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All reviews - Movies (51) - DVDs (43) - Books (7)

Krull (1983) review

Posted : 5 years, 5 months ago on 5 February 2013 10:56 (A review of Krull (1983))

More Christmas Panto than Star Wars with swords and sorcery

At one point called The Dragons of Krull until someone noticed that they'd written the dragons out in one of the early draft screenplays, this 1983 underachiever was the end result of Columbia's desire for a big fantasy film - any fantasy film - to compete in the Star Wars stakes: the story came later, and came made to measure.

The result is a pic'n'mix of several genres, from swashbuckler to sci-fi as Ken Marshall's Prince must rescue his Princess (Lysette Anthony, dubbed, although on past form this is no great hardship) from the alien Slayers who have invaded his world. The notion of a medieval society literally fighting an enemy armed with scientific weapons with swords and sorcery is intriguing, but nothing here does it justice - where Lucas established an entire credible universe for Star Wars, we know nothing about this world: it exists purely for the purposes of the story.

This is more of a Christmas panto than anything else, with dialogue to match, although at least the latter improves when Marshall teams up with Alun Armstrong's outlaw band that includes Liam Neeson, a cockney Robbie Coltrane (looking all cloned up for a night in a gaybar) and even Eastenders Todd Carty.

Stephen Grimes' production design comes into its own with the organically designed Black Fortress, although his sets always look like sets (everything is peachy clean - even the swamps), leaving the paradox of an obviously very expensive film that still manages to look a bit cheap, for which Peter Suschitzky's photography must take much of the blame. Perfect on the exteriors, he consistently proves unable to match them with the interiors. Even worse, the camera feels like it is often in the wrong place (courtesy of director Peter Yates), and the editor seems more interested in what's going on in the sidelines than in the action itself, particularly in the fight in the swamp where the last Slayers are despatched in the background with the minimum of interest.

Not all is lost, however. There is one terrific sequence when Freddie Jones' Obi-Wan substitute must venture into a giant spider web to find out the location of the Slayer's Black Fortress from his long abandoned lover, Francesca Annis' Widow of the Web. There's heart, soul and a painful sense of lost opportunity to the scene that shines through, a magical moment that defies the lack of inspiration in the surrounding scenes and Freddie Jones' unrestrained ham (elsewhere his performance is pure "Can you hear me at the back, mother?" grandstanding) to create something quite touching. Similarly, Bernard Bresslaw's Cyclops, doomed to know the moment of his death from birth, benefits from a dignified, sincere performance that makes more of his scenes than they deserve. James Horner's score is one of the film's greatest strengths too, but the mix tends to lose much of it - a shame, because it is possibly his best work to date.

Columbia's DVD boasts a goodwidescreen transfer and a good selection of extras - audio commentary by Peter Yates, Ray Lovejoy, Ken Marshall and Lysette Anthony, Cinefantastique article commentary, documentary Journey to Krull, Marvel comic book adaptation with music and dialogue extracts, 4 stills galleries, and trailer.

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"It's a complete and utter disaster."

Posted : 5 years, 5 months ago on 4 February 2013 04:43 (A review of The People That Time Forgot)

Before Luke Skywalker, there was Doug McClure... His John Dark-Kevin Connor fantasy adventures were a mainstay of Summer holiday movies in the days before Star Wars: they weren't masterpieces, they didn't boast state-of-the-art special effects, but they were exactly what an audience of kids wanted from a film back in the mid 70s. Except for this one, which has always been regarded a bit like the dotty relation nobody ever talks about, and not without good reason.

