Archive for the 'Science Fiction' Category

Phenomena

 1985, Italy, Directed by Dario Argento

Colour, Running Time: 115 minutes

Review Source: Blu-ray, Region B, Arrow; Image: 1080p 24fps 1.66:1, Audio: LPCM Stereo

(Review also over at the new Grim Cellar) Taking a side step away from the style of story mechanics that Argento is more accustomed to, Phenomena introduces elements of supernatural influence and fairy tales to what would otherwise have been the very conventional reiteration of a killer on the loose. Jennifer (Connelly) is a young girl moving into a boarding school in the vicinity of a recent horrific killing. She is the sensitive type, communicating psychically as she does with insects, sleep walking whilst vividly dreaming, and generally being at odds with the schoolmates who eventually ostracise her for her differences. Her friendship with the town’s resident entomologist (a Scottish Donald Pleasance…) leads Jennifer to use her connection with insects to get closer to the facts of the killing, thereby hopefully discovering who the killer is.

The film has a generally slow pace to it and killings, if you’re expecting this after viewing some of Argento’s other work, are infrequent but still violent and extravagantly staged. The details of the plot lack plausibility but I guess you wouldn’t expect too much else from the writers (i.e. Argento and Franco Ferrini) if you have already seen Demons, Opera, etc. The whole story is told carefully with various characters having relevance that leads indirectly to who the killer actually is. It is also peppered with foreshadowing specifics that hold weight further down the line (for example, the entomologist demonstrating to the chimp that a switchblade knife is dangerous). The finale goes a little overboard in its attempts to surprise the audience in my opinion but the journey arriving at that point is a satisfactory one. In particular for me are the sequences located in the mountainside - tangibly atmospheric and having a tendency to tingle the flesh. The opening seven minutes - in which a girl misses the bus and, not really knowing what to do, goes wandering off along the windy fields to her demise - is one of my favourite Argento sequences. Special mention must go to the soundtrack here (in part composed by Goblin), frequently embellishing the footage with a strong emotional core, although I don’t think the use of Iron Maiden’s Flash of the Blade is necessarily the best option here, despite being a fan of Maiden’s 80s material myself. Dario was caught up in the idea of utilising metal tracks with some of his 80s films, seemingly as a means to simply make them more culturally relevant rather than because it was best for the movie (Demons excluded). Having said that, Motörhead’s Locomotive (from the No Remorse album that followed the near breakdown of the band) truly kicks ass in any context. Phenomena feels a little different when considered alongside Argento’s other movies, but analysis and repeat viewings are kind to your opinion of this film - it’s a good experience, especially when one thinks about the disappointing output of the director from the late 90s onwards.

General opinion of the film was not helped by the fact that it was butchered at the hands of its distribution company for the original theatrical and video runs - half an hour (!) was removed before it was released at the time as Creepers (this was in turn then cut by a further 6 to 17 seconds for film/video respectively in the UK by the BBFC). The longer version has since been released a couple of times on DVD by Anchor Bay in the US, as well as by Medusa in Europe, and a substandard (but at least longer cut) Divid2000 disc appeared over here in the UK. Watching Phenomena in HD (the full version, now completely uncut) is particularly rewarding - the photography of the Swiss mountains is stunning and this is most notably apparent on Arrow’s Blu-ray. Thankfully Arrow have commandeered an exemplary transfer that looks natural, thoroughly stable, and very detailed throughout; quite beautiful to behold in fact. Where some viewers may not appreciate this is in the periodic macro shots of insects and maggots - if you’re interested in seeing the individual hairs of a fly’s mouth then it’s all here! And the cesspool that Jennifer falls into towards the end of the film has never been more repulsive than it is in this resolution - truly stomach churning. Audio is thoughtfully supplied in two tracks - English (with a few seconds of Italian/German where scenes weren’t entirely dubbed in English) and Italian, both uncompressed stereo. English subtitles are of course provided. The score sounds particularly powerful, whereas some of the dialogue varies in quality and often sound effects are clearly still living in the decade they were created - a faithful audio representation nonetheless. Also included is a 52 minute making-of documentary, a short interview with the highly talented Claudio Simonetti (co-founding member of Goblin), plus a 19 minute Q&A session with Sergio Stivaletti, who was involved with the special make-up effects on the film before embarking on a notable career that has involved him with a number of acknowledged productions over the years (note, he also recorded a brief introduction for this disc that plays before the film begins). Arrow also include a reversible disc-case sleeve granting you four front cover options, and a two-sided poster, all within a cardboard slipcase. This is a highly commendable package for a movie that’s better than it was once thought of.

Posted on 2nd January 2012
Under: Horror, Science Fiction | No Comments »

Infestation

2009, US, Directed by Kyle Rankin

Colour, Running Time: 91 minutes

Review Source: Blu-ray, RB, Icon; Image: 1080p 24fps 1.85:1, Audio: DTS HD

The contemporary monster movie can boast much more credibility than its 50s grandparents, thanks to a combination of significantly improved special effects technology and the enhanced sophistication of film-making generally. However, modern films of said genre can also attract accusations referring to a lack of the charm or soul that the hand-crafted creatures of yesteryear would frequently lend to their productions. It’s therefore quite pleasing if a product of the millennium onwards can come along and, er, bite you on the ass to surprise/shock/thrill you. Infestation bears noticeable resemblance to the previous 2007 Stephen King adaptation The Mist, at least on paper. The obvious difference being, evident from the Blu-ray cover or any marketing material that might catch your eye, is the injection of a large dose of humour - which can work strongly in favour of or against a film, pretty much mostly dependent on who you have watching it. Office boy Cooper is the loser you’ll find milling around most organisations: bit of a joker, part waster, not much of a contributor, but somehow they get on in life anyway. Destined to remain in trouble for one thing or another with his lady boss he’s about to get a telling off which will probably result in his dismissal when everyone including him suddenly blacks out. When he regains consciousness he finds himself wrapped up in a web-like substance, and briskly attacked by some nasty giant beetle-thing of some species. Managing to fend the creepy off he proceeds to wake his similarly oblivious colleagues for confused conversations/arguments about what to do. They quickly realise the whole surrounding locale is in the same situation, and there are hundreds of the giant bugs going about their genocidal business, too many of them in flying swarms. Losing some of the team to that fatal affliction known as death, and gaining a few others they head out on the road towards various relatives of theirs in order to find survivors amongst them and possibly discover what the hell is going on.

