In advance of next week’s release of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel on Blu-ray and DVD, Warner Home Video has released this infographic. This tells you al you need to know about Krypton, or at least the world as depicted in this past summer’s reimagining of the Action Ace. The film has grossed over $662 million worldwide, which, given its production budget of $225 million, means it is on the cusp of profitability. Ancillary sales, including the domestic home video release, should push it into the black before the year is out. Box Office Mojo notes that it may not have soared to the heights anticipated by Warner Bros and its DC Entertainment subsidiary. In dollars, it ranks tenth as a comic book adaptation, although it is the top grossing Superman film dating all the way back to Superman and the Mole Men.
Rotten Tomatoes says the film was perceived as only 56% fresh, dubbed by major media critics as too somber. Richard Roeper, for example, noted, “There’s very little humor or joy in this Superman story.” Fans were divided over this sterile and somber version of the archetypal superhero, sharply criticism the filmmakers and DC for letting Superman commit murder. In comparison, this weekend’s Thor: The Dark World is already trending at a strong 75% fresh.
DC Entertainment has bet a lot on this interpretation, letting it be known that this should be considered the first installment in a unified DC Cinemaverse. Already shooting for a summer 2015 release is a sequel which will include a Caped Crusader owing much to Frank Miller’s groundbreaking The Dark Knight Returns. Fans already have their knives sharpened for flaying Ben Affleck’s performance as the Darknight Detective without seeing a single frame of film, a habit that can be traced back to the first announcement of Michael Keaton donning the cape and cowl. The sequel is also rumored to be introducing Diana, the Princess of Themyscira with current theory being that Jamie Alexander, Lady Sif in the Thor series, is in talks with the studio.
What is expected to follow would be a Justice League movie while DC and Warner have been coy about whether or not the television reality seen in Arrow and its intended Flash spinoff would also be set in the same reality. Given the success of Disney, Marvel and ABC has had with integrating Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. with the feature films, one would think they would follow suit.
J.R.R. Tolkien wrote a children’s book about a creature called a Hobbit and people in England seemed to like it. His publisher asked for a sequel, expecting something within a year or two, and instead it took fare longer and he received something far bigger and darker. It was worth the wait because the saga is engrossing and enduring. Thankfully, a series of events meant it wasn’t until the last decade or so before Hollywood could serve the words with fidelity. Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy was groundbreaking in sweep and production, an investment that could have bankrupted New Line Cinema and instead brought it untold millions in profit.
The original tale, though, took a lot longer to come to the screen and Jackson found himself back behind the director’s chair, turning collaboration with Guillermo del Toro into an encore performance. Eyes were raised when we heard this slighter tale was being turned into two films and then fans grew worried when that morphed into a trilogy.
Last December, we cautiously filed into the theater to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which appeared to be only 60% an adaptation of the novel with lots of filler. Jackson indicated all along he intended to bridge the two storylines, hence expanding to multiple films, but did it need the same sweep and grandeur as the Lord of the Rings? Probably not, but he made the creative choice to tonally link the two and as a chapter in a film series, it mostly works.
Now, mere weeks before the second installment, The Desolation of Smaug, arrives, we get to revisit chapter one, in a just-released Extended Edition from Warner Home Video. The 183-minute extended cut has more of the things you like or loathe about the films. Since diehard fans and casual audiences alike are divided between whether this version works or not, the debate continues with thirteen more minutes of evidence to work with. While the previous extended versions added plot, character and more of Howard Shore’s terrific score, this one just adds….more.
There’s no question Martin Freeman’s casting as Bilbo Baggins, the reluctant adventurer was excellent. Paired with Ian McKellan’s Gandalf the Gray, they work well together, keeping to closer to the novel. It’s the baker’s dozen of dwarves that hew closer to the Rings trilogy and are far less defined, understandable given the size of the cast. On the other hand, with three films to work with, more should have been done beyond Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage).
Instead, cameos from other players are shoe-horned in so we revisit Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Saruman the White (Christopher Lee). What is welcome is the framing sequence to put this into perspective for the masses, wisely bringing back Ian Holm as the elder Bilbo and Elijah Wood as his cousin Frodo.
