Lord of the Rings Trilogy Blu-ray Set: CFQ Laserblast Podcast 2:24.2

LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy  blu-ray set

It’s the RETURN OF THE KING – along with THE TWO TOWERS and THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING – on this week’s episode of the Cinefantastique Laserblast Podcast. Headlining Tuesday, June 28’s horror, fantasy, and science fiction released on home video is the new Extended Edition Blu-ray box set of LORD OF THE RINGS: THE MOTION PICTURE TRILOGY. Lawrence French, Dan Persons, and Steve Biodrowski discuss the wisdom of picking up the new set, when all of the old bonus features are once again presented on DVD (the Blu-ray discs being reserved for the feature films).
Also on the turntable this week: SEASON OF THE WITCH, the horror film starring Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman; THE NESTING and ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST, low-budget horror from the early 1980s; a recommendation for COWBOY BEBOP: THE MOVIE; and another look at THE RESIDENT, the direct-to-video thriller from Hammer Films, starring Hilary Swank.


Your Highness Review

Your-Highness-posterCome, my friends, gather ye ‘round as I share my story. It is a sad tale, of a film with so much lost potential, of powerful actors and directors sacrificing themselves for the sake of a few cheap laughs, of an audience that might have cared once… But do not fear, for the ending is a happy one: I escaped this treacherous labyrinth with only a flesh wound.

Oh so long ago (last weekend) in a land far, far away (everywhere in the United States), the magical director David Gordon Green’s YOUR HIGHNESS (2011) opened after much anticipation in the kingdom. Starring Danny McBride as the slovenly, worthless Prince Thadeous and James Franco as his heroic brother Fabious, Green’s film looked to pick up where this trio’s previous collaboration, 2008’s PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, left off. But it was not to be. Instead, working from a script by McBride and Ben Best, YOUR HIGHNESS abandons laconic brilliance and inspired improvisation for consistently dull frat-boy humor and a lot of gratuitous nudity.

When Fabious’s virgin fiancé Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel, disastrously wasted) is kidnapped by the evil warlock Leezar (Justin Theroux), the two royal brothers set off on a quest to rescue her. In an adventure that is part Don Quixote and part Lord of The Rings, the duo come to encounter a few obstacles that make me blush just to mention them, and not in a good way. I will not divulge too many of YOUR HIGHNESS’s laughs, because there are precious few, but suffice it to say that such creatures as a jellyfish-like gay Sorcerer and a well-hung minotaur are among them.

The fantasy aspects are not well conceived (many characters’ names end in “-ious” and the only evidence we have for this land being someplace other than Camelot are the two moons in the sky), and no, playing these plot devices for laughs does not create high comedy.

On the other hand, the production aspects are too expertly orchestrated: Tim Orr’s cinematography is nothing if not majestic, costume design is detailed and strong, and even the sets lend the story a feeling of whimsy much ignored by the script.  I was particularly impressed with certain visual effects, such as when a courtly slave named Julie speaks into a fire or when bolts of green light shoot down from the moon.

But here is where this review must get a bit more serious. Some of Green’s earlier films have been poetry in motion, enchanting blends of surrealist spectacle and jaded wisdom. Even PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, which took a very different route than his prior dramatic films, was impressive – not only was James Franco’s performance hysterical and precise, but the film was simply clever. Not so with YOUR HIGHNESS, which squanders not only the wide talents of the Oscar-nominated Franco and the crass McBride, but also performances from such respectable actors as Deschanel, Charles Dance, Toby Jones, and worst of all, Natalie Portman.

Portman just won a well-deserved Oscar, and while this film was deep into post-production before she was even nominated, the question must be posed: Why this film? Portman’s character Isabel (clever, I know) is one of the smallest roles in terms of screen time, and she spends much of it diving half-nude into pools, walking in on Thadeous masturbating, or posing very still for the camera. The role is effectively chauvinistic, and while that’s not an uncommon occurrence in movies, it seems nearly criminal to have cast such a respected and talented actress for it.

YOUR HIGHNESS is highly disappointing. I trusted David Gordon Green to make good films. I trusted Franco, Portman, McBride, and Deschanel to choose their projects a bit more carefully, or at least to go down on different, isolated ships. Although this film does not come straight from “Apatown”, it bears many qualities of a script tossed into Judd Apatow’s trash bin, then pulled out by a janitor and leaked to McBride & Best. Was this perhaps intended to smack big producers who demanded something more high concept in the face? Were the filmmakers and cast possibly working under the delusion I admit to sharing: that they had the Midas touch? What a letdown.