Despite the success of their first two Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptations, The Land That Time Forgot and At the Earth's Core, The People That Time Forgot was barely released, and it's not hard to see why. Combining the last two novels of Burroughs Caprona/Caspak trilogy and removing almost everything of interest from them, it was filmed on the cheap and looks it. This time round there are few dinosaurs, glove puppet or otherwise, and, either to keep the budget down or because they were too similar to the evil Mahars in At the Earth's Core, the flying dinosaur/human hybrids of the last novel have been replaced by a tribe of human sacrificing volcano worshipping samurai. With McClure reduced to a cameo, the film focuses on the rescue mission to the lost island of Caprona led by Patrick Wayne, Sarah Douglas and Thorley Walters but apart from Dana Gillespie's spectacular cleavage and an okay score from John Scott, there's not much to recommend it as it drags on forever to little effect. Unlike the first film there are no ideas, no plot, no sense of continuity with the original film, just the feeling of an unwelcome contractual obligation that everyone wants to get over as quickly and inexpensively as possible. Failing even to work on the most elementary kids matinee show level and with no fun to be had, this one feels like hard work to get to the end.

MGM's DVD offers an okay widescreen transfer with a trailer the only extra, though the DVD is apparently missing one brief sequence.

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Burroughs by name, burrows by nature...

Posted : 5 years, 5 months ago on 4 February 2013 04:41 (A review of At the Earth's Core)

Before Luke Skywalker, there was Doug McClure... His John Dark-Kevin Connor fantasy adventures were a mainstay of Summer holiday movies in the days before Star Wars: they weren't masterpieces, they didn't boast state-of-the-art special effects, but they were exactly what an audience of kids wanted from a film back in the mid 70s.

At the Earth's Core is by far the most enjoyable of the bunch, catching just the right tone for the appropriately named Burroughs' pulp adventure about Victorian inventor Peter Cushing and the inevitable Doug McClure ending up in the underground world of Pelucidar and battling its evil telepathic fighting dinosaurs. This time the puppets are gone in favor of men in monster suits, which is a lot more fun if you're willing to suspend your disbelief, and if you're not there's always Caroline Munro's cleavage to look at. Aside from what may well be Peter Cushing's worst performance, an irritating but dottier rehash of his movie Dr Who ("You can't mesmerize me, I'm British!"), it's easily the best of the John Dark-Kevin Connor-Doug McClure fantasy adventures, surprisingly well directed and boasting an atmospheric use of color. Never especially good at exterior scenes, Alan Hume's photography gains immensely from the control a studio set gives him (the film was shot entirely on soundstages) to paint a luridly vivid world worthy of a pulp novel cover. Not high art but definitely great Saturday matinee fun.

Cinema Club's deleted original UK DVD boasts a decent but not outstanding widescreen print with UK theatrical trailer and stills gallery, but these have been dropped for StudioCanal'sa 2012 rerelease. The US DVD's only extra is the US trailer - which sells it as a horror film! - but the film has a very good widescreen transfer, although there is briefly a slight tramline in one scene at the end. The US DVD can also be found double-billed with War-Gods of the Deep/City Beneath the Sea.

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John Carter [Region Free] review

Posted : 5 years, 5 months ago on 4 February 2013 04:38 (A review of John Carter [Region Free])

Not terrible, but too bogged down in exposition and clumsy storytelling to be enough fun

Fanboys may love to blame the marketing or the title change or even an elaborate conspiracy by Disney to sabotage their own massively expensive film for John Carter - formerly John Carter of Mars - becoming the biggest money loser of all time, but Andrew Stanton's very loose reworking of Edgar Rice Boroughs' books has plenty of more fundamental problems that turned a potential franchise into a $200m loss on its theatrical run. The twin perils of poor casting and lumpy storytelling for a start. Stanton never made much secret of the fact he didn't think Burroughs' influential pulp novels were that good and made huge changes not just to the plot, not least introducing a radically reworked version of the villains from the second novel into the film, but also to the central character, turning him from a heroic adventurer to a bad tempered, moping gold-hungry prospector so he can have more of an emotional journey before becoming the saviour of Barsoom, as the locals call Mars. The kind of thing that Harrison Ford could have done in his sleep back in the 80s before he settled into his grumpy old man routine, it could have worked with a genuinely charismatic lead, but Tyler Kitsch ain't it, sulking and growling his way though the first half of the film as the script requires without ever making you give a damn about him.

