Dune – Extended Edition

Truthfully though, it really is a horrible piece of editing and construction, making this DVD the second opportunity Universal has pissed away to give the fans a “Dune” package they deserve.

1984 was a massive year for fantasy entertainment, welcoming the release of “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” “Ghostbusters,” “Gremlins,” “The Neverending Story,” “The Terminator,” and the ultimate fairy tale, “The Karate Kid” (oh come on, Ralph Macchio as an ass-kickerr). It was also the year of “Dune,” David Lynch’s wildly ambitious, hilariously idiosyncratic sci-fi epic that bombed at the box office and sent Frank Herbert fanatics into a fit of anger.

I’m not convinced the years have been kind to Lynch’s oddity. Sure, the film entered cult status years back, finding admirers all over the globe, but there’s still a strong contingent of folks who would rather not be reminded of this bizarre deconstruction of Herbert’s classic novel. I personally adore the picture, happily ingesting Lynch’s strange brew of blockbuster sci-fi adventure and intimate psychology, no matter how nutty the picture becomes. And heavens, does this film ever get nutty.

“Dune” is a luxurious, epic production, calling up the great spirit of David Lean as it details the operatic struggle between two families battling for control over the all-powerful spice Melange. Using sorely missed special effect techniques (including miniatures and puppetry), an overblown but entirely appropriate rock score from Toto, and a game cast (including Kyle MacLachlan, Sean Young, and Sting) acting as though it was a Wednesday afternoon episode of “General Hospital,” “Dune” is fiercely entertaining, downright gorgeous filmmaking, if a bit rough around the edges.

The central complaint of “Dune” is that Lynch distorted Herbert’s narrative so much that he couldn’t possibly fit the book’s excessive plotting into a single feature film. Those complaints are valid, as the film makes little sense, even for hardcore fans. Lynch is so blinded by his love of the glitzy production design and exhaustive costumes that he sometimes forgets to keep the narrative moving in clear directions. I can only imagine how much Universal panicked when they got their first glimpse of Lynch’s truncated, surrealistic, inner-monologue-drenched epic, which makes the central appeal of this DVD, the extended cut, seem all the more attractive in theory.

Running about 40 minutes longer, the extended cut of “Dune” was initially created for broadcast television distribution in the late 1980s, and is truly a hatchet job by any standards. Those new to “Dune,” and expecting a detailed “Alien 3” style of DVD reconstruction, will be immediately disappointed. To clear away the film’s fog, some random studio goon assembled the extended cut in a way that clarifies everything for the casual viewer, at great expense to Lynch’s original artistry (he took his name off this version of the picture). Opening with an extended prologue that uses paintings and storyboards to explain the towering “Dune” backstory, the film quickly launches into a truly bizarre assortment of outtakes, recycled footage, random voiceover, television censorship, and incomplete special effects to expand the film to three hours. Admittedly, some of the extra sequences are fun, and the handholding nature of the alternate cut comes in handy when dealing with Lynch’s “subtext for the subtext” method of filmmaking; but, overall, the cut is sloppy, unprofessional, and maddening for those who’ve desired a graceful and thought-out restoration of Lynch’s famed “lost” cut of the picture.

Video/Audio/Extras

“Dune” is presented on a DVD-18 disc, containing both the theatrical and extended cuts of the film in the anamorphic, 2.35:1 aspect ratio. For the extended version, this presentation is a real curiosity. Long exhibited only in full frame, seeing the alternate cut of “Dune” in a widescreen ratio is a bit like polishing a turd, but it’s still a nice looking polish. Both versions are presented with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.

For extras, Universal hasn’t offered much for a film that could easily support a box set of DVDs simply on production stories alone. The disc has a small handful of featurettes on production, with nothing running over 10 minutes in length. Interviewing obscure members of the crew (none of the cast or Lynch are included), the featurettes shed little light on how “Dune” was created, only tossing out a whopper here and there, including one doozy revealing that to create the dark, smoldering look of the titular desert planet, Lynch demanded the constant burning of rubber tires to achieve the right color of smoke. So the next time you feel it’s a little unseasonably warm outside, thank David Lynch.

