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Wasted TIME at the Aisle Seat

Also: LEGEND Officially Announced!!

Plus: Ghost World, Jay & Silent Bob on DVD

By Andy Dursin

The saga is over: Ridley Scott's LEGEND has been officially, finally confirmed by Universal for a May 21st release.

Retail for this double-disc "Ultimate Edition" is an attractive $24.98, and gives you both the 113-minute, Restored Director's Cut with Jerry Goldsmith's music, as well as the 90-minute U.S. version with Mango Nightmare score (check that, music by Tangerine Dream). Extras include what we've been hearing about for the better part of the last couple of years: audio commentary, a documentary, a look at "lost" scenes, storyboards, plus DTS and Dolby Digital tracks on the Director's Cut.There is Tangerine Dream isolated score, but no separate track for Jerry's outstanding, classic original work (though this doesn't come as any surprise).
 
While I hope the multi-year hold-up hasn't been over the inclusion of Bryan Ferry's music video, at long last we'll finally be able to see LEGEND as it was meant to be this May.


New In Theaters

Many of us regard George Pal's version of The Time Machine as a bona-fide classic in science fiction/fantasy filmmaking, so when Dreamworks announced that they'd be producing a remake several years ago, the obvious responses of "why tamper with a masterpiece?" were moaned from all circles.

Of course, being a critic, you have to give each movie its due, but even on its own terms, the soulless and highly uneven new version of THE TIME MACHINE (**) rates as something of a big-budget misfire.

Running barely 90 minutes and showing signs of post-production tinkering at every step, this John Logan-scripted, Simon Wells-directed affair puts Guy Pearce into Rod Taylor's role of a brilliant scientist who ventures forward in time to chart the progression of man. Here, however, Logan has felt the need to add a tragic angle to Wells' story, with Pearce losing his bride-to-be and wanting to change the past to improve the present.

Of course, it doesn't quite go as planned, leading Pearce to travel forward to find the answers to why he can't change past events. After a quick sojourn to an impending future where we see the moon break apart (a great plot device treated as a throwaway here), Pearce ultimately finds a futuristic society more like Stargate than its source material, with the cliff-dwelling Eloi tribe trying to stay alive while muscular, subterranean Morlocks hunt them at every step. What's more, the Morlocks are organized by a cunning Jeremy Irons, who looks like he just got out of a heavy metal concert and didn't bother to change his make-up.

There are some good things in THE TIME MACHINE, though much of it feels strangely rushed and compromised. The opening half-hour, set in the 1800s, is well shot by Donald McAlphine and certainly looks elegant, but the movie starts to turn sour once it moves ahead into the future. There, we get the standard "a hero will rise" plot with an outsider leading peaceful natives against deadly predators, but there's so little character interplay that it makes William Broyles' script from Tim Burton's PLANET OF THE APES seem like a WGA award-contender by comparison.

A plot device involving Orlando Jones as the holographic embodiment of the NY Public Library's computer system (!) surprisingly pays off, but Wells' pacing feels like a movie trailer: there's no character development at any point in the film, and what there is  -- namely, scenes with Pearce's pal Mark Addy -- seem like an afterthought. (It could be that the film's turbulent shoot resulted in the jettison of numerous plot elements and scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor; certainly the movie's uneven pacing seems to confirm that).

Klaus Badelt's score, meanwhile, works fine in its orchestral passages, but throws in a laughable "tribal" motif that sounds so much like the theme from TV's SURVIVOR that you'll be looking for host Jeff Probst to appear and vote Pearce out of the movie.

Though some criticized Pal's film because it took a "comic book approach" to the material, at least the original movie left plenty to the viewer's imagination -- particularly at the end. This TIME MACHINE not only leaps from event to event, ending with a climax that's been so poorly built up that you can't believe that's all there is, but also spells out the final scene that the original left so beautifully ambiguous.

