Fan Edit Review: Godzilla 1985 Theatrical Version Reconstruction

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Original Film Directed by Koji Hashimoto, R.J. Kizer, Written by Shuichi Nagahara and Lisa Tomei
Fan Edit by Red Menace (a.k.a. OMGItsGodzilla)
Category: Reconstruction

In September of 2016, Godzilla fans in America received what they thought would be the best news they had had since the return of the Big G to theaters two years earlier: the last remaining Godzilla film without a North American release, The Return of Godzilla, finally hit the stores on blu-ray. Months before, however, these same fans learned of an unfortunate footnote to this release–it would not include the popular American recut, Godzilla 1985. To this day, the last official home video of 1985 was the Anchor Bay VHS tape, and to a dedicated Godzilla fan known as Red Menace, this just wouldn’t do.

I’m not going to go too deep into all of the differences between The Return of Godzilla and Godzilla 1985, but suffice to say, there are plenty. The last Godzilla film to be heavily recut with newly-added scenes (and the last to be released theatrically in the States until the Roland Emmerich film), 1985 acts as a sequel to the Americanized version of the first Godzilla film, King of the Monsters. That cut starred the great Raymond Burr as reporter Steve Martin, thrust into the action with some skillful shooting and editing, and the inclusion of a voiceover narration by the character.

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1985 sees Burr return to the role, but this time, he stays far away from the action in several scenes set within the Pentagon, depicting Martin as an adviser to a trio of helpless American military officers watching the kaiju rampage unfold. This makes Red Menace’s job a bit easier than, say, Harmy’s on the Star Wars Despecialized Editions, as this meant only a comparitive handful of shots were needed to be inserted as opposed to a vast number of visual effects integration.

Red Menace achieves this with a popular standard definition capture of 1985 from the premium cable channel MonstersHD in the early 2000s. This does mean the exclusive footage is of a lower resolution than the main Kraken blu-ray rip, but Red manages to smooth out the inconsistencies with overlay of a 35mm film grain element from HolyGrain. The end result does mean that the image is rather thick with noise, but it certainly helps sell the illusion of an older print newly scanned into HD, especially at normal viewing distance. Bitrate is high, approaching blu-ray quality at around 25mbps.

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In addition to these shots, Red Menace also had to recreate a fair share of subtitles, both for location cards and foreign dialogue. Using an Australian VHS rip, they were able to fashion and time nearly-identical subtitles to the theatrical release.

Audio is bit worse-for-wear, however: due to 1985 only ever seeing release with a mono track, the audio is rather tinny and limited. This isn’t a knock against the editor, who surely only had to work with what existed; this is a gripe against New World Pictures. On the reconstruction, the track is in dual mono/stereo configuration, and comes through loud and clear. It seems evident that it was sourced from the MonstersHD broadcast, however, as it contains several subtle differences to the actual theatrical cut (MonstersHD had aired a workprint version, not the released American cut). A bit unfortunate, as this reconstruction cannot be called entirely accurate, but these changes are very minor, and one or two have been fixed. From talking with the editor, I have learned that a future v2.0 is in the works that will address these issues.

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The first of Red Menace’s Godzilla reconstructions serves up a real treat for G-Fans the world over. Finally, a film, or at least a version of it, that was considered to be lost indefinitely to tangled rights issues and null mass demand is now readily available to view by anyone with an internet connection and a bit of space on their computer. It looks pretty damn good for a mix of SD and HD footage, and while the audio does leave one missing the Japanese cut’s 5.1 remix, this is as true to the original American release as it gets, barring that next-to-impossible official release.

HOW TO GET IT:

Simply follow @RedMenaceOfficial on Tumblr, you can find all of their projects there!

Godzilla 1985 is available in several flavors, in both the v1.0 reviewed here and his earlier v0.5 and v0.6 efforts using SD sources, if you’re into seeing a work-in-progress version. 1.0 is available in a lower-bitrate MP4 file for more compact size and a full-quality MKV file. They have also provided two bonus features that can be downloaded separately: a reconstruction of the utterly weird and out-of-place American theme song “I Was Afraid to Love You,” and the original theatrical trailer, restored of course.