Also on the disc are 15 minutes of deleted scenes, most unfinished, that help fill the gaps in the extended cut. These are introduced by the producer, Raffaella De Laurentiis.

And in current, mysterious Universal DVD fashion, the trailer is not included.

Final Words

“Dune” has its fans, and they will be the ones picking up this DVD, not the casual viewer. Released only in an effort to curb the rampant importing of the extended cut from other DVD regions, Universal really blew their chance to give the aficionados what they deserve with a extensive document on how “Dune” came to be and how the film is regarded today. For many, this DVD will satisfy decades of curiosity, but the lack of effort to clean up the extended cut into fighting shape is appalling, and continues the long history of disrespect this underrated epic has endured.

Rating: B
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American Pie Presents Band Camp

(Note to studio: comedy screenplays for cheap direct-to-video movies should never make it to 121 pages.) Now, our suspicions have been fully realized. “American Pie Presents: Band Camp” is little more than a blatant attempt to cash in on brand name recognition.

With most of the original cast of the “American Pie” films having moved on to other things (the draft of the script that got this project greenlit included Stifler’s mom, Finch and Steve Stifler himself), the new story follows Stifler’s younger brother Matt (newcomer Tad Hilgenbrinck, who really does look and sound like he could be Seann William Scott’s sibling) as he tries to live up to the “legend” of his older brother. Of course, nobody outside of Steve Stifler’s circle of friends liked him very much, and Matt is even more annoying, and thus more hated by his peers. People tolerate him because he will be the starting quarterback when school resumes next fall. But when Matt takes a graduation day prank too far, he is inexplicably sent to the band camp by school counselor Sherman (Chris Owen, stepping in to make some connection to the original trilogy in a scene originally written to be between the school principal and Stifler’s mom, for which we now have “Joey” to be thankful for keeping the very talented Jennifer Coolidge away from this mess).

Being a junior Stiffmeister, Matt is determined to make the most of his days being stuck at band camp. Wishing to follow in his older brother’s footsteps as a producer of “Girls Gone Wild”-like videos, Matt devises a plan, based on the things he’s heard about band camp, to set up a series of video cameras to film his fellow campmates in intimate situations. Lucky for him, band camp is populated with many nubile young ladies, and with the help of his camp roomie, the technogeek Ernie (who has fortunately brought his motorized robot with twin cameras for eyes to camp), Matt begins shooting for his “Bandies Gone Wild” epic. But as we saw with previous “Pie” films, the heart can make a young man do strange things, and Matt starts to feel conflicted when he starts to find himself becoming emotionally attached to Elyse (the lovely Ariel Kebbel), the student band leader for East Great Falls High.

I doubt anyone expects an “American Pie” to be on the same level with a Preston Sturges film or even a John Hughes film, but what is most sad about “Band Camp” is the presence of Eugene Levy, who is shoehorned into the story as the camp’s Morale and Conflict Resolution Officer. Levy has proven himself to be one of the better comedic actors of the day, and we know it takes several years for him Christopher Guest to create a new premise for one of their modern classics, but this is the sixth consecutive bad comedy (following “Cheaper by the Dozen 2,” “The Man,” “New York Minute,” “American Wedding” and “Dumb and Dumberer” being the other violators) he has made since his and Guest’s last collaboration (“A Mighty Wind”), which might be paying his mortgages but severely hurting his overall image. We’re coming to the point where a Eugene Levy comedy that does not have “Directed by Christopher Guest” at the end of the credits is simply not worth watching, and that is a sad commentary and a waste of a true gift.

On the plus side, Tad Hilgenbrinck (who makes his film debut here) does have the same goofy effervescence that Seann William Scott has put into many of his roles, and having the lead role in a successful film, even one that went straight to video, could give him some career momentum. Ariel Kebbel, the young female lead, has a true girl-next-door charisma that is a refreshing change from the would-be porn stars that are often passed off as fresh-faced ingenues.