Not that he's the only one who feels wrong - the actor playing Burroughs in one of the film's multiple framing scenes and the cavalry officer who tries to press Carter into service against the Apaches in what feels like the third opening of the picture grate more than somewhat, and you suspect that they're not getting much help from behind the camera. Stanton's direction doesn't help keep things moving either. It's not always that his ideas are all bad, more that some of them just don't work, partially because of the constant stop/start rhythm of the film, partially because the character doesn't win you over and you tend to notice the joins more because of it. Even when the film finally does promise to burst into action, it's either uninspiringly handled or, in the case of the Tharks' attack on the city that oh so very briefly promises to turn into Lawrence of Arabia with aliens, over in a few shots because a minute of thousands of CGi creatures is much more expensive to shoot even on a $250m budget than several minutes of thousands of real Arabs on real camels.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that in the hundred years since the books were published, they've been strip-mined by everyone from George Lucas and Frank Herbert to James Cameron, so that there's so little that's new to moviegoers here that it needs to be told with real panache and enthusiasm. Unfortunately what we get is an overfamiliar tale clumsily told, despite the large amount of money spent telling it. It's not a disaster of Dune-like proportions, though it does share David Lynch's film's habit of spending so much time stopping the film to explain the plot that the story never really gets a chance to get going: it's the kind of film where Mark Strong's shape-shifting villain will capture the hero only to take him for a long walk in front of expensive CGi backgrounds so he can explain the plot at great length for several minutes. What makes it worse is that his character is actually from the second novel in the series and remains an unresolved behind-the-scenes manipulator obviously being set up for a sequel that will never happen. Not that this is good enough for that to be a cause of much regret.

There is enough that is good to make it worth a look, albeit more as a rental than a purchase: the Tharks are well realised and parts of the film do work and momentarily create a very 1960s fantasy film sense of wonder before the film almost completely loses its way in a rather messily staged final battle and a twist-in-the-tale epilogue that needs far too much setting up at the beginning of the picture. It's certainly not as bad as its huge losses would imply, but it's just too mediocre to really stand out in an increasingly crowded field.

Typically for a flop, the extras package seems a lot less extravagant than it was presumably originally intended to be (the French 3-disc 3D release also includes two extended scenes and an additional featurette). There's a lengthy selection of deleted scenes that wouldn't have improved the picture - one even includes the Princess of Mars telling the assembled statesmen of her kingdom all about their planet at great length as if they needed to be told where they were - a decent look at a day in the making of the film, audio commentary by Stanton and his producers, self-congratulatory featurette about the origins of the film that includes a glimpse of the test footage Bob Clampett shot for his proposed 1930s animated version as well as an interview with Jon Favreau, who spent years developing a much less expensive version of the film that was abandoned due to budget concerns, and a blooper reel.

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Tron Legacy (Blu-ray + DVD)[Region Free] review

Posted : 5 years, 5 months ago on 4 February 2013 04:36 (A review of Tron Legacy (Blu-ray + DVD)[Region Free])

Not a great scifi film but a definite improvement on the original

More a modestly profitable disappointment than the flop of popular memory, the original Tron wasted a great premise thanks to a terrible script and some uninteresting filmmaking that overestimated just how awe-inspiring the then-state of the art special effects would be. Surprisingly the much belated sequel Tron: Legacy turns out to be something of an improvement. The effects aren't as groundbreaking as the original, though they're also not as artificial, the film's computer world reflecting the giant leaps in computer graphics in the intervening decades to create a more solid and three dimensional world. The script still misses most of the philosophical and satirical potential of the idea of computer users trapped inside the computer worlds they create and which are like deadly mirror images of the real world, and the film's big threat doesn't really stand up to much scrutiny, but it's a more professionally crafted affair all round, at least attempting to give some life to its stereotypical characters rather than just throwing one-dimensional cutouts right into the middle of a game nobody's bothered to tell the audience the rules of and expecting them to follow or care about what's going on.