  • Directed by: David Gordon Green
  • Written by: Danny McBride & Ben Best
  • Thadeous – Danny McBride
  • Fabious – James Franco
  • Isabel – Natalie Portman
  • Leezar – Justin Theroux
  • Belladonna – Zooey Deschanel
  • Julie – Toby Jones
  • Courtney – Rasmus Hardiker
  • King Tallious – Charles Dance
  • Original Music by: Steve Jablonsky
  • Cinematography by: Tim Orr

Laserblast, September 14: Prince of Persia, Fringe, The Twilight Zone


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click to purchase

A wide variety of horror, fantasy, and science fiction titles arrive in stores on Tuesday, September 14: something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blu… (ray, that is). Walt Disney Video offers PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME in three formats: DVD, Blu-ray, and a 3-disc combo back with both formats, plus a digital copy. The bonus features are parceled out in a way that makes the latter the only complete edition: the DVD includes the behind-the-scenes featurette “An Unseen World: Making Prince of Persia”; the Blu-ray contains the featurette and a deleted scene, “The Banquet: Garsiv Presents Heads”; and the combo pack includes all of the DVD and Blu-ray features, plus “CineEsplore: The Sands of Time,” interactive feature that allows you to “take control of the dagger and use it to unlock secrets behind your favorite scenes! Turn back time and uncover over 40 spellbinding segments – including ‘Walking Up Walls,’ ‘Filming in Morocco,’ and ‘Ostrich Jockey Tryouts’.'”
The only other new title arriving this week is FRINGE: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON, which shows up on DVD and Blu-ray. Bonus features include: four audio commentaries; The Mythology of Fringe; sidebar analysis on six episodes; In the Lab with John Noble and Rob Smith; a gag reel; unaired scenes; and “The Unearthed Episode,” starring Kirk Acevedo as Charlie.
On the 50th anniversary of its first appearance on network airwaves, Rod Serling’s classic television show gets the Blu-ray treatment with THE TWILIGHT ZONE: SEASON ONE. The multi-disc set will be packed with extras: audio commentaries from surviving cast members (Earl Holliman, Martin Landau, Rod Taylor, Kevin McCarthy, etc); vintage audio recollections with Burgess Meredtih, Anne Francis, Richard Matheson, and more; the unaired pilot version of “Where is Everybody?” Billed as new for this edition are audio commentaries with film historians and filmmakers (Marc Scott Zicree, Gary Gerani, director Ted Post, etc); a never-before released pilot “The Tiem Element,” in high-def; a TALES OF TOMORROW episode titled “What You Need” (which was also a TWILIGHT ZONE episode); a vintage audio interview with director of photograph George T. Clemens; 13 radio dramas; and 34 isolated music scores by Bernard Herrmann, Jerry Goldsmith, and others.
Other oldies coming out on Blu-ray and/or special edition DVDs include the following:

  • Walt Disney’s THE BLACK CAULDRON gets a 25 Anniversary Special Edition DVD release. Only two new extras have been added that were not on the previous DVD: an deleted scene and a game.
  • CARRIE, the 1976 horror hit directed by Brian DePalma and based on Stephen King’s first novel, arrives in a new DVD-Blu-ray combo pack.
  • JACOB’S LADDER gets another DVD re-issue.
  • THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985) is resurrected in a Collector’s Edition. There is a two-disc DVD and a two-disc combo pack with Blu-ray and DVD.
  • STARCRASH, the Italian, 1979 STAR WARS rip-off starring Caroline Munro and Marjoe Gortner, arrives on Blu-ray and DVD as part of the Roger Corman Cult Classics line.

And if you’re looking for laughs, RiffTrax offers two DVD collections of short subjects: RIFFTRAX: SHORTS-A-POPPIN’ and RIFFTRAX: PLAYS WITH THEIR SHORTS.

