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Behind the Scenes with THE OMEN and ALIEN

Andy Reviews New Documentary DVDs

Plus: THE IN-LAWS, A MIGHTY WIND, and the Mail Bag!

An Aisle Seat Entry
By Andy Dursin

A quick note this week for FSM readers: don't miss Warner's 2-disc ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD DVD, which arrives in-stores today. This double-disc set includes a brand new digital transfer of the classic film and plenty of extras: a full isolated score track (in decent-sounding mono under the circumstances), the full contents of a 78 RPM with Erich Wolfgang Korngold performing his score while Basil Rathbone recites the "story" of the movie, and even archival home recordings with Korngold tinkering on his piano. Don't miss this classic release for obvious reasons, and look for my next Laserphile column to have a complete review.


Aisle Seat DVD Picks of the Week

I don't know about you, but it seems that, every time I happen to flip past the E! or AMC channels (the latter hasn't been the same since Bob Dorian took off, by the way), there's a "Making Of" special playing, chronicling the behind-the-scenes history of a certain movie. It doesn't seem to matter if it's old or new, a classic or just a fan favorite -- it's clear that the "Making Of" documentary has exploded beyond the bounds of a laserdisc or DVD supplement into something that apparently now appeals to the masses.

Separating documentaries that are truly worthy of your time from the mostly-promotional filler is another matter entirely, but this week we're celebrating the DVD debut of two fine releases from Image (in stores October 14th), which probe the creation and release of two highly successful franchises from 20th Century Fox.

THE ALIEN SAGA (***, 110 Mins., 2001) and THE OMEN LEGACY (***, 101 mins., 2001) were both produced for the AMC channel, and each traces the conception, production, and reception of both the "Alien" and "Omen" film sagas.

Both specials are chock full of film clips (perhaps too many of them), behind-the-scenes footage, newly-shot interviews with the principal cast and crew members, and even outtake footage and other goodies. Plus, Image has included a few bonus nuggets for DVD consumers -- but more on that in a minute.

"The Alien Saga" is narrated by John Hurt and does a solid job detailing the production of all four "Alien" films. Sure, the story has been well-documented before (in the "Alien Legacy" documentary in particular), but even die-hard fans will again enjoy hearing about the genesis of the original story by Dan O'Bannon, and how -- after a long gestation period -- the film was ultimately made by Ridley Scott and became a sci-fi classic. New interviews with Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, O'Bannon, co- writer Ronald Shusett, and producer David Giler (Scott's comments are culled from a 1991 interview) are interspersed with a great deal of rare on-set footage, plus never- before-seen test footage of Weaver, shot by Scott months before principal photography.

The Making Of material on "Aliens," "Alien 3," and "Alien Resurrection" isn't quite as in-depth, but the program -- directed by Brent Zacky and produced by Kevin Burns -- is surprisingly candid in detailing the disappointing box-office performance of the later films, and even offers a brief speculation on future sequels (obviously, "Aliens Vs. Predator" is now a reality, though one can sense that it must have been close to the front burner even two years ago).

It's a glossy but entertaining documentary, and Image has sweetened the pot by including a full 20 minutes worth of outtake footage on the DVD: Weaver's complete screen tests (seen only in fragments in the special itself) are included with her acting opposite actor Roy Hassett, while additional effects tests are on-hand with the Alien costume and brief miniature footage.

The DVD also includes several complete, vintage promo reels that fans should find fascinating: a blurry "Making Of Alien" featurette culled from broadcast tape, no less than four "Aliens" featurettes that were also produced to air on local TV stations prior to the film's release, and all four original trailers from the series round out the disc.

Fans undoubtedly know that Fox's 9-disc "Alien Quaddrilogy" box-set (don't blame me, I didn't name it) is due out likely by the end of the year with all kinds of must-have supplemental material (and new, extended cuts of "Alien 3" and "Resurrection" apparently as well). Whether or not the bonus contents of this DVD will be included on that collection is anyone's guess right now, but for "Alien" fans this special is certainly worth having in one's collection and the extra features make the DVD an essential own.