The move from 2.35:1 to the IMAX 1.78 ratio, while occasionally arbitrary, is surprisingly fairly seamless on the small screen and, opening scene aside, the younger Jeff Bridges effect is much more convincing on the small screen than the giant one: if anything it's the voice that's more of a problem than the face, rather too gruff and weathered for his computer generated doppleganger's features. A great film it's not, but as blockbuster multiplex fare it's decent enough. Extras are more standard than exciting - a sequel featurette featurettes The Next Day - Flynn Lives Revealed, standard promotional featurettes Launching the Legacy, Visualizing TRON, Installing the Cast and Disc Roars, music video and promo for the TRON: Uprising TV series.

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High concept, low yield nostalgic sci-fi

Posted : 5 years, 5 months ago on 4 February 2013 04:28 (A review of Super 8 - Triple Play (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy) [Region Free])

Super 8 is another high-concept low-yield movie from J.J. Abrams that is okay but really ought to be better. There's promise in its Spielbergian tale of a group of late-70s schoolkids making their own zombie movie only to stumble cross a real monster after an Air Force train crashes into the middle of one of their scenes, but despite the odd good scene it along the way never really takes hold. The look of the film is fine and the cast are good, but the film doesn't have the heart of those it is makes so much show of imitating. Like them or loathe them, Spielberg's 80s movies were a seamless mixture of his everyday memories of an awkward suburban childhood and his youthful fantasies and fears, the former giving them a genuinely personal and lived-through feel that helped create a credible enough world for their incredible tales for the joins to barely show. With Abrams you get the feeling of someone trying to recreate someone else's childhood memories, fears and fantasies, drawn not from life or personal imagination but solely from the silver screen. It's so self-consciously referencing the films that the director grew up with it never feels genuine and never finds a voice of its own (and talking of voices, some of the incidental dialogue is horribly flat while Michael Giacchino's score pilfers from John Williams, early James Horner and from John Barry's King Kong score so much you wonder why he's credited as composer rather than orchestrator at times). If you've seen Close Encounters, The Goonies, E.T., The Fog and any of the other films it `homages,' you'll get the feeling of ticking off a list. But then this is ultimately just a big budget sibling to the film within a film the kids are making: someone trying to recreate their childhood pleasures rather than offering up dreams of his own. Even the train crash that is the film's biggest setpiece manages to be simultaneously much more spectacular than the one in The Fugitive yet much less effective. It's certainly not a terrible film, but no matter how hard it tries the magic it so desperately aspires to never materialises.

As usual, DVD buyers get a raw deal extras-wise with just an audio commentary and a couple of featurettes, while Blu-ray buyers also get deleted scenes and a whopping 97-minutes worth of featurettes.

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The Thing (2011) review

Posted : 5 years, 5 months ago on 4 February 2013 04:27 (A review of The Thing (2011) )

Okay if you're not expecting much, but nothing you really need to see

John Carpenter's remake of The Thing from Another World was met with box-office failure and disappointed reviews even from his cheerleaders, all but killing off his big-budget mainstream aspirations, only to stage a surprising resurrection on video and even more surprisingly eventually overshadowing the original's reputation. The 2011 prequel that unhelpfully shares the same title, The Thing, was met with similar box-office and critical failure, but it's doubtful the indifference it was met with will be reversed in time. Not that Matthijs van Heijnengen Jr.'s film is particularly bad. It isn't, but a solid, decently crafted if somewhat over-reverential reworking of the original film was never going to have as much impact. Following the ill-fated Norwegian researchers who first discovered the Thing and leading Up to the very first shot of Carpenter's film, it's half-remake rather than adding much to the story. Once again characters are fairly thinly drawn, with only Mary Elizabeth Winstead's palaeontologist, Ulrich Thomsen's chief scientist and Joel Edgerton's helicopter pilot getting anything in the way of characterisation. While the first two are fine in their lead roles, in a thinly disguised but less charismatic clone of Kurt Russell's role in the Carpenter film Edgerton, often a powerful presence in Australian films when given something to work with, is disappointingly bland and ineffectual, though not fatally so. As for the others, their distinguishing characteristics are limited to beard, cockney accent, doesn't speak English, token woman, black...

