The two rival productions bickered with one another – in an interview at the Cannes festival, Scott, who was initially courted by the Salkinds to direct their picture, had to tell a reporter during an interview that the planes flying overhead were for “the other” Columbus film (this can actually be seen on Umbrella’s Australian Region 4 DVD release of “1492”). Lawsuits and mudslinging were bandied about from the two camps, and both films had to overcome numerous production difficulties in trying to reach each picture’s 1992 release date. Ultimately, viewers chose to ignore both movies, which have since sailed off into the sea of cinematic obscurity.
In fact, “1492″ hasn’t received a home video release since the laserdisc era. Yes, that’s right: a Ridley Scott film – from the 1990s – never even made it to DVD in the U.S.! Kino Lorber has resurrected “1492″ at last and produced a long-overdue Blu-Ray of this problematic, at-times compelling, at-times frustrating epic that at least replicates its visual and aural splendor better than any prior video release.
It’s fascinating to compare the two films: if the old-fashioned “Christopher Columbus: The Discovery” (available on Blu-Ray in Germany) feels like a movie mostly out of step with the times, “1492″ comes off as a picture very much in-step with them – perhaps too much so. In trying to make a more “sensitive” film that would address the evils of Colonialism imposed by Europeans on the New World, Scott and writer Bosch don’t seem to have had a very good grasp on what, exactly, they were trying to say. The movie ultimately tries to have it both ways, painting Columbus as a product of his era, but not solely responsible for the native genocide that took place after his discovery. It’s a movie that’s shocking in how little information it divulges on the actual background of Columbus and the practical journey he undertook – one could argue there’s more history in “Christopher Columbus: The Discovery” – and yet the picture drags on, at times interminably, for 2½ hours.
Much of the problem with ”1492″ is undoubtedly due to the casting of Gerald Depardieu as Columbus. While the French actor looks the part and brings an endless amount of energy to the role, he mumbles his way through the film’s dialogue from start to finish. “The land is there!” intones Depardieu at one point, his eyes drifting off into the distance in one of several unintentionally funny moments. Another occurs when Columbus is initially rejected on his mission to sail west, leading him to ransack his stash of maps in a woefully scored sequence that must have tracked Vangelis music from elsewhere in the picture. It ends with Depardieu getting punched by a monk and crashing over a table in a moment that may have been intentionally funny had the inappropriately spotted music not signaled that the Apocalypse had dawned.
With his command of English being less than optimal (I’m not even sure it rises to the level of mediocrity), Depardieu’s Columbus is an empty vessel – but his dialogue delivery isn’t the only issue the film has.
While the initial set-up of the picture functions well enough, the movie loses nearly all of its momentum midway through once Columbus returns to Spain. Another meet-up with Queen Isabella (Sigourney Weaver, in a lightweight role) and her stuffy minister of finance (a bearded Armand Assante, who’s at least more credible than Tom Selleck’s embarrassing King Ferdinand from the Salkind film) results in them sending a nefarious villain on-board Columbus’ next voyage to the New World. Played by a black-clad, long-haired Michael Wincott (more or less reprising his role from “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’), “Moxica” is supposedly based on a real person who accompanied Columbus on his journey, though his villainy is trumped up to an almost comical level of nastiness. With his growling, sneering distaste for the natives and Columbus’ mission, Wincott is ridiculously over-the-top, and sinks whatever dramatic momentum the film had established until that point. Scott and cinematographer Adrian Biddle, meanwhile, do capture the Spanish locales to great effect – no surprise since the Spanish Ministry of Culture gave “1492″ their official blessing in an effort to sell the film. However, once “1492″ reaches the shores of Hispaniola, the film shifts gears into a violent and unpleasant slog as relations between Columbus’ men and the respective locals break down – and Wincott’s villainy takes center stage. Bloodshed, a nasty mutiny, and a ridiculously filmed storm sequence follow as Columbus’ dreams are shattered…though ultimately not broken.
There are also issues in the picture in regards to its authenticity – once Columbus and his men start building the new colony, it quickly resembles a Sandals resort, complete with “Moxica” staring at the naked behind of a native woman as she serves him a drink. You nearly expect him to light up a joint and start dancing to The Doors after downing some of the native juices.
