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Aisle Seat Fourth of July Edition

Back to the Beach with the JAWS Sequels
Plus: GANGS OF NEW YORK, DRACULA 2, and more!

By Andy Dursin

Aaah, the summer of '83. Lots of childhood memories, and plenty of successful genre films camping out for several weeks (or months, in the case of "Return of the Jedi") at the local multiplex.

Among other things, 1983 was renowned for basically being the final year of the 3-D revival. "Amityville 3-D," "Spacehunter," "The Man Who Wasn't There" and "Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn" (clearly one of the most unforgettable titles of all time) were among the movies to utilize "field sequential" 3-D technology (as opposed to the older, inferior 3-D method with the red-and-blue glasses), resulting in some terrific 3-D effects -- but also lousy movies that failed to entertain without the glasses on.

Undoubtedly the biggest budgeted and marketed of them all was JAWS 3-D (**1/2, 99 mins., 1983, PG; Universal), which had a checkered production history years before it was made. For the third "Jaws" installment, producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown wanted to shoot an "Airplane!"-like spoof -- "Jaws 3, People 0" -- that was co-written by John Hughes and had Joe Dante attached to direct. Ultimately, though, Zanuck/Brown and National Lampoon departed the project, and Universal decided to make a straight-faced 3-D sequel produced by not by the studio but rather by Alan Landsburg, the TV guru best known for "In Search Of--" with Leonard Nimoy. The movie was shot on-location at Sea World in Florida, with Joe Alves -- production designer of the first two "Jaws" films (and an associate producer on the second picture) -- at the helm.

Aside from Alves' connection, though, there's little behind or in front of the camera that resembles the first two adventures of Bruce the Shark. In fact, the script -- credited to sci-fi writer Richard Matheson and "Jaws" scribe Carl Gottlieb (who came in to rewrite the movie at the last minute) -- more often resembles a remake of an old '50s Universal monster-on-the-loose movie, specifically the studio's "Revenge of the Creature." In that sequel to "Creature From the Black Lagoon," the title monster is captured and put on display at an aquarium where he ultimately breaks free and terrorizes the tourists -- something that seems to have been an influence on "Jaws 3-D" (or "Jaws III," depending on which print you watch).

In the Matheson-Gottlieb script, a great white gets loose in Sea World, eats one of the local workers, and then is hunted down by a now fully-grown Mike Brody (Dennis Quaid, in a role that suggests the film is taking place YEARS ahead of its 1983 setting!). [Richard Matheson once mentioned in an interview that his draft did not even feature the Brody sons--SB] Mike's not forgotten about his old man in Amity and what happened when he and brother Sean were younger -- something that, naturally, comes in handy once Sea World tycoon Lou Gossett, Jr. and big-game hunter Simon MacCorkindale opt to capture the great white instead of killing it. After a few brief shows for the paying customers, though, the shark dies, and in a move ripped right out of "Gorgo," the monster's mother (or husband?) comes calling for revenge!

In 3-D, JAWS 3-D offered some solid three-dimensional effects (the actual visual F/X, however, left much to be desired), though the limitations of current home-theater technology and NTSC TVs make them nearly impossible to display at home (side note: there is an "Imax 3-D DVD" set available that tries. The box-set includes glasses that need to be connected to a small powered box that reproduces the 3-D effects utilized in Imax features and the early '80s 3-D films. Unfortunately, the screen flicker is impossible to ignore on NTSC TVs and gave me a migraine after a few minutes of use). Watching the movie WITHOUT 3-D means you're subjected to several seconds of odd camera angles and shots -- particularly the severed limb that hangs on screen a lot longer than it should, and of course, a game of darts!

Nevertheless, even in 2-D, JAWS 3 is still a good deal of fun. Sure, without John Williams' score and the original cast, it lacks the flavor of the first two pictures, but the movie seems to improve on subsequent viewing. The flat dialogue and cardboard characters only serve to make the movie seem even more like a "creature feature" product of the '50s, while the performances range from adequate (MacCorkindale and Gossett, Jr., fresh from his "Officer and a Gentleman" Oscar triumph) to overwrought, like Quaid's overly-enthusiastic Brody (check out his reaction to the rotted corpse -- a priceless moment in film history) and Bess Armstrong's heroine. Luckily, Lea Thompson looks cute in an early role, and Alan Parker's substitute score works fine on its own terms, deftly incorporating a few doses of Williams' original theme. While obviously not the phenomenon of the first film or the blockbuster hit that the second movie was (most people forget that "Jaws 2" tallied over $100 million in 1978, which would approximate $250 million in today's dollars), JAWS 3-D did respectably enough, earning some $45 million in 1983 funds (which Boxofficemojo.com states would round off to over $80 million today after inflation).

