John Williams Strikes Back With MINORITY REPORT
Plus: THE SUM OF ALL FEARS And Vintage DVD Round-Up Part
An Aisle Seat Entry
By Andy Dursin
If you were one of the many disappointed with John Williams' score for
"Attack of the Clones" (to say nothing of George Lucas' treatment of it
in the film itself), then you can breathe a sigh of relief -- and get a
rush of great film music -- after hearing Williams' richer, more involving
and altogether satisfying score for MINORITY REPORT, the new Steven Spielberg/Tom
Cruise movie opening Friday.
With plenty of furious scherzos, driving action themes, and tense dramatic
cues, Williams' MINORITY REPORT (Dreamworks Records, available Tuesday)
is a 70- minute feast of the year's best film music. Think of the kind
of action music Williams wrote for Indiana Jones, mix it up with a dash
of A.I., and contrast the pounding suspense music with a lovely, redemptive
theme heard sparingly throughout the score, and you have a good idea of
what this latest Williams opus is like. The score reflects the movie in
that tone ranges from '40s mystery thriller to "Total Recall"-like action
blockbuster -- a mix of genres that Williams has fed off to great effect,
displaying a vibrant energy that was mostly absent from his latest Star
Wars work. The orchestrations are more dynamic, the action cues brassier
and more exciting, and the musical pallet is here widened to include not
only pounding percussion, thundering brass, and contemplative strings,
but also interesting, otherworldly shadings (especially a wailing female
voice) that create a brooding, uneasy sensation as the film's mystery unfolds.
Still, don't be misled into thinking that this is an unrelentingly dissonant
work without any soaring, Williams-esque passages. On the contrary, the
darker sections of the score are contrasted nicely by bombastic bursts
of energy and shorter, lyrical passages that provide a diverse listening
experience. Along the way, there are subtle references to the kind of "whodunit?"
scores Bernard Herrmann and others wrote in the '40s and '50s (referenced
by Spielberg in the liner notes), in addition to other Williams efforts
(like "Presumed Innocent" and "Sleepers"), making this yet another unique
entry in Williams' esteemed canon of work. If anyone thought Episode II
was a sign that perhaps Williams had exhausted his musical ideas in the
sci-fi/fantasy genre, MINORITY REPORT is a new, sterling entry in a long
list of great genre scores that thankfully confirms otherwise.
Also Worth Spinning On CD
WINDTALKERS (James Horner, RCA Victor): John Woo abandoned Hans
Zimmer for this strong new work by Horner for the disappointing new Nicolas
Cage WWII flick, which was finally released last weekend (after being delayed
from last November). Horner here mixes up emotional, ethnic Navajo instrumentation
with his usual dramatic shadings -- including the latest use of the old
"Wolfen"/"Star Trek II" motif that we all know and love (okay, that SOME
of us know and love!). It's a solid score that provides Woo with (for him)
a fresh new musical voice, and certainly more satisfying than what another
synthesized Zimmer effort would have provided for this material. As an
album, it's best recommended for Horner fans or those who have seen and
appreciated the film.
New In Theaters
THE SUM OF ALL FEARS (***): Aside from the fact that Ben Affleck's
bland Jack Ryan is the least interesting figure in the film, Phil Alden
Robinson's slick Tom Clancy adaptation provides solid entertainment. The
Paul Attanasio-Daniel Pyne script finds a dormant nuclear weapon being
sold to a shady individual in Damascus whose clients plan on using it to
lead America and Russia into a war with one another. To save the day comes
CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Affleck), here just starting out under the guidance
of director Cobb (Morgan Freeman). Yes, this is the strange tact Paramount
took in its relaunching of the Clancy franchise: a semi-prequel with a
young Jack Ryan, yet set in the present day with its own set of characters.
SUM OF ALL FEARS in some ways resembles past Clancy pictures, but its central
story line ends up playing out like BLACK SUNDAY by way of WARGAMES, with
both sides ultimately on the offensive until Ryan can convince them that
war isn't a game worth playing.