Let me quickly tell you how unforgettable this movie is… I wrote the bulk of this review in late December 2005, after watching the film and all its supplemental materials (a quite tepid group of “bonus” features not worth talking about), and only remembered I needed to finish it more than a month later. Most of the jokes just lie there, the vast majority of performances are as flat as the jokes and the direction is as lifeless as the performances. But then, who watches “American Pie” movies for the storyr It’s all about the breasts, and based on the early DVD sales for “Band Camp,” they are good enough to probably warrant “American Pie Presents Band Camp Again” and “American Pie Presents Band Camp Yet Again.”

Rating: D-
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Repo Man

The funny part about “Repo Man” is that, upon its initial release in March 1984, it was not a hit film. Even after a re-release spurred on by the relative success of the soundtrack, the film only ended up grossing about $2.3 million in theatres before finding its cult status on home video and on cable. Growing up as a semi-punk in Santa Cruz, California at the time, my friends and I were instantly drawn to the film when we saw the preview for the first time at the Del Mar Theatre, rushing from our high school in Aptos that Friday it finally made it to our small town (small films like “Repo Man” usually did not make it to our area until weeks or months after their initial release, leaving us to literally counting the days until we could see the films we had read about in magazines or seen commercials for on television). After catching it three or four times the few weeks it played in town first run, we would catch it every time it played at the Sash Mill, our local revival theatre house (and if you don’t know what a revival theatre is, you missed one of the greatest things about being a cinephile). For a couple years, until we got swept away by “The Toxic Avenger” (which still had such a strange hold on me even in my adult years, I spent two years working for Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz in New York City as their webmaster, barely earning a living wage but learning more about the film industry than any film school education could ever provide), “Repo Man” was the cult film of choice in my circle of friends.

If you haven’t seen “Repo Man” by now, and there is no logical reason why you shouldn’t have, the film is either, based on your point of view, a complete waste of time or a hilarious satire on the lies of society and consumerism. Aimless Los Angeles punk rocker Otto (still Emilio Estevez’s best role) finds himself drawn away from his pseudo-anarchist lifestyle when he inadvertently becomes a skip tracer under the tutelage of Bud (Harry Dean Stanton). Full of conspiracy theories, thinly veiled comments on the then-rampant Reaganomics and more quotable lines this side of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Repo Man” is still a breath of fresh air, a fantastic time capsule looking back at a moment in time most of us would like to otherwise forget. Because, let’s face it — despite what VH1 thinks, the 1980s mostly sucked, except for what became the last bastion of non-corporate mentality at the major distributors. Would a company like Universal today really green light a low-budget anarchist comedy which didn’t just bite the hand that feeds it but chewed it off like a rabid dog and devoured it wholer At best, it would pawn it off on “indie” arm Focus Features, who probably wouldn’t consider it unless it had a proven talent behind the camera (which Alex Cox most certainly was not, at the time), or Focus might pawn it off on their “genre” unit, Rogue Pictures, if it a remake of some semi-obscure 1970s movie with a sizeable name cast who sells in the international market (which Emilio Estevez and Harry Dean Stanton are not, then or now). Outside of Lionsgate, there probably isn’t another company today that would finance a film like “Repo Man,” but that is another gripe for another day.

Going back to the time capsule comment for a moment, one of the wonderful things about “Repo Man” is its gorgeous cinematography. If you look closely at the credits, one would note not only the presence of the extraordinary Robby Muller as cinematographer (whose work with Wim Wenders on such films as “The American Friend” and “Paris, Texas” is legendary), but also future celebrated cinematographers Robert Richardson (Oscar winner for “JFK” and “The Aviator”) and Tom Richmond (“House of 1000 Corpses” and all five Keith Gordon films) as camera assistants and operators. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is clear and vibrant, perhaps even better than its theatrical prints. Very little ghosting and grain is visible in the transfer. The original mono theatrical soundtrack has been remixed for both 5.1 and 2.0 systems, with excellent bass and treble levels balanced with crisp, clear dialogue.

