RIC MEYERS: Fantastic Fantastic Clock
I’m spoiled already. Seven weeks into this column, and I yawn when I see a DVD with only one audio commentary. It wasn’t even seven weeks when I succumbed to the Critics Disease, judging each new entertainment against the one I had seen the day, week, month, or year before.
For the most part, the illness symptoms aren’t as egregious for DVDs as they are for films, since it’s likely most people see more DVDs than go to the movies, and therefore have touches of the malady themselves. Besides, as I pointed out before, expectations are far lower for films seen on TV than they are in the cinemas.
Even so, some worthy discs (or double discs) can slip through the cracks while I’m la-di-dahing. Such is the case for Fantastic Four Extended Edition I first mentioned a column or two back. Don’t get me wrong: the actual film, despite the twenty minutes of reinstated footage, still isn’t as good as it could or should have been. But in the weeks since reviewing it, my memory keeps going back to the special features.
So now I feel I could have been a bit more adamant about the editions charms, especially with this sites readers. Maybe I should have mentioned that the extras come in two categories: the film, and the comic book. And it is in this latter category where the glory of this version truly lies. There are new, lovingly created docs each more than an hour long on the history of the comic from the 1960s until today, and on co-creator/artist supreme Jack Kirby.
Each features the cream of the comic worlds crop (Stan Lee, Jim Lee, George Perez, Marv Wolfman, Walt Simonson, Len Wein, Alex Ross, and many others) waxing enthusiastically about their writing and artistic contribution to the series (save for John Byrne, whose absence is accusatory, though his input is lauded) as well as the man who inspired them. Remember, grasshoppers, that the climatic locale for the first season of Heroes was called Kirby Plaza for a reason. The docs do a nifty, pleasing job of balancing art images with talking heads, and the overall effect is a warm and fuzzy feeling for a film that wasnt that rousing to begin with.
The first Fantastic Four film should be so lucky as to be remembered with the same fondness as its fantastic predecessor, Fantastic Voyage. In addition to sharing an adjective (or is that an adverb?), 20th Century Fox has released special editions of their respective DVDs at the same time. But Voyage, incongruously, is part of Fox’s Cinema Classics Collection.
But, given that it inspired more budding special effects fans than movie lovers, maybe it should actually have been part of a Classic Cinema Cheese Collection — especially since it was directed by Richard Fleischer, one of the great B-movie men of cinema history (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Doctor Doolittle, The Boston Strangler, Soylent Green, Mandingo, Amityville 3-D, Conan the Destroyer, and Red Sonja were just some of his also-rans).
Although Fantastic Voyage looks pretty quaint compared to todays sfx extravaganzas, this tale of micronauts inside a wounded diplomats body — racing to repair his injury before it, or they, kill him — has its charms (especially delightfully miscast co-star Raquel Welch, at the height of her sex symbol stage, in a skintight scuba-suit being attacked by rubber-eating antibodies). The rest of the cast go a long way toward making it palatable, including Ben-Hur co-star Stephen Boyd (why he never tried out for James Bond I’ll never know), future 007 uber-villain Donald Pleasence, and the always dependable Arthur O’Connell.
Unfortunately, while the extras (audio commentary by historian Jeff Bond, isolated score track with commentary by self-same Jeff, a sfx tribute doc, storyboard-to-scene comparison, still galleries, and trailer) are fine as far as they go, they don’t go far enough. They missed a real opportunity for a crackerjack making-of featurette since the story is more fondly remembered for the tie-in paperback novel by SF grand master Isaac Asimov, which not only corrected virtually all the movies factual mistakes, but would’ve made a better script.
You may be wondering why I dont compare it to the glory of last column’s unqualified rave for Fox’s Cinema Classics Collection release of The Sand Pebbles. Well, that’s because Im saving said comparison for Fox’s Cinema Classics Collection release of Twelve OClock High. If you feel like it, head back to my review of Sony’s DVD release of The Caine Mutiny, replace any mention of that title with Twelve OClock High and any mention of The Guns of Navarone with The Sand Pebbles. Yup, its the same review.
The Fox C.C.C. DVD of Twelve OClock High is very nice. It’s got liner notes, its got an envelope of postcard-sized lobby cards, its got a remastered print of the film with an audio commentary from film historians on one disc, and four impressive docs (about the film and WWII), not to mention stills and interactive pressbook, on the other. It just ain’t the same, filled-to-bursting, package as The Sand Pebbles.
Ironically, Twelve OClock High (1949) also has a plot similar to The Caine Mutiny (1954), in that both nobly and memorably examine how stress effected WWII commanders – in the former case, Air Force officials, and, in the latter, Naval officers. And on both DVDs, talking heads go out of their way to explain that there’s no actual record of a ships captain, or bomber groups leader, going mental. I will say, however, that the sight of Gregory Peck, in his prime, having a near nervous breakdown is somehow more frightening and effective than the aging Humphrey Bogart on the Caine.
In short (a little late for that, isnt it?), every one of the aforementioned classics, be they from Sony or Fox, is worthy of a place on your DVD rack. Except maybe Fantastic Voyage. Hey, Fox, where are the envelope of lobby cards in that classic?!
Ric Meyers is the author of Murder On The Air, Doomstar, The Great Science-Fiction Films, Murder in Halruua, For One Week Only: The World of Exploitation Films, Fear Itself, 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 also a television and motion picture consultant whose credits include The Twilight Zone, Columbo, A&E’s Biography and The Incredibly Strange Film Show.