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An Aisle Seat -- Soundtrack Edition??

Andy Reviews Horner's THE MISSING and Isham's THE COOLER

Plus: TOMB RAIDER returns on DVD, and more new releases

By Andy Dursin

I agree: 2003 hasn't been a good year for film score lovers. In fact, this past summer may go down as one of the worst for soundtracks in modern history (or all-time, perhaps?).

The good news is that we finally seem to be coming out of the dark, with a pair of new soundtracks I can recommend without hesitation -- pretty much the first time this year I've been able to say that about an original work from 2003.

Sure, I can hear "Aliens" and "Titanic" all throughout James Horner's score for Ron Howard's new western-thriller, THE MISSING (Sony Classical SK 93093), but after a summer spent hearing recycled Media Ventures "scores" and bombastic techno tracks, I'll gladly take the comforting strains of a solid Horner effort any day.

The Sony Classical soundtrack, out this week, gives you exactly what you'd hope for: over 77 minutes of full-blooded orchestral film scoring with typical Horner flourishes and motifs. Mixing a mourning American Indian vocal with interesting percussion (in a more successful manner than "Windtalkers"), Horner is able to firmly grasp the "horror" inherent in the film's story, adapted by Ken Kaufman from a novel by Thomas Eidson. More impressive, though, are the evocative, sweeping passages that swell with typical Horner emotion -- moving and melancholic, and mostly recycled from past efforts by the composer, especially at the end.

Yet, the soundtrack comes as a breath of fresh air and easily ranks as one of the year's best efforts, even if it's only by default. After nearly 11 months of tedious, formulaic film scoring and hardly a work I'd pay a penny to hear on its own soundtrack album, THE MISSING is solid, efficient and gets the job done.

If Horner's not your cup of tea, though, and you can use some melodic jazz, by all means give a spin or two to Mark Isham's THE COOLER (Koch KOC CD 5707). An indie movie with William H. Macy, Paul Sorvino and Alec Baldwin, Isham's score here is one of his more thematic and most memorable to date. Swelling with passionate riffs and occasional big-band blasts, this jazzy and seductive soundtrack is the perfect antidote to a year of nondescript film scoring.

On Koch's CD, Isham's original material is mixed in with a handful of tracks performed by the likes of Diana Krall, Joey Fatone, and Sorvino himself, and each fits the after- hours, boozy mood of the project. But it's Isham's score -- especially the main theme heard in the opening and closing credits -- that proves tough to turn off, encouraging repeat listening with a melodic, rapturous sax line that's right up there with the musician's finest work.

It's not often that a director's liner notes shed much light on a film or score, but here, "The Cooler"'s Wayne Kramer tells us how he nabbed Isham to score the film, how he fell in love with the music, and how viewers came up and asked him about the availability of the score after screening it. He's right on all counts: easily one of Isham's most intoxicating and infectious soundtracks, THE COOLER is one of the few efforts of 2003 to merit a special recognition from the Aisle Seat. Check it out!

Sequels and Silliness: New on DVD

LARA CROFT TOMB RAIDER: THE CRADLE OF LIFE. 117 mins., 2003, PG-13, Paramount. ANDY'S RATING: **. CAST: Angelina Jolie, Gerard Butler, Noah Taylor, Ciaran Hinds, Djimon Hounsou, Til Scheweiger, Christopher Barrie. COMPOSER: Alan Silvestri. SCRIPT: Dean Georgaris, from a story by Steven E. DeSouza and James V. Hart. DIRECTOR: Jan DeBont. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Director commentary; nine deleted scenes including an alternate ending; Featurettes including an interview with Alan Silvestri; trailers; music videos. TECHNICAL SPECS: 2.35 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

The original "Tomb Raider" wasn't much to talk about, despite achieving a domestic gross near $150 million. A "product" doubling as the beginning of a "franchise" for Angelina Jolie as the once-popular video game heroine, the movie was a by-the- numbers action flick with mind-numbing, bombastic action scenes that looked and played like a music video -- and with all the dramatic depth of one as well.

That said, it was still moderately entertaining to watch, which is one thing that the sequel, THE CRADLE OF LIFE, rarely is. Though the movie plays more coherently and attempts to further develop its characters than its predecessor did, it's also awfully tired and disappointingly dull, once again failing to surround its cinematic heroine with a plot or supporting cast worthy of its potential.

This time out, Lara (Jolie) stumbles upon Pandora's Box after infiltrating an underwater tomb belonging to Alexander the Great. An evil scientist (Ciaran Hinds) makes off with the device, leading Lara to recruit her jailed former partner (Gerald Butler), in an attempt at retrieving it before Hinds unleashes its power on mankind.

