Lord of the DVD?
Plus: BLADE II Special Edition with isolated score content!
An Aisle Seat August Entry
By Andy Dursin
First off this week, I have to give props to Robert Townson and the
Varese Sarabande boys for yet another solid run of CD Club releases.
"The Sand Pebbles" has been eagerly awaited by Goldsmith fans for years,
and -- while not my favorite Alan Silvestri score -- his "Romancing the
Stone" has been a title many film score aficionados have wanted to get
their hands on as well.
THE FURY Deluxe Edition is a real eye-opener. While I love the
London Symphony Orchestra soundtrack album, the actual L.A. film recording
has its own distinct flavor and packs a potent punch in its concluding
minutes. It's a phenomenal album, although I wouldn't be so fast to dispose
of my old Varese CD soundtrack just yet: the track "Death On the Carousel"
(the "extra" cue) has been omitted from the new CD Club release. A similar
performance of that cue IS on the L.A. soundtrack disc, but in an alternate
(and shorter) arrangement -- so die-hard Williams fans should hold onto
the older CD just for completion's sake.
I also have to mention THE BRIDE, which despite running 30 minutes
with some curious liner notes ("The Hills Have Eyes Part II" was a box-office
hit?) comes highly recommended just the same. This is a gorgeous, romantic
work by Maurice Jarre that many listeners overlooked simply because the
film itself was so poorly received (I tend to think the movie is severely
underrated, despite its shortcomings). At only $15 and limited to 1,000
copies, I'd definitely take a chance on the album, even though Varese opted
to reprise the contents of the original LP and nothing more.
For the next Varese CD Club wave, I yet again request two unreleased
gems: Elmer Bernstein's FUNNY FARM and Bill Conti's VICTORY (or how 'bout
a complete release of the actual RIGHT STUFF soundtrack?).
New on DVD
LORD OF THE RINGS (***, 178 mins., 2001, PG-13; New Line): After
watching the first three hours of Peter Jackson's long-awaited film version
of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" series last December, I had
many mixed feelings. Overall, though, I felt that I had seen one of the
few films that had succeeded in establishing a true fantasy world and an
epic quest that lures you in the way that great fantasy can.
The story is one that needs little description: in the kingdom of Middle
Earth, young Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) sets out on a journey to destroy
an evil ring, created by the dark lord Sauron, that has been given to him
by his uncle Bilbo (Ian Holm). It not only renders its wearer invisible,
but also gives him the power to control the various kingdoms of Middle
Earth itself. Hot on the trail of the ring are evil armies and corrupted
men, all united by the desire to control the ring and bring back the dark
lord, no longer in physical form but gaining power by the moment. Frodo
is joined on his journey by pal Sam Gangee (Sean Astin) and the great sorcerer
Gandalf (Ian McKellan) among others he meets along the way, including Strider
(Viggo Mortensen) and Princess Arwen (Liv Tyler).
THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING is the kind of film that most genre fans
loved, though even watching it a second time on DVD, it's curious how repetitive
the action is for a movie that goes on for three hours: the characters
run into a monster or new supporting character, walk to another location,
run into a monster or new supporting character, run to another venue, all
the while staying ahead of the bad guys.
That's not to say that I wasn't entertained by the movie or enthralled
by parts of it, but the novelty of its story doesn't seem as cinematically
fresh as it could have been had the film been made years ago -- especially
after so many other Tolkien-inspired cinematic journeys, from "Willow"
to "Dragonslayer," "Star Wars" and others, have already covered similar
ground of unlikely heroes, dastardly villains, and bizarre creatures scattered
across unfamiliar terrain.
What I found most satisfying about LORD OF THE RINGS as a movie was
the look of Jackson's film and the fact that he captured the essence of
an epic adventure, a great quest, on-screen without getting sidetracked
by the many supporting characters and subplots. When the characters travel
through the mine of the dwarves, are pursued by a fire-spewing demon, and
jump across a crumbling bridge, you truly feel as if you're in the middle
of a great, epic fantasy adventure. Where each turn could lead down a different
path, each path leading to doom or discovery.
There are some shortcomings with the film, and if I had to single out
a general flaw I found, I'd note the rather one-note tone of the film:
the drama doesn't seem to have any peaks or valleys. It's all just kind
of "there." Maybe it's because of the repetitive nature of the story, or
that Elijah Wood's functional performance as Frodo doesn't quite convey
the wide range of emotion inherent in the character and his journey. Even
though we know the ending is going to be open-ended, Jackson doesn't quite
handle it right: I could hear several "is that it?" responses from people
sitting near me when the film faded to black and the credits began rolling
I generally liked Howard Shore's large orchestral, Oscar-winning score,
but found, over the course of three hours, that his motifs also became
redundant. His lilting music for the Hobbits reminded me of similar "ethnic"
themes written for "Willow" and "Far and Away," while the "heroic theme"
he composed for the adventurers grows tiresome over the countless scenes
of the heroes venturing over rough terrain. It's always functional, but
somehow it misses the wider, more colorful thematic pallet that Leonard
Rosenman brought to Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated feature. It'll be interesting
to see if Shore varies from his original work for the next six hours of
the series, since a lot of his material felt worn-out by the time this
installment was finished.