Newly issued on DVD, Universal's "Jaws 3" includes a fine 2.35 anamorphic transfer with a competent Dolby Surround soundtrack. While the movie has been available on DVD elsewhere around the world for several years now, this is the first time JAWS 3 has been screened in its original 2.35 dimensions domestically since its theatrical release. Like a lot of 3-D movies, the colorful cinematography looks extremely unfocused at times and the print varies from fair-to-good, but if you're only used to seeing JAWS 3 in terrible pan-and-scan prints, you're likely to be pleasantly surprised by the letterboxing. Extras are limited to a terrific trailer that once again uses the ominous and yet somehow comforting tone of Percy Rodrigues ("the third dimension IS terror!").


Universal has released "Jaws 3" on DVD alongside a re-issue of the much- ballyhooed 1987 sequel JAWS THE REVENGE (*1/2, 91 mins., 1987, PG-13), which previously was issued on DVD in a non-anamorphic letterboxed transfer by Goodtimes.

The fourth (and so far final) Jaws film remains one of the most lambasted sequels in the history of motion pictures, though two-thirds of it aren't totally bad. It's the ending that proves to be the turning point from mediocrity to cinematic awfulness for "Jaws: The Revenge."

This strange adventure pits Mrs. Brody (Lorraine Gary, looking a little tired) against a great white that memorably eats Sean, now an Amity police deputy, in an opening attack sequence tastelessly intercut with footage of the town's Christmas party. Violent enough to warrant the PG-13 rating single-handedly, a stunned Mrs. B becomes convinced that the shark is stalking her entire family, since Chief Brody has passed away due to Roy Scheider turning down the script.

Son Michael (now played by "Last Starfighter" Lance Guest) convinces his mom to travel down to the Bahamas, where she not only has to contend with -- you guessed it - - the shark, but also Michael's annoying artist wife (Karen Young) and equally obnoxious moppet daughter [A year after the film was released, the actress who played the daughter, Judith Barsi, was murdered by her father, who also killed her mother and then himself--SB]. You'd almost wish the shark would have them for lunch, but alas, there are few thrills to come in "Jaws The Revenge," which also features Mario Van Peebles as Michael's scientist pal and Michael Caine -- fresh off HIS Oscar triumph in "Hannah and Her Sisters" -- as "Hoagy," a local pilot who seems to know more about the area and everyone than he should (in Hank Searles' novelization, he was a government agent or something of that nature. Yeah, sounds more interesting than the movie, doesn't it?) [Michael Caine famously was absent from the Oscar ceremony when he won -- stuck on location for Jaws: the Revenge--SB]

The Martha's Vineyard and Bahamas location shooting and the fine cinematography of John McPherson are strong assets in "Jaws The Revenge," which -- if you're a "Jaws" fan -- is watchable enough, at least until the ending. The infamous climax, which has since become a staple of "so bad it's good" bad movie fans, involves Mrs. Brody, a large yacht, Caine's plane, and the shark. Needless to say, it's so poorly executed, edited and directed that it turns what was a forgettable, bland but competent film into a total, unforgettable celluloid disaster (can you believe producer-director Joseph Sargent once made "The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3"?). It's SO embarrassing, in fact, that the filmmakers did try and rework the ending even after the film was released in the U.S. The "new" ending of "Jaws The Revenge" attempted to intercut footage from the ending of the original "Jaws" and minimize the laughable special effects (it also brought Van Peebles back to life), but ends up being just as ridiculous as the first attempt. Universal's DVD, like all previous video versions, only includes the re-cut ending (TV prints do include the theatrical finale and various deleted footage), with the added benefit of the theatrical trailer, which turns out to be more effective than the final film. Shot in Super 35, Universal's DVD offers a fine 2.35 transfer with 2.0 sound, doing justice to Michael Small's competent score, sporting a lot more of the "Jaws Theme" than Parker's offering from its predecessor. Both DVDs should be of interest for JAWS fans, offering solid visual/sound presentations and an affordable price (under $20). Even if neither film quite carried on the legacy achieved by Spielberg's original classic (I guess that's an understatement), both movies provide dumb summer fun that looks great on disc. Worth a view (or two!).