Peter Jackson will direct Hobbit films

Mike Fleming of Deadline New York reports that, despite initial denials, Peter Jackson will in fact direct the two films based on THE HOBBIT, J.R.R. Tolkien’s predecessor to THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Every since Guillermo Del Toro left the director’s chair, speculation among the fan community – and Hollywood in general – has been rife with rumored replacements, including Sam Raimi, David Yates, and Neil Blomkamp (whose DISTRICT 9 Jackson produced).
Jackson was not initially scheduled to direct. He was perhaps burnt out after the years spent working on the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy; there was also bad blood between him and New Line exec Robert Shaye, over accounting of the profits of those blockbuster hits. Del Toro was brought on but recently bowed out when the financial problems of MGM seemed likely to delay the start date. Fans hoped that Jackson would take over, but that initially did not seem a likely possibility.
In his article, Fleming points out that, although several directors angled for the job, no offers were made. Fleming theorizes this indicates that Jackson was hoping to take the gig all along but first had to extricate himself from other commitments. Fleming’s article quotes no one directly, citing only “trusted sources.”
Needless to say, the fan community is ecstatic. I’m not so sure. Jackson’s Tolkien trilogy started off strong with LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, but it wore down over the course of LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS and LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING. I lost count of the number of times our heroes battled impossible odds against certain death, only to emerge victorious, and the decision to film two HOBBIT prequels sounds less like an artistic decision than an accounting one, designed to milk every last penny from the franchise. There is a good movie to be made from Tolkien’s book, and Jackson may even be the one to do it; I just hope he’s had enough time away from Middle Earth to recharge his batteries.

The Hobbit Coming in 2013?

Gandalf The Grey in the Lord of The Rings
Gandalf The Grey in the Lord of The Rings

Following Peter Jackon’s previous recap on highly anticipated fantasy prequel, THE HOBBIT, comes a new press release from IMAX.com which states the film is due for release in 2013. A lot could happen between now and then but it’s a good signal that the troubled production is finally getting closer to our screens.

THE HOBBIT, an two-part adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s tale which leads up to the events depicted in the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, still doesn’t have a greenlight due to the ongoing financial issues faced by MGM. However, since this press release is as official as they come it seems as if Warner Bros. are confident THE HOBBIT will overcome these problems as it states a December 2013 release date projected for the film.
The press release also mentions other big movies, with release dates for Zack Snyder’s (WATCHMEN, 300) LEGENDS OF THE GUARDIAN: THE OWLS OF GA’HOOLE (September this year) and the two final HARRY POTTER films (November this year and July next year respectively). Additionally BATMAN 3 and the new SUPERMAN also get a mention, but have no release dates attached.
This is good news for Tolkien fans around the globe but shouldn’t be read as the gospel; there’s still no greenlight for the project and there’s a lot of time between now 2013 in which for things to go wrong. Fingers crossed people…

Laserblast DVD & Blu-ray, April 6: Lord of the Rings, Battlestar Galactica, Hammer Icons of Suspense

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The month of April blasts off in a big way for fans of horror, fantasy, and science fiction films, with several high-profile titles competing for shelf space at your local home video retailer. The 60-foot gorilla in this case is a 9-disc Blu-ray box set titles THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE MOTION PICTURE TRILOGY (Theatrical Editions). Each film gets three discs: one containing the film and trailers; one loaded with bonus features; and one containing a digital copy of the movie for download to your PC or iPod. At a glance, the bonus features seem to replicate those available on the previous DVD releases of the theatrical versions (the Houghton Mifflin In-Store Special, the “May It Be” music video, etc). No doubt a Blu-ray box set of the extended editions cannot be far behind, with a different set of bonus materials.
As if cashing in on Peter Jackson trilogy’s box set release, the 1978 animated film from Ralph Bakshi is also being released on home video, in both the Blu-ray and DVD formats. Although most people were pretty down on this movie when it came out – the response was so bad that Bakshi never completed the intended sequel, leaving the story unfinished – I have a certain fondness. And truth be told, it did influence Jackson’s live-action version to at least a small degree.
And speaking of cashing in, Wes Craven’s 1984 version of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET gets a Blu-ray release this week, in time to beat the remake’s arrival in theatres on April 30. I’m not sure the shadowy, grainy photography of the film benefits tremendously from the Blu-ray format, but this is a genre classic and deserves to be in every serious horror fan’s collection. The remake has a lot to live up to. NOTE: Although originally announced for an April 6 date, this NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET Blu-ray disc was pushed back to April 13.
As for the rest, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: THE COMPLETE SERIES arrives on BLu-ray and DVD, along with the second season on Blu-ray. THE TERMINATOR, Tim Burton’s PLANET OF THE APES, and BLOOD TIES: THE COMPLETE SERIES get Blu-ray releases. And a little direct-to-video effort titled HIGH PLAINS INVADERS, starring James Marsters, arrives on DVD; sounds like a combo of Western and Sci Fi, with a band of survivors fending off “uranium-based insectoid creatures” in a church.
UPDATE: The Hammer Icons of Suspense DVD set was a last-minute addition to this week’s home video releases. Although Hammer was most known for Gothic horror films, they occasionally dabbled in contemporary suspense pictures during the early ’60s. The titles here include STOP ME BEFORE I KILL; CASH ON DEMAND; THE SNORKEL; MANIAC; NEVER TAKE CANDY FROM A STRANGER; and THESE ARE THE DAMNED. The last of these is a bit out of place in this set: it’s a down-beat combination of science fiction, melodrama, and juvenile delinquent genres, about radioactive children kept in an underground secret laboratory as part of a secret government program; directed by the renowned Joseph Losey, it is one of Hammer’s best films.

