DVD Reviews for 12/18: Balls, Belles, Blades and Bart
By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 12/21/07 14:39:44
As I have been mentioning for the last couple of weeks, I am asking for your help in coming up with potential titles to cover in my annual “DVD-M.I.A.” column focusing on titles that have yet to appear on DVD in any form in America. If you have some suggestions on a favorite obscurity, please pass them on either by clicking on the “Comments” section at the end of this article or by sending me an e-mail at email@example.com I will be accepting suggestions until December 30 and the column will run on January 4. To date, I have already received a number of intriguing suggestions and in this particular case, the more the merrier.
Ever since the dawn of the DVD industry more than a decade, fans of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi thriller “Blade Runner” have been waiting patiently for an edition of the film that would do justice to one of the most ground-breaking and influential films of the last quarter-century. Alas, for years now, they have been forced to make do with a fairly shabby bare-bones disc released in the early days of the format that was considered fairly substandard back then and which has not aged very well in the ensuing years. Happily, devotees of the film can finally toss those old discs away because this week finally sees the release of the long-rumored and long-awaited “Blade Runner: Ultimate Collector’s Edition,” a five-disc behemoth that brings together multiple cuts of the film, numerous commentary tracks and a bonanza of bonus features into a package that is far and away the best DVD release of 2007.
The first disc contains what is known as the Final Cut, a new incarnation of the film (which played theatrically last fall to great acclaim) that features a beautifully restored print and newly incorporated bits of dialogue and special effects, the most notable of which is a reworking of the death scene of Zorha (Joanna Cassidy) that blends together original material and newly shot footage in a surprisingly successful effort to eliminate the painfully obvious stunt double that marred the original version of the scene. This disc also includes an introduction from Scott explaining this particular iteration of the film and no fewer than three separate commentary tracks. The first one is a solo track from Scott and on it, he does a good and efficient job of providing a general overview of the long history of the film. The second features comments from screenwriters Hampton Fancher and David Peoples (who would later go on to co-write another notable sci-fi mindbender in Terry Gilliam’s “12 Monkeys”) and producers Michael Deely and Katherine Haber that goes into the long process of transforming Philip K. Dick’s original novel into a workable screenplay and the equally long process of bringing that screenplay to life. The final track features several members of the visual effects team, including designer Syd Mead and legendary effects man Douglas Trumbull, as they concentrate their discussion on creating and executing the film’s still-astonishing look.
Disc Two kicks off the bonus materials with “Dangerous Days: Making Blade Runner,” a 3 ½-hour documentary that exhaustively details every facet of the film from its original inception to the Final Cut utilizing behind-the-scenes footage, deleted scenes, fascinating outtakes (including previously unheard tapes of Harrison Ford recording the controversial voice-over narration) and new interviews with virtually every key player in the film’s history including Ford, who has rarely had good things to say about the experience in the past. This film was put together by Charles de Laurizika, who contributed similarly expansive making-of documentaries to such special edition DVD sets as “The Alien Quadrilogy” and the extended version of “Kingdom of Heaven,” and he has frankly outdone himself here with a work that will sure go down as the last word regarding the history of this film. It goes into such incredible detail on every possible aspect of the story that one could hope for–from the metaphysical meanings of the story to the nuts-and-bolts of the production to the behind-the-scenes gossip–that even the most devoted fans of the film may find themselves learning things that they didn’t previously know. Granted, a work this long and detailed may be too much for people who aren’t completely obsessed with the film but it stands to reason that if they weren’t, they probably wouldn’t be watching it in the first place.
The third disc offers up no less than three additional versions of the film that have emerged over the years, each one with a separate introduction by Scott. The first is the original 1982 theatrical version, complete with controversial narration and happy ending, that surprisingly has never appeared on home video in America outside of a long-out-of-print RCA CED videodisc. The second is the more familiar International Cut, a version of the theatrical cut that was augmented with additional bits of gore that was originally designed for the overseas market and was then released on videotape in the states–as this was the only version readily available for audiences after its theatrical release, this is the edition that most people became familiar with during its first decade as a cult film. The third is the so-called “Director’s Cut” that removed the happy ending and the narration and added a few new shots (most notably the one involving a brief vision of a unicorn) into a version that more closely resembled what Ridley Scott originally intended the film to look like. Although each version has its distinctive moments, the only one that really warrants a revisit is the original theatrical cult–partly because it is the rarest of the three and partly because it is interesting to look back on the generally misguided efforts that Scott & Co. incorporated in a last-ditch effort to make the story more accessible. (And if you have never seen “Blade Runner” before, a viewing of the original cut is more or less essential because while the narration has been justifiably maligned over the years, it does put across some key information that remains frustratingly oblique in the narration-free versions.)