While the feature commentary with director Alex Cox, executive producer Michael Nesmith, casting director Victoria Thomas, and actors Sy Richardson (Lite), Zander Schloss (Kevin) and Del Zamora (Lagarto Rodriguez) is the same as Anchor Bay’s 2000 limited edition release (one of the rare commentaries that is as enjoyable as it is entertaining, and wisely not re-recorded for this release), what makes this release a must-own for “Repo Man” fans are the three new featurettes: the twenty-one minute “Up Close with Harry Dean Stanton,” which features the iconoclastic actor speaking about acting, religion, nihilism and Marlon Brando in an insightful and fascinating interview; the twenty-five minute “Reposeesed,” which finds producers Jonathan Wacks and Peter McCarthy in conversation with writer/director Alex Cox about the highs and lows of the film’s creation and production, as well as short visits with Dick Rude (who was Alex Cox’s first choice to play Otto before Estevez came aboard, but still quite memorable as Otto’s punk brother Duke), Sy Richardson (who claims to have ad-libbed his best line in the film, but totally flubs it more than once while repeating it) and Del Zamora (who doesn’t get much time in this segment but makes it memorable); and the twenty-five minute “The Missing Scenes,” where Alex Cox sits with Sam Cohen, the creator of the Neutron Bomb and a big fan of the film, to watch a dozen deleted scenes. Also included in this collection is a slightly worn copy of the film’s original theatrical trailer, which inexplicably seems to be making its DVD debut here.

It is going a bit far to call “Repo Man” a modern classic (its sci-fi subplot has not aged as well the rest of the film), but it is amongst the defining films of the decade and one that belongs in the most basic DVD collections.

Grades:

  • Film: B+
  • Video Image Quality: A
  • Sound Quality: A
  • Bonus Materials: A
  • Overall Grade: A-

Visit the Repo Man DVD website at http://repomandvd.com

Buy the “Repo Man” DVD at Amazon.com

Rating: A-
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King Kong: Peter Jackson’s Production Diaries

For some, the answer will be a resounding “Yes! Yes! A Thousand Times YES!” with good reason, for not only does this set come with the 54 production diary videos which were presented on the KongisKing.net website between September 2004 and April 2005 (which have since been removed), but includes a new five and a half minute introduction by Jackson, a bonus previously unseen Production Diary of the film’s second unit visiting the Wellington Zoo to get some shots of animals to be seen in the early moments of the film, and most importantly a seventeen minute featurette explaining how the Kong/T-Rex fight was set up, including the final product as seen in the film. Additional goodies include a 48 page (52 if you include the front and back covers), full color notebook filled with photos from the film and explanations about every video diary entry, a snappy case to hold said notebook and the two DVDs, four 8 1/2 x 11 inch full color prints showing some of the Kong conceptual art created at Jackson’s Weta Workshop and a Certificate of Authenticity from Jackson to ensure everything is on the up and up. The whole collection is then held in a highly detailed box made to look like one of Carl Denham’s briefcases.

Watching the diaries months after the fact, and in sequential order, may bring a new appreciation of the project to some. Jackson and his team are clearly uncomfortable with the cameras at first, unsure whether this experiment (and although more and more filmmakers are hoping on the bandwagon because of these diaries’ success, it was an experiment when they started) would be a benefit. As we are now able to burn through the first month of diaries in about half an hour, it appears those fears and trepidations quickly subsided, as everyone on the cast and crew start to really play to the cameras, to the point where several dairies are more about the craziness between camera setups than the actual production of the film (and those of us who have worked on film sets can attest to how nuts things can get waiting for things to happen). One could even argue these production diaries will become invaluable to future filmmakers, who can see firsthand the realities of filmmaking even more than most of the worthless “behind the scenes” footage seen on other DVDs and on television.

