AT&T Launches New Online TV Service

AT&T March 2 launched a new online live TV service, AT&T TV, nationwide following a 13-market pilot test. Powered by Android TV, the platform includes live TV packages and access to third-party apps without having to switch inputs.

Programming choices and voice searches can be done with Google Assistant. AT&T is launching a national advertising campaign next week.

AT&T TV works with a compatible high-speed Internet connection. Customers can bundle AT&T TV and 1 gigabit of data are available for $39.99/month for video and $39.99/month for Internet for 12 months with a 24-month TV agreement.

Follow us on Instagram

Separately, 1 gigabit of AT&T Internet is available for $49.99/month for 12 months with a 24-month agreement.

“Our customers told us what they want from their TV service and we built AT&T TV around that,” Thaddeus Arroyo, CEO of AT&T Consumer, said in a statement.

AT&T TV includes live TV packages, sports and access to more than 5,000 apps on the Google Play Store, including HBO Max when it launches in May.

Subscribers can switch between a live basketball game, Netflix, YouTube or listen to music on Pandora or Spotify without switching inputs. The platform includes a cloud-based DVR with 500 hours of storage.

AT&T TV, which replaces shuttered DirecTV Now, joins a niche market that includes Sling TV, YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV, Philo TV and fuboTV, among others.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Discovery Partnering for Global Bicycle Track Racing League

Media giant Discovery Communications March 2 announced a partnership with the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the world bike racing government body, to create a bicycle track racing venue — the UCI Track Cycling World League — in 2021.

Bicycle track racing takes place on velodromes, including the Velo Sports Center in Carson, Calif. The U.S. women’s team just won the team pursuit gold medal at 2020 UCI Track Cycling World Championships in Berlin, which ended March 1. American Chloe Dygert Owen won the individual pursuit. Both are favorites to repeat at the upcoming Tokyo Summer Olympics.

Follow us on Instagram

Under an agreement signed in Berlin, the management, TV production and distribution of the new UCI series will be handled Global Cycling Network (GCN), in collaboration with Eurosport’s promotion division, Eurosport Events. Discovery owns Eurosport and GCN — the latter streaming platform with nearly two million subscribers on YouTube.

World Champion Chloe Dygert Owen

“The partnership with the UCI demonstrates what the scale and expertise of the wider Discovery family can offer partners in sport, providing both highly localized content to the widest variety of audiences as well as offering unrivalled expertise, analysis and storytelling from the best experts,” Andrew Georgiou, president, Eurosport and global sports rights & sports marketing solutions, said in a statement.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

“With this new UCI circuit, the discipline will have a packed and attractive annual calendar that offers variety and will meet the expectations of new audiences while also appealing to existing cycling fans,” said UCI president David Lappartient. “Along with our new partner, we will grow the appeal of track cycling beyond the Olympic Games, where it has been on the program since the very first Games of the modern era, in 1896.”

 

Analyst: U.S. SVOD Subs to Reach 307 Million by 2025

With the recent and pending launch of several high-profile subscription streaming video platforms, subscriber growth in the United States is projected to skyrocket.

New data from Digital TV Research says the number of domestic SVOD subscriptions will climb from 199 million at the end of 2019 to 307 million by 2025.

The London-based firm is basing much of the projection on new arrivals Apple TV+, Disney+, pending services HBO Max and NBCUniversal’s Peacock, in addition to Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu.

Follow us on Instagram

“The average SVOD household will pay for 3.28 SVOD platforms by 2025; up from 2.28 at end-2019. So, the average SVOD home will add one subscription between 2019 and 2025,” analyst Simon Murray said in a statement.

Murray said that more than a dozen platforms would have more than 5 million paying subs by 2025 — revealing just how far ahead in terms of choice the U.S. market is compared with the rest of the world.

Indeed, CBS All Access and Showtime OTT have more than 10 million combined subs with a projected 16 million by the end of the year. Disney last month announced that its SVOD platform has more than 26.5 million subs. AMC Networks’ Acorn TV and Urban Movie Channel have a combined 2 million subs.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

“Growth for established players such as Netflix and Hulu will be muted due to intense competition from younger rivals such as Disney+, Peacock and the augmented All Access [with ViacomCBS’s Pluto TV],” Murray said.

