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Blu-ray Reviews for July 31, 2018

Selections from this week’s Blu-ray releases can be found below in this ongoing weekly summary of reviews. Click on any of the following titles to navigate directly to that review. This week’s releases include: Vestron Video’s Beyond Re-Animator and Dagon, John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness, Jean-Claude Van Damme’s early effort Lionheart, another Carpenter title Memoirs of an Invisible Man, James Cameron’s directorial debut Piranha 2: The Spawning, and Steven Spielberg’s nostalgia trip Ready Player One. A list of other titles also available this week can be found at the end.


Distributor: Lionsgate via Vestron Video

After causing the Miskatonic University Massacre, Dr. Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) has been serving a prison sentence for the past 14 years. When Howard, a new young doctor, comes to work as the prison MD and requests Dr. West’s assistance, Dr. West discovers that Howard has something he left behind 14 years ago….



Beyond Re-Animator was shot in 2003 under the watchful eye of a returning Brian Yuzna, who’d directed the previous sequel Bride of Re-Animator and served as producer on the original. Though there’s much to criticize about this part 3, Beyond Re-Animator’s biggest problem is that it’s attempting to sequelize a horror series that was very much of the ‘80s but doing so during that era’s trend toward “smart” ironic slashers and PG-13 J-horror remakes. To me, lots of horror franchises birthed during the ‘80s belong to the ‘80s, and attempts to modernize some of them haven’t gone particularly well. (Tsk-tsking right at you, Friday the 13th.) Of course, Beyond should be lauded for trying to launch a franchise comeback and offering some counter programming, but not only does it stick out for this reason, it also sticks out because it can’t afford what it’s vying to be: unprecedented madness — at least as exhibited by the series thus far.

Largely funded by Spanish film company Fantastic Factory/Filmax, Beyond was shot in Barcelona and Valencia, Spain, with roughly half a cast of Spanish actors. Normally you might think, “Well, the whole movie takes place in a prison, so it’s not unbelievable that many of the prisoners are Spanish,” but that just makes you a racist. Still, this idea does make Beyond stick out and could have been remedied by acknowledging the obvious Spanish flavor and tweaking the script so that the infamous Herbert West had been hidden away overseas in an effort to continue hushing up his awful experiments at Miskatonic University.
Jeffrey Combs as Herbert West, the re-animator, doesn’t miss a single beat and easily steps back into the ghoul doctor’s shoes — it’s everyone else who don’t seem fully confident in their roles. And as previously mentioned, Beyond, given its more modern 2000s production, is the first entry to try its hand at visual effects. Nearly all of them are a failure — especially when it comes to the evil warden’s decapitated and re-animated…er…member. (Yes, this happens. If you ever wanted to see a dick puppet fight a rat puppet, you’ve reached your destination.)

Beyond Re-Animator was clearly made in the same spirit of the original, and by film’s end, when chaos has totally overtaken the prison, it’s larger in scope than anything the previous films attempted, and that’s absolutely commendable. But unlike its predecessors, the comedy it’s going for seems cheap, and manufactured only to outdo the series’ previous shock moments, whereas the horror aspect, this time around, just feels corny. In Re-Animator, a headless corpse lowers its cut-off head into the nether regions of a naked hapless female. That’s shocking, yes, but it’s also a unique gotcha moment that works as intended because it hadn’t been done before.In Beyond Re-Animator, someone’s dick gets ripped off and then later comes to life. Voilà: a killer wang. Now, has that been done before? I generally avoid the kinds of movies that may have tapped that well already, but since we live in a world where Troma and The Asylum exist, I’ll just assume it’s been done. And that’s pretty much the example of Beyond Re-Animator trying too hard to be shocking: dick jokes.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • NEW Isolated Score Selections & Audio Interview with Composer Xavier Capellas
  • NEW “Beyond & Back” – An Interview with Director Brian Yuzna
  • NEW “Death Row Sideshow” – An Interview with Actor Jeffrey Combs
  • NEW “Six Shots By Midnight” – An Interview with S. T. Joshi, author of I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft
  • NEW Production Art Gallery by Illustrator Richard Raaphorst
  • Audio Commentary with Director Brian Yuzna
  • Still Gallery
  • Vintage EPK Featurette
  • “Dr. Reanimator – Move Your Dead Bones” Music Video
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Optional Spanish and English SDH subtitles for the main feature


Distributor: Lionsgate via Vestron Video
Residents of a fishing village tempted by greed evolve into freakish half-human creatures and must sacrifice outsiders to an ancient, monstrous god of the sea. Evil rises and a legend unleashes the rage of Hell after a yacht crashes on the Spanish coast and the survivors are forced to face their nightmares.