With the rest of the cast creature bait, it's all down to the execution. van Heijnengen is good at drawing out capable performances and recreating the look and surface feel of the 1982 film thanks to fine cinematography by Michel Abramowicz that compliments and at times directly duplicates Dean Cundey's original work (but doesn't look its best in the rather flat Blu-ray transfer) and production design that scrupulously replicates the original film (though the spaceship exteriors are distinctly underwhelming), but he can't bring the sense of mounting dread that his predecessor managed. Nor do the advances in special effects bring much to the film. Thanks to fluid CGi enhancing the on-set animatronics we see a lot more of the Thing in its natural state, but the wow factor of the original film's mechanical effects is noticeably absent. The end result is a pointless but efficiently executed film that doesn't do much that's new, rarely genuinely excites but doesn't bore either. Had Carpenter or Hawks never made their films it may have seemed a bit better, but as it stands it's just an average, acceptable sci-fi horror film that passes muster if you're not expecting much from it rather than one you'll remember in a week's time let alone a decade or two. If okay is enough for you it may be worth a look, but otherwise you don't really need to see it.

As expected for a box-office failure, extras on the disc are perfunctory and show minimal effort: audio commentary, a superficial making of puff piece, a featurette on technical advances in safely setting stunt performers on fire that focuses on the death of one character that was cut out of the film and which features in the mostly dispensable deleted scenes, which also shows what happened to the suicidal radio operator discovered frozen in his chair in the original film. That a couple of deaths in a horror film and the fates of two characters were deemed dispensable tells its own story.

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The Thing [Region Free] review

Posted : 5 years, 5 months ago on 4 February 2013 04:25 (A review of The Thing [Region Free])

For once a European Universal Blu-ray disc that's better than the US release

John Carpenter's remake of the Thing From Another world was a significant box-office underachiever when it was released in 1982 but found a new lease of life on home video and has proved a perennial ever since, going from panned-and-scanned video to letterboxed laserdisc special edition to DVD and now Blu-ray secure in the knowledge that its fans would upgrade to each new format. There's nothing new here that wasn't on the exhaustive laser disc special edition or the DVD, and the improvement in picture quality from DVD, though noticeable, isn't huge, but the region-free European release is a considerable improvement over Universal's US release. Where that only offered the feature-length 84-minute making of documentary Terror Takes Shape as a picture-in-picture feature, the European disc allows you to watch it separately in fullframe as it was meant to be seen. It's also got nearly all the extras from the previous special editions - out-takes, stills, storyboard, production design and conceptual art galleries and original theatrical trailer - with only the extensive production notes failing to make the transition. Added to that, it's still a terrific bit of sci-fi horror even if it is a shame that its success has overshadowed Howard Hawks' terrific original version.

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They Live (Collector's Edition) review

Posted : 5 years, 5 months ago on 4 February 2013 04:21 (A review of They Live (Collector's Edition) )

"I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass, and I'm all out of bubblegum."

The two-picture deal he struck in the late 80s that produced the underrated Prince of Darkness [DVD] [1988] and They Live was pretty much the last spurt of creativity from John Carpenter before his mojo went walkabout (presumably it's living it up somewhere with Argento and Romero's similarly long AWOL mojos). Along with The Arrival [DVD], which saw aliens funding their colonisation of Earth by stock market manipulation, it's one of the best invisible invasion films since the 50s, at once rejoicing in its pulp origins and taking smart satirical swipes along the way.