The Hobbit Has Been Delayed Yet Again

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Yes, it’s a sad day for Tolkien lovers everywhere as according to a variety of sources the eagerly awaited film adaptation of THE HOBBIT has been delayed further still. Over at The Playlist they’ve compiled various pieces of information suggesting the projected 2011 release date for the first half of the film (THE HOBBIT is being split into two films, just like HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HOLLOWS) won’t be happening.
First off, Andy Serkis was queried by Digital Spy as to whether the films will start shooting soon. He had this to say,

It is, apparently! At some point towards the end of this year, I expect it’ll start kicking off.

Additionally, and contrary to it’s earlier suggestion that THE HOBBIT would start shooting in July, Sir Ian McKellen’s website now states that it’ll start shooting, “at a time to be announced”. If this were not enough, Tolkien fansite The One Ring are reporting troubling financial struggles within the studio behind the films, MGM, which are causing a delay in production.
THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy was a masterful piece of storytelling from director Peter Jackson (THE LOVELY BONES, THE FRIGHTENERS) and so a prequel overseen by the same visionary director, not to mention several returning cast members, is a very exciting prospect. Guillermo del Toro (PAN’S LABYRINTH, HELLBOY) is set to direct the two films and has more than enough experience to handle to the job so it’s such a shame to see this project be delayed further than it already has been (THE HOBBIT was originally meant to be on screens this year).

McKellen says Hobbit to start filming in July

Recycling information that actor Ian McKellen (Gandalf in LORD OF THE RINGS) posted on his website, the Bangkok Post reports that THE HOBBIT will begin shooting inNew Zealand this July.

“Casting in Los Angeles, New York City and London has started,” said the British actor, who will again play the wizard Gandalf.”The script too proceeds. The first draft is crammed with old and new friends, again on a quest in Middle Earth.”

Two prequels are planned, based on J.R.R. Tolkein’s nove The Hobbit. Director Guillermo Del Toro (PAN’S LABYRINTH) will direct both simulataneously.

Supernal Dreams: Elijah Wood on "The Two Towers"

wood-elijah-as-frodo.jpgOne of the great joys about writing for Cinefantastique, was to find that actors like Elijah Wood and directors like Peter Jackson actually enjoyed talking to you! It was thanks to the very good reputation CFQ enjoyed in the biz. So we never had very much difficulty in convincing most fantasy filmmakers to speak with us (with the major exceptions of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.) It was more a case of convincing the studio publicists, who would rather get exposure in The New York Times than in CFQ.
But a young actor like Elijah Wood, was quite happy to talk in detail about his work on Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers to CFQ, so here is part one of my long interview with the amazing Hobbit at the center of the Lord of the Rings saga, Mr. Frodo Baggins… Continue reading “Supernal Dreams: Elijah Wood on "The Two Towers"”

Peter Jackson to produce THE HOBBIT for New Line and MGM

New Line Cinema announced today that they have reached a deal with Peter Jackson and MGM to make two films from  J. R. R. Tolkien’s THE HOBBIT.  
However, it must be regarded as a major disappointment that Jackson, who had earlier indicated his strong desire to direct THE HOBBIT, will not actually helm either of the planned movies.   Robert Shaye, the head of New Line Cinema, and Peter Jackson had been involved in a very public feud over the profits that were supposedly owed  Jackson from THE LORD OF THE RINGS  films, with Jackson suing New Line to get a look at their accounting of the profits. 
For his part, Robert Shaye bitterly denounced Jackson, noting he was paid millions of dollars, and saying he would never direct THE HOBBIT as long as he was in charge of New Line.  It now appears by offering Jackson the chance to executive produce the films, instead of directing them, Shaye will be keeping his word.  For his part, Jackson will get to exercise some degree of control over how THE HOBBIT is made, and be able to provide a steady stream of work for his WETA visual effects companies. 
Continue reading “Peter Jackson to produce THE HOBBIT for New Line and MGM”