Aisle Seat January Mania
The Art of the "Special" Edition
Winter Heats Up with TRON, BUCKAROO BANZAI, and TOMBSTONE Special
By Andy Dursin
Welcome back, dear readers! 2002 is here and after a lengthy vacation,
I am back to work at good ol' Filmscoremonthly.com. Yes, hard as it is
to believe, later this year we'll be starting the sixth year of The Aisle
Seat -- what began as a weekly soapbox has continued to grow into one of
the web's most respected DVD rants. This year I promise to spend some time
delving into the film music end of things more than usual, but for those
of you who read this column on a regular basis, you know how that usually
Since our last update before year's end, DVD product has been on the
increase and many exciting new releases have hit store shelves -- many
being labeled as "Special Editions" geared toward the serious film aficionado.
However, a lot of DVDs these days are labeled as being "Special" even if
the discs themselves do not measure up to those claims.
These deluxe packages prove no different, with '80s cult favorites like
TRON and BUCKAROO BANZAI competing with more recent hits (TOMBSTONE, THE
SIXTH SENSE, FAST AND THE FURIOUS) for your hard-earned dollar.
Which ones offer a feast, while others fizzle? Read on, and email me
at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions
TRON (**1/2 film, ***1/2 supplements; Disney, $29.98):
Everyone has movies in their lives that they have a hard time being objective
about, especially ones that pertain particularly to their childhood.
Disney's 1982 sci-fi blockbuster TRON is, for me, one of those films.
Now, this is not a film that I ever considered a classic or needed to see
eight times at the movies (like E.T.), but it's still a movie that holds
a special place in my heart because it -- on a lot of levels -- represents
everything that going to the arcade to play video games back in the summer
of '82 meant to not only me, but a large amount of our society at that
Whereas now we're content to play video games in the comfort of our
own homes with our Nintendos, Playstations, and Xboxes, back then the arcade
was a gathering spot for all ages to hang out, drop a few quarters in the
slots, and pound mercilessly on buttons, trac-balls and joysticks in an
often futile attempt to get your initials displayed on the "Pac-Man" monitor
for all time -- or, at least until the machine was unplugged after 10 o'clock.
For me, TRON embodies the neon-lit hues of local gaming establishments
of the era, even if it's still a hokey, under-developed movie that was
techno-savvy at the time but still gives us plenty of reasons why we should
be thankful that Steven Lisberger was never able to direct another major
movie in the United States.
That's not to say the movie isn't fun or entertaining, even if the spoiled
young people of today will be chuckling at the effects and wondering what
all the fuss was about at the time. (Bottom line: you really need to have
lived through the era to get something out of it!).
TRON is like "Spartacus" set in the midst of a "Galaxian" machine: real-world
arcade master and computer genius Jeff Bridges is somehow sucked into the
middle of his ex-company's mainframe, where the good, righteous programs
(working on behalf of us, the human "users") do battle with the Big Brother-like
Master Control program, which tries to stifle creativity and control everything
within its grasp. Bridges is joined in his quest to free the oppressed
from the tyrannical by a warrior named Tron (Bruce Boxleitner, in a role
Michael Douglas would have been perfect for), while both are pursued by
the ruthless Master Control (David Warner, whose image became a staple
of villainy for me as a kid, having watching this film, "Time After Time,"
and "Time Bandits" several times back in those days).
Everything in the world of TRON is bathed in blues and reds, set against
dark backdrops -- the effects then groundbreaking for their striking use
of CGI. Even now, the movie still plays like an arcade game from '82 --
it's empty cinematic calories all the way, glossy and good-looking even
though the story never becomes developed much more than the plot summary
I've just given you.
Most of the performances come off like posturing (especially with Boxleitner
and Cindy Morgan), but it's hard to blame the actors, seeing that writer-director
Steven Lisberger was an animator at the time, and lacked filmmaking fundamentals.
His script boasts some alternately corny or stilted lines of dialogue,
leaving the visuals to carry the show, aided throughout by a strong, pseudo-religious
score by Wendy Carlos.
