Deluxe Movie Packaging: same movie, bigger box

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 19th November 2013.    

Many moons ago, I spent a North American summer working as the World’s Oldest Camp Counsellor™. It was a rich kids’ camp and I will never forget parental unit visiting day. One of the campers in my cabin was handed a brand new music CD as a gift. He immediately took the disc out to play the inevitably horrible music contained within, throwing the case and liner notes in the bin, or trash in this instance. As a music collector I was shocked. Although the music is, obviously, the most important element, I love having my CDs stored in their cases on my bookshelf. Besides, how on earth would he know the names of the songs?

Fast forward to today and music CDs are practically an endangered species. However, when it comes to movies, the industry has shifted to the opposite extreme. Perusing the shelves at my favourite non-specific movie retailer and their online store on the weekend, it was hard not to notice that the emphasis is now on the packaging, not the film. Why buy just the film on your preferred format? You need to shell out the extra bucks for a fancy box too.

Here are my favourite deluxe editions that I am sure will be on many a Christmas wish list.

et

Remember everyone’s favourite alien? No, not Lady Gaga, I’m referring to E.T. Steven Spielberg’s sublime masterpiece hit shelves last year in beautiful high definition blu-ray to celebrate its 30th anniversary.  The movie on blu-ray can be picked up for a reasonable $13, but why stop there? For just an extra $150 you can get the film with a 26cm “collectible” replica of E.T.’s spaceship complete with flashing lights, music and moving parts. That’s a very expensive box. I’m sure a real spaceship wouldn’t cost much more. Maybe Clive Palmer will build me one if I ask nicely.

i robot

If more redundant films are your thing, how about I, Robot? Recently released in 3D (I’m not sure why), the disc will set you back about $30. For $120 more, you can buy the deluxe gift set which includes a full scale robot head bust. For that price, I don’t think anyone is getting a gift, except the film distributor. Forgettable film, unforgettable packaging…

breaking-bad-series-on-blu-ray

Everyone seems to love Breaking Bad at the moment. Having recently completed a brilliant 5 season run, the complete series will be released later this month on blu-ray for around $150.  Add an extra $85 and you can get your hands on the very same discs, stored in a replica money barrel, as well as a commemorative coin and apron. What, no replica crystal meth too?

The X-Men franchise has vacuumed up over $1 billion worldwide. This Christmas, you can add to this total by purchasing the Adamantium Collection. That’s six discs (5 of them already available as budget titles) stored in a weird looking stand which features a replica of Wolverine’s bladed fist for $170. Please note that only right handed versions are available. I don’t know about you, but I have enough trouble keeping my discs scratch free without storing them in a box with claws.

predator3D-1024x905

I probably should mention the Predator 3D deluxe edition which comes with a predator’s head and the Under the Dome limited edition set with the discs stored (wait for it) under a dome. For true fans of the show, the dome should be sealed so you can’t open it.

under_the_dome_limited_collectors_edition

As a cinephile, I’m all about the films, not the elaborate packaging. I’m (mostly) with the summer camp kid on this one. Just give me the movie in a boring old case. The film should take me to other places and worlds, not the box.

The Return of Jaws

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 3rd July 2012.

As a child I thought that whenever I went to the beach, I’d know if a shark was coming because I would hear the Jaws theme first. Da dum, da dum. I definitely had not seen the film at that time, but I still knew what those two simple notes played on a tuba represented: a primal, relentless man eater.

In fact, it actually represents a disobedient, rubber, hydraulic shark named Bruce. The stories of Steven Spielberg’s shoot for Jaws, his second feature film, are stuff of Hollywood legend. Shot on location on Martha’s Vineyard, production was hampered by delays and glitches. Platforms sank, boats took on water when the actors climbed aboard and Bruce never worked properly out in the open sea. Over budget and one hundred days over schedule, Spielberg thought he would never be given the Director’s chair again.

Of course, Jaws went on to be a box office smash, the first true summer blockbuster. As for Spielberg, well, you know what happened.

