RIC MEYERS: Pan’s Labyrinth, Children of Men, Droopy
Oh, you lucky consumers. This week, all the benefits of DVD watching have come to the fore with four classics that come in four different varieties. First, celebrate all ye cinema-of-the-fantastic fans, for two of the greatest science fiction and fantasy films of the 21st century are now out on disc but only one in a way that shows how superior the DVD format is to virtually every other medium.
I love fantasy. My first non-pseudonyminous novel was a fantasy, Cry of the Beast. My latest novel is a fantasy, Murder in Halruua. My first non-fiction book was The World of Fantasy Films. So it’s a great pleasure to now write about Pan’s Labyrinth, probably the best fantasy film since, well, the director’s previous mixing of monsters and Spanish history, The Devil’s Backbone (2001).
Even after directing Blade II and Hellboy, Hollywood still gave Guillermo del Toro’s extraordinary Oscar-winning new film its due, and New Line Home Entertainment is no exception, crafting one of the great DVDs to showcase it (and they’ve had some practice, considering they also backed the Lord of the Rings special editions). There is a single disc DVD, which only sports the director’s loving audio commentary, but let’s pretend that doesn’t exist (along with the fullscreen version).
Instead, go right to the Two Disc Platinum Series, which envelops the already magical, monstrous, mystical, and majestic film with gobs of film-enhancing extras. All too often, even when a DVD has loads of extras, they’re not really film-enhancing. They may be film-promoting, film-marketing, film-indulging, or even film-smoke-blowing, but it only takes a few of those to know the real deal when it comes around. Each of the documentaries included on the Platinum Edition make successive viewings of the film all the more enriching and enjoyable.
There’s a discourse on the movie’s use of fairy tale mythology, an examination of the colors and textures del Toro uses to deepen his work, a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the movie’s creatures (spotlighting Doug Jones, the director’s favorite go-to man for these roles), multiple “director’s notebook” interactive menu pages, and, not surprisingly, considering del Toro’s avowed love for comic books, animated prequels establishing back-stories for four of the film’s fantasy favorites.
They’ve also added the memorable episode of PBS’ Charlie Rose Show, which interviewed the friends now known as cinema’s “Three Amigos” – del Toro, Babel director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, and the next man on our DVD hit parade, Alfonso Cuaron. Using the clout he acquired after directing Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Cuaron threw it all into his remarkable adaptation of famed mystery writer P.D. James’ recent science-fiction novel Children of Men.
I love science fiction. My second non-pseudonyminous novel (Doomstar) and non-fiction book (The Great Science Fiction Films) were science fiction. I didn’t feel there was a huge difference between SF and fantasy, but apparently tinseltown disagrees. For, while New Line gave Pan’s Labyrinth its due, Universal treated the bleak yet exhilarating Children of Men like a red-headed stepchild.
Amongst fans, Universal’s marketing of the exceptional film was infamous, inspiring a popular YouTube reworking of the preview trailer which put what the studio came up with to shame. Sadly, their perfunctory DVD release is no different. What should have been promoted with the same brio as Pan was sloughed off like some sort of contractual obligation, despite dozens of rave reviews and declarations that it was the best film of 2006.
Even though the extras are minimal considering the wealth of material available, they’re prime – albeit occasionally distressing. Included is The Possibility of Hope, an original documentary about the problems that inspired Cuaron, structured along the same lines as the fictional film. More superficially thrilling are the short docs about how the crew created two of the movie’s bravura action sequences, as well as how they designed their future look to be “anti-Blade Runner.” Sadly, these few tastes of Cuaron’s achievement only left me wanting much more, and it’s a crying shame that the studio seems to be ashamed of a film they should be using as a trophy.
Hopefully that overdue celebration will come eventually, as it has for a variety of classics Sony is remastering and re-releasing as DVD Collector’s Editions. I’ll review each as I get them, but this time it’s a personal favorite: The Guns of Navarone (1961). I love war stories (yeah, yeah, okay, I wrote five war novels under a pseudonym). Based on a testosteriffic WWII adventure novel by Alistair MacLean, famed producer/writer Carl Foreman (High Noon) added Greek mythology references, woman’s lib, and cunning anti-war sentiments to create what he called “the greatest B movie ever made.”
By any description, this two and a half hour epic about a small Allied band sent behind enemy lines to take out the title weapons has matured into grade A stuff. Although it has been released on DVD before, nothing compares to this edition. Not only is the picture and sound the best it’s ever been, they bundle in four promotional films released at the time, add two audio commentaries, include filmed reminiscences of the stars and director, and created a half-dozen new docs, including one on Dimitri Tiomkin, the film score’s Russian composer. If you’ve never seen it before, or are an inveterate fan, you’re in for a treat.
Finally (for the purposes of this column, at any rate), I love cartoons. Don’t get me started on the animated ads, TV shows, features, and related stuff I’ve contributed to (really, don’t). Nor do I prefer one cartoon era over another. I’m a proud owner of both the Loony Tunes compilations as well as The Simpsons. But out this week is Tex Avery’s Droopy: The Complete Theatrical Collection from Warner Home Video – being twenty-four cartoons originally created by MGM for movie theaters in the 1940’s and 50’s.
As the one major extra (a short doc lamely named Droopy and Friends: A Laugh Back) makes clear, Droopy’s creator, Tex Avery, is considered the “golden age of theatrical cartoons’” most influential director (having already established most of Bugs Bunny’s traditions in his short stint working at Warner Bros.). Droopy cartoons were sight-gag-driven, as opposed to character or story driven, then were seriously enhanced by Avery’s love of contrasting Droopy’s flaccid stillness with his antagonists’ hyperactive frenzy, sexy, scantily clad song-and-dance girls, and some of the most extreme, exaggerated, body-warping, overreactions in cartoon history.
Although the sparse extras could have benefited by the reverence with which the French package Avery’s animation, the cartoons themselves are really the two-disc set’s best “extras.”
Ric Meyers is the author of Murder On The Air, The Ultimate Death, Doomstar, and numerous other books and has (and sometimes still is) on the editorial staff of such publications as Famous Monsters of Filmland, Starlog, Fangoria, Inside Kung-Fu, The Armchair Detective, The Weekly World News and Asian Cult Cinema. He’s a television and motion picture consultant whose credits include The Twilight Zone, Columbo, A&E’s Biography and The Incredibly Strange Film Show.