Laserblast: Resurrection

This is one of those weeks – when there are dozens of sci-fi, horror, and fantasy titles listed among the week’s DVD releases, but most if not all of them have been previously released, and in many cases the only new thing about the resurrected version is the cover art. Consequently, keeping in mind that the hard-gore genre fan already has these titles in his/her collection, we give you this rundown of what’s for sale.
RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION opens in a few weeks, so of course that means it is time to resurrect the previous films in the series, RESIDENT EVIL and RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE. Now you can get both films in one two-disc DVD package, which will fit much more snugly onto your shelf, somewhere in between RE-ANIMATOR and THE RESURRECTED. Read More

Laserblast: Robocop returns

Not much new and exciting in terms of fantasy, horror, and science-fiction films on home video this week, so fans must content themselves with some classics being released in new and improved form.
ROBOCOP (1987) was one of the best science-fiction films to emerge during the ’80s – a combination of a great concept with great production values, blending comic book-style action with genuine pathos for the titular character (a cop killed and resurrected as a cyborg). The film has been released on home video in various formats, including an unrated edition on laserdisc that briefly resurfaced on stand-alone DVD before being replaced by a box set containing the two sequels. If you have avoided the set containing the disappointing ROBOCOP II and ROBOCOP III, now is your chance to obtain the original in the 20th Anniversary Collector’s Edition. The two-disc set contains the theatrical cut on Disc 1 and the 103-minute extended cut on Disc 2. Bonus features include audio commentary, deleted scenes, theatrical trailers, and featurettes.
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Invasion of The Body Snatchers – Retrospective Book Review

Jack Finney’s nifty 1954 novel has four screen adaptations to its credit (including the acknowledged 1956 classic), but the original text still stands as a fine work in its own right, worthy of being read by fans of the films and by genre enthusiasts in general. Numerous incidents have never made the transition from page to screen; more important, Finney’s writing brings the story alive in a way that no screen adaptation can ever capture.
The story is set in the 1970s but feels more appropriates to the era in which the novel was actually published. Miles Bennell is a small town doctor who patients begin to believe their family and friends are impostors, even though they act – laugh, talk, and smile – exactly like the originals. Miles suspects they are suffering from some kind of delusion and refers them to the local psychiatrist, but gradually he learns that Mill Valley – a small town above San Francisco – has been invaded by pods from outer space. These pods grow into duplicates of any organic matter in close proximity; when the original falls asleep, the pod steals its memories and takes its place, destroying its predecessor. Miles and his girlfriend Becky fight to expose the menace, but the conspiracy is too big for them. Fortunately, the pods give up and leave anyway; Miles theorizes that he and Becky were not alone: other people in other places fought, too, and the pods eventually decided to abandon the inhospitable planet Earth in favor of easier pickings. Read More

Laserblast: Inland Empire, Fracture, Vacancy

Unlike last week, which was thin on science-fiction, fantasy, and horror film DVD releases, today sees a veritable deluge. Only a handful are new titles; most are anniversary versions, collector’s editions, and/or box sets repackaging two or three previously available titles.
David Lynch’s INLAND EMPIRE is one of the most confounding films of the writer-director’s career, and that is truly saying something. The basic premise sounds like a fairly straight-forward mystery-horror film: Laura Dern plays an actress hired to play a role in the movie (directed by Jeremy Irons). It turns out that the project is a remake of a previous film that was never completed, due to mysterious mishaps. Is the film cursed? Will lightening strike twice? Are Dern and her fellow film-makers doomed to recreate the previous disaster? Read More

Laserblast: Disturbia & TMNT on home video

This is a busy week for home video, with lots of titles appearing on disc. Of course, quantity does not always equate with quality, but you’re bound to find something of interest among the DVDs below. There are only a couple of new titles, but several classics and/or cult films are showing up, repackaged in various ways to make them appealing to potential buyers.

First up is DISTURBIA, a somewhat mechanical retooling of REAR WINDOW, which managed to compensate for its derivative status with some decent characterization and performances. The film is available on DVD in a Widescreen Edition  (pictured above) and a Full Screen Edition, plus Blu-ray and HD DVD. Extras include: Read More

London After Midnight: Summer Shocks

The month of August means only one thing to me, my Film4 FrightFest event that has taken place over the last holiday weekend for the past eight years. This horror fantasy festival started small as an offshoot of my previous efforts Shock Around The Clock and Fantasm but has now grown into the UK’s biggest genre experience. The Odeon West End in the heart of London’s Leicester Square is where it all happens – five days of previews, premieres and presentations. Think a genre-focused Cannes on a smaller scale for what our ambitions are. Anyone interested can find the full line-up here

Alan Jones will be recording an audio commentary for the British DVD of HATCHET.

