A Haunting RING
Plus: STAR TREK III, Saturday Night Fever DVD Special
Editions, and the Mail Bag on RED DRAGON -- again!
An Aisle Seat Entry
By Andy Dursin
Genuinely creepy new horror films are tough to come by, which is why
-- if you're looking to make a last-minute trip to the multiplex in honor
of Halloween -- you should check out THE RING (***), the American
remake of a hugely popular Japanese novel and film.
Now, for a couple of reasons, I had to admit my expectations for the
film were low right from the start. First, it was directed by Gore Verbinski,
a Dreamworks "in-house" director whose last misfire was "The Mexican."
Second, it's a horror flick from Dreamworks, and the last time the studio
released a genre film, we ended up with the heavily compromised "The Haunting,"
where Steven Spielberg himself apparently "helped" re-shoot the final third
of the movie.
Despite those elements seemingly working against it, I was pleasantly
surprised by the picture. THE RING manages to be genuinely spooky and highly
entertaining, with a couple of chilling scares.
The plot, which follows the Japanese version fairly faithfully, features
the premise that a video tape brings death to all those who view it within
the span of seven days. Journalist Naomi Watts stumbles upon the tape after
her niece's heart mysteriously stops beating, and sees a series of seemingly
random images on the video, several of which involve a little girl. This
forms the basis for a mystery that takes Watts to an island off the northwest
coast, where a horse breeder and her husband had a daughter with unexplained,
Hideo Nakata's Japanese filming of Koji Suzuki's novel was a smash hit
in its native country, and one of the few recent genre films to succeed
primarily on the power of suggestion and minimalist scares -- not gore
and violence. It was followed by the tepid "Ring 2" and a so-so prequel
("Ring 0"), none of which are available domestically but can be obtained
as subtitled DVD imports from England.
The American remake, scripted by Ehren Kruger ("Scream 3"), drops the
ball in a couple of places (most notably the subplot involving Watts' son,
who apparently shares a physic connection with the girl that's never elaborated
upon), and adds a couple of unnecessarily ghoulish-looking Rick Baker corpses,
but otherwise adheres closely to its source material. THE RING is a movie
that starts off slowly but picks up steam as its mystery unfolds, culminating
in a doozy of a climax that's a little more Hollywood than the Japanese
version, yet in some ways is more fun.
Throughout it all, Verbinski does an adept job at building and sustaining
tension. The Pacific Northwest locales are vividly photographed by Bojan
Bizelli, and if there's one area where the American RING is a marked improvement
on its predecessor, it's in the film's stylish look and mood.
Complimenting the picture is a marvelous score by Hans Zimmer -- or
at least, Zimmer and his stable of Media Ventures composers (three are
listed with having written "Additional Music" in the end credits). I actually
didn't know who scored the film going into it, and thought it may have
been James Horner or James Newton Howard. To my surprise, the moody, Herrmann-like
score was written by Zimmer, and THE RING is unquestionably one of the
composer's finest works. If nothing else, it's one of the best genre soundtracks
I've heard in a long while (hopefully the film's commercial success, and
the score's recording in London, will result in a soundtrack album soon).
THE RING is slick and entertaining, with enough memorable sequences
to keep you from turning on the TV late at night. With Halloween coming
up in just a few days, it'll get you in the seasonal mood and keep you
there for a while -- whether you like it or not! (PG-13)
New On DVD
The widespread success of "Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan" led Paramount
suits to immediately put another sequel in motion. Of course, that film's
door-so-wide-open epilogue wasn't exactly ambiguous -- director Nick Meyer's
original ending had been "re-tooled" by the studio into a virtual advertisement
for a third big-screen adventure.
With Leonard Nimoy taking over the directorial reigns, STAR TREK III:
THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK was put into production and released in June of 1984.
Immediately picking up where its predecessor left off, "Search For Spock"
shows the Enterprise crew battered and torn from their battle with Khan,
one that left the Enterprise in shambles and Spock dead (well, sort of).
Soon, however, Dr. McCoy begins showing signs of a ghostly, post-traumatic
stress disorder -- as in, speaking like Spock and telling Kirk that he's
possibly still out there, somewhere.
Meanwhile, the Klingons -- lead by the ruthless Kruge (Christopher Lloyd)
-- have learned of the Genesis Planet and quickly engage in a race against
the clock to seize its power. Kirk and Co. commandeer the Enterprise against
Starfleet's wishes, and take off not to stop the Klingons but rather try
and find whatever of Spock remains on the quarantined planet.
