Close Encounters of the Third Help!, by Ric Meyers
But first a digression. I went to see American Gangster the other day (engrossing, well done, I’d give it a solid 8 outta 10), which included previews for the upcoming movies Wanted (Mr. & Mrs. Smith meets The Matrix) and Jumper (X-Men ripoff), both of which were absolutely chock full of cgi making the characters do all sorts of incredible, impossible things amid carnage which would turn normal men’s biology into strawberry jam.
As I watched dispassionately the following motto came to mind that I wish were put on billboards and t-shirts and those inspirational posters that they sell in airline mail order catalogs, to be seen in every studio, producers’ and executives’ office:
“When nothing is impossible, nothing is interesting.”
Just wanted to get that down on record. Now we return to this week’s DVD Xtra column, already in progress.
I’m a happy camper. Creeping into stores on cat feet or ninja paws this week is a movie I’ve been waiting to appear on DVD for years. It was one of my absolute favorites as a kid (in fact, through only slightly some fault of my own, it wound up being the movie I’ve seen the most through the years), and, while its predecessor (A Hard Day’s Night) got a swell special edition two-disc set via Miramax in 2002, this one has languished in limbo until now — and, to top it off, needed the Beatles’ record company to make it a DVD reality.
It is, of course, Help!, the music-filled, Goon Showish/Monty Python-esque film farce MTV has officially credited as being its inspiration. Now, thanks to the Beatles’ Apple company (not to be confused with the like-named company on whose computer I presently type these words) and Capitol Records, Help! has now got a lovely two-disc special edition of its own.
In a perfect world, there would have been more special features on the second disc, but I remain content with a 35 minute making of doc, supplemented by a “Memories of Help!” featurette, all featuring new interviews with director Richard Lester, co-stars Eleanor Bron and Victor Spinetti, and various important members of the crew. Naturally, what would have made this nirvana, was the participation of McCartney or Ringo, but it wasn’t to be. Instead, there’s really interesting recordings and behind-the-scenes home movies of the fab four during production.
Also missing is the tale of an edited sequence which is repeatedly shown during the coming attraction trailers, but nowhere to be seen in the finished film (a disguised George foiling killers who are after Ringo). Instead, there’s a fascinating piece about a scene in a drama class that was never included, which featured famed English comic actor Frankie Howerd (whose “Mean Mr. Mustard” scene remained in the cinematic travesty Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band starring the Bee Gees) and Wendy Richards (who became famous in the English sitcom Are You Being Served). Also fascinating is a featurette on the restoration of the film, which was so exhaustive that it could explain why it took so long for the film to come to the DVD medium.
All in all, it’s not a perfect package, but it’s a fine, happy, nicely designed one, which includes a booklet that contains an appreciation of the film by no less a personage than Martin Scorcese. Having loved the film, and having the pleasure of meeting Richard Lester on the set of Superman (when he was there to mediate between director Richard Donner and producers Ilya Salkind/Pierre Spengler, who weren’t on speaking terms at that point), I’m just happy to finally have the restored film in my hot little hands.
And speaking of my misspent youth, a film release which did get some publicity this week is the three-disc 30th Anniversary Ultimate Edition of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I was lucky enough to be an assistant editor of Starlog shortly after Star Wars appeared, so I got to be on the set or at the world premieres of all the science fiction films which came out shortly thereafter. CE3K was no exception. I remember interviewing sfx supervisor Douglas Trumbull and co-star Bob Balaban, among others, and the way my fingers tingled when the mothership rose up behind Devil’s Tower.
So naturally, it was a pleasure to get the beautiful Ultimate Edition package, which includes a 30th Anniversary Collector’s photo and quote book, as well as a poster which has the theatrical one-sheet on one side and a graph detailing the differences between the three included versions of the film: the original theatrical cut, the “special edition,” which included scenes inside the mothership, and the subsequent “Director’s Cut,” which pretty much returned things to the way they were (each version is only a few minutes shorter or longer than the last). In fact, one of the most memorable quotes in the souvenir book is director Steven Spielberg bemoaning his decision to go inside the mothership.
Spread throughout the three discs is an exhaustive, truly interesting “making of” documentary, with lots of great behind-the-scenes footage … some even we Starlog investigators weren’t privy to (like many test shots of the aliens). Unfortunately, this doc was obviously made years ago. To make up for that, there’s also a new “Steven Spielberg: 30 Years of Close Encounters” featurette to close the gap. Finally, there’s the original “Watch the Skies” making-of featurette which came out around the original 1977 premiere.
So I’m wallowing in nostalgia this week, but it’s a good kind. The many quotes from both Lester and Spielberg about how they accomplished things thirty-plus years ago, which would have been handled with cgi today, cemented my feelings about Wanted and Jumper. Just because you can do anything doesn’t mean you should. There’s something about real people in real gravity doing real things as incredible things happen to, or around, them. It makes you care.
But, when anything is possible, nothing is interesting. Or something like that…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 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.