I’ve never been a huge fan of director Stuart Gordon outside of the original Re-Animator, but I respect any director who willfully works in the horror genre. Along with Re-Animator, Gordon has steadily adapted many of horror author H.P. Lovecraft’s icky tales, including From Beyond, Castlefreak, Dreams in the Witch House, and finally, Dagon. Though his efforts vary in both loyalty and quality (again, I love Re-Animator, but it shares very little in common with the original story), his dedication to doing Lovecraft right is admirable.

Back during its initial 2001 release, about which I only knew because of its coverage in Fangoria Magazine, I gave Dagon a fair shot but determined it was another in a long-line of overhyped under-the-radar horror releases that fanboys wold heap praise upon simply because it wasn’t “mainstream.” Seventeen years later, I’m not prepared to say that the hype was worth it, and oh what a fool I’ve been, but I will say it plays a lot better for me now than it did back then.

For much of its running time, Dagon sidesteps gore and violence in favor of otherworldliness and a definite creep factor. Gordon has never tried to be “scary” like he does in Dagon; the director’s most well-known works are celebrated more for their shock value and violent gore gags. But as our lead hero, Paul Marsh, stumbles through the rain-drenched Spanish town of Imboca looking for his missing wife, and as the mysterious, mutantanous town citizens stumble in the background toward him in the midst of undergoing their strange transformation, the realization that this is actually pretty creepy begins to sink in. Don’t get me wrong, by film’s end, faces will be carved entirely off their skulls and worn, Leatherface-style, by the fishy members of the town, but until that point, Gordon chooses to walk a classy path of strange eeriness.

This being a low-budget, early 2000s production, whichever visual effects Dagon attempts look very poor. Thankfully there are only a handful of moments that call for these kinds of set-pieces that would be physically bigger than the production could afford, and even more thankfully, the film’s reliance mostly on practical effects all look great and very imaginative.

In general, Dagon isn’t a slam dunk as a horror experience, but it’s certainly one of the strongest titles in Gordon’s filmography and also one of the more solid Lovecraft adaptations out there. Hopefully this new reissue of the film will allow it to be reintroduced, as it did me, to people who either dismissed it the first time, or who are completely unaware that it exists at all.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • Audio Commentary with Director Stuart Gordon and Screenwriter Denis Paoli
  • Audio Commentary with Director Stuart Gordon and Star Ezra Godden
  • NEW – “Gods & Monsters” – A discussion with Director Stuart Gordon, Interviewed by Filmmaker Mick Garris
  • NEW – “Shadows over Imboca” – An Interview with Producer Brian Yuzna
  • NEW – “Fish Stories” – An Interview with S.T. Joshi, author of I Am Providence: The Life
  • and Times of H.P. Lovecraft
    Vintage EPK
  • Archival Interviews with Stuart Gordon, Ezra Godden, and other Cast & Crew
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • NEW – Conceptual Art Gallery from Artist Richard Raaphorst
  • Storyboard Gallery
  • Still Gallery


Distributor: Shout! Factory

Sutter Cane (Jürgen Prochnow, Dune, The Seventh Sign) is the best-selling author whose newest novel is literally driving readers insane. When he inexplicably vanishes, his publisher (Charlton Heston, Soylent Green, Planet Of The Apes) sends special investigator John Trent (Sam Neill, Daybreakers, Dead Calm) to track him down. Drawn to a town that exists only in Cane’s books, Trent crosses the barrier between fact and fiction and enters a terrifying world from which there is no escape. Inspired by the tales of H.P. Lovecraft, this shocking story is, in the words of its acclaimed director, “horror beyond description!”

