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Aisle Seat January Mania

The Art of the "Special" Edition

Winter Heats Up with TRON, BUCKAROO BANZAI, and TOMBSTONE Special Editions!

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 works out!

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 dursina@att.net with any questions or comments!


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 time.

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 for evidence!).

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 nostalgic fashion.

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 supplement.

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, and more!

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 editing rhythms.

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 story.

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 humor.

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 dursina@att.net and we'll see you then. 'Nuff said!


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