 

Netflix Launching Live Comedy Festival in Los Angeles

Netflix reportedly is planning a major live comedy festival event in Los Angeles this spring from April 27 to May 3 in partnership with Live Nation.

Dubbed “Netflix Is a Joke Fest,” the seven-day event will feature more than 100 comics across 20 venues, including a tribute to late comedians George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Joan Rivers and Robin Williams, according to the Los Angeles Times, which first reported the event.

Among the 130 comics slated to appear: Dave Chappelle, David Letterman, Amy Schumer, Ali Wong, Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, Jamie Foxx, Sarah Silverman, Kevin Hart, Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, Ken Jeong, and Martin Lawrence, among others.

Follow us on Instagram

Ticket prices range from $15 to $500 depending on the line-up. Netflix is projecting about 80,000 attendees across all venues.

Netflix, which has produced and streamed myriad standup comedy specials, will stream 11 of the bigger-name acts at a later date. Venues include the Wiltern Theater, The Paladium, the Hollywood Bowl, the Fonda Theater hosted by David Letterman.

“Stand Out: An LGBTQ+ Celebration,” a gay-themed comedy format will showcase at the Greek Theatre, featuring Sandra Bernhard, Alan Carr, Margaret Cho, Hannah Gadsby, Rosie O’Donnell and Wanda Sykes, among others.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Other comics appearing include Bill Burr, Pete Davidson, Chelsea Handler, Jenny Slate, Whitney Cummings, Marlon Wayans, Iliza Shlesinger and Michelle Wolf.

“This festival is a unique celebration of the art of comedy, and the role it plays in reflecting our lives and defining culture,” Ted Sarandos, chief content officer, said in a statement. “It’s a chance for comedy lovers to come together and see their favorite artists as well as discover new ones, and for us to be able to share the electricity and excitement of the festival in Los Angeles with Netflix members around the world.”

 

Jojo Rabbit

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Fox;
Comedy;
Box Office $33.31 million;
$29.99 DVD, $37.99 Blu-ray, $45.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for mature thematic content, some disturbing images, violence, and language.
Stars Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson, Taika Waititi, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen, Stephen Merchant, Archie Yates.

Writer-director Taiki Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit delivers what may be the most concise cinematic spoof of the Nazis since Mel Brooks’ The Producers.

The film has drawn some controversy for its flippant portrayal of the Nazi regime, but its dark humor succeeds mostly in demonstrating how irrational Hitler’s racial philosophies were. At its core, Jojo Rabbit is a screed against idolizing charismatic government figures who demonize others for personal power.

Follow us on Instagram

Based on Christine Leunens’s book Caging Skies, the film tells the story of a 10-year-old German boy named Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), who wants nothing more than to serve the Third Reich. Jojo has an imaginary friend in the form of Hitler (played with over-the-top aplomb by Waititi himself in the tradition of Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator), who constantly spouts Nazi talking points as motivation. At a Hitler youth camp, however, Jojo ends up accidentally blowing himself up with a grenade, scaring his face and rendering him unsuitable for most military duties other than running errands around the city as it prepares for the coming Allied invasion.

As Jojo recovers, he hears strange noises in his home and discovers a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) hiding in the attic, though he comes to realize he can’t turn her in for fear of the trouble it would bring his mother (Scarlett Johansson), though she is fervently anti-Nazi and a supporter of the resistance.

Inspired by an offhand comment by his youth squad’s commander (Sam Rockwell), Jojo studies the girl, hoping to write a book to help Nazi officers better recognize Jews in their mission to remove them from Germany. Some of the tropes spouted by Jojo and the officers in his company rival Borat in their absurdity. Over time, of course, Jojo ends up developing an affection for the girl.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Focusing the film through Jojo’s perspective allows Waititi, who ended up winning the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, to maintain a lighter tone for most of the story while veering into the more serious aspects of the subject matter when necessary, leading to a film that is both funny and emotionally affecting.

Waititi’s offbeat brand of comedy carries over into the Blu-ray’s bonus materials, particularly a very funny commentary track in which he starts off discussing the film by himself, but tires of that so he begins calling members of the cast to talk to about their experiences in making the film. It ends up being an interesting spin on the typical template for dispersing information in a commentary.

For a more traditional glimpse behind the scenes, there’s a half-hour featurette that delves a lot into the performances, sets and costumes.

