March 01, 2006

Notes from a DVD Geek

by Jeremy Lassen

There are a bunch of interesting new releases, so I will start off with those.  For all you Firefly/Joss Whedon fans, Serenity has made its way to DVD.  It’s a pretty good little science fiction film in its own right, and is a nice coda to the TV series.  Most importantly, it continues Whedon’s fetish for 90 lb. teenage girls that can kick his ass.

Another important new release is Dave McKean and Neil Gaiman’s fantabulous coming-of-age fairy tale extravaganza, MirrorMask.  This film was in the theaters for about five minutes, so if you missed it, that’s understandable. Now you have the opportunity to see this hallucinatory, haunting vision in the privacy of your own home.  I recommend that you do so.

Also new to DVD is the “EXTENDED” cut of David Lynch’s Dune.  You remember David Lynch’s Dune?  That seemingly incomprehensible, oddly attractive mess of a movie that came out in the ‘80s?  Yeah. That one.  For a while now, a “producer's cut” has been circulating in various bootleg editions, and now it is finally available legitimately on DVD.  What this is NOT is “David Lynch’s Dune”.  Lynch was nagged out of the editing process for the theatrical version, and eventually washed his hands of the whole process – he had nothing to do with this edit.  What this is, is a bunch of voiceover exposition, matte paintings, and footage that was excised from the theatrical version.  It’s not really any BETTER then the theatrical version, but it's definitely interesting . . . a nother perspective on one of the most interesting failures of all time.  This release contains both the original theatrical version of the film, as well as the “extended” version.  Another cool bit about this release is its package.  Imagine a normally-sized DVD case, made from brushed aluminum, with an embossed title, and the artwork, and credits painted onto the metal with a slightly metallic paint, creating an almost holographic effect.  I’m not usually a packaging slut, but this release looks classy, and would be an excellent addition to any SF fan’s shelf.

Continuing in the realm of extended editions, be sure to not miss Peter Jackson's little gem of a film, The Frighteners.  It was his first Hollywood production, and kicked much ass.  Now it’s getting a deluxe re-release, with a bunch of added scenes that make this already wonderful film even better.  Given the atrocity that Jackson’s post LOTR effort (King Kong) turned out to be, I’d recommend giving that a miss, and picking up this film instead.  You won’t be disappointed, or more importantly, bored, which was my main problem with Jackon’s Kong – too much eye candy and not enough characterization and story.

Speaking of characterization and story, did anybody see Peter Jackson’s wonderful, touching exploration of a horrible murder?  Heavenly Creatures was based on actual events, and chronicles the growing love between two girls, and the violence that resulted when their families try to keep them apart.  Equal parts wonderful, brutal, and touching.  Definitely worth picking up.

Moving away from New Zealand, to Spain, I wanted to focus on another foreign director who has made good in Hollywood – no. . . not Guillermo del Toro. . . I’ll get to him in a second.  The man I wanted to talk about is Alejandro Amenábar.  He wrote and directed a stunning little piece of “Dickian” SF called Open Your Eyes, which is available on DVD.  Some of you may be more familiar with the US remake, called Vanilla Sky, which was directed by Cameron Crowe (a pretty damn good director in his own right).  Because of this, and despite Tom Cruise in the starring role, Vanilla Sky did not suck.  In fact, some have argued that it is better then the original.  I’m not willing to go that far, but. . . hey. . . it was pretty good!  On the heels of having his baby turned into a big Hollywood project, Alejandro ended up directing one of the most effective Haunted House movies in ages: The Others.  I can’t recommended this film enough.  Creepy, effective -- great acting by Nicole Kidman, and two child actors who managed to be effective, without dripping into saccharine land.  If you haven’t seen The Others yet, do yourself a favor and see it. Alejandro’s next film, The Sea Inside was only remotely genre in nature.  Hopefully, like Bill Paxton, he will return to the SF/fantasy/horror genre next time out.

Another Spaniard who has delivered some phenomenal genre films is Guillermo del Toro.  His first film was a wonderful little vampire film set in Mexico, called Cronos, which received a ton of critical attention, probably because people weren’t used to seeing genre films with this level of care and craftsmanship.  After Cronos, del Toro did a mediocre Hollywood monster film called Mimic.  Giant cockroaches run amuck in New York.  He followed this up with an absolutely incredible ghost story set during the Spanish civil war, called The Devil's Backbone.  Almost immediately after this, Blade 2 came out.  Another Hollywood monster movie, this one at least had a solid franchise and great cast, and ended up being the best of the three Blade movies, I believe.  After this came a career-defining moment, in my opinion.  Hellboy hit the screen in all of its over-the-top Lovecraftian/Nazi/Rasputin glory.  The script suffered from being a mish-mash of too many different storylines from the comic, but the production values were spotless, as were the performances by the actors. . . especially Ron Perlman in the lead role.  Next up on  del Toro’s CV is the as-yet-to-be released Pan’s Garden, which looks like it could be a lot of fun.  In addition, Hellboy 2 is in the works with del Toro directing.  And. . .del Toro is shopping a big budget, period adaptation of H. P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness.  DreamWorks has expressed interest, and if Hellboy 2 proves to be a successful “franchise maker” for the series, he just might get the green light.  And THAT would be something to be excited about.

Until next month, keep watching those DVD’s.  Drop me a line if there’s a director whose work you’d like me to cover, or if there’s a movie we should have in stock but don’t.

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