Poster art for Infestation

As mentioned, there are some similarities to The Mist - a mysterious bug invasion of Earth, a group of survivors thrown together, etc - but the overall feel is quite different. Firstly there is the aforementioned humour, applied quite liberally to Infestation and for the most part working very well to make its creepy crawly world a fun place to be (from an outsider’s perspective!). Secondly, whilst the main bunch in The Mist remain trapped within one location for much of the film’s duration, the survivors here escape from their initial prison in the story’s early stages, essentially turning this into a minor road movie as they move from place to place hoping their relatives are okay while looking for some answers or revenge. Repeatedly coming under threat from roaming or flying bugs there is a persistent edginess to their adventure, and the fundamentally horrible nature of the creatures - beetle-like things expanded to human size - brings genuine gooey tension to these sequences of conflict. I frequently found myself cringing as these lethal insects attempted to despatch as many humans as possible in their evident quest for colonisation. An added dimension to the takeover of Earth becomes apparent when a hybrid insect-human monster is discovered, a bastard juxtaposition that is sinister both conceptually and in its onscreen manifestation. The humour is something that’s likely to divide the enjoyment of viewers but in my opinion it was a suitable updating of the comedy horrors that proliferated during the eighties, with mainman Chris Marquette (Cooper) handling the cool script rather well. Despite the marketing emphasis on the funnier side of the film there are a few moments of mild and touching drama that help to flesh out the characters and rope in our sympathies to a certain extent. A good example of this is Kinsey Packard’s Cindy, a weatherwoman appearing to be a bit of a hottie on the surface, but turning out to be a tragic loner with numerous complexes going on under the bonnet.

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With suitable measures of terror, smiles, and engaging thrills plus drama, Infestation is for me a very successful foray into sci-fi comedy horror, something which I’ll be looking forward to visiting again. The Blu-ray Disc is a great way to experience the film, with consistently bright, chromatic and detailed images embellished by a thumping DTS Master Audio surround track. With most modern films seemingly being shot in a 2.35:1 ratio, it’s also a welcome change to be watching movies in 1.85:1, a ratio that inherently contains more detail on home video due to its close approximation of the 1.78:1 standard (i.e. full HD resolution). Anyway, for those who feel that this film contains ingredients that appeal to them, I recommend picking up this disc pronto.

Posted on 11th June 2010
Under: Horror, Science Fiction | No Comments »

Strange Behaviour

1981, US/New Zealand, Directed by Michael Laughlin

Colour, Running Time: 95 minutes

DVD, Region 2, Hardgore, Video: Anamorphic 2.35:1, Audio: DD Mono

The cover of Hardgore’s DVD might fool people into thinking they’re picking up a homicidal mutant flick but this is more of a twist on the old mad doctor movies, mixed with a little genuine psychological theory to keep its head above water (not that mad doctor movies ever needed that but the injection of credible science brings a touch of freshness). Pete Brady, a college student in a small American town (actually a New Zealand town for tax reasons but we would never have noticed), is in dire financial straits and takes up on the suggestion of a peer to earn some extra cash at the local laboratory, giving himself over to an experiment that he has almost no prior knowledge - obviously the resident scientists would have to go for students with this scam because few others would be stupid enough to succumb. Meanwhile a number of deaths are occurring around the town, the perpetrators being college students inexplicably acting out of character. When Pete actually shows up for his appointment he’s promptly strapped into a chair, reassured that everything’s fine and injected with a horrifically large needle; later Pete himself is beginning to act a little on the unusual side but can his policeman father stop him before he does something nasty?

I really don't see what's so funny about my perm

The film-makers have done a reasonable job of crafting a moderately professional offering with an obviously minimal budget, constructing a story that requires only people, locations, and a few nicely executed gore effects. Though Hardgore would have you believe otherwise when purchasing their UK DVD, there are no crazy mutants in this film (the image in question is actually a homicidal teen wearing a cool Tor Johnson mask), rather kids who have been manipulated into behaving against their normal conduct at the hands of a scientific organisation headed by an ancient professor who has somehow acquired extended longevity. Unlike today’s fright flicks the kids of early eighties horror were bearable and actually quite likable on occasions (today’s pretty young hipsters generally have the audience rooting for the killers) so the bunch here score marks for eliciting a modicum of sympathy - they include Dan Shor from Tron and Strange Invaders, hot babe Dey Young and Marc McClure who played Jimmy Olsen in the Superman movies! Theories were formulated and proven decades ago by the likes of Thorndike and Skinner to present to us today great insight into how humans and other organisms learn through voluntary actions in response to stimuli that persuades them to act or avoid depending on the expected outcome - this was called operant conditioning and forms the basis for some of the ideas in the film. Whilst liberties have been taken with these theories it makes a pleasurable change to find a film with a little thought in academic areas. The other real bonus is a catchy and emotively executed score by Tangerine Dream, a marvellous synthesiser instrumental specialist outfit from Germany who produced many noteworthy albums outside of cinema, plus created scores for the likes of the hip vampire movie Near Dark, Ridley Scott’s mess of a fantasy Legend, and Firestarter (before Drew Barrymore became a drug-lovin’ lesbian… I assume). There’s a pretty groovy disco/party episode as well that will have viewers smiling. On the downside Strange Behaviour (or Dead Kids as it was known in some territories) is slow moving and hardly shot with boundless energy - the camerawork is often quite static while the killings themselves have an oddly laid back pace about them.  The film rarely succeeds in exciting the viewer in any way, however you might consider checking it out for its positive aspects but it’s not necessarily one that will have you repeatedly reaching for it on dark stormy nights.

 

Hardgore’s DVD presents the film well enough considering the depths they‘ll usually stoop to, surprisingly anamorphically enhanced to its full Panavision ratio, well detailed and coloured quite naturally, if perhaps a little under saturated. In a move that could in truth be a sick homage to the subject matter of the film, the caveat here is that the BBFC have censored it by around 40 seconds - a scene depicting suicide in such detail that it would have had mindless Brits topping themselves everywhere. I’m sure if one is so inclined to voluntarily cease their own existence they wouldn’t be using Strange Behaviour as a step-by-step guide to aid them on their journey to The Beyond - whilst I can understand removal of scenes that depict real life animal cruelty (e.g. Deep River Savages) this is the sort of thing that tends to irritate me somewhat, especially in the internet age where people can access pretty much anything they want online without having to track down nasty gore films to fulfil their insatiable bloodlust. If this removal of footage bothers you then the version to go for was released not too long ago by Synapse in the US. Having said all that, this was submitted to the board around 2004 and perhaps attitudes may well differ these days. The Hardgore disc also features a written interview with writer Bill Condon, the man who later got involved with the Candyman franchise as well as netting himself an Oscar for Gods and Monsters. Finally there are a selection of trailers (one or two of them extremely bad) for a handful of other Hardgore DVDs, some of which persuaded me to avoid them like the plague - presumably not the intended effect. Butchered anyone? Somehow I don’t think so…