It sounds depressing to say this, considering we have to go back over 25 years to 1995, but In the Mouth of Madness is, and probably will be, John Carpenter’s genuinely last great film as a director. Following that would come a string of underwhelming and critically derided titles like Village of the Damned, Escape from L.A., Vampires (underrated!), Ghosts of Mars, and then, after a seven-year break, The Ward. Unless you’re a devout Carpenterphile, it’s likely that more people know about the bad reputation of Escape from L.A. than who know that In the Mouth of Madness exists at all. And that’s a crime.

Unexpectedly written by Michael DeLuca, who is known more as a producer and New Line Cinema’s former President of Production than as a screenwriter, In the Mouth of Madness is a Lovecraftian love letter to the genre – one filtered through the use of a purposely Stephen King-ish horror writer, here called Sutter Cane (and played by Das Boot’s Jürgen Prochnow). It’s a Lovecraft monster movie, a mind-bending psychological thriller, a satire on the power of pop culture, but most interesting, it’s also a clever take on film noir. International treasure Sam Neill (the U.S. definitely has joint custody with New Zealand) is John Trent, a private investigator hired to find a missing person, who is forced to work alongside Linda Styles (Julie Carmen), your proto-femme fatale – someone who cannot be entirely trusted. Together they’re tasked with solving the mystery of Sutter Cane’s alleged disappearance, but more importantly, trying to navigate the highly distressing question: what is reality?

This combination of genres boosts In the Mouth of Madness and offers it a non-derivative identity, but the most gleeful aspect is Carpenter’s sheer desire to scare his audience. In spite of the few moments of purposeful comedy (Sam Neill lazily singing “America the Beautiful” and intermittently staring out the passenger-side window during the duo’s very long car ride to Hobb’s End absolutely kills me), you can sense the intent for terror in every frame. Prior to 1995, the last time Carpenter was this dedicated to scaring his audience was maybe 1987’s Prince of Darkness, but definitely 1982’s The Thing. Though the mid-90s and beyond is the era during which the director would begin to embrace graphic violence (Vampires is ridiculous, and his Masters of Horror entries are very icky), In the Mouth of Madness relies mostly on eerie and somewhat abstract images – the former courtesy of KNB FX’s Lovecraftian creations and Carpenter’s simplistic editing tricks, and the latter courtesy of the production’s various Toronto shooting locales, which appear so majestic yet isolated that they feel plucked from a dream. Something as simply rendered as a disembodied hand knocking on a window or touching someone’s shoulder from behind, only to immediately disappear, is almost embarrassing in its rudimentary considering its effectiveness. That’s not to say there isn’t bloody mayhem — it wouldn’t be a Carpenter film without at least a bit of the red stuff — but it’s noticeably dialed down in favor of a different kind of horror experience.

Shout’s new edition of this title doesn’t quite live up to their Collector’s Edition brand, as the newly produced special features for this release are scant. No new making-of documentary (which I was yearning for), no new Carpenter interview, and no involvement from Sam Neill at all. (C’mon, what were John Glover or David Warner doing? Don’t tell me they were too busy…) Having said that, a new commentary with Carpenter and producer/Carpenter’s wife Sandy King is included, and if there is anything about the previous home video releases that needed a facelift, it was the dreadfully dull commentary originally recorded by Carpenter and his director of photography Gary B. Kibbe. (That’s also included here, though I can’t imagine anyone wanting to sit through it again.)

In the Mouth of Madness is the most undervalued film of Carpenter’s career. Like many of his other titles, appreciation for the film has grown over the years, having a strong presence on video and benefitting from its association with the very genre-friendly studio of New Line Cinema. Shout!, who has been the most supportive distributor of Carpenter’s filmography, is doing their part to kick that can down the alley just a bit further. I salute them for it.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • BRAND NEW 4K REMASTER of the film
  • NEW Audio Commentary with director John Carpenter and producer Sandy King Carpenter
  • NEW Horror’s Hallowed Grounds – a look at the film’s locations today
  • NEW The Whisperer of the Dark – an interview with actress Julie Carman
  • NEW Greg Nicotero’s Things in the Basement – a new interview with special effects artist Greg Nicotero including behind-the-scenes footage
  • NEW Home Movies from Hobb’s End – Behind the Scenes footage from Greg Nicotero
  • Audio Commentary with director John Carpenter and cinematographer Gary B. Kibbe
  • Vintage Featurette – The Making of In the Mouth of Madness
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • TV Spots
  • Optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature


Distributor: MVD Visual via MVD Rewind

Jean-Claude Van Damme (Black Eagle, Hard Target) stars as a soldier drawn into the world of modern-day gladiators fighting for the amusement of the rich in this fast moving action thriller co-written by Van Damme himself! Upon receiving news that his brother in Los Angeles is seriously injured, Lyon Gaultier (Van Damme) Deserts the French Foreign Legion from a remote outpost in North Africa. Fleeing from two of the Legion’s security force who have orders to bring him back at any cost, Lyon reluctantly turns to the illegal, bare-knuckles underground fighting circuit to raise the money he needs to help his brother’s family. From legendary action director Sheldon Lettich (Double Impact, Bloodsport), this riveting action adventure also stars Harrison Page (Bad Ass), Brian Thompson (The Terminator), Ashley Johnson (The Help) and a cameo appearance by Jeff Speakman (The Perfect Weapon) and combines the raw power and charisma of Van Damme with the exciting world of no-holds-barred street fighting.

During the ‘80s and ‘90s, it was probably easy to accuse Jean-Claude Van Damme and his action brethren of making the same movie over and over: there’s a conflict, our hero hesitantly gets involved with it, our hero travels the road of brawn and violence to victory. And scene.

While that’s mostly untrue and a little unfair, it was kinda-sorta accurate for Van Damme. To date, he’s made four films in which his character becomes involved in a shadowy, underground fight tournament for the purposes of some sort of vengeance. Bloodsport, Kickboxer, Van Damme’s directorial debut The Quest, and finally, Lionheart.

Whereas Bloodsport and Kickboxer were similar in terms of their silliness and The Quest was basically an overwrought, family-friendly version of both those titles, Lionheart actually set out to be about something beyond just violent fisticuffs and the Van Damme face.

You know the one…

With a script co-written by Van Damme (he’s actually penned many of his own projects) and frequent collaborator/director Sheldon Lettich (Double Impact), Lionheart strives to show off the softer side of Van Damme (awwwww) by having him interact with his deceased brother’s family to become part of their lives. Though his wooden performance handicaps this effort at characterization and emotion, the attempt remains and still finds ways to be effective.

But don’t panic: there are still plenty of fight scenes in plenty of random environments. Lionheart feels like a video game as Van Damme’s Lyon works his way up the underground fighting ladder, going full bloody-knuckled beneath bridges, drained pools, and even on top of cars. The fight scenes are good for what they are (they were probably more impressive in 1990) and there are enough of them scattered throughout that Lionheart never rests on its laurels and pretends to be more than what it is.

When it comes to early career Van Damme, Lionheart ranks among the best. It’s still innately silly, and when fully considering his filmography, it’s also a bit derivative, but it at least shows Van Damme’s genuine desire to do something beyond scream-facing and doing the splits.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations of the main feature.
  • Original 2.0 Stereo Audio (Uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray) and Dolby Digital 5.1.
  • Audio commentary by Sheldon Lettich & Harrison Page
  • NEW – “The Story of ‘Lionheart’” (appx 60:00, HD) (Featuring Director Sheldon Lettich, Producer Eric Karson and stars Jean-Claude Van Damme, Harrison Page, Deborah Rennard and Brian Thompson)
  • NEW – “Inside ‘Lionheart’ with the Filmmakers and Cast” (appx 25:00, HD) (Featuring Director Sheldon Lettich, Producer Eric Karson and stars Jean-Claude Van Damme, Harrison Page, Deborah Rennard and Brian Thompson)
  • NEW – “‘Lionheart’: Behind the Fights” (appx 15:00, HD) (Featuring Director Sheldon Lettich, Producer Eric Karson and stars Jean-Claude Van Damme, Harrison Page and Brian Thompson)
  • “Making of” featurette (8:53) (SD)
  • Interview with Sheldon Lettich (25:52) (SD)
  • Interview with Harrison Page (13:05) (SD)
  • “Behind the Scenes of the Audio Commentary” featurette (5:40) (SD)
  • Original Theatrical Trailer (SD)
  • Collectible Poster


Distributor: Shout! Factory

The laughs and visual effects are out of sight when Chevy Chase headlines Memoirs of an Invisible Man. Invisibility makes it easier to spy on agents (particularly chief adversary Sam Neill) who’ve put him in his predicament. And he can romance a lovely documentary producer (Daryl Hannah) in a way she’s never “seen” before. John Carpenter directs and Industrial Light and Magic create eye-opening effects as Nick embarks on his manic quest. Seeing is believing!