My first experience with the Jaws franchise was completely out of chronological order. Somehow, I managed to convince my grandmother that seeing Jaws 3-D at the now defunct Hoyts Roxy in Parramatta was a good idea. This was in 1983, so 3D movies involved a pair of cardboard old school glasses. I’ll never forget the terror I experienced witnessing a severed arm floating out of the screen at me. I screamed when the mother shark silently approaches the underwater control room window and then shattered the glass towards the audience.

I know now that the true horror of Jaws 3-D is actually Louis Gossett Jr. and Dennis Quaid’s acting. Actually, the whole film is an abomination.

You would think that my next step would be to seek out the original film. Unfortunately in 1987, I found myself at the Greater Union drive-in at Blacktown with my aunty, to witness Jaws: The Revenge in a double feature with Summer School (starring a pre-NCIS Mark Harmon).

Even at the age of 12, I could tell that this movie was a stinker. Star Michael Caine admits he did it to pay for a new house and have a great holiday in The Bahamas. The storyline is ridiculous. After the introduction of sharks as silent primal killers in the first film, we are supposed to believe that they are actually vengeful family minded creatures that will follow the wife of the original protagonist to the tropics to seek retribution for the murder of their fishy relatives.

The ending of the Jaws: The Revenge is a classic. The shark is impaled on a boat’s bowsprit and explodes. That’s correct. There are no combustible materials involved. The shark just explodes.

Despite my initial experiences, I did go on to appreciate Spielberg’s original masterpiece and its serviceable sequel. And that’s why I am very excited that Jaws will finally receive a high def makeover for its release on blu-ray in August. In celebration of Universal Studio’s 100th Anniversary, there will also be several one off screenings of the restored print around the country.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, Jaws returns in stunning blu-ray to scare the pants off a new generation of fans. And make sure you keep an ear out for that theme tune next time you hit the surf. It may save your life.

Published in: on July 5, 2012 at 02:30  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Terra Nova: hit or miss TV?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 4th October 2011.

Steven Spielberg’s latest science fiction creation for television, Terra Nova, premiered this past Sunday night. A big budget affair, there are high hopes for this series from its studio Fox and production company, Spielberg’s Amblin Television.

Terra Nova begins on Earth in 2149. The polluted atmosphere is barely breathable and the law dictates that couples may only have two children due to overpopulation. Scientists have discovered a rift in the space-time continuum allowing vital personnel such as doctors, scientists and lawyers (I’m joking about the last one) plus lucky lottery winners to jump back 85 million years to Earth’s Cretaceous period. Fortunately, this Earth is also in an alternate time stream so the events of the past cannot affect the future.

In the new settlement of Terra Nova, doctor Elizabeth Shannon and her two children are secretly joined by her former cop and now prison escapee husband Jim and their illegal third child. Can they survive in a world populated by hungry dinosaurs living in a fenced village (or is it a hamlet, I can never remember) under military rule? Only future episodes and ratings will tell.

So far, things are looking up for this fledgling series. Ratings in the US are acceptable (just) and reviews have been generally positive with an aggregated score of 65% on Metacritic. Thirteen episodes have been ordered so at least we’ll get a decent story arc and season one box set to buy.

Executive producer Steven Spielberg has a mixed track record when it comes to television. He has overseen critical and popular hits such as The Pacific and The United States of Tara as well as flops such as Seaquest DSV and Amazing Stories. He is also not afraid of covering familiar ground and recycling old ideas. Alien abduction series Taken was a retread of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. This year’s Falling Skies feels a lot like War of the Worlds. Band of Brothers was a close relation to Saving Private Ryan. Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment also produced Earth 2, a short-lived sci-fi series with an extremely similar premise to Terra Nova.

Reportedly Spielberg vetoed Terra Nova’s proposed filming location of Hawaii in favour of Queensland. Jurassic Park’s lush forest locations were mostly shot in Hawaii and Spielberg wanted to differentiate them from Terra Nova’s lush forest locations.