TRON may still be more of a great looking videogame-come-to-life than
a good movie, but nostalgia alone has kept the film in circulation, leading
Disney to release this remastered 2-DVD set, along with gearing up a possible
TRON 2.0 for production in the near future (I kid you not -- visit www.tronkillerap.com
Disney's double-disc DVD set boasts a wide array of supplements, though
truth be told, most of them are rehashed from the studio's outstanding
laserdisc box-set that was released several years ago (and which I reviewed
for a "Laserphile" in FSM).
The DVD adds some tasty treats all its own -- namely, a great 90-minute
documentary with brand-new cast and crew interviews -- but not without
some notable omissions that will make TRON die-hards want to seek out,
or hold onto, their laserdisc copies.
For one, the isolated music-and-effects track of the laser has been
dropped on the DVD; so has an isolated stereo track of Carlos' excised
score from the "lightcycle race" (which is included in the supplementary
section on both the DVD and LD).
Also regrettably missing is much of the laserdisc's text material, still-frames
that introduced the LD's separate chapters and divulged detailed information
on various stages of the film's production.
That said, there's still much to appreciate about the DVD, especially
if you didn't own the laserdisc set. The new documentary will be the main
draw for TRON-philes, offering interviews from Lisberger to Bridges and
Boxleitner, all of whom boast proudly about the movie's technical accomplishments
and how it laid the foundation for future CGI epics.
The deleted scenes have been brought back from the LD, but new introductions
have been added, while several hilarious clips from the TV special "Computers
Are People Too" are also here (don't miss the introduction of "young writer-director
Steven Lisberger," who is seen staring out blankly into space, playing
his xylophone!). The same trailers that marked the LD's release are also
present, and there are an assortment of still- frame photos included, nearly
all of which were found on the LD release -- even the audio commentary
is the very same track recorded in the mid '90s for the LD!
Where the DVD out-sparkles its laser predecessor (and its earlier DVD
release) is in the sound department. The 2.20 THX-approved transfer seems
to be struck from the same elements as previous releases (and looks fine),
but it's the 5.1 remixed Dolby Digital sound that truly stands out. The
surround sound is far more layered and noticeable here than in previous
releases, making this the definitive presentation of TRON to date on home
video for simply watching the movie itself.
TRON isn't a classic film, but it remains a milestone for its landmark
special effects. For many of us, though, it holds a greater significance
as the one movie that brings back a rush of nostalgia for the days of our
youth, plugging away at the "Tron" arcade game, grabbing another stack
of tokens, and trying to establish our names on that coveted High Scorers
list. That alone makes the DVD highly recommended for anyone who spent
time growing up in the summer of '82.
TOMBSTONE (***1/2 film, ** supplements; Buena Vista,
$29.98): Now, here's an example of a DVD "Special Edition" that clearly
fails to live up to its potential.
This 1993 box-office hit -- which has grown in popularity since its
theatrical run - - looks and sounds good in its "Director's Cut" incarnation,
but the second disc of supplements is a major disappointment, housing only
three brief promotional featurettes (comprising the so-called "Making Of
Tombstone"), while failing to include all the deleted outtakes that were
included in the Collector's Edition laserdisc! Still, this edition is worth
it as TOMBSTONE itself looks and sounds superior to all previous releases
on home video, even if the extras aren't all they're cracked up to be.
It's well-known that TOMBSTONE overcame a great deal of odds in becoming
a bona-fide success. Original writer Kevin Jarre (Maurice's son) was also
the film's first director, fired a week into production and replaced by
"Rambo" vet George P. Cosmatos. The movie also faced what was supposed
to be stiff competition from competing project "Wyatt Earp," and with Kevin
Costner and Lawrence Kasdan onboard, that box-office flop at least initially
seemed to be the more prestigious production between the two films.
Nevertheless, TOMBSTONE worked splendidly on its own terms as an old-
fashioned western, retelling Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell) and Doc Holliday's
(Val Kilmer) fight with the infamous Clanton gang that formed the basis
of a handful of previous films about the O.K. Corral.
