD, mixed with the kinds
of special FX-intensive extravaganzas that the genre can turn out, have
already resulted in some of the finest releases of the format (obvious
titles like "The Matrix" come immediately to mind).
It should come as no great surprise, then, that the DVD revolution has
enabled several studios to not only continue turning out solid new packages
for recent sci-fi flicks, but also dust off more archival titles that once
might have been considered as cutting edge in their day as the next wave
of "Matrix" sequels are now.
So, without further delay, here's a totally out-of-this world rundown
on the latest, greatest, and not-so- greatest sci-fi thrillers available
on DVD here in the USA÷
RED PLANET. Warner, $24.98.
WHAT IT IS: The second of last year's two "let's go to Mars"
movies, this action-oriented effort stars Val Kilmer, Carrie-Ann Moss,
Tom Sizemore, Benjamin Bratt, and Terence Stamp as members of a NASA team
sent to the Red Planet to compile a study for possible colonization. After
Brian DePalma's alternately (unintentionally) hilarious and strangely optimistic
"Mission to Mars" fared adequately at the box-office last spring (counting
Ennio Morricone's fine score as one of its sole virtues), Warner Bros.
decided to hold off releasing this equally expensive entry until November
-- where it quickly became one of the costliest flops of last year.
ANDY SAYS: But it's pretty entertaining, all things considered.
Director Antony Hoffman apparently had his hands full working with feuding
co-stars Kilmer and Sizemore (who reportedly didn't want to be in the same
shots with one another), not to mention a rewrite prone script (credited
to Chuck "Darkman" Pfarrer and Jonathan Lemkin). But as a B-grade sci-fi
adventure, "Red Planet" has some neat special effects, a fairly exciting
second hour, and a fun conclusion. Graeme Revell's effective score, mixing
operatic choruses with synths and weird instrumentation, also helps out,
even as the movie leaps from one episodic problem to the next for our protagonists.
"Robinson Crusoe on Mars" this isn't, but it's not that bad, either.
DVD TRANSFER AND SOUND: The 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is a
gas, with constant use of the discreet surround channels and lots of overpowering
subwoofer effects. The 2.35 transfer, with its red-tinted Mars sequences,
is superb but will fare best on better monitors (make sure you have your
S-Video line properly connected!) due to the intense color.
SPECIAL FEATURES: With an unhappy set and a disappointing financial
performance, perhaps it's no surprise that there are no interviews or commentary
tracks to be found here -- though the absence of a theatrical trailer IS
quite odd, given Warner's routine inclusion of such features. However,
some 15 minutes of deleted scenes are included, several involving Stamp's
character, with others that clarify the movie's mishandled flashback sequences.
A few of these scenes interestingly show Peter Suschitzky's cinematography
of the Mars sequences before they were color-corrected in post-production.
BOTTOM LINE: If you survived "Mission to Mars" and still are
up for another trip into outer-space, "Red Planet" manages to touch upon
the existential, quasi-religious overtones of the D ePalma mess without
turning into an outer-space treatise on "It's a Small World After All."
The script could have been better, but this is a surprisingly entertaining
ride given its bad box-office rep and a perfect DVD on the audio and visual
end of things. Film rating: **1/2 (of four)
ENEMY MINE. Fox, $24.98.
WHAT IT IS: Wolfgang Petersen's acclaimed 1985 sci-fi fantasy
pits stranded human Dennis Quaid and alien rival Lou Gossett, Jr. on a
desolate planet in the midst of a war-torn galaxy. Elements of "Hell in
the Pacific" and numerous story elements from Byron Haskin's underrated
"Robinson Crusoe on Mars" make their way into former Starlog writer Ed
Khmara's script, which is elevated by Petersen's direction and two great
lead performances into one of the better genre films of the '80s.