Memoirs of Invisible Man is probably the least discussed film of John Carpenter’s career outside of his first feature credit, Dark Star. There are a handful of reasons for this, which may be due to its so-so reputation, but it’s likely because it just doesn’t feel like a Carpenter film. Stepping in after original director Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters) left the production over disagreements with Chevy Chase about its tone, Memoirs of an Invisible Man remains the only film Carpenter made for Warner Bros. That may sound like random boring trivia, but considering his terrible experience with the production, which he’s talked about freely over the years, it serves as a reminder as to why he avoided working with major studios whenever feasible — and they don’t get more major than Warner Bros.

A byproduct of Carpenter becoming a senior citizen has been his adorable irascibility and his total loss of a social filter. He publicly called Rob Zombie a “piece of shit” for the shock-rocker’s fudging of reality regarding how Carpenter allegedly responded to Zombie’s intent to remake Halloween. (The two later mended fences.) In addition, his candid misery on the set of The Fog remake (on which he served as producer) became legendary around the horror community for how salty one human being could be for being paid handsomely to sit in a corner. In keeping with all this, he’s made it pretty clear over the years that there’s one actor, above all others, he absolutely hated working with, and though you’ll never find any written confirmation of this, it was Chevy Chase. If you’ve read up on the comedian and actor, followed his behavior on the set of Community, or tangled with the gigantic tome Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live as Told by Its Stars, Writers, and Guests, then you know he’s an extremely difficult personality to wrangle. Carpenter, not naming names, once said during an interview on the set of Escape from L.A. that an actor he’d just finished working with could “burn in hell for all eternity.” (I once pointedly asked Carpenter which actor this was, and if that same actor happened to share the name of a city in Maryland, and I received “no comment” as a response. However, he later disclosed during an interview that Chase “still sends [him] a Christmas card every year.”)

All that tabloid fodder aside, Memoirs of an Invisible Man, as a film, is very very…okay. Perhaps the most jarring thing about it is its somewhat confused tone. Though marketed as a comedy/romance, and in spite of its moments of levity (all, naturally, deriving from Chase’s invisible antics), the tone is fairly straight and even a bit dark. Memoirs of an Invisible Man just might be the only comedy/drama/thriller/romance/film noir in existence. (Chase’s character recording a pseudo-memoir of the events of his life over the last few days is a clear callback to Double Indemnity.) Chase and love interest Daryl Hannah show close to zero chemistry, but Michael McKean is typically great, if underused, and Sam Neill (yay!) as a shadowy government official in steady pursuit of Chase’s invisi-dude offers the best character – he’s certainly one of the main reasons to watch.

Memoirs of an Invisible Man has unfairly garnered a shitty reputation over the years – as a title that’s easy to dismiss and a very minor footnote in an otherwise celebrated artist’s career. I can somewhat understand why: as someone who considers Carpenter his all-time favorite filmmaker, Memoirs just doesn’t feel like a Carpenter flick at all, and as any cinephile will tell you, one of the joys of watching films is to zero in on a filmmaker or writer’s style that speaks to you and to revel in that style for every one of his or her creations. (That the director’s name doesn’t precede the title, as it has otherwise ever since 1976’s Assault on Precinct 13, seems to suggest that Carpenter feels the same.) It very much embodies the kind of too-many-cooks, compromised, and flavorless feel that studios pump out dozens of times per year. Carpenter doesn’t script, ghost-script, or score, and his usual cadre of cast and crew aren’t on board. There’s a new director of photography, a new composer, a new editor…and no Peter Jason.

Memoirs of an Invisible is the definition of disposable entertainment. It’s not offensive enough to be terrible, but if you’re someone like me who’d sooner watch a lesser Carpenter film that at least feels like a Carpenter film, then you may wonder when you’d ever get the urge to watch it at all. Memoirs of an Invisible Man is a lot like its titular character: you know he’s there in the room with you, but you can’t see him at all.