Despite its familiar story, TOMBSTONE clicked with audiences and many
critics, more so than seemingly any other later-day revival of the western
genre. William Fraker's excellent cinematography, Bruce Broughton's rousing
score, and the performances across the board by a superb ensemble cast
(especially Kilmer) resulted in a powerful, cinematic action-adventure,
capped off with a tip of the hat to Hollywood's Golden Age by the participation
of Charlton Heston and Robert Mitchum, who narrates the movie in appropriately
It's widely known that the original cut of TOMBSTONE ran nearly three
hours (Cosmatos has himself said as much), which is why one might have
expected this Special Edition package to include a much longer cut of the
film, or at the least, all of the deleted scenes contained in a separate
Alas, while some four minutes of outtakes have been restored to the
film, the DVD doesn't contain any extra scenes -- not even a deleted outtake
with Jason Priestley's character that WAS included on the laserdisc release!
What we get for extras instead consist of a new commentary by Cosmatos
(he tries hard not to ruffle any feathers, while frustratingly speaking
about deleted scenes we're never going to see!), the trailer and a handful
of TV spots, the brief and quite- disappointing "Making of Tombstone" featurettes,
storyboards, a replica of a newspaper article on the O.K. Corral fight,
a historical timeline, a DVD-ROM game, and a fold-out map. I can't understand
why these extras weren't contained on a single disc, since the material
isn't extensive enough to seemingly warrant a second DVD.
The 2.35 transfer has been criticized by some for being a bit too "sharp"
(displaying edge-enhancement throughout nearly the entire film) but it
looks acceptable, while the remixed DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are
a major improvement on the 2.0 surround mix of the original DVD and laserdisc
editions. For the watching movie alone, the DVD is worth a purchase, even
if the supplements are a letdown.
TOMBSTONE is a superb film and a great behind-the-scenes story, one
that deserves a more lavish treatment than the rather one-dimensional,
PR-like package it has received here.
THE SIXTH SENSE (***1/2 film, *** supplements;
Buena Vista, $29.98): After the original "Collector's Edition" DVD of M.
Night Shyamalan's box-office blockbuster, one might wonder why we needed
this two-disc Vista Series release. Surprisingly, this superb, deluxe-packaged
edition offers a pair of excellent new documentaries courtesy of Charles
Kiselyak that fans of the movie should particularly savor.
The 40-minute "Reflections on the Set" features recent interviews with
Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette, Donnie Wahlberg, and Shyamalan,
talking a bit more in-depth about the film (now that the ending has been
divulged and discussed to no end!) than in previous behind-the-scenes features.
More intriguing is "Between Two Worlds," which looks at the supernatural
in the cinema and offers pointed comments from "Exorcist" author William
Peter Blatty and "Ghost" scribe Bruce Joel Rubin on the enduring popularity
of cinematic ghost tales and their cultural significance.
A featurette on storyboarding is also new to this edition, while the
first DVD offers a virtual reproduction of the original release's extras,
including deleted scenes, trailers, and a featurette on the music and sound
design. (That said, there are still shots in the original trailer that
don't appear either in the film or the deleted scenes section -- is the
director holding these out for a future Hi-Def release?).
While the new extras may not warrant a purchase for casual viewers who
already own the first DVD, die-hard SIXTH SENSE and Shyamalan fans will
find this edition to be well worth a look.
New From MGM
THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE EIGHTH DIMENSION
(*** movie, ***1/2 extras; MGM, $19.98): One of the all-time bizarro cult
classics has finally been released in a super DVD edition that should appeal
to long-time Banzai buffs and newcomers alike.
W.D. Richter's impossible-to-describe 1984 sci-fi/comedy/adventure/spoof
stars Peter Weller as the intrepid neurosurgeon/band leader/science pioneer
trying to fight an alien invasion with the help of his "Hong Kong Cavaliers"
(including Jeff Goldlbum and Clancy Brown). John Lithgow, in one of his
most demented performances ever, plays the evil Dr. Lizardo while Christopher
Lloyd essays another one of the slimy alien creatures and Ellen Barkin
puts in an early performance as Banzai's new love interest.
