For the week of September 10th, one of the largest Blu-ray sets debuting on the HD platform is Paramount and Warner Home Entertainment's Friday the 13th: The Complete Collection package, which streets on - when else? - Friday, September 13th. This ten-disc collection presents all twelve Friday the 13th entries - starting with the 1980 original and running through 2009's stylish remake - in a tin box with many goodies, including an extras-festooned bonus DVD, selections from Titan Books' Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th retrospective, a "Camp Crystal Lake Counselor" patch, and two sets of 3D glasses for Friday the 13th: Part 3 (which has the same anaglyph 3D transfer as the initial Blu-ray edition). The Blu-ray's size matches the importance of the franchise; the Friday the 13th movies, taken as a whole, represent significant evolutions in the horror genre. What began as a pretty shameless rip-off of Italian giallos and John Carpenter's Halloween quickly popularized the notion of the horror icon, with Jason Voorhees the genre's biggest star (though Freddy and Michael Myers do come close), as well as the commercial viability of the slasher thriller.
One can also see the different movements in which the series unfolds. Its enjoyably junky, low-budget beginnings gave way to the rough trilogy that comprises Friday the 13ths 4, 5, and 6. After that, the films entered their gimmicky phase, with telekinetic teens and cruise ships to New York tossed in to vary Jason's killing frenzies. These ventures only served to cheapen Jason's menace, so the franchise switched gears again into light self-parody, a move that let Jason stalk and slash in space and go mano-a-mano with rival horror hero Freddy Krueger. The 2009 remake, as such, works less as a hard reboot than as a loving homage to all the tropes that Jason helped popularize over thirty years. However, the phrase "Complete Collection" can't help but feel a little misleading. Minus the Crystal Lake Memories booklet, all of the bonus materials are holdovers from previous DVD and Blu-ray copies, and with the exception of the 1980 and 2009 Friday the 13ths, none of these films get alternate or unrated editions that restore the gallons of gore cut to appease the MPAA. This decision is especially galling because a) one of the set's special features highlights excised graphic footage from the series and b) even as recently as its last DVD iteration, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday had a significantly bloodier ninety-one-minute cut that Warner and Paramount have ignored in favor of the eighty-eight-minute, R-rated version. Even with those qualms, for what it is, this package feels fairly comprehensive, especially when considering the fact that it makes available seven Friday the 13th pictures that, until now, have been absent on the Blu-ray format.
In addition, Paramount is bringing the recent summer blockbuster Star Trek Into Darkness to Blu-ray. When director J.J. Abrams' latest installment in the new Star Trek franchise arrived in theaters last May, it did so on a wave of viewer goodwill, thanks to how deftly Abrams rebooted the franchise in 2009; even without a finished script, that Star Trek iteration won over Trekkies both old and new, thanks to Abrams' muscular direction, a crackerjack sense of pacing that recalls the best of the Indiana Jones movies, and - most importantly - winning, energetic performances from a cast that was able to pay homage to Star Trek's characters as beloved as Captain Kirk, Spock, Bones, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, and Scotty without simply copying the efforts of the Original Series actors. Yet the final Star Trek Into Darkness product did not connect with viewers in the same positive fashion, and unfortunately for Abrams and his team, it isn't hard to see why. Gone is the sense of fun and adventure that powered the Original Series and the 2009 movie: Star Trek Into Darkness is a dreary revenge thriller, as Captain Kirk and the Enterprise crew hunt a ruthless terrorist (Benedict Cumberbatch) hell-bent on on reducing Starfleet to rubble. There's a lot of action, to be sure, but screenwriters Damon Lindelof, Roberto Orci, and Alex Kurtzman mire the good stuff in a litany of predictable role-reversals and plot turns (one of which also appeared, to much better effect, in another of 2013's summer entertainments, though I won't mention its name to protect the spoiler-adverse) that only serve to highlight what a dispiriting ride this is. Most disappointing is how the film handles Cumberbatch's character. As talented as the Sherlock and Parade's End star is, he just can't elevate a stock villain part (a little Hannibal Lecter here, a little Raoul Silva there) that hinges on one of the least impactful movie "twists" of recent memory. The core Enterprise crew (Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, and Simon Pegg) is still a delight to watch, though in some ways, their skill makes Star Trek Into Darkness all the more difficult to watch - these people deserve better.
