True Lies

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

20th Century;
Action;
$39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for a lot of action/violence and some language.
Stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Arnold, Bill Paxton, Tia Carrere, Art Malik, Eliza Dushku, Grant Heslov, Charlton Heston.

Director James Cameron’s True Lies is fondly remembered as one of the best action films of the 1990s, though its long-awaited release on Blu-ray (arriving in a 4K Ultra HD/Blu-ray combo pack) has caused a bit of a stir.

Based on the 1991 French spy comedy La Totale!, 1994’s True Lies stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as American secret agent Harry Tasker, taking on dangerous missions to infiltrate terrorist lairs. However, his wife (Jamie Lee Curtis) and daughter (Eliza Dushku in one of her early roles) believe he’s just a boring computer salesman.

Harry becomes distracted from his current case when he learns his wife might be cheating on him with a slick ladies man (Bill Paxton) posting as a spy to introduce some excitement into her life. Diverting his spycraft to track her instead, Harry’s personal and professional lives intertwine when he and his wife are kidnapped by the actual terrorists he’s supposed to be investigating, forcing him to go into action movie mode to save their family.

The movie offers some nice nods to the James Bond films, which at the time served to film a void in the over-the-top action spy genre. The Bond series had been dormant for five years at this point following 1989’s Licence to Kill, and wouldn’t pick up again until Goldeneye a year later in 1995.

The plot mechanics involving the setup of Harry’s double life tend to cause the middle section of the plot to drag out as all the pieces are being set up for the finale. Luckily Cameron compensates with the bulk of the film’s comedy, primarily involving the interplay between Harry and his partner, Gibs (played hilariously by Tom Arnold). There’s also a memorable cameo by Charlton Heston as the spy chief, whose eyepatch and gruff demeanor are clearly inspired by Marvel Comics’ Nick Fury (the original white version of the character, before he was reintroduced in 2001 to look like Samuel L. Jackson).

The setup and payoff would seem to naturally lend themselves to a sequel, though a proper one never materialized. Cameron would go on to make Titanic for release in 1997, but by the time the pieces were in place for a follow-up to True Lies, the terror attacks of 9/11 sapped his enthusiasm for the concept. He moved on to make the “Avatar” movies instead, while Schwarzenegger in 2003 was elected governor of California.

Tom Arnold in 2005 starred in a film called The Kid & I in which he’s hired by his billionaire neighbor to make a sequel to True Lies to star the man’s son, who has cerebral palsy — Schwarzenegger and Curtis make cameos.

A series remaking the movie debuted on CBS in 2023. The pilot essentially rehashed story arc of the film to get Harry’s wife involved in his spy business, setting up the series to be about a husband-and-wife spy team engaging on missions, which is more or less what the movie had set up. However, the show was pretty terrible and was canceled after two months on the air.

Schwarzenegger himself in 2023 would make Netflix series called “FUBAR” that, while nominally unrelated to True Lies could serve almost as a spiritual sequel to the film. The premise involves Arnold as a spy keeping his career a secret from his family, but then learns his daughter is also a spy who has been keeping her double life secret from him.

While the show might have left some fans pondering what might have been, it also called attention to the fact that the original film had still not been released on Blu-ray Disc in the United States nearly 30 years after its debut in theaters. It might pop up for streaming here and there, but the most widely available physical media options thus far were the 1999 DVD release or defunct formats such as VHS.

The new 4K and Blu-ray discs are certainly a step up over those — colors are more vibrant and details are more defined. But some fans have been complaining about the 4K transfer since its digital release in December. The remastering process supposedly used an AI process to smooth out the image to eliminate grain, which tends to leave surfaces, particularly skin, preternaturally smooth. The image also tends to look a bit soft at times. But the action looks great, the sound mix is effective, and overall, it’s probably better to have these than nothing at all (especially since remastering these again isn’t likely to be a priority anytime soon).

The new combo pack includes the film on both a 4K disc and a regular Blu-ray, with a handful of extras included only on the Blu-ray. These include the 43-minute retrospective featurette “Fear Is Not an Option: A Look Back at True Lies” that was released a few months ago when the digital edition of the film because available. This offers a pretty good overview of the making of the film and its legacy, though a number of interviews were seemingly conducted a decade ago for a featurette that had been planned to go with an earlier rumored Blu-ray release that never materialized.

There is also an archive of various production and marketing materials, including the film’s trailer, a digital copy of a screenplay marked with notes, and galleries of storyboards, set blueprints, production photos and promotional posters.

