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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
and we'll catch you then. Excelsior!