Written by producer Harve Bennett, STAR TREK III (***, 105 mins.,
1984, PG; Paramount) is the middle part of what turned into the only true
story arc among all Star Trek cinematic adventures.
As such, it's the only film in the three-film trilogy that doesn't quite
exist on its own merits: it bridges the gap between the more thrilling
II and the rousing IV, advances the plot, and does so in an unremarkable
but effective enough manner. It doesn't quite get a chance to breathe and
is strictly workmanlike in execution (partially due to its multiple, claustrophobic
sets), but it nevertheless gets the job done and has a particularly satisfying
ending that paved the way for the lighter and more energetic "Star Trek
IV: The Voyage Home."
Previously released on DVD in a movie-only edition, Paramount continues
their revisiting of the Trek films here with a double-disc Collector's
Edition of "The Search For Spock." Notice that this isn't a "Director's
Cut" (like the Special Editions of TMP and Khan were), as the film is the
same as the theatrical version and includes a 2.35 transfer and 5.1 Dolby
Digital soundtrack virtually identical to its earlier DVD release.
What have been added are a fine array of special features, most noticeably
an informative group audio commentary from Nimoy, Bennett, Robin "Saavik"
Curtis, and cinematographer Charles Correll. Nimoy is unsurprisingly candid
and enlightening when talking about the film, particularly when he discusses
how he talked Paramount executives into letting him direct the picture.
Bennett explains his "task master" role in the series, Correll talks about
the challenges involved with filming entirely on studio sets, and Curtis
basically praises the cast for accepting her into the fold (while Curtis
seems to be an extremely nice person, one still can't help but lament the
absence of Kirstie Alley in the role here).
Also on the first disc is another text commentary from Michael and Denise
Okuda, authors of "The Star Trek Encyclopedia," that runs as a subtitle
caption throughout the movie. Someone at Paramount must have listened to
criticisms of their previous text notes, since they move at a much more
palatable, leisurely clip here (on "The Motion Picture" and "Wrath of Khan,"
the notes moved so quickly I developed a headache trying to read through
all of them!). As with before, the Okudas have included all kinds of trivia
and anecdotes, though in keeping with the movie itself, there aren't as
many fascinating nuggets here as there are on the previous two pictures.
Disc Two houses a handful of featurettes, including a half-hour documentary
("Captain's Log") that sports interviews with Nimoy, Bennett, William Shatner,
Curtis, and Christopher Lloyd among others. While this is pretty much another
talking head featurette, at least it's not quite as dry as the one produced
for "The Wrath of Khan," and Bennett doesn't stare right into the camera
Other, shorter featurettes touch upon ILM's special effects on the film
("Space Docks and Birds of Prey"), the Klingon language (with linguist
Marc Okrand), costumes, and a technical account of NASA's own "Genesis
Planet" terraforming (don't venture here unless you're a REAL sci-fi junkie!).
Storyboards, photos, and the very brief theatrical trailer (which resembles
a TV spot) round out the disc, though there's one other featurette housed
as an "Easter Egg" on one of the menu screens that is well worth looking
for (thanks to reader Bill Williams for the tip).
Overall, Paramount has delivered yet another quality Star Trek Special
Edition with THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK. While I've always been an admirer of
the film, I doubt there are many Trekkies who feel this is the best of
the series. It is what it is, and includes several strong scenes mixed
in with a straightforward plot and stage-bound atmosphere.
With Nimoy having gained experience behind the lens, "Star Trek IV"
would arrive two years later and prove to be an overwhelming commercial
and critical hit -- one of the finest sequels ever made and the next to
receive the Collector's Edition treatment come 2003.
Dancin', Groovin', and Reviewin': Paramount
Tony Manero is STILL, indeed, the man. Just watching John Travolta strut
his stuff again as the Brooklyn dance king in John Badham's seminal '70s
classic SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (***, 1977, 118 mins., R; Paramount)
is enough to make you get off your couch and groove to the classic Bee
Gees soundtrack one more time.
This slick, stylish, and memorable Robert Stigwood production was scripted
by Norman Wexler from a New Yorker story about blue-collar Brooklyn residents
who would take to the dance floors at their neighborhood discos each weekend.
Travolta's superstar-making performance as Tony -- an ordinary young
guy trying to break out of his drab daytime existence and make something
of himself after dark -- formed the heart of SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, a slice-of-life
drama with melodramatic and tragic passages, highly memorable lines, a
few laughs, and a dash of romance sprinkled into the mix. Add in the chart-topping
soundtrack, featuring "Stayin' Alive," "More Than A Woman," and "How Deep
Is Your Love," and you had a smash hit that seemingly defined the fashion,
dance, and mood of the moment.