Also out from Image is THE OMEN LEGACY, which is a fun overview of everybody's favorite Anti-Christ and how the 1976 Richard Donner thriller came to be.

Narrated with an appropriate "Believe It -- Or Not!" inflection by Jack Palance, there are moments that are decidedly over-the-top in this documentary, especially early on when Satanic "experts" are interviewed along with the movie's religious advisor, who basically tell us that "The Omen" is as significant as The Bible itself. I don't know exactly how the film played back in the mid '70s, but I severely doubt one would begin to question their religious convictions simply because David Warner loses his head on a sheet of glass that falls off the back of a truck.

The heavy-handed dissertation on the film's religious element aside, "The Omen Legacy" is full of behind-the-scenes stories from Donner, writer David Seltzer, producers Harvey Bernhard and Mace Neufeld, plus David Warner, Lee Grant, Lisa Harrow, and Michael Lerner (he was in "The Omen IV," which I don't consider part of the series proper but was obviously included in the documentary to pad the running time). There's an overview of how the number of "Omen" installments decreased after "Damien: Omen II" opened, a few words from Bernhard about how Mike Hodges was fired on II, comments from Harrow about working with Sam Neill on "The Final Conflict," and even a brief mention of the failed NBC "Omen" anthology TV series from a few years back.

There's more of a reliance on clips in this program, but Omen fans should enjoy the special just the same (it's more in-depth and entertaining than the special features on Fox's original "Omen" DVD, by the way), and again, Image has included a few extra features: trailers from all three films (plus the international trailer for "Omen IV"), and a vintage featurette on the making of "Damien: Omen II."

Both DVDs retail for $19.99 and will be available on October 14th. If you're looking for a few spooky, genre-themed documentaries ideal for Halloween, make sure you track down the DVDs at your favorite disc shop or online. Highly recommended!


Aisle Seat DVD Pick of the Week

A MIGHTY WIND. 92 mins., 2003, PG-13, Warner. ANDY'S RATING: ***. CAST: Bob Balaban, Christopher Guest, John Michael Higgins, Eugene Levy, Jane Lynch, Michael McKean, Catherine O'Hara, Parker Posey, Harry Shearer, Fred Willard. SCRIPT: Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy. DIRECTOR: Christopher Guest. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentary by Levy and Guest; 22 minutes of deleted scenes; alternate musical performances; trailer. TECHNICAL SPECS: 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital.

The latest parody from the "Best In Show" and "Waiting For Guffman" gang is an amusing send-up of aging folk music groups that reunite in New York City after their ex- manager passes away.

The groups include ex-sweetheart duo Mitch (Eugene Levy, in the movie's funniest performance) and Mickey (Catherine O'Hara); The Folksmen (Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer); and the sunny, ever-positive New Main Street Singers, anchored by a pair of chirpy leads with just a few issues in their past (John Michael Higgins, Jane Lynch).

Guest and Levy's script is, like their previous ersatz-documentary features, droll and sporadically hilarious. There are some uproarious moments scattered throughout the picture -- particularly Mitch's distraught "solo album" covers -- but for every laugh generated there are stretches of material that don't work, like Willard's wacky New Main Street manager. The music, though, is spot-on and amusing, and Balaban scores a few extra points as the late manager's son who coordinates the event.

Warner's DVD offers a colorful, perfect 1.85 transfer with a bouncy 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack. Extras include some 22 minutes of deleted scenes, some of which are amusing and will be of interest for fans; a commentary track from Guest and Levy, which is often fun; alternate musical performances of the various groups, which are seen only briefly in the finished film, and the original trailer.

Overall, A MIGHTY WIND is an amiable, often engaging film that will appeal particularly to fans of "Waiting For Guffman" (which I found overrated) and "Best In Show" (which was more consistently funny than this film).