ANDY SAYS: I always liked this movie from the time I watched
it as a kid back in '85, and I'm glad to say the picture holds up quite
well. The tremendous make-up design (by Chris Walas) for Gossett's extraterrestrial
fighter is one of the best make-ups of any era, and Maurice Jarre's powerful
score ranks as one of his finest later works. Many genre observers have
noted the obvious similarities between this and "Robinson Crusoe on Mars,"
but it's a perfect, '80s counterpart to that equally under-appreciated
TRANSFER AND SOUND: Be forewarned; there are major problems with
at least one of the audio tracks on the DVD. There's a 4.0 Dolby Digital
mix that seems to have amplified dialogue and sound effects, but this over-processing
has been done at the expense of the music, which sounds muffled and actually
"clips" during the end credits. It's a good thing that Fox included the
original 2.0 Dolby Surround mix -- which has more bass and a much stronger
music presence -- as a preferable alternative. The 2.35 transfer seems
to have come from a different print than the Fox letterboxed laserdisc
from a few years ago (Khamara is credited as "Ed" in one print and "Edward"
in the other), but the framing is more or less identical and looks fine.
SPECIAL FEATURES: Just a theatrical trailer and less than a handful
of stills -- which is quite disappointing since the movie began shooting
in Iceland with Richard Loncrane as director, before Fox (at great expense)
pulled the plug and Petersen took over, making stylistic and artistic changes
in the process. Obviously there are good stories to be found there, but
those will have to wait for another release.
BOTTOM LINE: A strong, excellent piece of sci-fi that, unlike
a lot of '80s genre efforts, hasn't dated much at all. The performances
and characters are more important than the artistic design and FX work,
and because of that, "Enemy Mine" deservedly remains a favorite of many
KRULL. Columbia TriStar, $24.98.
WHAT IT IS: An expensive attempt by Columbia to cash-in on the
then red-hot genre, this 1983 Saturday matinee effort is more like a semi-futuristic
Errol Flynn-swashbuckler than a rip-off of "Star Wars." Ken "Marco Polo"
Marshall essays Colwyn, the dashing prince who has to save his Princess-in-distress
(a dubbed Lysette Anthony) from the clutches of an evil Beast whose minions
have taken over the planet of Krull. With his band of merry men -- er,
fellow soldiers -- Colwyn sets off on a journey to find rescue his love,
even though as many monsters and beasts as you could have packed on the
Pinewood Studios soundstage stand in his way.
ANDY SAYS: Nobody is going to mistake "Krull" as a classic, but
there IS something infectious about the romanticism present in Peter Yates'
film. You get an epic quest, plenty of effects, superb cinematography (again
by Peter Suschitzky), and a basic, fairy tale premise that -- try as the
movie might to get in its own way -- will prove perfectly entertaining
to kids of all ages. The performances aren't anything spectacular (be on
the lookout for young Liam Neeson), but this glossy production is tough
to dislike -- and is capped by one of James Horner's all-time best scores,
back in the days when he wrote primarily original works, at that!
TRANSFER AND SOUND: Being a Columbia title, it won't surprise
most viewers that the 2.35 transfer is gorgeous, colorful, and perfectly
framed, exhibiting only the slightest presence of grain from time-to-time.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is nothing extraordinary but it's a step
up from the 2.0 original Dolby Stereo mix, which is also included here.
SPECIAL FEATURES: Yes, "Krull" fans, your ship has come in! (By
the way, isn't it great when someone producing a DVD is obviously a big
aficionado of the film, and goes the distance to include a handful of supplements
for a movie you wouldn't ordinarily expect to find on DVD in the first
place?). An audio commentary with director Peter Yates, editor Ray Lovejoy,
and stars Marshall and Anthony (who is quite vocal about her vocals being
dubbed by American Lindsay Crouse!), sheds light on all aspects of the
film's production, but perhaps just as enlightening is another audio track,
which features the reading of an entire Cinefantastique article on the
making of the film! At just under an hour, this is a terrific, surprise
bonus on-hand here. Even more surprising, though, is the inclusion of the
Marvel Comics adaptation of the movie -- a 38-minute, filmed video of the
comic book, featuring music and dialogue! Throw in the original featurette
(narrated by none other than Tom Bosley himself), theatrical trailer (underscored
with John Barry compositions), four photo galleries, and full production
notes, and you have one of the best supplements of the year so far.