Jan DeBont has made some spectacularly successful films in his time ("Speed," "Twister"), and even when his movies aren't so good ("The Haunting"), they're at least watchable and well-made. That's why the lack of energy in THE CRADLE OF LIFE is so surprising: everything about the movie, from its plot to its characters and visual design, is thoroughly uninspired. Jolie again gives it her all, but Butler isn't very interesting as her former lover, and the movie's drawn-out 117 minute running time will end up trying the patience of even the most die-hard Lara Croft fan. Even Alan Silvestri's soundtrack -- written late in the game as a replacement for Craig Armstrong's initial work -- comes off as a watered-down pastiche of his "Mummy Returns" score.

Paramount's Special Edition DVD looks fantastic (in 2.35 widescreen), though the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound mix is recorded at a noticeably low level -- I had to push my center channel to the max just to hear the dialogue (which seems to be a product of the film mix and not a problem with the DVD).

Special features are abundant, including a commentary track with DeBont and five Making Of featurettes consisting of "Training," "Vehicles and Weapons," "Stunts," "Visual Effects," and "Scoring." The latter offers a solid five-minute segment profiling Alan Silvestri, who discusses his approach to the movie, noting how late he came on- board (obviously he makes no mention of Armstrong's score being dumped). There's ample recording session footage on-hand here in a segment that Silvestri fans will definitely want to check out.

Other extras include some nine deleted/alternate scenes, including a slightly different ending; music videos; Butler's screen test; bonus trailers; and the original web site archived for DVD-ROM perusal.

DUMB AND DUMBERER: WHEN HARRY MET LLOYD. 86 mins., 2003, PG-13, New Line. ANDY'S RATING: *1/2. CAST: Eric Christian Olsen, Derek Richardson, Cheri Oteri, Luis Guizman, Mimi Rogers, Eugene Levy, Bob Saget. COMPOSER: Eban Schletter. SCRIPT: Robert Brener, Troy Miller. DIRECTOR: Troy Miller. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentary; two Making Of segments; nine deleted scenes; bloopers. TECHNICAL SPECS: 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital surround.

Sad prequel to the Farrelly Brothers' hit was doomed right from the start, by having a road company cast and crew trying to mimic the comedic shenanigans of its predecessor.

In place of Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels are Eric Christian Olsen and Derek Richardson, who do their best to recapture the original tandem's deft blend of stupidity and slapstick as we meet buddies Harry and Lloyd back at "Providence Hill High School." It's not a terrible idea for a sequel, yet despite doing decent imitations of the original leads, Olsen and Richardson don't really add much of their own energy to the story, which includes the usual stupid gags, run-ins with pretty girls, and adversaries -- the latter coming in the form of the scheming principal (Eugene Levy, wasted) and cafeteria worker (Cheri Oteri, ditto), who plan to make off with $100,000 from the school.

What's worse is that the movie provides few belly laughs -- the script, credited to Robert Brener and director Troy Miller, creates a plethora of supporting players, only to limit them all to one or two scenes in an effort to get the running time down (it's all over at the 80 minute mark -- a telling sign). The gags simply fall flat, and the grimy, low- budget look to the movie also doesn't help matters. New Line at least has provided us with another superlative DVD. The two Making Of segments are on par with the company's superior supplemental efforts, offering a fresh perspective on the production of the movie and what the studio was aiming for. The result is that both featurettes (the 17-minute "Making Of" and 25-minute "Casting" shorts) are lot more honest and interesting than most studio-produced DVD docs. There's also a commentary with the director and two leads, and a pair of "comedic" commentaries that aren't worth spending more than a few minutes hearing (if at all). Trailers, bloopers, outtakes and deleted scenes round out the disc, which sports a solid 1.85 transfer, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, and the original script as a DVD-ROM extra.

ADAM SANDLER'S EIGHT CRAZY NIGHTS. 76 mins., 2002, PG-13, Columbia TriStar. ANDY'S RATING: **. COMPOSERS: Ray Ellis, Marc Ellis, Teddy Castellucci. SCRIPT: Brooks Arthur, Allen Covert, Brad Isaacs, Adam Sandler. DIRECTOR: Seth Kearsley. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Cast and crew commentary tracks; music video; deleted scenes with optional commentary; nine Making Of featurettes; HBO First Look special. TECHNICAL SPECS: 1.85 Widescreen, full-frame versions; 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Adam Sandler's excursion into the world of animation is at least more palatable than either of last two live-action films (the hideous, though financially successful, "Mr. Deeds" and "Anger Management").

Sandler "plays" Davey Stone, a New Englander who's down on the holidays. His elder friend Whitey opts to bail Davey out of jail and put the young man to work doing community service projects -- something that results in the grumpy, sarcastic guy finally opening his eyes to the magic of the holiday season and the possibility of love with a former childhood sweetheart.