More Nostalgic Vintage DVDs

POPEYE. 113 mins., 1980, PG, Paramount. ANDY'S RATING: ***. CAST: Robin Williams, Shelley Duvall, Ray Walston, Paul Dooley, Paul Smith. COMPOSER: Harry Nilsson. SCRIPT: Jules Pfeiffer. DIRECTOR: Robert Altman. TECHNICAL SPECS: 2.35 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

While I enjoyed watching "The Hulk," I think the time has come for filmmakers to go back to making fun, colorful comic-book movies. The "dark" super-hero movie genre has been exhausted in the wake of Tim Burton's "Batman" to the point where the original "Superman" seems like a film almost totally unrelated to its contemporary peers. In the late '70s, numerous comic adaptations sprung up alongside "Superman," including POPEYE, Robert Altman's filming of the King Features comic strip that had a rocky shoot to say the least. The mammoth production resulted in clashes between Altman and producer Robert Evans, who allegedly bickered over the picture's budget, editing and everything else in between. A lot of critics came down hard on the movie, and for years it was a black mark in Robin Williams' filmography. The movie's sour reputation in certain quarters, though, doesn't tell the entire story of the Paramount/Disney co-produced POPEYE, which went onto become Altman's biggest financial hit. It's also an upbeat and thoroughly entertaining -- if decidedly uneven and offbeat -- movie that often does an excellent job capturing the essence of the old cartoons and comics.

As Popeye, Robin Williams does yeoman's work under heavy make-up as the spinach-chewing sailor, muttering the dialogue in Jules Feiffer's script. Shelley Duvall's wide-eyed eccentricities are perfect for Olive Oyl, while Paul Smith makes for a convincing Bluto and Paul Smith a perfect Wimpy. Harry Nilsson's songs are tuneful and the original Popeye theme pops in throughout his score. The movie's strongest assets, though, are its production design and widescreen cinematography. Shot in Malta, POPEYE looks like a true cartoon come to life, though for years viewers have only been able to see the movie in its cropped pan-and-scan format.

Paramount's DVD rectifies the situation, since it offers the first letterboxed presentation of the movie ever on home video. The 2.35 transfer is excellent and captures all of the wide Technovision frame, which as you might anticipate is essential to the action. With the edges restored, POPEYE isn't quite as disjointed as it previously seemed on TV, and the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack nicely captures the movie's early Dolby Stereo soundtrack.

For years, actors like Paul Smith talked about how Altman had "gutted" the movie in post-production, removing plenty of footage in the editing room. While it might have been nice to see deleted scenes or some discussion about the production's turbulent shoot, it's great to have a widescreen POPEYE available at long last, and Paramount's DVD serves up a strong presentation as well.


New on DVD

DRACULA II: ASCENSION. 85 mins., 2002, R, Dimension. ANDY'S RATING: **1/2. CAST: Jason Scott Lee, Jason London, Diane Neal, Craig Sheffer, Stephen Billington, Roy Scheider. COMPOSER: Kevin Kliesch, "Dracula 2000 Themes by Marco Beltrami." SCRIPT: Joel Soisson, Patrick Lussier. DIRECTOR: Patrick Lussier. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentary, deleted scenes, cast auditions. TECHNICAL SPECS: 2.35 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Made-for-video sequel to the unremarkable (though competent) "Dracula 2000" from the same filmmaking team is a surprisingly decent B-movie with a few thrills and better-than-average performances.

A group of New Orleans medical students unwittingly resurrect Dracula (Stephen Billington) and chain him up in a drained pool filled with overhead UV lights. Among the group are pretty Diane Neal, goofy good guy Jason London, and handicapped professor Craig Sheffer, who looks like he's spent too much time at Dunkin Donuts for his own good. Instead of striking Vlad down, however, they've opted to strike a deal with a shady British entrepreneur for the tune of $30 million, but that doesn't sit well with vampire hunter Jason Scott Lee, who receives orders from priest Roy Scheider (a 45-second cameo) to knock off any members of the undead he can find. (Sadly, Roy doesn't say "I know what a vampire is because I've seen one up close -- and you better do something about this one, because I don't intend to go through the hell again!").

