Friday, March 16, 2012

Friday Post-Christmas DVD/Blu-ray Consumer Guide: Special Sci-Fi From All Over Edition

Okay, just by way of a little change of pace, herewith some musings on a batch of interesting and/or alarming movies on disc that have crossed my desk recently. As you can see, what they all have in common -- apart from the fact that I shnorred them -- is a certain out of this world quality. I should also add that I auditioned most of them, save for the Blu-ray of the Chris Marker flick and the Kino Metropolis, on DVD.

And now -- to infinity and beyond! Or something.

1. World on a Wire (Criterion)

A recently re-discovered knockout, this 1973 German TV mini-series by Rainer Werner Fassbinder is based on Daniel Galouye's 1962 s-f novel Simulacron 3, and if that sounds familiar it's because the book was also the basis of The Thirteenth Floor, a fabulous what-is-(virtual)-reality? thriller that had the bad luck to come out in the same year (1999) as the similar but frankly inferior The Matrix.

The whole thing is a little languid by contemporary standards, and some of the futuristic early 70s fashions are a hoot, but mostly this is mind-bending stuff, with enough twists and turns to keep you hanging on for dear life. Criterion's transfer, supervised by cinematographer Michael Balhaus, looks great (given the original's low budget origins) and the set comes with a fascinating making-of documentary.

2. Metropolis (Kino)

This is Giorgio Moroder's MTV version from 1984; it was state of the art at the time of its release, and Moroder deserves tremendous credit for reviving interest in Fritz Lang's butchered silent masterpiece. Still, the fact remains that this is pretty much a curio now, given the crappy 80s soundtrack by the likes of Bonnie Tyler and Queen, et al, not to mention that the film has since been restored -- more or less complete -- to its original 1927 splendor. (That version is also on Kino, BTW).

That said, whatever you think of Moroder's version, this new disc is NOT a restoration of same; it's mastered from a decent theatrical print from the 80s and it looks just okay. An even bigger problem is that an obsessed Moroder fan in Australia took it upon himself to do his own reboot of Giorgio's film (incorporating footage from the earlier Kino version from 2002) and his technically quite amazing edition looks and sounds vastly better than this one. I don't know what the legal status of Metropolis Redux is, but you can talk to the aforementioned crazy SOB directly about it (and last I looked, order a copy) over here. In the meantime, the Kino can be found over at Amazon.

3. The Magnetic Monster (MGM Limited Edition Collection)

Surprisingly good low-budget atom-age sci-fi from producer Ivan Tors, of TV's Science Fiction Theater fame, and done in much the same semi-vérité style as the show. What really makes it work, however, is some spectacular FX footage -- you can see it at the end of the trailer -- lifted from a big-budget 1934 German UFA production called Gold, which director Curt Siodmak manages to integrate seamlessly into the action (alas, you can't see Brigitte Helm, the robot lady from Metropolis who was in it somewhere). MGM's Limited Edition discs can be hit or miss, quality-wise, but this one looks sharp as a tack.

4. Gog (MGM Limited Edition Collection)

More Ivan Tors sci-fi mishegass, only this time in eye-popping color and widescreen, rendered here in a flawless remaster (although not, alas, in the 3D in which it was originally shot and released). The futuristic shenanigans of the plot are much less dated than you'd think -- mysterious forces are sabotaging a supercomputer at a top secret underground lab where they're building a space station -- and it's always fun to watch rugged leading man Richard Egan pit the dimple in his chin against the forces of evil.

5. The Sacrifice (Kino)

Andrei Tarkovsky, for me, has always been one of those "lord knows, I've tried" directors; I respect the intelligence behind the films, and the visuals are frequently stunning, but I mostly find them a real chore to get through, and that includes his biggest hit, Solaris, an occasionally profound sci-fi epic whose themes were nonetheless, as Brit critic David Thomson observed, better and more concisely served in several episodes of the original Star Trek series. The Sacrifice, filmed in Sweden just before the director's death in 1986, has something to do with the end of the world and nuclear holocaust, and it features, to paraphrase MST3K's Tom Servo, "more pauses than a Pinter play." If that's your cup of tea, pounce, and Kino's video transfer is quite spectacular.

6. La Jetée (Criterion)

Chris Marker's 1963 sci-masterpiece is a 27 minute post-nuke apocalypse time travel story told in a succession of black-and-white still photos. It's the kind of thing that, once seen, will haunt you like the dream at its center; just ask Terry Gilliam, who used it as the basis for 12 Monkeys in 1995.

Criterion's new high-def transfer looks great and offers the options of narration in English and French, and the set also features Marker's Sans Soleil, a free form travelogue (to Africa and Japan) that's pretty amazing in its own right, although perhaps not quite as weirdly poetic as La Jetee's vistas of Paris after World War III.


dave™© said...

I got on a Stanislaw Lem kick in the late 70s and when Sarkovsky's version of "Solaris" hit the local art house, I had to check it out. Probably the only movie I've ever walked out on - not in outrage or disgust, but simply because I literally couldn't stay awake! Never bothered with the Soderberg version. BTW, Lem REALLY disliked Harlan Ellison as a writer...

TMink said...

Of these, all I have seen is Metropolis. Looks like I have some catching up to do!


P. Drāno said...

"Sacrifice" reminded me an awful lot of Bergman's "The Silence" in an odd way.

steve simels said...

In the sense that they're both insufferable?

Anonymous said...

"La Jetee" is the best thing ever! If you are a SF fan you must see it.

"GOG" was always a hoot on Million Dollar Movie as was "Magnetic Monster".

I'll check out "World on a Wire". Please feel free to do a SF movie update occasionally.