The Blu-ray also includes nine minutes of deleted scenes, which is mostly extra footage of Waititi doing his shtick as Hitler, plus a three-and-a-half-minute outtakes reel.

Vudu, as it tends to do, offers a two-minute “Taika Talk” featurette with footage culled from other videos.

 

‘Stranger Things’ Edges ‘Clone Wars’ on Parrot’s Originals Chart

Netflix’s “Stranger Things” remained No. 1 on Parrot Analytics’ digital originals rankings the week ended Feb. 29.

A “digital original” is Parrot’s term for a multi-episode series in which the most recent season was first made available on a streaming platform such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu or Disney+.

Still fueled by the hype for the upcoming fourth season after a Feb. 14 trailer, “Stranger Things” registered 69.15 million average daily Demand Expressions, the proprietary metric used by Parrot Analytics to measure global demand for TV content. That was down 20.9% compared with the previous week and just slightly ahead of the second-place title.

Follow us on Instagram

The animated series “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” rose four spots to No. 2, up 30.1% in expressions to 69.13 million. The show’s seventh season, the first season presented as a Disney+ original, debuted Feb. 21.

Another “Star Wars” Disney+ series, “The Mandalorian,” slipped to No. 3. It had 63 million expressions, down 4% from the previous week.

Netflix’s “The Witcher” climbed to No. 4, with 53.8 million expressions, down 3.3% from the previous week.

The Netflix series “Narcos” slid a spot to No. 5 on the originals chart, with expressions down 7.8% to 52 million. Parrot counts the recently released spinoff “Narcos: Mexico” as part of its parent series, under the precedent of “American Horror Story” changing its setting and subtitle each season.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

The Demand Expressions metric draws from a wide variety of data sources, including video streaming, social media activity, photo sharing, blogging, commenting on fan and critic rating platforms, and downloading and streaming via peer-to-peer protocols and file sharing sites.

Media Play News has teamed with Parrot Analytics to provide readers with a weekly top 10 of the most popular digital original TV series in the United States, based on the firm’s  proprietary metric called Demand Expressions, which measures global demand for TV content through a wide variety of data sources, including video streaming, social media activity, photo sharing, blogging, commenting on fan and critic rating platforms, and downloading and streaming via peer-to-peer protocols and file sharing sites.

Mike’s Picks: ‘The Day of the Dolphin’ and ‘X … the Unknown’

The Day of the Dolphin

Kino Lorber, Drama, $19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, ‘PG.’
Stars George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Paul Sorvino, Fritz Weaver.
1973.
When I first saw The Day of the Dolphin, my reaction was akin to that of so many other film folk in that we couldn’t quite figure out what the hell we’d just seen. This had nothing to do with always on-point storytelling courtesy of what I now realize was an outstanding Buck Henry script, but, instead, with the mix of talent and subject matter.
Extras: Film historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson offer a Blu-ray bonus commentary. Kino’s wonderful bonus featurette offers an interview with Henry, who was never absolutely crazy about the film himself. The Blu-ray bonus interviews also include featured players Leslie Charleson and the late Edward Hermann.
Read the Full Review

X … the Unknown

Shout! Factory, Sci-Fi, $24.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Dean Jagger, Edward Chapman, Leo McKern.
1956.
Despite what looks like a glorified Ed Wood budget that’s mercifully camouflaged by a lot of nocturnal outdoor shots and a generally zippy pace, X … the Unknown is an affectionally regarded member of the Hammer Films family that’s sometimes mistaken for one of that studio’s “Quatermass” pictures.
Extras: Acreenwriter Jimmy Sangster, the most revered of the Hammer nucleus of talents who made the organization “go,” is the predominant subject of the Blu-ray’s bonus featurette about the original Hammer gang, not only for his ability to pull off a cheapie like this one but for his exceptionally expressive color horror films. The other featurette is a slapdash jumble of film clips in which the music drowns out a huge percentage of what narrator Oliver Reed is trying to say.
Read the Full Review

The Day of the Dolphin

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Kino Lorber;
Drama;
$19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG.’
Stars George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Paul Sorvino, Fritz Weaver.