Pro-wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper makes a surprisingly good actor as the down-on-his-luck everyman hero, travelling from city to city with his tools looking for work, the kind of guy who still believes in America, follows the rules and is just waiting for his chance. Unfortunately this is the 80s and he's another victim of the reality of Reaganomics, where, just as today, wealth trickles up, the middle class are downwardly mobile and even having a job isn't enough to keep some of the working class from being homeless. If this sounds like the film's a political tract, Carpenter never made any secret that it was, albeit one with a great satirical sci-fi spin - the reason for this downward spiral is that the rich and powerful don't just regard themselves as different to the rabble, they ARE different, and they ain't from Cleveland: alien invaders who have been here for years, grabbing all the best jobs and most powerful positions, stripping the planet of its assets before moving onto the next. For years they've been brainwashing the human race with signals sent through television sets that hypnotize them into seeing what they want them to see and hide their true form. It's only through wearing special sunglasses that you can see the subliminal messages and commands hidden behind posters and street signs. Not only that, but the real world is actually black and white because "They've colorized us!"

Naturally Piper finds out, no-one believes him and he finds himself on the run with initially sceptical co-worker Keith David, briefly hooking up with the few dregs of human resistance - most humans who find out immediately sell out to the aliens for their own slice of the American dream - before making a do-or-die last stand against the rapacious corporate raiders. All of which is done with surprising wit and energy as the film gradually moves from its state of the nation opening to look behind the curtain, getting a head start on end of millennium angst along the way and probably reaching more people with its message than many a more worthy issue film because it doesn't forget to be fun. There's also great stunt choreography from Jeff Imada in the days when you could still tell what was happening in a fight scene, which is helpful when the film's most celebrated setpiece is a ridiculously but entertainingly prolonged fight scene in an alley where Piper tries to persuade David to just try the sunglasses for himself. For the most part the film does a fine job of hiding its low budget, with only a raid on a shantytown looking a bit underpopulated at times, and the tight hour-and-a-half hour running time works in its favour, keeping things relatively lean. Political commentary has rarely been this much fun.

Shout Factory's Region A-locked Blu-ray offers a satisfying 2.35:1 widescreen transfer with a sharp image with good colour and clear definition. It's not perfect - there's some occasional slight pulsing that makes you wonder if there aren't some subliminal messages encoded on the disc - but after some of the poor previous releases it's like seeing the film through a Hoffman lens and it's certainly the best its looked on any home video format. There's a good selection of extras too, including the enjoyable audio commentary Carpenter and Piper recorded for Optimum's European DVD release, the original making of featurette, new interviews with Carpenter, Keith David, Meg Foster, Jeff Imada, co-composer Alan Howarth and cinematographer Gary B. Kibbe, footage from the TV commercials seen in the film, stills gallery, TV spots and original trailer.

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A terrific creature feature and a pallid misfire

Posted : 5 years, 5 months ago on 4 February 2013 04:16 (A review of Deep Rising / The Puppet Masters (Double Feature) )

Mill Creek's budget-priced region-free Blu-ray double-bill offers one terrific creature feature that's worth the price of the disc on its own with a misfired belated adaptation of a classic 50s sci-fi novel that's best regarded as an extra feature you don't have to sit through.

Hated by critics and ignored by audiences, Deep Rising is a terrific creature feature that plays a bit like The Poseidon Adventure with added tentacles. The film was originally intended as a Harrison Ford vehicle before opting for the considerably less expensive Treat Williams, who gives the kind of performance that shows he could have made a terrific Han Solo himself as the captain of a hunk of junk ship whose "If you've got the fare, we don't care" philosophy is just setting him up for a fall. Hired to take a very intense Wes Studi and his veritable United Nations of mercenaries - Jason Flemyng, Cliff Curtis and Djimon Hounsou among them - and their cargo of torpedoes to a mystery destination that turns out to be Anthony Heald's millionaire's pleasure liner, things quickly go downhill when they find it dead in the water and covered in blood and themselves on the menu for something very large that's infested the ship...

