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Anticipating the CLONES

New DVDs from THE OTHERS to BITE THE BULLET
Plus: A First Look at LEGEND

An Aisle Seat Entry
By Andy Dursin

I've been busy working on an article about LEGEND for the next FSM, so forgive me for the lack of a detailed review of this eagerly-awaited disc -- you'll be able to read it in the pages of the June issue soon enough!

The good news is that Universal was kind enough to send us a pre-release copy of the LEGEND Ultimate Edition DVD, and while I don't have the time to give you a full review right now, I will say this: no one who has been eagerly awaiting this disc will be disappointed.

The 113-minute Director's Cut is indeed the revelation we all hoped it would be, restoring Jerry Goldsmith's score as close to its intended form as it will ever be (there are still some abbreviated cues and the temp music from PSYCHO II appears again), and offering over 20 minutes of new footage. As you might have guessed, the additions are extensions of existing scenes, but they infuse the movie with the pacing and point it missed in both its American (89 min. with Tangerine Dream's contemporary score) and European (94 mins. with Goldsmith's score) release versions.

Supplements? You've got 'em: the original Goblin opening is included in incomplete, workprint form, while the deleted Fairy Dance is shown through storyboards, still photos, and the surviving audio tracks (alas, no film footage exists). There's a solid hour-long documentary with behind-the-scenes footage and new interviews, though with a minimum of discussion on Jerry Goldsmith's score (Goldsmith, sadly, does not appear). You also have TV spots, trailers, Bryan Ferry's hideous music video, storyboards, still galleries, and the American theatrical release version with Tangerine Dream's score -- itself isolated, but in its original, intended form, often different from how it was used in the released movie (meaning there's no music over the final 20 minutes at all!).

Credit goes out to DVD producer Charlie de Lauzirika and documentary producer J.M. Kenny for their perseverance in seeing this long-delayed disc through to its completion. Check out my special Laserphile column in the June issue for my review and interview with de Lauzirika about the DVD's long production history -- you won't want to miss it!

In the meantime, ATTACK OF THE CLONES hits theaters Thursday, despite a growing number of terrible reviews. Is the movie that bad, or is this media payback for "The Phantom Menace"? The Aisle Seat review will follow next week.


New On DVD

THE OTHERS (**1/2, 104 mins., 2001, PG-13; Dimension, $29.98): Last year's answer to "The Sixth Sense" became a sleeper hit at the box-office last August, with most viewers unaware of how unoriginal its central concept was.

Admittedly, writer-director-composer Alejandro Amenabar's impressively shot THE OTHERS succeeds in many areas, which makes it doubly disappointing that he made a fatal mistake in his storytelling: if you can figure out what's happening early on (as I did before the first 15 minutes were finished), there's nothing here that will frighten or surprise. Add on a cop-out of a climax -- plus an ending that doesn't answer half of the questions the film raises -- and you have a frustrating genre experience that could have been so much more.

Amenabar's story basically takes the "big shock" of THE SIXTH SENSE and applies it to Henry James' "The Turn of the Screw," which formed the basis for Jack Clayton's outstanding film THE INNOCENTS -- a superior movie that Amenabar completely rips off here in mood, look, and premise (i.e. a headstrong woman in charge of a young boy and girl in a spooky British mansion possibly infiltrated by ghosts with a female maid who seems to know more than she's letting on. Aside from that, there aren't any similarities).

Angst-ridden Nicole Kidman gives a serviceable performance here as a single mother in the 1940s whose husband died in WWII and whose children both suffer from a debilitating disease that makes them sensitive to light. A trio of new servants arrive unannounced to Kidman's isolated, foggy English manor (as if that alone doesn't clue you in to what's really going on) to assist her and the two children: a young boy and an older girl who provides some antagonistic behavior towards her mother (a regrettably underdeveloped angle to the story). Both of the pale-skinned children hear all sorts of eerie noises around the house -- the girl believes that the ghost of a boy named Victor lurks around shadowy corridors, while Kidman herself hears voices and doors that mysteriously slam shut.

It's hard to say THE OTHERS is a complete misfire, because most of it works, at least on a surface level: the performances are solid, the cinematography appropriately misty, and Amenabar gives the entire movie a classy feel that separates it from much of today's bland, over-the-top genre filmmaking. (He also provides an effective orchestral soundtrack).

Still, it's easy to give too much credit to the film for bringing back memories of other, better chillers, and in addition to an often languid pace and notable lack of shocks, the movie misses the mark one too many times to recommend -- especially for genre fans. Amenabar's telegraphed direction makes every plot point in the story visible from miles away, while his script misses all sorts of opportunities to develop more dramatic turns the story could have taken.

