With Blu-ray having won the High-Def war against HD-DVD, more and more familiar titles are re-emerging on video store shelves, this time in the new format. Although the number of science fiction, fantasy, and horror films released on disc is low this week, the few that are available offer worthwhile examples of this phenomenon.
It’s a measure of the power wielded in Hollywood by Joss Whedon that he was able to orchestrate the resurrection of his own television show – Firefly – cancelled by Fox after airing only 11 of the 14 filmed episodes. Using the admittedly strong sales of the series’ DVD box set, Whedon was able to convince Universal to gamble on a modestly budgeted feature, Serenity. Firefly took place 500 years in the future and centered on the crew of the vessel Serenity, smugglers who skirt the authority of the Alliance, the governing force that exerts a fascistic control over the planets in the central area of the solar system. To stay out of reach, the Serenity keeps mostly to the outer-rim planets that exist somewhat outside the authority of the Alliance in a futuristic version of the American Wild West, conforming to Whedon’s goal of creating a Stagecoach-like drama with a sci-fi backdrop. Firefly’s brief 2002 run was critically praised and generated a voracious fan base that quickly developed separation anxiety for their beloved show following its cancellation. But unlike Star Trek fans, they would only have to wait 3 years for their favorite show to move to the big screen – Serenity picked up only months after the final episode of the show with the crew (all of whom are reunited for the feature) once again caught between the Alliance and the dreaded Reavers, a group of mutated humans that resemble a cross between Orcs and the cannibal family from The Hills Have Eyes. While those not familiar with the series will have to hit the ground running to keep up with all the characters and situations, writer-director Whedon does an admirable job in making the show accessible to newcomers (the full-series set has recently become available on Blu-ray as well).
Serenity was one of the earliest HD-DVD releases, and was probably enough to sway numerous early adopters into backing the wrong horse. It was one of the better looking 2007 releases and it appears that the new Blu-ray doesn’t disappoint more than a year later – the transfer is fully faithful to the original cinematography (both Serenity and Firefly were designed to have a rougher look than most space operas) and the temptation to boost the many dark sequences has been resisted. Happily, Universal has attempted to make further amends by including not just the supplemental material previously available on the DVD and HD-DVD releases (included here in space saving SD format), but also throwing in several new features that are exclusive to Blu-ray. The highlights of the previous releases include 2 audio commentary tracks, one featuring Joss Whedon solo and the second paring Whedon with Firefly crewman Nathan Fillion, Summer Glau, Ron Glass (Boy, The New Odd Couple was a long time ago, wasn’t it?) and Adam Baldwin along with the requisite deleted scenes, gag reel, and better than usual production featurettes. Exclusive to Blu-ray features include an optional PIP version of the Whedon & cast commentary track, an introduction by Whedon, more featurettes, extended scenes, and several more accessible through Universal’s clumsy “U-Control” technology. Recommended. [EDITOR'S NOTE: You can read a somewhat less favorable review of the old DVD release here.]
The Truman Show (Blu-ray)
Remember back when the worst you could expect from a “serious” Jim Carrey feature was The Truman Show? Carrey was riding high on a string of ‘anything for a laugh’ movies, including Ace Ventura and The Mask when he took his first chance on edgier material with the Ben Stiller-directed The Cable Guy in 1996. The film did okay, but didn’t generate half the repeat business of Carrey’s earlier efforts. The Cable Guy is actually a pretty interesting show, even though it seemed to be hedging its bets by not letting Carrey’s obsessive (and clearly dangerous) character dwell too long in the darkness, leaving most audiences with a neither-here-nor-there feeling. It’s quite possible that Carrey was smarting from the experience when he signed on for The Truman Show two years later. The alarmingly prophetic tale of Truman Burbank (Carrey) adopted by a television network and raised – without his knowledge – on a hit reality show seemed farfetched 10 years ago, but with primetime television choked with Survivors, Bachelors, and Nannies, it seems almost quaint in 2008. Director Peter Weir was an inspired choice to helm – a sensitive filmmaker whose best work (Gallipoli, Witness, The Year of Living Dangerously) far outweighs a single misstep (cough-Green Card-cough). He knew exactly how to reshape Carrey’s rubber-faced screen persona into a sensitive, likeable leading man. The Blu-ray carries over the same set of supplemental features as the previous DVD release, including a two-part ‘Making Of’ feature, deleted scenes, and 2 theatrical trailers (the only supplements presented in HD)
For those trying to get their wife and/or girlfriend interested in HD media, this is probably the best place to start – a movie so hardwired into the central nervous system of American women that it granted an unconditional career extension to Whoopi Goldberg (admittedly good in her Oscar winning role) that we’re still forced to live with today. Wipe away the weepy, Lifetime Network moss that has stuck to the film in the nearly 20 years since its release and you’ll find a genuinely sweet and well filmed story of banker Sam Wheat (the always watchable Patrick Swayze) who is taken from young bride Molly (Demi Moore, whose newly cropped hair and gamine look became one of the most successful image makeovers of the decade) after being fatally shot during a mugging. Sam, however, won’t pass on to the “other side” until he can warn Molly that the mugging was actually planned – a botched robbery attempt that has left Moll in great danger. The crowd-pleasing comic scenes of Sam attempting to communicate to Molly through a phony spiritualist (Goldberg) are still quite funny, and you’d have to be a pretty sour Sue to not get a little teary during the show’s final scenes – just don’t start TiVo-ing The View, or there will be blood. This “Collector’s Edition” carries over the commentary track from director Jerry Zucker ( who went from Airplane and Top Secret! to Ghost and First Knight) and writer Bruce Joel Rubin (JACOB’S LADDER) that was recorded many moons ago for the initial release, and adds a new retrospective featurette that includes new interviews with Swayze, but only stock EPK footage of Moore and Goldberg (who really ought to pull out of anything short of major surgery to help sell this film).
