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This Island Earth

Director – Joseph Newman – 1955 – US – Cert. PG – 83m

*****

UK PAL laserdisc review, 1997.

Originally published on London Calling Internet.

Pioneer continue to plunder the Universal vaults for SF gems. I’d never heard of This Island Earth when a print turned up for a revival run at London’s late lamented Scala repertory cinema in the early eighties, but having seen it several times since it’s a film which stands the test of time admirably. Moreover, being an Academy ratio film, it doesn’t suffer either the necessary indignity of widescreening black bars top and bottom or the thoroughly infuriating cropping of picture sides that accompanies too many video releases. The digital remaster on this Pioneer disc looks superb too – This Island Earth may be a good deal more than merely the sum of its special effects, but it IS an effects movie and those effects are impressive by the standards of the day (even if they creak a little now). What’s more, most of them are on side 2 of this disc in glorious CAV.

Warning: (plot) spoilers.

Eschewing obvious alien invasion plot lines, the narrative has nuclear research scientist Cal Meacham (Rex Reason) slowly lured into an alien conspiracy alongside rival in his field of research Ruth Adams (Faith Domergue).… Read the rest

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The War Of The Worlds

Director – Byron Haskin – 1952 – US – Cert. PG – 82m

****

RUK PAL laserdisc review, 1997.

Originally published on London Calling Internet.

Hungarian born George Pal, who produced the stop-frame Puppetoons shorts in the forties, chose H.G.Wells’ seminal alien invasion novel for his fourth live action production. Media wunderkind Orson Welles had already transplanted the Home Counties setting across the Atlantic to New Jersey for radio; it was only natural that a rising Hollywood producer such as Pal should shift events further West to California. A then‑unknown Puppetoon animator named Ray Harryhausen had pitched a movie version at Welles, without success. However, while Welles was beginning his legendary slow descent from the pinnacle of the movie biz, Pal was clearly in the ascendant.

It’s not hard to see the attraction of the Wells’ novel to such creative heavyweights. Orson Welles, whose radio version had interrupted what appeared to be a programme of live, on air dance music with a series of eye-witness newsflashes of the Martian landings, clearly relished the prospect of panicking an entire nation in art if not in life. Harryhausen, one imagines, would have recreated Wells’ towering tripods, mechanical Victoriana burning up the Home Counties with their terrifying death rays (a decade later, Harryhausen’s First Men In The Moon, Nathan Juran, 1964 is packed with Victorian industrial ephemera).… Read the rest

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When Worlds Collide

Director – Rudolph Maté – 1951 – US – Cert. U – 79m

***

RUK PAL laserdisc review, 1997.

Originally published on London Calling Internet.

Made the year before European-born producer George Pal’s The War Of The Worlds (Byron Haskin, 1953), this science-fictional disaster outing stages the end of the world by a star and orbiting planet Zyra rushing headlong towards the Earth. A handful of scientists build a Space Ark to save a chosen few humans via a perilous voyage to Zyra. But who will go – and who will stay behind and face annihilation?

From its opening Bible with destruction quotations to match, right through to its New Start For Humanity In A New World finale, this is infused with Pal’s Christian sensibilities. The script never allows that to get in the way of the story, however: the result is a compelling yarn that remains almost unique in the annals of SF cinema.

Director Rudolph Maté was a former cameraman whose prior experience included shooting Foreign Correspondent (Alfred Hitchcock, 1940) which features one of the most spectacular plane crashes in the movies. Together with lensing Dante’s Inferno (Harry Lachman, 1935) , this stood him in good stead for pulling off the outstanding special effects work required for When Worlds Collide.… Read the rest

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The Lost World: Jurassic Park

Director – Steven Spielberg – 1997 – US – PG – 129m

***

UK PAL laserdisc review.

Originally published on London Calling Internet.

Given the original Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993) movie left out some of the best bits of a brilliant book, had a plot so full of holes it was virtually transparent and still elevated itself to the level of technically groundbreaking, cinematic achievement (not to mention making more money than any other movie ever) the quality of any sequel movie was nothing if not uncertain. Michael Crichton’s uninspired follow-up novel, with all the un-Spielberg-y rough edges removed, didn’t bode well and while audiences flocked to see the second film, most critics responded poorly to it. Their main criticism – it has a weak plot. Or scarcely a plot at all.