Posted on 18th December 2008
Under: Horror, Science Fiction | No Comments »

The X Files

1998, US, Directed by Rob Bowman

Colour, Running Time: 118 minutes

DVD, Region 2, Fox, Video: Anamorphic 2.35:1, Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1

Taking an idea that was most recently mentioned in the finale to season 5, the movie begins with a couple of Neanderthals discovering in a cave what may be an extraterrestrial life form, a malevolent and putrid creature that destroys them. Jump forward several million years to the present day and some Dallas boys stumble across what is probably the same place underground, one of them (the lad who played Caleb so perceptively in American Gothic) becoming trapped with a strange black liquid that infiltrates his skin and takes over his body… Not only do the fire brigade turn up but a horde of militaristic vehicles arrive suggesting that something altogether more profound is going on than a mere threat to a child’s life. Some time later FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are involved in a terrorist situation that has them attempting to prevent the explosion of a building and consequential catastrophic loss of life. Thanks to Mulder’s innate ability to turn a seemingly illogical hunch into the catalyst for an unprecedented discovery, the agents end up searching what is initially suspected to be the wrong building. It actually turns out to be the ‘right’ building and they barely escape with their lives before the whole thing blows. It later transpires that what they thought was a cleared area just prior to the blast has actually become the death bed for a couple of firemen and a young boy. Not only that but the FBI are as good as blaming the two agents for the disaster - they really were in the wrong place at the wrong time it seems. After a hearing that places their careers somewhere in mid air Mulder is contacted by a rogue writer of conspiracy theories, a man who is constantly at odds with authorities that are pinning anything on him that might put him out of action (e.g. child pornography claims). The man suggests that the people who ‘died’ in the explosion were actually already dead and this puts Mulder (along with a reluctant Scully) on a trail that leads the agents to the realisation that the whole thing may have been designed to cover up evidence of the possibility that aliens once visited the Earth and now threaten to repopulate it.

You three scumbags better start answering questions or we're hauling your asses in

The first theatrical outing (sometimes dubbed Fight The Future) for The X Files effectively bridges the gap between seasons 5 and 6: for the cracking final episode of the former the X Files department (read: basement) was not only shut down but burned down with Mulder and Scully being reassigned to more mundane cases (such as terrorist bomb threats and the like…). The irony is that the case they’re working on turns out to be inextricably linked to the very conspiracies that they’ve been ushered away from. The opening bomb scenario reminds me a little of that in Speed, but with a touch more realism (apart from Mulder’s discovery of the bomb’s location, one of those coincidences that underpins much of the series) - a pretty exciting and highly functional grip on the viewer for what’s to come. Woven into the dialogue are keenly inserted snippets of historical passages no doubt designed to familiarise viewers who may not be up to date with the show itself, but their incorporation manages to avoid contrivance just about. Familiar characters from the show are also peppered throughout - the smoking man, the lone gunmen, and Skinner of course - and these characters become mechanically relevant elements of the fairly intricate plot. In fact some viewers unaware of the show’s staples may find some of the dialogue heavy sections hard work, being articulate, complicated, and undeniably paranoid as they are. Hence all of the elements are there that made the show work in the first place and this would be amongst the best episodes if it were such. Surprisingly the movie doesn’t simply take on the appearance of just another episode - it looks and feels much bigger in scope from the outset; the famous 20th Century Fox ident at the beginning, an apparently much more generous budget, the 2.39:1 aspect ratio (up from the 1.78:1 of the preceding season and the 1.33:1 of earlier seasons), and the absence of the show’s opening sequence, which it has to be said just wouldn’t have worked for a convincing theatrical presentation. Some of Mark Snow’s distinctive theme has been implemented into the score generally, however, so it’s not entirely missed. Gillian Anderson and Dave Duchovny both translate their characters to the big screen well and are by this point very comfortable with the two people who simply couldn’t have been portrayed by anybody else. Their near onscreen kiss is a cool highlight too. It was really nice to see Lucas Black show up (Caleb from American Gothic) though the fact that they used Christopher Fennell too (one of Caleb’s friends in AG) makes me wonder whether this was an in-joke. The story itself, penned by the show’s creator Chris Carter along with regular collaborator Frank Spotnitz, reaches a huge and rousing climax that really tingles the flesh and proves that there was still life in the dog at that point.

The rather spiffing Gillian Anderson

The video transfer is by now dated but just manages to serve its purpose in an age that is gradually becoming hi-def. It’s soft and features a slightly artificial colour scheme that I suspect could be substantially improved nowadays. The 5.1 track is aggressive, loud, and enveloping; this suits the TV-cinema upgrade perfectly. A second disc of extras combines with an audio commentary to round out a pretty good package, however, a Blu-ray version is on its way and will make this set redundant almost certainly. Having not seen this film for ten years (which was at the cinema in fact) I thought it was a thoroughly good expansion to the show’s concepts and a carrot to entice people to continue watching into season 6.

Posted on 26th October 2008
Under: Science Fiction | No Comments »

The Stepford Wives (2004)

2004, US, Directed by Frank Oz

Colour, Running Time: 89 minutes

DVD, Region 2 (Sweden), Dreamworks, Video: Anamorphic 1.85:1, Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1

There was a time when I believed certain actors could be relied upon to bring their prestigious names to projects that were worth devoting a couple of hours of hard-earned attention to, the association being that such a talented thespian might also be able to distinguish between the great and the shite. For example, Nicole Kidman’s résumé included the gripping Dead Calm, the masterpiece that is Eyes Wide Shut, the pretty chilling The Others, as well as offering a brilliant performance in Birthday Girl - she’s a naturally good looking woman with a solid grasp on what constitutes becoming a character. So why then choose toss like Bewitched and The Stepford Wives to devote several months of her life to? Similarly Christopher Walken has given us Sleepy Hollow, The Dead Zone, True Romance and Batman Returns, amongst smelly brown stuff that gets irritatingly stuck to the bottom of your shoe like Click, America’s Sweethearts, Country Bears and, well, The Stepford Wives. Actually I may be generalising and perhaps the good outweighs the bad (I haven’t seen every film ever made) but I get kind of frustrated watching smart, able people waste their time looking stupid to create something that wastes my time (I can look stupid by myself, thanks). Then again maybe Kidman’s not so smart: apparently she took this role on account of Oz’s history bringing Miss Piggy to life, and Kidman’s a big fan of Miss Piggy. Stellar script? Social value? Philosophical message? Forget it - Miss Piggy kicked ass so I’m in!

