Attack of the Director’s Cut!

Things only last in their pure form for a short while after they have been named. So it is with the director’s cut. The director’s cut of a film took on significance when it was substantially different from the version released by Hollywood. It did not take Hollywood long to co-opt and market the term into insignificance.

Most director’s cuts are simply a matter of a scene or two inserted into a film that does very little to change a film. The only more useless term is ‘unrated’. Unrated is used constantly on horror movies that were watered down for an all ages PG-13 release then they add back the few seconds of violence that was trimmed when it is released on home video and no longer needs a PG-13 rating.

Alien

Still there are some director’s cuts worth noting. The director’s cut of Alien does not appreciably change the film, simply changing a few takes and adding a fan favorite scene that slows down the narrative at a crucial moment. The original cut is actually better and clearly Ridley Scott should not be allowed to tinker too much as there are now, I think, five versions of Blade Runner available.

Speaking of someone who should not be allowed to touch his completed films, George Lucas actually took his original Star Wars trilogy (you know, the good one) and made it worse by cramming special effects shot after special effects shot into an already classic series of films. Since he owned the rights at the time, they weren’t even called director’s cuts. Obviously there is some hope now that since Disney owns the rights, Han will shoot first in the future.

Aliens

Getting back to Aliens, James Cameron’s directors cut of Aliens is almost half an hour longer than the U.S. cut. There are some great scenes reintroduced but the overall theme of motherhood is no longer subtle but seems rather sledgehammered home. I enjoy the director’s cut more but the U.S. cut is definitely tighter.

Aliens 3, one of David Fincher’s first films, is an incomprehensible mess. The longer cut, which restores much of his work, is not an actual director’s cut as Fincher has disavowed it. It does make the film much better than it has a right to be. The basic premise of Alien 3 was a huge middle finger to those that loved Aliens. It was also made at the dawn of CGI and the CGI is just awful in many scenes.

Kingdom of Heaven

In addition to Blade Runner and Alien, there is also a director’s cut of Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven. Ridley Scott filmed a fabulous epic of the Crusades that suffered from three faults. First, it starred Orlando Bloom who, while not bad, cannot carry the film. Second, it presents Muslim characters in a reasonable light and shows many Christian ones as fanatics. While that is historically accurate, this was too soon after 9/11 for audiences to embrace. The third fault was that the studio decided to cut it from well over three hours (epic length) to just under two and a half (summer blockbuster length). Gone were many subplots and much comprehensibility. The director’s cut restores the subplots making the film the near-classic it should have been.

Which brings us to tomorrow’s topic: the highly anticipated director’s cut of Clive Barker’s Nightbreed

Safety Not Guaranteed on The Philadelphia Terminator Experiment 2 – It’s About Time week

The Philadelphia Experiment, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and Safety Not Guaranteed are currently available on instant Netflix.

The Philadelphia Experiment

The Philadelphia Experiment (1984) – Rated PG

A secret experiment to disguise a naval battleship from enemy radar inexplicably sends a pair of World War II sailors 40 years into the future. They arrive in 1984 to a changed world and a bizarre electrical storm that seems linked to their arrival.

You know, I got it all figured out… Navy owes me 40 years back pay.

The Philadelphia Experiment is a whole lot of meh. It has a decent story and is fairly entertaining. Special effects aren’t – they appear to have simply used a negative image. The leads (Michael Pare, Bobby DiCicco, and Nancy Allen) are engaging but not much more than that. The real mystery is how this got a sequel and a reboot. Still it’s not bad if you like his sort of thing.

Sequel-itis: The movie received a sequel of sorts in 1993 with Philadelphia Experiment II, starring none of the same actors although the character of David Herdeg is carried over with Brad Johnson in the role instead of Michael Pare. The brand was revived in 2012 with a Syfy adaptation of The Philadelphia Experiment. Michael Pare returns to collect a paycheck though obviously not in the same role.

Safety Not Guaranteed

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) – Rated R

A team of journalists are dispatched to find out who’s behind a classified advertisement seeking a companion for time travel, with payment on return. After tracking down their oddball prey, the team has to decide how best to approach their subject.”

Okay this one is a bit of a cheat. Safety Not Guaranteed isn’t actually about time travel, in spite of Netflix’ description. It is a nice indie comedy about relationships. It is understated and warm-hearted, definitely worth catching.

Terminator 2

 

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) – Rated R

A reprogrammed Terminator arrives from the future to protect young John Connor from a relentless shape-shifting cyborg in this sequel to Terminator. On the run, John and his guardian seek John’s mother, Sarah, who is locked away in an insane asylum.”

Cameron loves to have strong female protagonists in his films. This is one of the things I love about Cameron as the action film genre often has a “Men Only” sign on it. Here Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is very buff and capable if somewhat psychologically screwed up. Linda Hamilton does a fine job of grounding many fantastic sequences.

Besides his genius at pacing that I mentioned yesterday, Cameron also excels at injecting appropriate humor into deadly, often grim, encounters. I say “appropriate” because the humor is funny without detracting from the seriousness of the situation.