The film boasts a multitude of characters and events that eventually
intersect, with solid performances from Freeman, James Cromwell as the
President, Alan Bates and Colm Feore as the film's antagonists (standard-issue
European neo-nazis substituting for the book's Middle Eastern bad guys
-- something that would have been more realistic yet not politically correct,
apparently), and Liev Schrieber as a CIA operative. Schrieber's role and
performance are so interesting, in fact, that they turn Affleck's cardboard
hero into the film's weakest element. Just like in "Pearl Harbor," the
actor seems totally out of his element here, lacking the conviction and
believability this kind of material demands. While watching Affleck struggle
to convey Ryan's contrasting inexperience and heroic qualities (not to
mention the complete lack of chemistry between him and Bridget Moynahan
in the Anne Archer role), I kept thinking that any moment he was going
to lurch into a wisecrack like he was in a Kevin Smith film. Affleck's
strength is clearly in lightweight, comedic kinds of parts, and trying
to take him seriously in a role that Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin previously
filled is an incredible stretch that the film never overcomes. In fact,
I'd be leery of the Clancy franchise's long-term prognosis with him in
it -- he comes off as a sarcastic kid playing dress-up in the middle of
a big Hollywood movie.
That said, nearly everything else in SUM OF ALL FEARS reeks of class:
the widescreen cinematography, solid performances by veteran character
actors, and even Jerry Goldsmith's excellent score -- clearly one of the
maestro's finest outings of late. This is a strong action score superior
to his disappointing recent efforts (can you say "Last Castle"?), and more
than substitutes for James Horner's uneven outings from its predecessors.
(There is, however, one moment when Goldsmith's horns seem like they're
trumpeting the arrival of Rambo, and when set to slow-motion photography
of Affleck running through a flame-ravaged street, come off as a bit much).
Director Robinson sets us up with a first half so strong and relatively
subdued that it's unfortunate that the second portion of SUM OF ALL FEARS
becomes bogged down with standard movie cliches: the stuffy government
bureaucrats who can't be convinced of the truth, the posturing by both
sides and their reluctance to show weakness, and Ryan's one-man crusade
to set everything right. The climax itself doesn't feel like one, either,
finishing with an epilogue set to "Nossun Dorma" that's entirely predictable.
Robinson, though, does deserve credit for a making a thought-provoking
thriller that at least exhibits some intelligence at a time when too many
summer blockbusters have nothing on their minds at all. Despite its flaws
and weak central performance, SUM OF ALL FEARS is worth viewing for that
Vintage DVD Round-Up, Part II
As we wrap up our look at newly-released vintage DVDs, be aware that
there will be even more back-catalog favorites coming our way this summer.
Warner has a Special Edition of BIG WEDNESDAY lined up, in addition to
a slew of genre titles on August 6th including EXORCIST II, THE SWARM,
CLASH OF THE TITANS (which was recently announced as being re-made -- why,
oh god, why?), GREMLINS and GREMLINS 2 Special Editions, and even WOLFEN
with audio commentary! Indeed, now that the day has finally come when EXORCIST
II is coming on DVD, one wonders if there will be ANY oft-requested title
that won't see the light of day in this format.
This week we finish up the new-release vintage round-up with Fox classics,
a couple of Disney live-action efforts, and assorted oddities from Anchor
Bay among others.
New Oldies From Fox
THE HUSTLER (****, 135 mins., 1961; Fox, $19.98)
THE VERDICT (***1/2, 129 mins., 1982, R; Fox, $19.98)
Two of Paul Newman's greatest performances have been given exemplary
treatment by Fox as a pair of widescreen, Special Edition DVDs.
THE HUSTLER needs little introduction to film buffs, with Newman starring
in his acclaimed performance as Fast Eddie Felson, the pool hustler who
ultimately takes on the great Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) in a tense,
brilliantly executed finale. Along the way, he falls in love with Piper
Laurie and meets other hustlers like George C.Scott, who compliments a
terrific supporting cast (including Myron McCormick, Murray Hamilton, and
Michael Constantine). Robert Rossen's 1961 film is highly regarded by critics
and viewers alike, shot in Cinemascope and nicely brought to DVD here by
Fox: the 2.35 black-and-white transfer is superb, capturing the nuances
in Eugene Schufftan's Oscar-winning cinematography, while the mono soundtrack
is also remixed for modest stereo on the audio side.
For supplements, the DVD includes a great commentary track including
film editor Dede Allen (detailing clashes with the studio), Newman, and
Time critic Richard Shickel. There's also an AMC-like documentary, "The
Hustler: The Inside Story," plus a demonstration of how the filmmakers
accomplished the numerous pool trick shots, along with the theatrical trailer.