That was my reaction too.

The Stepford Wives was of course originally made in 1974-5, based on a book by Ira Levin. If I remember correctly it was a fairly decent and straight adaptation of the story that focuses on a town where all of the female dwellers act with strangely perfect behavioural patterns, going out of their way to please husbands in a manner that was at odds with the feminist revolution that was ruining marriages and hierarchical stability everywhere at the time. It turns out that the men in the town had been replacing their wives with incredibly sophisticated robots who didn’t complain, didn’t nag, did the housework religiously, and made love like Greek goddesses. The plot had some resonance at the time because it sort of tapped into all the women’s rights malarkey that was being pushed by angry females across the western world. Nowadays it’s not so relevant because women have great jobs, they drive 4×4 vehicles and, given scientific advances, sometimes don’t even need a man around to produce offspring - amazing, really. A remake therefore is quite pointless standing on the merit of its own premise, so the producers here have opted to take a comedic approach to the material, the only real problem with this being that virtually nothing here will elicit a smile, least of all ‘laughter’, something which a viewer might expect with anything that presents itself as comedy. Matthew Broderick is Kidman’s completely inadequate male companion, someone who can’t earn as much as she, or can’t do anything as well as she so he gradually gets sucked into the town’s ploy to use robotically modified women as a means of re-establishing the masculinity that was only ever demonstrated by other men anyway. He’s such a wet rag that he’s quite believable in this respect, but he and Kidman (who clearly scrubs up pretty well) fail to produce any electricity whatsoever between themselves and therefore one stares at the screen blankly whenever they’re having one of their domestic disputes or ascertaining that they really do love each other. Attempts to bring forward a potential moral to the story at the beginning (Kidman’s character is introduced ruining the life of a decent man in her efforts to liberate women) are lost or forgotten about as the story progresses, and the denouement confuses the message if there even ever was one. Bette Midler and Glenn Close also appear in major roles making this what could be defined as an ‘all-star cast’ - why does Hollywood bother? Frank Oz himself may have been the defining voice behind the omnipotent Yoda, as well as Fozzie flipping Bear but when it comes to live-action directing there are probably other better options out there, however he can’t be fully blamed for a screenplay and overall production intentions as lame as what’s on display here.

 

Dreamworks and Paramount reportedly contributed a total of 90 million dollars to this - 90 million dollars?? This at least results in a glossy movie from a technical standpoint, though I‘m guessing most of that went on the main cast‘s wages and catering bill. Review was conducted following the viewing of the Swedish DVD, featuring an expectedly clean and sharp image with high quality sound (in English - Swedish subtitles were removable), but there are better ways you can spend your time, hence I consider the period I’ve spent writing about this turd to be an act of altruism in my attempts to divert people’s attention to more pleasurable pastimes, like wiping one’s bum.

Posted on 14th September 2008
Under: Science Fiction, Other | 2 Comments »

Beneath The Planet Of The Apes

1970, US, Directed by Ted Post

Colour, Running Time: 91 minutes

Review Source: DVD, R2, Fox; Video: Anamorphic 2.35:1, Audio: Dolby 2.0

After Taylor and Nova set off towards the Forbidden Zone at the end of Planet of the Apes they encounter a series of strange phenomenon in the desert that results in Taylor’s unexplained disappearance. Navigating the same interstellar trajectory as Taylor another astronaut called Brent crash lands on the planet and comes across the aimlessly wandering Nova. Realising that she knows Taylor (she keeps his NASA necklace) they set off in search of the lost man, instead finding Ape City where the militant gorilla Ursus is plotting an invasion of the Forbidden Zone due to several recent missing ape reports. Brent makes contact with Cornelius and Zira and they try to help him avoid capture so he can find Taylor and figure out a way of escaping from the hostile world. After being temporarily captured he and Nova get away into the Forbidden Zone where they find a subterranean domain, Brent here learning the truth about the planet’s history and precisely why the area is referred to in such a deterring fashion. But there’s exposure to even greater danger in the underground tunnels though this time not from the apes, who have themselves already organised a huge army that marches into the area. The smell of a battle is in the air…

The mighty Ursus

There is the feel of classic science fiction that pervades the original movie, something that’s partly lost here due to several avoidable flaws. James Franciscus makes a good lead as Brent - a reasonable replacement for Charlton Heston who only appears for a few minutes - and Linda Harrison’s Nova is quite stunning to look at (she’s not really heard, though does get to utter her first and only word in this film). Development of the Zaius character loses its way with an inconsistent continuation of his onscreen presence between the first two chapters - whereas he was despotic, overwhelmingly fearful that humanity would once again threaten ape, and willing to sacrifice anything for the good of the species, he is now reduced to merely supporting the destructive drive of Ursus in an almost passive manner. It seems that Ted Post knows how to compose an attractive image, making valuable use of the 2.39:1 ratio throughout, but he fails to grasp simian behaviour in the context of cinema, with some of the onscreen ape acting being quite amateurish in comparison to Franklin Schaffner’s original. It doesn’t help that Roddy McDowall couldn’t make it for Beneath… (his only absence in the whole film and TV series), his role being temporarily adopted by a poor David Watson (who?), though admittedly this man looks awkwardly cast throughout. McDowall studied chimp movement prior to the filming of the original movie and out of all the ape actors he is the most consistently convincing, plus physically distinctive and socially likeable. Watson by contrast is clumsy and skips across the room as if taking part in some sort of psychedelic pantomime. I love the Ursus character, a powerful warmonger who aptly leads a huge army into the Forbidden Zone with the sole intention of destruction - he predates Urko, the principal antagonist from the TV series, and is clothed similarly. Leonard Rosenman replaced Jerry Goldsmith as the composer and his contribution is not quite in the same class, though remains functional - Goldsmith would return to work on Escape… whilst Rosenman would return for the final film, Battle for the Planet of the Apes. Something that really becomes problematic also is the excessive use of masks for background apes - while the principal simian actors wore prosthetics that hold up exceptionally well considering the era, many of the lesser characters were reduced to wearing masks that were often very badly designed; god-awful in some cases. What this film does do is add to the Apes mythos in a number of ways and it’s worth noting that despite being the second outing, Beneath… is really the last in the series from a chronological point of view, each subsequent movie taking place in a time before. The race of mutant survivors that live below the surface provide a threat not just to the human visitors, but to the apes and every living thing on the planet, worshipping as they do a relic that happens to be an operational atomic bomb. It seems there is an underlying commentary on religion here: the apes claim that God made them in his own image while the mutants believe that the bomb is some sort of divine being, or representative of such. Looking at the contradictory comparisons that occur when dissecting religions that exist globally today the film’s ideas seem to be a reflection of the misinterpretations that can be made when attempting to understand our creation/formation/origins, and how people will devote themselves to such misinterpretations with no accurate and well-founded idea who, if anybody, is right. Of course I’m not claiming that there is no god (nobody has such a right given the limitations of our own understanding and perception), but the variations evident between religions indicate that somebody has to be wrong at the very least (i.e. everybody can‘t be right), and those very people are adamant that they’re right just like most of the population strangely, atheists included. Providing a few moments of tension, some interesting philosophical ideas amongst the muddle, and one of the greatest endings in cinema, Beneath the Planet of the Apes is alas not the upgrade it could have been and limitations are apparent that let it down periodically.