When I came out of The Day of the Dolphin in 1973, my reaction was akin to that of so many other film folk in that we couldn’t quite figure out what the hell we’d just seen. This had nothing to do with always on-point storytelling courtesy of what I now realize was an outstanding Buck Henry script (from a sprawling-times-12 Robert Merle novel) — but, instead, with the mix of talent and subject matter. Which is to say that here were Henry and Mike Nichols making a George C. Scott “family” (or close) ‘PG’ movie about sincere straight-faced love for trained the trained dolphins to whom Scott and his small scientific crew are trying to teach English. And at this point (his fifth feature), Nichols was coming off the edgy quartet of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, The Graduate (with a Henry screenplay), Catch-22 (Henry screenplay) and the still psychologically brutal Carnal Knowledge.

The picture’s Wikipedia entry quotes the Pauline Kael review as suggesting “that if the best subject that Nichols and Henry could think of was talking dolphins, then they should quit making movies altogether” — which I now realize is one of the crummiest and most patronizing things she said in her entire career, or at least crummy and patronizing enough to place it in her top 5,000 transgressions. (But. Don’t. Get. Me. Going. On. Pauline.) On Kino’s wonderful bonus featurette, Henry, who was never absolutely crazy about the film himself, notes that Kael also said that he and Nichols had put enormous effort into a movie whose main distinction was “scaring children” (his comment and look of eye-rolling disgust are worth the price of admission). The point is, though, there are career departures and career departures, but this was something like Vincente Minnelli taking a crack at a spaghetti Western.

Follow us on Instagram

The first thing I noticed this time out was not just how thoroughly invested actor Scott is in swimming, communicating and otherwise interacting with the creatures to whom his character and a handful of scientific colleagues are trying to teach English just outside their island laboratory — a place so isolated that it requires a rough speedboat ride through sometimes choppy waters to reach what ultimately comes off as a working paradise. This kind of thing can’t be faked, especially on the off chance that you’ve coincidentally just seen Scott in The Hospital as I just did a couple weeks ago when I was preparing taxes and thus in the mood for some Paddy Chayefsky bombast (in this vein, I also watched Taxi Driver as well).

In the Chayefsky/Arthur Hiller concoction from two years earlier, Scott looks all too believable as a walking coronary who heads up a unit in a prestigious New York medical center: he’s unkempt; has pasty skin tones (though United Artists DeLuxe Color did this to a lot of actors in the early ’70s); is drug abusing, self-loathing and all those other traits that make it something less than A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. But as wags use to say of Richard Nixon in the ’80s in Dolphins, he’s “tan, rested and ready” — which I never got the impression Scott ever was even in real life aside from the last count. (A woman I used to work with had a newswire photo hanging in her cubicle of Scott exiting a plane after he had all-too-obviously wet himself big-time). Here, he looks in strapping shape with lots of color (the solar-induced kind) in his face.

The entire second half of Dolphins is a spoiler minefield of plot twists — or, more precisely, one huge plot twist from which additional tinier ones then emanate — so I’d better “write around” a lot of the film’s content. What has to be noted, though, is that the surprise(s) ought to be jarring and maybe even all-out movie-killers when, it, fact, the whole picture is tonally seamless. There aren’t many filmmakers who can pull this kind of thing off, and seamlessly, which ought to give some indication of how much in control Nichols was with his early movies (more on this in a minute), even if Catch-22 got away from him despite some great scenes. In this case, we actually segue from Ivan Tors Flipper territory into an early example of the kind of mid-’70s paranoid thriller that used to be Alan Pakula’s bailiwick.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Film historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson offer the Blu-ray bonus commentary with the former doing most of the talking; he  makes the case that in addition to whatever else it is, Dolphins is a metaphor for film directors with vision battling studio suits who are deciding whether or not they’re going to come through with the necessary financial backing. More often than not, I find these speculative flights a little much, but I have to say that Berger makes a persuasive case here.

There’s a beautifully Panavision-framed scene — could Nichols block actors or what? — where the endowing string-pullers sail out to the island to pass judgment on the research project’s feasibility. So director Nichols lines them up horizontally in chairs on an oceanside platform above Scott and then has them looking down at him as he relates his progress and intentions in what is basically a pitch meeting out of Robert Altman’s The Player. These show-me types range in personality from a Mr. P-R-smoothie who’s presumably supportive (Fritz Weaver, whose slick characterization is perfect) to transparent creeps who haven’t a clue about anything scientific (John Dehner) to those who think they know more than they probably do (Severn Darden).