It's a splendid package for an all-time classic film.
Oscar eluded Newman on "The Hustler" and once again, decades later,
on THE VERDICT, but Sidney Lumet's memorable 1982 courtroom drama remains
another of Newman's finest performances. As an alcoholic attorney who gets
one last chance at redemption, Newman brilliantly anchors this taut and
compelling drama about a medical malpractice suit and his character's uncompromising
pursuit of justice. Jack Warden, James Mason, and Charlotte Rampling co-starred
in this Lumet film, scripted by David Mamet from Barry Reed's novel.
A featurette on the film's production is included along with a frank
and engaging commentary discussion from Lumet, who divulges that the Zanuck/Brown
production was once intended for another star and director who wanted to
soften the lead character [The late James Bridges was originally signed
to direct, and it was Robert Redford who wanted to tone down the character's
flaws so severely that redemption would have been unnecessary--SB].
The 1.85 transfer is fine and as with "The Hustler," the soundtracks include
the original mono mix and a slightly "re-channeled" stereo version.
While Paul Newman eventually received an Oscar with his reprisal of
Fast Eddie in Martin Scorsese's "The Color Of Money" in 1986, surely part
of that award was an overdue recognition of all the other great performances
Newman wasn't rewarded for earlier in his career. Both THE HUSTLER and
THE VERDICT are most definitely two of them, and Fox's excellent DVD presentations
are a must for movie buffs.
THE MAN FROM SNOWY RIVER (***1/2, 104 mins., 1982,
PG; Fox, $19.98): The "other" (i.e. non-"Mad Max") George Miller was responsible
for this highly acclaimed 1982 Aussie western, which became a sleeper hit
in the U.S. and launched an unlikely franchise in the process.
Kirk Douglas gets to chew the scenery in a dual role in this beautifully
shot and highly entertaining adventure, playing a rancher whose daughter
(Sigrid Thornton) falls for strong-willed cowboy Tom Burlinson. The John
Dixon-Fred Cul Cullen script is a pastiche of old-time western cliches,
dressed up with a heavy Down Under flavor, the accent being on atmosphere
-- served up by expert widescreen cinematography from David Eggby and a
lovely score by Bruce Rowland. MAN FROM SNOWY RIVER is a larger-than-life,
romantic western in the grandest, old fashioned tradition, from its cover
art to its sprawling Panavision dimensions.
The movie was a blockbuster in Australia and did well enough internationally
to spin-off a 1988 sequel, RETURN TO SNOWY RIVER, with Brian Dennehy in
the Douglas' role (!), and a TV series that faired pretty well just a few
years ago. However, the magic is strongest with the original film, which
has been released by Fox in a 2.35 (16:9) enhanced DVD with an acceptable
Dolby Stereo soundtrack. The good news is that the transfer is superb,
besting the letterbox laserdisc from a while back with heightened clarity
and stronger colors. A theatrical trailer rounds out a basic package for
this "Fox Family Feature" release, highly recommended for western fans
and romantic adventure lovers of all ages.
Other Assorted Goodies
DICK TRACY (***, 105 mins., 1990, PG; Disney, $16.98): Warren
Beatty's amiable though overhyped 1990 comic-book adaptation was one of
the several '90s films to gross $100 million but fail to sustain long-term
interest or fulfill the gargantuan expectations of their producers (can
you say "The Flinstones"?). All that most people remember about this Disney
release was that it had Madonna and Warren Beatty while in the midst of
their off-screen affair, and a slew of great actors in deep, dark disguises
as the movie's villains.
Years after all the hype, there isn't much of a following for DICK TRACY,
but the movie still has enough memorable elements to make it worth another
look: the presence of Al Pacino, James Caan, and Dustin Hoffman among others
in the rogue's gallery of bad guys; the colorful cinematography of Vittorio
Storaro and set design by Richard Sylbert; and the warm, comic book look
of the entire movie. While the movie was heavily influenced in some regards
by "Batman" (most obviously in Danny Elfman's by-the-numbers score), the
film has its own artistic agenda, and DICK TRACY ranks as a visual achievement
in the genre if nothing else.
Last year, Beatty was quoted as saying he'd like to revisit DICK TRACY
and re- cut the movie since -- he claimed -- the studio held him to a 105
minute running time. Whatever plans Beatty had to revisit the film, Buena
Vista's DICK TRACY DVD includes only the original theatrical version, presented
in 1.85 widescreen with 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital sound. While supplements
are nowhere to be found, the good news is that Buena Vista has maximized
the transfer and sound quality, resulting in a top-notch presentation that
shows off all of the film's visual assets.
