16 August 2013

More Blu-Ray Evidence!!

More Blu-Ray Evidence! 
By Kristin Battestella

Be it period and medieval drama, science fiction and intergalactic battles, or epic fantasy, the blu-ray format has once again renewed the panache of these titles both young and old.

Beckett – One has to be in the mood for this lengthy two and a half hours of 1964 epic medieval history and bromance starring Peter O’Toole (Lawrence of Arabia), Richard Burton (Anne of A Thousand Days), and the brief but charming John Gielgud (Arthur) thanks to lots of soliloquies and a decidedly Shakespearean vibe. From clashing Normans and Saxons and swashbuckling humor to saucy affairs and swordfights, the mix of stage presence and grandiose film scope works. While audiences today may focus on the homosexual subtext, there are excellent one on one debates on women, religion, and even food from the three Oscar nominees here. King Peter is wonderfully snotty and tormented while Burton is surprisingly subtle as the chancellor who knows how to rein in his prince – until he gets a case of religion, that is. The colorful photography, great costumes, beautiful horses, sweeping architectures, and scenic landscapes all look made to look old delightful on the restored blu-ray, and Latin chorales, wonderful orchestrations, and big crescendos rise or disappear as needed. Though a Best Adapted Screenplay winner, contemporary viewers may find some of the inaccurate plotting and old speaketh a little dry. Subtitles are essential, but the scrollwork blu-ray interface is cool.  After being out of the home video market for so long, period piece lovers, fans of the cast, and history buffs should indulge here – with O’Toole’s reprisal as Henry II in The Lion in Winter for good measure.

Elizabeth – Granted, this 1998 biography from writer Michael Hirst (The Tudors) is not super accurate historically, but dang if this isn’t as fine a period film as they come. The orchestral music is perfectly fitting, and the stunning costumes, medieval sets, and colorful photography all look brand spanking new on blu-ray.  Yes, liberties were taken; some of the stylized scenes are pretty for the sake of it and don’t always advance the plot. It’s often tough to tell who is who and Joseph Fiennes (Camelot) is insipid as always. However, Cate Blanchett (Lord of the Rings) was 110% robbed of the Best Actress Oscar – we knew it then. The sharp editing, solid pace, assassination dangers, and regal plotting still make this a better picture than that other Elizabethan movie that unjustly ruled the Academy that year coughshakespeareinlovecough. It’s also delightful to see the excellent supporting cast, from stalwarts like Richard Attenborough (The Sand Pebbles) and Geoffrey Rush (Pirates of the Caribbean) to charmers like Vincent Cassel (Eastern Promises) and James Frain (True Blood) and then-unknowns like current Bond Daniel Craig and ex-Doctor Christopher Eccleston. For scholars, Tudor lovers, fans of the cast, period connoisseurs, indie film audiences, and Oscar should-have-won trivia fans, there’s no reason not to like this one.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age – We wrote on this 2007 sequel at length previously, but after seeing this again on the dual blu-ray set with its predecessor, it’s time for a digital glory update. Once again, Cate Blanchett rules the hour, simply put. Yes, this follow up is slightly weaker thanks to some cartoonish King Philip (Jordi Molla, Colombiana) scenes and an uncharismatic Clive Owen (Closer) as Sir Walter Raleigh in love. Though there are panoramic, sweeping paces and this sequel also plays with historical facts, it isn’t as artsy as Elizabeth was and feels more toned down and mainstream in its construction. Quibbles aside, the naval battle with the Spanish armada is worth the wait. Rightfully so, one doesn’t want the whole film to be about the battle. However, the depiction is just the right amount of epic – and the gore, fire, and stylized strengths are simply smashing on blu- ray. And the Oscar winning costumes? Wow. Fans of the first film, period audiences, and Elizabethian students will simply have to see this pair together for complete scope and Regina reflection, and it would be awesome if we yet saw a third film to finish this set.

The Last Starfighter – Nothing can be done about the old gaming graphics and arcade plots in this 1984 SF adventure, but the space battles, reptilian aliens, and galactic clichés are colorful and bigger than ever on this 25th Anniversary blu–ray edition. 80s retro chic trailer park fashion is always fun to see, too, and the heroic, sincere tale is actually quite entertaining and memorable. Yes, it’s preposterous that a video game would unite a poor town – and that’s before the over the top megalomaniac aliens and need to save the galaxy enter the scene! Fortunately, the primitive computer animations, imaginative space equipment, and dated futuristic technology have the flavor needed, although well-schooled old school fans might see a lot of references or rip-offs from other science fiction films. Director Nick Castle (The Boy Who Could Fly), however, makes sure the 80s names and recognizable faces such as Lance Guest (Halloween II), Catherine Mary Stewart (Night of the Comet), and Robert Preston (The Music Man) are able to laugh at the absurdity of it all – from doppelgangers and playboy snooping little brothers to fake intergalactic speaketh and DeLoreans.  The epic, lively music by Craig Safan (Cheers) ties all the rousing fun together, too. Though the blu-ray interface is a tad annoying, the making of feature, commentary, and other behind the scenes treats complete this renewed, nostalgic trip – it’s perfect for the whole family.

And a Split Decision Wait and See…

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – I confess, I’m not sure how I feel about this 2012 first installment in Peter Jackson’s prequel trilogy to Lord of the Rings. This is a great story, yes. This is a fine cast, true. However, it doesn’t feel as if all the players or the heart of the tale get their due time because the audience is too busy trying to keep up with the 48 frames per second fast rate and the in your face 3D battle scenes – which honestly don’t look good on blu-ray.  While it’s lovely to return to Middle Earth and see this dwarf attention, there’s simply too much other prequel stuff and extra Tolkien ephemera such as the necromancer and white council clouding the story. It’s nice to see these nods and winks bridging the gap to the Lord of the Rings films, but it’s tough to do both a children’s book adaptation and darker mature fantasy material justice with all this off kilter CGI thrown in to boot. I mean, is Frodo seriously there just to pick up Bilbo’s mail? It’s wonderful that the Gollum riddles scene remains rightfully uncut, but the intercut goblin town battle and completely cliché Azog creation look and feel like a real mess. The dwarves don’t really look like dwarves, either. Well, the ones who don’t have any speaking lines do, and the accents here are all over the place, too. Most of the time, it’s tough to remember Richard Armitage (MI-5) is not playing a man about Middle Earth. Do you think John Rhys Davies – who had allergic difficulties to the facial prosthetics as dwarf Gimil in Lord of the Rings – was upset that these dwarves just get big axes, floppy hats, and beards to accent their pretty faces? The script here also adds unnecessary difficulty to itself – flashbacks with more flashbacks within them are what make The Lord of the Rings such a frustrating modern read. When the viewer can tell what’s going on, the pattern here feels like a slower, sillier retread of The Fellowship of the Ring. Ultimately, this first installment can’t decide if it is a prequel to the Lord of the Rings films, a faithful adaptation of the titular children’s book from the thirties, or a new fantasy film trying to keep up with all the other blockbusters via high frame rates, in your face 3D, and too much CGI.  I personally also found The Fellowship of the Ring slow to start and muddled with too many characters and only came back to the Lord of the Rings trilogy after it was completed. I’d like to hold out hope that the story and heartfelt adventure will dominate the next two Hobbit films. However, it seriously looks like a faithful, youthful Hobbit adaptation could have been done in one film.

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