For the week of October 9th, two studios are offering competing views of human interactions with aliens. One such close encounter occurs in Twentieth Century Fox's sci-fi blockbuster Prometheus, director Ridley Scott's not-a-prequel-except-really-a-prequel to Alien. As its placement in that iconic horror movie franchise infers, Prometheus takes a pessimistic view of extraterrestrial life; its ill-fated protagonists travel to the expanses of space in search of our progenitors, and what they find are dispassionate and brutal creatures that do not care about mankind's continued existence. The film doesn't quite live up to the nihilistic perfection of Alien - Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof's script traffics in stereotypes as opposed to characters, and much of the second half trades in intellect and suspense for rote action-movie mayhem. Still, Prometheus goes to dark places that most summer blockbusters wouldn't touch, and Scott's technical command of his visual world is staggering (the 3D in Prometheus is particularly breathtaking).
At the opposite end of the intergalactic spectrum: Universal Studios' E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. One of the most beloved films of all time, E.T. finds filmmaker Steven Spielberg working in the same grandly emotional register that made his Schindler's List and War Horse so moving. Spielberg isn't just telling the tale of the bond that develops between a stranded alien life-form and a lonely suburban boy; his movie is about family, and how difficult -and magical - it can be to belong in one. E.T. is just as powerful today as it was in 1982, and the Blu-ray rectifies a major gaffe from the great director - it does not include the ill-conceived "Special Edition" that redid some shots of the E.T. puppet with a CGI model and digitally removed the federal agents' weapons in the climactic setpiece.
In his Blu-ray review, Kenneth Brown is effusive in his praise, writing that "young kids weened on light animated fare may not be prepared for the darker places Spielberg is willing to go (you may not even remember how dark E.T. can get), some of its visuals will be tough for little ones to handle, and the breaking of Elliott and E.T.'s bond is as devastating as it ever was (if you have kids who are prone to bolting from the room, prepare yourself). All that said, none of that should prevent anyone from inviting E.T. into their homes. If you haven't seen the film in years, take this chance to reconnect with an old favorite. If you've never seen it before, take this chance to introduce yourself and your family to what will surely be one of your new household favorites."
Switching gears from space, we turn to two classic thrillers receiving Blu-ray upgrades, courtesy of Warner Home Entertainment. First up is Robert Aldrich's chiller What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? This is one of the most bizarre films ever released by a major Hollywood studio: Aldrich pitches his thrills somewhere between Grand Guignol and high camp, and he gets the most from Bette Davis and Joan Crawford's scenery-devouring performances as two former showbiz stars locked in mortal combat with one another (the two actresses hated each other off-camera, and my oh my, does that feeling come across in the final cut). Yet in its own deeply perverse way, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is as watchable as other Aldrich classics like The Longest Yard and The Dirty Dozen - the man had a gift for making the impalatable palatable.
Jeffrey Kauffman's Blu-ray review highlights the picture's unique wavelength, how it might "have kickstarted a whole subgenre featuring one time A-list female stars who were now slightly (or maybe even more than slightly) past their prime emoting their way through all sorts of gothic craziness, but it's still a one of a kind film experience. Davis is completely over the top, but the performance is still rooted in its own sort of reality (surreality, perhaps). Crawford is restrained and refined, and it's kind of fun to see her in such a vulnerable, sympathetic role. The film toes a very fine line between horror and a wacky kind of humor, all of it expertly handled by director Robert Aldrich."
Even better is Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train. Hitchcock is responsible for some of the greatest films ever made - Psycho, North by Northwest, Vertigo - yet Strangers on a Train might be his finest film. It's a sleek entertainment that traffics in Very Bad Behavior, as Robert Walker's psychotic playboy Bruno Antony turns Farley Granger's simpering tennis player into his unwitting partner in crime. Hitch crafts some of his most thrilling suspense sequences, and the whole endeavor has a wonderfully macabre sense of humor, which is personified by Walker's villainous turn. Bruno might be a rotter, but he's an effortlessly erudite and entertaining rotter, and his dry, debauched line readings enliven every scene he's in.
Jeffrey Kauffman crafts his Blu-ray review as a love-letter to the film: "Strangers on a Train is one of Hitchcock's most supremely crafted thrillers and continues to surprise even on repeated viewings, one of the surest signs of its mastery. Rather interestingly, critical reaction was mixed when the film was first released, though it has attained a much more lustrous reputation in the intervening years. While other Hitch efforts may be more thoughtful or thrilling (something I personally would debate), Strangers on a Train is poised perfectly between mass market appeal and something much more complex and multilayered, certainly reflective of Hitchcock's own personality."
I'll be getting the ET digibook from Best Buy. Debating about getting Prometheus now or wait for the potential "director's cut". Also want The Great Mouse Detective, one of Disney's underrated animated films, but might wait for a price drop.
For me but they'll have to wait until next week as I'm going away for a few days:
Little Shop of Horrors Digibook
The Great Mouse Detective
And I'm curious about The Raven. Missed it in the theater. I may pick that one up at a later date.
prometheus for me my favourite film of 2012 so far. Saw it 3 times and can't wait to see it tonight. Getting the 3d version.
I don't think i could sit through ET yet I saw it too many time years ago . I will buy it someday.
Prometheus, Strangers on a Train, E.T. and The Great Mouse Detective for me! What a great week! I also want What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? but I’m waiting for a price drop, it’s too expensive right now.