For me, it was entertaining but somewhat disappointing because I was not transported in the same way I was when I first visited Middle Earth. I was entertained but it was milder than enthralling.
The film fortunately is fit onto a single disc so you can enjoy it in a single sitting. For those who can’t get enough background material, there are two other discs chockfull of features. These are sumptuous for those who indulge and its interesting listening to Jackson and co-writer Philippa Boyens’ audio commentary, as they discussed the creative choices, pulling material from the Appendices to flesh out the novel.
One unconnected featurette is New Zealand: Home to Middle-Earth (6:53) which is Jackson and company extolling the virtues of their homeland.
The bulk of the extras are The Appendices Part 7: A Long Expected Journey and The Appendices Part 8: Return to Middle-Earth. The previous parts can only be found on the standard edition of the film. Part 7 takes up about four and a half hours comprising Introduction by Peter Jackson (1:54), The Journey Back to Middle-Earth (48:19); Riddles in the Dark (17:00); An Unexpected Party (25:28); Roast Mutton (17:12); Bastion of the Greenwood (10:41); A Short Rest (29:12); Over Hill (13:40); Under Hill (19:15); Out of the Frying Pan (16:07); Return to Hobbiton (18:35); The Epic of Scene 88 (8:28); The Battle of Moria (10:57); Edge of the Wilderland (22:37). Along the way we learn how the delays in financing and the near collapse of MGM led to del Toro’s departure than a hasty ramp up to get filming done to make international release schedules. We watch with exhaustive detail how scenes were shot, how cast and crew had to scurry across the island to get certain sequences completed and how Andy Serkis came back as Gollum to perform in what was essentially a one-act play set within the grander tale.
Part 8 is comprised of The Company of Thorin (1:02:41), a six-part documentary including “Assembling the Dwarves,” “Thorin, Fili & Kili,” “Balin & Dwalin,” “Oin & Gloin” and “Bifur, Bofur & Bombur”; Mr. Baggins: The 14th Member (16:10); Durin’s Folk: Creating the Dwarves (57:25); The People and Denizens of Middle-Earth (58:09); Realms of the Third Age: From Bag End to Goblin Town (58:59); and, The Songs of The Hobbit (32:32). Here, we learn more about how the cast viewed their dwarf selves and we see more character than is revealed in the final cut and the segment on the music is fascinating.
Ultimately, you have to decide if you love extras or thirteen extra minutes will be worth the investment. The film stands on its own in its first form and this is really for the devotees of Tolkien and all things Middle Earth.
In my other life, I teach 9th grade and the theme for the year is Coming of Age. It has become a major inspiration for movies, television, songs, and tons of books for the last century or two. As a result, it takes a lot to gain attention and have something fresh to say. The Way Way Back odes that by examining three different stages of coming of age, each a type you’ve seen before, but melded nicely into a satisfying blend.
The movie, out now from 20th Century Home Entertainment, tells the story of Duncan (Liam James), who is forced to accompany his divorced Mom (Toni Collette) on a summer away with her boyfriend, the quietly cruel and controlling Trent (Steve Carell), and his daughter Steph (Zoe Levin). He’d rather be with dad, who is busy settling into a San Diego life with his new girlfriend. Instead, he’s plunged into a community with long-term ties so h feels even more of an outsider and unwanted member.
From his point of view, the pot smoking, alcoholic-fueled adults are little better than the swarm of teenaged girls who have their own clique and social conventions that keeps him at arm’s length.
Instead, there appear to be only two people willing to tolerate his brooding adolescent self: the cute girl next door Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb) and Owen (Sam Rockwell), owner of the island’s superfluous water park. Owen refuses to grow up, shirking his responsibilities in order to coax Duncan out of his angst shell. There are few adults who act responsibly in this tale although Owen is fortunate to have one of them (Maya Rudolph), who has patiently invested in him, much as he invests in Duncan.