It's the typical Sandler formula of slapstick and sentiment played out as an animated musical parody, some of which works but most of which doesn't (and wouldn't you just know, his newfound girlfriend has a little kid in tow). Undoubtedly the idea for the movie came from Sandler's beloved "Chanukah Song," yet the movie itself -- penned by Sandler with three other screenwriters -- lacks the cleverness and big laughs one might have anticipated from the material. There are the usual crude jokes and "serious" scenes inherent in nearly all of Sandler's movies, but at least the movie's quick pace and musical numbers make it a little more engaging to sit through than watching the comedian's antics on the live screen.

Columbia TriStar's two-disc Special Edition DVD is a good deal of fun. In addition to widescreen and full-frame transfers of the movie (both of which look colorful and clear), there's a superb 5.1 Dolby Digital mix and plenty of supplements. These include a pair of commentary tracks, the HBO Making Of special, some nine deleted scenes, a segment involving "Meatball" the dog, and some nine making of featurettes that take you through the production. Sandler fans who don't mind indulging the comedian in his usual shenanigans will likely get a kick out of the DVD, particularly if they're in a forgiving holiday spirit!

Aisle Seat Mail Bag

From David J. Moraza:

Andy, THANK YOU, for letting us know about the Criterion titles soon to become extinct in their present form! I am glad to get the tip-off as I remember just missing out on the Criterion version of 'Dead Ringers' but did manage to snag a copy of their terrific version of 'The Silence of the Lambs.' I remember seeing 'Marooned' at the theater when I was in Junior High. I would love to see the version on Mystery Science Theater though. Has it been released on dvd, or did you catch the version ON Mystery Science Theater itself? Also I am the guy who wrote you some months ago about 'The Haunting' when you announced it was coming out on DVD. And I mentioned 'The Innocents' and we talked of our laserdisc copies of that title. Any word from Fox about 'The Innocents' on DVD coming out?
David, you're welcome for the tip. MAROONED is sadly only available on Columbia's DVD (out today, incidentally), while THE INNOCENTS is still on the "wish lists" of many Laserphiles this holiday season. Fox didn't turn out a Halloween batch of DVDs this year, so hopefully it'll happen in 2004.

From Michael Karoly:


Did Fox not allow Fincher to do a commentary for ALIEN 3? Or was he not interested? I'm really upset about this- do you have any news about this?

Michael, from all accounts (and a contact I have associated with the project), Fincher was approached and basically wanted nothing to do with the new DVD of ALIEN 3. Remember he was basically a "hired hand" on the project, which was a mess before shooting began and continued to be re-written once shooting started. The "long version" that was assembled for the upcoming DVD apparently had his blessing, since it was an assembly he made prior to the final cut being made (which presumably was put together by David Giler and Walter Hill, not Fincher).

From Joe Ersey:

Regarding Bill Williams's observations in your column last week: "And like you, I also remember the "Temple" teaser spot on the head of the first "Raiders" VHS release. Why in the world didn't Paramount include that on the DVD?"

I know the spot well myself, and it's on not only the VHS (and Beta) copies produced prior to 1990 or so, it's on the pan-&-scan laserdisc editions (both CLV and CAV) from the same time as well, but as far as I know, it never ran *theatrically* - I believe it was done for those video releases only, and apparently the movie trailers in the DVD set have been restricted to theatrical trailers (and a game trailer, but nevermind.). Why, I don't know, and yes, I'd have loved it if the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom teaser had been retained in this set (wouldn't it have been great to include as an Easter egg on the Raiders one, and the disc would have the hidden option to play Raiders immediately after the Temple teaser, like in the old days? :)), and if the set had also included the promo for The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles that appeared all the Indy tapes in the early '90s (for that matter, I'd love it if there were any mention of TYIJC on the new set at all). Oh, well. perhaps when the Young Indy DVDs appear, those promos can appear with them.

From Joe Caporicio:
Andy, Trouble with Angels is definitely 1:85 and is missing the sides on all transfers I have seen.
Thanks for the clarification, Joe! The DVD transfer still looks excellent -- Columbia certainly seemed to have newly remastered it, regardless of the aspect ratio.

From Alberto Barbosa:

Andy, I usally like your movie reviews but I got disappointed with your's MATRIX REVOLUTIONS. Of course it would be easy for me to play "wise-guy-who-make-fun-of-critic-who-failed-to-dig-the-movie's-in-your-face-clues" so I won't do it... but you failed to dig the movie's clues, dude that's for sure! Shame on you. More interesting is that I got the same feeling you wrote about just after the end. It took me some 10 minutes (a lot of time, hum?) of reflection to conect all the pieces to finally understand what I just saw. Congratulations to the Warchowsky bros! They really were able to make the best mind #@!% yet. Glad I dig it! BTW, have you ever read Herbert's DUNE? Well, I did and there's plenty of the Atreides' saga on MATRIX... for those who want to know.

NEXT TIME: A helping of cinematic fare just in time for Thanksgiving, including ELF, MASTER & COMMANDER and more! Email comments to and we'll catch you then. Cheers!

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