The even mightier Nova!

Having seen this for years on television and 4:3 VHS the DVD was a visual revelation, boasting a colourful and moderately detailed widescreen image that lends an epic ambience to the proceedings. Of course the transfer is a little soft, perhaps a side effect of the film’s production date but it will be intriguing to see what Blu-ray can offer a movie like this (aside from emphasising just how much of a train wreck those background masks are). Stereo audio is serviceable and extras are restricted to a few trailers and stills, though the boxed set does contain a two hour documentary as an excellent supplement.

Posted on 26th June 2008
Under: Science Fiction | 6 Comments »

The Incredible Hulk

2008, US, Directed by Louis Leterrier

Colour, Running Time: 114 minutes

Review Source: Cinema screening; Image: 2.39:1 Anamorphic Panavision

Pretty much everybody on the planet was disappointed with Ang Lee’s interpretation of Hulk, including me, so with some trepidation I approached my local Cineworld to see if the inexperienced Parisian Louis Leterrier could repair the damage done to Marvel’s famous green monster. While this movie does pretty much ignore Lee’s film it refrains from a full blown recreation of the character’s origin, opting for a brief summary during the opening credits and getting things moving pretty quickly as a result. An experiment with gamma radiation goes devastatingly wrong leaving Bruce Banner to experience periodic physical mutation into a monster, after which the gifted scientist is forced to take refuge from the military in a hopelessly overcrowded Brazilian town. Avoiding detection by having abandoned anything that can be traced to him Banner uses an online alter ego to retain contact with another (anonymous) scientist who may be able to help cure him. After months without incident his position is discovered by General Ross, a man who in reality wants Banner under military detention due to his altered genetic structure holding the key to breeding a race of super-soldiers. During the chase Banner is transformed into Hulk, a phenomenon witnessed by Blonsky, one of the men Ross has hired to help capture the beast. Blonsky develops some sort of perverse bloodlust and in attempts to equal or exceed Hulk’s astronomical physical power he has himself injected with serum created from Banner’s modified blood cells, mutating him into some sort of… abomination.

Get these straps off, I FORGOT TO FEED THE CAT!!!

The Incredible Hulk seems to have taken a couple of leafs out of the Batman Begins book, taking time to establish a credible lead character in the form of Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) as he isolates himself in a foreign land while seeking some sort of profound personal improvement, in this case a cure. Banner is aware that Ross has purely military interests in mind with the reacquisition of what he feels is his ‘property’, and this intensifies the drama of the chase: Ross almost comes across as a person evil to the bone and easily dislikeable, this being a nice narrative tool for involving the audience. Of course the matter is complicated further by the fact that Banner and Ross’s daughter are in love with each other. It’s really Norton himself who manages to elicit the largest portion of emotional response in the audience, creating a human being at odds with his own destiny who experiences almost constant inner turmoil due to his sicknesses - the genetic transmogrification that leads to the arrival of the monster, and the love for Betty Ross that can’t be satisfied.

That's the last time I have cabbage for breakfast!

What I find a little surprising with this film is that it pays homage not just to the comic books, but to an extent to the television series also. From a Marvel fan’s perspective the Incredible Hulk TV show was hardly a faithful adaptation - it changed the name of the character to David (because Bruce at the time sounded a little too gay), altered the catalyst from an atomic explosion to genetic laboratory experiments gone wrong (the latter being particularly sensible and realistic considering the period), omitted super villains almost entirely, etc. In fact it took one or two core elements of the comic book and that was about it, but in the process it created something quite unique, adult-like, and sombre in many ways despite having accrued the unwanted attentions of various critical comedians and other self-proclaimed funny people in recent years. During the opening of Leterrier’s film Banner’s experiments resemble what happened in the TV show’s pilot episode surprisingly closely. Elsewhere Lou Ferrigno (looking amazing for his age) has another cameo as a security man, and there’s one or two in-jokes such as a budding journalist called Jack McGee, a brilliant twist on the “you won‘t like me when I‘m angry” phrase originally uttered by Bill Bixby (R.I.P.), and even a snippet of the show‘s closing credit music! The screenwriters were obviously familiar with the TV show and possibly fans of it, so the fact that they have incorporated a small number of aspects into this movie is quite heart warming to older fans such as myself. There are a number of very exciting set-pieces along the way, particularly the battle between Hulk and Tim Roth’s Abomination - explosive, utterly destructive, and cinematically thrilling (aptly supported by a strong score courtesy of Craig Armstrong, a departure from his usual outings). Aside from one sickly love scene in a cave the drama and action are balanced especially well establishing excellent pacing and I rarely felt an ounce of boredom. Despite Leterrier’s lack of directorial experience this is a way better film than Ang Lee’s, and justice is done to one of Marvel’s better known and immortal characters. The small epilogue also announces in a rather cool and enticing fashion that the amalgamation between Marvel and cinema has arrived well and truly.

Posted on 22nd June 2008
Under: Science Fiction | 4 Comments »

12:01

1993, US, Directed by Jack Sholder

Colour, Running Time: 94 minutes

DVD, Region 1, Image, Video: Anamorphic 1.85:1, Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1

Groundhog Day was a successful film in its era and has since acquired a cult fan base, being a film that managed to dig a little deeper than the average product of mainstream film-making. What some people weren’t aware of at the time was that there was a very similarly themed movie produced in the same year by New Line, the story adopting the identical core concept of someone waking up repeatedly to exactly the same day. Barry Thomas works in the personnel department of technology giant Utrel, persecuted by lady boss Jackson on a daily basis and trapped in a mundane job. The only thing that brightens up his ennui is Lisa Fredericks, one of the scientists he sees mostly from a distance and someone who is unlikely ever to have the time for such a lowlife office worker (damn lowlifes…), while his buddy Howard is constantly offering advice and playing practical jokes at the most inappropriate of times. At the end of an especially disheartening day Barry and Howard are outside the building when they witness Lisa being shot in a drive-by, seemingly targeted specifically but for reasons unknown. Acknowledging that the day is pretty much as bad as it can get Barry and Howard spend the rest of the evening downing alcohol. But before he beds down for the night Barry is trying to fix a broken lamp wire when he receives an electric shock, and the next thing he knows he’s waking up again at 7.35am. Initially going about his business as usual he’s somewhat confused by various uncanny similarities to the previous day but as events unfold Barry eventually realises that an illegal experiment with a particle accelerator at Utrel has resulted in time itself repeatedly bouncing back upon reaching 12:01 (the time of experiment) to the beginning of the day. Somehow the electric shock he received at that very moment has separated him from the loop and it’s clear that he must try to prevent the test taking place in order to restore time to its original state whilst ensuring that Lisa is saved from the assassination that is in some way linked to everything.