I’d like to suggest that it’s not the trees that would make viewers think that Terra Nova is Jurassic Park-lite. That would be the fenced compound, armoured vehicles and the, wait for it, dinosaurs.

It certainly hasn’t been smooth sailing for the show so far. The pilot episode premiere was pushed back from May to September due to delays in completing the visual CGI effects. One of thirteen executive producers, David Fury, departed due to creative differences, and torrential rain delayed filming and damaged sets in Queensland.

I enjoyed the two hour pilot episode. The no-name cast was appropriately believable, the set and locations decent and the dinosaurs menacing. My only gripe was that perhaps too much was packed into the storyline. The rebellious teenage son got himself in and then out of trouble. Dad was shunned and then accepted into the security team. We met the breakaway settlement (the bad guys) and they attacked. Dinosaurs ate stuff, including people. How could so much happen in one day? It’s a good thing the storyline has established that the time travelling is one way only, otherwise I’d be on the first trip back to the polluted future.

With a production budget of $4 million per episode, Terra Nova is one of the most expensive TV series ever. Decent sci-fi is hard to find so let’s hope it survives past one season. A good indication will be if it manages to hold onto its Sunday 8:30pm timeslot. The ominous sign of a shift to 11:30pm on Wednesday right after the Proactiv ads will be an indication that Terra Nova is an endangered species.

Terra Nova airs Sunday nights (for now) at 8:30pm on Ten.

Published in: on October 17, 2011 at 05:18  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Film Review: Super 8

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 14th June 2011.

This year’s crop of summer blockbusters features a dearth of truly original material. We have sequels a go-go with Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, The Hangover Part II, Kung Fu Panda 2, Cars 2, Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II. There are prequels in X-Men: First Class as well as remakes such as Conan the Barbarian. From the pages of comic books will come Green Lantern and Captain America: The First Avenger.

Arguably the only original tent pole movie release of the season, the much anticipated Super 8 hit screens worldwide last week. Written and directed by J.J. Abrams, who had major success with TV series Lost and Alias, before moving to the big screen with Star Trek (2009) and Mission Impossible 3 (2006), the movie follows the adventures of a group of kids in small town seventies America as they attempt to shoot a home grown zombie film amidst the arrival of a strange creature, and the military, via a devastating train crash.

The film is openly a homage to the work of Steven Spielberg, who came on board as producer for Super 8, with inspiration drawn from E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and The Goonies (1985).

Most remarkable about this film, which I’m glad is not available in 3D, are the performances from the young actors. As the lead character Joe Lamb, struggling with the death of his mother and his emerging hormones, fifteen year old Joel Courtney is marvellous with a sincere, everyman performance that is not surprisingly reminiscent of Henry Thomas as Elliott in E.T.

The real discovery of the film is Elle Fanning, younger sister of Dakota, as Alice, Joe’s love interest. An early scene where her character demonstrates a natural ability to act in the shooting of the movie within the movie is a revelation. This is a career to watch.

The creature itself is deliberately hidden throughout the early stages of the film. The breathtaking train crash which frees “Cooper”, as he was named by the director during the making of the picture, is breathtaking. It may be an annoyance initially to some as the monster is obviously seen by characters but obscured to the audience but the suspense worked for me. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that once Cooper is revealed, the stakes drop a little, quite similarly to another creature feature, the J.J. Abrams produced Cloverfield (2008).

In particular, Generation X’ers will feel a strong sense of nostalgia for eighties cinema, where kids on the big screen went on adventures uninhibited by mobile phone, computers and parents. A sense of wonder about the world, combined with a couple of scary bits, will make you want to go straight home after the credits and relive some similar gems such as Gremlins (1984) and Stand By Me (1986).

Venturing into slightly saccharine territory at the end, the heart of Super 8 is the relationships between the kids. The performances of the young cast are worth the price of admission alone. Make sure you stay during the credits for the full zombie mini-movie.

Although not a perfect film, Super 8 comes highly recommended and is my favourite film of the year so far.