The filmmaker does come up with one plot point that isn't so obvious near the end, but even this twist is completely fumbled by the filmmaker. Without divulging the ending, all I'll say is that the entire consequence of one character's decision-making is completely glossed over as if it's an everyday occurrence, and instead of filling the viewer with a sense of empathy or understanding for the person (as Amenabar, I believe, wants us to feel at the end), it only makes you feel contempt for the character and the screenplay for failing to elaborate upon it.

Amenabar's fatal flaw in THE OTHERS is his obvious belief that the entire "twist" of the story would be enough to sustain the narrative, a direct contrast to other thrillers (like "The Sixth Sense" and "The Innocents") that establish characters who you truly care about before reaching into their bag of tricks. THE OTHERS, on the other hand, never engages such involvement in its story -- you care only about what the setting, the narrative "trick" is all about.

Still, the film captivated many audiences, and like Amenabar's "Abre Los Ojos," you're likely to either love it or hate it. Dimension's two-DVD Special Edition is surprisingly light on supplements, but will still prove satisfying for the film's fans.

The first disc includes a straightforward presentation of the movie with a crisp 1.85 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack (surprisingly, there's no DTS soundtrack included here, as there typically is on most double-disc Buena Vista releases). The second disc includes a promotional 22-minute featurette on the film's production, a brief look at director Amenabar, an interesting examination of the low-key visual effects, and a particularly informative (albeit brief) look at the real-life disease that plagues the film's children. A still gallery and the effective original trailer are also included -- making this a somewhat lightweight supplemental package that I'm not quite sure demanded a separate disc of special features.


NOT ANOTHER TEEN MOVIE (***, 90 mins., 2001, R; Columbia, $24.98): General consensus was that this raunchy parody of teen movies was simply too gross for its own good -- a charge that could have (and should have) been leveled at any of the Farrelly Brothers' recent efforts, or the tasteless imitations that followed in the wake of "There's Something About Mary." Instead, many jumped on the bandwagon and dissed NOT ANOTHER TEEN MOVIE for its gross-out humor, when in fact this is a keenly- observed and often uproarious spoof, recommended heartily for anyone old enough to have lived through the teen movie genre of the last 20 years.

The often savvy script (credited to five writers) takes aim at all the obvious targets, from John Hughes' complete filmography (BREAKFAST CLUB, SIXTEEN CANDLES, etc.) to recent efforts like SHE'S ALL THAT and, yes, even AMERICAN PIE. While some of the immature gags misfire, many of them score a direct hit, making fun of not only the movies that initiated the contemporary teen movie cycle, but the idiotic pics that tried to mimic them. Every cliché is pointed out and skewered, with one of the film's funnier sequences being the introduction to the film's high school, where the cute girl with glasses is viewed as being more horrifying than a ringer for Quasimodo.

Along the way, director Joel Gallen keeps the movie's energy level up, and Theodore Shapiro's entertaining score recreates the mood and atmosphere of the films NOT ANOTHER TEEN MOVIE is parodying. There's even an amusing musical number thrown in for good measure, along with several excellent cameos.

Columbia's DVD offers a dynamite Special Edition package, featuring some 18 deleted scenes (including an original ending minus Molly Ringwald), filmmaker and cast commentary, a teen movie factoids subtitle track, several behind-the-scenes featurettes, Gallen's first movie "Car Ride," cast auditions, trailers, and more. The movie may have been only a modest success at the box-office, but kudos to Columbia for supporting the film with a very strong supplemental section.

If you're not a fan of teen movies, and like your comedy clean, then NOT ANOTHER TEEN MOVIE is not really a movie for you. On the other hand, if you ever had to take a date to any one of these films in the last two decades and are looking for a superior comedic effort, this one comes highly recommended.


MY FIRST MISTER (**, 109 mins., 2001, R; Paramount, $29.98): Self-centered goth girl Leelee Sobieski meets her match in disgruntled, middle-aged store owner Albert Brooks in this extremely odd romance/comedy-drama from director Christine Lahti.

Jill Franklyn's script creates two full-blooded, if intentionally odd, characters whom we care about (for the movie's first half, anyway): Sobieski's rebellious Jennifer is your typically disaffected youth who grudgingly takes a job at Brooks' clothing store for men. This odd couple ultimately begins a romance, but just when you think MY FIRST MISTER is going to be getting interesting, Lahti and Franklyn opt for the formulaic way out, turning the attention away from Brooks and Sobieski and towards a phony tearjerker conclusion that really feels forced.

