Very special editions...
Universal Pictures has done a beautiful job of exploiting the
DVD format to its best advantage. With its "Collectors Edition" releases,
a trio of which are reviewed here, the studio has pulled out all stops,
offering not only the feature film, but enough extras to satisfy students
of the motion picture arts.
One thing to
watch for, however. If you don't like "letterboxing," the translation
of widescreen movies to the square TV screen, you'll be disappointed with
all three of the movies reviewed here: Universal offers them only in widescreen
versions rather than letting you choose widescreen or pan and scan. If
we had our druthers, we'd opt for widescreen every time, but since DVD
gives the opportunity to include both versions on the same disc, we'd
have preferred to see Universal offer everyone their format of choice.
American Graffiti was George Lucas' first hit masterpiece. Just like its successor,
"Star Wars," the Oscar-nominated classic came out of nowhere when it was
released and managed not only to capture the hearts of critics and moviegoers
alike, but also to bring the studio more cash than it could possibly have
is the tale of two high school grads (Ron Howard and Richard Dreyfuss)
on their last night at home before heading off to college. Howard has
his life clearly in focus, while Dreyfuss is waffling about whether or
not he's even going to leave. Over the course of the night, we get a funny
and nostalgic look at cruising, coming to terms with some major life decisions,
and the general teen culture of 1962, what might be termed the end of
an era of "American innocence" on the eve of Vietnam and the 60's "counterculture."
its praise. George Lucas perfectly captures the flavour of the era, in
a charming and witty film that almost makes you feel as if you're actually
benefits a lot from this "Collectors Edition" treatment. Firstly, the
the film's soundtrack has been remixed into Dolby Digital, and remixed
very well indeed. Most of the sound still comes from the centre front
channel, but there's a lot of atmosphere wrapping around you now in your
viewing room, further pulling you into the onscreen action. It's a subtle
touch, but it works well.
The film itself
has been given Lucas' THX treatment, which means they've bent over backwards
to ensure the picture and sound are first rate - and they are. Graffiti
was a pretty low budget movie to start with, but George Lucas gave us
the best he could under the circumstances, and now his company has given
us the best audio and video quality we can expect to date. Images are
sharp and clean, though as one might expect from a film shot virtually
entirely at night, it's a bit dark in places.
Then there are
the extras. Besides the usual theatrical trailer, Universal has included
a full length documentary on the making of the film - a terrific feature
that includes interviews with most of the cast and crew, as well as George
Lucas himself and producer Francis Ford Coppola. Like the film itself,
the documentary is charming, with funny insights as those involved in
the film's creation reminisce about their experiences. There are
also production photographs included on the disk.
American Classic, American Grafitti is a must see DVD.
John Carpenter's "The
One of the scariest
movies ever made, John Carpenter's "remake" of the 1951 Howard Hawks sci-fi
thriller has also received a nice boost during its metamorphosis to the
upon its initial release to theatres for its graphic makeup effects, Carpenter's
Thing went on to become somewhat of a cult favourite. And those makeup
effects, pulled off with incredible imagination by Rob Bottin, can indeed
cause the weak of heart to lose their lunches. However, like Starship
Troopers, the film got a bad rap from those who couldn't see beyond
The Thing details
the discovery, initially by Norwegians and then by Americans, of an alien
creature whose spaceship crashed in Antarctica some 100,000 years ago.
The creature survives by assimilating its victims and then imitating them
- it can and will take any shape (hence the makeup effects) and therefore
hides among the scientific outpost's crew until it can find the time and
opportunity to strike. It's survival of the fittest, and it becomes painfully
evident as the film unfolds that it ain't the humans who are the fittest!
Based on the
short story "Who Goes There" by John W. Campbell, the Carpenter version
is far more faithful to the written piece than was Hawks' version. Carpenter's
"Thing" is a tale of claustrophobic paranoia, as the men (there are no
women in the film), isolated in their compound by an Antarctic winter
storm, discover the threat and try to eliminate it, all while realizing
that some among them probably aren't what they appear to be (but which
ones are they?).