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Infinity War is Upon Us!

It has been a long decade, and finally, the weekend of Avengers: Infinity War is here!

As you may know, I’ve been undertaking the expansive #MCUMarathon challenge ever since the beginning of the year, and while I may have fallen behind at multiple points, I have arrived at the finish line! Not only will I be reblogging all of Tumblr reviews throughout the day, but they will all be collected right here for your pleasure.

I have seen the film, and let’s just say…It. Is. Glorious.

The #MCUMarathon Reviews:
Iron Man
The Incredible Hulk
Iron Man 2
Thor
Captain America: The First Avenger
The Avengers
Iron Man 3
Thor: The Dark World
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Guardians of the Galaxy
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Ant-Man
Captain America: Civil War
Doctor Strange
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Spider-Man: Homecoming
Thor: Ragnarok
Black Panther
Avengers: Infinity War

April 2018: No Tag of the Month

It’s April at The Movie Maestro, and that means….actually, nothing this time.

In case you haven’t noticed, I have disappeared for long stretches at a time lately–it has been quite the stressful month. So, to catch up on everything going on in my weird life, I’m going to take a break on the Monthly Tags.

Will there still be reviews? Absolutely! Just no monthly specials–this will allow me to finish the MCU and DCEU Marathons, as well as actually put a dent into my own work, like Godzilla: Resurrection.

Plus, my birthday is this month. I deserve a break.

Until May, enjoy my marathons and other reviews listed below:

MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE (#MCUMarathon)
Iron Man
The Incredible Hulk
Iron Man 2
Thor
Captain America: The First Avenger
The Avengers
Iron Man 3
Thor: The Dark World
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Guardians of the Galaxy
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Ant-Man
Captain America: Civil War
Doctor Strange
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Spider-Man: Homecoming
Thor: Ragnarok
Black Panther

DC EXTENDED UNIVERSE (#DCEUMarathon)
Man of Steel

Last Month: Super Heroism

Last month, I took a look at films which portray many forms of the perrennial American Superhero, in all its good and bad forms. You can read the reviews here.

Tag of the Month: Super Heroism (March 2018)

It’s March at The Movie Maestro, and that means it’s time for a new Tag of the Month!

What is the “Tag of the Month?”

Every month, in between my regular reviews, I will be viewing films pertaining to a certain theme, be it seasonal, holiday, or otherwise-oriented. Examples: “Twisted Xmas” for December, something scary for October, etc.

March’s Tag: Super Heroism

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While comic book and superhero movies have no doubt been a fixture of my reviews for awhile, I decided to make them the focus for this month. This is not only to allow myself the means to catch up on the MCU Marathon, but also to examine the DC offerings in greater depth, as well as some other comic-based and inspired flicks that deal with larger-than-life heroes. Films like Flash Gordon, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, even Birdman will make appearances in my reviews this month as I examine all facets of the superhero, both good and bad.

Keep a look out for the tag #SuperHeroism on my Instagram and Tumblr reviews, and check back here each week for links to them all.

THE REVIEWS SO FAR:
I’m gonna do something a little different here. Since I’ve already been doing a lot of superhero reviews, why don’t I collect them here to give y’all something to read while I’m not posting? Collected below will be all the MCU and DCEU films I’ve reviewed, as well as some other super-heroic flicks.

MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE (#MCUMarathon)
Iron Man
The Incredible Hulk
Iron Man 2
Thor
Captain America: The First Avenger
The Avengers
Iron Man 3
Thor: The Dark World
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Guardians of the Galaxy
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Ant-Man
Thor: Ragnarok
Black Panther

DC EXTENDED UNIVERSE:
Man of Steel

OTHER REVIEWS:
Batman Returns
Flash Gordon
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Innocence)

Last Month: Love Conquers All

Last month, I took a look at several films examining love that conquers all barriers and hardships, romantic, familial, platonic, and otherwise. If you missed the reviews, you can check them out here.

