Sep 16 2011

Star Wars Blu-ray changes: all in one place

It’s now widely known that the recently-released Star War Blu-ray box sets feature further ‘enhancements’ to both the original films (blinking Ewoks! Vader says “Noooo!”) and the prequels (meh). Here are video clips of all of the major changes, for your perusal, derision or apathetic indifference.

First up, probably the most reviled of the changes to the original trilogy: Vader yelling “Noooo!” as he bears witness to the Emperor’s gleeful attempts to murder Luke at the end of Return of the Jedi:

Returning to the original Star Wars film, this more ambiguous edit of the Han-or-Greedo-shoots-first scene might almost be construed as an admission that having Greedo shoot first made no sense:

Next, here’s the long-overdue addition of blinking Ewoks, as demonstrated by Wicket:

Sticking with Jedi, here are a couple of updated scenes from Jabba’s Palace. First, Han’s slightly improved defrosting (if ‘improved’ is the word), followed by the totally unnecessary shoe-horning of a Phantom Menace “character” into an earlier scene. I believe it’s called a “Dug”.

There are other changes to the original trilogy, such as a better look at Jabba’s palace door (at last!) and small fixes to lightsabers and other effects. As for the prequels, it’s hard to care. Replacing The Phantom Menace’s pretty woeful Yoda puppet with a more convincing CGI model, like that used in the later prequels, is technically interesting, at least:

If this has all been too much for you, you can still pick up a copy of the DVD box set, which includes the theatrical releases as bonus material. Bear in mind that these versions are not presented in true widescreen, and have not been remastered since the trilogy’s Laserdisc release. In fact, you can still grab the actual Laserdiscs as well…

May 22 2011

Asteroids do concern me, Admiral

There is little doubt that the finest Star Wars film is the much-lauded The Empire Strikes Back. This is cinematic fact: if you don’t like it, hurry back to your Stargate DVD box set or your Transformers 2 Blu-ray and don’t come back.

Like that superior sequel – and, of course, its ground-breaking predecessor – much of John Williams’ score for the original trilogy is held in stratospheric regard. The original Star Wars theme and that which accompanies the throne room scene at the close of the first film are instantly recognisable, conjuring up images of heroic space-based daring-do, epic clashes between good and evil and lots of awesome Muppets doing cool stuff. Darth Vader’s theme – otherwise known as the Imperial March – is similarly evocative, despite not appearing in the first film at all. The Cantina band’s catchy, quirky slice of space funk-pop is another bona fide classic. Leia’s Theme actually elicited a tear from at least one jaded thirtysomething when it resurfaced at the close of the otherwise turgid Revenge of the Sith; such is the power and resonance of its sweeping, epic, David Lean-worthy strings. And, hey, everyone loves that Ewok yub yub song, right? Right?

However, arguably the finest piece of music to feature in the original trilogy – on The Empire Strikes Back soundtrack, naturally – remains largely ignored. The piece in question is, of course, The Asteroid Field. Beginning with a reassuring burst of the Imperial March, the score that accompanies Han, Leia and Chewie’s escape from Vader’s fleet then segues into what might initially be written off as a piece perfunctory Williams-lite chase music. But this is not some off-the-shelf tune that might slot just as easily into an Indiana Jones soundtrack or some later, lesser work – a Star Wars prequel, even. No. Instead, after a short but tense build up, the strings section bursts into life, spiralling to new, dazzling heights that perfectly score the Millennium Falcon’s pirouettes and plunges through the space worm-harbouring asteroids. TIE fighters screech to their doom in satisfying fashion, a harp underscores the softening relationship between the princess and Han “I’m nice men” Solo and it’s over, with the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than ten parsecs safely ensconced in the entirely stable asteroid cave.

Jul 22 2010

Unique New Predator T-Shirts

Predators TshirtInspired by the classic Arnie movie, these unique Predator t-shirts feature the Predators’ signature laser sights. Currently available in Large, with Medium on the way.

Available via eBay.

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Jul 20 2010

What makes Ghostbusters great

Why does busting make us feel good?

