The Sting a DVD disappointment
Deserves Classic Treatment
John Carpenter's Village of the Damned
and Good Will
Hill's 1973 classic con deservedly won its "Best Picture" Oscar (and six more
of the little statues, too!). The screenplay, by David S. Ward, is terrific,
the reuniting of Paul Newman and Robert Redford was inspired, and the rest of
the cast is top notch as well. The direction, the look, the feel of the film,
and even the music contribute to a landmark film the type of which only come
Such a classic
movie deserves classic treatment when being converted to the DVD format, and
while this title indeed offers the usual bios and production notes, the movie
itself hasn't been given the loving care it should have received.
Pictures, which in my experience is doing a really good job of releasing its
catalogue onto DVD (check out our other reviews!), has unfortunately dropped the ball
here. While a visit to the Universal web site touts about how "The Sting" has
been given the red carpet, our experience at TechnoFILE is somewhat
Universal has released "The Sting" in both widescreen and pan-and-scan versions
- BUT NOT ON THE SAME DISC! Nope, the disc we received was pure pan-and-scan
which, as an avowed video snob, really rubbed me the wrong way. Now, with a
running time of 129 minutes, there's plenty of room to have both versions of
this film on the same disc, but alas it was not to be.
claims the soundtrack is remastered in THX sound and, while there's nothing
wrong with the movie's sound (after all, it was released in 1973, when most
movies were mono anyway) there was a distinct lack of THX logos on the disc or
the package - and it seems strange that Lucasfilm would let someone put out a
THX movie without that noisy audio/video "mastered for optimal performance"
logo at the beginning.
says the Pan-and-scan version includes extra musical tracks from the film, but
if they're there I couldn't find them.
The film also
displays the signs of having been mastered to video from an older print of the
film. There are occasional pops and other dropouts associated with film flaws,
and this made me pine for a digitally remastered version done from the original
negatives, as is often done with video reissues. There may not have been a
better source from which to master the film, however, so I'll give it the
benefit of the doubt.
Also, to be
fair, I reviewed the Canadian release and it was the US site of Universal that
I checked out, so that could possibly account for the discrepancies between the
hype and the reality. I doubt it, though, since Canuck discs are still
generally imported from the States.
this whining, however, I have to say I really enjoyed revisiting Henry Gondorf,
Johnny Hooker and the rest of the gang. "The Sting" is a terrific movie and
even in this flawed DVD incarnation it's worth seeing - and a flawed DVD still
beats the pants off of VHS!
directed by George Roy Hill
from Universal Pictures.
129 minutes running time.
Much has been
made of Sylvester Stallone's "Rambo" series - much money, much ado about
violence, etc. etc. And I have to admit a prejudice going in: until I sat down
to review the DVD release of "First Blood," the first in the series, I had
carefully avoided all three of these movies. Why? Well, I guess I succumbed to
the hype about it being empty-headed mayhem crafted only to appeal to the
lowest common denominator - even though I'm about as lowest common denominator
as they come.
But a job's a
job, so I placed "First Blood" into my DVD player, sat back, and waited for my
senses and my sensibilities to be assaulted.
And it didn't
happen. Once again, the hype was wrong (perhaps it's closer to home with Rambos
II and III, but I still haven't seen them), and First Blood turns out to be
quite a good film, and Stallone is quite good as John Rambo, Vietnam war hero,
Congressional Medal of Honor winner and all around killing machine, stumbling
numbly through his life "back home," haunted by the ghosts of the horror
through which he lived "over there."
The film, shot
on location in and around beautiful Hope, British Columbia, opens with Rambo
arriving at the home of a comrade in arms, only to find out that his buddy was
dead - eaten away by cancer that apparently got its foothold in Vietnam.
Despondent, Rambo wanders into the small town of Hope looking for a bite to
eat, but is picked up - and picked upon - by the local Top Cop (Brian Dennehy),
a wildly stereotypical redneck small town lawmaker who thinks he's a law unto
Well, you can
figure out the rest. Accused of vagrancy, Rambo's hauled off to jail,
humiliated and roughed up, and finally (thanks partially to a well-timed
flashback to 'Nam) loses it. He bashes his way out of the police station and
hightails it for the abundant wilderness surrounding Hope.