Tag of the Month: Love Conquers All (February 2018)

It’s February at The Movie Maestro, and that means it’s time for a new Tag of the Month!

What is the “Tag of the Month?”

Every month, in between my regular reviews, I will be viewing films pertaining to a certain theme, be it seasonal, holiday, or otherwise-oriented. Examples: “Twisted Xmas” for December, something scary for October, etc.

February’s Tag: Love Conquers All
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Yeah, I know. A romantic tag for the month of Valentine’s Day. How original. But we all need stories of love at least every now and then to revitalize our tired old hearts, so this is as good a time as any. But, to put a little spin on the proceedings, I’m going to focusing more on the kinds of love stories that make us root for the underdog; tales of unlikely love mixed in with the usual to remind us that there just may be a soulmate for everyone out there.

Keep a look out for the tag #LoveConquersAll on my Instagram and Tumblr reviews, and check back here each week for links to them all.

THE REVIEWS:
50/50
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Purple Rain
The Shape of Water
The Sound of Music
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
August Rush
Lady Bird

Last Month: Visions of the Future

Last month, I took a look at various futuristic films, ranging the gamut from post-apocalyptic to urban dystopia. If you missed the reviews, you can check them out here.

FAN EDIT REVIEW: The Star Wars Trilogy – Harmy’s Despecialized Editons

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Original Films Directed by George Lucas, Irvin Kershner, and Richard Marquand, Written by George Lucas, Leigh Brackett, and Lawrence Kasdan
Fan Edit by Harmy
Category: Reconstruction

While most fan edits can usually be distilled down to the editor’s subjective goal for a film, there is a rapidly-growing facet of the community that involves the creation of reconstructions. These are edits which do not seek to create a wholly new version of the film, but rather to restore a previously unavailable version, using a number of different home video sources. While he was hardly the first, one can say this method of fan editing truly came into its own with Czech editor Harmy, and his excellent Star Wars Despecialized Editions.

First, a brief history lesson, courtesy of the first half of this very informative short documentary:

In case you can’t watch the video, in effect, everything that the original Star Wars film won Oscars for–the visual effects, the set and costume design, sound design–was significantly altered by George Lucas twenty years later to produce the Special Edition, a series of cuts that he felt lived up to his original vision for the trilogy. While the merits of these versions have been and continue to be endlessly debated by fans, the original versions are, at the time of this writing, MIA, in either original print form or on high definition (or acceptable standard definition, for that matter) video.

Enter Harmy, a Czech English teacher and video enthusiast, who sought to restore the original versions of the trilogy in the vein of an early effort by Revisited editor Adywan, by combining different video sources to bring the film back to its original state. Thus, the Despecialized Editions were born.

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The first versions of the edits, available in MKV form, concentrated on two major fronts: correcting the massive alterations to the color timings of the films, and of course, reversing the editorial and visual effects changes that Lucas has made over three successive variations of the Special Editions. Even in these lower-bitrate versions, made with upscales of the Laserdisc-derived 2006 DVD releases of the original trilogy, were quite a step above the official Blu-ray release of 2011 in fidelity to the first-released cuts.

In the years since, Harmy has kept up with changes in both video editing technology and newly-available preservations of the original films, updating each edit accordingly. For this review, I used v2.7 of Star Wars, v2.0 of Empire, and v2.5 of Jedi, in two forms: the full MKV files and a custom blu-ray set made by editor NJVC. While both versions contain the same multitude of audio and subtitle tracks, the blu-rays lower the bitrate slightly in order to fit every feature onto a disc. This doesn’t bother me much, considering I don’t sit close enough to my 40-inch TV to notice a difference, but pick accordingly to your tastes.

