Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: Blu-ray Review: Thrills and Chills from MGM

Friday, September 25, 2009

Blu-ray Review: Thrills and Chills from MGM

by Tony Dayoub

A few popular thrillers and chillers were released on Blu-ray last week from MGM and Fox Home Entertainment, just in time for Halloween. Among them are Child's Play (1988), Wrong Turn (2003), and Wrong Turn 2: Dead End (2007). Not the greatest horror flicks, to say the least. But the ones that will most interest fans I've saved for last.

The Hannibal Lecter Collection is 3 disc Blu-ray collection that is a bit of a mixed bag. Points go to its producers for including the underrated procedural, Michael Mann's Manhunter (1986), which introduced Dr. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lektor [sic] (Brian Cox) instead of the crappy remake Red Dragon (2002). The highly influential film inspired all manner of films and television series glamorizing profilers and their serial killer quarries, including star William Petersen's own CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. This is its first appearance on Blu-ray and cinematographer Dante Spinotti's images looks magnificent, crisper, and more saturated than in any other version I've ever seen. If there's one reason to justify this purchase, it is Manhunter.

Jonathan Demme's more horror-tinged The Silence of the Lambs (1991) swept all the major awards at the Oscars that year, a testament to the onscreen rapport between stars Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins (taking over the role of Lecter). The Blu-ray is identical to the single-disc version released earlier this year. It's most fascinating extra is a picture-in-picture commentary that talks to most of the cast, and screenwriter Ted Tally, about their roles in the development of this minor classic. Again, the picture looks great, but this one really soars on Blu when it comes to its fantastic sound design, for instance the hollow submarine sounds that add that extra tingle to your spine whenever Foster's Clarice Starling visits Lecter in his dungeon-like prison.

Ridley Scott's much maligned Hannibal (2001) is a guilty pleasure of mine. Thomas Harris' novel is widely acknowledged to be a grotesque misfire, likely due to the author becoming enamored with Hopkin's performance in the previous film. While Scott dispenses with the novel's ludicrous ending (in which Starling ends up romantically involved with Lecter), he goes all out and makes this an operatic Grand Guignol masterpiece. Julianne Moore does a respectable job taking over for Foster (who ironically turned down the role based on Starling's out of character behavior in the novel). Hopkins relishes in the liberation of his character from prison, gloriously enjoying the sinister Venetian environs he visits. Gary Oldman makes an unbilled appearance as the twisted Mason Verger, unrecognizable in some pretty horrific makeup as a former victim who just barely survived an earlier encounter with Lecter. His plan for revenge on Lecter is the central plotline of the film. But the most disturbing scene in the entire franchise belongs to Ray Liotta who, as an obnoxious Justice Department official bullying Starling, is targeted by Lecter for a particularly gruesome bit of punishment in the film's finale. This marks Hannibal's first appearance on Blu-ray as well.

Unfortunately, neither Manhunter nor Hannibal contain any extras (couldn't you guys have thrown in a fourth disc with extras for those films) so buyer beware.

After revisiting the Rob Reiner's adaptation of the Stephen King thriller, Misery (1990), I was surprised to find it held up so well. Perhaps it's because the once promising director of The Princess Bride and Stand By Me has been in a rut for quite some time. But here, with the aid of cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld and screenwriter William Goldman, Reiner efficiently translates one of King's most personal books. Maybe it is because the plight of writer Paul Sheldon (James Caan), forced to write mediocre drivel while kept prisoner at obsessive fan Annie Wilke's (Kathy Bates) "cock-a-doodie" home after a car accident cripples him, is one that the three artists can all relate to. Caan's contribution to the film is immeasurable. To cast such a high-strung, athletic actor as a writer and then confine him to a bed or a wheelchair for most of the film is a stroke of genius. One can see the frustration oozing out of both Caan and his character as he struggles to escape his predicament. The Blu-ray presents a beautiful picture with some of the natural grain in the original film. Extras come by way of the 2007 Collector's Edition DVD which is included with the Blu-ray, just as it is with Child's Play.

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