Running over three and a half hours, the production diary videos look much better on a large television screen (especially on a high definition receiver, as they are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen) than the postage stamp size versions originally included on the web, with bright and crisp colors and the ability to see much more detail throughout the diaries. Sound has been mastered in 2.0 Dolby Digital, with imperfect qualities to be expected from footage shot on camcorders. The production art prints are beautiful works worthy of framing, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Your own personal enjoyment of the “King Kong: Peter Jackson’s Production Diaries” DVD set may depend on your own fascination with the process of filmmaking. Watching most of these segments again, at least for this writer, was less satisfying the second time around. I still chuckled at the general wackiness which surrounded two other very famous directors coming in to assist Jackson, during Episode 53 (“Peter Calls in Help,” the flip side of which can be seen at the web episode site for one of those director’s new film), but overall, most of the episodes did not hold up to the scrutiny of extended viewing. (Writer’s note: The viewing of these episodes for this review came after the writer had seen the final film.)

To learn more about the “King Kong: Peter Jackson’s Production Diaries” DVD set, visit the Universal Studios Home Entertainment website.

Rating: B-
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Brat Pack Movies and Music Collection, The

That film, along with Hughes’s subsequent directorial efforts “The Breakfast Club” and “Weird Science,” have been bundled together yet again in “The Brat Pack Movies and Music Collection.” What makes this collection different from 2003’s “High School Reunion Collection” is the cutesy packaging (created to look like the ubiquitous blue three-ring binders many of us who went to high school when these films came out carried around) and its bonus “Brat Pack” bonus CD featuring eight songs from various Hughes movies, including “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Some Kind of Wonderful” (which are not included in this set because they were made for another studio). The inside covers include a short synopsis of the three films and a too-brief pop quiz of the films, which should be easy even for those who have only seen them once.

Released in theatres in May of 1984, “Sixteen Candles” tells the nightmarish tale of a young girl entering into womanhood unnoticed while her family deals with the impending nuptials of her older sister, and the even more frightening prospect of one’s crush not knowing of your existence while being aggressively pursued by a Farmer Ted. A mild hit upon its initial release, “Sixteen Candles” helped launch Hughes and his muse Molly Ringwald into the cultural zeitgeist and remains the strongest movie of this group.

Nine months later, Hughes released “The Breakfast Club,” the Brat Pack movie that made his reputation as the spokesperson for Generation X. The simple tale of five different high school stereotypes (the Jock, the Princess, the Brain, the Criminal and the Basket Case) who break down their barriers while trapped in Saturday detention, the film made stars out of all five lead performers and turned Simple Minds into temporary music gods with the help of the massive radio hit “Don’t You (Forget About Me).”

The weakest film in the set, then and now, remains “Weird Science.” Arriving less than six months after “The Breakfast Club,” “Weird Science” was a more ambitious film for Hughes, bringing in special effects and a touch of science fiction to tell the tale of two high school losers who find acceptance amongst their peers when they accidentally create the perfect woman. Today, the film is more interesting in its early looks at future stars Robert Downey Jr. and Bill Paxton than for anything in the film itself.

Like their individual DVDs, this collection is lean on the bonus features. No commentaries by Hughes or any of the cast members, no behind the scenes featurettes and no “Where Are They Nowr” segments. In fact, these DVDs are exactly the same as the individual DVDs which were released under the High School Reunion Collection banner in September 2003. All three disks include the same unskippable triple commercial for the High School Reunion Collection, “Animal House” and “Monty Python and the Meaning of Life” (the latter two which were also being released around the same time), the same “recommendations” (often featuring at least one of the other two Brat Pack films) and the same “special feature” of a theatrical trailer on “The Breakfast Club” and “Weird Science.” That the producers of the DVD could not even be bothered to put the trailer for “Sixteen Candles” on that disc is still a mystery.

All three films are presented in 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen with the option of 5.1 Dolby Digital or DTS Digital mixes or 2.0 Dolby Digital mix in Spanish, English captions and French and Spanish subtitles. Both the sound and picture transfers are adequate at best, considering the age of the original elements and the industry-wide lack of proper archiving in the pre-DVD days. Negative dirt and scratches can be made out on all three films, with noticeable grain during the night scenes of “Sixteen Candles” and “Weird Science.” The sound mixes are all satisfactory, with no one element overpowering any other.