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Star Wars v2.7 is undoubtedly the centerpiece of Harmy’s set, considering how extensively the original film has been altered in 4 decades. In addition to the highest number of new visual effects, Star Wars suffered a heavily-skewed color palette, to the point that flesh tones begin to take on incredibly rosy complexions. The Despecialized Edition mercifully corrects this, using a well-preserved 35mm print as reference for correct theatrical color timing. The film is no longer forced to conform to the look of the prequels, appearing as it once did in 1977.

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Top: 2011 Bu-ray, Bottom: Despecialized v2.7

And of course, every successive VFX change is reversed–from things as huge as the original ILM Death Star battle to tweaks as small as restoring the orange blob of Vaseline under Luke’s desert speeder, nothing goes unnoticed by Harmy. Each original shot is returned through numerous different sources, depending on which is the highest quality version available; while most of the video is a color-corrected blu-ray rip, changes made to that master are reversed by taking from HD broadcasts of the 2004 DVDs or the 1997 Special Edition, and so on.

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When it becomes necessary to restore a shot that was only in the original version, fan-produced upscales of the 2006 DVDs are utilized, with elements taken from two noteworthy film preservations, Team Negative 1’s Silver Screen Edition and the 16mm Puggo Grande Edition. The video above explains the process in much better detail than I can in these paragraphs, but to over-summarize, the amount of work that went into creating these cuts prove that sometimes, the fans care more about something special than the creator.

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Empire and Jedi, while containing their fair share of VFX alterations, were less butchered by Lucasfilm, with the changes limited more to the inclusion of previously deleted footage and alternate audio takes. The latter example further displays the collaborative nature of the Despecialized Editions, with Harmy enlisting the approved usage of another fan project: a recreation of the original theatrical mixes. Produced by Hairy_hen mainly using the 1993 Laserdisc mixes, the main audio options replicate the standard 35mm stereo and the 70mm six-track mixes that were originally heard in theaters, with the first film also including the mono mix. All are presented in DTS-HD Master Audio, and while most certainly aren’t reference-material, hold up to the official releases quite well.

Each MKV file is quite massive, weighing in at an average of over 30 GBs, with bitrates approaching an average of 20 MBPS. The latest versions are still in 720p, but look stunningly beautiful in their original forms compared to the official releases, which are varyingly faded or glossed over with digital enhancements. The blu-ray set by NJVC doesn’t really handle the grain field as well, but as I mentioned before, unless you’re sitting right in front of the TV, this isn’t really something you will notice. Later versions of the MKVs are stated by Harmy to be in full 1080p resolution, owing to new elements pulled from Team Negative 1’s now finished Silver Screen Edition and a new set of prints being restored by an OriginalTrilogy Forum member known as Poita.

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But that’s not all! Both options include a selection of interesting and excellent features, many of which aren’t easily available anywhere else. On the MKV files, no less than twenty different audio options are available: in addition to the theatrical mixes, the original Laserdisc tracks are included in Dolby Digital form, along with a wide array of foreign dubs (my favorites are the German and Japanese tracks. So awesome and funny at the same time). There are also audio commentaries available from the Laserdiscs, DVDs, and Blu-rays, with Star Wars also presenting a rare official website podcast commentary by Pablo Hidalgo. Finally, each one provides an English Descriptive Audio track (so caring and thoughtful of the fans. If only Lucas could be the same).

In addition to the audio tracks, an equally-impressive selection of subtitles is collected from the Project Threepio effort, ranging from English to such overlooked languages as Thai and Navajo.

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The NJVC blu-ray set, available in several options, ups the ante in the extras field with several more commentaries such as Internet podcasts by Rebel Force Radio and Collider, and even Rifftrax by the MST3K crew themselves, along with a few more subtitle options. The bonus features discs include a collection of goodies from around the inter-webs, such as featurettes detailing the changes made to the films over the years, parody productions, documentaries, deleted scenes, trailers and TV spots, and even the excellent filmumentaries by Jamie Benning. All of the discs are finished with full motion menus which further push the official feel of this set.