Coming Soon on DVD

THE IN LAWS. 98 mins., 2003, PG-13, Warner, available October 14th. ANDY'S RATING: **. CAST: Michael Douglas, Albert Brooks, David Suchet, Robin Tunney, Ryan Reynolds, Candice Bergen. COMPOSER: Temp track. SCRIPT: Nat Mauldin and Ed Solomon, from the 1978 movie written by Andrew Bergman. DIRECTOR: Andrew Fleming. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Director commentary, deleted scenes, outtakes, trailers. TECHNICAL SPECS: 1.85 Widescreen (separate full frame version is also available), 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Witless, though watchable, remake of the far funnier Alan Arkin-Peter Falk vehicle offers Michael Douglas as a CIA agent whose son (Ryan Reynolds) is about to be married to the daughter of a neurotic foot doctor (Albert Brooks). Soon Brooks is improbably teamed together with Douglas on a top-secret mission involving a nuclear device and a bad guy (David Suchet) who develops an interest in the good doctor.

Director Andrew Fleming's credits include the watchable "The Craft," appealing political comedy "Dick," and dreadful "Threesome." THE IN-LAWS falls somewhere between watchable and dreadful, with the performances of Douglas and Brooks keeping the movie afloat. Both are fun, but somehow the casting seems like it would have been more amusing had the movie been made, oh, 15 years or so ago. Suchet ("Poirot") is also a blast as the bad guy, but the Nat Mauldin-Ed Solomon script lacks wit, and Fleming's direction isn't as assured as it ought to be. Then again, what more could you expect from a Franchise Pictures offering?

Compounding the problems is a hideous "temp track" soundtrack that has to rank as one of the worst in recent memory. Eschewing original score, the music here includes drab library music by Klaus Badelt and John Powell, a few Paul McCartney tracks (including "Live and Let Die"), plus -- of all things -- the main titles from Danny Elfman's "Good Will Hunting"! Bizarre, indeed.

Warner's DVD offers a fine 1.85 transfer (a full-frame, unmatted version is separately available) and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack. Extras include an OK commentary by Fleming, deleted scenes, promotional featurette, outtake sequences involving Brooks, and trailers for both the original film and the remake.


HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE. 116 mins., 2003, PG-13, Columbia TriStar, available October 7th. ANDY'S RATING: **. CAST: Harrison Ford, Josh Hartnett, Lena Olin, Bruce Greenwood, Isaiah Washington, Keith David, Lolita Davidovich, Master P. COMPOSER: Alex Wurman. SCRIPT: Robert Souza, Ron Shelton. DIRECTOR: Ron Shelton. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Director commentary, trailers. TECHNICAL SPECS: 2.40 Widescreen, Full-screen transfers, Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.

If anyone still has doubts about "Indiana Jones IV" actually happening, one has only to look at the recent bombs turned out by Harrison Ford to know that another Indy adventure has to be -- by now -- a forgone conclusion.

The latest Ford misfire, HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE, is an odd new action- buddy-comedy/cop thriller from Ron Shelton, whose own last few movies have barely registered a blip on the box-office radar ("Play It to the Bone" and "Dark Blue," anyone?). Here, Ford plays a seasoned, veteran cop whose other job entails selling real estate. Josh Hartnett -- with whom Ford has no chemistry whatsoever -- plays his young partner, who wants to be an actor and works as a yoga instructor in his spare time. They're on the trail of a hip-hop murder, with the help of a radio psychic (Lena Olin)-- sound interesting?

HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE doesn't take itself very seriously, which is, I suppose, one of its virtues, though it's also one of its problems: if the characters and filmmakers don't really care about its central plot, then why should we? Ford mopes about and Hartnett looks as if he'd rather be anywhere else, all the while Shelton sprinkles the action with his usual salty dialogue and colorful supporting roles. It all feels so utterly inconsequential that, in the end, HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE chokes on its own "go with the flow" tone and evaporates right in front of your eyes.

Columbia TriStar's DVD offers a crisp 2.40 widescreen transfer that looks great (a full-frame version is also available on the disc), plus a bass-heavy 5.1 soundtrack sporting a workable Alex Wurman score. Extras are limited to a standard-issue director commentary track from Shelton (obviously recorded before the movie was released), plus filmographies and trailers.


Aisle Seat Mail Bag

From Joseph Marino:

Andy,

Any show that not only pokes fun at porn film scoring but has John Williams as a hopeful candidate (Crossing his fingers with the devilish look of an anticipated win) while a clip of his score being recorded with a 90 piece orchestra is merely funny but classic. I have TIVO'd the "Brian Does Hollywood" episode and watch it repeatedly.

