"The Mummy" Returns With a Vengeance
Plus: SUPERMAN and JAWS 2 reviewed on DVD!
An Aisle Seat May Sweeps-travaganza By Andy Dursin
Everyone has their favorite movies when they were growing up. For me
-- and don't ask how or why this happened -- one of them was JAWS 2.
Not so much the original "Jaws" (which has since become my favorite film
of all-time), but the 1978 sequel, which was a big hit in theaters despite
receiving mixed reaction from critics, who, predictably, compared it unfavorably
with Steven Spielberg's 1975 masterpiece.
Now, nobody is going to say JAWS 2 is a better film. It's not as fresh,
not as well-written, not as suspenseful. But, as sequels go, this is clearly
one of the good ones, even if it was the catalyst for so many abysmal,
obligatory follow-ups to money-making machines that followed. And, as a
kid, I think I could identify with the sea-going teenagers more than Robert
Shaw, who, in some ways, was even scarier than Bruce the shark himself!
Here, Roy Scheider is, of course, back as Chief Brody -- brasher and
just a bit more paranoid this time out when a pair of divers go missing
and a boating accident claims the life of a water skiier and her boat-
motoring mom. The camera from the missing divers shows the evidence that
another big fish is lurking out there, but the Amity town council, predictably,
doesn't see the obvious. Meanwhile, the town's teenagers, including the
Brody kids, have taken to cruising the open ocean in search of good times
and free beer. And don't you know which favorite shark of ours is after
JAWS 2 had a messy production history: original director John Hancock
was fired several weeks into filming after the producers and studio honchos
didn't care for his "darker" approach. Jeannot Swarzc ("Somewhere in Time")
was brought into replace Hancock, Carl Gottlieb was called into to re-write
the script, and some actors were re-cast (Dana Elcar was out as Amity's
real estate mogul, Joesph Mascolo was in), but the deadline for a Summer
1978 opening held firm.
With virtually the entire movie being overhauled while filming hastily
resumed (primary colors worked their way back into Joe Alves' production
design), it's a wonder that JAWS 2 turned out to be watchable at all. Fortunately,
the skill of the production team turned the picture into a great deal more
-- Michael Butler's cinematography, some funny lines in Gottlieb's script,
decent action scenes courtesy of director Swarzc, and most of all, John
Williams's gorgeous, more colorful score (a departure from the original
but in some ways superior) all helped turn JAWS 2 into a blueprint for
a successful sequel. A follow-up that, however unnecessary it might have
been, managed to produce the goods and recycle elements of its predecessor
in an effective, yet predictable, fashion.
Universal's DVD of JAWS 2 will be released on May 22, and even though
it is not officially labeled as a Special Edition, this package is jammed
with more extras than many of your typical deluxe-advertised discs. Laurent
Bouzereau's 45-minute "Making of Jaws 2" features interviews with producers
Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown, along with Swarzc, Gottlieb, and Alves.
It's a fascinating look behind-the-scenes at how some of the movie's often-surprisingly
effective shots were achieved, and dives beneath the surface of the turbulent
production history (though there's conflicting stories about whether Steven
Spielberg truly wanted to return to salvage the picture). According to
Swarzc, Roy Scheider (who doesn't appear in the program) wasn't enthralled
with shooting the sequel, but came around and delivered a solid performance
once it was clear that Gottlieb and the director had overhauled the concept.
It would have been great to see some of Hancock's footage, but, all
things considered, this is a solid overview of the movie, even if it dwells
too much on technical details at times.
Two shorter interview segments are also featured, running about 7 minutes
each: one spotlights actor/director Keith Gordon, reflecting on his experiences
on the set. The other -- sure to be of interest for FSM readers -- is a
talk with John Williams, who discusses composing music for sequels in addition
to his specific work on "Jaws 2." Swarzc also appears here, describing
how amazing Williams' music is -- and indeed it is that, a truly glorious
score that remains one of my all-time favorite works of the composer.
Both an original trailer and a re-release teaser have been included,
along with production photographs, publicity notes and a handful of other
goodies. The 2.35 anamorphic transfer is excellent, surpassing the old,
pressing-plagued LD release, though, unfortunately, the 2.0 mono soundtrack
sounds quite pinched. Even the laserdisc sounds as if it is in stereo by
comparison -- there's no body to the music and dialogue is sometimes hard
While it's disappointing that Universal couldn't have remixed the sound
for 5.1, this edition of JAWS 2 otherwise is a tasty treat for all nostalgic
fans of this late '70s hit, and comes at an ideal time. With temperatures
warming up, it'll soon be beach time for a lot of us -- and somehow or
other, the ominous notes of Williams' Shark Theme will once again creep
into your mind the next time you see a shadow briefly appear beneath the
THE MUMMY RETURNS (***): Saying that there's a lack of surprise
involved with this bigger (and, in some ways, better) sequel is a bit absurd,
given that there wasn't much in the way of originality in its predecessor.