So let's get this straight: we've moved back in time, everything is happening all over again, and we should shag silly, right?

The obvious difference between this and the aforementioned Bill Murray film is the fact that this one explains why time is repeating, whereas in Groundhog Day the recurrence was inexplicable, possibly divine. This essentially places each film into a different genre: one in fantasy, the other in science fiction. Both stories introduce a love interest for the protagonist, someone who is virtually unattainable for whatever reason but must be won over regardless, and in each case this forms the primary narrative driving force throughout, though in 12:01 he must also stop the experiment or his efforts will forever be in vain. Jonathon Silverman (as Barry) is no Bill Murray but he’s charismatic and his comic timing tends to be fairly sharp, a likeable man who helps the viewer to identify with the situation and character’s struggle. He successfully injects small doses of humour along the way that ramp up the entertainment factor of the film, this definitely aided by the presence of Jeremy Piven as his joker mate Howard (strangely revealed to be a withering coward later on in the film). A pre-Ed Wood Martin Landau appears as a scientist obsessed with his work while Helen Slater is Barry’s love interest. Slater was just outside of her prime here but still makes an attractive lead lady, plus she’s in possession of reasonable thespian abilities too. The wardrobe department should have taken some medication, however, dressing her in one ugly looking, old-fashioned costume that she would have to wear throughout the entire film thanks to the nature of its theme. There are lots of little things happening repeatedly that Barry gets to interfere with to amusing effect such as Jackson’s threats (seemingly covering up some sort of complex), or Howard’s trick floppy disc that catches Barry out on the first day but never again. The bad guys are stereotypes that could have been lifted from any episode of a TV cop show but they were never going to be anything more than background puppets anyway, plus the conclusion is slightly predictable and cushy. There’s something very appealing about the concept behind this movie and its bigger cinematic brother - essentially the idea itself stems back to the writings of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and the fantasy almost arouses a feeling that there are no longer any consequences. We can do as we wish and everything will be restored to normality the following morning, but clearly for the principal characters in both films this novelty wears thin (something better explored in the Harold Ramis flick) and a craving for unpredictability is reinstated by each respective conclusion, this verbally outlined by Barry at the end of 12:01. This is really a low-key film that rises above the average TV excursion.

 

This has never been widely distributed on home video. Here in England I’ve owned the fullscreen rental tape for years and watched it quite a few times. At last Image have offered us a DVD version and the transfer is easy on the eye, something that stems no doubt from the movie’s celluloid origins (despite being made for TV/video, it has a professional theatrical look throughout). Sound comes in its original stereo format as well as a marginally upgraded 5.1 mix, plus there is surprisingly a commentary from the director. Worth checking out.

Posted on 8th June 2008
Under: Science Fiction | 2 Comments »

Doomsday

2008, UK/US, Directed by Neil Marshall

Colour, Running Time: 105 minutes

Review Source: Cinema Screening; Image: 2.35:1 Super 35

Neil Marshall has seemed like a director who might hold the key to a great future for British genre movies since his feature debut (Dog Soldiers) so seeing the pretty exciting trailer for his new futuristic action movie was enough to entice me to visit my local Cineworld for the first time in a couple of months and check out what he‘s been up to since the much respected The Descent. In the near future the outbreak of a devastating virus causes mass chaos in Scotland and, unable to contain it, the authorities are forced to quarantine the entire country with a rapidly erected impenetrable barrier across the site of the old Roman wall. Cure proving to be unavailable the inhabitants of the northern land are left to die or destroyed attempting to escape, though one young girl - Eden Sinclair - is placed with soldiers by her desperate mother and airlifted from the wasteland as it descends into near self-destruction. Eden grows into a talented soldier and rises through the ranks after Scotland has long since been forgotten about but as the rest of Britain succumbs to widespread unemployment while its economy disintegrates (hold on, we are talking about the future here aren’t we?) the virus that afflicted Scotland reappears in London; death and panic once more become a serious problem. The government reveal to the military that they’ve discovered people surviving in Scotland years after everybody was thought dead, this having been revealed by photographs taken with satellite technology. Eden is deployed with a team of scientists/soldiers plus a couple of tanks, their mission to infiltrate Glasgow with the initial intention of finding out how the Scots have survived the virus and bring back the cure that they believe may have been developed by an eminent scientist who operated in the area. What they find is a society that has reverted to tribal mechanics operating through brutality and primordial instinct, creating an aggressive world through which the team must accomplish their mission to save the rest of Britain.

Damn student parties!

What’s immediately apparent with Doomsday is the fact that it will pull no punches when it comes to violence and bloodshed; the opening sequence is almost like something extracted from the middle of 28 Weeks Later, asserting a trend for the rest of the film. Rhona Mitra (as Eden) is an attractive and competent lead but difficult to accept as an army major somehow, feebly shouting out orders that a rookie would be hard pressed to bother following. While Malcolm McDowell iterates a strong opening narrative during the early scenes, when we finally meet him in the flesh it’s clear that his overly melodramatic approach isn’t quite so convincing, and compounds something that becomes apparent as the film unfolds: Neil Marshall’s dialogue just isn’t very good. The action sequences themselves are quite rousing and controlled well by the director but what first appears to be a dark apocalyptic action movie begins spiralling towards a comic book style reminiscent of Transformers or a James Bond film. Now there’s not much wrong with James Bond films but Doomsday seems to be masquerading as something more with its heavy-handed political commentary and extreme violence. After Eden and co. discover an unused Bentley underground the resulting car chase seriously made me begin to think this was some sort of prolonged advertisement for the vehicle, such is the super stylish method with which the sequence was shot - you could have taken a clip from this and easily used it in a commercial break during American Idol or something. Credibility was pretty much shot down the toilet when they discover a clan of people living in a castle, adopting the use of medieval gear and everything, and by this point I’d all but given up - it appears to me that Marshall has fallen into the trap of being ‘cool’ for the sake of it, something that rarely works with anyone with both an age and IQ over 25. Reading some comments from Marshall on the internet after watching the film I realise that he intended this to be a homage in some respects (it can’t help but remind the viewer of things like Escape From New York, No Escape, Mad Max, et al.) so perhaps the abundant clichés (people able to outrun motor vehicles, unarmed women able to defeat heavily armoured warriors, stereotype psychotic bad guys, etc.) shouldn’t be as painful as I found them and perhaps I approached this film with the wrong expectations, but the end result was not satisfactory.