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All in all, this is a great time to be a Star Wars fan. The dark years of the late 1980s have passed, as have the Lucas years, where Star Wars was kept under the stranglehold of a veritable Darth Vader, a man who has become everything about the Hollywood system he used to hate. Look at it now, with new, acclaimed films in theaters, TV series killing it on the small screen, and fan productions restoring to us our most treasured memories of the Galaxy Far, Far Away, things are finally looking up. So this Christmas, or Star Wars Day, or anytime you want, fire up the Despecialized Editions and enjoy yourself. You finally can again.

HOW TO GET IT:
Despite the crackdown on p2p file sharing going on these days, the Despecialized Editions are still easily and readily available in just about every corner of the web today, thanks in no small part to their popularity. If you are going through the official channels, visit this Harmy-approved guide, which will walk you through the different methods of obtaining the digital files, whether in the full MKV versions or lower-quality AVCHD files.

NJVC’s blu-ray set was briefly unavailable due to the creator pulling it from circulation–it appears that several unscrupulous individuals were selling the sets on Ebay. However, another fan has graciously and with NJVC’s support made them available again. All you need is a blu-ray burner and the discs, and you are good to go!

November at The Movie Maestro

Now that Halloween is long behind us, it’s time for me to refresh myself with some of my favorite films and film franchises! Until the end of November, I’ll be reviewing a wide array of entries from the Star Trek series to Indiana Jones to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, all just in time to read while you stuff your face with Thanksgiving turkey! Also on the plate will be a complete review of the Star Wars saga to prepare for the December 15 release of The Last Jedi.

Stay true, believers!

REVIEW: Zodiac (2007)

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Directed by David Fincher
Written by James Vanderbilt, Based on the book by Robert Graysmith
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Robert Downey Jr., Brian Cox, John Carroll Lynch

David Fincher just can’t seem to get away from the morbid and disturbing. Beginning his feature-film career with the much-maligned Alien 3 and continuing through with Seven and Fight Club, even his more fun films deal with the darker shades of human nature, usually ending on some dour note that wrecks a fragile faith we as a society has come to hold dear. Zodiac certainly fits neatly into this reading of Fincher’s work, as its structure more befits a political procedural with no clear ending than a typical serial killer film.

Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a cartoonist who works for the San Francisco Chronicle. His quirky ways irritate Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.), a reporter whose drinking gets in the way of doing his job. The two become friends thanks to a shared interest: the Zodiac killer. Graysmith steadily becomes obsessed with the case, as Avery’s life spirals into drunken oblivion. Graysmith’s amateur sleuthing puts him onto the path of David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo), a police inspector who has thus far failed to catch his man. Graysmith’s job, his wife and his children all become unimportant next to the one thing that really matters: catching the Zodiac.

The Zodiac Killer was a serial killer who operated in Northern California in the 1960s and ’70s, and originated the name himself in a series of cryptic letters and ciphers he sent to police and newspapers in the San Francisco area. Beyond this, not much is known about him, since he was never caught. Using this mystery, David Fincher’s film follows not the killer directly, but three people with whom the Zodiac would become a lifelong obsession: detective Dave Toschi, newspaper crime writer Paul Avery, and political cartoonist Robert Graysmith.

In this approach, the film does for serial killer flicks what All the President’s Men did for political thrillers; by taking a less-is-more, from-the-outside kind of mentality, Zodiac becomes a different breed of thriller, one that feels efficient and pulse-pounding despite the near-three-hour runtime and lack of on-screen scenes of the killer’s rampage. In a way, Fincher’s film seems to perfectly capture both the cultural shock of Zodiac himself as the fear of his presence pervades San Francisco and the cyclical feelings of discovery and frustration that each of the three leads experience.

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Zodiac begins not with the killer’s first confirmed attacks, but with the second, a choice that only becomes fully coherent with the very end. Taking place the night of July 4th, 1969, we follow Darlene Ferrin, a married woman, as she drives down a picturesque dusk neighborhood, fireworks exploding in the distance, arriving at one house in particular to pick up her secret lover, Martin Mageau. As night descends, the beauty of each shot begins to betray a creeping sense of unease as they pull off to a secluded couples spot, where they are stalked by a mysterious car. When the unseen occupant exits his vehicle and proceeds to riddle both of them with bullets, you know you are in for a spine-tingling time.

