Published on October 28th, 2011 | by Greg0
Recent Releases: Pirates, Xperiments, and A Different Top Gun
October is always an interesting month for movie releases. Sure, there are plenty of horror firms that see a big push close to Halloween (approaching rapidly, we note with some trepidation). But plenty of other films try to get a jump on the busy holiday release calendar- including this edition’s big Hollywood blockbuster. Re-releases are always popular as well, bringing us the other three-quarters of today’s quartet.
We’ll start with the big gun- Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Despite a clearly lavish budget and the continued enthusiasm of Johnny Depp playing a role he was meant to play, this one didn’t sit well with most critics. It’s easy to see why the series keeps on going, and why audiences still show up: this is fun, popcorn-munching excitement that can wave Hollywood magic around and manage most of the plot holes. But some of the romance and chemistry is gone, and it feels largely rote, which is why despite the addition of Penelope Cruz and the Fountain of Youth, the absence of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley are definitely noted.
Our Blu-ray was the popular Disney combo pack, featuring a DVD as well. And enough about the movie- the transfer was superb. Video quality is exceptional, as it the audio- everything is well balanced, dialogue clear and crisp while explosions sound real and three-dimensional. Colors pop, and nary a cue is wasted. Ours was not the version with 3D, nor did we try or receive a digital copy, but we did find the absence of most of the special features a bit perplexing. They are only available on the larger special edition package, so we cannot speak to them. Audio commentary is included, and seemed fine, as is a set of bloopers, which were fun if short. Overall, it’s a sure-fire holiday gift for the Pirates or Disney fan in the family, but the choice between the $25 edition and paying the extra $5 for 3D as well as the real bonus features is a tough call. Available now.
Onto the three DVD releases from MGM , and we’ll start with the best. The Quatermass Xperiment (aka The Creeping Unknown, which was the American release title) is a nicely spooky British 1955 science fiction film. Black and white and based on a TV series, it nonetheless inspired a host of imitators, sequels, and remakes, and is one of the classic Hammer films from the era. Everyone liked this one, in spite of or more likely because of it’s zaniness and slight corniness. Conspiracies, aliens, astronauts, paranoia, the military- you’ve got it all. Several writers had seen one version or another, but the original holds up well- actors and dialogue are solid, and the special effects aren’t laughable for the most part. The score is memorable, if a little overpowering at times, and the transfer impressive- it’s a 1955 film that appears to have undergone some special treatment, apparently thanks to an HD master transfer a few years ago. Is this a must see? No, but Quatermass is solid, entertaining, and even thoughtful. The only special feature is the trailer, which was a bit too informative.
The other two from this crop are a bit more unfortunate. Top Gun- not the one with Tom Cruise- is another 1955 film, this time a black and white Western. Starring Sterling Hayden, the plot is simple- bad guys, a town, and only one man who… you get the idea. But in a world filled with excellent Westerns, from many eras, none of us were quite sure what to make of this one. There wasn’t much of a saving grace here- mediocre music, poor dialogue, even some bad direction made for a completely unessential experience. Usually, there’s something we can hold onto and enjoy, or even make a fun drinking game out of, but this one wasn’t terrible- just a bit predictable and boring. The transfer wasn’t sterling, sound and video quality only so-so, and the cover itself is supremely unconvincing. Skip this one.
Finally, what’s there to say about Beer. Rip Torn, the 80′s, and off-color humor focused on commercials? Yeah, it’s that sort of movie- a no-apologies guy’s flick, from before political correctness. This one made a bunch of us laugh, and offended about half of the planet, but features a couple of recognizable faces (David Allen Grier). Other comedies from this period are funnier, or better made, but the acting is actually solid and it’s never boring. If you like this sort of thing, you’ll get plenty out of Beer- just go in expecting empty calories and not some fancy craft brew. Colors are dim, transfer only so-so, music a mixed bag and a few definite sound issues, no real special features. What did you expect? Available soon for $20 or so, likely in line with the other re-releases.