 

SeaQuest DSV: The Complete Series

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Mill Creek;
Sci-Fi;
$85.99 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Roy Scheider, Jonathan Brandis, Stephanie Beacham, Stacy Haiduk, Don Franklin, John D’Aquino, Royce D. Applegate, Ted Raimi, Marco Sanchez, Rosalind Allen, Edward Kerr, Kathy Evison, Michael DeLuise, Peter DeLuise, Michael Ironside, Elise Neal.

The success of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” in the late 1980s gave rise to all sorts of knockoffs and attempts to cash in on the subsequent sci-fi adventure craze that flourished in the early 1990s. NBC’s entry into this zeitgeist, premiering in 1993, was “SeaQuest DSV,” which was essentially just “Star Trek” underwater.

Set in the “far off” year of 2018, the show starred Roy Scheider as Nathan Bridger, captain of the SeaQuest, a massive submarine (deep-submergence vehicle — the DSV of the title) that patrolled Earth’s oceans conducting military defense and scientific studies. In the SeaQuest future, mankind had taken to colonizing Earth’s oceans, leading to the formation of a global government called the United Earth Oceans Organization, which was tasked with keeping the peace against rogue nations and pirates.

Scheider was an inspired bit of casting to lead the series, given his association to aquatic adventures from the “Jaws” movies. Steven Spielberg was one of the executive producers of the series and no doubt lent it more credibility in that regard.

The series certainly didn’t skimp when it came to guest stars, boasting a line-up that included William Shatner, Mark Hamill, Michael York, Kent McCord, Dom DeLuise, Shelley Hack and Charlton Heston. The pilot movie was directed by none other than Empire Strikes Back helmer Irvin Kershner; this would be the final directing credit of his career (he died in 2010).

The cast also included Jonathan Brandis as Lucas, a teenage prodigy who served as the ship’s computer expert. Tossing a kid into the mix to appear to younger viewers, despite how much it strained credibility, was practically a requisite for these kinds of shows following the prominence of Wesley Crusher on TNG. The move paid off for the show, as Brandis became a popular teen idol in the 1990s, but he would ultimately succumb to the pressures of being a child actor, killing himself in 2003 at the age of 27 after a stalled career led him to start drinking heavily.

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The show’s most notorious element was the character of Darwin, a highly trained dolphin that could speak to the crew thanks to a translation program in the ship’s computer. He was most commonly referred to as the show’s “talking dolphin,” which was a bit of a misnomer as the technology as presented in the show could theoretically be used to communicate with any number of dolphins.

The first season of 24 episodes dealt more with the scientific themes such as conservation and climate science that originally inspired the series. Noted oceanographer Dr. Bob Ballard, aka the guy who found the wreckage of the Titanic, served as the technical advisor and would appear at the end of episodes to present factoids about marine science. The show was also one of the first to make heavy use of CGI for its visual effects.

While it was an expensive series to produce, “SeaQuest” wasn’t a ratings juggernaut, prompting extensive meddling from the network. The show’s tone and creative direction ended up being re-tooled every year it was on.

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The second season of 22 episodes veered the show more into the realm of science-fantasy, with storylines involving genetic engineering, ESP and aliens. In the season finale, the sub is literally plucked from Earth by an alien ship and dumped into the middle of a civil war in the ocean of a far-away planet.

This prompted the final overhaul of the series — renamed “SeaQuest 2032” in season three, which only lasted 13 episodes. While the storylines were more grounded, the show’s tone was more militaristic, as SeaQuest was tasked with leading efforts to contain a growing dictatorship encroaching on the UEO. Bridger was replaced by Capt. Oliver Hudson, played by Michael Ironside, as Scheider appeared in only a handful of episodes due to contractual obligations.

The bigger sin of the third season, however, is that it ditches John Debney’s Emmy-winning theme tune. It’s a sweeping melody that instantly captures the spirit of seafaring adventure, even it sounds a lot like the “Star Wars” theme with a few notes altered.

This great-looking Blu-ray set marks the first North American disc release of the third season. The first two seasons were released on DVD by Universal more than a decade ago.

Those DVDs included some deleted scenes that are also presented on the new Blu-ray, which also includes several new interviews with the creative forces behind the series, including Debney, series creator Rockne S. O’Bannon, and directors Bryan Spicer, John T. Kretchmer and Anson Williams (the latter best remembered for playing Potsie on “Happy Days”).

Each interview is presented as a separate featurette that runs about 10 minutes and provides some fun insights into the creative direction of the series and the state of sci-fi television at the time.

The 57 total episodes are presented mostly in airdate order, with a few adjustments to fix some major continuity problems with episodes that were originally shown out of order by the network.