So, is THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RINGS a classic? The next "Star Wars"?
I think the jury is still out, but Jackson at least laid the foundation
here to craft one of the fantasy genre's few epic cinematic works. Whether
the remaining installments hit the dramatic heights that this one doesn't
quite reach, or if it's all just a great-looking tease made unique only
through its connection with the classic text, at least it seems apparent
that it's going to be a journey worth taking.
Now, onto the DVD: New Line has just released a two-disc DVD edition
of the theatrical cut, with a second disc of bonus features basically comprised
of mostly-promotional featurettes. As with every New Line title, the 2.35
transfer is outstanding and the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack one of the
best you'll hear at home.
For Special Features, you get a 16-minute featurette produced by book
publishers Houghton-Mifflin, a half-hour special that aired on Fox, and
a 45-minute Making Of that was broadcast on the Sci-Fi Channel. All of
these are mostly promotional in nature but aren't devoid of interest, with
background footage and interviews breaking up the monotony of seeing the
same film clips rehashed over and over. A handful of shorter featurettes
produced for the Lord of the Rings website are included, as are your full
run of trailers and TV spots, an Enya music video, a preview of the upcoming
Electronic Arts video game, and à arguably of the most interest -- a 10-minute
preview of THE TWO TOWERS, which features flim clips and behind-the-scenes
footage (most intriguingly of Andy Serkis' Gollum character, prominently
featured in the next picture), whetting your appetite for the sequel.
Now, several readers have emailed me and asked if they should hold off
for the truly "Special" Edition of THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING: a four-disc
Director's Cut that will feature commentaries, an abundance of documentaries,
and 30 minutes of footage restored back into the film itself (including
new music composed by Howard Shore), coming in November.
My advice is this: if you are a major fan of the film and want a copy
of the theatrical version, go ahead and pick up this two-disc edition.
Fans will want every scrap of RINGS behind-the-scenes material (promotional
or not), and the documentaries on this edition will NOT, apparently, be
on the four-disc Director's Cut. It's also important to note that the Director's
Cut will apparently be R-rated and contain more gore, which will be of
significance if kids are a part of your viewing audience.
On the other hand, if you only have the time and money to invest in
one release, I'd hold off and purchase the Director's Edition in November.
It'll be just a few dollars more and promises to be one of the top special
DVD editions of the year, if not the format altogether. Stay tuned!
BLADE 2 (**, 117 mins., 2002, R; New Line, Available
September 3): "More gore, less filling" is the term I'd use to sum up this
disappointing, repellent sequel to the surprisingly good sleeper hit of
Despite my reservations about the film, however, New Line has crafted
another outstanding Platinum Edition DVD release that may be worth it for
its supplements alone -- especially for its film music-related goodness!
First, the movie: Wesley Snipes is back as the half-vampire, half-human
Marvel super- hero, here summoned to help out a group of vampires being
attacked by a plague of nosferatu-like creatures that prey on the undead
as well as the living.
David S. Goyer's script offers up the usual fights and kung-fu moves
for Wesley, but director Guillermo Tel Toro is far more interested in bloodletting
and plenty of disgusting special effects than his predecessor (Stephen
Norrington) was. These vampire-offspring not only want to drink your blood,
but their mouths open up into a foul, tentacle-laden critter a la John
Carpenter's "The Thing" as they rip your guts out.
Kris Kristofferson re-appears as Blade's faithful pal Whistler, but
while Snipes is game as always, the movie sadly lacks the presence of bad-guy
Deacon Frost, who served up a grand menace to Blade thanks to Stephen Dorff's
performance in the original. He's mentioned in passing here, but the sequel's
substitute -- a cast-off son of a vampire king wanting to exact revenge
on his old man -- is weak, and a would-be romance between Blade and the
head vamp's daughter (the fetching but emotionless Lenor Vanela) comes
off as half-baked at best. A cool battle with ninja-vamps at the beginning
is, alas, only a tease for the rather tedious shenanigans that follow.
Where the original BLADE was a cool comic-book come to life -- colorfully
filling up a widescreen frame not employed here -- BLADE 2 is more of a
claustrophobic, subterranean horror movie like Del Toro's "Mimic," with
the director's urine-yellow cinematography washing out the first film's
more contemporary look. More over, the director dwells on gore and blood
to the point where I kept looking at my watch, waiting for this one to
BLADE 2 is grimier, uglier, and gorier than the original, but it's also
less involving and interesting as a story. After nearly three years, you
would have thought that Snipes and company could have cooked up a sequel
with more bite, never mind blood.
Now for some good news: New Line's DVD is packed with supplements, including
a full- blown isolated score track of Marco Beltrami's score (in 5.1) that
includes all of his own work and is not interrupted with dialogue, source
music, or commentary interruptions. It's been a long time since we've heard
a legitimate isolated score track, but fortunately BLADE II is one of them!