Vangelis’ beautiful score and Scott’s visual eye do compensate, to a degree: “1492″ is lavishly designed and offers something appealing to the eye in nearly every frame. Outside of that, though, Scott’s film is messy on most every front. Its higher ambition and artistic pretensions actually hurt the film more, in retrospect, than “Christopher Columbus: The Discovery,” which comes off like a silly Saturday matinee picture decades out of its element. Despite its loftier goals, you never feel like you’ve actually learned anything more from “1492″ than the Salkind film – and its portrayal of Columbus himself is surprisingly more lenient than “The Discovery,” which assigns more “cultural blame” to Columbus than Scott was willing to.
Ultimately, it may not have mattered: both movies raced to theaters in time to mark the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ New World discovery, which had already been dampened by protests around the globe. “Christopher Columbus: The Discovery” did so first – but during the tail end of August ‘92, where Warner Bros. dumped the film into release on August 21st (back then, August was a graveyard for unwanted, would-be summer blockbusters). Paramount staked out Columbus Day weekend of ‘92 for “1492″’s release. While the hideous showing of “The Discovery” ($8.2 million domestic) might have lead some viewers to believe that it wouldn’t hurt “1492″’s box-office prospects, the Scott film fared even more dismally. Taking in just $7.1 mil at the U.S. box-office, it ranks still as the biggest bomb in the director’s career.
The two movies were released on VHS and laserdisc back in 1993 – and haven’t been seen since. “1492″ has received a multitude of DVD releases elsewhere around the world, and a couple of Blu-Rays – of varying quality – as well. (My full review of both movies, and their German Blu-Ray releases, can be found here).
Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray is certainly an enhancement on what’s come before domestically, though the 1080p (2.35) transfer has most likely been derived from an older master. Detail is there but some sequences display unnatural noise and a bit of over-sharpening. Compared to other Blu-Rays, a German release from the Concorde label is pretty much in line in terms of its presentation, though it did contain Scott’s original edit of the film, running several minutes longer and initially tagged with an “R” by the MPAA. Paramount and Scott cut more violent footage out for a PG-13, and that edit is the one included here on Blu-Ray by Kino. Audio wise, the 2.0 DTS MA stereo surround track is robust with its directional activity and a broad stage for Vangelis’ rousing score.
The disc does include the additional, gorier missing minutes (eight in fact) trimmed from the U.S. cut in full HD, along with a new commentary from Nathaniel Thompson and Howard S. Berger. Considering the film’s bulky length, the duo admirably chat about Scott’s vision and his filmography, along with provide trivia nuggets throughout (like how Sean Connery was tagged at an early stage to play Ferdinand).
While “1492″ has become nothing more than a curiosity in Scott’s prolific filmography, it’s total absence from higher-end home video formats has been a major omission that Kino’s Blu-Ray has now thankfully rectified with a serviceable transfer that heightens its most effective attributes. (**, 150 mins., PG-13)
THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE 4K UHD Combo Pack (**½, 104 mins., 2017, PG; Warner): Intermittently funny but also somewhat grating follow-up to the box-office triumph of “The Lego Movie” didn’t make nearly as much noise at the box-office, to the surprise of some analysts. A closer inspection, though, reveals an obvious reason for “The Lego Batman Movie”’s inferior commercial performance: this way-overlong follow-up focuses on an annoying Batman whose personality is so obnoxious even Gotham rogue’s gallery of villains, led by The Joker, want nothing to do with him. After the bad guys decide to turn themselves in, Batman is left having to spend time, alone, and face an empty, introspective inner-soul.
Director Chris McKay’s film is filled with abundant visual color and in-jokes – including ample comedy poked at the expense of every Batman project that’s come before. Some of this is, indeed, amusing, but the bloated 104-minute running time overstays its welcome by a good 15-20 minutes. It’s easy to see how kids will be entertained by the film, perhaps, but even they might become exhausted by the repetitious comedy – and, worst of all, Will Arnett’s Batman proves to be a real turnoff. While this not-really-Dark Knight eventually has a change of heart, he’s a Scrooge that’s just plain obnoxious for most of the picture and difficult to take, obscuring the picture’s playful visual invention.