Until that point, MY FIRST MISTER benefits from strong performances by both Sobieski and Brooks -- so good that some viewers are likely to follow the movie all the way through to its disappointing conclusion. Just be prepared for the inevitable letdown when you finally get there. Paramount's DVD offers a strong 2.35 transfer and Dolby Digital soundtrack, along with an informative and candid commentary from Lahti on the film's production.


Vintage Titles New On DVD

THE ACCUSED (***, 110 mins., 1988, R; Paramount, $24.98): Jodie Foster's Oscar winning performance is the highlight of this taut court-room drama, based loosely on the infamous "Big Dan's" rape trial in New Bedford, Mass. during the '80s.

Foster plays a tough, alcoholic woman who becomes the victim of a gang rape at a local bar; Kelly McGillis plays her lawyer, who gets a more taxing case than she bargained for when the profane Foster seeks full justice for her attack, carrying the case through two separate trials.

Tom Topor's script does an excellent job portraying the different angles involved in the case, but it's the performances of both actresses that make THE ACCUSED worth revisiting. Foster re-launched her career with her strong characterization of a tough woman undeserving of her fate -- her own actions make her tough to find sympathetic, but that certainly doesn't mean that she deserves what's coming to her. The portrayal of the local men who witnessed the attack is also fascinating, for they're as despicable as the actual attackers in watching the rape but failing to do anything about it.

Director Jonathan Kaplan concentrates on character and enables the two leads to give strong performances, although the filmmaker did take some heat for his extremely graphic depiction of the rape itself as a flashback during the climax (something that was necessary to the story, but still makes for a tough view).

Still, if you're looking for one of Foster's best performances, THE ACCUSED is a compelling drama that has held up well over the years. Paramount's no-frills DVD features a sturdy 1.85 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, both of which are in excellent condition for a film from the late '80s.


BITE THE BULLET (***1/2, 131 mins., 1975, PG; Columbia, $19.95): One of the last great movie westerns, Richard Brooks' marvelous BITE THE BULLET has been released on DVD, thankfully preserving the dimensions of its original Panavision aspect ratio -- and the gorgeous scope cinematography of Harry Stradling, Jr.

Gene Hackman, James Coburn, Candice Bergen, Ian Bannen, Ben Johnson, and Jan-Michael Vincent are contestants in a turn-of-the-century, 700-mile cross-country race that takes its toll on both participants and their horses. The plot is familiar, but the performances and Brooks' direction make the material fresh, aided considerably by scenic locales and an outstanding Alex North score.

While BITE THE BULLET is humorous and always entertaining, there are times when the movie comes across as a product of mid-'70s filmmaking: the graphic scenes of horses breaking down play against the film's rousing tone, and apparently were not at all accurate in terms of representing similar kinds of races, where most participants took great care of their animals (after all, if you didn't, you certainly wouldn't be winning the contest). Due to this, the movie sometimes feels like an uneasy mix of a old-fashioned western and a more downbeat, contemporary Peckinpah film.

As long as you're prepared for the disparity in tone, BITE THE BULLET is fully entertaining, featuring a rousing (and satisfying) ending, great southwestern locations, and appealing performances by a game cast. Although it's been overlooked over the years, the movie holds up well and comes fully recommended on DVD.

Columbia's no-frills DVD presentation lacks a trailer, but does contain a solid 2.35 transfer enhanced for 16:9 TVs. Shot in widescreen, the movie demands to be seen letterboxed, and for an indication of how much you're missing in the full-frame version, a pan-and-scan print is available on the disc's flip side. The Oscar-nominated mono sound isn't especially impressive, sounding compressed and certainly not award-caliber. A full range of subtitle options are available.


FIRST MEN IN THE MOON (***, 103 mins., 1964; Columbia, $19.98): Columbia's Ray Harryhausen Collection receives another boost with this solid DVD release of the highly entertaining, 1964 sci-fi fantasy.

Based on the H.G. Wells novel, FIRST MEN is told in flashback by improbable astronaut Edward Judd, who recounts how he, his girlfriend (Martha Hyer), and a wacky neighbor (Lionel Jefferies) became the first Victorian space travelers, taking off for the moon in Jefferies' space ship. There, they find a disgusting group of aliens called Selenites, who are now -- in the present day (the mid '60s, anyhow) -- threatening the first-ever "official" trip to our orbiting moon.

There's plenty of comic relief (even a Peter Cook cameo) in FIRST MEN IN THE MOON, which seems to have been influenced by many turn-of-the-century comic adventures produced in the early '60s (THE GREAT RACE, etc.). Once the travelers reach space, however, the movie takes a turn towards the kind of colorful adventure familiar with Harryhausen's name (with some sterling special effects), and the film -- directed by Nathan Juran -- really takes off.