Basically, having escaped Jurassic Park, chaos theorist Dr. Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), his ideas this time round largely reduced to the repeated phrase “life finds a way”, journeys to the second island to bring back palaeontologist girlfriend Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore), who’s there documenting the dino-wildlife for founding billionaire Hammond (Richard Attenborough) before his nephew Peter Ludlow (Arliss Howard) – who has just wrested control of the InGen company from his uncle – arrives there with an army of men and an arsenal of big game hunting weapons under the command of big game hunter Roland Tembo (Pete Postlethwaite).… Read the rest

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White Squall

UK PAL Laserdisc review

SURROUND SOUND MOVIE OF THE MONTH

Dir Ridley Scott (1996) Starring Jeff Bridges, Caroline Goodall, John Savage, Scott Wolf, Balthazar Getty, Ryan Phillipe Dur 124min Dist Encore; £26.99 Cert 12 DS Widescreen

1961 and a group of final year High School students sign up for a yacht cruise halfway round the world and back under a disciplinarian Cap’n (Jeff Bridges), the type of leader who’ll scare a boy into climbing the rigging even though he knows the lad’s brother died from falling out of a tree and breaking his neck. They slowly come together as a crew but then tragedy strikes.

Despite visually prettified opening, Scott’s visuals capture minutiae of nautical detail building to a crescendo in the terrifying storm sequence, where amazing sound effects engulf the living room. Great cinematography, unwatchable without widescreen, is well served by the crisp image transfer. Woefully underrated on theatrical release – this is one hell of a disc!

Film 5/5

Picture 5/5

Sound 5/5

Reviewed for Home Entertainment.

Trailer:

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Twister

UK PAL laserdisc review.

Originally published on London Calling Internet.

Distributor Pioneer LDCE

Cat No: PLFEB 35411

£24.99

BBFC Certificate PG

Director Jan De Bont (1996)

Starring Assorted CG tornadoes

(oh yes, and Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Jami Gertz, Cary Elwes)

Running Time 108 min

Dolby Surround

Widescreen: 2.35:1

Chaptered? Yes

CLV

2 Sides

(4 sided CAV version also available for £34.99)

Trailers (Twister – two different ones, Jurassic Park)

A twister, as lovers of The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939) will know, is a tornado that snatches up objects in its path into the air and then dumps them down again. The one that snatched Dorothy into the air was a cheap special effect in a wonderful film. The current movie, on the other hand, is the other way round: basically, it’s a rotten movie with awe-inspiring special effects. The cast here is not so much the workmanlike group of American actors playing uninspired characters as the incredible series of tornadoes which appear one after another, each seemingly darker and by inference more evil than its predecessor.

This may also be one of those rare movies (I can’t think of another) that requires a big (cinema) screen, with all the resolution that a projected celluloid image can give these tornadoes, to really work its magic.… Read the rest

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Videodrome (Director’s Cut)

Director – David Cronenberg – 1983 – Canada – Cert. 18 – 85m

*****

UK PAL laserdisc review.

Originally appeared in London Calling Internet. See also my review for What’s On In London during the film’s revival at the ICA.

Distributor Pioneer LDCE

Cat No: PFLEB 36041

£19.99

BBFC Certificate 18

Director David Cronenberg (1982)

Starring James Woods, Sonja Smits, Debbie Harry

Running Time 85 min

Mono

Widescreen: 1.85:1

Chaptered? Yes

CLV (Side 1)/CAV (Side 2)

2 Sides

A decade and a half on and still retaining its incredible power to shock, this is the film in which David Cronenberg first coined his battle cry, “Long Live the New Flesh.” If a clear lineage can be traced in his films from Shivers’ aphrodisiac turds through to Crash‘s orgasmic collision of swingers and twisted metal, Videodrome remains unique in Cronenberg’s oeuvre – a black joke, a come on to the censor.

