FREQUENCY and THE BLOB (Mania.com)

By:John Thonen
Date: Tuesday, October 31, 2000

Happy Halloween. If you haven't been properly scared yet today, then just check out your credit card bill from buying or renting all the great movies I've covered this month. But don't put that plastic away yet, even if the edges are starting to melt. There's still more to come, starting off with New Line Home Video's unveiling (VHS & DVD) of one of the years best sleepers, Frequency. Though not a Halloween horror title, this does have a good deal of suspense. The film is primarily a thriller with some science fiction elements and a surprisingly effective emotional corean attribute seldom found in any fantastic genre film. It's that sense of 'heart,' that makes the film a little special and worth your time to see. The story deals with a young man who finds his late father's old ham radio and discovers that, due to unique solar storm, it allows him to communicate through time with his firefighter dad who died in a fire years before. Through their communication, the son manages to save his father's life, only to find they've brought about changes to the present which they could not have foreseen.

Star, Dennis Quaid, has had an unusual career in that he has given good performances in a number of good films, yet somehow, major stardom has eluded him. He's a name performer to be certain, but a guy with his looks and talent should have been as big as Tom Cruise, but somehow, it never happened, and while Frequency was hardly a box office bomb, it wasn't a mega-hit either, continuing Quaid's streak. So if, like so many, you bypassed this one at the theaters, don't miss it this week.

In addition to being worth a rental on VHS, the Frequency DVD adds a number of strong extras, including; 3 commentary tracks: one with director Gregory Hoblit, one with composer Michael Kamen (along with an isolated score) and a third commentary with writer Toby Emmerich and cast member Noah Emmerich. There's also deleted scenes, a very nice making of documentary, and a couple of other enjoyable extras. This is one of the better DVD packages of the year and, in some ways, one of the better genre films.

Moving rapidly from the sublime to the ridiculous, is The Blob: Special Edition, from Criterion. This one would have ranked just below a Stephen Segall box set on my list of unnecessary Special Editions, so imagine my surprise when I liked it. The film itself is a classic bit of '50s cheese, enlivened only slightly by the presence of future superstar Steve McQueen (billed as 'Steven' here). It's a good time, but there's no reason to go the DVD route to see it when a nice print of it runs on AMC all the time. It's actually the extras that make this disc worthwhile. Besides the expected trailer, there's a great commentary track featuring producer Jack Harris, something of a B-movie pioneer, director Irvin Yeaworth and cast member Robert Fields. Equally worthwhile, though not quite as much fun, is another commentary with film historian Bruce Eder, who does a nice job filling us in on the film's history and production, which he seems to know much better than the people who worked on it.

Universal helps give a time travel theme to this week's titles with their release of 1980's Somewhere In Time. Like Frequency, this is a time travel tale with a lot of heart and emotion. Unlike Frequency, this one lays it on way too thick. Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour star in this fantasy of a man obsessed with a beautiful woman's portrait. There's no sunspots or solar storms this time. Reeve hypnotizes himself to find the woman at a beautiful hotel, circa 1912. Directed by Jeannot Szwarc, one of the great hack directors of the late '70s and early '80s, the proceedings here are saccharine sweet and cloying, and while I know it's not politically correct to say, Reeve proves again that he's a lousy actor. Still, the film has its fansprimarily those who snatch up romance novels I would suspect.

The DVD of the film is another needless 'Special Edition,' this one featuring trailers, photos, bios, and a documentary on the film's fans and enduring popularity. In fact, there were (maybe still are) fan conventions for the film, which generally took place on Macinac Island in Michigan, where it was filmed. So, this may be to your taste. It sure ain't to mine.

Columbia/Tri Star offer (VHS & DVD) what may be scariest video release of the week, 1964's Fail Safe While George Clooney's recent 'live' TV version of the film was a surprisingly solid piece of work, it's no match for director Sidney Lumet's star-studded, B&W classic of suspense. The story, involving a world on the brink of nuclear disaster thanks to an error, was highly topical in its day. While the threat of nuclear holocaust seems more remote today, the film's powerful performance and documentary-like realism, keep it pretty timeless.

On the nostalgia front, Brentwood unveils The Green Hornet Volume 1 the first in a series of VHS & DVD releases featuring episodes from the short-lived 1966 ABC superhero series is more of a testament to the enduring popularity of series co-star, Bruce Lee. While not quite as campy as the Adam West Batman series (whose production team also made The Green Hornet ), the series hasn't stood the test of time all that well. No word yet on the number of episodes on Volume 1, but two directors are listed, so there's at least a pair of shows.

On the opposite end of the TV series quality spectrum is A&E Home Video's first two releases from the unique Prisoner CBS series, from 1968. Each tape, or disc, features 3 episodes , which are in the same order as the original broadcasts. The story, which was created by series star (and producer) Patrick McGoohan, deals with an unnamed secret agent who resigns his position and shortly thereafter awakens in a remote village. He soon finds that everyone here has a number instead of a name (he is number 6) and that escape is impossible due to roving spheres of light, appropriately called 'rovers,' which guard the borders of the area.

The series, a masterpiece of paranoia and loss of identity worthy of Franz Kafka, lasted only one season, probably because it was decades ahead of its time, but to some extent it is a 'mini-series' anyway, with a clear beginning and ending. Luckily, a fervent cult developed, ultimately leading to these video releases. While some aspects of the series carry a patina of the pop art age it was produced in, the Prisoner stands the test of time quite well, perhaps because its setting and concept are, themselves, rather timeless.

Universal, who have had phenomenal success with their animated Land Before Time series (# 7 premieres shortly), are after another kiddie franchise with Casper's Haunted Christmas. While unavailable for preview, the film's animation is reportedly mostly computer generated, and it sports songs from country star Randy Travis. Which is kind of frightening in itself.

Now, if you want bad, A-Pix Home entertainment can fill the bill for you with their re-release of Werewolf, a truly dreadful throwback to the worst of 1950s horror. Offhand, I can't think of one positive thing to say about this dog, other than it made a pretty good episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. So, if you're some sort of werewolf completist, wait until MST3K releases it. You'll be glad you did.

That's it for this week. I'm off to a really scary Halloween party. It's a theme party. The idea is to imagine what our life would be like if a presidential election was right around the corner and both candidates were total losers. You know, the kind of guys that everybody in the fraternity only hung around with because their daddies were rich. Yep, real idiots. Just remember: keep repeating to yourselves, 'It's only a Halloween party.... It's only a Halloween party.... It's only...'

Up and Coming

Next week brings us the VHS and DVD release of one of the biggest animated flops of recent years, courtesy of 20th Century Fox. Titan A.E. is actually a decent enough Star Wars variant, which suffers from bland voice casting in leads Drew Barrymore and Matt Damon, and equally bland renderings as far as their animated characters are concerned. The film is chock-full of CGI animation, much of it quite dazzling, but the story is just too standard issue to really enthrall. Titan A.E. isn't all that bad; it's just not particularly good.