Some 25 years later, disco may still be dead but SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER
is very much alive. If the film's then-contemporary look is dated, its
story of small-time dreamers trying to make something of themselves --
and break beyond their barriers -- is just as timely now as it was then.
Travolta's sensational, oft-quotable performance anchors the movie brilliantly
-- as director John Badham mentions in his commentary track, Tony is in
virtually every scene and it's a testament to Travolta's charisma that
SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER holds itself together despite a wide-ranging and at
times inconsistent tone.
Paramount has issued a Special Edition DVD of SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER that
offers several excellent supplementary features.
First off is a candid and informative commentary track from Badham.
If you've ever seen Badham interviewed (or watched the PBS "Directors"
series he hosted back in the mid '80s), you know he's a talkative and honest
filmmaker who enjoys discussing his craft. His commentary here covers the
bases of the film's production, and while it tends to be highly sporadic
during the second hour of the picture, Badham nevertheless relays plenty
of interesting stories about the movie's turbulent production, and singles
out David Shire's original underscoring as being noteworthy for its early
use of synthesizers.
He also, surprisingly, says that many of the film's "alternate takes"
produced for the PG-rated TV version were SUPERIOR to many of their counterparts
in the R-rated, original theatrical cut (Badham cites the actors' more
relaxed demeanor as being more "real" in the secondary takes he shot).
Badham had shot the alternates to eliminate the profanity in the R-rated
version, intending for them to be included in network TV broadcasts. However,
SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER proved to be so popular that the film was re-released
in a shortened PG version in 1978, containing the alternate takes and footage,
in an effort to gain younger viewers (it worked).
For those reasons, it would have been nice to have the PG version also
available on DVD, but at least Paramount has rounded out the disc with
several deleted scenes and a half-hour "VH-1 Behind The Music" documentary
that's surprisingly candid.
Badham, Travolta, co-star Karen Gorney, and other principals were interviewed
for this flashy 2001 episode of the popular cable series, and the special
doesn't pull any punches in discussing the picture's troubled shoot. Original
director John G. Avildsen ("Rocky") is interviewed about his firing from
the picture, and there are clips from Avildsen's home movies of Travolta
dancing during rehearsals.
Travolta also talks about how he re-cut his famous dance sequence in
the editing room -- against Badham's wishes -- after a test version only
showed him in close-ups, while Roger Ebert is on-hand to discuss his late
colleague Gene Siskel's obsession with the film (Siskel shelled out quite
a few bucks to buy Travolta's actual white suit in a charity auction!).
While this is obviously a VH-1 production and not a "scholarly" documentary,
the information presented is quite compelling and far from the promotional
fluff we often see in "Behind The Scenes" featurettes.
Paramount's DVD offers a vibrant 1.85 transfer and excellent Dolby Digital
5.1 soundtrack, which easily surpasses all earlier video releases (including
those VHS tapes that showed the boom microphone throughout Travolta and
Gorney's final scene!). All in all, a highly recommended disc for a veritable
staple of '70s cinema.
While John G. Avildsen had been fired from "Saturday Night Fever," he
did ultimately take home the Oscar for "Rocky" and later handed over the
reigns for a Tony Manero sequel to -- who else? -- Sylvester Stallone himself.
Stallone directed and co-wrote (with Norman Wexler) the belated SNF
sequel STAYING ALIVE (**, 1983, 105 mins., PG, Paramount),
which was fairly successful at the box-office and yet the subject of much
critical derision upon its release.
Seeing the film again, it's not hard to see why. This overstuffed turkey
came out during the same year as another ridiculous, MTV-influenced slice
of pop culture -- FLASHDANCE (**1/2, 1983, 94 mins., R; Paramount)
-- which has also, not coincidentally, been released on DVD by the same
Both films share a few things in common: they're both incredibly silly,
include several music video montages (in some ways 1983 marked the origins
of the whole '80s music montage phenomenon), and have about as much depth
as your average Coors Light commercial does nowadays.
That's not to say, however, that the two films aren't a whole lot of
fun for different reasons.
STAYING ALIVE is a far cry from the gritty streets of "Saturday Night
Fever." Travolta is back as Tony Manero, once again trying to make it big
as a Broadway dancer but having to do so by starting out at the bottom.
The script -- by original scribe Norman Wexler and co-writer/producer/director
Sly Stallone -- is an utter mismash of show biz movie cliches, from Tony's
faithful girlfriend (Cynthia Rhodes from "Runaway") to the obnoxious, bitchy
queen (Finola Hughes) who uses and abuses Tony prior to her big show opening.