I could also go into the ridiculously vague "rules" for its time paradoxes, the almost complete lack of humor, and how nice it was to see Alan Young again (if only for a few seconds), but why bother? It's too bad Simon Wells and company couldn't have gone back in time and prevented this sorry remake from ever happening in the first place -- or at least improved what there was before making us pay $8.75 to see it. (PG-13)


New and Noteworthy

THE ONE (*1/2, 2001, 87 mins., PG-13; Columbia TriStar, $24.98): A pair of dueling Jet Lis go at it in this interminable sci-fi/martial arts hybrid from former "X-Files" producers James Wong and Glen Morgan, who found considerably more success making the amusing teen thriller "Final Destination" a couple of years ago.

Here, Li plays both a cop in the present day and his psychotic evil twin, who comes barreling out of the "multiverse" to kill one of his alter-egos. It turns out that there isn't just one universe in the world, but over 120 others, and Bad Jet has nothing better to do with his time than to jump from one dimension to the other, killing all of his brethren in the process.

Unfortunately, the difference between Good Jet and Bad Ji isn't, say, as interesting as Mr. Spock and his goatee-wearing evil twin from STAR TREK's "Mirror, Mirror." The Asian superstar struggles with his limited dialogue and makes all of the sequences involving the good-guy cop's wife (Carla Gugino) a real chore to sit through, while Wong and Morgan never come up with a reason why we should care about anything that happens -- it's by-the-numbers all the way.

Tellingly, the movie is over by the 80 minute mark (and is padded by some seven minutes of end credits), but feels like it's over two hours long. Technically, some razzle-dazzle CGI work is contrasted with relatively cheap looking sets and blah cinematography, capped off by a routine score by Trevor Rabin.

Columbia's DVD is right on par with their usual efforts, meaning the 2.35 transfer is exceptional and the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack crisp and effective (though it's not an overly elaborate, "showcase" mix you'll be using to show off your sound system). If widescreen isn't your cup of tea, a full-frame transfer is also included (but should be avoided at all costs).

Supplemental extras aren't extensive, but do offer a decent commentary track by the crew and filmmakers, generic Making Of featurettes, filmographies, trailers, and an animatics comparison.


GHOST WORLD (**, 2001, 111 mins., R; MGM, $19.98): This tale of post-high school angst, growing up, isolation, and alienation drew raves from critics and art house aficionados, though I found its weak, overlong third act to detract from the consistently solid performances and smart, though at times uneven, writing.

Thora Birch plays Enid, a sarcastic, recent high school graduate who's smart in some elements of life yet wholly immature in others -- like a lot of kids today, she's become an adult without really growing up. For one final high school prank, Enid opts to answer a classified ad placed by loner Steve Buscemi, only to find out his stash of obscure LPs is something she actually can relate to -- well, sort of.

As time passes, it's clear that Enid has a lot of maturing to do. While pal Rebecca (Scarlet Johansson) decides to get a job after graduation, Enid is hopelessly stuck in neutral, wanting to move on but not knowing how. She ends up being fired from a gig at the local multiplex (a memorable sequence), having to pass a summer class taught by pretentious artist Illeana Douglas, and falling for Buscemi, which causes trouble when he begins a relationship with an older woman.

Daniel Clowes and director Terry Zwigoff scripted this droll adaptation of Clowes' comic book, which works best during the first hour with its almost self-contained sequences deftly meditating on everything from video store clerks to high school losers and convenience stores. The characters are vividly drawn and the performances are excellent -- particularly Buscemi, who dials down his usual persona in a well-shaded, completely believable role.
 
here are plenty of laughs and smart observations -- all the scenes in Douglas' art class are hysterical -- but the movie becomes less satisfying during the final 40 minutes, when the focus is turned strictly on Birch and Buscemi's relationship. The progression of the story is quite uneven -- certain dramatic elements are never fully developed (like Birch's use of an old, racist restaurant logo as her art class project and the controversy that ensues) -- while the final minutes seem to go on forever, arriving at an ending we can see coming from miles away.

Despite its disappointing final third, GHOST WORLD is still worth a look for its decidedly unique view of the "teen movie" genre and uniform fine performances.

MGM's Special Edition DVD features a handful of deleted/alternate scenes, a Making Of featurette, music video, and the original trailer. The colorful 1.85 transfer is flawless, nicely capturing Alfonso Beato's cinematography, while the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound includes an eclectic soundtrack of songs and an effective, low-key score by David Kitay.


JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK (**1/2, 2001, 104 mins., R; Dimension, $29.98): The apparently final adventure of Kevin Smith's long-running Jay and Silent Bob characters (previously seen in the director's past projects from "Clerks" to "Dogma") is a ribald, sporadically funny comedy that overcomes its hit-or-miss gags with a bright, energetic pace and plenty of in-jokes.

After finding out they've been turned into comic book heroes (dubbed Bluntman and Chronic) and that a forthcoming movie adaptation is in production, Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith) decide to take a road trip cross-country to take down the studio. What follows is a wacky farce with Jay and Silent Bob running into diamond-stealing femme fatales (Shannon Elizabeth, Eliza Dushku, and Ali Larter), an incompetent park ranger (Will Ferrell), and appearances by nearly every star of Smith's previous films, including Ben Affleck as both his "Chasing Amy" character and -- in an uproarious spoof of "Good Will Hunting" -- himself!

While the laughs are scattershot for a while, the big Hollywood finish provides plenty of amusement: Chris Rock is notably hilarious as the film's foul-mouthed director (actually, pretty much EVERYONE in this film is foul-mouthed), while James Van Der Beek and Jason Biggs provide some big laughs as themselves -- as does Mark Hamill, mocking Luke Skywalker and having a grand time as the cinematic bad guy.

Like many of Smith's previous films on DVD, Dimension's double-disc Special Edition of JAY AND SILENT BOB boasts hours worth of terrific special features, including audio commentary, over 40 deleted scenes with introductions from the director (and special guests), gag reel, TV spots, still galleries, music videos, a Comedy Central special, and assorted DVD-ROM extras.

Visually, the 2.35 transfer is solid and the "specially prepared for DVD" 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is highly active. Even if you've run hot and cold on some of Smith's work (like I have), JAY AND SILENT BOB is a funny, profane romp that should raise a few smiles on the faces of anyone clued into today's Hollywood.


RAT RACE (*1/2, 2001, 112 mins., PG-13; Paramount, $29.98): It might have somehow become a box-office hit, but this astoundingly unfunny -- and uncredited -- variation on "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" is a sad waste of talent in front and behind the camera, especially considering that "Airplane!"/"Naked Gun" co-director Jerry Zucker was at the helm.

Andy Breckman's plot is just about as basic as "Mad World": billionaire John Cleese decides to send a group of crazed individuals on a scavenger hunt to retrieve some $2-million from a locker in New Mexico. The group of nuts are predictably varied across a wide racial, economic, and social plain, including ousted pro football official Cuba Gooding, Jr., narcoleptic Italian Rowan Atkinson, aspiring attorney Breckin Meyer, family man Jon Lovitz, slacker Seth Green, plus Whoopi Goldberg and Wayne Knight. All are steadfast in their desire to retrieve the cash, which takes place in the form of an "anything goes" race from Las Vegas to New Mexico.

While it's hard to believe that one of the Zucker brothers has completely lost touch with his comedic sensibilities, RAT RACE is an interminable farce that actually suffers from one of "Mad World"'s own ailments: that people screaming for the better part of several hours doesn't actually constitute comedy. We get a talking cow attached to a hot-air balloon, Lovitz hijacking Hitler's car, Atkinson tiresomely reprising Mr. Bean again, and a busload of Lucille Ball imitators -- are you laughing yet? It's been a while since we've seen so many talented actors looking so utterly lost, and I'm not even going to discuss the godawful cameos by former SCTV funnyman Dave Thomas, comic Paul Rodriguez, and Kathy Bates!

On top of the misfired gags and painfully dull action set-pieces, RAT RACE even manages to throw in an infuriating, "feel good" message ending that had me wanting to throw my remote at the TV set. It's an exercise in futility that's best left on the video store shelves.

Paramount's Collector's Edition DVD is a bit on the light side supplements wise, featuring an interview between Zucker and Breckman (who act as if they've just produced the funniest film ever made), a couple of deleted scenes, featurette, gag reel, trailer, and another outrageously un-funny segment called "Jerry and Andy Call the Actors."