Event Horizon (Blu-ray)
An impressive calling card for director Paul W. S. Anderson when first released in 1997, Event Horizon was an impressive blending of Sci-Fi space opera with a haunted house horror film. Set only a half century in the future (and showing lots of faith in an accelerated space program), the film follows the crew of the “Lewis and Clark” on a rescue mission to find the “Event Horizon”, lost 7 years prior on its maiden voyage. Once found, vague life form readings are detected, though no sign of the ship’s crew or any hint to their fate is evident. But as the crew spends more time aboard the derelict craft they find their own deepest fears being played upon while the mental state of scientist and Horizon designer Dr. Weir (Sam Neill in full eye-rolling mode) degenerates amid ramblings about the nature of Hell. It seems that the Event Horizon has brought something back from the edge of the universe. Watching Event Horizon today gives the viewer a keen sense of the debt owed to Ridley Scott’s Alien in the way outer space is depicted on screen. From the industrial design details of the ship itself to the familiar blue collar crew, it’s almost impossible to imagine what subsequent Sci-Fi shows would look like without Scott’s film to be used as a visual template. The horror elements of Event Horizon have an equal part share in the body-horror works of HP Lovecraft and Clive Barker, but without the thematic depths of either. What’s left is a visually sumptuous but intellectually hollow interstellar ghost story – albeit one with a fine cast, including a post-Larry, pre-Morpheus Lawrence Fishburn, the always interesting Jason Isaacs, and an underused Kathleen Quinlan. The Blu-ray is the first HD go-around for the title, and all the extras present on the previous disc release have been ported over, including a commentary track with director Anderson and producer Jeremy Bolt and several featurettes.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II (20th Anniversary Edition)
Anchor Bay once again raids their vaults and re-releases another of their horror mainstays for its 20th Anniversary. In 1987, Clive Barker adapted his own work to the screen and managed to craft one of the most effective and profoundly disturbing horror films of the decade. The first (of many) inferior sequels makes the mistake that so many other sequels do, and makes its subject the instrument of death (the truly horrific looking Cenobites) instead of the humans whose moral weaknesses allow them entry into our world. Spotting a franchise in the making, director Tony Randel – presumably with the complicity of Barker – took the first step toward making head Cenobite ‘Pinhead’ (the wonderful Doug Bradley) into a wisecracking horror icon in the mold of Freddy Kruger (a move that would come to fruition in Hellrasier III: Hell on Earth). This special edition SD-DVD retains the earlier edition’s commentary track with director Randel, writer Peter Atkins, and star Ashley Lawrence and throws in several new featurettes.
Gamera the Brave
The 12th film in the Gamera series (released in Japan in 2006) arrives on domestic DVD this week – the first from the Kadokawa studio since purchasing of the rights to the series from Daiei several years back. We have no details as to video quality or supplements, but arriving from the dependable Media Blasters/Tokyo Shock (excellent product, but a virtually un-viewable website), the best can be expected.
Also out this week: An American Carol, a failed attempt to lampoon Michael Moore, arrives on DVD after its quick exist from theatres. And if you do not already own E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial, it is being released on DVD again in full screen and widescreen “Movie Cash” versions, which include passes that will get you into theatres to see your choice of Milk or Frost/Nixon.
All of these titles – and more – are available in the Cinefantastique Online Store.
- Laserblast: Golden Compass, Godzilla, Dark Shadows & Slashers (0.851)
- Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964) - Film & DVD Review (0.629)
- Godzilla Raids Again (1955) - Film & DVD Review (0.565)
- Ultraman: The Next (2004) - Film Review (0.565)
- Cybersurfing: Kaiju on Crack(le) (0.565)
- Laserblast: Shutter, Trapped Ashes, Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell (RANDOM - 0.333)