The remainder of those over 30 are a sorry lot with smarmy Trent badly concealing his ongoing affair with Kip’s (Rob Corddry) wife Joan (Amanda Peet). Boozy Betty (Alison Janney) is as cluelessly nasty to her own son Peter (River Alexander) as Trent is Duncan, emphasizing he is far from unique.
Co-writers and co-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash bring a lot of heart to the story, even if the performances are too broad at times so become distracting. Additionally, the large cast is underserved with sketchy characterization, each playing a type rather than a person. Still, this is an entertaining exploit worth a look.
The high definition transfer is absolutely fine and the Blu-ray comes with a mere handful of features including three deleted scenes (3:02) and a perfunctory Behind the Scenes with the Hilarious Cast and Filmmakers (31:19).
There are times one wonders what synergies truly exist between parent company Warner Bros and DC Entertainment. Normally, the studio cherry-picks properties it wants from its subsidiary and rarely does DC get something in return. However, as the company planned its mammoth villain-centric fall publishing plans, they managed to corral the studio into helping create and market the just released Necessary Evil: Super-Villains of DC Comics. The 99-minute documentary features sound and fury but its significance is obscured.
Watching it, I kept wondering who this was being marketed to since casual fans of the movies, television shows, or video games lack the context to comprehend much of what the host of talking heads had to say. Even current readers of the New 52 might be confused by the various iterations of the villains as they have appeared through the years.
With Christopher Lee trying, and not entirely succeeding, at using his marvelous voice to lend gravitas to the overwrought script, we are taken through a series of thematic chapters exploring the nature of villainy. What is entirely lacking is any sort of historic context to put things into perspective.
At first, larger-than-life heroes evolved from their pulp ancestors to tackle four-color criminal masterminds, corrupt government officials, and the occasional mad scientist. Heck, Superman didn’t really meet a serious threat until the Ultra-Humanite at the beginning of his second year. At least Bob Kane was faster to have Batman deal with the Mad Monk and Hugo Strange in his inaugural year. The Golden Age of comics saw a plethora of heroes and heroines arrive without as much thought being put into their opponents resulting in a mere handful of worthy adversaries being revived through the years.
The exception is Batman, where Bill Finger clearly recognized the need for a bizarre rogues gallery, much as Dick Tracy had his grotesque villains in his newspaper strip. It really wasn’t the Silver Age of the late 1950s before other heroes were given a significantly interesting collection of villains demonstrating an evolutionary leap in the sophistication of the premises and storytelling.
You wouldn’t really know any of this from the documentary which focused more than 99% of its art from the last half-decade or so and all its talk was a jumble so we’d go from someone discussing a theme to someone else discussing a specific bad guy and his ever-changing motivation. In listening to co-publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee, one would think every story has to feature a good versus evil confrontation and each adventure has to end with the hero paying some price for the victory. Such cookie cutter thinking may be one reason why the New 52 has been struggling to maintain readers, prompting its accelerating churn of titles.
The past is represented by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman, with a dollop of Paul Levitz while writers Scott Snyder and Marc Guggenheim seem to be the modern era. Then we hear from Editor-in-Chief Bob Harras and Editorial Director Bobbie Chase, neither of whom shows a personal opinion about the modern day bad guys. The Hollywood connection is represented by Man of Steel‘s Zack Snyder, Superman: The Movie’s Richard Donner and future Justice League Dark director Guillermo del Toro (although Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan or David Goyer would have been nice). Animation is covered by Paul Dini, Alan Burnett, and Andrea Romano and their contributions are interesting. We even have vocal performers Kevin Conroy, Clancy Brown, Kevin Shinick and Scott Porter on hand to lend their thoughts. The most passionate of the bunch with some of the best lines is DC’s Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns. Second to him is psychiatrist Andrea Letamendi, who brings fresh perspective and a fan girl’s point of view. (It’s also hard to accept the speakers discussing Captain Marvel’s foes when they keep mistakenly calling the Big Red Cheese by Shazam — I know it’s a legal issue, but still…)
The tedious enterprise ends with what is essentially a commercial for the Forever Evil event now being released. Overall, this was an interesting attempt to make noise for the entire line but it was such a mishmash of comments, name dropping, and the like that one wonders what its really trying to say.
