Review for 4 Film Favorites: Intergalactic Films
I did it again. I went looking to buy one single film on Blu-ray, and wound up getting four. Studios have learnt from the days of DVD when they saturated the market with discs, essentially rendering them worthless, to the point that they’d be given away free with newspapers. These days with Blu-ray, they have much smaller print runs, especially for catalogue titles that are no longer considered A-List. If you don’t buy them on release date, and instead go looking for them a few years down the line, suddenly remembering that the DVD had an audio glitch that you’d like to be rid off, they’re either out of print and deleted, or selling for ridiculous money. That happened to me with 2010: The Year We Made Contact, which I wound up importing from Australia as part of a 3 movie collection, only Contact and Sphere were hardly worth it. This time it was Galaxy Quest that I wanted on Blu, only by the time I got round to looking for it, it was selling for more than £30 in the UK. This time I turned to the US to import, and for less than a tenner (pre-Brexit exchange rate), I found a 4 movie collection, which not only had Galaxy Quest, but it had Lost in Space, Mars Attacks, and Red Planet as well. At least this time I’m double dipping on 3 DVDs not just one, so it is less of a waste of hydrocarbons. As for Red Planet...
You get four discs in a Blu-ray Amaray, two stacked on a spindle on one face, two stacked on the other face, which makes accessibility a bit of a pain. The case also gets an o-card that repeats the cover art, and rearranges the blurb on the back.
Introduction: Red Planet
By the mid-21st Century, it had become clear that life on Earth was doomed by the actions of humanity on the environment. For humanity to survive, it would need a new home. Eyes turned to the nearest planetary neighbour, Mars. In the 2020s, a series of automated probes was sent to start terraforming the planet, seeding it with genetically engineered algae that would gradually create an atmosphere, make the planet habitable. It seemed to be working, but then suddenly the algae vanished, the atmospheric oxygen diminished. As a matter of urgency, the first manned mission to Mars was assembled to find out what had gone wrong. After six uneventful months, the ship arrived at Mars only to face a disaster. A radiation surge disables the ship, and the hastily attempted landing barely succeeds. Now the five men are stranded, with no idea where their automated habitat is, and their oxygen running out, but if they fail their mission, it could spell the end of humanity. And they’re not alone on the planet...
Of the four films, this is the only one yet to receive a UK BD release.
The Disc: Red Planet
Red Planet gets a 2:40:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on this disc, with DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English, DD 5.1 Surround French, Spanish, Italian, and German, and DD 2.0 Spanish and Portuguese, with subtitles in these languages plus Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, and Finnish. It’s a decent transfer of a recent film, with little to fault it. The image is clear throughout, colours are consistent, and detail levels are excellent. There is the rare fleck on the print, but generally it’s a nice, clean, and red film. The CGI has dated, but it isn’t obtrusive enough to make a difference. The audio is good, the surrounds put to robust use conveying the film’s action sequences and ambience. The dialogue is mostly clear, other than a few mumbled lines requiring a quick skip back and flick on of the subtitles (Mr Kilmer). Extras are limited to 8 deleted scenes running to 14:22, and the theatrical trailer (1:34), both presented in 480i format. The disc gets a plain static menu.
Conclusion: Red Planet
The early 2000s saw quite the fad for Mars movies, 2000 saw Red Planet going head to head with Mission to Mars, while the following year saw John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars, as well as the lesser known Stranded. It seems that Mars movies have as much of a success rate as real-life Mars missions. While there is the occasional resounding success, most of them burn up on re-entry. The only decent Mars movie from those two years was the Cowboy Bebop movie, but that’s another review. The thing about Red Planet and Mission to Mars was that they both had their hearts in the right place, they came at their stories from a sci-fi perspective, and while Mission to Mars had its speculative fiction vying with 2001: A Space Odyssey, Red Planet on the other hand went for something a little more down to earth, for want of a better phrase.
I do like the idea of Red Planet, although the dying Earth spurring the search for a new home is hardly an original conceit, not even in this four film collection. But the concept of terraforming Mars by remote, sending unmanned probes to do all the work with genetically engineered algae is pretty realistic. That’s probably how we would do it, if we were ever motivated to do so. It’s only when the attempt fails that they send a manned mission to find out why. And in the end, the reason why is pretty nifty, and as I mentioned, comparatively mundane, believable even.
It is a good idea but in execution, the story is lacklustre, with plot holes you can pilot a spaceship through. Mission to Mars has the edge on Red Planet when it comes to characters. You can believe those people are genuine explorers, scientists, astronauts. The cast of Red Planet on the other hand are led by their egos, certainly aren’t team players, and are the last people that you’d want to send on a manned space mission. The story as it unfolds is cliché-ridden, and on occasion wince-inducing for all the wrong reasons. The last minute crew replacement that turns out to be a neurotic liability is one example. The psychopathic robot is another. And you’ll probably be 10 minutes ahead of its simple plot. But the biggest howler is the question I’ve been asking myself since I watched it. They’re a scientific mission to find out why the algae have failed and what has happened to the engineered atmosphere. And no one thinks to check the atmosphere after they land.