For the Carpenter completists among you (I certainly am one), it’s a foregone conclusion you’ll be picking this up anyway. If you do, be warned: Carpenter takes part in no new extras. In fact, Shout! produced no new extras at all.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • BRAND NEW 2K REMASTER of the film
  • How to Become Invisible: The Dawn of Digital F/X
  • Vintage interviews with director John Carpenter, actors Chevy Chase and Daryl Hannah
  • Behind the Scenes footage
  • Outtakes
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • TV Spots
  • Optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature


Distributor: Shout! Factory

While investigating the mysterious death of a diver, scuba instructor Anne Kimbrough (Tricia O’Neil – Titanic) makes a horrific discovery: Piranha-like fish, with wings that enable them to fly, are responsible for the death. As the body count rises, Anne desperately tries to convince the manager of the Club Elysium resort to call off the annual fish fry on the beach, but he’s determined to give his guests the ultimate feeding frenzy. This exciting sequel to Joe Dante’s original PIRANHA also stars Lance Henriksen (Aliens, Pumpkinhead) and is the directorial debut of James Cameron (Avatar, The Terminator, Aliens).

Do you know how many entries there are in the Piranha series? You know, the series about hordes of mutant killer fish chewing people to bloody death?

Five.

FIVE.

And maybe except for the very first, none of them are what I’d consider to be collection-worthy, but, as the genre tends to go, one’s own sensibilities will determine the series’ mileage.

It may not surprise you to hear that the King of the World himself, James Cameron, has a pretty low opinion of his feature debut, Piranha 2: The Spawning (released in some territories as Piranha 2: Flying Killers). The sequel follows the original Piranha, directed by Joe Dante and scripted by John Sayles, which contained a very subtle sense of humor and served primarily as a thinly-veiled parody of Jaws. The only sense of humor associated with Piranha 2 is the laughter coming from the audience watching it. A silly, absurd, and very cheaply made monster movie, Piranha 2 benefits/suffers (depending on what kind of experience you want) from being a co-Italian production, who tend to go for the throat in terms of badness.

Like the original, the titular beasts don’t get much screen time (I’d swear there’s even less piranha in this sequel than its predecessor). It’s to Cameron’s credit that the approach to Piranha 2 is laden with more sincerity than was probably required (or even asked for). After all, the piranha can fly this time, which one would thing would make for, at the very least, a whirlwind of a finale. But it would seem for every pair of plastic wings affixed to a plastic fish, said plastic fish would lose a minute of screen time.

Piranha 2 attempts to mine humor from the amorous elderly and the horniness of teenagers, but beyond that, it’s played mostly straight; normally I much prefer bad horror when it’s being serious, but I’m not sure a fully comedic angle would have worked in the favor of Piranha 2, anyway. It’s good for bursts of violence rendered by flying, carnivorous, warbling, shaking mutant piranha, but beyond that, it’s a struggle to watch.

If any good, non-ironic thing can be said about Piranha 2, it’s the (rare) lead performance from character actor and genre favorite Lance Henriksen (surname misspelled in the credits), whom I’ve spent years praising for being a dependable, talented, and severely underrated actor. Piranha 2 is dumb. It’s one of the most brainless horror movies you might ever see. But Henriksen’s typically serious approach to the character is the lone stabilizing presence the film has that helps to keep it grounded — or, at least, as grounded as a movie about flying, carnivorous, warbling, mutant piranha can be.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • NEW 2K scan from the original camera negative
  • NEW interview with actor Ricky Paull Goldin
  • NEW interview with special effects artist Brian Wade
  • Theatrical Trailer


Distributor: Warner Bros.

In the year 2045, the real world is a harsh place. The only time Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) truly feels alive is when he escapes to the OASIS, an immersive virtual universe where most of humanity spend their days. In the OASIS, you can go anywhere, do anything, be anyone—the only limits are your own imagination. The OASIS was created by the brilliant and eccentric James Halliday (Mark Rylance), who left his immense fortune and total control of the OASIS to the winner of a three-part contest he designed to find a worthy heir. When Wade conquers the first challenge of the reality-bending treasure hunt, he and his friends—known as the High Five—are hurled into a fantastical universe of discovery and danger to save the OASIS and their world.