The disc is lovely to look at thanks to the colorful high definition artwork and clips from comics, animation, and live-action productions. This Blu-ray does not come with any extras which is a missed opportunity.
Nick Cardy (October 16, 1920-November 23, 2013) died today after an illness. He was placed in hospice care over the weekend and leaves behind an enduring legacy of memorable artwork.
Born Nicholas Viscardi in New York City, he was raised on the Lower East Side and was already dabbling with art by the time he was six years old. He was painting and having his work published during his early teen years, taking free classes at the Boys Club of America. Raised in an era of gorgeous magazine illustration, he found inspiration in the works of Charles Dana Gibson, Arthur Petty, Al Dorne, and John Gannon among others. He continued his studies at the School of Industrial Art where he met and befriended Al Plastino.
In 1937, he went to work for an ad agency but two years later joined the Eisner/Iger Studio and drew stories for a variety of publications, notably Quality Comics. Among his regular assignments were Sheena, Queen of the Jungle and Quicksilver. He saw Eisner as a mentor and later joined his solo studio, writing and drawing the Lady Luck feature for the back of The Spirit.
After leaving Eisner over a financial dispute, he joined Fiction House producing work for Fight Comics and Jungle Comics among others. Soon after, he served in World War from 1943-46, getting wounded and earning two purple hearts. He was assigned to the 66th Infantry Division, driving a tank in the armored cavalry. After his discharge, he met and married Ruth Houghby and they remained married until 1969. They had one son in 1955, Peter, who died in 2001.
Cardy returned to comic art, sharing studio space with Plastino and Jack Sparling, returning to Fiction House but adding in magazine work. He also took on illustrating the Casey Ruggles comic strip. In 1949, Burne Hogarth invited Cardy to take over drawing the Tarzan daily strip. He continued his work for multiple publishers, including National Comics in 1948. There, he began working for Murray Boltinoff on Gang Busters quickly adding other features.
As the 1950s dawned, he increasingly worked for National, also known as DC Comics. He took over as the main artist on Tomahawk and Congo Bill. During the early 1950s, he anglicized his name to Cardy after prejudice against his Italian heritage cost him assignments.
In 1960, Aquaman was given a tryout in Showcase with the hope he could sustain a title of his own. Ramona Fradon withdrew from the feature to raise her daughter so Cardy took over and became synonymous with the Sea King through the 1960s. And when the Teen Titans proved an enduring idea, he replaced Bruno Permiani as its artist as the group also gained their own title. During the decade his work grew more distinctive and his brilliant design sense made his covers true standouts. When Aquaman was optioned by Filmation for a Saturday morning series, he produced the character sheets for the animators.
When Dick Giordano was hired as an editor, Cardy lost Aquaman to Jim Aparo, although he remained on the covers for continuity. His free time was taken with the critically acclaimed Bat Lash. Cardy continued his experimenting with color and design, adding a cartoony approach that helped make the western distinctive. He also replaced Teen Titans with a long stretch on The Brave and the Bold, proving adept at not only Batman but the remainder of the DC Universe.
Under Editorial Director Carmine Infantino, Cardy grew in value to the company. Through the early 1970s Cardy became the line’s premier cover artist, giving the line a unified house style that was highly commercial.
Cardy was growing increasing discontented with comics and DC in particular so by 1975 he was ready to move on. Before leaving though, he did a series of paintings and illustrations for Marvel’s line of black and white magazines.
Modifying his name to Cardi, he reinvented himself as a commercial artist doing advertising work, largely in the film field. When he began doing convention appearances, he was rediscovered and became a popular guest at shows around the country. He excelled at commission work and remained good humored with fans. In July 2005, Cardy was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame.
His legacy as an illustrator and stylist has thankfully been collected in various DC Archives and Showcase Presents volumes letting modern day fans see one of the finest illustrators grow, evolve and get better through the years.
