STAR WARS & X-MEN (Mania.com)

By:John Thonen
Date: Tuesday, November 21, 2000

Thanksgiving is only a couple days away, and once you get past your post meal nap, you'll suddenly realize that Thanksgiving also marks the start of Christmas shopping. Yes, it's a petrifying moment, but if you've got friends with a DVD player or VHS deck, then your gift buying concerns can be resolved right here, unless you're one of those types who buy a present and then decide to keep it for yourself. So, in addition to my usual rundown of the week's releases, I'll also be giving a brief mention to announced upcoming titles for the season, so that you can make the wisest gift buying decisions possible. Which, of course, is to buy them all.

The big news for the week is the latest evidence that George Lucas is actually Bill Gates in disguise. I mean, I don't want to go off on a rant here, but just like Gates, Lucas sells us something, then makes a few changes and additions, and then sells it to us again. How else can you explain today's release of the Star Wars Trilogy on VHS only. The only real difference between this box set and the one three years ago is the inclusion of a 10-minute 'Making of' Documentary on the upcoming 'Episode 2.' But there will be plenty of fans who will buy the set, and then, those same fans will buy the set again in the future when SatanI mean GatesI mean Lucasfinally releases the same films on DVD. Oh, he'll probably toss in some little extra to tempt us again. You know, exclusive footage of Mark Hamill painting houses for a living now, or Carrie Fisher's liposuction, or Harrison Ford's hair transplant, but it'll just be a ruse to sucker us in. And then, a year after that he'll release the special edition DVDs with commentaries and documentaries, etc, and damned if we won't all buy the same movies again. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. And fool me repeatedly, you're a fanboy. (Click the editorial link at bottom to see where two of the three Star Wars films landed on our countdown of the 100 Greatest Science Fiction, Horror, and Fantasy Films of All time.)

Anyway, with that out of the way, we can move on to this week's two decidedly worthy, major new releases. Up first, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment's release of The X-Men on VHS and in DVD 'Special Edition' form. Though already well covered in Steve Biodrowski's recent review, I can't resist adding my two cents worth as well.

Comic books have long attracted filmmakers, and the legendary 'The X-Men,' created by Jack Kirby under Stan Lee's reign at Marvel Comics, had long been considered for a movie adaptation. The fact was, however, that such a film was viewed with as much trepidation as anticipation, because it seemed unlikely that any movie could accomplish what Kirby, Lee and Marvel Comics had. Thus, the recent hit was all the more pleasant an experience, as director Bryan Singer managed to give the film both an emotional and philosophical resonance, as well as lots of nifty rays and fights. One of the better surprises of the past year.

However, while the DVD 'Special Edition' has an adequate number of extra features, rumors persist that this disc was a rush job to garner holiday sales and that a more feature-packed release is yet to come. Fox denies any such current plans, but CHUD.com recently gave credence to the rumors, and and Fandom's own X-Men Fandomain recently quoted a New York Post interview with director Singer in which he said that '20th Century Fox has committed to doing a second X-Men DVD.' Singer added that such a disc would contain a commentary from him as well as pull from extensive 'making of' footage shot on camcorder during production. So, for the moment, maybe a rental is the best move on this title so you can avoid the risk of buying the movie twice. Though at least Lucas doesn't own this

The other major new release of the week, from Dreamworks Home Entertainment, is one of the year's sleeper hits, Chicken Run (VHS & DVD: Special Edition) Considering that CGI animation has all but totally supplanted dimensional stop-motion animation, the success of this film shows that traditional stop motion/claymation techniques can still command an audience, albeit only in family-oriented fare.

Chicken Run is the creation of Nick Park and Peter Lord of Aardman Animation, the company that brought us the delightful, Oscar-winning Wallace and Gromit shorts (The Wrong Trousers, A Close Shave). The storyline, a takeoff on the classic WWII film The Great Escape, features a bevy of well cast performers (including Mel Gibson) providing the voices for the chickens, farmers and other barnyard denizens of the Tweedy Egg Farm. This one is well suited, both content-wise and sophistication-wise, for all audiences and shouldn't be missed by any animation fan.

It's somehow fitting that, just as Chicken Run is showing that dimensional animation may survive the arrival of CGI, Image Entertainment should be releasing The Puppetoon Movie , which chronicles George Pal's revolutionary work producing the 'Puppetoon,' shorts. Pal's shorts, produced in the '30s and early '40s, utilized a short-lived but genuinely magical dimensional animation technique known as 'replacement animation.' As the method's name implies, 'replacement animation' doesn't uses adjustable models, but instead creates the illusion of life by utilizing hundreds of slightly varying body parts, each added and then photographed one frame at a time. The system was very time-consuming, averaging about 16 seconds of footage a day, but it created amazingly fluid facial and body movements.

In addition to the 1987 Puppetoon Movie, which features 11 of Pal's shorts, the DVD disc also offers a dozen more, along with a short interview with one of Pal's animators, who demonstrates the basics of the laborious process. With a number of Pal's delightful, live-action feature productions having recently been re-released, the arrival of The Puppetoon Movie is a most welcome new reminder of the legacy of magic Pal created.

Magic of another kind can be found in MGM Home Entertainment's VHS and no-frills DVD release of John Carpenter's Escape From New York. I doubt there's much I can add to this film's cult legend. This is the one where New York City is a prison, Kurt Russell is the one-eyed Snake Plissken, Donald Pleasance is the President, Issac Hayes is The Duke of New York, and most of the characters don't even have names. It has spawned a misfired sequel and an upcoming TV series, as well as providing the blueprint for all Carpenter anti-heroes since. While MGM could and should have offered some DVD extra features, it should be said that this is an excellent print, superbly digitized and with great sound. A must for any Carpenter fan.