What was a good idea for a movie is rendered utterly forgettable by the stupidity of its script. On the bright side, Red Planet is still smarter than most of the movies that pass for sci-fi these days, and it’s got a rollicking pace and some entertaining moments. It’s another movie where you’re best advised to leave your brain at the door.
Introduction: Mars Attacks
The Martians are coming! The Martians are coming! And for one media savvy US President, this is the biggest PR opportunity in human history. He gets to be the face of humanity making peaceful contact with their nearest neighbours. There’s a whole lot of positivity going around, not least from the President’s closest circle; only one belligerent warhawk general thinks otherwise. But as the world gears up for the biggest meet and greet in history, the Martians have other ideas. They want the planet... after clearing out the infestation. Things look dire for the human race, but there is an unlikely salvation at hand.
The Disc: Mars Attacks
Mars Attacks gets a 2.40:1 widescreen 1080p transfer, which delivers in terms of detail, colour and sharpness. It’s a solid HD transfer, which is suitably filmic, although grain is reduced. Black levels are consistent, and contrast is good, but it looks as if just enough DNR was applied to smooth out skin tones, and reduce the finest levels of detail. Still, the print is free of age or damage, and it’s stable throughout. Usually, this is where I would say that the CGI has dated, but given the comic book quality of the story and the visuals, the CGI fits its context. You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 English, DD 5.1 French, Italian, and Spanish, and DD 2.0 Stereo Czech and Thai, with subtitles in these and many more languages. The surround is fairly effective if not particularly outstanding, and while the dialogue may be a little low in the mix compared to the action, it’s clear and audible throughout. Danny Elfman’s music remains a high point of the film. The disc boots quickly to a static menu. There are no extras on this release, not even the trailer and isolated music track of the DVD.
Conclusion: Mars Attacks
Where did my love for this film go? I know that I’ve certainly aged, but I wonder how Mars Attacks has aged, and I suspect that it doesn’t wear its years all that well. Ten years ago, I might have said that it was post 9/11 angst, that audiences were no longer comfortable with seeing cities and landmarks razed for the sake of popcorn entertainment, but the current vogue for vacuous superhero movies tends to put the lie to that statement. I think back in 1996, there was a certain glee in seeing a host of empty-headed characters wiped off the face of the Earth by a gang of comedy Martians, but these days we elect the empty-headed characters to positions of power. Maybe it’s that which makes Mars Attacks lose its comedy shine.
At its heart, Mars Attacks is the War of the Worlds story all over again. Mars attacks and its forces are so powerful that the best and brightest of Earth’s military and its technology all fall flat in the face of the invasion, all for the Martians to be undone by the unlikeliest of foes. It’s 90 minutes of seeing the worst of humanity, the greedy, the vain, the self-absorbed wiped out in ever inventive ways by the Martians, so that by the end, only the meek and the bland survive.
Mars Attacks plays out like a disaster movie, in that you’re asked to invest in a bunch of characters, to see who will make it to the end of the picture, but I find myself asking just what movie Tim Burton was trying to make with Mars Attacks. I find the satirical aspects of the story insipid, the comedy is single note and rather weak, the comic book antics of the Martians just don’t seem extravagant enough anymore, and the human characters feel underdeveloped and wafer thin for the most part. I don’t know what Mars Attacks is supposed to accomplish anymore, although I suspect I did when I was younger. It’s still fun enough to watch, a satisfying jolt of visual eye-candy, but I don’t know what Tim Burton was trying to tell us, other than Tom Jones really can’t act.
Introduction: Lost in Space
President Donald J. Trump didn’t believe in man-made climate change. In the middle of the 21st Century, the Earth is a wreck, its environment destroyed, its resources used up, and the futuristic recycling technology developed too late to save the planet. The only option now is to colonise another world. Hyperdrive technology has been developed to cut travel times down, but without a physical hypergate at each end, the destination will be random, a ship will become lost in space. That’s why the Robinson family, John and Maureen, and children Judy, Penny and Will, as well as their pilot Don West will be taking the slow way to their destination, Alpha Prime, where they will construct a hypergate to twin the one being built near Earth. But they haven’t counted on politics, on terrorism, and the duplicitous Doctor Smith, whose ham-fisted sabotage send them hurtling headlong through hyperspace in an attempt to escape certain death. They may wind up lost, but it turns out that they’re not the first...