Our deepest sympathies to his family, friends, and legions of fans.
November will be a very busy month for Lionsgate as they launch the highly anticipated adaptation of the controversial Orson Scott Card’s novel Ender’s Game. A few weeks later they top that with the release of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the second chapter in the adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ stunning trilogy. On th eoff-chance tomorrow’s moviegoers are uncertain what the film is all about, the studio sent out the timeline you see here.
Additionally, they announced an interesting new app for the film. Here’s the formal release:
Salt Lake City, Utah, October 29, 2013 – Sandboxr, a 3D print and software development company from Utah, announced today its 3D print creation app for Summit Entertainment’s ENDER’S GAME. Sandboxr’s 3D print creation app has been in development for the past two years, and through the ENDER’S GAME-licensed version, fans will be able to create and bring home exclusive replica battleships from the film generated by cutting-edge three-dimensional printing technology. Fans will be able to check out the ENDER’S GAME 3D printing experience at Sandboxr.com before Thursday’s release of the movie in theatres and IMAX October 31 at 8pm. Summit Entertainment is a LIONSGATE® (NYSE: LGF) company.
Nancy Kirkpatrick, Summit’s President of Worldwide Marketing, said, “This is the first 3D experience of this type to coincide with a major cinematic movie release, and Summit is excited to work with Sandboxr to offer this amazing experience and great new technology to our ENDER’S GAME fans.”
At Sandboxr.com, fans of ENDER’S GAME will be able to enjoy an interactive product experience that extends their engagement with the film and that they can access from their computer. Fans can choose from a selection of CG images from the movie studio file archives and bring home their own ENDER’S GAME 3D printed spacecraft and accessories.
“With an experience as sophisticated as Sandboxr’s, the challenge is to make it easy to use by the average guy or girl. 3D experiences are typically exclusive to tech savvy makers and designers. However, we’ve worked hard to make a 3D printing experience that is accessible in a meaningful way to everyone. Bringing 3D design and print technology into the hands of the ENDER’S GAME fans is a thrilling opportunity for us at Sandboxr,” says Berkley Frei, Sandboxr CEO.
To experience the app for yourself log onto sandboxr.com and follow the links to ENDER’S GAME.
Mining history for fictional fodder has been a staple of television program dating back to HBO’s Rome and now series set across the years can be found on prime time and basic cable channels with more on the way. Whereas some like the CW’s new Reign is laughably inaccurate, others do their homework and mine the reality for nuggets to hang characters and stories on. Most audiences are blissfully undereducated about world history so they will swallow events on The Tudors, Borgias, and others without realizing how many liberties have been taken in the name of dramatic license and television realities.
No surprise then that the venerable History Channel would want to get in on the fun and they wisely picked one of the least known and richest cultures to mine for dramatic fare. Last spring they unleashed the nine part Vikings, a Canadian-Irish coproduction developed and written by Michael Hirsrt who proved to have a flair for the past with Showtime’s The Tudors. The Vikings, living in northern Europe, were fearsome warriors and plied the seas, exploring the world long before Western Europe got around to it. Their largely oral history didn’t get recorded until generations later but thanks to modern day archeology, we have grown to develop a much better understanding of their ways.
One of the best Vertigo titles of the last decade was Northlanders, also about Viking culture, so I was primed for this series and was not disappointed. Thanks to MGM and 20th Century Home Entertainment, a handsome box set has been released this week. Set in 793, during the earliest days of their recorded raids, Hirst chose to use the real life Ragnar Lodbrok (Travis Fimmel), who, like John Rhys Myers’ Henry VIII is depicted at a much earlier point in his famous life. Here he is a young warrior, raising a family with his wife, Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick).
He desires to ply the seas further west and works with Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård), to develop faster, sturdier longships and then petitions his chieftain, Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne) for petition to make the trip. Despite Haraldson’s refusal, Ragnar, with his brother Rollo (Clive Standen), makes the first trip to Northern England, successfully plundering the land and bringing home the monk Athelstan (George Blagden) as part of his booty. King Aelle (Ivan Kaye) is none too pleased and skirmishes between the two cultures begin.