The opening action sequence where Arnie acquires clothing has great action and humor. Unfortunately if you stop to consider it, the scene makes no sense. For an example of what The Terminator series looks like without humor, watch Terminator Salvation.

Arnold returns as a different T-800 and all jokes aside about his robotic delivery, he makes an excellent Terminator. In the first film he was the ultimate Terminator but here he is practically obsolete next to the new T-1000 model.

 

Robert Patrick plays the new liquid metal Terminator and the smoothness of his face really lends credibility to the changes. Of course a large part of the new Terminator are the special effects used. It seems with every film, Cameron graphically pushes the envelope of what can be accomplished.

Edward Furlong plays John Connor, future leader of the human race. Unfortunately John Connor at this stage is just a juvenile delinquent. Furlong is pretty good but it is often difficult to see where his leadership qualities will spring from.

Joe Morton has a small but meaty role as Miles Dyson, whose discoveries lead to Skynet and ultimately armageddon.

It can be no surprise that I wholeheartedly recommend one of the greatest action films of all time. The special effects hold up quite well.

 

 

 

It’s Titanic Time!

If you don’t want to binge on James Bond, how about the disaster of the Titanic? Streaming Netflix has you covered.

Titanic

Titanic (1997) – Rated PG-13

This cinematic spectacle — winner of 11 Oscars — follows society girl Rose and penniless artist Jack as they fall in love just as tragedy strikes. Rereleased for the 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster, the stirring romance remains timeless.”

James Cameron’s brilliant melding of genres allows you to enjoy the epic romance of Jack and Rose, the true life disaster of the Titanic, modern efforts to dive on the Titanic, the difference between first and third class, and still have an action adventure (albeit somewhat ludicrous) when Jack is framed.

Titanic

Titanic (2012) – Rated TV-PG

This extraordinary re-telling of the doomed voyage, written by Julian Fellowes, retells the tragic sinking of RMS Titanic, featuring multiple personal narratives and a large and accomplished cast.”

Follow Cameron’s epic up with this far more restrained version from Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey) that shows great detail about the class division aboard ship – not just first and third but also second class, serving class, and ship’s crew.

Titanic Blood and Steel

Titanic: Blood and Steel (2012) – Rated TV-14

“Irish immigrant Mark Muir works on construction of the doomed RMS Titanic while hiding his Catholic heritage from the project’s Protestant financiers. As the ship is built, Muir falls in love amid the tensions of the period and Muir’s own past.”

Need more information? Blood and Steel is a 12-part series about the building of the unsinkable Titanic.

Titanica: IMAX (1995) – Not rated

Titanica follows a 1992 expedition to the wreck of the Titanic, the “unsinkable” luxury liner that collided with an iceberg and sank in 1912. Survivor Eva Hart’s memories add a human element to this documentary narrated by Leonard Nimoy”

Want a non-fiction approach? Try Titanica on for ummm size. Ghosts of the Abyss (not available) is much better but there is a lot of dive footage here on the Titanic.

Titanic 2 (2010) – Not rated

Titanic irony looms when the new luxury cruise liner Titanic 2, setting sail a century after the sinking of its ill-starred namesake, seems destined to come to a similarly soggy end when an ocean tsunami pushes an iceberg into its path. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researcher Kim Patterson (Brooke Burns) and Coast Guard Capt. James Maine (Bruce Davison) lead the bid to save the giant ship and its passengers from annihilation.”

The usual Asylum nonsense proving you can have a sequel to anything although honestly Escape from the Planet of the Apes proved that given the ending in Beneath the Planet of the Apes.

 

Terminator 2 – Second Verse Same as the First week

This week I have decided to cover the unjustly derided vehicle known as the sequel. This is Second Verse Same as the First week. Terminator 2 – Judgment Day is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) – Rated R for strong sci-fi (not Syfy) action and violence and for language.

“In this sequel, director James Cameron delivers scene after scene of action-packed thrills. A bigger, better Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is gunning for a shape-shifting T-1000 who is out to kill John Connor (Edward Furlong), the son of Sarah (Linda Hamilton), the original Terminators nemesis”

As with Alien/Aliens, Terminator is a better film than Terminator 2 but Terminator 2 is the more enjoyable film. Cameron is a master of wonderful cuts. In the opening he segues from children playing on a playground to a rather stark vision of the future.

As he did with Aliens, Cameron has also interwoven a theme here. In T2, the overall theme is an examination of what it means to be human. This is more pronounced in the extended version which I was surprised to discover this was. This version contains a scene with Sarah talking to Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), an extra scene with Arnie being worked on, an extra scene with workaholic Miles Dyson, and others.

Cameron loves to have strong female protagonists in his films. This is one of the things I love about Cameron as the action film genre often has a “Men Only” sign on it. Here Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is very buff and capable if somewhat psychologically screwed up. Linda Hamilton does a fine job of grounding many fantastic sequences.