Picture: Lost in Space
Lost in Space gets a 2.40:1 widescreen 1080p transfer in the VC-1 codec. It’s a decent transfer, clean and sharp throughout, with good detail, and strong colour reproduction. The print is nice and clean too, minus any dirt or print damage. It doesn’t quite have the pop of modern movies in HD, although that might be more down to the source material rather than the transfer. Certainly the 1998 CGI effects used in this film look pretty plasticky and video game quality to me, and given what looks like a lower than expected level of grain, a suggestion of light DNR, means that the live action footage actually fits in better with the effects shots. Lost in Space is pretty good, stable and really quite watchable.
Sound: Lost in Space
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English, DD 5.1 Surround German and Spanish, with subtitles in these languages and French, Chinese, Greek, and Portuguese. The audio is a major improvement over the DVD. Lost in Space has a thunderous and effective surround track, that really immerses you in the action while keeping the music and the dialogue clear. Most importantly, I could hear what Doctor Smith was saying in the Blu-ray where I needed subtitles for the DVD.
Extras: Lost in Space
All of these extras were on the US DVD, but not the UK DVD so there will be some new goodies here.
The Commentary by director Stephen Hopkins and writer/producer Akiva Goldsman will be familiar.
However the commentary from the Visual Effects Crew, Director of Photography, and Editor will be new.
Building the Special Effects lasts 15:56.
There’s only the one Music Video here, the Lost in Space Theme by Apollo Four Forty. You’ll have to keep the DVD if you’re a fan of the Crystal Method video.
You get 11:47 of Deleted Scenes.
There are two featurettes, The Future of Space Travel (9:49), and Q & A with the Original Cast – TV Series (7:35), and finally there is the Theatrical Trailer.
All of the video extras are in SD format.
Conclusion: Lost in Space
Mars Attacks may not have aged too well, but I’ve developed a soft spot for the Lost in Space movie. Back in 1998, the popular opinion was that it was a visually excessive misfire of a space adventure, not worthy of the original pulp TV series. At the time I certainly could see that point of view, although I didn’t share it enough to shun the video or the DVD. But I certainly was disappointed by yet another space adventure that relied on time travel shenanigans to make its plot work.
Yet now, nearly 20 years on, and with the current state of the Hollywood blockbuster in mind, Lost in Space starts looking like a much better movie. Back then, effects technology was such that acting performances and script still needed to carry the film. You couldn’t rely on eye-candy CGI to distract the viewer, and what was noisy, fast-paced, and excessive back in 1998 now seems positively restrained. Lost in Space has time enough to develop its story, and develop its characters. It has a sense of humour about it, and it adequately updates the original story to a 1990s vernacular.
I’m still not too keen on the time-travel tomfoolery in the final half of the film, and there are moments in the film that stick out like a rusty nail. There is some positively creaky dialogue, and some of the characters get short shrift. Certainly Judy Robinson is a weak point in the film, and her moments with Don West are veritable roadblocks in the movie, but Lost in Space is definitely worth another look at this point. It’s a fun and entertaining movie, which is all that you can ask from a film such as this. The Blu-ray is a worthy upgrade from the fifteen-year-old DVD.
Introduction: Galaxy Quest
Eighteen years previously, Galaxy Quest was a popular TV sci-fi show that attracted a cult following, but it was cancelled in the middle of its run. The cult following remained, and its cast wound up working the convention circuit, catering to fans that couldn’t get enough of the show. For most of the cast, it’s a paying gig, but there’s also the bittersweet sense of dead-end careers, of opportunities lost. That’s all except for series lead Jason Nesmith, who believes his own hype. The fractious relationships between the actors seem to be heading for combustion, when the Thermians show up, looking for the crew of the NSEA Protector to save their people from the evil Sarris. The Thermians have no concept of pretence, and have taken the ‘historical transmissions’ they intercepted from Earth as reality. Now they want Captain Peter Quincy Taggart and his intrepid crew to take command of their starship and boldly go. This could be the role of a lifetime... literally.
Picture: Galaxy Quest
Galaxy Quest gets a 2.40:1 widescreen 1080p transfer, which is what you would hope for from a Blu-ray, clear and sharp, stable and clean, and offering much in the way of detail and clarity, improving considerably over the DVD experience. It also has the level of film grain, the odd moment of cinematic flicker to make it feel properly filmic, although I do get the sense that it’s just a straight transfer from the original HD master that was used for the DVD, rather than a new HD master for the Blu-ray. The film looks fantastic, most of the special effects, practical and CG hold up well even now, although the planet-bound CG effects aren’t quite as robust. Overall, Galaxy Quest looks pretty strong on Blu-ray.