What's more, FIRST MEN was the only Harryhausen film to be shot in widescreen, and the 2.35 dimensions suit the action perfectly -- here presented on DVD in its original aspect ratio. The movie's 4.0 stereophonic soundtrack features a Herrmann- esque score by Laurie Johnson, and comes across very well on DVD. Alas, the disc includes the exact same supplements that have been contained on every of Columbia's Harryhausen titles ("This is Dynamation" featurette, The Harryhausen Chronicles," etc.), which may be fine if this is the only Harryhausen DVD you're buying, but for everyone else will seem a little stale.

That said, FIRST MEN IN THE MOON is a highly entertaining, nostalgic fantasy that's great to have on DVD. Another Harryhausen favorite, 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH, is scheduled to follow on disc this summer.


SWEET HEARTS DANCE (***, 1988, 101 mins., R; Columbia, $19.98): One of several new Columbia titles to include a full-frame transfer and no extras, this no-frills DVD for the overlooked 1988 romantic dram-edy SWEET HEARTS DANCE makes for a satisfying DVD just the same.

"On Golden Pond" scribe Ernest Thompson penned this low-key account of two couples (Don Johnson and Susan Sarandon, Jeff Daniels and Elizabeth Perkins) trying to sort out their own differences in a picturesque Vermont town. The inevitable break-ups and heartbreaks ensue once married Johnson and Sarandon split apart, and the younger Daniels and Perkins fall deeper and deeper in love.

The typical small New England town is captured colorfully by cinematographer Tak Fujimoto, and the engaging performances and chemistry between the actors results in an unremarkable but still quite entertaining character study, directed by Robert Greenwald and scored by Richard Gibbs (which isn't one of the movie's stronger assets, but functions okay as a contemporary late '80s score).

The DVD is not letterboxed, but because the film was projected theatrically at 1.85, little peripheral information is being lost. I'm not positive about the ratio, but I believe SWEET HEARTS DANCE was shot "open matte," meaning the top and bottom of the frame are being exposed on video, and no information is being clipped on the sides. In any event, the transfer looks well-composed and the 2.0 Dolby Stereo sound is better than expected.

If you're looking for an overlooked date movie from the '80s, SWEET HEARTS DANCE contains solid performances and characters whom you care about -- and for those reasons, is well worth seeking out on DVD.


TO GILLIAN ON HER 37TH BIRTHDAY (***, 92 mins., 1996, PG-13; Columbia, $19.98): Another overlooked "dramedy," TV auteur David E. Kelley's ensemble piece is a moving and often amusing look at coping with grief and moving on.

Peter Gallagher plays a recent widower trying to move past the tragic death of his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer), who appears throughout this adaptation of Michael Brady's play as a ghost. Fortunately, this narrative trick isn't over-used in Michael Pressman's film, nor does it become too cute -- TO GILLIAN instead focuses on Gallagher and his relationship with troubled daughter Claire Danes and other family members, who arrive on Nantucket for a beach weekend in the hopes of breaking Gallagher out of his funk. Particularly strong are Kathy Baker as his sister-in-law and the hilarious Bruce Altman as her husband, who both turn in sterling supporting work here.

Kelley scripted and produced this film, which failed to take off at the box-office, though its intimate, stage-driven feel play far better on the small screen anyway. Tim Suhrstedt does an excellent job capturing the Nantucket locales (even though some of the film was shot in North Carolina), while James Horner contributes one of his most effective, understated scores, which becomes quite emotional at the end.

The 5.0 Dolby Surround track is excellent, but unfortunately, TO GILLIAN's transfer is a victim of panning-and-scanning. The full-frame transfer loses information on both the right and left edges compared to the earlier laserdisc release, meaning it's not "open matte." While the movie was shot in 1.85 and does not compositionally suffer like a Panavision film would in the full-frame aspect ratio, TO GILLIAN still feels cramped and should have been transferred in widescreen for DVD.

Because of that, the DVD (which otherwise looks and sounds perfectly acceptable) is a tough to fully recommend. Here's hoping Columbia reassesses their full- frame policy soon, because some genuinely widescreen movies (like THE MOUNTAIN MEN with Charlton Heston) are also going to be transferred in full-frame ONLY on DVD in the near future.


NEXT WEEK: Send in the CLONES! Plus VANILLA SKY, OCEAN'S 11, and more hot new DVDs. Send all comments to dursina@att.net and we'll catch you then. Excelsior!


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