Mail Bag takes on Lifeforce
Plus: News on STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE and PEARL
An Aisle Seat Entry By Andy Dursin
News on two eagerly awaited DVDs came down last week, whetting the appetites
of Laserphiles from coast to coast.
First up, Buena Vista announced that PEARL HARBOR would not only bow
on DVD on December 4th with a whole slew of extras, but also in a new,
"re-thought" R-RATED Director's Cut in mid-January! This latter edition
will include an Intermission break, some five minutes of gore that had
to be cut to retain the movie's PG-13 theatrical rating, and various other
changes throughout that director Michael Bay claims will focus more on
the friendship between the male leads, and less on the love story (USA
Today said this new cut would be aimed specifically "at male viewers").
Sounds like the latter might be the way to go -- both packages will include
supplements, but more will be included in the three-disc "Vista Series"
edition due in January.
More exciting news came with an announcement from Widescreen Review
concerning the STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE DVD. Due out on November 6,
this two-disc set from Paramount will feature the new, 136-minute "Director's
Cut," complete with new special effects and other enhancements. (The running
time is four minutes longer than the original theatrical edition, and eight
minutes shorter than the expanded version that still runs on TV). The disc
will also include a potentially exciting collection of extras, including
all of the scenes now deleted/altered from earlier versions of the film
(supposedly five from the '79 version and 11 from the TV cut), trailers
and TV spots, three retrospective documentaries, and a full commentary
track including Robert Wise and Jerry Goldsmith. If the supplements hold
firm, this sounds like a must to me!
And while Universal has yet to confirm an official date for LEGEND,
Ridley Scott provides us with a whiff of what's to come in this week's
HANNIBAL double-disc set from MGM. In his liner notes, Scott mentions "Director's
Cuts," and how BLADE RUNNER and (yes!) LEGEND have both been improved with
extra footage. See, it IS coming -- just hang in there, everyone!
Memories of LIFEFORCE
Reaction came in fast and furious concerning my look back at LIFEFORCE
a couple of weeks ago. Here's a sampling of other readers who were equally
nostalgic about this '80s cult classic.
From Steve Stromberg:
This is one of your best articles. Seems as if you had as much fun
writing it as you did seeing Lifeforce. When Lifeforce was first released
is was back in my movie reviewer days for The British Observer (Bay Area
newsmagazine for Brits in the area) and I could not believe my eyes or
ears. It was so wonderfully good/bad that I could only say to our readers,
"Go, you'll have fun in some way. I don't know what way, but go." That
From Greg Bryant:
Thanks for confirming my opinion of Lifeforce as one of the great
guilty pleasures. It was also great to read of some of the production history
that went on behind the scenes.
It's still a toss-up for me who gives the great performance of the
film: Steve Railsback, always an overacter, who for too long slid along
on his performance as Charles Manson from Helter Skelter, once again totally
overdoing his part; OR Peter Firth, who plays his part with such earnest
gravity that you think at any moment he's going to sink through the floor.
My memory of this film is that it lasted in the nearby theater for
exactly one week, thus robbing me of the opportunity to see it for over
a year until it arrived upon video. Of course, my wait was worth it. Yes,
it's great to see London in flames; the big chase through the streets by
Peter Firth battling vampires the entire way; all the British actors playing
their roles so straight, while both Frank Finlay and Steve Railsback literally
bounce off the walls.
Henry Mancini's score was notable in a Star Wars/Williams sort of
vein, and John Dykstra's special effects were great.
Thanks for giving this "classic" some overdue attention.
From Luis Miguel Ramos:
Well, Andy. My sincere congratulations for such an insight
on one of my favorite guilty pleasures. Lifeforce is perhaps dumb in many
areas, but it has some good things, especially Henry Mancini's score.
I agree with you that this movie contains stupid dialogues and lousy
performances in general. In my opinion, Steve Railsback is terrible as
Tom Carlsen because he overperforms all the time, yelling, growling, and
shaking all the people in his path. But I consider Frank Finlay's performance
as Professor Hans Fallada the best in the movie. Too bad about Patrick
Stewart's fate in that helicopter, and it's definitely one of the funniest
things in the film.
The climax is outrageous. I mean all those Londoners becoming zombies;
that looks like a second-hand horror pic. However, the final showdown between
Railsback and gorgeous Mathilda May is, personally, the highlight of the
film, giving Henry Mancini something glorious to conclude the movie, followed
by the even more spectacular "Lifeforce Theme."
I'd also like to remark the fact that Lifeforce is my favorite Henry
Mancini score over The Pink Panther. Some people would hate me for saying
this, but that's the way I feel. And we're talking about the music for
one bad movie I have learned to love. Thank you very much, Andy.