4K Rundown: This Warner UHD presentation of “The Lego Batman Movie” offers the most sensational array of colors I’ve seen in 4K to date. Every frame is packed with eye-popping visuals, beautifully detailed and boasting deep blacks, robust reds and everything inbetween – while the standard Blu-Ray is also excellent on its own merits, “Lego Batman” makes a very strong case for the enhancements of HDR, so much that I would rank this presentation as one of the best in the UHD format. The Dolby Atmos soundtrack is superb also, with extras including filmmaker commentary, four all-new animated shorts, a quartet of deleted scenes and six featurettes on the production.
LIFE 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack (**, 104 mins., 2017, R; Sony): A crew on the International Space Station makes contact with a cell organism that consumed whatever life was once on Mars. Naturally, when one of the ISS scientists attempts to make “contact” with it, the spore turns out to have parasitic properties that claim the crew one by one with mankind’s entire existence on the line.
That’s the premise of “Life,” a well-made but creatively bankrupt Columbia release that puts its audience through a viewing experience they have seen countless times by now. Daniel Espinosa directed Rhet Reese and Paul Wernick’s screenplay, but the script offers no surprises whatsoever as the hapless victims are picked off in a painful succession of repetitive death scenes (“don’t do it! I’ve got you!”) that all lead to an especially cruel end for whoever’s left. The cast tries hard — Jake Gyllenhall, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds leading the way — yet the material is so obvious and pedestrian that there is little life (no pun intended) any of them can interject into genre cliches that are long past their expiration date.
4K Rundown: Sony’s 4K Ultra HD presentation of “Life” is stellar. Though shot in claustrophobic confines, the visual presentation of the film boasts a subtle but effective use of lighting and colors that do take advantage of HDR — from shots of the ISS orbiting the Earth to occasional flashes of primary colors. Though obviously not an overly “bright” film given its setting, “Life” eschews a stylized or dim approach to its environments, instead favoring “realism” in its depiction of the scientists and the ISS in general. The overall result is a superlative 4K release with equally outstanding Dolby Atmos audio that is forceful in its directional activity. Extras on the Blu-Ray include deleted scenes and a handful of featurettes, plus a Digital HD copy. Though not a particularly praiseworthy film, the technical presentation of “Life” should warrant a view for 4K owners.
THE UNHOLY Vestron Video Collector’s Edition (**, 102 mins., 1988, R; Lionsgate): Lionsgate’s terrific series of remastered horror Special Editions, billed under the old Vestron Video moniker, continues this summer with a just-announced package of the “Warlock” series (complete with Jeff Bond commentary!) and “The Unholy.”
This 1988 Vestron Pictures production stars Ben Cross (“Chariots of Fire”) as Father Michael, a particularly enlightened priest assigned to St. Agnes Church, a troubled parish in New Orleans plagued by satanists and assorted black magic. A pair of Father Michael’s predecessors both met with grizzly ends, forcing him to utilize all of resources as he battles a raven-haired succubus and finds evil dwelling in a local bar whose patrons may be the source of the evil.
Camilo Vila directed “The Unholy,” which was one of Vestron’s theatrical releases that opened to diminishing box-office returns in the wake of the company’s massive success with “Dirty Dancing.” The creature effects of Bob Keen are fun and the movie has some scattered scares, but this is pretty much a bland, and often dull, “Exorcist” wannabe that moves very, very slowly through its 102 minutes. Though boasting a superior cast (Ned Beatty, Hal Holbrook and Trevor Howard also appear) than many of Vestron’s other offerings from the late ‘80s, “The Unholy” has never really attracted much of a cult following, though horror fans may still want to check out Lionsgate’s new Blu-Ray, just for curiosity’s sake, or to complete their collections in the Vestron line. Certainly the disc illustrates some of the movie’s post-production woes, which included a reshot ending and having a new score composed.
Once again boasting a plethora of brand-new extras, Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray features commentary with director Vila; an isolated score track with commentary from Roger Bellon, who also scored the superior “Waxwork” and wrote the second score for the film; an audio interview with production designer/co-writer Fernando Fonseca, along with isolated selections from his unused score; featurettes with Ben Cross and Fonseca; the original ending, sporting optional commentary from producer Matthew Hayden; the trailer, TV and radio spots, storyboard galleries, plus a perfectly acceptable 1080p (1.85) AVC encoded transfer and 2.0 DTS MA stereo audio.
THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE Blu-Ray (***, 96 mins., 1970; Arrow): Arrow’s latest Blu-Ray offers an upgraded HD presentation of Dario Argento’s 1970 directorial debut. Credited as the film that launched the Italian “giallo” genre, this taut, crisply directed tale focuses on an American writer (Tony Musante) in Rome who witnesses a vicious attack on a woman in a crackerjack opening set-piece. Musante is then drawn into a web of murder and suspicion, first from the police who are leery of his story, and later from a mysterious individual who makes disturbing calls to his house. Memorably shot by Vittorio Storaro and scored by Ennio Morricone, this first Argento film is one of his more memorable, with the director employing numerous visual flourishes that later trademarked classics like “Suspiria.”
Blue Underground previously brought “Bird” to Blu-Ray several years back, but that presentation has now been surpassed by Arrow’s superior Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack. This limited edition benefits enormously from a new 4K restoration of the original camera negative, exclusively produced by Arrow for this release. On the supplemental side, a new commentary is on-hand from giallo expert Troy Howarth; a new visual essay by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas looks at Argento’s work; fresh interviews are included with critic Kat Ellinger, Argento himself, actor Gildo DiMarco, and an archival interview with actress Eva Renzi. Trailers, a fold-out poster, six lobby card reproductions, and a superlative 60-page booklet offer new writing and appreciations of this Argento landmark.
Blue Underground New Releases: Blue Underground’s June roster is highlighted by the release of DEATH LINE (87 mins., 1973, Not Rated). Distributed as “Raw Meat” in the U.S. by American-International, this independently produced chiller was shot in London by director Gary Sherman (“Poltergeist III,” “Dead and Buried”), spinning the tale of a cannibal who managed to claim immortality by consuming human flesh while living under the subway system since the Victorian era. Donald Pleasence is the wacky inspector in charge of the case for Scotland Yard, while Christopher Lee shows up in a disconnected cameo that feels like it may have been intended for a different film, at one point, altogether!
A downbeat and odd genre curio, “Death Line” has been brought to Blu-Ray in one of Blue Underground’s superior packages of late. Commentary from Sherman, producer Paul Maslansky and assistant director Lewis More O’Ferrall details the production; interviews with Sherman, producers Alan Ladd Jr., Jay Kanter, star David Ladd, Maslansky and actor Hugh Armstrong are also included; plus trailers, TV spots, radio commercials, and a bonus booklet sporting writing from horror authors Michael Gingold and Christopher Gullo. The 1080p (1.85) transfer and DTS MA mono sound are both top notch, while a DVD rounds out the package.
Also new from Blue Underground is a Double Feature Blu-Ray of THE BLOOD OF FU MANCHU (94 mins., 1968) and THE CASTLE OF FU MANCHU (94 mins., 1969), a pair of Harry Alan Towers productions starring Christopher Lee as the master villain, Tsai Chin as his daughter, Lin Tang, and Richard Greene as his nemesis, detective Nayland Smith. These two late ‘60s efforts offer more blood and sex – but also notably lower budgets – than earlier Fu Manchu outings, the nastiness being the result of director Jess Franco, who brings his exploitation taste for sadism to both pictures (especially “Castle”). Blue Underground’s Blu-Ray includes both movies on a single latter with archival interviews with Franco, Towers, Lee, Chin, and Shirley Eaton (who makes an appearance in “Blood”), plus trailers, still galleries, 1080p (1.66) transfers and 1.0 DTS MA mono sound. Be warned the source materials are not only not in pristine condition, but appear to be rough upscales, making this for hardcore fans only.
Also New & Noteworthy
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST Blu-Ray Combo Pack (**½, 129 mins., 2017, PG; Disney): Disney’s recipe for billion-dollar box-office properties seems pretty secure if they continue to follow their formula of Marvel comic-books, Star Wars sequels, Pixar offerings and live-action remakes of their animated classics. On the heels of “The Jungle Book” now comes “Beauty and the Beast,” a workmanlike adaptation of the 1991 smash hit that also incorporates songs and elements from the later, successful Broadway musical rendition. This enables composer Alan Menken’s outstanding score to rework his classic songs, written with the late Howard Ashman, as well as mostly superfluous additions penned with lyricist Tim Rice that were added for the stage version.