If you've only
seen the movie on pan and scan videocassette, you may find yourself amazed
at how much more closed in the movie feels in its widescreen glory. And
the DVD's picture and sound (the latter of which is remixed into Dolby
Digital) are, as expected, first rate.
The extras are
also outstanding. There's the trailer, a set of outtakes from the film,
behind the scenes photographs, storyboards and concept art, an annoted
production archive, and some stop motion footage that was cut from the
final film. There's also a hilarious running commentary on a separate
audio track that features director Carpenter and Kurt Russell closeted
in some screening room, sharing their memories of the production. These
guys go back a long way and are obviously good friends - and Russell sounds
like he's having a really good time during the recording session.
And of course
there's also a full length documentary on the making of the film, featuring
cast and crew, and it's a must see for fans of this science fiction film
classic. We're pleased as punch at the treatment given to this often overlooked
is not just a Robert Duvall movie, it's a Robert Duvall tour de force.
The veteran actor served as executive producer, writer, and director of
this Oscar-nominated film, and his hand shows.
"Apostle" is about a beloved Southern US preacher forced to flee
his relatively peaceful life after being driven batty by his wife's infidelity.
Duvall's Sonny loses it at his kid's baseball game and pounds his wife's
lover upside the head with a baseball bat. On the lam from the authorities,
he makes his way to the little town of Bayou Boutte where, rather than
hiding out and living quietly, he finds himself driven to found a new
church from which he can continue his ministry.
grows and his church starts to become a success, but are the police still
trying to track him down for his crime?
Farrah Fawcett as Sonny's wife, June Carter Cash and Miranda Richardson,
with a cameo by Billy Bob Thornton, The Apostle was crtically acclaimed
upon its theatrical release - and we agree with the assessment of Duvall's
performance. Duvall, the actor, disappears and we believe he's Sonny,
the character, all through this movie.
Unfortunately, other than Duvall's superb performance, and the
more-than-credible performances of the other actors, there isn't a lot
to recommend this movie (except for the extra DVD goodies included on
the disc, of course, which will be of interest to fans of the film and
film students/aficionados). What plot there is meanders along at a very
leisurely pace, and the story itself doesn't really go anywhere. While
it's interesting to watch Sonny in action, not a lot else happens here.
Okay, so you
don't need action and special effects to make a good movie, but you need
a good story, and The Apostle's almost like a documentary in that there
isn't a lot of conflict once you get past Sonny's 'crime of passion.'
And, to us, the most interesting dramas are generally about conflict,
or coming of age. Here, Sonny runs away from the conflict until the very
end (as opposed to, say, Bogart in "Casablanca" - who initially runs but
then turns around and grabs his destiny - and others' - with both hands),
and there isn't much personal growth or coming of age because he picks
right up in Bayou Boutte where he left off before the baseball bat battering.
Subjective review aside, as a DVD incarnation Universal Studios
has given The Apostle the full treatment. Not only are the picture and
sound of the calibre to which we've become accustomed with DVD's (with
a few exceptions, unfortunately, like Disney's "Tron"), this Collectors
Edition is in widescreen, Dolby Digital and its use of dual data layers
allows all the goodies to be put on one side of the disc - which is as
it should be.
are in abundance. Not only is there a generous printed liner supplement
(bravo!), but you get a running commentary by Robert Duvall (and who better
than the auteur to give you a play by play?). There's also a featurette
documentary ("The Journey of the Apostle") on the making of the film,
which features behind the scenes footage and appearances by Duvall, Fawcett,
producer Rob Carliner, and John Beasley (Reverend Blackwell).
So while we
may quibble with The Apostle as a movie, as a DVD release it's first rate.
We love it when
studios include extras with their video releases - though we must also
note that if you're renting the disc you might not have time to get through
everything unless you want to be hit with a late charge! Still, kudos
to Universal for the care and the value they offer with these Collectors
Series editions. If you like any of the three films reviewed here, you'll
be pleased as punch with their translation to the superb DVD format.
Tell us at TechnoFile what YOU think