It’s another week filled to the rafters with television show box sets, as well as some sci-fi and horror flicks I heartily recommend. But, we start with another Blu-ray from the Summer of Good Sci-Fi.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes doesn’t spend a lot of time holding your hand getting you up to speed as far as where we are and who everybody is when we start. Either you saw Rise or you didn’t, and largely it doesn’t matter too much as long as you’re aware that apes are intelligent and humans have been wiped out by a man-made virus. From there, like all good sci-fi allegories, we can focus on the well-trod idea that there are two opposing factions on this overgrown and gutted world and they can either find a way to co-exist, or they can destroy each other. What I love the very most about the movie, before getting into specifics, is the way it portrays each side as being destructive through fear and not through being evil. Humans aren’t the enemy and apes aren’t the enemy; it’s individuals from both sides that are to blame for the violence that escalates. And, boy howdy, does it ever escalate.
Director Matt Reeves instills a lot of tension into the film which is exactly what is needed for the post-apocalyptic Cold War on display. You feel at any moment the war could break out and then when it does it feels like any moment could spell disaster for both sides. It’s a hard thing to achieve for a movie with talking apes in it. It feels very much like a grown-up, proper sci-fi movie, not unlike the original Planet of the Apes in 1968. There’s terrific spectacle and apes will always be enjoyable to see, but there’s some very troubling and real-world implications to the story at play.
The Blu-ray contains about 100 minutes of extras and featurettes, some deletes scenes, and a feature commentary from Reeves.
Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 7
To quote the final episode of the series, “All good things…” After revolutionizing syndicated science fiction, revitalizing the franchise, and creating a whole new (pardon the obvious) generation of fans, Star Trek: TNG decided to hang up its phasers and go out in style. By this point, the cast was about ready to pack it in, but still wanted to maintain the quality of years past. Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, and Gates McFadden all directed episodes during the season, cementing their familiarity with the way their show was produced and their prowess on both sides of the camera.
Episodes of note this year include “Gambit” parts 1 and 2, which sees Picard apparently murdered, but actually being held aboard a mercenary ship; “Attached” in which Picard and Dr. Crusher are imprisoned for espionage, and get way truthy with each other; “Parallels” where Worf is unstuck in reality; “The Pegasus” in which Riker is at the center of a cover-up; “Lower Decks” which finally focuses on members of the crew elsewhere on the ship, having nothing to do with the main cast; and “All Good Things” which has Picard teleporting between three different time periods, thanks to Q, in an attempt to stop a disastrous time rift. Some amazing sci-fi stories in the bunch.
As usual, the Blu-ray is packed full of extras, and as always, a two-part episode, in this case “All Good Things,” has been released as a separate, feature-length disc.
Tales from the Crypt/The Vault of Horror Double Feature
In the 1960s and ’70s, the constant contender for Hammer Films’ title as the undisputed kings of British horror was Amicus, a company started by American Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg to rival Hammer and American International. Pretty early on, they determined that they didn’t have quite the cache or carte blanche that Hammer did and began specializing in portmanteau horror films, or films with multiple short films within them. These began in 1965 with the silly-titled Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors and established the notion that each story would star a different British celebrity or character actor and would have a frame story featuring all of them. Amicus made 7 such films between ’65 and ’74.
Right in the middle of the run, Subotsky caught wind of the old Tales from the Crypt (et al) comic books which ran in the 1950s. Reading them cover to cover, from the anthologized editions, Subotsky decided these short horror morality plays would be perfect for his films, and so he adapted and produced two such anthologies, Tales from the Crypt in 1972 and The Vault of Horror in 1973, though both films almost exclusively feature stories from the Tales from the Crypt books which were later, many of them, re-adapted to the HBO series.
In Tales, five people end up in a dank crypt and are made to listen while a hooded Crypt Keeper (played by screen legend Ralph Richardson) makes them see visions of their horrible future fates, including Joan Collins who kills her husband on Christmas and then gets murdered by a maniac in a Santa suit; Ian Hendry who plots to leave his wife for another woman and then gets in a horrible car accident that leaves him, let’s just say, less than pretty; Robin Philips who plots to drive a nice old man (Peter Cushing) out of town so he can buy up the man’s property; Richard Greene who finds a Chinese figurine that grants wishes; and Nigel Patrick who is put in charge of a home for the blind and treats them all horribly.
Vault removes the Crypt Keeper character but remains largely the same set-up: five men end up in a room they don’t remember going into and tell each other of their recurrent nightmares. Daniel Massey travels to a small and odd town to find his sister and kill her for her share of their parents’ inheritance, only to find out the town is full of vampires; Terry-Thomas who is an obsessively tidy person who constantly berates his new young wife (Glynnis Johns) for doing anything to mess up his routine; Curt Jurgens as a magician who goes to India to find a new trick and then kills the girl who owns it; Michael Craig who has himself buried alive to collect inheritance on himself, but his partner is double-crossing him; and pre-Doctor Who Tom Baker as an artist who gets the ability to conjure reality with his paintings and uses it to get revenge on those who done him wrong.
Both films are great fun and make a perfect double-feature for fans of the comics, or of portmanteau horror.
The Quatermass Xperiment – [Title SIC] Speaking of Hammer, what many consider the first Hammer Horror film, or at least the first scary one, comes to Blu-ray for the first time, an adaptation of Nigel Kneale’s first Quatermass serial, this one about the titular rocket scientist finding one of his astronauts has brought back something green and growing from a trip to space.
Justified Season 5 – U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens is back busting bad guys in his inimitable (and usually pretty violent) style.
The Simpsons Season 17 – Slowly but surely, they’re catching up to real time with the Blu-ray releases, now we just have another ten to go before it’s live.
The Strain Season 1 – The first season of the Guillermo del Toro-created FX series about vampires. Or, about what we think are vampires; we barely saw any monsters at all.