The fourth disc is labeled as the “Enhancement Archive” and it is a grab bag of material that delves deeper into the “Blade Runner” experience. The section labeled “Inception” focuses on author Philip K. Dick and the vision that would go on to inspire the film. “The Electric Dreamer” offers a general overview of Dick’s life and work, “Sacrificial Sheep” explores the similarities and differences between the film and the book that inspired it and “Philip K. Dick: The Blade Runner Interviews” is a series of audio interviews that he recorded with writer Paul Sammon on the subject of “Blade Runner” over the space of a couple of years, the last recorded just three weeks before his death in early 1982 just after seeing a few minutes of effects footage from the film he inspired. The “Fabrication” section offers peeks at the film’s production and starts off with “Signs of the Times,” a look at its highly influential graphic design and visual style. “Fashion Forward” takes a look at the futuristic clothing designed for the film and how those designs went on to influence the real world of fashion and “The Light That Burns” is a tribute to the film’s cinematographer, the late, great Jordan Cronenweth. However, the last two parts of this section are likely to be the ones that most fans will be revisiting the most. The first is a collection of rare screen tests that show us Nina Axelrod auditioning for the part of Rachael (which would go to Sean Young) and Stacy Nelkin reading the role of Pris (which would go to Daryl Hannah–Nelkin would be cast in a different role that would later be scrapped entirely due to budget reasons). The second is a 45-minute compilation of deleted and alternate scenes that have been put together in a way that suggests yet another variation of the entire film. (The most intriguing of the bunch is a version of the happy ending that offers up a bit of dialogue that suggested even then that the character played by Harrison Ford may have been not quite human after all.) The final section, “Longevity,” deals with the film’s release and aftermath and includes a number of trailers, TV commercials and promotional materials, variations of the poster art, a featurette dedicated to the question of whether Deckard is a man or a machine and a look at the fans and filmmakers who have been influenced by “Blade Runner” in the years since it was released.
The fifth and final disc contains what many “Blade Runner” fanatics have long considered to be the film’s Holy Grail–the so-called Workprint version of the film that was screened for test audiences in early 1982, where the less-than-enthusiastic reaction inspired the wholesale changes designed to make it more accessible, and which mysteriously re-appeared in 1990 when the last existing print was inadvertently screened before a crowd at a revival showing that was surprised to witness a variation that was utterly unlike what they had previously experienced. Of course, watching the Workprint version today doesn’t have nearly the same impact that it must have had on that unsuspecting audience since the most radical differences (such as the deletion of the happy ending and narration) were adopted for both the Director’s Cut and the Final Cut but I can’t imagine any “Blade Runner” fan not wanting to have a look at this key element of the film’s mystique for themselves. In addition to the film, this disc also includes another introduction from Scott, a commentary track from “Blade Runner” scholar Paul Sammon and a featurette that delves into the various differences between all the various cuts of the film.
If all of this seems a little overwhelming to you, “Blade Runner” is also available in two smaller and more manageable editions for the more casual observer–a two-disc version that includes the Final Cut and the “Dangerous Days” documentary and a four-disc version that includes everything listed above except for the disc containing the workprint. Regardless of what version you select, you need to pick up some version of this set if you have even the slightest interest in the film and its history because it is not only the best DVD of 2007, it is arguably the most fascinating and all-encompassing set dedicated to any single film in the entire history of the format.
Written by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples. Directed by Ridley Scott. Starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Daryl Hannah, M. Emmet Walsh and Edward James Olmos. 1982. Rated R. 117 minutes. A Warner Home Video release. $78.92.
NEW AND NOTABLE
THE ADVENTURES OF YOUNG INDIANA JONES , VOL. 2–THE WAR YEARS (Paramount Home Video. $129.99): Those of you waiting anxiously for this summer’s “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” will probably want to pick up this latest collection of feature-length episodes of the educational TV series that ran off and on in the early 1990's. This 9-disc set brings together eight episodes that take place during World War I and feature Indy (Sean Patrick Flannery) down in the trenches, taking to the skies and fighting alongside such historical figures as T.E. Lawrence. Those of you more interested in studying future stars than past history should check out “Daredevils of the Desert,” the aforementioned Lawrence of Arabia episode that features early performances from then-unknowns Catherine Zeta Jones and Daniel Craig.
ALICE IN WONDERLAND (Subversive Cinema. $29.95): Unless you are part of the world’s most permissive family, I would not recommend picking up this particular version of the immortal fairy tale for holiday viewing with the entire family as it is actually a 1978 porno take on the Lewis Carroll classic. However, those of you who are so inclined might want to give it a look after the kids are safely tucked away since the film, as I recall, has a certain sweet and silly charm, lead actress Kristine DeBell is undeniably appealing (one of the few adult film actresses to go on to mainstream film work with appearances in such titles as “Meatballs” and the Jackie Chan epic “The Big Brawl”) and it even contains a musical number or two.