Hghlights include Juan Antonio Bayona’s wonderful THE ORPHANAGE, produced by Guillermo del Toro (the subject of my next book by the way, when we finally sit down and talk post his HELLBOY 2 commitments), Jonathan Levine’s retro grindhouse dazzler ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE, the unusual gore effort STORM WARNING (written by veteran Australian scripter Everett de Roche of PATRICK and ROADGAMES fame) and the quite brilliant WAZ, Stellan Skarsgard and Selma Blair giving amazing performances in Tom Shankland’s SE7EN riff.

We also are staging the World Premiere of Uwe Boll’s quite extraordinary slasher SEED. Like everyone else up until now I figured Boll a complete hack. But one of the main shocks of SEED is how well directed it is. Plus it contains what must be the torture-porn shock sequence of the year. (I hate that lazy phrase as much as anyone else, but it does fit here). Boll’s camera focuses on a female victim tied to a chair for over five minutes while masked maniac Seed hits her repeatedly around the head until nothing but a fleshy mush is left. As for the scenes with the imprisoned baby….SEED is going to cause many to re-evaluate Boll’s career and we have invited him over to introduce his film. I’m no boxer though and will stand well clear of any new challenge he may make!

Other Film4 FrightFest attendees promoting their anticipated 2008 releases are Neil Marshall with DOOMSDAY, Simon Hunter with MUTANT CHRONICLES and Paul Andrew Williams with THE COTTAGE. I covered the two latter films while they were in production for Fangoria and both look highly promising. MUTANT CHRONICLES will have been in post-production for two years come it’s Summer 2008 opening date mainly because the 23rd century ‘steam-punk’ setting of this sci-fi adventure thriller, based on Paradox Entertainment’s role-playing board game, is being created wholly on green screen using the same Viper Film Stream System David Fincher utilized for ZODIAC. It stores camera data digitally on D mags. The images are then registered at the visual effects houses ready for detailed electronic enhancement. Thomas Jane is the star of Hunter’s ‘FLASH GORDON meets DELICATESSEN’.

THE COTTAGE looks set to unleash a new iconic horror villain on the scene in the shape of The Farmer. Director Williams made a huge splash last year in Britain with the child prostitution thriller LONDON TO BRIGHTON and is bringing the same cutting edge to his self-penned script about bungling kidnappers entering the domain of a psycho killer. Andy Serkis. Reece Shearsmith, Brit sex bomb Jennifer Ellison and HELLRAISER’s Pinhead Doug Bradley (a Williams relative) are the main cast members in this vivid chiller that just missed the Toronto Film Festival Midnight Madness deadline. UK horror production has been at a record high over the past few years and I’ve also been covering Steven Sheil’s MUM AND DAD (THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE if directed by Mike Leigh), Anthony (WAXWORK, HELLRAISER III) Hickox’s return to the fear fold with the Hitchcock homage KNIFE EDGE and Sean Ellis’ THE BROKEN starring Lena (300) Heady haunted by her mirror image. My more high profile set reports have included THE GOLDEN COMPASS, INKHEART and AMUSEMENT. Next on my agenda will be what looks set to be the first title under the newly revived Hammer Horror brand, LESBIAN VAMPIRE KILLERS. Wonder if Ingrid Pitt is angling for a cameo?

A large part of my journalist life is now taken up by moderating DVD extra commentaries. I’m lucky in having done some well-reviewed ones amongst my Dario Argento output, like THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSYAL PLUMAGE. But my absolute favorite has to be the one I did recently with Oscar-winner Helen Mirren on the much-maligned Tinto Brass CALIGULA to be released soon by Image as a deluxe 4 disc boxed set. I’ve interviewed Mirren many times before before, most recently on INKHEART, and have always found her a delight. My admiration has quadrupled after her almost total recall on everything to do with the Bob Guccione produced Italian epic that became a cause celebre when he inter-cut hardcore porn into the extended running time four years after it was made in 1976.