Much of the film seems to be made of build-up to these moments of shock, but is never filler. Weaving in and out of the different arenas of Zodiac’s cat-and-mouse game with society, the film gives us an intimate view into the newspaper media of the time, the law enforcement bureaucracy, and how neither seem to ever congeal into a coherent force working together to catch the psycho. For an uncommon procedural, Zodiac nails just why men like the killer are sometimes never caught.

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Shot on digital Thompson Viper cameras, Zodiac achieves the now-signature 21st Century Fincher look–low contrast, smooth details, and a diffuse look that almost emulates faded 1970s film, but without the dirt or scratches. I usually don’t prefer this look, gravitating more towards a more authentic filmstock appearance, but Fincher’s eye wins me over, imbuing even the mundane scenes with the unease of the time which makes the viewer tremble a bit inside.

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What really propels the film into classic territory, however, is the acting. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Graysmith, the man who would eventually write the book upon which this film is based. Displaying an aptitude for puzzles early on, he quickly becomes attached to the Zodiac case despite not being taken seriously by his colleagues. He is, after all, a cartoonist. Gyllenhaal can have some detractors with regards to his abilities, but anybody who doubts his Graysmith has a serious screw loose. Graysmith is likeable yet single-minded in his obsession, wholly convincing. So too is Robert Downey Jr. as Paul Avery, the crime writer who seeks the glory of catching Zodiac, as if he’ll become Bob Woodward before Bob Woodward. With his career-defining role as Tony Stark just under a year in the future, RDJ gives us a preview of that character, with a smug confidence that erodes into horrific substance abuse after he receives a letter from Zodiac himself.

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Probably my favorite performances in the film are Mark Ruffalo and John Carroll Lynch. Ruffalo plays Toschi, the San Francisco detective who worked the longest on the Zodiac case. From his first scene, he exudes a proficiency with his job unmatched by other detectives, but begins to crack under the pressure of this seemingly-unsolvable case. Lynch plays Arthur Leigh Allen, the prime suspect for Toschi and many other characters in the film. Lynch is unsettling in many ways, but never tips his hat too far as to unequivocally paint himself as the Zodiac, only allowing the audience to form a tortured “maybe.”

And therein lies the biggest strength of Fincher’s Zodiac, one that still defies explanation as to how the film received such mainstream acclaim: it doesn’t truly end. After Allen’s suspicion falls apart due to lack of evidence, the film begins to trail off, briefly picking up pace when Graysmith takes over the investigation as part of his book, but never arriving at a clear answer as to who Zodiac truly is. Indeed, by the end, when Mageau returns to the narrative to point out from a photo lineup the man who shot him in 1969, he seems completely sure–and then halfheartedly suggests that he had features from another man in the lineup, casting doubt on his memory. Like the 70s themselves, Zodiac drifts into nothingness with no payoff, no closure, just unanswered questions and the gut-wrenching feeling of letting a killer slip away unscathed.

REVIEW: Eraserhead (1977)

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Directed by David Lynch
Written by David Lynch
Starring Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Judith Roberts, Laurel Near, Jack Fisk

David Lynch, weirdo extraordinaire, once said of his debut film, Eraserhead, that it is a “dream of dark and troubling things.” That will probably forever be the most apt and clear explanation we will ever get about just what this film is about, because upon watching the first few minutes, I’m sure you will find it to be an entrancing if impenetrable experience.

Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) is a hapless factory worker on his vacation when he finds out he’s the father of a hideously deformed baby. Now living with his unhappy, malcontent girlfriend (Charlotte Stewart), the child cries day and night, driving Henry and his girlfriend to near insanity.