Sure, there's a lot of talk in this competent sequel, written by Joel Soisson and director Patrick Lussier, but when DRACULA II settles down for some vamp action -- and Lee shows up in his best role since Bruce Lee -- the movie provides serviceable scares and a fairly involving story. Billington has little to do but look menacing, but the picture becomes more compelling as it goes along, with a cliffhanger ending serving as the springboard for DRACULA III (which boasts Rutger Hauer as the vamp), which was shot at the same time.

Lee is good as a devout man of the cloth, as is London as an ultimately reluctant member of the med students' plan to trade in Drac for some cash. The two seem like they'll be a goofy odd couple team in the next installment, which fortunately appears as if it won't star Sheffer, who looks completely disinterested here. The few special effects, meanwhile, are fine for this material while Kevin Kliesch recycles some of Marco Beltrami's cues from the previous picture. DRACULA II reportedly cost a fraction of what "Dracula 2000" did, but with more interesting characters, this is a rare lower-budget sequel that in some ways surpasses its predecessor.

Dimension's DVD offers a fine 2.35 transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound that takes OK advantage of your home theater set-up. Special features include a good-natured commentary track with Lussier, Soisson, and make-up supervisor Gary Tunnicliffe, which talks about filming in and about Romania, where DRACULA III's action is supposed to take place. Casting audition tapes are included, along with several brief deleted scenes.

DRACULA II isn't a great movie, obviously, but it is a lot of fun for vampire fans. The fact that the story will continue in another installment gives the characters more room to develop, and for that reason alone, I'm looking forward to Part III whenever Dimension gets around to releasing the DVD.


GANGS OF NEW YORK. 167 mins., 2002, R, Miramax. ANDY'S RATING: ****. CAST: Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, Jim Broadbent, Brendan Gleeson, Henry Thomas, Liam Neeson. MUSIC SUPERVISOR: Robbie Robertson. SCRIPT: Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, Kenneth Lonergan. DIRECTOR: Martin Scorsese. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by the director; featurettes on the sets and costume design; Discovery Channel documentary; music video; "Five Points" historical segment; teaser, trailer. TECHNICAL SPECS: 2.35 Widescreen, 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks.

Though nominated for 10 Oscars and the recipient of a Golden Globe for its director, "Gangs of New York" received mixed a reaction from audiences and didn't quite become the masterwork its filmmakers intended. The film grossed north of $70 million domestically (surely nothing to sneeze at), but the masses and Academy voters chose the safer "Chicago" as 2002's most celebrated film.

For me, though, in spite of its flaws, this Martin Scorsese epic does all the things a great historical movie should: transport you to a time and place (1860s New York), convey bits of actual information our school systems no longer teach children (the drafting, rioting, and overall hideous treatment of immigrants from Ireland and all over the world), and create memorable characters to frame the action around. In the latter category we have Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis, both in sensational performances as a young man trying to avenge the murder of his father, and the New York City mob leader whose corruption extends through every facet of the fledging metropolis.

It seems to me that many people criticized the movie as much for its off-screen reputation (long delays, editorial re-cuts, arguments between Scorsese and the Miramax executives) as for what it lacked on-screen. True, there are times when the three-hour picture seems to have been cut down from something much longer, but overall, I was absolutely captivated by the history, period settings, attention to detail, and rich performances of the two leads. Day-Lewis deserved another Oscar for his work here, and even Robbie Robertson's assembling of the soundtrack -- comprised of modern pop-rock, ethnic music, and an unreleased Howard Shore concert piece -- works splendidly. After hearing this potpourri soundtrack, it's easy to surmise that Elmer Bernstein's rejected original score would have been more cliched.

"Gangs of New York" may have worked better as a true, four or five-hour epic, but the end result is that still one of those rare three-hour films that goes by faster than many movies that run half its length. It leaves you wanting more, though you won't find any deleted footage in Miramax's otherwise superb 2-DVD set. There's a commentary track with Scorsese that's interesting though sporadic, with the director talking about the long gestation of the production, the casting, filming, and post-production process. He does discuss the soundtrack -- calling it a "Goodfellas" like compilation of "period music" on the part of supervisor Robertson -- but makes no direct mention (from what I heard) of Bernstein's dumped score. He also avoids talking about the feuds with Miramax over the different cuts of the film, staying on the straight and narrow throughout (maybe someday we'll hear the real story, but alas, it's not here). An informative, albeit brief, Discovery Channel documentary covers the real-life historical elements that served as the basis for the script, while featurettes on the costume design and sets are well-produced and informative. A historical segment on the "Five Points" is included, while the 2.35 transfer is excellent, with the only problems occurring in the source material (which even seems a little banged up at times).