This two-disc set (available September 3) is filled to the brim with
great commentaries and copious extras that may well be worth the purchase
for genre fans even if, like me, you didn't care for the film. Del Toro
and producer Peter Frankfurt engage in one commentary track that's unusually
candid and interesting, touching upon Del Toro's direction and the production
in Prague. Snipes and Goyer are teamed for the other commentary, with the
two discussing the sequel's conception and road to the screen, along with
other anecdotes that place it far above the usual self-congratulatory commentary
Disc two includes all kinds of interactive documentaries and supplements,
presented in both an interactive format (i.e. an icon appears on-screen
that brings you to more information) and a traditional text menu for those
who don't want to spend time figuring out complicated menu screens (thank
you, New Line!). The meat of the disc is "Production Workshop," which includes
five individual "chapters" (The Blood Pact, Sequence Breakdowns, Visual
Effects, Notebook, and Art Gallery) spanning the production of BLADE II.
The Blood Pact portion itself runs some 83 minutes, starting from the
sequel's origin all the way through direction, production design, creature
and visual FX, choreography, costumes, and -- yes -- even the score.
Beltrami is extensively interviewed about scoring the film, while recording
session footage is on-hand in abundance. But the segment doesn't stop there
-- Del Toro and Beltrami can also be seen discussing Varese's CD release
of the score, mulling when it would be released and how much music would
be on it! The use of ethnic instruments and their separate recording is
also shown and discussed, while the performance of an alternate cue is
included, enabling you to compare it to the final version.
This is easily one of the best film music featurettes I've ever seen
on a DVD, period, and if you are a fan of Beltrami or this score, don't
Some 25 minutes worth of Deleted Scenes are also included (several fully
scored), though Del Toro rightfully describes them as "crap" and you can
easily see why they were axed.
A full compliment of trailers, TV spots, storyboards, a DVD-ROM interactive
script, director's journals, and equally outstanding featurettes on the
FX are just the tip of the iceberg in a package that's hands down one of
the year's best on DVD. So good, in fact, that I'm almost willing to forgive
the disappointment of the film and give this one a full- blown recommendation.
For genre fans, certainly, BLADE II comes recommended without reservation.
Look for it early next month.
THE SWEETEST THING (**, 90 mins., 2002, Unrated;
Columbia TriStar): A schizophrenic comedy that's equal parts "There's Something
About Mary," "My Best Friend's Wedding" and "Bridget Jones' Diary," THE
SWEETEST THING flopped at the box-office last spring despite generating
"buzz" among various media outlets for its tale of swingin' single ladies
mixing it up on the dance floor -- or at least, I think that's what the
movie was about.
Cameron Diaz plays the heroine here, doing her usual dance and gyrating
butt routines (I can't think of any other way to describe it!) as a party
girl who just wants to meet Mr. Right. That she does, in the form of Thomas
Jane (quickly becoming the Cary Elwes of the 21st century), who's actually
engaged to be married in a few days to Parker Posey (in a worthless 90-second
cameo). With gal pal Christina Applegate tagging along, Diaz opts to disrupt
the ceremony, but not until we get an incredibly tasteless assortment of
gross- out, "American Pie"-like gags, strange musical montages (including
one spoofing "Pretty Woman" and "Grease"), and connecting dramatic tissue
so thin that you have to assume a lot of this abbreviated comedy hit the
cutting room floor (tellingly, the 90-minute movie is padded with nearly
ten minutes of credits and outtake footage).
It says a great deal about a movie when a supporting role for former
sitcom teen phenom Jason Bateman is the most amusing thing in it (he does,
to his credit, perform a hilarious rendition of the Bangles' "Eternal Flame"),
but I have to admit THE SWEETEST THING is so bizarre that it kept me watching.
Diaz, Applegate, and Selma Blair are awfully appealing and I got the feeling
that there was a funny, sweet movie lurking somewhere in Nancy Pimental's
script. The problem is that the tone swings wildly from romantic comedy
to disgusting, lost-common-denominator visual gags, almost as if the sexually-
oriented humor was thrown in simply to get the movie made. Whatever the
case may be, director Roger Kumble ("Cruel Intentions") seemed to have
trouble juggling the film's multiple personalities.
Columbia has released both R-rated and Unrated versions of THE SWEETEST
THING on DVD. Not having seen the theatrical cut, I can only assume one
brief shot of male genitalia was added to the unrated version. The 1.85
transfer is perfect, the 5.1 soundtrack bouncy, and supplements include
director and cast commentary, a promotional featurette, storyboards, trailers,
and a half-hour, tongue-in-cheek look at Pimental working on the script.
NEXT TIME: Back in a couple of weeks with a late
summer round-up. In the meantime, I have plenty of DVDs to sort through
for the Halloween FSM Laserphile column in between heading to the beach.
Drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and
we'll catch you next time!