In his Blu-ray review, Martin Liebman takes fewer issues with the picture, noting that it "tops its 2009 predecessor in nearly every way, a difficult task to be sure considering that film's excellence. Into Darkness is huge in scope, infinitely fun, dramatically sound, and very well balanced in terms of recreating critical pieces from "Space Seed" and The Wrath of Khan and combining them with new ideas and new execution of favorite old moments, of which there are too many to mention and at the cost of spoiling the surprises. The performances are fantastic, the action is insanely exciting, the special effects are seamless, and the drama is top-notch. It's the perfect Summer blockbuster and a film casual audiences and Star Trek die hards alike will love, even if the film is absent the thematic subtext of A Tale of Two Cities that brought...[Star Trek 2] full circle. But then again, Into Darkness tells a different story for a different time with its own themes built around other classic Star Trek, and innately human, themes."
One of the best new shows of the 2011 television series was Showtime's Homeland. This thriller, which centers on a disturbed CIA operative (Claire Danes, in the role of her career) investigating a heroic Iraqi war veteran (Damian Lewis) for his possible connection to a vicious anti-American terrorist cell, felt like a corrective to the 24-like planning that powered other dramas of this ilk; Homeland kept its focus on the characters rather than on the chaos surrounding them, drawing real intrigue from how Danes' Carries Mathison or Lewis' Nicholas Brody navigated their own personal struggles and emotional foibles. With its second season, Showrunners Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa decided to expand the scope of the world around Mathison and Brody, and the results were mixed, to say the least. On one hand, the show's widening focus allowed for additional pressures to impact its leads; on the other, many of the new characters (this season, we got an especially better look at Carrie's higher-ups at the CIA) just weren't as compelling as the rest of the cast, and the plotting meandered to some improbable places, including a season finale that resolved one major thread while stubbornly, inexplicably leaving another one dangling. That said, Homeland's sophomore year is still compelling viewing (and Danes and Lewis are as terrific as ever, as is the great Mandy Patinkin, who imbues Mathison's CIA mentor with a mix of pragmatic tenderness and understated anger) - it just isn't as bracing as what came before it.
This week also plays host to a number of catalog releases, many of which come courtesy of Warner Home Entertainment; as part of the distributor's bid to bring much of the Paramount Pictures film library to Blu-ray, viewers can enjoy The Talented Mr. Ripley and Snake Eyes on Tuesday. The Talented Mr. Ripley is the late filmmaker Anthony Minghella's adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's classic suspense novel; both Highsmith and Minghella occupy themselves with Tom Ripley (Matt Damon), an ambitious young man determined to rise to the top of the elite in 1950s Italy, even if maintaining that status means killing a whole lot of people. Highsmith's text is a glittering, effortlessly seductive work - you can feel the influence of her Strangers on a Train collaborator Alfred Hitchcock - and on the surface, Minghella's version maintains that same glossy allure; John Seale's magic-hour cinematography recalls the color films of David Lean, and the actors, including Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Cate Blanchett, and a hilariously fatuous Phillip Seymour Hoffman, are young and vibrant. But while Highsmith paints the title character as a calculating, amoral sociopath (for a more faithful interpretation of Tom Ripley, see John Malkovich in Ripley's Game or Alain Delon in Purple Noon), Minghella and Damon see Ripley as a tragic antihero. Their Tom Ripley is a perpetual outsider, a sensitive, closeted homosexual whose lack of financial means renders him invisible to those he loves, and the only thing that torments him more than the world's naked contempt for him are the brutal machinations he takes to escape those social strictures. In that regard, this Ripley gains our sympathies even as his actions repel us, and that's a feat that even Highsmith didn't quite pull off. The Talented Mr. Ripley is one of the best films of the 1990s, and it's arguably Anthony Minghella's richest, most complex work.
Among his effusive praise for the film, Michael Reuben remarks on how "the elaborateness of the lies that Tom has to spin...and the conviction of his performances, have led some viewers to call him a sociopath, but at least in Minghella's film, Tom Ripley is not so easy to categorize. Right down to the film's chilling conclusion, he seems to have genuine feelings. It's just not clear what they are. Matt Damon has given many fine performances, including his three appearances as Jason Bourne, but he has never been better in a dramatic role than in The Talented Mr. Ripley. His Ripley is simultaneously compelling and repugnant, a deep well of emotions and an inscrutable cipher, a tragic hero and a monster you're glad to leave behind. That Damon manages to embody all these qualities, and still have viewers concerned when the Italian police or the efficient detective (Philip Baker Hall) hired by the Greenleaf family get too close, is a rare achievement."