BOTTOM LINE: It's glossy, it's lavish, it's Krull! The movie
is a rip-roaring, check-your-brain-and-enjoy-the-pretty-pictures kind of
escapist fare, and Columbia has included all the trimmings in a sensational
DVD, one of my favorite releases of 2001 to date. *** (**** for presentation)
ZARDOZ. Fox, $24.98.
WHAT IT IS: If you're looking for a delirious slice of '70s LSD
filmmaking, this truly insane 1974 John Boorman sci-fi allegory (or is
it?) manages to parade puffy Sean Connery around in a bikini as a "brutal"
who wants to know more about what lies beyond in a society run by artsy
intellectuals who manage to keep the ugly part of humanity away at a comfortable
distance. Charlotte Rampling co-stars in a movie that's absolutely cracked
in more ways than one.
ANDY SAYS: Boorman, coming off "Deliverance," delivered a movie
that some felt was ahead of its time -- but now, it's just a crock of neat
production design, cinematography (by Geoffrey Unsworth), and Boorman's
imagination, which somehow mixes political and religious commentary with
the gaudy loopiness that only a sci-fi film from the mid '70s could possibly
provide (with one notable reference to "The Wizard of Oz"!). At times intriguing,
at others unintentionally funny, this plays sometimes like an art-house
version of "Logan's Run," with an unfocused and downright bizarre script
that doesn't always make sense. Still, this movie has its admirers, who
should be quite satisfied with Fox's DVD.
TRANSFER AND SOUND: The movie's Panavision cinematography, previously
cropped in a washed-out CBS/Fox laserdisc from a decade ago, is here restored
to its 2.35 splendor. The colors are dazzling and the print only shows
its age in a few places (with only one reel, about 45 minutes in, showing
some noticeable deterioration). The basic stereo soundtrack is here encoded
in 3.0 Surround, but like the original laser track, doesn't have much in
the way of multi-channel presence.
SPECIAL FEATURES: The theatrical trailer and a commentary track
with Boorman is included, along with a handful of radio spots featuring
Rod Serling! Boorman's commentary is a bit more cohesive here than his
"Excalibur" talk was, and touches upon the film's budget (Connery's salary
cost $200,000, which Boorman apparently paid most of himself) and trivia
about the production. It's also useful when he actually discusses just
what the movie is all about.
BOTTOM LINE: "Zardoz" is an acquired taste, and while the movie
will prove dated and inaccessible for some, it will still entertain others
with its bizarre imagery and offbeat presentation of new and well-worn
"futuristic society" themes. The presentation is top-notch no matter which
way you go. **1/2
ALIEN NATION. Fox, $24.98.
WHAT IT IS: This 1988 semi-futuristic cop-thriller twists that
era's "buddy" formula by teaming grizzled vet James Caan with sour-milk-guzzling
Mandy Patinkin, a member of a race of "Newcomers" from another world who
descend upon Earth in 1995 (okay, so they were a little bit off) to find
another home. A political conspiracy is uncovered after the usual "Odd
Couple" rituals are paraded out by screenwriter Rockne S. O'Bannon. The
franchise -- only moderately successful at the box-office -- was later
parlayed into an acclaimed TV series on Fox (which ended up straying too
far OFF formula at times for its own good).
ANDY SAYS: Totally predictable but entertaining nevertheless,
this slick and fast-moving (90 minutes) effort gets a lot more mileage
out of its lead performances than it probably has any right to. Director
Graham Baker's pacing is efficient, even though the movie likely works
better as a superior piece of formula action filmmaking than a sci-fi thriller.
As you may know, the film was substantially re-cut (reportedly toning down
Caan's prejudice towards the Newcomers) prior to its release, which resulted
in Jerry Goldsmith's synth score being replaced by original work from music
editor Curt Sobel and various songs. But, even that ended up working out
for the best.