Sound: Galaxy Quest
The same can’t be said about the audio which is adequate at best. You have the choice between Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Spanish, and Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround Thermian... Yes, really. You have subtitles in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. The volume level is low overall; I had to whack my home cinema up well past halfway before it was acceptable. The surround works well enough, the action comes across well, ships go swooping by, sci-fi gadgets make wibbly-woo-woo noises, explosions work, but it all seems rather weak and lacking in impact. I felt that my subwoofer had taken a vacation for the duration. This is a disc that could have used a little more in the way of sound design.
Extras: Galaxy Quest
Evidently there was a DVD re-release in 2009, and a whole suite of retrospective featurettes were created for it, as opposed to the almost barebones original DVD release. Those extras have been ported over to this Blu-ray.
The disc boots quickly to a static menu and the film will show a progress bar if you pause or skip during playback.
The Galactopedia offers an A-Z glossary of Galaxy Quest, both the film and the fictional TV series. This is a rather elaborate trivia track that overlays the film during playback, and you can set it to pop up relevant information while you watch the film, or you can search the index and read at your leisure.
Historical Documents: The Story of Galaxy Quest is a retrospective making of which lasts 18:13.
Never Give Up, Never Surrender: The Intrepid Crew of the NSEA Protector lasts 23:27 and looks at how the film was cast.
By Grabthar’s Hammer, What Amazing Effects lasts 7:02, and looks at the great movie FX, and the not so great, fictional TV series effects.
Alien School: Creating the Thermian Race lasts 5:22, while Actors in Space lasts 6:09.
Some extras from the first DVD release also make it across, although not all of them. Sigourney Weaver Raps lasts 1:59. The Deleted Scenes last longer at 11:41, but there aren’t more of them, the creators added intros to put a couple of the scenes in context.
There is also the Thermian audio track, funny for 30 seconds, but gets really old, really fast.
All of these visual extra features are in 480i format. The Theatrical Trailer is alone in being presented at 1080p HD resolution, and it lasts 1:55.
Conclusion: Galaxy Quest
I still love Galaxy Quest as much as the first time I saw it. Call it a pastiche, parody, loving homage, but Galaxy Quest manages to capture the essence of Star Trek, the show and the movies, the fans, the gossip about the cast, all of these things in ways that not even Star Trek itself has managed. I still think that it’s one of the strongest of the Star Trek movies, and I would recommend it over Abrams Trek, or most of the TNG movies. Galaxy Quest manages something that no other parody has managed in my experience; it manages to be meta, without being obvious about it.
The thing is that it could so easily have been Star Trek. It feels like it’s been put together out of leftover Star Trek ideas. Certainly I’ve read a famous piece of fan fic, which sees the cast of Star Trek out of their depth aboard the actual Enterprise thanks to a transporter accident. The rock monster from the Beryllium mine was William Shatner’s intended foe for Star Trek V, only the budget wasn’t there to realise it in 1989. And the Thermians might as well be the Sigma Iotians. In the original series, there’s a renowned episode where the crew come across an alien planet where everyone lives life according to The Book, which was left there by a previous ship a hundred or so years previously. The book was Chicago Mobs of the Twenties, and it had become the Al Capone planet. At the end of the episode Dr McCoy revealed that he’d left his tricorder behind there. When The Next Generation was made, one of the story ideas floated was a return to Sigma Iotia, only to find that because of that tricorder, everyone was living as if they were in the original series. It was never made, but we got Galaxy Quest instead.
What amazes me is that Galaxy Quest works perfectly on its own. You don’t need to have ever seen Star Trek to enjoy the film. There’s something universal about obsessive fans, tensions in a TV cast that transcend genre, while the concept of the story works brilliantly, literal aliens unable to distinguish between reality and fiction, come looking for salvation from the intrepid space explorers that they saw on TV transmissions. And a bunch of actors get way in over their heads, and wind up working out their interpersonal issues along the way. It’s hilarious fun, and an engaging story, with great characters. But if you do know Star Trek, Galaxy Quest works on a whole other level, the references and in-jokes, the character observations, the little echoes of reality, they all zing with joy and reverence. That is what’s amazing about Galaxy Quest; parody it may be, but it is never cruel, never mocking and it’s never snide. It loves the genre that it’s playing in, and that makes it an excellent film, even after all this time.
I wanted one movie, and I wound up with four. But this time, unlike my previous multi-pack purchases, all four films are watchable to say the least. Mars Attacks has aged the worst for me, but it still has some entertainment value to it. But Lost in Space is actually getting better with age, while my first time with Red Planet revealed a watchable film, with a strong premise and some good ideas, even if the execution was a little flat. Of course the real reason behind my purchase, Galaxy Quest is still the fantastic movie that it always was. This is a multi-pack that’s well worth picking up. And this multi-pack trend isn’t going to end anytime soon. I recently decided to double dip on Ocean’s Eleven. It turned out that the trilogy was cheaper than the first movie by itself.