Holiday Specials

OUR REVIEWERS’ FAVORITE DVDS OF 2005

By • Jan 1st, 2006 •

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From Glenn Andreiev:
WAR OF THE WORLDS
(Dreamworks/Paramount)

In one scene from WAR OF THE WORLDS, my favorite 2005 release, a frazzled military man shouts: “Our weapons have no effect on them! Just help the citizens escape!” That’s the tone of Steven Spielberg’s often disturbing and scary take on H.G Wells’ story about a massive worldwide alien invasion. Like Wells’ story, our emotions almost never focus on scientists and military men. The center of attention here is an ordinary family man (Tom Cruise) protecting his children from unbeatable, hate-filled aliens. We see very little of us fighting back. Spielberg aims his camera at helpless, very often doomed people trying to escape and shield their loved ones.

2005 saw the release of two excellent fantasy remakes, this one, and Peter Jackson’s KING KONG. Spielberg and Jackson obviously both love the original versions of their big budgeted and effect-filled remakes. They never took the sneering tone of “Well, we have better special effects than what they had way back then, so nyah-nyah!”

WAR OF THE WORLDS never takes the ultra-cool, spoofy tone of alien invasion films like INDEPENDENCE DAY. This time it’s very cold and dark! You truly get the idea that these are final days for the human race. If you’re one of those who didn’t like Spielberg’s “tacked on” ending here, think of it as Tom Cruise meeting his family in heaven.

I’m still a big fan of George Pal’s 1953 original film, which is an exciting, suspenseful treat, drenched in rich Technicolor. I remember, as a pre-teenager, reading that it was going to be on TV one afternoon. At that point I hadn’t seen the movie, I only knew about it from incredible photographs in monster magazines. I tuned in a little late, missing the opening credits. The TV station, at the last minute, replaced the film with a western musical. Here I am, ten years old, watching some cowboy get into a bar fight and I’m thinking “Okay, where are those flying saucers?” The cowboy then rescues a stray cat and it along on his travels. It’s now almost twenty minutes into the film. The cowboy is canoeing down river with the cat, and he’s singing about the countryside. I’m confused, thinking: “Wow, this is the most bulloxed up sci-fi movie of all time. Maybe the Martians are behind that mountain?”

Twenty years from now, the same thing will happen to some confused young film fanatic when the TV station replaces WAR OF THE WORLDS with BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN.


From your Editor:
UNKNOWN CHAPLIN
(A&E/Thames) 1983. 163 mins. Supplements: The Story behind UNKNOWN CHAPLIN; The Making of THE COUNT; Chaplin Meets Harry Lauder.
Written and Produced by Kevin Brownlow and David Gill. Music composed by Carl Davis. Film Editor Tevor Waite. Introduced by Geraldine Chaplin. Narrated by James Mason.

This was one of the ten best films of the 80s. Divided into three parts, it used footage from the Chaplin Archives, as well as outtakes horded by collectors like Raymond Rohauer over the decades, some going back as far as 1916, painstakingly collected and then cobbled together to form a striking demonstration of the great artist’s thought processes, his directorial style, his obsessions, his ability to sacrifice great sequences if he thought they weighed down the whole.

Brownlow and Gill were the passionate silent film historians of the planet Earth. Brownlow’s book ‘The Parades Gone By’ is still the best evocation of the creative joy surrounding the birth of cinema. In this film, eloquently narrated by James Mason and scored with love by Carl Davis, we watch endless takes (compressed for our tolerance level) within which Chaplin experimented with germs of comic ideas, working them over and over, adding nuance, elongating the takes, until they became the works of genius which would be all we ever saw.

The CITY LIGHTS section (episode 2) is the most astonishing. He worked on the opening – where the tramp meets the blind girl and she believes him to be a millionaire – for over a year. Contemporaries contribute anecdotes and analysis under Brownlow’s expert coaxing. A breakthrough when it came out in ’83; it’s essential viewing/owning today.

The transfer is excellent, and there are supplements which were not on the laserdisc release. In one, Kevin Brownlow, the remaining member of the Brownlow/Gill team, relates the story of the arduous creation of the documentary. He also shares his feelings about Chaplin’s working methods, which he felt were in some ways disturbingly undisciplined. It’s an interesting take on an artist who had enough money and power to do it his way, and however odd his chosen route may have been, the ends certainly justified the means.


From Max Pemberton
THE FILMUSIC SELECTION

One has to review filmusic from several standpoints – Mainly: Does it stand up on its own as a piece of composition? Does it benefit the movie? Does it detract from the movie? Does it do any of the above? The best scores become an integral part of the movie itself and inseparable from its characters and visuals, i.e., you can’t imagine the movie without it, and neither can you listen to it without visualising the relevant parts of the movie (think JAWS).

So, asked to come up with my favourite score for a DVD release from last year it would have to be… (cue FX of envelope being torn open) … THE WIZARD OF OZ. from Warner Home Video.

Why? Well, it certainly fulfils all the requirements for a ‘best score’ as described above, but one of the beauties of this new three disc box set is the facility to watch the movie with just the music and sound effects in glorious digitally re-mastered stereo. All dialogue, except in the songs, is removed. Birds sing, the wind howls, the witch cackles and the tin man creaks – but nobody speaks. In this version, the only character with a voice (whilst not singing) is Toto, so you can listen to every music cue without interruption and accompanied by the appropriate visuals. Magic! Dorothy being whisked away by the tornado is a particular delight. The film is alternatively presented in its original mono for the inevitable purists.

I can’t think of another release where so much reverence has been shown in the restoration and presentation of a film’s soundtrack. Senior Vice President Theatrical Catalog Marketing for Warner Home Video, George Feltenstein, who was responsible for this release, and many others in 2005, deservedly received the William K. Everson Award for History of Film at the recent National Board of Review Awards in NYC.’


AND APPROPOS OF OZ…
We dip into FIR’s Archives, to bring you an excerpt from an article written for us in 1956:

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