BALLS OF FURY (Universal Home Entertainment. $27.95): Yes, this ping-pong-inspired spoof of the Bruce Lee classic “Enter the Dragon” is fitfully amusing at best and one of the dumbest things that you will ever see in your life at worst. That said, I still have sort of a soft spot for it because some of the jokes are kind of funny, co-star Maggie Q is sexy as all get out and Christopher Walken turns in yet another inspired turn in a film far beneath his talents as a bad guy who seems to have taken all of his pointers on evildoing from watching Max von Sydow’s version of Ming the Merciless in “Flash Gordon.” In the words of Walken, “I bid you toodles!”
BOY EATS GIRL (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $26.98): Well, if you have been patiently waiting for someone to get around to remaking the teen zombie comedy “My Boyfriend’s Back,” this Irish import may be the closest that you ever come to such a thing–after unexpectedly dying, a young man is brought back to life as a flesh-eating zombie and tries to hide his condition from his girlfriend (the admittedly nibble-worthy Samantha Mumba) with disastrously blood-soaked results.
BRAVEHEART: COLLECTOR’S EDITION (Paramount Home Video. $19.99): Released just a little too late to serve as an especially ill-advised Hanukkah gift, Mel Gibson’s exceptionally violent Oscar-winning epic about William Wallace and his struggle to liberate Scotland from the yoke of their British oppressors returns to DVD in a two-disc set that retains the fairly lackluster Gibson commentary from the previous edition and adds a handful of new behind-the scenes featurettes and old interviews with the cast.
CARMEN ELECTRA AEROBIC STRIPTEASE: IN THE BEDROOM/CARMEN ELECTRA AEROBIC STRIPTEASE: VEGAS STRIP (Paramount Home Video. $16.99 each): I know–the titles alone make these two exercise videos from the redoubtable Electra sound like the greatest things ever. However, if you look closely at the back of the package, you will discover that while both discs are labeled as being unrated, suggesting any number of unspeakable delights, they are also listed as being rated PG in Canada–in other words, either there aren’t that many actual Good Parts on display (although one might argue that anything with Carmen Electra gyrating is in and of itself a Good Part) or Canada has suddenly become the most permissive place on Earth.
CROOKED E: THE UNSHREDDED TRUTH ABOUT ENRON (Echo Bridge. $26.99): This satirical 2003 TV movie from Penelope Spheeris brings together two elements that I have always found innately fascinating but never expected to actually see together in the same movie–an examination of the fraudulent figures that were behind the bankruptcy of once-powerful energy company and the equally startling figure of co-star Shannon Elizabeth.
THE EVIL DEAD–ULTIMATE EDITION (Starz/Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $34.98): Yet another DVD release of the ultra-gory 1983 camp classic from then-unknown director Sam Raimi, this 3-disc collection offers up the original full-frame version of the film, a second version matted into a 1.85 aspect ratio and virtually all of the bonus features that have appeared over the years (including the hugely entertaining commentary tracks from Raimi and star Bruce Campbell that date back to its laserdisc days). However, since it still doesn’t include “Within The Woods,” the short version of the film that Raimi and Campbell shot in order to raise funds from interested parties, because of various rights concerns, this latest edition is pretty much useless for anyone who has already purchased it at some point in the past.
HALLOWEEN (The Weinstein Company. $29.95): Rob Zombie claims to be a fan of John Carpenter’s highly influential 1978 horror classic but you wouldn’t know it from watching this gross, pointless and thuddingly obvious remake that replaced all of the original’s tension and excitement with extra helpings of sadistic violence, white-trash histrionics and attention-calling in-joke cameos. The only thing about this otherwise worthless effort that isn’t too painful to behold is Malcolm McDowell’s performance as Michael Myers’ fairly dotty psychiatrist–he tears into the role with the same kind of scenery-chewing zeal that the late Donald Pleasance did in the original and when he is on-screen, you can almost convince yourself that you aren’t watching one of the most useless horror remakes ever made.
HATCHET (Starz/Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $26.98): For reasons not readily obvious to me, this homage to 80's-era slasher movies, in which a group of attractive dopes gets messily dispatched by a deformed maniac when they stumble across his remote swamp, received some degree of acclaim among die-hard gore fanatics. It isn’t very good but to its credit, it has a couple of agreeably icky moments and it is nowhere near as awful as the “Halloween” remake.
THE LAST LEGION (The Weinstein Company. $28.95): Colin Firth, Sir Ben “Bloodrayne” Kingsley” and Peter Mullan are among those sporting uncomfortable-looking chain-mail in this long-delayed epic that allegedly tells the true story of how Excalibur, the famed weapon belonging to King Arthur, came into being. Indian goddess Aishwarya Rai also appears as a warrior babe who no doubt spends her time fending off the advances of her co-stars while laughing at their mighty swords, as Randy Newman so eloquently put it once upon a time.