It's one of those monster movies that doesn't reinvent the wheel but just has fun with the usual clich├ęs, throwing in a novel creature to work its way through the invaders and survivors, plenty of wisecracks and a cast that's clearly having a whale of a time, Studi giving the viciously tentacled beast a run for its money in the pitiless stakes and Treat Williams and Famke Jansen's thief providing enough likeability and screen chemistry to compensate for Kevin J. O'Connor's occasionally irritating comic relief sidekick shtick. The much-criticised CGi effects are actually pretty good for much of the picture, though there's a noticeable drop in quality in some of the later sequences (more a case of not-quite-finished compositing with the live-action than the individual elements), while Jerry Goldsmith provides a ripping and funky score and there's a great payoff nod to the most famous movie monster of all in the film's final shot. It may have been a huge box-office flop (as Williams put it, "Unfortunately, it came out right on the heels of Titanic. Once you've seen one boat sink...") but it's not too surprising that it still convinced Universal that writer-director Stephen Sommers was the right person to revamp the Mummy franchise for the 90s.

Mill Creek's Blu-ray release offers a solid but not outstanding 2.35:1 widescreen transfer that's a definite upgrade on the previous DVD release, but sadly the soundtrack mix is the same problematic one from that earlier release - fine on the sound effects and score but much too low on the dialogue. The only extra is a trailer, which is hidden on the pop-up menu.

Robert A. Heinlein's The Puppet Masters may have beaten Jack Finney to the bookshops, but his original invading alien body snatcher story has had a much less distinguished screen career, being plagiarised as 1958's The Brain Eaters and inspiring episodes of Star Trek and The Outer Limits, but having to wait until 1994 for what turned out to be a very lacklustre legitimate adaptation. The screenplay ditches the post-nuclear war 21st century setting and the wholesale nudity but simultaneously manages to follow the novel's storyline fairly closely while missing the point, which is what tends to happen after years in development by nine writers working on two completely different storylines to see which one the studio liked and two directors who wanted to make a completely different film to the one the studio greenlit get thrown into the mix. The end result manages to be silly but not really that funny even in a bad movie way and rather rushed yet at the same time flat and static courtesy of Stuart Orme's lifeless direction (Orme has form when it comes to botching classic fantasies: his bowdlerised version of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is even worse).

To be fair, the idea hasn't dated well, with parasitic alien slugs attaching themselves to the backs of humans so they can go about their conquest of the Earth undetected. Of course, exobiologist Julie Warner knows something is wrong because the locals aren't checking her out or looking down her blouse, which might have played better had a more pneumatic actress been cast in the role. It doesn't help that she gives a terrible performance either, but it's the kind of film where the supporting cast either decide to have fun with it (Will Patton's eager-beaver scientist) or just seem to lose the will to live (Richard Belzer). It's not as if they have much to work with, the film's sole novelty being how quickly the government uncovers the invasion before finding out they're almost powerless to stop it. Some scenes hint at what could have been - an interview with a creature-controlled agent, a contaminated laboratory monkey communicating with the scientists, the notion of the aliens studying the humans who are studying them and using children against soldiers - but the execution is so utterly mundane that you just hope for some unintentional laughs to liven things up. Sadly they're in short supply: LifeForce it ain't, though at least the helicopter scene allows Donald Sutherland a bit of fun with his direlogue.

The film doesn't help itself by inviting comparisons to the much better sci-fi and creature features many of the cast have made, from Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Sutherland) and The Thing (Keith David) to Total Recall (Marshall Bell, Quato himself) and Alien (Yaphet Kotto, who seems to have what looks like a dyed black sponge on his head). But then with leads as bland as Eric Thal - who expresses varying degrees of emotion by how widely he opens his mouth - and Julie Warner, playing guess-which-better-scifi-films-the-supporting-cast-have-been-in is a lot more fun than watching the cardboard cutout hero and heroine go through their paces en route to an incredibly soft and anticlimactic tell-don't-show ending. There's plenty of flatly staged action, but like much of the film it's all delivered in TV movie fashion without a hint of suspense or atmosphere or even much violence: this is perhaps the tamest film to ever be given an R rating. Cheap but not very cheerful, it gets a solid but uninspired 2.35:1 widescreen transfer with no extras.

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