Steven Spielberg has never made an out-and-out bad film. I’m not sure the celebrated filmmaker is capable of that. I’ve certainly seen plenty of his films that don’t agree with me, ranging from the newer (War Horse) to his classics (I’ve given Close Encounters of a Third Kind so many chances), but I’ll never say they’re poorly made or seem workmanship in their presentation.While I’m not about to drop the internet-douchey slam of “worst Spielberg film ever,” I will say Ready Player One is probably the director’s emptiest — one that embodies the same kind of spectacle and world-building that many of his previous films sought and achieved, but with very little of its heart, or even over-sentimentalism that he’s been accused of in the past. Though one might argue Ready Player One’s entire construct is based on over-sentimentalism, given that it’s entirely an ode to ‘80s pop culture bent on nostalgia, this same kind of warmth doesn’t really come through any other aspect.

Ready Player One crams every possible ‘80s reference into its running time (at least, I’m assuming, the ones Warner Bros. had legal ownership of or access to — the nerdiest of you may have noticed that Friday the 13th’s Jason Voorhees appeared as his Freddy vs. Jason iteration, which is a film owned by Warner Bros. and not current franchise rights holders Paramount Pictures). And while it’s neat to see your lead hero (Tye Sheridan) driving the DeLorean from Back to the Future and later lovingly homaging its director by obtaining “the Zemeckis cube,” these feelings of awww just don’t last. Nostalgia is great for luring in an audience, but it’s not enough for telling a standalone story. The nostalgic bits — the appearance of the aforementioned Jason and his colleagues Freddy and Chucky, along with Robocop, King Kong, Duke Nukem, and so many more — work on that reactionary fanboy level. And the much ballyhooed sequence set in the Overlook Hotel from The Shining works in the same way. Once that familiar Penderecki soundtrack creeps in, and our characters start traversing the very faithfully recreated hotel, it’s easy to want to squee. Jack Torrance’s typewriter! The bloody elevator! ♫Midnight, the Stars, and You!♫ But once Spielberg and screenwriters Zak Penn and Ernest Cline (also the source novel’s author) put an axe in the hand of the suddenly leaping Room 237 bathtub ghost and CGI starts demonically morphing her face, you also get the notion of just how wrong it all feels. Now, I’d never claim to be an authority on what Kubrick would or would not have approved. Spielberg and Kubrick were friends in real life, whereas “all I know is what’s on the internet” (Trump, 2016), and the Beard believes Kubrick would have good-naturedly approved the homage. Still, he skirts his faith in that belief by having Olivia Cooke’s Artemis say, “That’s the point. It’s not supposed to be exactly like the thing you like so much.” I’m not quite buying that, and the feeling of wrongness remains.

Ready Player One isn’t a terrible film by any stretch; in fact, it’s a light, fun, and breezy way to kill 90 minutes. But once the spectacle of the whole affair wears off, you’re struck with the realization that you could have skipped watching it and gotten the same experience simply by sifting through the film’s IMDB Trivia page for all the references the film contains.

THE SUPPLEMENTS:

The complete list of special features is as follows:

  • Game Changer: Cracking the Code
  • Effects for a Brave New World
  • Level Up: Sound for the Future
  • High Score: Endgame
  • Ernie & Tye’s Excellent Adventure
  • The ’80’s: You’re The Inspiration


Also Available This Week:

Distributor: MVD Rewind

It has been sighted 42,000 times in 68 countries, a vicious creature of myth and legend called Sasquatch, Yeti, and perhaps most infamously, Bigfoot. It’s been hunted it for years. But what happens when it decides to hunt us? After recovering from a horrific accident, paraplegic Preston Rogers (Matt McCoy) moves back into the remote cabin where he and his now-deceased wife once lived. When his new neighbor Karen, is attacked by a gigantic creature, Rogers contacts the local authorities. But after the police and those around him dismiss Rogers as a delusional widower, he sets out to stop the abominable creature himself.