For $17, this is a certainly affordable DVD that should suffice until
a Special Edition is released. For comic book fans and movie buffs, DICK
TRACY warrants another view, and the DVD is easily the best way to go to
savor the film's abundant eye candy.
THE JOURNEY OF NATTY GANN (*** film, * presentation,
101 mins., 1985, PG; Disney, $14.98): Meredith Salenger recently popped
up as "the older woman" on "Dawson's Creek," which made me feel -- well
-- old! Salenger's big debut came as a Depression-era orphan searching
for her father in this highly entertaining 1985 Disney adventure, co-starring
John Cusack as a nice guy she meets along the way, and a wolf who tends
to steal the show from both of them.
Jeremy Paul Kagan directed this atmospheric and moving picture, which
doesn't feel as saccharine as many Disney efforts due to its gritty look
and mood. (In that regard, the film can be looked at as one of the more
realistic Disney live-action dramas ever produced). Salenger is appealing
as Natty Gann, and she and Cusack -- plus that wolf -- make a splendid
team you root for even though we all know where the story is headed at
In addition to the film's scenic visual trappings, James Horner's score
is quite effective, though Horner's work was actually a replacement for
a superior, dynamite Elmer Bernstein score that never should have been
dumped in the first place.
Disney's DVD features a decent stereo soundtrack, but unfortunately,
the film's widescreen aspect ratio has been bastardized by the studio's
decision to only release NATTY GANN in 1.33 full-screen. The transfer is
cropped on the sides without adding any information on the top and bottom
-- a crushing disappointment given the film's original anamorphic proportions.
Consumers -- and the movie -- certainly deserved better, so if you're on
the fence about upgrading from your old (and also cropped) tapes and laserdiscs,
20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (***, 83 mins., 1957;
Columbia, $24.98; Available June 25): Columbia's latest entry in the Ray
Harryhausen Collection is one of the special effects master's first features:
the 1953 sci-fi fantasy about a creature brought back from a U.S. mission
to Venus that grows from a miniature dinosaur into a full-fledged monster,
wrecking havoc on Italy and Rome along the way.
Nathan Juran's black-and-white programmer runs a scant 83 minutes, and
lacks the more elaborate visual trappings of the later Harryhausen fantasies,
but there's just something charming about the B-quality of this '50s monster-on-the-loose
flick. William Hopper and Joan Taylor aren't the most talented leads (not
even for this kind of film), but the stilted dialogue and dramatics only
enhance the magic of Harryhausen's visual effects. Like the title creature
in the THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, the "Ymir" is a classic Harryhausen
creation, marvelously articulated and more "alive" than the human characters
in the Bob Williams-Christopher Knopf script. Just when you grow tired
of the non-effects sequences, Juran shifts the action back to the monster,
and at 83 minutes, the film is just long enough to sustain repeat viewing.
Columbia's DVD offers solid 1.85 and full-screen transfers, along with
an OK mono soundtrack. However, since the movie wasn't shot in a widescreen
format, I found the 1.85 ratio a bit too confining. When compared to the
full-screen transfer, there's pictorial information being clipped on the
top and bottom that probably shouldn't be, and I found the full-screen
version preferable for that reason (chances are that the movie was likely
framed at 1.66 theatrically and over-matted here to 1.85 for the benefit
of 16:9 televisions). The DVD is rounded out with bonus trailers and the
very same "The Harryhausen Chronicles" and "This Is Dynamation" featurettes
included on every other Harryhausen title from Columbia.
HOW TO DRAW COMICS THE MARVEL COMICS WAY ($14.98,
Anchor Bay): Now that SPIDER-MAN has become the #1 film of the year at
the box-office, no doubt we'll be seeing re-issues of all kinds of Marvel
Comics-related film and TV projects on video. While I'll be first in line
for that box-set of the Nicholas Hammond '70s Spidey TV series (calling
Rhino Home Video, stat!), for now we'll have to be satisfied with DVDs
like this 1988 New World Video production, which features Marvel-meisters
Stan Lee and John Buscema in a demonstration of how to draw '80s-styled
It's basically like that PBS show starring the guy with the afro (the
one who would lovingly talk about his tree and forest-dwelling critter
drawings like they were his best friends), but with Lee and Buscema drawing
Captain America, Iron Man, and Spidey instead. It's pretty dry for casual
viewers but actually very interesting if you're an aspiring artist or a
comic book fan.