This time out, writer-director Stephen Sommers has cut down on the labyrinthine,
claustrophobic settings of his original and made a broader, more expansive
adventure with exciting fight sequences and a brisker pace.
The plot revolves around the bracelet of one Scorpion King (wrestler
The Rock, on-screen for last than a handful of minutes), the resurrection
of our old pal Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo again), and the quest for control
of an army of the undead which could give the Mummy -- or the Scorpion
King -- power over the entire world. In order to save us all, Brendan Fraser
is back with wife Rachel Weisz, Egyptian warrior Oded Fehr, and brother-in-law
John Hannah, all of whom are not only after the bracelet but Fraser and
Weisz's wise-acre eight-year-old son, whom Imhotep has kidnapped. Also
back in a more prominent role is Patricia Velasquez as the latest reincarnation
of Imhotep's beloved, Aksunamon.
THE MUMMY RETURNS is more Indiana Jones-like in its execution than the
original -- meaning it's even less like the vintage Universal horror series
it loosely originates from -- but I liked the fact that there was, simply,
more to this sequel. Adrian Biddle's colorful cinematography, ILM's special
effects (which range from merely-adequate to excellent), and Sommers' set-pieces
are all more elaborate than the original film, meaning there's a lot less
of Fraser wandering around corridors and more scenes of warring armies,
lush forests in the middle of the desert, and flashbacks to ancient Egypt.
Alan Silvestri's able, romantic score tops Jerry Goldsmith's soundtrack
from the original, and the actors fit comfortably back into their roles,
with the addition of Fraser's young son being far less of annoyance than
Kevin J. O'Connor's inane comic relief from the previous installment.
THE MUMMY RETURNS is old-fashioned escapist entertainment, enthusiastically
handled by filmmakers and a cast that don't seem to be simply going through
the motions. The movie's colossal box-office in-take this past weekend
confirms the popularity of the original and the broad appeal of the subject
matter, though next time out, I'd like to see more of the Mummy and his
quest for eternal love -- further developing the character's tragic, somewhat
sympathetic qualities more than Sommers has in these two pictures.
For the time being, though, THE MUMMY RETURNS more than fits the bill
for the kind of fun, summer- time movie excitement we have been deprived
of lately at the movies. (PG-13)
SUPERMAN DVD thoughts
After jumping through hoops to try and get a pre-release copy to review
for you faithful Aisle Seat readers (which we were denied by the most obnoxious
non-studio PR people we've ever dealt with!), I did what every respectable
Superman fan did last week -- pick up a copy of the 4-disc COMPLETE
SUPERMAN COLLECTION DVD box set, to see just how Warner fared packaging
a Special Edition of one of their most beloved movies.
We had all heard varying statements about this release, both positive
and negative, but the good news is that Superman is flying on DVD in a
package that basically should satisfy any legitimate fan of the original
From the opening notes of the newly remastered 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack,
I was, quite simply, blown away by the sound -- this is one newly overhauled
stereo track that truly sings. John Williams' music has a dimension and
clarity that the original Dolby Stereo mix completely lacked; compared
to the new mix, the old stereo track sounds like a monophonic recording
that was re-channeled into stereo via an echo effect. Sure, some additional
sound effects have been added, but none detract from the overall enjoyment
I got out of this new mix, which seems to have been handled with care by
all involved. Even the much-maligned opening "whoosh!" effect, newly recorded
for this edition, ranges in intensity based on the music playing (it's
dialed down a few notches during the "Can You Read My Mind?" interlude
of the main titles, then returns with a flourish at the conclusion, when
the director's name appears on-screen).
And the picture? Well, at times the elements don't appear like they're
in the best shape, but by and large, it too breezes past all previous transfers
of SUPERMAN we've ever seen. The Krypton scenes look like they were shot
during an entirely different era when compared to the fuzzy hues that were
present on the original letterboxed laserdisc. Sometimes the picture seems
a bit dark, or perhaps pinched on the sides when compared to the LD, but
it's hard to imagine many fans having a legitimate complaint with the picture.
Director Richard Donner has added eight minutes of footage back into
the movie. While most of these scenes are superfluous, they do restore
all of Brando's contribution to the original film, and add the bullets/fire/ice
"test" Superman goes through when he reaches Lex Luthor's lair. I would
have been just as satisfied with these sequences contained in a supplement
as opposed to them being restored to the film (the theatrical cut still
moves better), but they're not all that out of place here.