Kino Lorber Slates Welles Classic ‘Touch of Evil’ for 4K Disc Feb. 22

Kino Lorber’s Studio Classics label will release director Orson Welles’ 1958 film noir classic Touch of Evil as separate three-disc 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray sets Feb. 22 (order date Jan. 18).

Starring Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh and Welles, this dark portrait of corruption and morally compromised obsessions tells the story of a crooked police chief who frames a Mexican youth as part of an intricate criminal plot. The cast also includes Akim Tamiroff, Marlene Dietrich and Zsa Zsa Gabor.

The new special-edition sets include 4K restorations of three versions of the film: the 96-minute theatrical version, a 109-minute preview version uncovered in 1976, and a 111-minute reconstructed version from 1998 based on Welles’ original vision. The 4K discs also feature Dolby Vision HDR.

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Both sets will include the same bonus material. Disc one includes the theatrical cut, a new audio commentary by film historian Tim Lucas, archival commentary with writer/filmmaker F.X. Feeney, and the film’s theatrical trailer.

Disc two, with the reconstructed version, includes a new commentary by film historian Imogen Sara Smith; legacy commentary by Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh and Reconstruction Producer Rick Schmidlin; and an “Evil Lost and Found” featurette.

Disc three features the preview cut with archival audio commentary by Welles historians Jonathan Rosenbaum and James Naremore, plus an “Evil to Life” featurette.

 

DeMille Classic ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ Coming to Blu-ray March 30 in Paramount Presents Line

Director Cecil B. DeMille’s grand 1952 spectacle The Greatest Show on Earth arrives for the first time on Blu-ray March 30 as part of the Paramount Presents line from Paramount Home Entertainment.

A two-time Academy Award-winner — including Best Picture and Best Writing, Motion Picture Story — the film captures the thrills, chills and exhilaration of the circus. Featuring three intertwining plot lines filled with romance and rivalry, DeMille’s epic includes spectacular action sequences, including a train wreck. Stars include Betty Hutton, Cornel Wilde, Charlton Heston, Dorothy Lamour, Gloria Grahame and James Stewart.

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The limited-edition Paramount Presents Blu-ray Disc includes the film — newly restored from a 4K scan of the original negative — in collectible packaging with a foldout image of the film’s theatrical poster and an interior spread with key movie moments. The release also includes a new “Filmmaker Focus” with film historian Leonard Maltin, exploring the making of the film and its reception, as well as access to a digital copy of the film.

Paramount Reissuing Blu-ray of DeMille’s ‘Ten Commandments’

Paramount Home Entertainment is re-releasing its Blu-ray Disc editions of Cecil B. DeMille’s 1923 and 1956 versions of The Ten Commandments in digibook packaging March 10.

The new collector’s edition will include a 16-page booklet with photos and background information about both films.

The three-disc set contains the same bonus materials from the studio’s initial Blu-ray edition of the films in 2011: the 73-minute documentary “The Ten Commandments: Making Miracles”; a commentary on the 1956 film by Katherine Orrison, author of a book about the making of the film; newsreel footage of the film’s New York premiere; theatrical trailers; hand-tinted footage of the Exodus and Parting of the Red Sea sequence from the 1923 version; a two-color Technicolor segment; and photo galleries.

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DeMille’s initial 1923 version was a silent film divided into two parts: the first a re-creation of the biblical story of Moses leading the Israelite exodus out of Egypt, the second a modern tale of two brothers and how the 10 Commandments affects their lives.

His nearly four-hour 1956 remake focuses entirely on the story of Moses, from his early life to the Exodus as detailed in the Bible. The final film directed by DeMille, the 1956 version stars Charlton Heston as Moses and Yul Brynner as the Pharaoh. It was a massive box office success in its day and has become an Easter tradition on television.

In the 2011 configuration, the 1923 film was presented as a bonus feature alongside the making-of documentary on the third disc of a limited-edition boxed set of the 1956 film.

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Ruby Gentry

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street 4/24/18;
Kino Lorber;
Drama;
$19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Jennifer Jones, Charlton Heston, Karl Malden, Tom Tully. 

Preceded by Duel in the Sun, The Fountainhead and Beyond the Forest during just the six years leading up to it, swampy Ruby Gentry capped the quartet of potboilers that formed what some later termed as “King Vidor’s hysterical period,” which I suppose puts the silent-to-talkie pioneer in a special club. Which is to ask, did Robert Bresson have a hysterical period? Did Fred Sears, even if you can probably argue that his entire career could be termed as one? The Vidor quartet is made up with movies for which one must have a special taste, or at least be in a special mood, which means that only auteurists more rigid than I will ever call them great. Though one does come out of them all wanting to yak after spending 90 minutes or more (and in Duel’s case, a lot more) on a trek into places where angels fear to tread.