It took me a very, very long time to warm to this movie, feeling on
prior viewing occasions that Richter and screenwriter Earl Mac Rauch were
straining TOO hard to make a "cult" film. Maybe it's because the movie
is now finally letterboxed in its full 2.35 Panavision aspect ratio that
I found it not only more comprehensible, but also more entertaining --
this is a VERY dry comedy that gets by because of its wacky tone and engaging
performances, two things that become clearer the more you see it.
MGM's DVD offers a colorful, spotless 2.35 transfer, an excellent 5.1
remixed soundtrack, deleted scenes culled off the workprint, a strange
commentary track with Richter and Mac Rauch (pretending to be a "real"
member of Banzai's team!), a plethora of still-frame galleries with storyboards,
alternate DVD covers, and merchandising tie- ins (who would've thought
the Pocket Books paperback I have was once worth $100 on eBay?), two film
reviews, the teaser trailer, an ad for a recent attempt at a "Banzai" TV
series that didn't pan out, an on-screen text caption of production notes,
The DVD also allows you to watch the movie in its original theatrical
edition or with its deleted opening prologue restored, featuring Jamie
Lee Curtis as Buckaroo's mom. Alas, this opening (which boasts an on-screen
title of simply BUCKAROO BANZAI) isn't as much fun as you might have hoped,
but it's nice that MGM at least gives you the option of watching it intact
via seamless branching.
BUCKAROO BANZAI is certainly an oddity, an '80s version of "Flash Gordon"
done in its own, unique fashion that might have been years ahead of its
time. Certainly MGM's DVD is the first time we've had to appreciate the
movie the way it was meant to be seen since its original release, and it
just might nab a few more fans because of it.
MAD MAX (***1/2 film, *** extras; MGM, $19.98):
Letterboxed with -- the for the first time in North America -- the original
Australian dialogue tracks intact, this Special Edition of George Miller's
first apocalyptic wasteland adventure starring our pal Max (Mel Gibson)
is another must-have for genre fans.
Although the 1979 sci-fi classic from Down Under was released outside
the U.S. with its original soundtrack years ago (most recently in a fine
Japanese DVD), MGM's DVD offers a handful of brand-new, exclusive supplements.
The documentary is split between two sections, one focusing on the production,
the other on Mel Gibson's casting with comments from the original crew
(though Miller is notably absent from the proceeding).
An audio commentary features cinematographer David Eggby, Jon Dowding,
Tim Ridge and Chris Murray, an on-screen text track offers production notes,
while a photo gallery, TV spots, and the U.S. trailer are also included
on the supplemental side.
Visually, the 2.35 transfer is excellent, and the 5.1 remixed soundtrack
a main attraction to MGM's disc (even the Japanese DVD's Dolby Digital
sound was merely the original mono mix encoded as 5.1). The original U.S.
mono sound is also included for comparison's sake. Highly recommended!
JEEPERS CREEPERS (*1/2 film, *** extras; MGM, $19.98):
Francis Ford Coppola- produced, low-budget horror entry might have seemed
like a breath of fresh air after all the slasher-wannabes we've been saddled
with of late, but it's still an awfully amateurish, awkwardly-performed
monster tale that's unintentionally funny as opposed to scary.
A pair of idiotic teens (and we're talking DUMBER than your typical
scream queen here) end up running afoul of a local country demon dubbed
"The Creeper," who sacks unsuspecting motorists and drags them down to
his lair to take whatever body parts he needs. (Fun, right?).
Writer-director Victor Salva has been one of the cinema's more controversial
figures following his conviction on child molestation charges years ago,
but whatever you may think of him being able to continue his filmmaking
career, he continues to be an awfully pedestrian writer-director, believing
here that long, slow takes of his actors' faces are enough to create a
feeling of unease in the viewer.