And speaking of that, the absurd and over-inflated musical finale, "Satan's
Alley," is indeed an all-time camp classic, complete with original songs
by the Bee Gees and Frank Stallone.
Fortunately, it all goes down nice 'n easy on Paramount's no-frills
DVD, featuring a solid 1.85 transfer and matching Dolby Digital 5.1 and
2.0 soundtracks. (Alas, it does not include the original trailer, which
featured footage of Stallone directing Travolta, and I recall seeing as
a kid prior to a screening of "Superman III").
FLASHDANCE, meanwhile, is just as silly but is nevertheless a far superior
piece of cinematic art. OK, so maybe that's going a bit far, but certainly
the movie was one of the few that could legitimately call itself a box-office
smash AND commercial phenomenon at the time of its original release. Its
simple rags-to-riches tale of an 18-year-old (Jennifer Beals) who welds
by day and dances at night -- so she can make it as a legitimate ballet
dancer -- is basically "Cinderella in Pittsburgh," complete with a knight
in shining armor (Michael Nouri), who here happens to be the boss of the
construction company she works at.
All you have to do is take a look at the individuals who made "Flashdance"
to know what the movie is all about. It was directed by Adrian Lyne, produced
by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, co-written by Joe Eszterhas, and
scored by Giorgio Moroder (with "Sylvestor" Levay receiving credit for
arranging and conducting Moroder's compositions). The soundtrack features
plenty of classic '80s songs (including the Oscar-winning Irene Cara title
track) and offers slick and satisfying entertainment so long as you aren't
looking for much of a story.
Paramount's DVD again features a nice 1.85 transfer and Dolby Digital
5.1/2.0 soundtracks, though there aren't any extras to be found.
A year after "Flashdance" hit it big, Herbert Ross notched a success
with FOOTLOOSE (**1/2, 1984, 107 mins., PG; Paramount), the Kevin
Bacon turns-a-repressed-town-into-rock-n-rollers musical that also boasted
a smash hit soundtrack.
Bacon plays a big city kid who moves to the sticks with his mom, only
to find out that dancing in Hickville is strictly prohibited. Minister
John Lithgow is among the moral majority leading the charge to ban dancing,
only to find out his out-of-control daughter (Lori Singer, whose appeal
I've never been able to figure out) is -- gasp -- no longer a virgin! Lithgow's
rantings about the evils of rock & roll, drugs and drinking are really
just a facade for a man still grieving over the loss of his own son in
a car accident, so leave it to Bacon to strut his stuff -- and win them
over -- thanks to a soundtrack filled with memorable Kenny Loggins and
Deniece Williams tunes (including the classic "Let's Hear It For The Boy").
Granted, Dean Pitchford's script is wallowing in nearly as many cliches
as "Staying Alive" and "Flashdance" combined, but at least there's a sincerity
in the performances of Bacon and Lithgow, even though the minister's predictable
turn towards the teenagers' sides is a little too quick in happening. Ross,
meanwhile, does a terrific job directing the cast, which also includes
Dianne Weist and Chris Penn.
Paramount's DVD doesn't offer any special features, but does contain
a nice 1.85 transfer and 5.1/2.0 Dolby Digital soundtracks. Fans may be
clamoring for a Special Edition, but at least this no-frills disc should
tide them over until then.
Also New From Paramount
THE SUM OF ALL FEARS (***, 123 mins., 2002, PG-13; Paramount):
Ben Affleck's bland Jack Ryan notwithstanding, Phil Alden Robinson's slick
Tom Clancy adaptation provides top-grade 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 re-launching of the Clancy franchise: a semi-prequel
with a young Jack Ryan, yet set in the present day with its own set of
characters. THE 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, and Liev
Schrieber as a stealthy CIA operative. Schrieber's role and performance
are so interesting, in fact, that they turn Affleck's cardboard hero into
one of the film's weaker elements. Just like in "Pearl Harbor," the actor
seems totally out of his element here, lacking the conviction and believability
this kind of material demands. 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 a bit of a stretch.
That said, nearly everything else in THE SUM OF ALL FEARS reeks of class:
Robinson's relatively subdued direction, the widescreen cinematography,
solid performances by veteran character actors, and Jerry Goldsmith's excellent
score among them (this is clearly one of the maestro's finest outings of
Director Robinson sets us up with a first half so strong and restrained,
in fact, that it's unfortunate that the second portion of SUM OF ALL FEARS
becomes saddled with a few 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. I also could have lived without the tepid scenes
involving Ryan's girlfriend -- played by the bland Bridget Moynahan --
in a subplot that's neither romantic nor interesting in any regard.