Actually, Ruby clocks in at a suspicious 82, sloppily held together by its weakest feature: a clunky, spoon-fed narration by a newcomer Yankee doctor played by Bernard Phillips, a familiar-face actor who later became slightly better known as Barney (as in The Sand Pebbles). Yankees are held with suspicion in the movie’s “Carolina” setting — which, unless I missed it, isn’t specified as either North nor South, possibly because the coastal burg that backdrops Vidor’s wall-to-wall lurid heavy breathing isn’t the stuff of chamber of commerce brochures. The provincialism also extends more than even normally to the social-class snobbery toward the less pedigreed of its citizens, for which Ruby (Jennifer Jones) is the poster sex-bomb. Her prowess with a rifle would look good in NRA literature but not at the local country club’s Julep Hour, where she lack the essential cotillion gene. Unfortunately, Ruby’s longtime lust object Boake Tackman (Charlton Heston in just his fourth Hollywood feature) is part of this very set — which isn’t to imply that he’s against fooling around with her in his convertible (Cadillacs are practically supporting cast players here) or in secluded marshes far away from the 19th hole.

As with Duel, this is another movie in which Vidor — probably taking a cue from Jones’s real-life husband David O. Selznick, who gets one of those amorphous “presentation” credits here — tried to turn her in to a sex bomb. This was a marketing attempt that never really came off, even though the actress certainly had the looks to make one consider the possibility (maybe it was a slight lisp). Not un-alluringly photographed in Russell Harlan’s best nocturnal doorway shadows to resemble the cover art in the kind of certain trashy, down-and-dirty paperbacks I used to sneak-read as a kid, Jones-as-Ruby, turns out, is more natural as the hunter-shooter-boat-pilot she mostly is during daylight hours. He frustrating truth is that no one quite knew what to do with her in this period when David O. Svengali was probably telling her what brand of toothpaste to use — and who would have thought that her best role of this period would be in John Huston’s eccentric-plus Beat the Devil? But this said, Jones is, overall, a major plus here and probably the No. 1 thing Ruby has going for it — especially when the movie becomes something of a love triangle and, in particular, a revenge piece after the character’s social fortunes change.

It’s fun, at least mild fun, seeing Heston in those early roles where he played standard humans and not someone always hauling around Tablets. Heston was only four years younger than Jones in real life, which means there isn’t nearly the age differential I assumed. And if there really have to be movies where the main male character is named “Boake,” you have to say that Boakes were a lot more grounded in Chuck’s wheelhouse more than they would have been in, say, Clifton Webb’s.

Despite the moniker, Heston is kind of a normal character here (something of a crud, but normal) — which is more than you say for her brother, played by that specialist in twisted rural creeps: James Anderson. In real life, he was the brother of actress Mary Anderson, who played the cute nurse in Hitchcock’s Lifeboat before curtailing her career after marrying four-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Leon Shamroy (who shot both The Robe and The Girl Can’t Help It for a full career right there). James is best known for later playing the main heavy and Atticus Finch adversary in the movie version of To Kill a Mockingbird, and I’m pretty certain I recall Gregory Peck saying in a Mockingbird doc that Anderson didn’t like him personally. Uh, not like Gregory Peck? So if I’m recalling this right, Anderson must have come naturally to the posterior boil he has here — shouting the Gospel, strumming a guitar around the house, repressing homicidal thoughts and, to give him needed points, being right when he warns Ruby about trying to get above her social station.

Released in limited fashion as a so-called prestige project on Christmas Day of ’52 for apparent Oscar consideraton, Ruby was an independent project co-produced by Vidor and distributed by 20th Century-Fox, though I’ve never seen it shown (going back several decades) with a Fox logo. We’ve all seen too many prints of vintage indies that look as if the original negatives were stored in some Mojave-based UPS box — but except for some significant image specking on a light visual background (during a key scene, alas) that looks a little like microbes under a microscope, this is a cleaner and also sharper-looking copy than I expected to see.

Andrew Sarris suggested in The American Cinema that Vidor was a greater director of individual scenes than sustained movies, and there are redeeming bits here and there that transcend what is at heart an amusingly trashy time at the movies — one of them a honey where Boake’s convertible speeds along the beach and into the surf (in a floating manner that would worry me) so that the lovers can do what lovers do to relax Boake’s golf putting finesse on the club links. One major bonus here is the backdrop theme (“Ruby”), which became a significant harmonica hit for Richard Hayman in spring of ’53. Later, after lyrics were added, Ray Charles made it his own around Christmas of ’60 for one of his most indelible recordings.

Mike’s Picks: ‘Ruby Gentry’ and ‘Madigan’