The version we commented on was the cut overseen by UK broadcaster Mark Kermode that basically removed all the re-shot Penthouse Pet footage hewing it closer to fired Brass’ original vision. Mirren didn’t want to see any of the more outrageous inserts anyway and, at one point, covered her eyes during the head-severing torture machine scene in the gladiatorial arena. She had some tremendous anecdotes about co-stars Malcolm McDowell, Peter O’Toole and John Gielgud, writer Gore Vidal and Guccione and exploded many of the rumors that have since accumulated over the years.

Quite why Mirren was prepared to revisit such a scandalous time in her early career considering her pole position at the moment became crystal clear. She adores Brass, still keeps in touch with him and her four month salary from the movie meant she could buy her first London house giving her much needed financial security when she needed it most. Mirren really stepped up to the mark on this one making it the most enjoyable commentary experience I’ve had. 136 minutes is a long time to keep talking about any film but her wall-to-wall revelations made our session pass like lightning. Mirren is one classy lady and one who isn’t afraid to tell it like it is either. Look out for this.

In complete contrast I also recently moderated the US DVD commentary of THE BURNING, the first ever Miramax production that set the Weinstein brothers on their rise to Hollywood royalty. Director Tony Maylam was a prickly character and only wanted to talk about this one FRIDAY THE 13TH clone and nothing else about his interesting career. His prerogative of course, but I did try and convince him people would be interested in what he’d been up to for the last 25 years, especially his SPLIT SECOND problems. My argument cut no ice though, so admittedly highly interesting facts about the making of THE BURNING, was the sum total. At least he turned up unlike author Graham Masterton who completely forgot about our scheduled commentary for THE MANITOU. My next one is a live on-stage audience participation commentary for the UK DVD release of Adam Green’s HATCHET. I love Green, his new film SPIRAL is one of my current favorites, and I’m looking forward to doing this a lot.

I made sure Green was interviewed for ‘The Splat Pack’ documentary currently being produced by veteran DVD extra filmmaker Frank Woodward. When I first coined that phrase, in the UK magazine Total Film, I had no idea it would go the distance and enter popular culture. Now I’m seeing it mentioned in production notes for Alexandre Aja’s upcoming MIRROR! At least I’m not responsible for the ‘torture porn’ description. Quite how long The Splat Pack term will be used in the current anti-gore climate is debatable but Eli Roth and Neil Marshall have both told me they like being included. And most people have yet to see the best horror film of the year, Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo’s INSIDE that spills as much blood as Peter Jackson’s DEAD ALIVE in the tale of Beatrice Dalle fetus-stealer. That’s the one film to watch for – it closes Toronto – and I can’t wait to see it again in October at my annual jaunt to the world’s best fantasy festival (apart from my own that is), in Sitges.

JURASSIC PARK: Michael Crichton on Adapting his Novel to the Screen

The hungry T-Rex takes a bit out of the tour.
The hungry T-Rex shifts the paradigm a bit.

“Paradigm” was just another word for a model, but as scientists used it, the term meant something more, a world view. A larger way of seeing the world. Paradigm shifts were said to occur whenever science made a major change in its view of the world.
-Michael Crichton, JURASSIC PARK

