Let us now celebrate one of the greatest boons to entertainment in the entire history of film. It is seemingly small and insignificant – just a tiny speck amongst many others – but with a mere touch it can turn dreadful wastes of time into tolerable, even enjoyable, enhancements to one’s well-being.
It is, of course, the fast forward button on your DVD remote, and, thanks to this brilliant advance in viewing pleasure, productions which were execrable in the cinema are made amusing at the very least. And, not only will it bridge the mind-numbing gaps between a mediocre film’s decent scenes, but it does so at a wide range of speeds.
You can watch at double-time, where, if your eye reflexes are honed by Wii or PS2/3, you can still catch the bulk of any subtitles (which is lucky for the likes of me and fellow kung-fu film fans). The FF button has, in fact, saved my emotional life many times, and it certainly was a godsend during this week’s DVD viewing – which, if truth be told, rarely got below 16X.
Of course I watched the special features at regular speed. That’s the least I could do, considering my ComicMix responsibilities. Besides, the extras are almost always interesting, whether they feature an underdog’s hopes or the stereotypically overstated prattle of seasoned hackmeisters. Both were on display in abundance this week.
The viewing experience was entirely different depending on which order you watched Dragon Wars, which attacks stores this coming Tuesday. If you watch the “5000 Years in the Making” doc, the Storyboard to Screen split screen animatic vs. finished film featurette, and the Conceptual Art Gallery prior to viewing the actual movie, well, then you (like me) might be rooting for writer/director Hyung Rae Shim.
Then, you’d know that this South Korean comic actor somehow convinced someone to bankroll his ambitious vision to make an internationally successful, time-leaping, Korea-lauding, fantasy epic. Not only that, but he also managed to create his own special effects facility, which bears the name of his regionally famous comic character (the Younggu Art center). But you (like me) might also notice the flashing red awoogah in your head when you heard Shim state that, one, he hardly knows any English, and, two, that he decided to make the film in English.
This is not a good idea. Even Jackie Chan, who spent twenty years breaking into the U.S. market, knows that his biggest misses came when trying to dance to American studios’ tunes, or catering to imagined American tastes. The foreign films that have the best chance of success maintain their national flavor. Only the emotions are universal (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, as an example of so many others).
Just how bad an idea this was is obvious to anyone who actually watches the tale of a mythical Korean snake-like monster who segues into being a dragon to fight the evil side of itself – both in ancient Korea as well as modern L.A. The concept of the film is fine, but the execution of everything but the monsters is a disaster. Jackie falls into the same trap every time he attempts to work in a language he doesn’t understand – the Asian actors are fine, but then he fills whatever English role with pretty much anyone who happens to be around.
Shim’s folly is not exactly the same. He has some decent American actors in the leading roles (Jason Behr from Roswell, Craig Robinson from The Office, Geoffrey Pierson from 24, Elizabeth Peña fromJustice League, etc.), but it’s obvious that they aren’t getting a clue from their director how to act, or where they fit in. The performances are, to be kind, uninspired. The performances are, to be unkind, d.o.a. The result is that the movie is misguided at best, laughable at worst. But, at 8X ‘tween monster scenes, it’s all okay.
Speaking of faint praise, anyone who picks up the Widescreen Special Edition DVD of Resident Evil: Extinction knows what they’re getting into. This, after all, is the third film in the series written, produced, and sometimes directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (not to be confused with the apparently far more talented Paul Thomas Anderson who made Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and There Will Be Blood). No, this W.S. is the W.S. who’s a constant thorn in the side of genre movie fans since he keeps getting such plum assignments asMortal Kombat, Alien Vs Predator, Spy Hunter, Death Race, andResident Evil (producers mistaking fan hopes with W.S.’s talents).
If it’s any consolation, Extinction is a 4X brisk, diverting, time-consumer with Russell Mulcahy – the director of Highlander 1 & 2 – brought into the helmer’s chair to try to keep things moving, although he’s not always successful. It’s also anchored with the striking face and improving abilities of star Milla Jovovich, who’s now W.S.’s fiancée (another ample reason for fanboy hatred). Nothing is ever quite as good as it could be here, but at least this is one of the very few film series where the third is arguably better than the first two (despite the bar being set very low to begin with).
The special features are on a par with the rest of the film: slick, professional, mildly diverting, but uninspired. The apologetic tone is set with the audio commentary from Mulcahy, W.S., and producer Jeremy Bolt, where they occasionally trot out excuses and explanations about missing scenes and concepts which might have improved things (although that’s unlikely considering the hands that were controlling the reins). There are eleven short, mild, deleted scenes and four “making of” featurettes filled with talking heads complimenting each other.
But the most representative extra is the self-proclaimed “sneak peek first look” of the up-coming CGI feature film Resident Evil Degeneration. It’s touted on both the front and back covers of the DVD, but what falls upon expectant eyes is a full sixty seconds of jump-cutted, black-outted nothing which makes the ending of The Sopranos look like the last act of Pagliacci. This whole thing is sci-fi bait and switch at its finest.
But remember, you have in your hand the kryptonite to these smiling snake oil salesmen. Set the FF button to 32X, friends. That’ll teach ‘em.
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.