The set-up

Ghostbusters is one of the finest examples of the 1980s high concept comedy – this is no by-the-numbers rom-com (yes, there is a boy-meets-girl element to the narrative, but the girl sleeps above her covers… four feet above her covers). In the context of Hollywood blockbusters, the set-up is far from conventional: three scientists unceremoniously shown the door by their university employer go into business for themselves, using a variety of brilliantly conceived, believable contraptions to capture and incarcerate ghosts, and end up battling a hundred-foot marshmallow man.

In mainstream movies, scientists are traditionally cast in the role of expositor, playing celluloid second fiddle to the relatable everyman hero. In Ghostbusters, the elite intellectuals – complete with (alleged) degrees in Psychology and Parapsychology – take centre stage, kicking ass and getting the girl/terror dog.

Everything from the pleasingly probable-looking proton packs to the notion of a mouldy Babylonian* god dropping in on Central Park West and tearing up the city feels fresh and fun, and is ripe with comedy potential whilst remaining firmly rooted in its own off-kilter mythology.

* actually Sumerian

The script

As with his Bilko (shudder) co-star, Steve Martin, it’s difficult to pinpoint when Dan Aykroyd ceased being funny. Certainly something had started to go wrong as early as 1989’s Ghostbusters sequel, but in the 1984 original he and co-writer Harold Ramis seemingly still teemed with enough goofy one-liners (“Listen. You smell something?”) and existential silliness (“Are you a God?”) to make the Ghostbusters script shine.

Of course, some of the film’s funniest moments are ad-libbed by a certain other cast member (we’ll come to that shortly…) but as Alfred Hitchcock once remarked, “to make a great film you need three things: the script, the script and the script”.

The soundtrack

Ray Parker Jr’s Academy award-nominated Ghostbusters theme song may form the basis for his entire career (just don’t mention the lawsuit), but it’s also a timeless classic that spawned its own catchphrases. Well, “timeless” might be pushing it somewhat – the ‘80s production is pretty unmistakable – but with lines such as “I ain’t afraid of no ghost” and “bustin’ makes me feel good” lodged firmly in the pop culture lexicon more than twenty-five years later, a certifiable classic it certainly is.

The remainder of the soundtrack – largely a ode to the synthetic drum machine – serves its purpose well, with tracks such as Mick Smiley’s Magic conjuring up just the right sort of spooky atmosphere. The Bus Boys’ boogie woogie-powered Cleanin’ Up The Town also deserves special mention as the rousing accompaniment to the Ghostbuster’s first call, and their classy arrival at the Sedgewick hotel. Only Air Supply’s turgid I Can Wait Forever mars this otherwise special, Grammy-nominated collection.

The special effects

Born out of the golden age of practical and optical effects – a decade before Spielberg’s Jurassic Park ushered in the era of computer-generated mediocrity – the ghosts, ghouls and gods of Ghostbusters are a visual delight. Creations such as the “disgusting blob” that later became known as Slimer, the deliciously gruesome taxi cab driver and the surprisingly scary librarian ghost all have a physicality and personality that belie their relatively scant, almost dialogue-free, appearances on film.

Richard Edlund’s effects also include the barely-controllable proton streams thrown by the Ghostbusters’ personal unlicensed nuclear accelerators, the spectacularly ominous failure of the containment system and the other-worldly final showdown with Gozer the Gozerian. These showpieces underpin the story and, despite their awesome scale, never overwhelm the actors’ work. This fine balance is where so many other special effects-driven movies have failed, including Ghostbusters 2, where the constraints of working with an increased effects budget and all the blue screen and hitting of marks that comes with it eventually robs the actors’ performances of any sense of spontaneity or fun. Which brings us neatly to the final point…

The Bill Murray

Sigourney Weaver is utterly believable as the luminous cellist Dana Barrett – and as terror dog Zuul. Harold Ramis will never play Hamlet, but he’s perfectly cast as the bumbling, serious Egon Spengler. Likewise, Dan Aykroyd brings an enthusiastic charm to his role as “the heart of the Ghostbusters”, Ray Statnz. The film also features fine supporting turns from Rick Moranis as Louis Tully (and Vinz Clortho), William Atherton as Walter Peck and Annie Potts as Janine Melnitz. However, there is one cast member who undeniably steals the show: Bill Murray.