There’s the usual dash of soap opera elements such as Rollo lusting after Lagertha, who is an able Viking shieldmaiden, but it’s also a more somber, brutal series than Hirst has previously produced. The writing and performances are strong and compelling, making this satisfying viewing.
The nine episodes are spread over three Blu-ray discs and you have the option of watching them as they aired on History or in the extended (now with more blood and nudity!) versions that aired in Europe. Visually, both versions are sharp, with excellent color transfer.
The lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 track means you can hear the wind rush over the waves or the swords cutting into flesh. Trevor Morris’ superb score is never better and enhances the viewing.
The extras contain the needed Season Mode, allowing you to seamlessly zip through the nine episodes and bookmark wherever you stopped watching. There are also commentaries on the first and last episodes, from Hirst and Jessalyn Gilsig, who plays Haraldson’s wife Siggy, on the first, and Winnick and Standen on the second. There are Deleted Scenes that are extended versions of ones that aired in Episodes One and Eight, which means they were likely trimmed for running time reasons Far more interesting is A Warrior Society: Viking Culture and Law (20:48) where Hirst takes us through what is known about the Viking culture, with input from Dr. Anthony Perron, Professor of History, Loyola Marymount University; Dr. Jochen Burgtorf, Professor of History, University of California, Fullerton; and Justin Pollard. Hirst and his cast appear on Birth of the Vikings (17:09), discussing their characters. Forging the Viking Army: Warfare and Tactics (12:11) tracks how the armies were trained for the vicious battles as sword master Richard Ryan and stunt coordinator Mark Henson discuss their work.
We should have seen this coming. Last fall, Warner Animation unleashed Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1, adapting the first two issues of Frank Miller’s seminal prestige format miniseries. In January, we finally got Part 2, completing the story of 50 year old Bruce Wayne being forced to don the cape and cowl once more, to bring justice back to a crumbling Gotham City. Out now is Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Deluxe Edition, seamlessly editing the two sections into a 148-minute feature.
As previously reviewed, the adaptation is largely successful, recreating the bleak look and feel of a fascist world, protected by a Man of Steel working for a government Wayne no longer recognizes. The story is clearly Miller’s musing on the role of heroes in the time of Ronald Reagan but it is also a thrilling adventure, looking at a bitter, somewhat broken hero who has turned his back on the people he swore to protect. Events and destiny, though, have something to say about that choice.
So, the question becomes, is it worth buying the combined parts in a single disc? As a film, no, not really. Being a successful adaptation, it lays the ground work in the first half so things explode and rush along in the second., Splicing them together, it plays nicely and ramps things up and without waiting six months, delivers on the promised climax. It’s a satisfying adaptation from writer Bob Goodman and director Jay Oliva.
What you also get that’s new is a fun, interesting Audio Commentary track from Oliva, Goodman and voice director Andrea Romano and a second Blu-ray disc containing all the previous features plus a brand new lengthy documentary on Miller. Masterpiece: Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (69 minutes), narrated by Malcolm McDowell, not only talks to Miller at length but includes colleagues including Jenette Kahn, Editor Denny O’Neil, collaborator Klaus Janson, admirers Grant Morrison, Michael Uslan, and Mike Carlin. We meet the Virginia fan boy who successfully found work as an artist at Marvel, getting noticed for his work on Daredevil, leading to coming over to DC for Ronin then Dark Knight, helping shape the next generation of storytelling. Unfortunately, we don’t see the remainder of his sporadic career in comics and Hollywood.
The documentary makes this worth owning while the combined feature is a more satisfying viewing experience.
Vikings Season 1 delivers a visceral journey to a thrilling ancient world in this epic new series about history’s bravest and most brutally fearsome warriors.