Even in its most family-oriented ‘PG’ moments, we sense that Henry and Nichols are not unmindful of certain ethical questions that can be raised even when the scientists involved are genuinely loving and have the best intentions. They are, despite kid-glove care from Scott and colleague/wife Trish Van Devere (this has to be her high-water mark on screen for the then real-life Mrs. Scott) taking the dolphins out their natural habitat, which is OK for now when the returned affection is palpable but may cause problems if they ever return to their original way of living well out into the ocean.

Commentator Berger makes a big point here of something that’s been on my own mind for a long time, which is that if you walk in blind to any of director’s first six features up through The Fortune, his identity will be pretty obvious without much time expenditure. Nichols’ debut Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf was in 1.85:1, but all the others were in superbly utilized Panavison; the sextet’s cinematographers were Haskell Wexler, Robert Surtees, David Watkin, Giuseppe Rotunno, Chinatown’s John Alonzo and (here) William A. Fraker of Bullitt and Rosemary’s Baby fame — a Murderer’s Row if there ever was one. But after the severe box office underperformance of Dolphins followed by the total drubbing of The Fortune (which today looks redeemed to a point by the production design and really funny Jack Nicholson performance), this specific Nichols era came to an end.

Aside from the indifferent Gilda Live, Nichols retreated for eight years and when he returned, his movies immediately looked different from anything that had preceded — and for the rest of his career. This isn’t to say he didn’t go on to make some impressive ones — his first feature back was Silkwood, while HBO’s Angels in America is a contender for best film of his career — but he never worked in 2.35:1 again. (Not even, as Berger points out with Closer, which seemed to call for it.)

Dolphins, which Nichols basically took on to get out of his Avco-Embassy contract after the Sharon Tate murders ended Roman Polanski’s participation, went from mixed initial reviews to delayed disdain to what I perceive has been more recent favorable revisionism; it’s truly old-school Mike Nichols, no matter the its subject matter. This is the most favorably surprised I’ve been at a movie in quite a while — the Georges Delerue score is close to an all-timer, which helps — though no less unexpected is watching Scott so thoroughly ace it in a relatively demon-less role, though (this being Scott) still bringing some edge to it. The Blu-ray bonus interviews also include featured players Leslie Charleson and the late Edward Hermann, and like Henry, could not be more infectiously personable.

Mike’s Picks: ‘The Day of the Dolphin’ and ‘X … the Unknown’

X … the Unknown

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Shout! Factory;
Sci-Fi;
$24.99 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Dean Jagger, Edward Chapman, Leo McKern.

Despite what looks like a glorified Ed Wood budget that’s mercifully camouflaged by a lot of nocturnal outdoor shots and a generally zippy pace, X … the Unknown is an affectionally regarded member of the Hammer Films family that’s sometimes mistaken for one of that studio’s “Quatermass” pictures. This is understandable because X, too, deals with the threatening onset of some hitherto unknown-to-man affliction, supernatural pestilence or, more specifically in this case, highly visual creepy cruds.

I didn’t see this unexpected Dean Jagger starrer when it hit the U.S. in ’57, though my best friend did and gave me the enticing-to-a-kid plot rundown, but I did see the previews for it a couple times — which typical of black-and-white genre pictures of the day whose coming attractions always got under your skin (or at least they did mine). It would go like this: A neighborhood or small-town theater would divide its week’s playdates into sections: maybe a color big-star vehicle Sunday-to-Tuesday and an ‘A’ Western on Friday-Saturday. Sandwiched in between midweek, however, would be these frequently socially disreputable cheaper entries whose theatrical trailers often seemed to be rendered via prints that looked and sounded more worn than those for the weekend attractions. Whether they were tawdry crime melodramas or frugally filmed sci-fi, they seemed less a product of Hollywood spectacle than of moving-image versions of the photos I used to look at in from the pile of Police Gazettes my barber had stacked on  the floor as I waited to get a buzzcut.