To make a long
(well, 96 minute) story short, what follows is a manhunt in which the
Establishment tries to hunt down Rambo, only to find that they'd bitten off a
lot more than they could chew. It finally takes Rambo's old C.O. Col. Trautman
(Richard Crenna), to save the town from Rambo and, in a quite moving scene,
Rambo breaks down into Crenna's arms and is finally led away to face his fate -
and two sequels.
As a DVD release,
First Blood is first rate. Artisan pictures has pulled out all the stops,
offering this widescreen picture (only in widescreen, however) in Dolby
surround, with a pile of extras, including cast/crew bios and filmographies,
a running commentary by the novel's author, production notes, the trailer,
a teaser, and even a trivia game. The jacket also boasts of "visually
enhanced motion menus," which means there's an endlessly looped audio/video
clip onscreen with the menu, and when you make a menu selection you get
an animated transition complete with
"whooshing" audio enhancement. I could have done
without the audio enhancements, which really get on your nerves if you let the
menu remain on screen while you take a bathroom break (or whatever).
thoughtful feature is the audio on the production notes. Most DVD's I've seen
will give you text screens outlining the genesis of the film, but this time a
narrator reads the cards along with you. This may be good for the deaf, but I
found it annoying - and I was usually finished reading quite a bit ahead of
whoever they hired to do this particular voice-over.
But that's a
pretty nitpicky point...
There's also a
documentary featurette called "First Blood: a Look Back" that is basically a
glorified trailer and pretty much a waste of time when compared with the
features accompanying such DVD's as "American Graffiti." But the trivia game
is humourous: wrong answers bring an "ahhhh!" and an arrow "thunk" while
correct responses bring the joyful sound of applause.
sound quality are fine, the chapter stops are fairly logical, and as mentioned
before, the British Columbia scenery looks beautiful and made me pine for the
however, even with the tepid documentary and annoying audio extras, this is a
good example of how to bring a movie to DVD.
First Blood =
96 minutes. From Artisan Entertainment
In his remake
of the 1960-ish sci-fi/horror flick, "Village of the Damned," John Carpenter
recaptures, for the most part, the mood of his 1982 classic "The Thing."
Based on the
original Damned film, as well as John Wyndham's famous novel "The Midwich
Cuckoos," "Village" tells a tale that would frighten parents anywhere. Set in
the rural California village of idwich, the action begins with a strange,
unexplained force descending on the place, knocking out everyone within a
certain radius - yet not affecting anyone immediately outside.
after the force leaves and everyone returns to normal, apparently, it's
discovered that ten of the town's women are suddenly pregnant - some
"impossibly so!" This understandably freaks out those involved and their
"significant others," who wonder (with, it turns out, a lot of justification!)
just what it is they have growing inside them.
Well, we never
really find out the "why" of what they have inside them, but we sure as heck
get a good look at the "what" and the havoc these "special needs" children
Village of the
Damned starts out strong and stays that way throughout most of the film,
faltering only a bit towards the end when it seems to be taken over by
explosions and violence - though to be fair I have no idea how Carpenter could
have done it differently. Overall, however, it's a very satisfying and scary
story that's a worthy entry into the John Carpenter filmography.
The casting is
great for the most part, with Christopher Reeve turning in an excellent
performance as Midwich's resident doctor caught up in the horror of the
experience (especially since one of the kids is HIS!). The kids also turn in
credible performances, as does Mark Hamill as a local preacher and the lovely
Linda Kozlowski as one of the unhappy mothers.
seems miscast, however, and seems to be merely walking through this
happens with Carpenter films, Carpenter himself was responsible for most of the
music, this time in conjunction with ex-Kinks' guitarist Dave Davies. And the
music, except unfortunately for some of Davies' solos (which are great, but
seem out of place in this movie) builds the suspense and the action extremely
well. A nice surround track positively curls the hair on the back of your head
when it's used to enhance the antics of these poor, misunderstood
As far as a DVD
release goes, Village of the Damned is okay, but nothing spectacular. You get
chapter stops, the theatrical trailer, cast/crew bios, production notes, and
film highlights, but it's pretty sparse stuff. No running commentaries or
interactive games here.