From John O'Malley:
The Summer of 1985 brings a smile to my face as well. I
was 14 at the time.
The movies I saw in the theater that summer: Rambo First Blood II,
Back To The Future, Pee Wee's Big Adventure, Back To School, The Goonies,
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and Real Genius. I didn't get a chance to see
Lifeforce in the theater (R rated films were few and far between for me
to see in the theater at that point) I don't think it was in the theater
all that long either.
But a year later..thanks to home video, I first saw it and the two
other cult horror films of 1985... Day Of The Dead and Dan O'Bannon's Return
Of The Living Dead. My friends and I had a thing for those crazy zombie
films. lol A lot of laughs were had by all.
I think it was a year ago or so that TNT had aired Lifeforce, and
I watched, not having seen it in a number of years. The film certainly
has it's problems, but I still found it as entertaining as you did. The
story is every bit daffy as you recall. I was surprised at how well the
special effects still look today. The score by Henry Mancini is really
good as well. (The dramatic end titles is all but a classic to me) Looking
back it's kinda hard to fathom that the movie was actually made with such
a big budget (for its time) without a big- time actor in the lead part
and having a R rating. PG-13 would have assured a bigger audience (kids)
It's definately an expensive and adult 1950's "B" Sci Fi movie come to
I also enjoyed your take on Tim Burton's version of Planet Of The
Apes, I myself thoroughly enjoyed it as well and could appreciate what
it was and what it wasn't compared to the original classic. I personally
had no problem with the daft and ironic twist at the end of the film. Obviously
a sequel is to come in the future...or is it the past?!
Tim Burton has sworn there's going to be no sequel to PLANET OF
THE APES, complaining that it was a nightmare to deal with 20th Century
Fox. This could be for real, or just a ploy for more money, since it's
obvious that there's going to be a sequel with or -- if his mind doesn't
change -- without his participation. I mean, the movie was MADE with a
sequel in mind, wasn't it? (If not, I may have to change my stance on the
From Jeremy Moniz:
Nice article on Lifeforce and I totally agree with you, though you
should have written something about Mathilda May, the space vampiress herself,
as she has become a very well respected actress... in France! She won the
equivalent to the Oscar a few years ago. Though in Lifeforce her talents
were not really put to the test... "Come, Carlson, be with me!!!"
From Arndt Holzmeier:
Dead on, Andy!
Lifeforce is one of the greatest bad movies ever made. Right amongst
The Lost Continent and Quatermass and the Pit (more than just an inspiration
for Lifeforce), Casino Royale, Tremors, Army of Darkness, I could go on.
"Bad" meaning that something went terribly wrong in making those that prevented
them to become acknowledged mainstream classics (i.e. greenlighting them).
They all vastly differ in their respective levels of production values,
acting or writing (Tremors has an outstanding but underrated script and
good acting, AoD has fine fx, Casino Royale has Bacharach and Sellers,
Watching those you never stop asking yourself "how could this film
ever happen?" but you are happy they did. They all are *immensely* entertaining.
As opposed to Bruckheimer crap, which seems to have it all - big budgets,
bad acting, no scripts - but never accomplishes anything outside of nausea
and boredom. Those are bad bad movies as opposed to above great bad movies.
Pity that few seem to get it. Great that you take the time to point it
From Roman Deppe:
Great special about LIFEFORCE. I considered many times to buy this
DVDas I remember this movie pretty well... hm, okay, mostly for itsfabulous
special effects. Actually, i haven't seen it in years and when I was young
I didn't see that much silliness in it as I probably will nowadays. So,
yeah, I finally ordered it and am looking forward to seethe burning London
with the cool laserbeams in great picture quality and also to get some
good laughs. One of the things I remember though fromit is, that Steve
Railsback is constantly explaining what's going on,because otherwise nobody
would understand it - always hilarious, when that's happening in a movie.
I also wonder whether the DVD-version is longer than the European
cut(it's not been released on DVD here). Some sources say, that in Europethe
movie was released in its original cut, so that it would be the sameas
the new longer cut on DVD, but on the other hand, I remember Michael Kamen's
music at least in one scene in it and also his name in the credits. That
was one thing I didn't understand in your comments, as you said, that his
music was electronic. I am damn sure that he also contributed some big
orchestral stuff, as in the scene when Mathilda May comes a one of the
big bats in a dream sequence to Railsback that's exactly a cue from DIE
HARD 2. I doubt that this was from Mancini... well, but who knows? Maybe
the European cut has a lot more changes than the originlcut and the short
US-cut... maybe things like in LEGEND happened. I'll see and let you know.