Shoot me now, baby, before I have to sit through any more of this!

I really wanted to like whatever Neil Marshall produced and I may well be guilty of approaching this piece in the wrong frame of mind but if you’re expecting a dark apocalyptic tale you may end up cringing with embarrassment on occasions - I don‘t think it was unfair to expect this either considering the pretty horrific and disturbing nature of the prologue! On the other hand, as the homage it may have been intended to be, it seems a tad pointless to me at the moment.

Posted on 21st May 2008
Under: Science Fiction | 6 Comments »

War of the Worlds (2005)

2005, US, Directed by Steven Spielberg

Colour, Running Time: 112 minutes

DVD, Region 2, Paramount, Video: Anamorphic 1.85:1, Audio: DTS

The first cinematic adaptation of H.G.Wells’ story is obviously considered to be a minor pinnacle of science fiction but being produced in the fifties it was no doubt time a huge budget remake was on the cards, and who better to take that on than Steven Spielberg… Like the first movie this one brings the action forth to contemporary settings; whereas the novel was set in London after the turn of the twentieth century Spielberg’s film primarily takes place between New York and Boston in the present day. Crane operator Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) is hardly the ideal family man: he’s separated from his wife, who now looks after their two children - Robbie and Rachel - with her new lover, he sees his kids at the weekends and generally likes simply looking after himself. A series of inexplicable electrical storms across the country initially arouse excitement in the residents of Ray’s town, until virtually all machinery is rendered useless and congregations begin accumulating in the streets during a period of mass confusion. The pavement beneath the crowds begins cracking open and up rise fearful looking tripods that tower above the buildings - people are running for dear life but most are annihilated under the intense firepower of the machines. Ray manages to grab one of the only cars left working and get his kids out of town but, in what appears to be an organised attack on humanity, the massacre is happening just about everywhere and as the alien machines exterminate everything around them it seems they’re using human waste to turn the landscape into something that might be approximating the nature of their own world.

WOTW

There is a surprisingly brief set up of the principal characters before the action kicks off and, though this may appear to meander at first glance, it is necessary at the very least for contrast against what’s about to happen. The alien attacks are brilliantly illustrated, both from a CGI/technical perspective and cinematically, and it creates some terrifying moments of visual and aural assault - these machines both look and sound menacing. While shaky camerawork is a staple of modern cinema it is controlled and used sparingly here, i.e. when its implementation will have a useful effect. It must be remembered, however, that this is Spielberg behind the cameras and of course we have a couple of children that Ray has to drag along with him on his journey (to get rid of them ironically) - what is it with Spielberg and children? Admittedly they’re not as irritating as those in Jurassic Park, et al., but cynically thinking it does seem like a lazy tool to engage audience sympathy at times. One side effect of this though is an erring towards sentimentality by the film’s conclusion: whilst not exactly overt it can’t seem to help revealing itself when someone who should have died (and almost couldn’t possibly have survived given the circumstances) reappears to almost create a much happier ending than should otherwise have been the case. Aside from the overly long basement interlude with Tim Robbins and some scouting aliens, this is my only real problem with Spielberg’s otherwise pretty powerful latter day foray into science fiction. The story is generally approached with a seriousness that eluded something like Independence Day, a maturity that feeds a surprisingly grim tone throughout. Certainly the aliens themselves are not the only threat to mankind; mankind itself, with its contemporary perception of self-importance and individuality, becomes a threat to frightening degrees. Perhaps the film’s scariest sequence comes not from an alien attack but when Ray and his kids end up slowing amidst a crowd of homeless (in the wake of the war) wanderers only to find himself in the middle of a lynch mob, everyone of whom wants his car and their own selfish means of escaping. This is a pretty accurate reflection of what people are like nowadays I believe. Witness the fuel crisis several years ago: had people gone about their business as usual we wouldn’t have noticed any problem caused by the fuel strikes - the fact that people were jamming their own tanks full with wanton disregard for anybody else caused much more of a fuel shortage than the catalysing strike. This is like holding up a mirror to the audience and therefore works on a couple of levels. The presence of major stars in movies is something that bothers me slightly - it pulls the viewer out of the action and reminds them somewhat unnecessarily that ‘it‘s only a movie‘. Tom Cruise is not always a popularity icon these days given some of his activities outside of cinema, but I do feel he usually manages to pull off his roles quite effectively and this isn’t really an exception. He is a hero here to some extent, but not a superhero, and he possesses a number of character flaws that keep him from being perfect, hence his presence is bearable. Aside from the desire of some to dislike this movie for reasons that aren’t especially justifiable, it has to be recognised that this is a pretty efficient machine cinematically speaking, and the job of creating an immersing, action-packed, sometimes frightening ride through science fiction territory is done with enviable skill.

 

What can be expected from Paramount other than a supreme transfer with wall-shaking sound? The image is not as colourful or bright as you might anticipate but Spielberg went for a darker look indicative of what the title might suggest. I saw this theatrically in 2005 and if memory serves well this DVD is an accurate representation of the film’s original projection. The DTS track has overwhelming impact and your neighbours will know that too if you’re not careful. Rounding out the package are a number of featurette supplied on a second disc. A 100% faithful adaptation of Wells’ novel still evades us (Ray Harryhausen was involved in preparation for such a project a few years prior to George Pal’s 1953 movie) but, dare I say this, War of the Worlds isn’t far off contending for recognition as one of the best sci-fi movies.

Posted on 9th May 2008
Under: Science Fiction | No Comments »

Crimes of the Future

1969, Canada, Directed by David Cronenberg

Colour, Running Time: 63 minutes

Review Source: DVD, R1, Blue Underground; Video: Anamorphic 1.66:1, Audio: DD Mono

Prior to Stereo (1967) David Cronenberg had been uncertain where to take his career and had flirted with proceeding along the science route to the point of enrolling and studying for a while, but a certain degree of boredom followed. Having switched academic direction to focus on English Literature he’d met a number of amateur film-makers and become fascinated by the immediacy of the results, therefore he began to dabble teaching himself the technical ins and outs of the art of film-making. Following two experimental shorts he persuaded the Canadian Council to provide some funding under the illusion he would be writing fiction, something he’d previously attempted to achieve success at via submission of short stories, though to no avail. The result was Stereo and pleased with the clinical product he was inspired to continue: he wrote and directed Crimes of the Future, something that resonates on similar levels to his previous work while foreshadowing elements that would materialise again in some of his later films.