However, neither stars Gina Philips nor Justin Long are capable enough
to fill you with that sense of dread (often times they feel like they're
engaged in an acting class workshop), nor is Salva up to the challenge
of creating a mythology and legend for "The Creeper," ending the movie
and setting us up for a sequel just when the action should be getting started.
That said, JEEPERS was MGM's most profitable release of 2001, and the
studio has followed suit with a dynamite DVD offering a handful of interesting
behind-the- scenes supplements -- even a ten-minute segment on composer
Bennett Salvay, who appears to discuss his score, along with clips of the
movie isolated with his music. Salva also contributes a commentary track,
while a handful of deleted scenes (including a lame alternate ending) round
out another strong Special Edition package from MGM.
New From Universal
THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS (*** movie, *** supplements; Universal,
$26.96): Rob Cohen's surprise box-office smash comes to DVD in a superlative
package with reference-quality Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks, plus
a razor-sharp 2.35 transfer and a nice group of extra features.
This is a slick, fast-moving and surprisingly well-crafted update of
a typical '50s cars-cops-and-robbers effort (it even takes its title from
a 1954 Roger Corman movie, though it has nothing to do with its plot),
and features a throbbing soundtrack that matches the most sensational driving
and stunt sequences to adorn a movie in recent memory.
The plot is simple: undercover cop Paul Walker is on the trail of highway
bandits who have been stealing electronics and other home consumer items
from helpless truckers. Walker infiltrates a group of California street
racers including their imposing leader (Vin Diesel) who owns a seemingly
benign convenience store, and whose sister (the literally and figuratively
hot Jordana Brewster) falls for our white-bread hero.
Director Cohen -- whose audience-friendly credits range from "Dragon:
The Bruce Lee Story" to the okay fantasy "Dragonheart" and the recent teen
hit "The Skulls" - - here displays a far more flamboyant visual style than
any of his previous work showed, but he still concentrates on taking time
to develop characters and never gets side-tracked by Michael Bay-like split-second
Universal's slick DVD bonus features include an interesting look at
the film's cuts that were necessitated to ensure a PG-13 rating, deleted
scenes, storyboards, a "Making Of" special, interactive stunt and special
effects featurettes, commentary with Cohen, and the original magazine article
that inspired the movie.
AMERICAN PIE 2 (*** movie, *** supplements; Universal,
$26.98): Amiable, breezy sequel features more of the same from the 1999
original, though there's fewer gross-out gags and a slightly more developed
The focus this time is again on Jason Biggs' hapless Jim, who spends
a summer with the boys on a "lake" front house (except that it overlooks
the Pacific Ocean) and conditions his sexual prowess with Michele, the
band camp girl (a larger role here for Alyson Hannigan), in order to prepare
for the return of the legendary Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth) from Europe.
Everyone is back from the original, though most of the female parts
are token reprisals -- even Chris Klein has little to do here but converse
on the phone with Mena Suvari (in a cameo appearance).
The somewhat sloppy pace aside, I enjoyed this movie more than the original,
which tried TOO hard to be PORKY'S for today's youthful movie-goers. AMERICAN
PIE 2 isn't a great comedy by any means, but it's more relaxed and technically
polished than its predecessor, and seems just as content spending time
with its characters as it does reaching for another slice of goofy adolescent
Universal's DVD edition offers multiple commentaries, several deleted
scenes and outtakes (though no scenes featuring Chris Penn's appearance
as Stifler's dad, dropped after poor test screenings), music videos, production
notes, promotional featurettes, and other extras. The DVD has been released
in both the original R-rated edition and an Unrated Cut with six minutes
of additional footage, which we did not receive to verify the additions/deletions
compared to the theatrical cut.
NEXT WEEK: Back to the '80s again, with Special
Editions of the BEVERLY HILLS COP series, plus Disney's ATLANTIS and Mariah
Carey's GLITTER -- the dawn of a new cult classic? Send all emails to email@example.com
and we'll see you then. 'Nuff said!