Interestingly, though: while the Krypton scenes add a few minutes of
previously cut footage, John Williams' original underscoring of the entire
sequence has NOT been restored to this edition. In the expanded TV airings,
and on the soundtrack album, there's original music running under the footage
leading up to baby Kal-El's spaceship taking off. Here, as in the theatrical
version, the music opens with the Superman Fanfare once the ship crashes
through the roof of Jor-El's abode. (You can hear the original, unedited
version on the second side's Alternate Music Cues section, which features
an alternate scoring of the Main Titles and other goodies. The isolated
score track, as well as the new sound mix, have also been mastered from
the original 1" elements -- a noticeably different source than Rhino's
restored soundtrack. Also included in the Alternate Music Cues section
is the pop version of the "Can You Read My Mind?" flying sequence which
on the 2CD set was missing the string section.)
The disc's supplements will prove to be a gold mine for Superman fans.
Two separate, 30-minute long documentary features, hosted by Marc McClure,
feature new interviews with Donner, Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene
Hackman, John Williams, editor Stuart Baird, and others involved in the
production. While I'm not sure why the two half-hours weren't edited into
one longer documentary feature, there's priceless footage to be found here:
some of it culled from the original making-of programs, but most has been
newly uncovered, giving viewers a compelling glimpse into the creative
process (like fascinating test footage from Guy Hamilton's lengthy tenure
as the project's first director). A 17-minute piece on the Special Effects
work is also included.
Perhaps even more revealing are the abundance of screen tests, including
Anne Archer, Lesley Ann Warren, Deborah Raffin, Stockard Channing and Holly
Palance's try-outs as Lois Lane! Watching some of these tests makes you
understand how Kidder was selected, as she seemed to be the only actress
to approach the role from a natural, believably human angle (everyone else
seemed to think Lois required an over-the-top, larger-than-life approach).
The many trials and tribulations behind-the-scenes -- most notably the
conflicts between Donner and Alexander Salkind, plus the Salkinds and Warner
Bros. -- are discussed openly and honestly in the documentaries. The only
element of the interviews -- as well as the candid and often interesting
commentary track with Donner and script "doctor" Tom Mankiewicz (whose
voice is hard to hear at times) -- that I DIDN'T care for is that it seems
as if only one side of the well-publicized argument between the filmmakers
and producers was being addressed here.
A Warner Bros. executive, Donner, Mankiewicz, and Kidder disparage the
Salkinds at every turn, and while this is perhaps deserved, one gets the
feeling that the entire side of the story isn't being divulged. Richard
Lester's name is mentioned only briefly, and -- when the documentary sounds
a death knell from Williams' score when it briefly goes into how Donner
was fired when it came time to complete SUPERMAN II -- it's a little much.
I'm not trying to belittle Donner's contribution or say that he didn't
hold the ship together, but to completely not address Richard Lester --
who Christopher Reeve himself commended for making SUPERMAN II into such
an effective film -- without so much as even talking to the man on-camera
doesn't seem too fair at all. Donner's ego doesn't seem to be held in check
too much during the commentary, either, as he repeatedly makes snide comments
about the producers and takes full credit for anything positive about the
The rest of the box-set is a mixed bag, to be sure, which is especially
surprising given how popular and successful SUPERMAN II was.
Some fans and viewers seem to have forgotten that SUPERMAN II
was generally received more warmly than its predecessor was critically.
Ask most people ten years ago how to make a successful sequel and you would
routinely hear GODFATHER II, ALIENS, and SUPERMAN II.
Given that the movie was nearly as commercially successful, and that
extra footage exists in the film's TV airings, you wonder why Warner didn't
bother including anything other than a routine 2.0 stereo soundtrack (actually
far more "pinched" than the LD's audio) and a trailer on the bare-bones
DVD release. The transfer is basically adequate but not much more.
Similar care was given to the much-maligned later sequels -- 1983's
enjoyably comic-book SUPERMAN III (which has a lot of good stuff
in it that many fans overlook), and 1987's cheapjack Cannon bomb SUPERMAN
IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE (every bit as bad as you remember), with the
latter making its 2.35 debut on video and the former receiving a better
transfer and audio soundtrack than it ever has before.
Nevertheless, aside from trailers, there's nothing else there, which
is a tad disappointing given all the supplements that could have been included
(a planned Japanese DVD of SUPERMAN III was recently canceled that would
have featured extra footage, a documentary, and other supplements).
So, is the set worth it? For $60, absolutely yes. But it IS disappointing
when you consider the missed opportunity of the supplements: there are
literally hours of footage from the entire series left on the cutting room
that we're NOT seeing, and excised shots of Brando working on SUPERMAN
II that have been left out due to legal issues. And perhaps Richard Donner
should have used a little more tact on the first disc's supplements before
taking the opportunity to rant off about how everything he did with SUPERMAN
was right and everything else about the series was wrong, because the evidence
isn't entirely in his favor.
NEXT WEEK...Your comments, more DVDs, and A KNIGHT'S
TALE in theaters. Send all emails off to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
and we'll catch you next time. Excelsior!