Roman, as far as we know, the "International" version Cannon released
in certain parts of the world outside of the U.S. IS the version on DVD,
and certainly Michael Kamen's involvement was relegated solely to the American
version that Tri-Star released here.
Curiously, though, you may well be right that the U.S. version DID run
in other parts of the world. I have a friend in England who says the longer
cut of the movie ran for a "roadshow" engagement for a week or so in metropolitan
London, but when LIFEFORCE opened throughout the rest of the UK, it was
in the shorter 102-minute U.S. cut.
A.I., one last time
From Jeff Heise:
While I feel that Spielberg's AI is a problematic film (in much
the same way EMPIRE OF THE SUN was), I feel that it is a much more successful
film than you give it credit for. For me, this is one of the few films
I've seen in the last few months that actually gives you something to think
about, rather than just zip in the eyeballs and out the back of your mind.
A summer film that is about something, hmmm...
There are some problems with the film-the parents are poorly drawn
(she abandons him in the woods rather than returning him to be destroyed-I
will give her credit for that), the opening scene would have been better
off as a crawl at the beginning, the "ice-age" section could have been
lopped off entirely and I would not have missed it (although I do love
that final shot) and Hurt is his usual phlegmatic self.
But there is one thing about this film that many people have missed:
Kubrick always seemed to prefer the non-human characters in his films.
When you think about it, the aliens and Hal in 2001 were much more interesting
(the death of Hal was more painful than Poole's), the environments surrounding
his characters in films like BARRY LYNDON and THE SHINING have more personality,
and the most vital characters in DR. STRANGELOVE are the title character-who
is now part machine and the "Doomsday Device," which will now have the
ultimate say over life and death on Earth. Whether you feel that this just
supports an argument that Kubrick's films were cold and unfeeling is up
to you, but AI is not that way, at least to me.
The film is really saying that in many ways, we are turning into
unfeeling beings. Machines that are capable of feeling something (the need
to survive, to love, to want love in return) are more likable and more
sympathetic than the organic lifeforms that created them. Look at it this
way-imagine humans in God's place and the "meccas" in human's place with
them wondering if they have been abandoned, why terrible things happen
to them and is there really some form of heaven when all is over here,
and you might have a better understanding of the ideas behind this film.
One of the essential themes in Kubrick's works is man feeling like he is
incapable of controlling his own destiny and fate, possibly because there
might not be a God in the first place, or the God that is there just does
not care. To see where the film rests in the Spielberg world, look at the
"Flesh Fair" as Germany under Hitler, and go from there.
In this film, this boy is created to love, to give love-AT THE RISK
OF MAYBE NOT RECEIVING ANY LOVE IN RETURN. This idea is one we all live
with, the giving of unconditional love in the hopes of getting it back
(the "cast ye bread upon the waters" mantra) and how a great deal of the
time we come up empty handed. As for the third act, perhaps the aliens
are meant to be some form of messenger or "angel," if you wish, that try
to explain just why things are the way they are and how things work. The
idea of cloning the mother to bring her back to David, even for just one
day, can be seen as a microcosm of the lifespan of a human being hoping
for just a perfect, happy life with no sadness and nothing but love. It
also points out the problem of immortality-which many of us have wished
for at some point in our lives without realizing the ramifications-and
why it may not be a good thing, after all. I really felt sorry for the
teddy bear at the end, and I wish that David had scooped him up in arms
to sleep with him so that none of them would be alone at the end.
I will see this film again, and look forward to the DVD, so I can
look at certain passages again to gain more out of it. When I saw the film
I admired it rather than liked it, but the film is growing on me, and I
believe in the end it will rank with Spielberg's other masterpieces: CE3K,
E. T., SCHINDLER'S LIST, and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.
Thank you, Andy, for providing one of the more eloquent review columns
on the web. I may not always agree, but you always give food for thought.
Jeff, thank you for your comments. We've all discussed and ranted
off about A.I. to no end, so there's little point in rehashing the older
One thing I suspected that turned out to be correct was that the movie
bombed in the U.S., not even reaching $80 million for a film people were
anticipating that would be a "blockbuster." On the other hand, the movie
has (predictably) played well in Japan, where EYES WIDE SHUT also found
more acceptance than it did on these shores.
It'll be interesting to see if A.I. will be viewed ultimately as one
of Spielberg's finest achievements, or a movie completely over-analyzed
by its proponents as being far more thought-provoking than it actually
NEXT TIME: The Aisle Seat's end of the summer DVD
bash, with reviews from HANNIBAL to MGM's new demented De Palma discs.
Email all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
and we'll catch you next time!