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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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 firstname.lastname@example.org
and have a great Fourth of July!