RIC MEYERS: Fantastic Ghost Who?
Yes, yes, I know. This is the week both the extended versions of the original Fantastic 4 movie and Ghost Rider are in stores. Fine, great, more power to them. And, yes, I realize that this website is called ComicMix, so, by all rights, what follows should be an in-depth, all-inclusive examination of every extra, Easter egg, and digital particle on both these comic book inspired phantasmagoricals.
But I really dont feel like it. First, because, even to be extremely kind, neither film rates the kind of slavish devotion that the Richard Donner Superman, Tim Burton Batman, or Sam Raimi Spider-Man elicits in me (this, of course, does not include the sequels, except the second Spidey [by no stretch of the imagination, the third!]).
Second, even these films most devoted proponents would have to accept that the extended versions of these adventures aren’t what one could call revelatory. While rumors remain that the original FF film was disemboweled to create the anti-climatic one seen in theaters, there’s no hint of that in the ultimately unnecessary extra scenes regrafted here.
Ill admit, however, that there are hardly two films that benefit more from DVD performance. Both flix, in fact, are more enjoyable to watch on TV. There, according to film expert Chris Gore (and I agree), there aren’t as many expectations as there are in the theater. What may have been annoying, even intolerable, on the big screen become humorously camp and acceptable on the small.
These two-disc DVD sets other extras — audio commentary, behind-the-scenes, making-of, and a nifty character history for Ghost Rider; three audio commentaries, scads of featurettes (including one on comic artist Jack Kirby), loads of concept art, and even more stuff like that there for FF are squeaky clean and informative, but dont make these pics resonate the way the two-disc Pans Labyrinth DVD did. To paraphrase Monty Python, these discs wouldnt resonate if you put 5000 volts through them.
So, if you’re wondering whether to get the single disc or double disc editions of either of these fine, though hardly spectacularly great, films, take to your heart the DVD Xtra Rules of Purchase: Always Widescreen, Always Subtitled, Always, Always, ALWAYS the Special Platinum Collectors Extended Ultimate Edition. If you’re going to buy, buy the best. Otherwise, Netflix.
So what shall we talk about now? Well, the Rider and FF bring to mind a particularly beloved aspect of DVD collecting and/or watching. That which does not start out great can become great with a judicious use of extras (as evidenced by last column’s Frankenstein Conquers the World). That which was shaky in production becomes illuminating in retrospect. Nowhere is this more true than in the next new release under scrutiny: the Dr. Who New Beginnings box set.
Even the most cursory ComicMix visitor should have picked up on the fact that most, if not all, of the site’s contributors pretty much love Dr. Who, the longest running science-fiction show in TV history, especially the recent resurrection (after a gap of eleven years), which is on its third season. As a matter of fact, on last weeks BBC episode (which’ll be coming here starting in July on the Sci-Fi channel), the good doctor actually became a DVD extra an Easter egg on 17 different (fictional) DVDs to clue in the heroine on how to fight staggering fast time-twisting demons.
Now that’s what I call a mandate. Truthfully, though, I hardly needed the inspiration. I’ve been a committed Whovian since 1975 (the series started in England in 1963), and have long been jumping up and down and pointing since the Sci-Fi Network broadcasting of the recent BBC reboot. So what I’ve been doing for friends I’ll do for you, stranger: tell you what to watch to get up to date and explore why the new releases of some very old and creaky shows are important for all the right reasons.
The Doctor is a Timelord from the planet Gallifrey, who uses a time machine called a TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space) that is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside, to try righting wrongs in every eon and galaxy. When mortally wounded, his body can regenerate, but he never looks the same way twice. The name Dr. Who refers only to the series, and has been used as a running joke throughout its history (when he’s introduced as the Doctor, someone might say Doctor who?).
To hit the ground running, pick up The Three Doctors (aka Story No. 65), the show’s 10th anniversary celebration, which features the first three doctors in one serialized, feature-length, adventure. Any questions you might have following viewing might well be answered by the audio commentary featuring cast and crew members, as well as featurettes culled from the time of broadcast up to the time of DVD production.
Your next stop should be the shows 20th Anniversary special, The Five Doctors. Although the extras on this DVD only include a commentary by star Peter Davison and pioneering Who writer Terrance Dicks, Story No. 130 has been extended by almost fifteen minutes of rediscovered footage and enhanced by improved special effects and a remixed soundtrack.
This all brings us to a golden truth of the Dr. Who DVDs. Up until the new incarnation, the production values on the show were pretty lame. The series lasted on the quality of conception, acting, and writing, not on production proficiency. In fact, the accumulated love for the character and the scripts ideas carried it through its original three-doctor death throes (the sixth, seventh, and eighth actors to play the role had to battle some of the worst writing ever shoveled onto SF, let alone Dr. Who).
Which brings us back, finally, to Dr. Who New Beginnings. Arguably, the Doctors golden age (the new, recent, version marked the start of his Platinum Age) came during the tenure of actor Tom Baker (Nicholas and Alexandra, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad), who only handed over the part to Peter Davison (All Creatures Great and Small, Campion) after seven years , the longest tenure of any Doctor.
This three-disc set chronicles the transition with three serialized stories, The Keeper of Traken, Logopolis (in which Baker regenerates into Davison), and Castrovalva (where Davison grows into Baker’s admittedly big shoes). Now these efforts might seem quaint by modern sfx and production standards, but BBC Warners holds Whovians past, present, and future in great stead with some of the best extras ever lovingly lavished on any DVD.
The fact is, the spirit of Who was kept alive in the post-cancellation wasteland years by new audio, video, book, and comic adventures of the sixth (Colin Baker), seventh (Sylvester McCoy) and eighth (Paul McGann) Doctors — who were so ill-served, ill-treated, and short-shrifted by collapsing network support. So many of the same people who gave Who the respect it deserved then are doing the same for the DVDs now.
As a result, there are multiple (remarkably candid and detailed) audio commentaries, documentaries, interviews, featurettes, photo galleries, production notes, music only tracks, DVD-ROM features, and more. Theres even a whole unit of film restorers who only restore and remaster the Doctors’ adventures. Overkill? Dr. Who somehow both inspires and deserves this reverence. I, personally, cant get enough of it.
You want a tasty bite, try these DVDs. Better yet, check out the official BBC website, which has extensive digital material on the new, tenth, Doctor as well as the nine who preceded him. See if you can get enough. Despite the series checkered history, the cumulative effect is enough to put even Ghost Rider and Fantastic 4 to shame.
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.