Of course, X wasn’t Hollywood product even from its inception but a 1956 British film that Warner Bros. picked up for U.S. distribution the following year after its intended stateside conduit RKO hit the permanent skids. The casting of American character actor Jagger (who’d won a supporting Oscar for Twelve O’Clock High) was a surprise, but in a very happy coincidence, Jagger had more than a passing physical and stylistic resemblance to Dr. Frank Baxter, who was already a huge Boomer grandfather-figure. Baxter was the warm, beloved non-scientist who played one on TV (his character name was “Dr. Research”) in the network broadcasts of those wonderful Frank Capra science documentaries produced in conjunction with Bell Telephone. The two that everyone remembers — Our Mr. Sun and Hemo the Magnificent — had already run by the time X hit U.S. screens, and I have to believe that more than a few kids of the day made this “good will” connection, however subliminally, (Later, 16mm prints of these were run for years in junior high classes whenever science teachers wanted to take a day off, which is not to shortchange their value).

Back to the glop, which we don’t really see is glop until much later in the movie, which takes place in Scotland. Jagger, employed by the Lochmouth branch of the Atomic Energy Commission, is called in after soldiers on a routine Geiger counter assignment to locate the source of supposedly modest radioactivity turns into a disaster. Water starts to bubble and boil at the marshy point of origin, followed by an explosion that kills one of the soldiers from radiation and leaves another with a back of truly grisly-looking blisters. Jagger isn’t helped very much in these endeavors by an unsympathetic superior (Edward Chapman) who’s tone deaf when it comes to gauging the possible severity of the situation. In the annals of big-screen portrayals of bankrupt management, this one is right up there.

To borrow a term once employed by Alexander Haig, this “sinister force” soon branches out in its choice of victims — including even a staff scientist who’s trying to steal a quickie with a nurse in the radiation lab and ends up seeing God, all right, but not in the usual good sense. Whatever this radioactive matter is, it can bore its way through fortress-like constructions, though this matters little at the outdoor point of origin that the soldiers are still guarding despite doing what you or I would do: go AWOL. One of these gents is played by a young Anthony Newley, back before he started writing too many lousy songs.

Here, back at the marshes, he ought to be singing “What Kind of Fool Am I?” (whose Newley co-authorship admittedly can’t be denied).

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

There’s also a young Leo McKern, an actor most are used to seeing with a bit more weathering, as in A Man for All Seasons, where he played Thomas Cromwell, or the Beatles’ Help! (now, there’s a double feature). Here, he’s the security officer for the U.K.’s branch of the Commission but also the Everyman stand-in for us whenever Jagger advances explanatory scientific hypotheses that even he has to concede represent some flailing on his part. McKern, who leans toward Jagger’s POV, such as it is, is still caught in a kind of tug-o-war because honcho Chapman is so recalcitrant to give these concerns the time of day until the ooze starts flowing.

Follow us on Instagram

Without giving away the game, let’s just say that “X” suddenly manifests itself in a more recognizable form, at least if you’re a fan of The Blob — though the latter didn’t come out for another year. Imagine being able to say on your resumé that one of your creations anticipated the young Steve McQueen’s notable box office sleeper-dom for which he infamously took a modest flat salary in lieu of an also offered percentage of the gate. In this case the brains behind X was screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, the most revered of the Hammer nucleus of talents who made the organization “go.” Sangster is the predominant subject of the Blu-ray’s bonus featurette about the original Hammer gang, not only for his ability to pull off a cheapie like this one but for his exceptionally expressive color horror films of which Dracula (aka Horror of Dracula) is probably the most revered.

This mini-doc is quite informative and entertaining and doesn’t shy away from discussing Sanger’s roving eye (Hammer films employed so many babes that they once rated their own coffee table book). The other featurette is pretty hopeless, though: a slapdash jumble of film clips in which the music drowns out a huge percentage of what narrator Oliver Reed is trying to say, a boo-boo I don’t believe I’ve ever seen replicated since the New York  roadshow engagement of Heaven’s Gate in 1980 (in that case, the culprit was the sound mix) and never in a documentary. Reed died in 1999, so it also has some mold on it — or perhaps a glob of “X.”

The movie’s low-budget black-and-white in a frequently nighttime backdrop makes this stuff look more effectively imposing than it otherwise might have. Still, the movie gets some extra kick from a new mastering even if it originally only cost about $60,000 total. And of this, possibly more than we think went to the then fairly ubiquitous Jagger, who in 1957 also worked with Pat Boone and Samuel Fuller, though unfortunately not in the same film.

Mike’s Picks: ‘The Day of the Dolphin’ and ‘X … the Unknown’