Despite all that, director Bill Condon’s movie is flabby, with an “Autotuned” Emma Watson playing Belle and Dan Stevens from “Downton Abbey” giving a respectable (if CGI-boosted) performance as the Beast – they generate decent chemistry together, though Watson’s electronically-enhanced vocals are a distraction, especially at home where they can be inspected even more clearly. Luke Evans is serviceable as Gaston though Josh Gad’s over-eager LeFou is more creepy than comical in this overlong, surprisingly dreary film – a preordained box-office smash – that gives one little reason to revisit it when the superior original, animated version runs over a half-hour shorter.
Disney’s Blu-Ray combo pack is gorgeously presented, at least, with a 1080p (2.40) AVC encoded transfer and zesty 7.1 DTS MA sound. In fact, this transfer is so superb you might believe you’re watching a UHD presentation on your 4K set-up. An excellent array of extras include an “Enchanted Table Read” with the cast and crew, several behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, an alternate version of the song “Days in the Sun,” a music video of the Ariana Grande/John Legend cover of the classic Celine & Peabo duet, and a DVD and Digital HD copy filling out the set.
A UNITED KINGDOM Blu-Ray Combo Pack (***, 111 mins., 2017, PG-13; Fox): Fascinating and well-performed historical drama portrays the relationship between David Oyelowo’s Seretse Khama, heir to the throne of the British Protectorate of Bechuanaland (later Botswana), and Rosamund Pike’s Ruth Williams, a white woman he meets while studying in London after WWII. The couple break racial barriers by marrying and returning to Khama’s native land, where they meet with obstacles not only racially motivated but politically problematic as well. “A United Kingdom” isn’t just a satisfying love story but an insightful look at time and place, with both Oyelowo and Pike believably filling their roles, and Jack Davenport convincingly embodying the part of a British representative in South Africa. Amma Asante’s well-reviewed film is new on Blu-Ray, sporting a 1080p (2.39) AVC encoded transfer, 7.1 DTS MA sound (offering a Patrick Doyle score), a Making Of, behind-the-scenes footage of the Botswana shoot, plus a DVD and Digital HD copy rounding out the package.
TABLE 19 Blu-Ray Combo Pack (87 mins., 2017, PG-13; Fox): Indie drama, much more of a character piece than the rom-com it’s made out to be, stars Anna Kendrick as a jilted, ex-maid of honor who’s relegated to the “loser table” at her old friend’s wedding. There, she meets with a handful of eclectic types, including Craig Robinson, Lisa Kudrow, Stephen Merchant and June Squibb, who make the event far more palatable than it would’ve been otherwise. Jerry Blitz’s film is appealingly acted if uneven; Fox’s Blu-Ray combo pack sports deleted scenes, promo featurettes, a Digital HD copy, DVD, 1080p transfer and 5.1 DTS MA sound.
ALL NIGHTER DVD (86 mins., 2017, R; Fox): A preoccupied father (J.K. Simmons) improbably teams up with his daughter’s ex-boyfriend (Emile Hirsch) to find her once she’s gone missing in this light indie comedy from director Gavin Wiesen and writer Seth Owen. The interplay between Simmons and Hirsch is the main draw in “All Nighter,” which is rough around the edges but has a few effective scenes, and the solid work of the leads, to make it worth a rental at least. Fox’s DVD includes a 16:9 (2.35) transfer, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound and a Digital HD copy.
DIRTY DANCING DVD (135 mins., 2017; Lionsgate): Remakes, reboots and retreads are all around us these days – and not even a 1987 box-office smash like “Dirty Dancing” is safe. At least few people ended up seeing this pointless new version, which mixes the original film with material from the musical stage show, ups the running time by too long and adds a coda that takes all the magic out of Eleanor Bergstein’s original ending. Abigail Breslin (who’s especially charmless) and Colt Prattes have the thankless job of stepping into the roles of Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze, and while the dancing sequences and song roster are still appealing enough, most fans – the ones who saw it on its ABC broadcast last month – were seething mad over the casting, and the alterations in general. Lionsgate’s DVD offers a 16:9 (1.78) transfer, 5.1 audio and two featurettes. Dance your way over to its superior predecessor instead.