Besides his genius at pacing that I mentioned yesterday, Cameron also excels at injecting appropriate humor into deadly, often grim, encounters. I say “appropriate” because the humor is funny without detracting from the seriousness of the situation.

The opening action sequence where Arnie acquires clothing has great action and humor. Unfortunately if you stop to consider it, the scene makes no sense. For an example of what The Terminator series looks like without humor, watch Terminator Salvation.

Arnold returns as a different T-800 and all jokes aside about his robotic delivery, he makes an excellent Terminator. In the first film he was the ultimate Terminator but here he is practically obsolete next to the new T-1000 model.

Robert Patrick plays the new liquid metal Terminator and the smoothness of his face really lends credibility to the changes. Of course a large part of the new Terminator are the special effects used. It seems with every film, Cameron graphically pushes the envelope of what can be accomplished.

Edward Furlong plays John Connor, future leader of the human race. Unfortunately John Connor at this stage is just a juvenile delinquent. Furlong is pretty good but it is often difficult to see where his leadership qualities will spring from.

Joe Morton has a small but meaty role as Miles Dyson, whose discoveries lead to Skynet and ultimately armageddon.

It can be no surprise that I wholeheartedly recommend one of the greatest action films of all time. The special effects hold up quite well.

Netflix presents T2 in high-definition for those of you with adequate internet connections. The picture is better than DVD quality but a bit shy of the Blu-Ray.

People Watch: Xander Berkeley (Mason in 24) and Jenette Goldstein (Vasquez in Aliens) have brief roles here as foster parents to John Connor.

Aliens – Second Verse Same as the First week

This week I have decided to cover the unjustly derided vehicle known as the sequel. This is Second Verse Same as the First week. Aliens is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Aliens (1986) – Rated R.

“In this acclaimed sequel, the only survivor from the first film, Lt. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), finds her horrific account of her crews fate is met with skepticism — until the disappearance of colonists on LV-426 prompts a team of high-tech Marines to investigate. This special edition features an introduction by director James Cameron, commentary by cast and crew members and both the theatrical and special edition versions of the film.”

“Game over man, game over.”

Please note that the description refers to the disc version. The instant version is the theatrical release.

Alien and Aliens are two of my all-time favorite films. While Alien is the better film (by just a smidge), it takes a long time to set up the story and mythos and even once the action starts, the movie moves in fits and spurts. Aliens with its extreme emphasis on action is the more enjoyable film.

James Cameron is an incredible director. He made three of the best action films ever made (Aliens, Terminator, and Terminator 2) as well as the blockbusters Titanic and Avatar. Every thing he touches since Piranha 2: The Spawning is apparently made of gold.

Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) completes her transformation here from Alien. Besides being the main character of a wonderful ensemble, she is also central to the theme woven throughout the film. Cameron visits and revisits aspects of motherhood throughout the production (more so in the extended version). There is a wonderful initial scene of the face of a sleeping Ripley that fades into a scene of the planet Earth.

Comedian Paul Reiser plays wonderfully against type as friendly corporate representative Burke. Genre veteran Lance Henriksen is genuinely creepy as Bishop. This is the only film child actor Carrie Henn appeared in and she is quite good (she is a schoolteacher now).

The soldiers are all great. The underrated Bill Paxton has a field day as the panicky Hicks. Michael Biehn is the quiet but ultra-competent Hudson. Jenette Goldstein steals many a scene as the uber macho Vasquez. Even William Hope is good as the hapless Lt. Gorman.

While all of the film is impressive, I think the thing Cameron does best is that he knows how to properly pace the film. After a lot of buildup (and a couple false scares to keep us interested), Cameron brings us to the best action setpiece in the movie. It is an incredibly tense confrontation between the marines and the Aliens.

The important part is that right after that is over, there are a few character beats so we can catch our breath before the next action sequence. After the following sequence, we get some very humorous dialogue especially from Hudson and then more buildup as the survivors prepare for a siege.

It is hard to believe that Cameron only had a half-dozen alien suits to work with. It seems as though there are a never-ending swarm of aliens, particularly in a sequence involving the auto sentries in the extended edition.

Well it can hardly be a surprise that I heartily recommend one of my favorite films of all time. While Cameron does spend some time setting up the story, it is like the long climb of a roller coaster before you go over the top. Once you hit the peak, the ride is utterly thrilling all the way to the end.

Thankfully Netflix presents this movie in HD. While not without flaws, the 720p image looks so much better than my DVD. This has me eagerly awaiting the 1080p Alien Blu-Ray box set due this fall.

Trivia: Kathryn Bigelow, first female to win a Best Director Oscar for The Hurt Locker, directed Near Dark. Near Dark features Lance Henriksen (Bishop), Bill Paxton (Hudson), and Jenette Goldstein (Vasquez) from Aliens as vampires and in one scene, the movie Aliens is playing in the background. It is an interesting film – just ignore the ridiculous new cover they gave it to make it look like Twilight.

People Watch: Mark Rolston, who plays Drake here, played Dan Erickson in Saw V and Saw VI.