To be fair, I'm
not a big fan of the interactive games anyway, so I don't mourn the exclusion
So while this
may not be the most spectacular use of DVD technology, it's certainly a
worthwhile film for horror fans. John Carpenter has definitely done it
John Carpenter's Village
of the Damned
99 minutes, From Universal Pictures
Starring Christopher Reeve, Kirstie Alley.
at Oscar time (nominated for nine awards), and winner of two statuettes, "Good
Will Hunting" is the story of a mathematics genius with a lack of ambition and
a lot of inner anger who's taken under the wing of an established math genius
who wants to mould him in his image.
Damon and Robin Williams, and written by Damon and his bud Ben Affleck (who
also appears as Damon's best friend), this is the sort of "important" movie the
Hollywood establishment loves. Part coming of age film, part anti-establishment
rant, and part "slice of life," the story revolves around Will Hunting who,
despite his rap sheet and tendency to punch people out, really is a "good" boy
(hence the title, I suppose). Williams, who won the Best Performance by an
actor in a supporting role Oscar, plays a shrink who apparently happily marches
to his own tune and is recruited by Will's would-be-mentor to help exorcise his
demons and help keep him out of jail. Williams' subdued (for him!) performance
is very good and perhaps he did deserve the award.
Along the way,
both Damon and Williams come to term with their respective hangups, gain a
healthy respect for each other, and by the time the films ends it appears as if
everyone is going to live happily ever after, with the possible exception of
Will's Mentor (who discovers that despite Damon's genius he doesn't care to
spend his life as a human number cruncher). In the end, Will Hunting does what
he wants, not what the establishment expects of him, and sallies forth after
his true love (Minnie Driver, who is excellent in this role).
other Oscar went to the Best Original Screenplay, and while it has its moments,
I thought it paled next to a that of a film like Bob Zemeckis' "Contact," which came out the same year but which seems
to have been lost in the Hollywood shuffle. I revisited that film a couple of
days before watching "GWH" and enjoyed it far more. Contact was a "big" movie,
asking the biggest questions imaginable, while "Hunting" is a "small" movie,
asking more personal and internal questions. As such, Hunting is probably a
more accurate representation of today's self indulgent generations than is
Contact, but I think Contact is a far more important movie because it has the
potential to expand ones horizons while Hunting has the potential to make one
even more spoiled and inward-looking.
Hollywood establishment loved it, so it must be good, right? I dunno. The
powers that be loved "The English Patient,"
too, and I found it highly overrated. So either I'm wrong, or out of touch with
mainstream Hollywood. Then again, maybe I'm one of the few reviewers capable of
independent thought. You'll have to make up your own minds about
Hunting is heavy on cussin' and sexual/bathroom humour (but quite realistic, as
the dialogue reflects how many people talk), so if you find such things
offensive you may want to give this disc a pass. Characterizations and
performances are good and Danny Elfman's score is nice, too, though I wouldn't
have recognized it as his work if I hadn't read it in the credits.
As a DVD, Good
Will Hunting is a fine example, except that you're only offered the Widescreen
version and therefore one whole side of the disc is wasted. Still, at least
you're getting the better of the two versions (I hate "pan and scan," but would
never deny another the privilege of losing the edges of their picture) and it's
easy to find which side of the disc to leave facing up. Picture and sound
quality are up to the format's high standards, and there are plenty of extras
to keep fans of the movie happy.
the usual trailer (in English and French), TV commercials, the montage used on
Oscar night to present the film, behind the scenes footage, a production
"featurette" and audio commentaries by director Gus van Sant and Damon/Affleck.
There are also twelve scenes cut from the movie (with accompanying audio
commentary), filmography/bios of cast and crew, and the "Miss Misery" Music
video from the film's soundtrack.
release also comes with a French Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack,which is
something you don't see every day, as well as French closed
So while I
didn't particularly care for this film, I'm obviously in a minority among the
pundits. Regardless of my opinion, however, it's a good example of the DVD's
potential and those who like "Good Will Hunting" will find lots to like about
the disc release.
Good Will Hunting
126 minutes, 1.85:1 aspect ratio
Directed by Gus van Sant
from Miramax Films
Tell us at TechnoFile what YOU think