In his novel Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton comes close – or so it would seem to a careless reader – to reworking the standard science fiction plot of portraying the havoc that erupts when scientists meddle in things they were not meant to experiment with. However, instead of telling us that there are some things man was not meant to know, JURASSIC PARK tells us there are things we cannot know. The plot of the disaster which engulfs the park is an illustration of the book’s theme: that there are limits to our ability to under¬stand and control the world and that science, whose premise is that we can understand and control everything, is an out¬dated system that needs to be replaced by a new paradigm.
Of course, that’s not what’s going to draw audiences to theatres this summer. People will come because they want to see dinosaurs roaring and rampaging across the big screen. And as a matter of fact, Crichton originally conceived his dinosaur-cloning story as a screenplay, minus the thematic subtext. “I had become interested in the notion of obtaining dinosaur DNA and cloning a dinosaur in 1983,” he recalled of his initial effort. “The script didn’t work, and I just waited to see if I could ever figure out how to make it work. It took quite a few years.
“It was a very different story,” said Crichton of the original script. “It was about the person who did the cloning, operating alone and in secret. It just wasn’t satisfactory. The real conclusion for me was that what you really wanted in a story like this was to have a sort of natural environment in which people and dinosaurs could be together. You wanted the thing that never happened in history: people in the forest and swamps at the same time as dinosaurs. Once that notion began to dictate how the story would proceed, then everything else fell into place, because there are certain things that I wanted to avoid, like the dinosaurs in New York City – that’s been done.”
Working with his new slant on the story, Crichton opted to write a novel. “I didn’t revise the script,” he said. “By the time I got around to doing it, there were other considerations. The most important is that it wasn’t clear that anyone would ever make this story into a movie, because it would be very expensive. So one way to get the story done was to write a book. I could do that.”
Despite the story’s origins as a screenplay, the novel ex¬pounds on its thematic material in depth, mostly through the character of Ian Malcolm, played by Jeff Goldblum in the film, a mathematician whose eponymous theory “the Malcolm Effect” predicts the failure of the park. Of course, this ma¬terial had to be condensed or deleted when the story came full circle to being a script again. “I feel very strongly that books should be the best books they can be, and you should not worry about what the movie will do,” Crichton said of his uncinematic approach, which makes the novel stand up as a work in its own right rather than a stepping stone to a film deal. “In movies, a little bit of that kind of dialogue goes a long way. A movie like JURASSIC PARK is not the format to have extended discussions on the scientific paradigm.”
Crichton did several initial screenplay drafts for Spielberg, retaining the basics of his novel in condensed form. “I think everyone’s feeling was they liked the book in its overall shape and structure, and they wanted to keep that. So the question was how to get it on film since there are some parts – but not a tremendous number of parts – where it’s clear that you can just lift it out and the structure remains. It was a question of paring down and trying to keep things from the original, simplifying.”
Further describing the adaptation process, Crichton went on to note that, “It’s a fairly long book, and the script can only have somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of the content. So what you’re really trying to do is make a sort of short story that reproduces the quality of the novel and has all the big scenes retained and has the logical flow that appears in the much longer and more extended argument.
“A similar issue has to do with what you call `visceral things,”‘ said the author-adapter. “You can have gory descriptions in a book, because everyone is their own projectionist. I’ve al¬ways found it unwise to do that in a movie, because it throws you out of the movie. As soon as you see guts, you immediately think, `Where did they get them? How did they do it?’ You do not believe for a moment that that’s actually happening. Since I see it as an insoluble problem to present viscera, the movie wisely doesn’t do that. I also think the explicitness of the violence serves a different purpose [in the book]. You don’t have certain advantages a movie has, so in a way the violence is a way to say, `These are real dinosaurs, and take them seriously, 0 Reader.’ In the movie, if they look wonderful, then you take them seriously; you don’t have to see them tear people open. Your decision about taking them seriously is based on other things, so [graphic violence is] unnecessary.
In the adapting process, Crichton was forced to drop several scenes he would like to have retained, but his previous experience as a screenwriter taught him to be philosophical about the process. Noted Crichton, “Scenes went for all kinds of reasons: budget reasons, practical reasons, in the sense that they were difficult to do; they went out of the belief that they were repetitive in some way. But I think the primary thing that drives something like this is budget. You have to stop somewhere and where you stop, people will say, `Oh, that was my favorite scene and it’s not in.”‘

Although authors sometimes adapt their own novels to the screen in order to try to protect their work from hampering filmmakers, this was not Crichton’s intention; in fact, he did not initially intend to do the adaptation himself. “I didn’t have it in my mind to do the script, but Steven said, `We really need somebody to pare this thing down into some kind of manageable shape so we know what to build and it has to happen fast.’ I said, “I do have the advantage of having tried many versions of this, so I know what works; I’ll whack it down. Then when you want to do your character polishes, get somebody else.’ I really wasn’t able to stay with the project for three years; I had other things to do. I really didn’t want to do the script; I had a lot of confi¬dence in Spielberg.
“There are disadvantages to having the original writer,” continued Crichton. “People think writers fall in love with their own words. I don’t have any sense of that at all. What’s difficult for me is that in doing a story like this, you do several drafts which change the story dramatically from one to another – at least that was what happened in this book. So you’ve rethought it several times; now you have to rethink it again for a movie, and it’s just hard to re¬think it too many times. It’s hard to take the same elements, toss them up in the air and re¬arrange them again and again and again.”
Crichton is confident that those elements have been re¬arranged into a satisfactory order. “I think it’s going to be a pretty amazing movie,” he suggested enthusiastically. “I think it’s going to have stuff in it that people will be floored by – they are not going to believe what they see. That’s always nice.”

Copyright 1993 by Steve Biodrowski. This article orignally appeared in Cinefantastique Volume 24 Number 2 August 1993.