Vikings follows the adventures of the great hero Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel), a Viking chieftain seeking to fulfill his destiny as a conqueror, alongside his ambitious brother Rollo (Clive Standen) and loyal wife Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick). Throughout his quest, Ragnar faces a path of betrayals and temptations to protect his freedom, family, and life. When Ragnar teams up with his boat builder friend Floki (Gustaf Skarsgard) to craft a new generation of intrepid ships capable of conquering the rough northern seas, the stage is set for conflict.
Exclusively featured on the Blu-ray™ and DVD, “Birth of the Vikings” looks at the creator’s approach to, the series challenge in re-creating the period, and the wonders of shooting the series in Ireland’s beautiful, Wicklow mountains. “Birth of the Vikings,” is an all-access look at the creation of VIKINGS.
For a chance to win your copy of the Blu-ray just answer this question: Which Viking discovered North America before Columbus?
Have your answer posted by 11:59 p.m. Saturday, October 19. The decision of the ComicMix judges will be final and this contest is open only to readers in the United States and Canada.
FX’s American Horror Story has helped change the way we consume terror tales on television. First of all, each season is self-contained and although some performers can be seen as different characters in each of the three seasons, they are entirely different stories. The limited nature of the premise allows the producers to nab major performers and it has worked with great success, judging by the Golden Globe and Emmy nominations it has been receiving. By having a strong story and an ensemble of repertory players, anchored by the amazing Jessica Lange, the series keeps you from ever getting bored.
With season three now airing, 20th Century Home Entertainment is releasing Asylum, the Complete Second Season. They share the umbrella title but have little to do with one another as Asylum focuses on the inhabitants of an institution for the criminally insane in 1964. Cocreators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, this is closer in spirit to their Nip/Tuck for FX than their Glee for Fox. I appreciate their ability to not repeat themselves and keep things interesting and fresh.
Asylum was written around Lange and then others from the first season came back in roles written around her Sister Jude. Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Lily Rabe, Frances Conroy, Zachary Quinto, and Dylan McDermott are all back for the ride. If the first season watched a family unravel in the traditional haunted house, setting the second tale in an asylum just begs for dysfunction and terror. The Briarcliff Mental Institution in Massachusetts is set in an era when caring for the mental ill was some limbo realm where treatment was sporadic, attempts at rehabilitation was nonexistent and patient care was little better than inmates at a penitentiary.
The season explores 1964, the year after JFK was assassinated and the birth of modern day pop culture (cue The Beatles on Ed Sullivan) and the present day. As a result, it’s interesting to see how the characters react to things such as homosexuality and changing mores. The institution was packed and functioning back in the day and now stands empty, haunted by those who dwelled and worked in its halls. Lange is tortured and hides behind her habit, avoiding coming anywhere close to the stereotype created by Nurse Ratchet. Instead, she is avoiding her past, much as Arthur Arden (James Cromwell) does leaving people to wonder if he was a Nazi torturer. Similar to Parminder Nagra’s psychiatrist set in the past portions of the failed Alcatraz, Quinto’s Dr. Oliver Thredson arrives with “progressive” approaches to treatment which he wants to apply to a serial killer.
But it’s not all psychological horror as Frances Conroy returns, this time as the literal Angel of Death. Let’s not forget the extraterrestrials, too. Of the thirteen episodes, contained on three Blu-ray discs, there are several self-contained bits while other threads spread across the entire season with Lana (Sarah Paulson) as the through-line involving her relationship with Sister Jude.
The filming is shadowy, moody, atmospheric in fresh ways, refusing to repeat the first season’s visual flair. Thankfully, the transfer to high definition is handled well so the overall visuals are strong, accompanied with good audio.
For a show packed with as much detail as there is, the paltry selection of extras is disappointing. You have deleted scenes on two of the three discs and then four short pieces. The Orderly (9:00) wastes space with an orderly being interviewed by an unseen woman, ending with a shock. What Is American Horror Story: Asylum? (21:55) is a collection of interviews from cast and crew, likely pulled from press materials. More interesting is Welcome to Briarcliff Manor (15:04), letting us look at the impressive production design. Finally, there is a look at the make-up and prosthetic work done on The Creatures (14:49).