For the week of April 23rd, Universal Studios Home Entertainment is bringing the 3D version of Jurassic Park to Blu-ray. It's understandable that viewers might balk at the extra dimension considering director Steven Spielberg did not shoot the movie in 3D; this is a post-conversion job, through and through. However, this is a very good post-conversion job - more in line with Titanic than with Clash of the Titans - and the 3D effects subtly enhance the thrills rather than turn the picture into a gimmicky pop-up show. Best of all is Jurassic Park itself, which remains one of Spielberg's greatest entertainments: there are at least three setpieces that rank alongside the best footage Spielberg has ever shot.
Jeffrey Kauffman's Blu-ray review notes that "the fact is the long journey of cinema is littered with technical innovations that didn't just end up in the dustbin of history, but which never truly elevated any given film which may have utilized these innovation to anything above run of the mill status. And that is where Jurassic Park may have really made an impact, for the film was hugely exciting, filled with rip-roaring adventure, fantastic set pieces and some unusually well developed characters (of the human variety) that worked in tandem with the then state of the art special effects to create a one of a kind entertainment spectacular."
Also hitting the HD format is Warner Bros' Gangster Squad. Through no fault of it own, this action-thriller generated a lot of negative publicity last summer. After the shooting tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, movies with violent content found themselves subjected to intense scrutiny, none more so than Gangster Squad; in his original cut, director Ruben Fleischer staged a bloody shootout inside a crowded movie theater. After the events in Aurora gave this scene an uncomfortable resonance it did not intend, Fleischer re-shot the shootout in order to situate it in a less immediately visceral locale. The irony is, Gangster Squad is still filled with gun violence, though most of it lacks impact and pain. This is a popcorn actioner - more The Untouchables than The Godfather - and seen on those terms, Gangster Squad provides weightless, enjoyable (if brainless) mayhem.
In his Blu-ray review, Kenneth Brown wrote that, "there'll be those who wholeheartedly enjoy Gangster Squad. Then there will be those who'll be ready to pull the trigger before it even starts killing everything that moves; those dissatisfied with its endless clichés and tough guy melodrama, unimpressed with its script and performances, and disappointed that a movie with a cast this talented failed to put them to good use. It so desperately wants to rub shoulders with The Untouchables, L.A. Confidential and the classics of Gangland cinema, but it isn't in the same league, much less the same sphere."
Additionally, Summit and Lionsgate's The Impossible is arriving on Blu-ray this Tuesday. This intimate disaster epic is Juan Antonio Bayona's follow-up to his acclaimed chiller The Orphanage, and The Impossible shares that earlier film's gift for terror through understatement. Bayona's depiction of the tsunami that devastated Thailand in 2004 is frightening - and visceral in a way that outdoes Clint Eastwood's similar work in Hereafter - but he achieves this power because he keeps the tragedy focused through the experiences of one increasingly unlucky family (Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, and Oaklee Pendergast). Just as devastating as the natural violence are the events that keep the family separated - this is an unrelentingly powerful experience.
Jeffrey Kauffman called the film "an incredibly moving journey of one family making its way through unimaginable horrors. The film is also notable for its depictions of 'little' touches of human kindness along the way (though is it mere coincidence that one of the few boors Henry encounters is obviously an American?). Geraldine Chaplin, whose face is a stunning exemplar of how actresses should age gracefully, has a wonderful moment playing an elderly woman who shares some wisdom with Tomas under a starry night where she discusses the impossibility of knowing which stars are still alive and which burned out millennia ago. She calls it a 'beautiful mystery,' much as the real life Maria Belón has mentioned the unfathomable questions that arise when some people survive and some people do not when an incredible disaster hits."
Oscilloscope Pictures is bringing Wuthering Heights to Blu-ray this week. The film is the latest adaptation of the classic Emily Brontë novel; to date, there have been no fewer than fifteen screen versions, ranging from William Wyler's Academy Award-winning take in 1939 to Masterpiece Theater's 2009 interpretation (which starred Tom Hardy). However, this new iteration comes courtesy of Fish Tank helmer Andrea Arnold, who brings Brontë's prose to life in the same way she crafted that earlier feature: this is a pared-down, sexually charged assault that feels modern in ways that other Wuthering Heights versions have not. The power of the English moors captivates Arnold, and she uses the violence of that environment to reflect the passions rolling inside doomed lovers Catherine and Heathcliff.
Svet Atanasov describes Wuthering Heights as a "more advanced and diverse film...The less-is-more approach works very well during the first half of the film. There are long and deeply atmospheric sequences that would have been far less effective if Heathcliff and Cathy were to spell out their feelings. In the best ones the camera simply spends plenty of time studying their faces...The decision to film Wuthering Heights with a Panavision XL camera was most appropriate as Robbie Ryan's cinematography is indeed striking. The various outdoor sequences in particular look stunning. It has to be said, however, that this isn't a beautiful - at least not in the classic sense of the word - film. It is a dark and gloomy, completely drained of warm colors film."
Finally, we end the week with Richard III from the Criterion Collection. The film is Laurence Olivier's take on the iconic Shakespeare play, and by its release date in 1955, Olivier had enjoyed greater success visualizing The Bard's works; his 1944 version of Henry V had received four Academy Award nominations (including one for Olivier's performance as the title character and one for Best Picture), while his 1948 Hamlet actually won four Academy Awards (including, for you symmetry fans, one for Olivier's performance as the title character and one for Best Picture). Richard III is pitched somewhere between those two previous efforts. Its gaudy visual palette resembles the Technicolor Dream of Henry V, but Olivier's towering, villainous turn as Richard III is steeped in the brand of psychology and neuroses that powered Hamlet. The result is that rarest of birds: an entertaining confection that's good for viewers, too.
Huge week here -- all of the Olives ["Olive the Olives" - heh] are on order, along with Gatsby, Richard III, plus a few recent titles from past weeks (like Naked Lunch and Gate of Hell). Will hold off a while on the Etaix and will probably get Wuthering Heights eventually.
Jurassic Park 3D was awesome in the. One of the best 3D conversions I've seen adding realistic depth to every shot and making the experience of staring into the gaping jaws of the T-Rex feel incredibly real. Glad to add the 3D Blu-ray to my collection.
Funny that Criterion chose to release Olivier's Richard III ahead of his Henry V & Hamlet (both also Criterion titles here). ITV in the UK released Region B-locked BDs of both Henry V & Hamlet back in 2009...