TRANSFER AND SOUND: More than any of the other Fox sci-fi DVDs,
the remixed sound comes across quite well here (perhaps no surprise since
this IS the most recent film of the batch). The 4.1 Surround actually has
a strong presence with some subwoofer action, while the original 2.0 Dolby
Stereo mix is also included. Shot in Super 35, the 2.35 transfer is excellent,
marking the first time the film's theatrical aspect ratio has been available
on video. DVD
SPECIAL FEATURES: The theatrical trailer, a featurette, and a
brief "behind the scenes short" showing Baker working with the actors are
included. These are noteworthy mainly in that some of Goldsmith's music
can be heard in the featurette and trailer, where he is still credited
as composing the music. After hearing Baker give one of the most tedious
(and at times non-existent) commentary talks of all-time on "The Final
Conflict," nobody will complain that he opted NOT to participate in a discussion
BOTTOM LINE: Fans of the TV show probably won't find the movie
as enlightening as the series, but after being frustrated by the show's
bizarre subplots, I actually found the film to be a bit more even-keeled
than the series -- mixing the standard domestic situations of the characters
with action fairly well. It's an entertaining, if formulaic, ride that
is best viewed as a standalone piece, not in conjunction with the small-
screen work that followed. **1/2
SMILLA'S SENSE OF SNOW. Fox, $24.98.
WHAT IT IS: An art-house variation on the kind of conspiracy
"The X-Files" cooks up so well, director Billie August's adaptation of
the Peter Hoeg international bestseller finds luminous Julia Ormond as
a Greenland scientist who, stunned by the strange death of her six-year-old
neighbor, stumbles upon a global conspiracy involving oil and secrets trapped
under the ocean. Gabriel Byrne, Richard Harris, Robert Loggia, and Vanessa
Redgrave star in this moody and compelling 1996 thriller that has just
enough sci-fi in it to warrant its inclusion here.
ANDY SAYS: Whatever happened to Julia Ormond, anyway? She's lovely
here, giving one of her best performances in a leisurely paced but haunting
film that didn't really get the attention it deserved when it was released
five years ago. The ending is formula, but the film's mix of genres (a
bit of James Bond, a dash of "The X- Files," and the character-driven drama
of an ensemble piece) makes it an intelligent and stylish mystery.
TRANSFER AND SOUND: Throw away the laserdisc, since Fox's DVD
looks and sounds superior in every way. The 2.35 Panavision frame has been
faithfully transferred here, and the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is quietly
effective, featuring an unobtrusive score by Harry Gregson-Williams and
Hans Zimmer. DVD
SPECIAL FEATURES: The film's theatrical trailer and a featurette
BOTTOM LINE: Solid performances, anchored by Ormond, and an involving
plot make for an unusual but highly entertaining film that a lot of viewers
probably missed the first time around. With the widescreen dimensions heightened
by the clarity of DVD, "Smilla" is definitely a recommended view.
FRANK HERBERT'S DUNE. Artisan, $24.98.
WHAT IT IS: The international mini-series adaptation of Frank
Herbert's mammoth novel sought to do more justice to its source than David
Lynch's overblown 1984 box-office disaster. William Hurt leads an international
cast in this expensive production, shot in Europe by the great Vittorio
Storaro with plenty of special effects.
ANDY SAYS: There's not much humor, and leading man Alec Newman
needs a few shots of charisma, but I still found this "Dune" to be fully
involving, provided you take the time to get into it. At 265 minutes, you
need some patience (and likely some familiarity with the book or, even,
the Lynch movie), but it's still a ride worth taking.
TRANSFER AND SOUND: For whatever reason, the non-anamorphic 1.77
transfer -- while colorful and fairly well detailed -- isn't as eye-popping
as I thought it would be. The 2.0 stereo soundtrack is OK, but nothing
SPECIAL FEATURES: A featurette on the making of the production,
an "interactive written treatise" by Storaro on his cinematography, and
photo galleries are present on this 2-disc set.
BOTTOM LINE: DVD is easily the best way to get into this mini-series,
with the annoying TV commercials removed and the viewer able to take the
action at his/her own speed. Artisan's presentation isn't as extravagant
as some expected, but the price is right and I enjoyed the production overall.
NEXT TIME÷Baseball season
is here, and so is THE NATURAL. Plus: Columbia's LAWRENCE OF ARABIA LIMITED
EDITION set! Send all emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.
(And while I'm headed for the "Frozen Four" in Albany, let me just give
a shout-out to the guys at Boston College. Let's Go Eagles! 1949 be damned!)
OK, see you soon, everyone!