Just suppose, runs the pitch, violent porno (television signals) directly affected people causing them to hallucinate. This is the fate which befalls sleazoid Channel 83 cable television executive Max Renn (a young Woods in his best – and edgiest – role to date) who tells porno programme sales agents their merchandise is “too SOFT…I’m looking for something TOUGH.”… Read the rest

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The Killer (Dip Huet Seung Hung, 喋血雙雄)

Director – John Woo – 1989 – Hong Kong – Cert. 18 – 110m

*****

Starring Chow Yun Fat, Danny Lee, Sally Yeh

What’s it all about?

On the verge of retirement, contract killer Chow accidentally blinds singer Yeh during a hit that goes wrong. Guilt-ridden, he undertakes one last killing for the money to pay for the operation to restore her eyesight. Meanwhile, policeman Lee is determined to bring him to book.

Why is it in our top 100?

Because it enabled Woo to cross over from a Hong Kong to an international audience – a much more personal work than A Better Tomorrow (1986) or Hard Boiled (1992), complete with trademark bloody, balletic, bullet-strewn violence and familiar themes of guilt, redemption and brotherhood.

Something to tell your mates

Chow (his surname) is both a huge star in the Far East and an incredibly versatile, talented and charismatic actor comparable to Robert De Niro or Cary Grant. The detail in facial expression lost on VHS video is very much intact on MIHK’s impressive 1994 PAL laserdisc.

Originally published in Home Entertainment as part of a One Hundred Best Movies on Home Entertainment Formats feature.

Trailer:

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Naked Lunch

Director – David Cronenberg – 1991 – Canada – Cert. 18 – 115m

*****

UK PAL laserdisc review.

Originally published in London Calling Internet. See also my reviews in Film And Video – The Magazine and What’s On In London.

Distributor Pioneer LDCE

Cat No: PFLEB 30781

£9.99

BBFC Certificate 18

Running Time 85 min

Dolby Surround

Widescreen: 1.85:1

Chaptered? Yes

CLV

2 Sides

New York, 1953. Bug exterminator Bill Lee (Peter Weller) runs out of roach powder whilst treating an infested apartment. His initial accusations against his employers’ theft of the substance are revealed as groundless when he discovers wife Joan (Judy Davis) is using the brown powder as a drug. She persuades him to take up the habit. In a downtown interview, two narcotics detectives introduce Bill to his “Case Officer” – a typewriter sized bug with a talking orifice in its back who instructs him to kill Joan, as she is an Interzone agent.

After shooting his wife, Bill seeks counselling from Dr.Benway (Roy Scheider) who gives him a counter narcotic. A Mugwump gives Bill two air tickets to the Interzone where he meets (among others) Swiss expatriate Yves Cloquet (Julian Sands) and writers Tom and Joan Frost (Ian Holm and Judy Davis).… Read the rest

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Witness

UK PAL laserdisc review.

Originally published on London Calling Internet.

Distributor Pioneer LDCE

£19.99

BBFC Certificate 15

Director Peter Weir (1985)

Starring Harrison Ford, Kelly McGillis, Lukas Haas, Danny Glover

Running Time 108 min

Dolby Surround

Widescreen: 1.85:1

Chaptered? Yes

CLV

2 Sides

First American movie by Australian director Weir was also Ford’s first attempt at serious acting (for all those who think the star didn’t have his work cut out on the Indiana Jones or Star Wars films which previously made his name). The piece shifts constantly between a generally unremarkable gun-laden, American cop thriller on the one hand and an utterly unique portrait of Amish life on the other – so unique, in fact, that most people who have heard of the Amish have done so through this film.

The simple respect afforded the Amish – an extreme post-Anabaptist, post-Mennonite Christian tradition that abhors post-industrial material in favour of a pre-industrial community lifestyle – is quite extraordinary given Hollywood’s usual smack-in-the-face / pat-on-the-head attitude towards Christianity. Here, Weir just notes and observes, making no judgements one way or the other, leaving us rather to make up our own minds.

What Weir does do, though – and to remarkable effect – is juxtapose this clean and idealistic world with a foul-mouthed, urban universe of corrupt cops.… Read the rest