The 2.35 transfer ranges from okay to excellent while the 5.1 sound is variable in terms of its stereophonic presence. John Powell's score works overtime to sustain a feeling of zany shenanigans, though the only portion of his music (which replaced a rejected score by Elmer Bernstein) that works is a choral rendition of the Baha Men's title song.


HARDBALL (**, 2001, 106 mins., PG-13; Paramount, $29.98): A modest box-office hit released just days after September 11, "Hardball" finds struggling gambler Keanu Reeves trying to make payments while attempting to place one last bet on his hometown Chicago Bulls. Enter his investment broker pal Mike McGlone, who promises Keanu that he'll pay him $500 per-week IF he'll coach an inner-city kids baseball team in the process.

Deciding to take his pal up on the offer, Keanu reluctantly opts to coach the youngsters, though this isn't quite the "The Bad News Ghetto Bears" that the ads promised. Ultimately, the underdog collection of young African-American children show Keanu that it's not whether you win or lose but the ability to play -- and get off inner-city streets ravaged with drugs and guns -- that's most worthwhile.

Brian Robbins ("Varsity Blues") directed this uneven adaptation of Daniel Coyle's novel, which seems like it can't make up its mind whether to be a gritty, realistic story of a gambler seeking redemption, an inner-city kids' sports film, or a combination of both. Reeves puts in some good work here, but while his character ultimately does form the focus of the film, the shift to the kids' troubles and the games themselves feels strictly formula and at times from another movie.

What's worse, the tragic elements of the story seem completely at odds with the film's advertising, which was geared strongly towards younger viewers (even though the movie originally had an R rating until some profanity was edited out of the final cut), while the obligatory love story between Reeves and teacher Diane Lane doesn't come off at all.

Paramount's DVD features a crisp and flawless 1.85 transfer and throbbing 5.1 Dolby soundtrack, featuring a decent score by Mark Isham. Extra features here include a Making Of, three deleted scenes culled off a workprint, "interstitials," several music videos, and commentary with Robbins and screenwriter John Gatins.


DON'T SAY A WORD (***, 2001, 113 mins., R; Fox, $26.98): By-the-numbers but quite entertaining thriller finds Michael Douglas as a New York City psychiatrist whose daughter is kidnapped by a group of bank robbers looking for the location of a lost jewel, and whose new patient -- a young girl played by Brittany Murphy -- may have the answers the kidnappers are looking for.

Douglas' compelling performance is complimented by fine supporting work from Murphy, Jennifer Esposito as a hard-working NYC cop, and "Goldeneye" alumni Sean Bean as the head bad guy and Famke Jenssen as Douglas' (Catherine Zeta-like) younger wife.

Director Gary Fleder's use of NYC locales gives the film a gritty (but fortunately not grimy) look while the movie unfolds at a steady pace, unraveling its various twists and turns like a good mystery-thriller should and coming together well at the finish line.

While there are times when there's too much action and story -- and not a whole lot of character development -- DON'T SAY A WORD is certainly competent enough to sustain one's interest for a single viewing. It's constructed like an old-fashioned thriller, without an abundance of gore and violence (despite the R rating), and with a fine cast turning in solid work.

Fox's Special Edition offers some of the strongest supplements I've seen on DVD lately: two commentary tracks (one from the director, another featuring the actors) are more revealing than usual, while a candid interview with director Fleder informs us that Murphy introduced several narrative ideas through improvisation that ultimately became part of the movie's plot. Producers Arnold and Anne Kopelson are also interviewed, offering interesting anecdotes about their producing careers, while Fleder does an excellent job explaining the scoring process (particularly temp tracks) while composer Mark Isham is seen in scoring session footage.

Excellent featurettes on the various aspects of the production -- from Murphy's screen test to a production design examination -- are also included, while the 2.35 transfer and dual DTS/Dolby Digital soundtracks are both impressive. Recommended.


NEXT WEEK: SLAP SHOT 2, THE SKULLS 2 in a parade of made-for-video sequels, plus other surprises (we hope!). Email me at dursina@att.net and we'll catch you then. Excelsior!


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