Note that the above synopsis, while generally accurate, is only a fraction of what viewers see during a showing of Eraserhead. I once used to tell prospective audiences of the film that it is the closest they can come to having an acid trip without taking acid, and while I don’t truly know what that is like, that remains my easiest go-to for recommending it. Lynch, having built a large and loyal fanbase with his dream-like, odd, and frankly disturbing visions of celluloid, still has never come close to his original nightmarish effort as seen here.

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According to the bonus features contained on the Criterion Collection blu-ray, Eraserhead took five years to complete, with much of that time spent in an abnormally-extended production period. Lynch and cinematographers Frederick Elmes and Herbert Cardwell would work at such a slow pace that at one point, the production was only shooting 1-2 takes per night, spending most of their time intricately lighting the set and rehearsing every move, no matter how small, with main actor Jack Nance. However, by all accounts, the project suffered little-to-no ills of frustration or creative difference. Such is the oddity of Eraserhead; even its overlong production did the opposite of expected, only bringing its cast and crew closer together.

The result of this gargantuan time process is nothing short of stunning. Sequences of horrific and eerie shapes and monsters pervade images of planets floating in empty space, a smaller-scale preview of the psychedelic imagery contained in Lynch’s later adaptation of Dune. These give way to timid little Henry Spencer as he makes his way through an industrial wasteland, so choked with dirtiness and devoid of meaningful life that it feels like the world of Brazil after some devastating apocalypse, or as if the Garden of Eden itself was overrun by automated machinery after Adam and Eve were cast out of it.

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As these more epic sights give way to the main setting of the film, namely Henry’s one-room apartment, the film takes on an incredible gradation of light and shadow, unseen by my eyes in countless other black-and-white flicks viewed over almost three decades. Here, Nance delivers a wonderfully-subtle performance, constantly appearing aware of some great trouble befalling him, but consciously not aware. On the outside, he is the bumbling oaf he appears to be, and yet, inside his eyes, there is terrible screaming.

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There are several more parts crucial to the film, especially Charlotte Stewart as Henry’s incessantly-breaking girlfriend Mary X, and of course, the ever-present Lady in the Radiator, played by Laurel Near. She is the star of several wacky dream sequences that wriggle in and out of the main narrative and Henry’s head, providing some strange laughs that just as quickly morph into disturbing tableaus that call back to some unappetizing Francis Bacon drawings. Much of these are accomplished by old-school in-camera special effects work, and while crude compared to today’s methods, they lose no impact, thanks to Lynch’s increasingly bizarre intuition.

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But what is this intuition guiding us to? Just what is Eraserhead about, what is the point? The point may be, there is no point. As Lynch has said in the past, Eraserhead is an incredibly subjective film, it’s meaning changing in the eye of the beholder. While some elements are always there, mainly the presence of fear and ever-building uneasiness, in reality, there is no right or wrong answer. I’ve read some truly inventive theories over the years, ranging from “Henry is in Hell” to the film being “a treatise on the fears of parenthood.” These are all wonderful readings, but in the end no more correct than the next. And really, is that not a beautiful thing?

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But (final but) should you see it? After all, Eraserhead could best be described as being an art-house film, rich in substance but generally confusing to an everyday audience who desire an escapist story. While I would hope everyone would at least give it a chance and watch it once, the world can’t be perfect. I would say that if your are one of those precious few that likes films like Aronofsky’s Mother or have found enjoyment in Lynch’s more mainstream work like Blue Velvet or Twin Peaks (did I just call those mainstream? Ha!), then definitely seek this out.

REVIEW: The Fly (1986)

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Directed by David Cronenberg
Written by Charles Edward Pogue and David Cronenberg, Based on the Short Story by George Langelaan
Starring Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz

Was there any filmmaker quite like the 1980s David Cronenberg? Making a series of films that were at once grotesque and physically horrifying yet deeply intimate and human, Cronenberg brought a strange, gothic heart to the horror and thriller genres that I don’t know if I’ve ever encountered since. Right smack in the middle of all of this is The Fly, the remake of the 1958 Vincent Price hit that blows all comparisons to that work out of the water.

Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum), a brilliant but eccentric scientist attempts to woo investigative journalist Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) by offering her a scoop on his latest research in the field of matter transportation, which against all the expectations of the scientific establishment have proved successful. Up to a point. Brundle thinks he has ironed out the last problem when he successfully transports a living creature, but when he attempts to teleport himself a fly enters one of the transmission booths, and Brundle finds he is a changed man.

I remember first seeing The Fly on late night cable, and being utterly repulsed by its extreme gore. And I still couldn’t look away. Sure, part of it was my adolescent curiosity, but even then, there was something about Cronenberg’s shocker that was more than cheap blood and goo. Since then, I’ve become a fan of Cronenberg’s work, and have always attributed that to The Fly, his most commercial and successful picture.

Much of the film’s success comes from three people: Cronenberg himself, and the two leads: Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis. Goldblum, a master of performance and subtlety, dives deep into some of the best work of his illustrious career. Goldblum’s Brundle is eccentric and insecure; hiding behind a boyish shyness is an altruistic need to create, and create he has, probably the most important invention of the human race: the telepod. Davis is the hot journalist who at first seems mildly amused by the young genius, only to find herself falling for him as they document his successes and failures with teleportation.

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Themselves a couple at the time, their on-screen chemistry as first scientific partners and later as lovers is wholly believable, and genuinely touching. There are times when I want to rate them as one of the ten best movie couples ever. You know what, I am going to rate them as one of the ten best movie couples ever. Which one would they be? I don’t know, but it’s up there.

And therein lies the genius of Cronenberg’s script rewrite. Charles Edward Pogue’s original draft (which is included on the excellent Fox blu-ray), is much more flowery and sweeping, playing more like the 1958 original, and places more emphasis on the scientific aspect of the film. Cronenberg aimed for a more concise narrative framed around these two doomed lovers, and in doing so, imbued this film with a bleeding heart that far outshines the scares.

But the scares exist, and while it takes awhile to get to them, they do not disappoint. The first forty minutes or so are consumed with Brundle’s attempts to correct a major flaw in the telepod–it can only teleport non-living material. His first teleportation of an animal, a baboon, results in the film’s first horrific set-piece as the poor creature is turned inside out upon reintegration. After correcting the issue, Brundle succeeds with another baboon, but soon, his idiosyncratic insecurities rear their ugly head, and he drunkenly enters the machine…not noticing the fly that has made inside with him.

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At first, the changes are positive: Brundle can perform feats of physical prowess and seems to be wired all the time. But as the film goes on, his appearance and demeanor changes, frighteningly. His body becomes sensitive to food and external stimuli; strange, insect-like hairs sprout from his back and later his face; even his personality shifts, revealing a new Seth Brundle that is dodgy, arrogant, and all-too-willing to demonstrate his abilities, to the harm of those around him.

At about the hour-mark, the film starts to take on a more familiar sci-fi edge as Seth’s body begins to deteriorate, the fly genes manifesting in cancerous legions that tear his visage apart. Major props to Chris Walas and the rest of the makeup department, who create disgustingly logical appliances that allow Goldblum to change before our eyes into a true monster but allowing him enough freedom to create a performance. Their work is honestly second only to Rob Bottin’s creations on John Carpenter’s The Thing. All through this, Veronica is forced to watch him slowly fall away into a new, terrifying form, showcasing the quiet torment that Geena Davis so effortlessly portrays.

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The Fly is a clever bait-and-switch to armchair fans of gory horror flicks. As I did years ago, I’m sure many people tuned in or bought the DVD to see the excellent makeup effects that still make me cringe, and slowly discovered the tender undercurrent of melancholy inherent in the film. In fact, I’d go so far as to say this is one of the most depressing films I’ve ever seen. It certainly is not for everyone, and I wouldn’t begrudge someone from disliking it after a viewing, but for those that can weather the storm, David Cronenberg’s The Fly is a unique remake, taking only the barest premise and treating(?) us to a darkly humorous and sad meditation of disease, deformity, the perils of scientific progress and the tragedy of doomed love.