The 5.1 DTS soundtrack ranks ahead of the Dolby Digital soundtrack, though both offer a superlative sound experience. Like many Scorsese films, the sound is rich and detailed with surround effects, music, and ambient sounds, so crank it up and be prepared to be transported back in time.


HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN 10 DAYS. 115 mins., 2003, PG-13, Paramount. ANDY'S RATING: ***. CAST: Kate Hudson, Matthew McConaughey, Michael Michele, Adam Goldberg, Shalom Harlow, Bebe Neuwirth, Robert Klein. COMPOSER: David Newman. SCRIPT: Kristen Buckley, Brian Regan, Burr Steers. DIRECTOR: Donald Petrie. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Director commentary; Featurette with cast and crew interviews; five deleted scenes with optional commentary; location featurette; music video. TECHNICAL SPECS: 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Surprisingly charming romantic comedy became one of last spring's box-office hits ($100 million-plus domestically).

Kate Hudson plays a NYC magazine writer whose staff eggs her on to write an article about finding a good man and then dumping him within a span of 10 days. Matthew McConaughey, an ad exec, is the prey, though he helps to stir the pot by accepting a bet from his friends about finding a woman (guess who) and making her fall in love with him -- also within a period of 10 days.

So, Hudson drives McConaughey batty, whether it's ruining the NY Knicks playoff series they're trying to watch, or talking out loud at movies. McConaughey, meanwhile, continuously tries to woo Hudson in spite of her unpredictable and often obnoxious behavior.

The romantic comedy genre is filled with fluffy formula pieces, and the ones that click are often not dictated by cast alone but rather a combination of elements that makes them work. HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN 10 DAYS, for the kind of film that is, entertains on all levels, mainly because the script is actually funny, the interplay between Hudson and McConaughey is consistently amusing, and veteran director Donald Petrie keeps the movie moving at a good clip. The NY locations add atmosphere to the picture, which is further complimented by a nice score by David Newman.

Paramount's fine DVD offers a typically strong 1.85 transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, along with a handful of special features. Petrie contributes a commentary track and also talks about why the film's five deleted scenes (included here) were excised, while featurettes look at the picture's location shooting and the production in general, with typical "Making Of" soundbytes from the cast and crew. A music video rounds out the disc.
 


BIKER BOYZ. 111 mins., 2003, PG-13, Dreamworks. ANDY'S RATING: **. CAST: Laurence Fishburne, Derek Luke, Orlando Jones, Djimon Hounsou, Lisa Bonet, Brendan Fehr, Tarenz Tate, Kid Rock. COMPOSER: Camara Kambon. SCRIPT: Craig Fernandez, Reggie Rock Bythewood. DIRECTOR: Reggie Rock Bythewood. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Deleted scenes, featurette, production notes, biographies. TECHNICAL SPECS: 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital sound.

A very "Fast" and "Furious"-like street drama from director/co-writer Reggie Rock Bythewood, who tries to combine racing action with a standard family drama. It's a nice attempt at a character piece with a strong cast to match, but BIKER BOYZ is standard fare just the same.

Derek Luke plays a young man who wants to take to the streets and compete in late-night races on slick motorcycles. Vin Diesel doesn't show up (nor does Paul Walker), but Laurence Fishburne does as the reigning champ who may -- just may -- harbor a secret connection with Luke (can't you just guess what it is?). The usual run-ins with rival gangs and family issues ensue, while the too-good-for-this-material cast also includes Orlando Jones, Djimon Hounsou, Lisa Bonet, "Roswell" star Brendan Fehr, and the ever-underrated Kid Rock in a leading performance.

Dreamworks' DVD offers a crisp 1.85 transfer with loud DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks. Extras include a handful of deleted scenes and a featurette hosted by the engaging Jones, whose talents are once again under-utilized in a feature film. BIKER BOYZ isn't a bad movie, but it is totally routine and recommended mainly for teenagers, who might enjoy the racing sequences and won't mind the familiarity of the plot.


NEXT WEEK: The strains of GREASE 2, a trip in the PHONE BOOTH, and maybe a look at TERMINATOR 3 as well. Email me at dursina@att.net and have a great Fourth of July!


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