You here for the Halloween audition too then?

Narrated by the controller of some kind of medical institution we’re exposed to the odd man’s fascination with various forms of sexual deviation and its occasionally consequential diseases. Along the way he comes across a person whose body produces complex miniature organs, described as a ‘creative cancer’ - this is no doubt the seed of Cronenberg’s frequent explorations of so-called body horror; the mutation of an organism into something else, whether it be evolutionary or initiated by the infiltration of an alien (not as in extraterrestrial) entity. There are influences here along with his future work that are derived from his earlier scientific studying, something cultivated by his father who openly encouraged anything Cronenberg would become passionate about no matter how transient it might prove. The richness of the director’s educational childhood would feed his visceral imagination later on with an abundance of unusual concepts, no doubt assisted by the fact that both of his parents were creatively inclined. However, his ideas would take time to filter and develop into something palatable by the general public and neither Stereo nor Crimes… can claim to be this. Like Stereo this later film, now shot in colour, is hard to digest and almost impossible to actually enjoy. Despite that there are occasions when it’s not easy to turn one’s eye away from the screen, such is the unusual nature of occurrences on screen - you never really know what’s going to happen next or where the meagre story will take you. Shot on 35mm film the look is fantastic and Cronenberg’s use of architecture is profound, his characters wandering around complicated structures that create a sense of foreboding. Much of the material is silent (though not to the same extent as Stereo), punctuated by the voice of the strange narrator in a rather Hal-esque fashion along with intermittent industrial sound effects that pre-empt David Lynch’s Eraserhead. The inhabitants of the institutes are so unusual, residents of another dimension almost, that the viewer won’t find it easy to connect emotionally with the material. On an intellectual level there is some food for thought, though it can reach academic levels of textbook iteration and therefore require concentration to comprehend and dissect. The explorations of homosexuality along with suggestions of other forms of sexual deviation border on the disturbing.

 

Blue Underground’s rescue of this incredibly obscure film is highly commendable - if not for them it could have remained unseen forever. The source material is in incredible condition and as a result the transfer looks like it could have been taken from a new film. The monaural soundtrack is in similarly excellent shape, the powerful silences uninterrupted by damage. Whilst one would have appreciated an accompanying director’s commentary we can’t ask for much more than this, though it may be hard to find on disc now as the hosting Fast Company double-discer is out of print. I am never going to love Crimes of the Future but as someone who admires much of its director’s subsequent offerings it is of historical and archival importance.

Posted on 15th March 2008
Under: Science Fiction, Other | 2 Comments »

Stereo

1967, Canada, Directed by David Cronenberg

Black & White, Running Time: 63 minutes

DVD, Region 1, Blue Underground, Video: Anamorphic 1.66:1, Audio: Mono

It’s generally considered that Cronenberg tends to wander between moderately commercial products (e.g. History of Violence, Dead Zone) and less commercial, more personal outings (e.g. Crash, Dead Ringers), sometimes blurring the boundaries as bigger names such as Ralph Fiennes become attached to ideas that would otherwise leave the general public completely cold, such as Spider. To really put his less commercial outings into perspective, however, one only need take a look at his very early work and the likes of Rabid and Naked Lunch suddenly become comparatively more approachable. Going way back to the late sixties we find that Stereo is undoubtedly a unique experience but not necessarily an enjoyable one: opening with a shot over two large hostile-looking stone buildings a helicopter drifts into view before letting off someone who oddly dresses himself almost as if he is a wizard. As the strange man attempts to find a way into the inaccessible structures a narrator articulately tells us about an experiment taking place within, something designed to investigate telepathic powers in a selected group of willing participants. Inside, the volunteers (all dressed in tights) wander the corridors occasionally interacting with each other, physically as well as on a telepathic level presumably, if the words of the narrator are anything to go by. Gradually they lose touch with the reality outside the premises that we never truly see.

The strangely dressed inhabitants of Stereo

The camerawork is quite engaging, adopting a personal perspective on many occasions as we wander through the barren corridors with the completely odd inhabitants of the institute. Use of slow motion, while quite clichéd in the likes of action movies, etc., is highly perceptive on Cronenberg’s part here and indicative of the talent that was later to embed itself into cinema history forever. The film plays almost silent - there are no sound effects and there is no music. The only things we ever hear are the voices of varying narrators explaining the intricate details of the scientific studies taking place in telepathic communication. The dialogue here is excessively intellectual but, while initially it may occur to the viewer that this is pretentiousness for the sake of ego, the relentless nature of the suffocating and informed depth of the words ultimately results in the appearance of authenticity, facilitating belief in the subject matter - this latter aspect comes about for the simple reason that it’s hard to imagine a subject being treated with such academic intelligence if there is absolutely no foundation in truth. There are some interesting points made amongst the concentration-stretching passages, for example the gradual introduction of the sexual relations between volunteers combined with the suggestion that such relations facilitate the telepathic connection brings to my mind the possibility that cerebral evolutionary development (which the narrators indicate is the consequential factor of man’s continued existence) is something designed purely to improve the reproductive chances of affected organisms, and therefore the genes within. Listening to this film is really as close as I can imagine to reading a textbook in parapsychology, the problem being that there are few such books that can be any fun to scour through and the film therefore becomes an extremely arduous task to sit through. That’s not to say there’s anything bad about Cronenberg’s debut, but the balance between scientific, philosophical detail and cinematic approachability that the director would later achieve is clearly a long way off being established here.

Blue Underground present Stereo looking superb considering its mega-low budget origins and age - there are celluloid flaws that are unlikely ever to be eliminated from the source. A pillarboxed 1.66:1 ratio takes advantage of anamorphic enhancement for a small but appreciated boost in resolution while audio is well represented, though it only has voices and silence to contend with - this is one instance where any kind of surround track would truly be a waste of bit space. What would have been very welcome is a commentary from the director, if only to decipher some of the film’s occurrences while explaining some of the thought processes involving in realising such a cinematic oddity, but perhaps having things left to our own personal delineation can prove to be a challenging experience (and therefore a deterrent for the majority no doubt). Considering the fact that this is included in a package with Fast Company and Crimes of the Future, this is a superb buy.

Posted on 2nd December 2007
Under: Science Fiction, Other | No Comments »

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