Special Features:

  • BRAND NEW 2K REMASTER of the film from the original camera negative
  • NEW Introduction from Director Ryan Schifrin (HD)
  • NEW ”Basil & Mobius: No Rest For The Wicked” (16:28, HD) Short film written and directed by Ryan Schifrin featuring a score by legendary composer Lalo Schifrin and starring Zachari Levi, Ray Park, Malcolm McDowell and Kane Hodder
  • Audio Commentary with writer/director Ryan Schifrin, Actors Matt McCoy and Jeffrey Combs
  • ‘Back to Genre: Making ABOMINABLE” featurette (SD)
  • Deleted and Extended Scenes (SD)
  • Outtakes and Bloopers (SD)
  • ”Shadows” Director Ryan Schifrin’s USC Student Film (SD)
  • The original 2005 version of ”Abominable” (Blu-ray only, 94 mins, SD)
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • Poster & Still Gallery
  • Storyboard Gallery
  • Collectible Poster
  • Audio: 5.1 Surround Audio (Uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)

Distributor: Lionsgate Films

This stylish, star-studded caper comedy stars Uma Thurman (Kill Bill) as Harriet and Tim Roth (The Hateful Eight) as Peter, a con-artist couple cooking up a jewel-theft scam in L.A. to pay off sexy gangster Irina (played by Maggie Q). Having squandered Irina’s loot one drunken night, Harriet and Peter escape to Hollywood, where they plot to steal a priceless jewel from Peter’s loopy ex-wife (Alice Eve) to repay the debt. The dazzling cast also includes Parker Posey (Superman Returns) and Sofia Vergara (TV’s “Modern Family”).

Special Features:

  • Watch Tim Roth Drink for 90 Straight Minutes (may not be an actual special feature)

 


Distributor: Shout! Factory

The power of America’s national parks is undeniable. Millions have packed up the family to hike through impossibly lush forests, to gaze upon towering cliffs and deep-plunging canyons, to witness the breathtaking arcs of natural history, and, most of all, to share moments of wonder amid the protected treasures of this land. A MacGillivray Freeman film produced in association with Brand USA and narrated by Academy Award® winner* Robert Redford, National Parks Adventure is acclaimed filmmaker Greg MacGillivray’s most visually ambitious giant-screen film to date — a film that offers not only a sweeping overview of the national parks’ history, but is equal parts adrenaline-pumping odyssey and soulful reflection on what the wilderness means to us all.


Distributor: Shout! Factory
Narrated by Academy Award® winner* Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart), Dream Big: Engineering Our World is a spectacular look at man-made marvels that will forever transform the way you think about engineering. It celebrates the human ingenuity behind engineering marvels big and small and shows how engineers push the limits of innovation in unexpected and amazing ways. It is more than a movie — it’s part of a movement aimed at bringing engineering into the forefront of our culture. Dream Big is the first giant-screen film to answer the call of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) initiative, which aims to inspire kids of diverse backgrounds to become the innovators who will improve the lives of people across our entire planet as we head into the twenty-first century and beyond. That’s why the film will be accompanied by ongoing educational, museum and community efforts to expose young people from all backgrounds to what engineering is … and what it can conjure in the world.


Distributor: Arrow Video

Following the release of his 1984 debut feature Vigil, Vincent Ward returned four years later with The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey, a film that would cement his position as one of the most exciting filmmaking talents to emerge during the eighties. Cumbria, 1348 – the year of the Black Death. Griffin, a young boy, is plagued by apocalyptic visions which he believes could save his village. Encouraging a small band of men to tunnel into the earth, they surface in 1980s New Zealand and a future beyond their comprehension but must complete their quest. Nominated for the Palme d’Or at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey is a bold and often startling fusion of medieval fantasy and time travel science fiction, quite unlike anything you’ve seen.

Special Features:

  • High Definition (Blu-ray) presentation
  • Original mono audio (uncompressed LPCM)
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • Brand-new appreciation by film critic Nick Roddick, recorded exclusively for this release
  • Kaleidoscope: Vincent Ward – Film Maker, a 1989 documentary profile of the director made for New Zealand television
  • Theatrical trailer
  • FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Kim Newman and an introduction by Vincent Ward

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Written by

J. Tonzelli is a writer, film critiquer, and avid Arnold/Van Damme/Bronson enthusiast who resides in rural South Jersey. He is the author of "The End of Summer: Thirteen Tales of Halloween" and the "Fright Friends Adventure" series, co-authored with Chris Evangelista. He loves abandoned buildings, the supernatural, and films by John Carpenter. You can read some of his short fiction at his website, JTonzelli.com, or objectify him by staring at his tweets: @jtonzelli. He apologizes for all the profanity.

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