THE MOD SQUAD–SEASON ONE, VOLUME ONE (Paramount Home Video. $38.99): Everyone’s favorite made-for-TV undercover hippies, Pete (Michael Cole), Julie (Peggy Lipton) and Linc (Clarence Williams III), are working for the Man (as opposed to waiting, in the Lou Reed sense) in this four-disc set comprised of the first 13 episodes of the popular late-60's cop show (the first major success for uber-producer Aaron Spelling). Yes, these episodes are incredibly out-of-touch with anything vaguely resembling the reality of the time but they are still kind of fun to watch today–partly because of the cheerfully ludicrous plots (my favorite being the one in which the trio are trying to track down a folksinger who has meningitis and who also witnessed a mob hit) and partly because the sight of Peggy Lipton proves that, unlike so many of the other elements of this show, some things simply transcend time and never go out of style.
NATIONAL TREASURE: TWO-DISC COLLECTOR’S EDITION (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $29.99): Just in time for the inevitable sequel, this amazingly idiotic 2004 Nicolas Cage adventure–sort of a “Da Vinci Code” for idiots involving clues to a fortune in gold being hidden in the Declaration of Independence–gets the special edition treatment with a two-disc set that repeats all the extras from the original edition and tosses in four new featurettes for those thirsting for more.
ONCE (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99): As this low-budget musical about the relationship that develops between an Irish musician (Glen Hansard) and a Czech immigrant (Marketa Irglova) as already been praised to the skies by virtually everyone who has encountered it, I will only add that if you aren’t completely charmed with its winning combination of romance, humor and killer music, there is something seriously wrong with you.
THE SIMPSONS MOVIE (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99): Turns out that this long-anticipated big-screen version of everyone’s favorite yellow-hued TV family was totally worth the 18-year wait, if only for the appearance of Spider-Pig and to hear Albert Brooks’ reaction to the accusation that he has gone mad with power.
SONIC UNDERGROUND (Shout! Factory. $29.99): Okay, I’m not surprised that they made a TV cartoon version of the enormously popular Sega videogame “Sonic the Hedgehog”–hell, even “Pac-Man” and “Q*Bert” were transformed into Saturday morning favorites–and I guess I’m not surprised that Jaleel White emerged from post–Urkel obscurity to lend his voice to the character. What I am surprised about is the fact that the producers somehow managed to lure none other than Sean Connery into lending his dulcet tones to the role of “Great-Grandfather Athair”–sure, it is a step up from the likes of “Finding Forrester” and “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” but it still seems kind of weird. Anyway, this four-disc set includes the first 20 episodes of the series, music videos, retrospective interviews and a CD featuring, and I quote from the package, “8 of Sonic Underground’s Greatest Hits!”
STARDUST (Paramount Home Video. $29.99): One of last summer’s most unexpected surprises was Matthew Vaughn’s charming and funny adaptation of the Neil Gaiman story about the adventures of a romantic young man (Charlie Cox) who sets off into a magical land to retrieve a fallen star for his beloved (Sienna Miller), only to discover that the celestial body in question is in the form of Claire Danes and that she is also being pursued by any number of nefarious types. Filled with weirdo comedy, unexpectedly dark moments and a scene-stealing supporting cast (including Peter O’Toole as a dying king, Michelle Pfeiffer as an evil witch and Robert De Niro as a fearsome sky pirate who doesn’t quite come as advertised), this sleeper is clearly aiming to be the next “Princess Bride” and while it doesn’t quite reach those lofty goals, it comes much closer than most recent fantasy epics.
STARLITE DRIVE-IN COLLECTION: CULT CLASSICS–A DUSK TIL DAWN MARATHON (BCI/Eclipse. $24.98): Exploitation film buffs will no doubt be thrilled with this four-disc collection comprised of four different double-features of the kind that used to appear at ozoners across the land–“Hustler Squad” & “Wild Riders,” “Van Nuys Boulevard” and “Little Laura and Big John,” “Madmen of Mandoras” (better known by its alternate title, “They Saved Hitler’s Brain”) and “The Devil’s Hand” and “The Van” (with Danny DeVito) and “The Pom-Pom Girls”(featuring Robert Carradine and genre staple Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith and directed by Joseph Ruben, the once-interesting helmer of “The Stepfather” and “True Believer”).
UNDERDOG (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $29.99):Well, if you didn’t get your fill of debasements of dimly-remembered 1960's-era TV cartoons featuring dodgy CGI characters and the presence of Jason Lee last weekend with “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” perhaps you can take solace in this incredibly irritating take on the once-beloved superhero spoof. Oh well, at least Wally Cox didn’t leave to see this embarrassment–sadly, the same can’t be said for such utterly wasted and surely embarrassed cast members as Amy Adams, Peter Dinklage and Patrick Warburton.