Director Ridley Scott has also created his share of movie magic, whether it be his early feature, Alien, or his recent Gladiator, but most consider his 1985 fantasy, Legend, to be one of his rare misfires. Still, the film has its champions, and it is a triumph of makeup and set design. The story is an epic bit of fantasy about an adventuresome boy named Jack (Tom Cruise) who finds himself pitted against the demonic Darkness (Tim Curry) to save the last unicorn. Curry is superb, as are most of the evil minions who aid him and confound Jack. Among that evil cadre is Voyager's Robert Picardo as the gruesome Meg Mucklebones, in wonderful Rob Bottin makeup. Still, as hard as he tries, Cruise just doesn't cut it in the lead, and Mia Sara, visually perfect for Princess Lily, is just too bland. Empty headed, cold and remote, this is still a gorgeous looking film and worth a look, if only for that reason

While every technical and visual element of Legend is superbly realized, the film is rarely entertaining. Just the opposite is true of Image Entertainment's release this week of 1957's The Astounding She Monster, one of the cheesiest sci-fi films of a decade renowned for no-budget fare. This one involves a group of people in a remote location who are menaced by an alien woman built like Marilyn Monroe, who wears a skintight jumpsuit and whose touch can kill. The film looks like it was made for about $5.00, and someone stole half of that. One of the odder things about the title menace is that she always backs away from her prey when retreating, a method utilized because the skintight outfit ripped up the back and the production couldn't afford another one.

Bad as it is, The Astounding She Monster is good for a few laughs and is a perfect choice to play the home game of MST3K, where you turn down the sound and you and a few smart-ass friends ad lib new dialogue; otherwise, it should probably be avoided.

That's it for the week's releases, but before you spend your hard earned dollars on 'Xmas video gifts, be aware that the coming winter weeks will also bring the arrival of: The Cell, a two-disc collector's set of Seven, yet another Blair Witch clone, this one entitled The St. Francisville Experiment, the animation of The Road to El Dorado and The Land Before Time VII, Scary Movie, a 14-film Alfred Hitchcock box set, the ultimate giant monster in Godzilla 2000 (minus the once-promised Japanese-language version, unfortunately), and yet another giant monster in Octopus, plus a giant killer snake in Python.

On the news front, rocker Jon Bon Jovi has reportedly signed to star in the direct-to-video (DTV) sequel to John Carpenter's Vampires. This seems a bit contrary to the initial reports on the film, to be titled Vampires: Los Muertos, which suggested that the movie would focus on Tim Guinee's character of Father Adam Guiteau, from the first film. While I have some contacts in Carpenter's camp, I'm going to bypass them and hazard a guess, instead. Many vampire films, Carpenter's being a rare exception, end up with the most charismatic character being the head bloodsucker. I think Bon Jovi is going to play the master vampire in this outing, and while I'm no great fan of his music, I think it'll be great casting. We'll see.

ADV Films, who have largely specialized in anime releases in the past, recently announced that this coming February will see them begin releasing VHS & DVDs of TV's best current sci-fi series, Farscape. It's also reported that both tapes & discs will feature 2 episodes and some additional footage and that the DVDs will feature a commentary track. No word yet on how often new discs will be released, but the word is that they will be in sequential order starting with the pilot episode.

You've probably already heard that The Crow: Salvation, the latest sequel in the popular series, will be going the DTV route rather than theatrical. Word is that a 3-film box set will be released in March of next year, featuring the new film and its two predecessors, as well as a host of extras. One would hope those supplementals might include commentaries, as it would be very interesting to hear the approaches taken by each of the three directors involved to date with the series.

Never one to miss a trend, Charles Band's Full Moon pictures is already in production on a DTV aimed Demonicus: Conqueror of the Damned, which is apparently a horror variation onGladiator. Erotica-oriented DTV label, Seduction Cinema (no relation to Band's Surrender Cinema) is at work onGladiator Eroticvs , a T&A entry in the same arena. (I guess we should be glad they didn't title it Glad-he-ate-her.) Seduction Cinema has also announced The Bare Witch Project 2, a sequel to their dreadful T&A BWP parody, as well as The Erotic Ghost. Like most of Seduction's output, these will all presumably be shot-on-video offerings.

That's it for another week. Next time, I'll be Alien-ated by the Blood of Troma, kidding my way through a look at the original in a series of Corn-y movies and enjoying the Comfort of inhuman Creatures , including one with eight arms to hold me. Until then, I'm off to rent movies for our family Thanksgiving film screening party. I plan to pick up Blair Witch 2, The Little Vampire, Urban Legends: Final Cut and Lost Souls. That ought to be enough turkeys to feed any size family.

Next Week's DVD Releases
Alien Blood - Troma
Children of the Corn Anchor Bay
Creature Comforts Elite
Bela Lugosi double bill: Invisible Ghost/The Corpse Vanishes Marengo
Jack the Ripper Elite
Macross 2: The Movie Manga
Octopus Trimark
The Screaming Skull/Attack of the Giant Leeches Elite
Scrooge/Beyond Tomorrow Marengo
Jack Nicholson: The Terror/Little Shop of Horrors - Marengo
Wings of Honneamise - Manga
X-Files Season 2 Gift pack - Fox Home Video