Anchor Bay's transfer is fine, making what likely was an out-of-print
VHS collector's item available to all true believers on DVD.
New And In Brief
ROLLERBALL (*1/2, 100 mins., 2002, R; MGM, $29.98): What gives
with director John McTiernan being forced out of the editing room on his
own movies? First THE 13TH WARRIOR gets re-scored, re-cut, and re-shot
by producer Michael Chrichton with McTiernan nowhere to be found, then
MGM studio heads opted to re-cut his already- problematic remake of ROLLERBALL,
releasing a "teen friendly" PG-13 version in theaters last January that
saw few takers of ANY age at the box-office.
MGM's DVD of this needless updating of the James Caan '70s staple restores
a few minutes of R-rated footage -- including Rebecca Romijn-Stamos' well-publicized
nude scenes -- but it doesn't make the film any more interesting or coherent.
Here, Chris Klein, LL Cool J, and Romijn-Stamos are some of the Rollerball
warriors involved in the violent and popular futuristic sport (which more
closely resembles an ESPN2 "X-Games" competition than the original film);
Jean Reno is the suspicious league owner behind a conspiracy to drive up
the drama. Aside from the fact that this Larry Ferguson-John Pogue scripted
affair truly does resemble a brainless music video -- or an R-rated Mountain
Dew commercial -- one gets the feeling McTiernan's original cut of the
film likely ran much longer and had to have made SOME sense. Unfortunately
for the director, we'll never get a chance to see it, as MGM's superb DVD
presentation includes just the 100-minute R-rated version, along with an
excellent featurette on the film's stunts, an okay commentary track featuring
the stars, and a Rod Zombie music video. Visually, the 2.35 and full-frame
transfers are both excellent, and the 5.1 Dolby Digital mix predictably
filled with effects and a throbbing electronic score from Eric Serra.
HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER (*1/2, 91 mins., 2001, R;
Columbia, $26.98): The second entry in the "Creature Features" franchise
of updated American-International '50s B-movies is a definite comedown
from its predecessor, the low-key and engaging "She- Creature." HOW TO
MAKE A MONSTER stars Clea Duvall as a software engineer on a video game
project where the game's creature springs out of virtual reality and into
the real world, wrecking havoc on any and all who stand in its way. The
monster is able to do this by occupying a motion capture suit after a power
surge improbably enables the deadly, gladiator-like creation to come to
There are cameos from the likes of Julie Strain (as herself) and Creature
Features co-producer Colleen Camp, but this George Huang written-and-directed
effort is awfully pedestrian, from its one-note, unappealing characters
down to its predictable story structure. Huang was the filmmaker behind
the acclaimed 1996 effort "Swimming With Sharks," and it's quite a comedown
seeming him reduced to working with routine genre material like this. Perhaps
because of this, the movie concludes with a sour epilogue (the now-hardened
heroine tells an intern not to be nice in order to be successful) -- the
result of Huang's own personal experience in Hollywood?
Columbia's DVD offers solid 1.85 and full-frame transfers, a solid 5.1
Dolby Digital soundtrack, and a few, mostly-promotional extras (i.e. featurette).
CORKY ROMANO (**, 85 mins., 2001, PG-13; Touchstone,
$26.98): A little of Chris Kattan's antics on Saturday Night Live tend
to go a long way -- which is why just a few minutes of this hit-or-miss
spoof should suffice for even the biggest fans of the SNL star. Kattan
plays the title character, a dim-witted veterinarian's aide who has to
infiltrate his mafia family's ranks to uncover an informant. It's a decent
comedic premise, especially when you have ace supporting actors like Peter
Falk, Fred Ward, and Richard Roundtree backing up Kattan, but most of CORKY
ROMANO fails to amuse. It unsurprisingly plays like an over-extended SNL
sketch that worked better as a trailer than a feature-length film. Touchstone's
DVD features a strong 1.85 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, along
with a promotional featurette and deleted scenes.
NEXT WEEK: Back to the present with SPY GAME, BLACK
HAWK DOWN, and more on DVD! Plus your emails, sent direct to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a better one!