If you have yet to purchase any previous release of these three films or the High School Reunion Collection, this Movies and Music Collection is a good addition to your collection. If you are like me, and already upgraded our older editions of “Sixteen Candles” and “The Breakfast Club” to the 2003 releases, there is no need to upgrade to this edition, unless you really need the music disc with your old new wave favorites.

Final Grades: “Sixteen Candles” still gets an A, “The Breakfast Club” a B+ and “Weird Science” a D. The collective bonus features receive a D- for a general lack of inclusion of truly bonus features, while the sound and picture qualities all receive a B.

To learn more about this collection, visit the Universal Studios Home Video website.

Rating: B
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American Gothic

And all I have to say, is that it’s about friggin’ time! After ten years I finally got the chance to view one of my favorite series in its entirety. American Gothic was a genre show on Fox in season that ran from 1995-96. Back when The X-Files opened the door for innovative genre shows that were trying to be innovative and original. Such as Nowhere Man, Millennium, and this little devil of a show that I am reviewing here for you, my little pretties. Watching 22 episodes back to back to back, might not sound fun to most people, and they would be correct, because it actually is quite a pain in the ass, butt (misspelled on purpose) it is my duty as a reviewer for this fine film site, so when duty calls, Dick Hollywood is on the job.

In the small coastal town of Trinity, South Carolina there is an unspeakable evil, and that evil just happens to be Buck, Lucas Buck; the Sheriff of Trinity. Lucas Buck (brilliantly played by Gary Cole) and his deputy Ben (Nick Searcy) are dispatched to the Temple house and discover that Gage Temple (Sonny Shroyer) has killed his teen daughter Merlyn (Sarah Paulson). Since dad is in jail awaiting trial and Mrs. Temple (Tammy Arnold) committed suicide after the birth of her son Caleb, (Lucas Black, the youngest Temple), and now Caleb has nowhere to go, But Sheriff Buck has other plans for the boy. And what plans indeed. Now that was a typeful. (I just made up a word, isn’t that coolr)

Never had I seen before on television, when the show first aired and since, such a diabolical lead character. He was no hero. He was no anti-hero. He was just plain one bad mutha fucka (can I say that). When the show first aired I was only able to catch about six of the episodes, but they stuck with me for years to come. It aired again on the Sci-Fi channel and I was able to catch a few more there as well, but alas not all of them. Even without seeing them all it remained one of my favorite shows. Ten years later and it is finally released on DVD. It may have been a hell of a wait, but one well worth it. The episodes are presented in their original network airdates with the four never aired shows (I believe that they aired on the Sci-Fi Channel) placed at the end. I watched them in their original production order. The network executives decided to change the order for some strange reason, but you can go to americangothicdvd.com for the correct order. Well, watching them years later I started to get the feeling that maybe I was wrong about the show. That it just did not hold up now, but let me tell you, I must have been tired or something, because not only does it hold up, it downright blows away most television shows that have come out since it originally aired.

This show has got it all. Good vs. Evil, ghosts, witchcraft, bumbling deputies, dark humor, a sexy Femme Fatal, and of course Buck, Lucas Buck. It’s corny, scary, creepy, moving and funny. This show had it all. Creator/Writer Shaun Cassidy (yes of the “Hardy Boys”) knew that the show was going to be cancelled ahead of time, so he was able to write a conclusion and wrap the season up without a cliffhanger, but an actual ending. Well shoot, my fingers are tired. Just go and rent the damn thing why don’t ya!

-Extras:

The pilot episode has a commentary with Shaun Cassidy and one of the producers. Not really informative, but should be fun for fans of the show.

15 Deleted and Extended scenes with nothing-new here, watch’em if you must…

I give it a B for the “Buck” stops here!

Rating: B
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