Robinson, though, does deserve a lot of credit for a making a thought-provoking
thriller that exhibits some intelligence at a time when too many action
blockbusters have nothing on their minds at all.
Paramount's DVD offers a strong 2.35 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital
soundtrack, along with a handful of extra features. Certainly on the audio
and video side this is a terrific presentation, which shouldn't come as
much of a surprise given Paramount's past DVDs in the Jack Ryan series
(that old "Hunt For Red October" disc excepted).
First on the list are two audio commentaries, one by Robinson and Tom
Clancy, and the other with Robinson and cinematographer John Lindley.
The Clancy-Robinson commentary is clearly the more revealing of the
two, with the author -- who was sharply critical of the previous Ryan films
with Harrison Ford -- talking about actual military and government strategies
and how they would relate to the finished film. Robinson and Clancy also
discuss the myriad of changes between the novel and the movie, making for
a revealing discussion unlike most DVD commentaries we typically hear.
The Lindley-Robinson track is more routine, discussing the picture on a
technical level (i.e. how certain shots were achieved during production,
etc.), but nevertheless will be of sufficient interest for fans.
Despite the fact that there's no trailer here, several featurettes are
included, broken up into detailing the film's pre-production and casting,
as well as the creation of the picture's visual effects. The former is
more interesting than the latter, since it does delve into the major changes
the project faced after Harrison Ford and Philip Noyce opted out of the
Good stuff, and a strongly recommended DVD.
From Josh Gizelt:
Despite Brett Ratner's caveats to the contrary, I don't
think that the new version of Red Dragon is any more accurate to the book
In fact, in one particular area, it really comes up short, and that
is in the portrayal of Francis Dollarhyde. Don't get me wrong, Ralph
Feinnes does a perfectly fine job in the role. However, he and Ratner followed
the Jonathan Demme/Ted Levine model of making the killer a creepy monster.
While Tom Noonan's Dollarhyde could certainly be creepy, there was
also an element encoded in his performance and the screenplay missing from
the new version -- empathy.
Will makes it clear BEFORE his confrontation with Dollarhyde how
badly he feels for the child that the killer once was. This is supported
by Noonan's beautifully crafted performance. Interestingly, he also appeared
more menacing when he had to, possibly because of the dichotomy he showed.
Will also makes much clearer in Manhunter how important images are to Dollarhyde,
which makes his involvement with Reba so much more moving.
Ralph Feinnes, in comparison, comes across as much more one-dimensional,
which also hurts Emily Watson's otherwise fine performance as Reba -- her
attraction to Dollarhyde is something of a mystery, while Manhunter, which
actually went into more detail in that regard, it made sense. Joan Allen's
performance was quite good, actually, and her character's adaptation is
much better handled in Mann's film.
One scene that is better in Manhunter than in Red Dragon was Reba
with the tiger; something that I have not seen anybody disagree with. There
is something awesome and primal (and, yes, a little erotic) about the scene
in Manhunter, while Red Dragon just seems to chronicle the event.
Of course, the restoration of the trip Dollarhyde takes to the Brooklyn
Museum is an important one -- but unfortunately, the film never took the
time to explain Dollarhyde's fixation on that work (sure, he has the tattoo,
but the significance of "hearing" the dragon is never delved into). As
a result, I find that the scene in the museum, while certainly important
in the book, is incidental to Red Dragon the film.
These are just my opinions, of course. But I found Red Dragon to
be just a little too easy, which the book is not supposed to be. While
the events of the film may run closer to the book, when stripped of their
meaning, they become pointless, and I think that Manhunter was closer to
the intent of the novel.
Bruce P, all I can say is to each their own; while I agree elements
of the film have dated (and much of it, obviously, falls more into the
Michael Mann aesthetic of Miami Vice and Heat than what we have come to
associate Hannibal Lector with) that should not, really, detract from one's
perception of the film (can one really judge "King Kong" against today's
If there is anything that is central to the novel, it is that what
made Francis Dollarhyde a monster would have made ANYONE into a monster.
Unfortunately, in the new version, all we see is the monster. The
purpose of Will Graham's role in the film, to get into the mind of the
killer, is so barely glanced at in the finished product that it may as
well not be there.
NEXT WEEK: Could it be that November is here already?
That must mean the first holiday DVD of the season, as we review the Special
Edition of THE SANTA CLAUSE (you can't wait, can you?) and much more! Email
me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll catch
you then. Excelsior!