Joseph, I love FAMILY GUY and that episode was a riot. If any of you have media savvy, pop-culture obsessed friends out there who have never seen this show, pick it up for them (or yourself) for Christmas -- it's THAT good!

From Tom Linehan:

Andy,

I heard a rumor that Hill Street Blues is coming out, since you have a grasp on the Industry -- is it true or Bunk.

Tom, I haven't heard anything concrete, but at the rate TV series are being released on DVD, nothing would surprise me. Stay tuned--

From Alan Bobet:

I think that your readers who are fans of the classic 60's TV spy series "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.", will be interested in knowing that Warner Home Video, UK, has released in England on Sept. 8th, a three disc DVD Box Set of 5 U.N.C.L.E. movies on Region 2 PAL Format. This box-set includes the following UNCLE movies: "The Spy With My Face", "One Spy Too Many", "The Karate Killers", "The Helicopter Spies" and "How To Steal The World", that was culled from episodes of the 4 seasons of the series. I had the opportunity of ordering it and I have seen it this week and although these films are not digitally remastered, nor do they have Dolby Digital sound on them, the video and sound quality is not bad, even if the films are in full screen format. There is a CDROM in the third disc that contains all sorts of downloadable information about UNCLE and that is the only extra feature contained in this box-set. Until Warner Home Video decides to release all 4 seasons of UNCLE on DVD here in the US, this box-set will have to do.
Thanks, Alan. If you're interested in ordering from the UK, check out Amazon UK first (their prices are usually the best on new releases), then try Bensons World and Tower UK -- all reputable dealers with fair shipping prices internationally.

From Anbu Ranasamy:

Hi Andy,

Would appreciate if you can give us some insight of the Jan 2004 release of 'The Wind and The Lion' DVD in Aisle Seat.

Anbu, all I know is that it's coming out at long last -- and hopefully John Milius will be on board to provide a commentary track. I'm looking forward to it, that's for sure.

From Mike Skerritt:

Re: The gentleman's response to your HUNTED review that ran in the mailbag last month. I just don't get it, I really don't, and in a way it's the mindset that leads so many studio movies to suck. In The Hunted we have an unusually lean, taut thriller that doesn't waste time over editorializing its point. That's something I've always loved about Friedkin, the way he lets the physicality of his actors tell the story. There's a scene where Tommy Lee Jones is brought into the FBI office, and through his body language you can see all that you need to know. He fidgets, he can't stand still, his hands are shaking. You can tell he's claustrophobic. And you can see the obsession with Hallam taking over. That's just one example. You also have Caleb Deschanel's natural lighting and Brian Tyler's effective, subdued score working with the visuals, not against them. I especially love the way the first fight scene was scored - just a low, monotoned hum, doing everything but outsizing the action. Anyway, this is the long way around saying I agree with you on the merits of the film, and I wish people who want more from a movie would ask first if they need it.
From Gary Chu:
Andy,

Just a short note to advise you that the Japanese DVD of Morricone is really worth buying. It introduces and features quite a number of his performances and personal interviews with his family together with producers and directors like Brian DePalma, although there's no English subtitles. I sincerely hope it's a norm for America soon because many Hollywood composers deserve such an achievement. Keep up your good work and take good care!!

Thanks, Gary. Those with region-free players can import the DVD from CD Japan, though like most Japanese DVDs, it'll cost you (likely $40 when shipping is included).

From Greg Espinoza:

As always, I enjoy your aisle seat columns. My burning question pertains to Fox's cancelled DVD release of the Robert Mitchum WWII submarine classic, The Enemy Below. I believe it was to have been released last May, but was canceled. Any word on whether it'll be released or stay in limbo?
Greg, sorry but I donĒt have any info -- if anyone does, by all means email me and we'll get right on it.


NEXT TIME: Andy travels to the Far East with SHOGUN, plus THE ITALIAN JOB -- both versions! Email me at dursina@att.net and we'll catch you then. Cheers everyone.


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