Murray’s loose, almost nonchalant style of delivery and oft-quoted one-liners are arguably the highlight of the film, and, as is frequently noted, much of the most memorable dialogue is ad-libbed by the actor. What’s often overlooked is that in many ways this is Bill Murray’s breakthrough role. Following a successful stint on Saturday Night Live, Murray began portraying largely misanthropic, borderline psychotic characters in films such as Meatballs, Stripes and Caddyshack, with some not inconsiderable – if somewhat niche – success. His Peter Venkman is certainly cynical, displaying a certain arch detachment from his fellow Ghostbusters, but he maintains a warmth and humour that is entirely absent from characters such as Carl Spackler in Caddyshack.

Murray has been openly critical of Ghostbusters 2, and has, on occasion, distanced himself from the mooted Ghostbusters 3 (despite apparently enjoying the making of the recent Ghostbusters: The Video Game). However, if the second sequel is to go ahead, it simply won’t be Ghostbusters without him.

Jun 21 2010

Top Ten Predator Quotes

With the Robert Rodriguez-produced Predators stalking theatres from next month, and the newly-mastered ‘fully loaded’ Blu-ray edition of Predator hitting shelves shortly, here is a run down of the top ten quotes from the Schwarzenegger original.


10. Wrestler-turned-actor-turned-politician Jesse Ventura, playing Blain, makes the most of his relatively short tenure in Arnie’s team of commandos with one-liners such as…

Blain: This stuff will make you a god damned sexual Tyrannosaurus, just like me.

9. Bill Duke’s jittery performance as Mac is equally memorable. Determined to avenge the death of his commando buddy, he finally comes face to face with his camouflaged foe, to whom he whispers…

Sergeant Mac Eliot: I see you!

8. Poncho is probably one of the less awesome members of the team, but he provides an excellent foil for the better-than-awesome Blain in this short scene.

Poncho: You’re bleeding, man. You’re hit.

Blain: I ain’t got time to bleed.

Poncho: Oh… OK… [Poncho shoots a round of grenades at cliff top overhead]

Poncho: You got time to duck?

7. There is no doubting the legendary status of Carl Weathers (see also Arrested Development). While his character, Dillon, has a lot to prove after setting up Arnie and his comrades, his wisecracks are up there with the best of Arnie’s quips.

Dillon: [after Dutch’s trap fails to lure the Predator] So, what are you gonna try next? Cheese?

6. And, speaking of Arnie’s one-liners, here’s a fine example, delivered moments after pinning an unfortunate fellow to the wall with his improbably-sized knife.

Dutch: Stick around

5. Schwarzenegger. Weathers. The scene that establishes Arnie’s awesomeness – as if such a scene were even required!

Dutch: So why don’t you use the regular army? What do you need us for?

Dillon: ‘Cause some damn fool accused you of being the best.

Dutch: Dillon! You son of a bitch!

4. Many of Arnie’s best lines are in the delivery. On paper, the quote below might seem prosaic, but, through the power of Arnie’s acting, it takes on a power and an urgency that defies the banality of the written word.

Dutch: Get to the Chopper!

3. Blain isn’t just a bad-ass. He’s a philosopher, too.

Blain: You lose it here, you’re in a world of hurt.

2. Foreshadowing his towering performances in such comedy classics as Jingle All The Way and Junior, Schwarzenegger delivers this classic 80s ‘zinger’ with aplomb…

Dutch: [the Predator removes his mask] You’re one… ugly motherfucker!

1. Predictable, yes, but there can be no doubt that this single line – in a mere seven words – sums up the film’s entire ethos, and cements Arnie’s status as the go-to guy for all things bad ass.

Dutch: If it bleeds, we can kill it.

Predators is released on 8 July in the UK (9 July in the US). The newly-mastered Blu-ray edition of Predator is available to pre-order from Amazon.