Snake Eyes is nowhere near as accomplished as The Talented Mr. Ripley, but that observation isn't really a slight; there are steaks and there are hamburgers, and Snake Eyes is a great hamburger. After the worldwide phenomenon of his 1996 summer blockbuster Mission: Impossible, director Brian De Palma wanted to return to the kind of edgy paranoid thriller he cut his teeth on (Dressed to Kill; Blow Out), and he developed Snake Eyes, which follows a cheerfully corrupt police detective (Nicolas Cage) as he tries to unravel the conspiracy behind a high-profile political assassination. That setup isn't new, either for cinema or for De Palma, but it doesn't matter. At its best, Snake Eyes functions as pure cinema, with De Palma orchestrating a number of virtuoso set-pieces, from an extended pursuit of a frightened femme fatale (Carla Gugino), to the moment when Cage's character tries to put together the truth from a massive bank of security camera footage, to the film's signature moment: a thirteen-minute-long tracking shot that introduces us to Cage and the picture's major players...and then climaxes in a gory shooting. And De Palma gets a really sturdy, unsung turn from Cage. His Nick Santoro is a flamboyant weirdo - and fans of the actor know that Cage excels when playing over-the-top creeps - but Cage makes Santoro's emerging conscience just as visceral and interesting as his more outré quirks. Even when Snake Eyes tipples over into incoherence (and the reshot ending makes little sense and is dramatically unsatisfying), Cage keeps us invested in the madness.
Michael Reuben's generally positive Blu-ray review noted how "under the thriller surface, though, De Palma was more interested in something else, just as he'd pursued other interests in horror-themed films like Carrie and Dressed to Kill. In Snake Eyes, De Palma placed the viewer into a surveilled environment, Atlantic City, where everyone knows they're being watched, and he followed a protagonist, a local cop, who thinks he has the place under control. Then De Palma systematically deconstructed both the surveillance and the cop's certainty, taking his camera into places where the eye can't normally see, distorting perspective and ripping apart all the cop's certainties. The result, though not to every viewer's taste, draws a stark contrast with the usual Hollywood formula...The film's reception was less than friendly. Many viewers complained that the trailer gave away too much. Others carped that the film gave away too much by revealing the villain too early (to which De Palma promptly replied, in vain, that the villain's identity wasn't the point). Few saw the film as a stylized tale of a flawed hero's journey to redemption, and even fewer remained through the entire end credit scroll to catch the wit of the closing shot."
Finally, the Criterion Collection is offering an HD upgrade of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. This acclaimed adaptation of John le Carré's classic spy thriller - and the first film produced from one of le Carré's novels - looks to the height of the Cold War for inspiration; while pretending to defect to the Russians as part of a top-secret undercover operation, British agent Alec Leamas (Richard Burton) begins to question not just his mission, but also the intelligence officials that monitor Leamas' progress with clinical resolve. Director Martin Ritt certainly adheres to the unpredictable, uncomfortable air that le Carré cultivated in his text - in terms of suspense, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold provides more white-knuckle chills than 2011's excellent Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - but he also adds another dimension we might not expect. Leamas is one of the great movie protagonists, wise and cynical and deeply sympathetic, and Ritt gives Burton the space to turn the character's personal battles into material that is just as exciting and moving as the spy theatrics. It's an expert character drama, nestled inside a taut drama.
Svet Atanasov singled out that "there is also a great dose of that unique cynicism that is present in classic American noir films. When Alec begins his character transformation, the film becomes unusually dark and then very pessimistic. The viewer knows that there is some intended role playing, but the film gradually drifts away from the spy game that is underway. In this part of the film right and wrong seem completely irrelevant. Le Carré explains in an interview included on this release that director Martin Ritt had a difficult time communicating with Burton during the shooting of key sequences, but the film has a terrific rhythm, and recreates the atmosphere and mentality of Cold War era espionage wonderfully well."
Had Into Darkness ordered for months now, but may drop it, after digitalbits pointed out all the extras they left off, as retail exclusives. Just screams there'll be a double dip later, right before the next one hits theaters.
That was an interesting read on Star Trek, two opposing approaches, that sure was a movie to polarize opinion. I am in the camp of "loved it" but can see how elements can be seen as detrimental.
It's the only Trek that has ever left me with the impression of "terror". re - certain ship chase scene and Ben Burtt's finest sound design. Would like the next Trek to have less "skull crunching' and more light;-).
I have only seen snippets of The Talented Mr Ripley, but I think I may treat myself to a copy of this as well.
Stark Trek ITD for me (favourite movie of the summer) I've also already ordered the friday 13th box set through amazon.ca. The set doesn't seem to be available in canada but Some sites are importing the Us version