Anchor Bay New Releases: Eric Dane from “The Last Ship” plays a Boston police detective who heads to the wintry island of Nantucket after his partner (Rebecca Gayhart) and wife are slain by a serial killer. His subsequent investigation fuels GREY LADY (109 mins., 2016, R), a watchable mystery-thriller from actor John Shea, who directed and co-wrote the film with Armyan Bernstein, and which benefits from location shooting on Nantucket. Anchor Bay’s DVD is out June 27th, sporting a 16:9 (2.40) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack…Also coming June 27th is YU-GI-OH! THE DARK SIDE OF DIMENSIONS (89 mins., 2016, PG), the all-new animated movie from Japan that’s been over a decade in production. Fans of the game will obviously generate the most enthusiasm for this feature-length production, which offers new characters and designs from the franchise’s creator, Kazuki Takahashi. Lionsgate’s excellent Blu-Ray boasts both Japanese (subtitled) and English audio in 5.1, plus a Digital HD copy, terrific 1080p (1.78) transfer, Q&A sessions with Dan Green and Eric Stuart, and a “Show Us Your Cards!” featurette.
TV on Video
SOUTH PARK: The Complete Twentieth Season Blu-Ray (220 mins., 2016; Paramount): Disappointing season of Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s long-running Comedy Central series ranks as one of its weakest. Certainly it puts an end to what had been a strong creative streak for the animated comedy as its most memorable attribute is “‘Member-Berries”, who not only ride nostalgia for “Star Wars” but raise white privilege (or something) as Parker and Stone satirize last year’s Presidential Election. Unfortunately, whatever point the boys were after is lost in a staggeringly unfunny collection of episodes that were strung together, as recent years have been, in an episodic manner – one which the duo lamented painted themselves into a corner they never found a way out of. Paramount and Comedy Central’s Blu-Ray includes commentary from Parker and Stone on every episode; the 2016 Comic Con panel; deleted scenes; #SocialCommentary on all episodes; 1080p transfers and 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtracks.
WORKAHOLICS: The Complete Series DVD (31 hours, 2011-17; Paramount): The semi-popular comedy about a trio of college grads (Anders Holm, Blake Anderson, Adam DeVine) who share a house and work together as telemarketers just completed its lengthy run on Comedy Central. After several Blu-Ray sets, Paramount relegated “Workaholics” to DVD only, and this Complete Series box offers the entire 86-episode run of the series with 16:9 transfers and all the extras from prior releases: commentary, alternate takes, deleted scenes, bloopers, a wrap reel, “The Final Shot” featurette and other extras. Die-hard fans may be disappointed by the lack of high-def, but in lieu of declining sales, you can’t fault Paramount for going this route, and this is a nice, and attractively priced, set that’s just over $20 at most locales – a lot of content for the price.
STEPHEN KING’S TRIPLE FEATURE DVD (CBS): Low-priced box-set collects three Stephen King mini-series: 1991’s “Golden Years,” which aired on CBS during the summer and originally concluded with an open ending intended to lead into a weekly series (the home video version ends on a more conclusive note instead); 1994’s superb “The Stand,” one of the best of King’s works adapted for the small screen; and the so-so 1995 mini-series “The Langoliers,” based on a King short story. CBS’ DVD box-set collects all three efforts in 4:3 transfers and stereo sound. Well worth it for King completists thanks to its low price…Also new from CBS is RETURN TO MAYBERRY (95 mins., 1986), the reunion film for Andy Griffith, Don Knotts, Ron Howard and the entire “Andy Griffith Show” gang. This feature-length, laugh-track less TV movie aired to gargantuan ratings when it originally aired, and CBS’ DVD preserves its laid-back, nostalgic charms courtesy of a 4:3 transfer and stereo sound.
NEXT TIME: Warner Archive New Releases, LAUGH-IN and more! Until then, don’t forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards and direct any emails to our email address. Cheers everyone!