Laserblast: Silence of the Lambs, Wonder Woman, Watchmen & More

So, what’s cooking with this week’s DVD and Blu-ray releases?
The Silence of the Lambs (MGM/UA Blu-Ray)
In 1992, Silence of the Lambs was became one of the few films with heavy horror elements to not just win an Oscar, but to sweep the top 5 categories (Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, and Sceenplay) for only the 3rd time in history. Based on Thomas Harris’ second novel dealing with the brilliant and only occasionally imprisoned serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter, director Jonathan Demme dug back to his exploitation roots and crafted a fiercely intelligent, truly frightening, and almost unbearably suspenseful film. The Blu-Ray release replicates most of the extras that appeared on MGM’s previous DVD editions, though the excellent commentary track done by the principals for the Criterion disc is still MIA. And though we haven’t had the opportunity to check the quality first hand, MGM has opted to use an older MPEG-2 encode for the Blu-Ray – a surprisingly cheap decision for a valuable property.
Wonder Woman (Warner Bros DVD & Blu-Ray)
In recent years, Warner Bros’ animation department has been turning out superb feature length stories based on the better-known DC characters (including Justice League: New Frontiers, one of the very best that we’ve ever seen) and this week they add Wonder Woman to the list with a (somewhat) new take on her origin story. While we will admit to both a schoolboy bias against girl superheroes – we would have bought She-Hulk before Wonder Woman, and we never bought She-Hulk – and the awkward attempts to “macho” them up with Xena-style posturing. But given Warner’s recent track record, we’ll be pleased to give it a shot. Both the 2 disc and Blu-Ray set come with the expected extras, including 4 episodes from the animated series.
Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic (Warner Bros DVD & Blu-Ray)
For once, the advertising ballyhoo for a major motion picture is telling the truth – Watchmen actually is the Greatest Graphic Novel of our time, and the early word on Zack Snyder’s adaptation is very encouraging. Watchmen is a densely packed, multilayered epic, and the fact that Snyder was able to get a studio to sign off on a nearly 3 hour, R-rated comic adaptation based on source material that few outside of rabid fans had ever heard of, has him deserving of high praise by our estimation. Warner Bros is going to be anxious to begin getting a return on its large cash outlay, and the first tie-in release arrives this week – Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic – though it’s far less revolutionary than it sounds. Essentially, this 6 hour, 12 episode serial uses the original artwork to create a slick version of the old Power Records LPs where you would read along with a large format comic while the record played in the background. As the camera slowly pans around each frame, there is minor movement in the backgrounds and characters drift rigidly into and out of the frame (no attempt at animating or syncing lip movements). The major downside is the presence of only a single male narrator (Tom Stechschulte, who does about as well with the material as is possible under the circumstances) which makes certain passages rather awkward, but this is unlikely to bother anyone with a few hours of audio book experience under their belt. The good news is that the presentation is complete, whereas the necessities of a feature film have dictated the removal of certain material (including the Tales of the Black Freighter comic within-a-comic) and the alterations of others (the cataclysmic event that ended the book has been altered significantly), adding value to this project.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Sony DVD)
We haven’t seen this television adaptation of Victor Hugo’s tragic masterpiece, which aired in 1982 under the Hallmark Hall of Fame banner, but a superior British cast virtually guarantees a better-than-average level of competence in the acting department. Anthony Hopkins plays the title role, with Lesley-Anne Down as Esmeralda and E ticket support by John Gielgud, Derek Jacobi, Robert Powell, and a rare appearance by Kenny Baker outside of an R2-D2 canister. RADA-trained talent notwithstanding, the show takes the same liberties with Hugo’s novel as most adaptations have, particularly with the author’s beautiful, heartbreaking ending.
The Wild Man of the Navidad
One of the nicest surprises at last year’s Texas Frightmare convention was catching a screening of the low budget The Wild Man of the Navidad, a smart, spry independent with talent that reaches far beyond its meager budget. Written and directed by Texans Justin Meeks and Duane Graves, the show is an obvious labor of love, with help from original Texas Chainsaw Massacre scribe Kim Henkel, who met the pair as students in his screenwriting class. The purportedly true story is based on the local legend of a Bigfoot-type creature that terrorizes an area of Texas near the Navidad River, culled from the journals of one Dale S. Rogers. The storyline is nothing new; Charles B. Pierce – Arkansas’ answer to Roger Corman – examined similar territory in The Legend of Boggy Creek, a ’70s drive-in staple that was nothing more than a southern-fried take on the Bigfoot legend. Pierce’s masterstroke was presenting the material as fact and filming the movie like a documentary, a tactic which christened an entirely new genre in American film that looms large in the hearts of anyone who spent their formative years glued to their TV sets, scanning the channels on weekend afternoons for a cryptodocu© throughout the 70s (the genre’s apex was, of course, The Mysterious Monsters, a 1976 show hosted by Peter Graves, who supplied more than the requisite gravitas).
After several hours were spent being bludgeoned by a succession of wretched, homemade gore-porn (we remember a particularly vile show entitled Slaughter House that practically gave itself a hernia in trying to be “extreme” but was little more than 90min of videotaped misogyny), Wild Man really felt like a breath of fresh air. Directors Meeks and Graves tip their hand in the opening moments which feature credits done in that classic vintage font playing over burnt, sepia tone photography that brings to mind a feature film version of In Search of… If the filmmakers had stuck to the docudrama format, the show might have been a minor classic; unfortunately, too much time is spent getting involved in the various character subplots, which lead to extended sequences that are beyond the the capabilities of the largely non-professional cast, and a screenplay that strains to include unnecessary information. What does last through the running time, however, is the best sort of “hey, gang, let’s make a movie!” ethic that goes a long way in encouraging the viewer to overlook certain faults. The creature design would be impressive even in a much larger-budgeted show, particularly in moments where the ‘wild man’ costume and makeup is exposed in harsh daylight conditions – a challenge that most films of this variety scrupulously avoid. And while we understand the need from a marketing standpoint for a certain level of violence in a low-budget horror film, Wild Man would be well served by toning down the onscreen bloodshed – moments of which reach Herschel Gordon Lewis proportions – and taking a page from the G-rated Boggy Creek.
Since seeing the film a year ago in Dallas, it moved on to the Tribeca Film Festival, and a round of re-editing by the directors. I can’t say what changes have been made to the film, but with a few trims here and there (particularly a subplot that culminates in an ugly moment involving the molestation of a wheelchair bound woman that truly felt out of place) Wild Man of the Navidad could make for a splendid little film. We recently received an email from Justin Meeks informing us that the film was now available for On-Demand rental from numerous cable providers, including Time Warner, or from stations like IFC On Demand. As of this writing, the film is unavailable on DVD, so at present this is the only way to see it. It’s a good chance to support actual independent filmmakers that went a good deal against the current grain of horror cinema and went for something different.
Also out this week:

  • Fans of Wong Kar Wai will want to rush out and purchase the DVD or Blu-ray disc of ASHES OF TIME REDUX, his 2008 re-edit of his 1994 release. Bonus features include a trailer, a short making-of documentary, and an extended Q&A session with Wai, who discusses the reasons for re-fashioning the movie.
  • There is a double bill release of STARGATE: THE ARK OF TRUTH and STARGATE: CONTINUUM on DVD and Blu-ray.
  • A half-dozen old DR. WHO titles from the Tom Baker era (1974-1981) hit stores in new DVD editions (many of them having been previously released).

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