Cosmatos on Blu-ray, and the Hobo Returns

I’ll have reviews of Doc Martin, Seasons 1 thru 3 up shortly, but here are some new release announcements worth noting.

The DigitalBits reports Disney is releasing Michael Bay’s Armageddon (1998) on Blu-ray [BR] May 4th for an SRP of $29.99 U.S., along with George P. Cosmatos’ 1993 western Tombstone (same release day, same price).

Details of extras are few, although Armageddon apparently won’t contain the Criterion extras, including the liner notes by the otherwise sane Jeanine Basinger who starts off claiming Bay is a “cutting-edge artist.” Maybe a smidge of that was true for a while, but then came Bay Boys II (2003), where the naughty lads invade Cuba after a car chase involving throwing cadavers from a truck. Bodies-smashing-windshield-funny-in-Baylandt, apparently.

Tombstone is a guilty pleasure because Cosmatos’ intense close-ups and kinetic editing. Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) is a bad movie, but it’s so fun to watch for the ridiculous melodrama, hysterical bathos, and stuff being blown to bits after extreme sweaty close-ups of things like explosive arrow tips.

Cosmatos took over Tombstone when screenwriter Kevin Jarre was dismissed, and although Cosmatos’ own vision was pruned by the studio, vestiges of deleted scenes appeared in the theatrical trailer, as well as the Vista DVD edition that sported some deleted scenes with Georgie commenting on where they originally fit in his unrealized director's cut.

With the director having passed away in 2005, there’s no chance of a special director’s cut with commentary (unless rumours of Cosmatos having recorded one are true). The least Disney can do is author the BR with seamless branching so we can choose between the theatrical and longer director’s cut. Tombstone isn’t art, but it’s a grand, old fashioned brutish western with truly weird characters and revenge montages that admittedly push the film’s length beyond the necessary.

Whereas Bay will continue to make what he deems to be artful drama (just try watching the longer cut of Pearl Harbor), I don’t’ think Cosmatos ever took himself that seriously. He made a 1993 Canadian tax shelter film about a giant rat upsetting Peter Weller’s home (Of Unknown Origin), but he also directed the Grand Hotel of killer virus flicks, The Cassandra Crossing (1976), a thriller that’s part kitsch and part textbook study on how to cut and score some truly arresting action scenes.

The opening sequence beautifully sets the tone of how bursts of frenzied action will be handled at key plot junctures, and there are few disappointments in this dated but exceptionally fun thriller. Pity Artisan withdrew the widescreen edition and replaced it with a full screen DVD in Region 1 land, but then again, Cassandra was an ITC production, and we’ve seen how well its back catalogue has been treated on home video over the past 20 years.

The Bits also reports Universal’s giving its flipper disc format another try, offering the BR version of Traffic, Out of Africa, and The Jackal (blacch!) on one side, and standard DVD on the B-side.

If memory serves correct, the Bits found their own experience with Universal’s HD-DVD/DVD flipper releases to be fraught with read errors, so I’m not sure why Universal is revisiting a cursed concept again.

Fox and MGM are also offering BD/DVD combos, but it sounds like titles including A Bridge Too Far, Rollerball, and Windtalkers will be 2-disc editions. Bridge will probably feature a single-disc DVD edition of the film (the main extras fill out Disc 2 in the current special edition DVD release), but there are no further details whether Rollerball will be Norman Jewison’s original, John McTiernan’s 2002 remake (Theatrical cut? Unrated? Or more graphic director’s cut?), nor which version of Windtalkers in standard DVD will accompany the BR edition.

This is what happens when you get a cluster of remakes, alternate edits, suppressed versions, and titles already having gone through multiple releases on DVD. Even Wall Street (1987) is coming out again in its second special edition DVD in 2.5 year because of the upcoming sequel, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.

Here’s a few questions: What happens to the prior Wall Street 20th anniversary editions in Fox’ warehouse? Will they be shredded, or stay in the order catalogues until the supply finally dries out? Do the second special editions get lower pressing runs, or does the studio believe Wall Street fans will buy the film in its 3rd DVD incarnation?

What actually happens to the gross stock of a single title when it’s already reached its target audience, and sales of the latest edition reveal not just a flat market, but an increasingly downward trend of souped-up re-issues being sent back to distributors, and shipped back to the labels as dead stock?

If the theatrical run of a film has become a glorified advert for the home video edition, then these re-issues must be regarded as pre-release trailers that seed an awareness and build anticipation of the sequel, which makes one wonder whether the studio classifies the re-issues as back catalogue, or part of its advertising campaign, like posters, trailers, radio shows, and publicity junkets.

More importantly, do people really buy the re-issues so soon after the last anniversary edition, or are these runs truly just loss-leader promo materials given commercial distribution?

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Switching briefly to soundtracks, Film Score Monthly’s latest release is Leonard Rosenman’s Prophecy (1979), John Frankenheimer’s bonehead environmental thriller that’s capped with a guy in a pus-soaked bear suit with a clacking maw. It’s a guilty pleasure of cinematic idiocy, but Rosenman’s score was always a solid thing, and captured the terror Frankenheimer and screenwriter Walter Seltzer (The Omen) utterly missed.

If you think you’ve never heard of Leonard Rosenman, you’re quite wrong. His friendship with James Dean facilitated his involvement in Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and East of Eden (1955), and his music for the otherwise silly 1966 sci-fi thriller Fantastic Voyage (also out via FSM) is work of art. Even swathes of Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) has strong moments before the finale chorales closed the score with some unintentional chuckles.

Lastly, Silva Screen will be releasing Pete Rugolo’s music from The Fugitive in digital format, which should please fans of the composer’s film/TV music, and his jazz music from the 50s and 60s. This is the London Symphony Orchestra recording conducted by Harry Rabinowitz which Silva had previously released on CD back in 2001.

Also from the label’s digital arm is Terry Bush’s Littlest Hobo theme “Maybe Tomorrow” (instrumental, plus original vocal version). Fans of the show should be pleased, although as a Canadian, I’m compelled to provide a slightly biased take on the show.

Many have nostalgia for this 1979-1985 series which guest-starred major Hollywood character actors and aging stars, but it’s also the one Canadian series that will never, ever disappear. Its makers must have a trust fund to cover the post-academic studies of five future generations, because it’s been in syndication for decades, and was part of the first batch of shows to be broadcast by fledgling specialty cable channels like Showcase because of Cancon rules (broadcasters must carry a minimum requirement of indigenous productions).

It’s also another example of classic Canadian TV that’s not available domestically. Like The Starlost (1973), Swiss Family Robinson (1976), War of the Worlds (1988-1990), and Friday the 13th: The Series (1987-1990), Hobo was only released on DVD in the U.S., and while I’ve never been a fond of the friendly pooch show, the ongoing conundrum of Canadians having to import a substantive amounts of local product continues.

It’s really only in the last few years that current shows such as Flashpoint, Durham County, and Corner Gas have gotten their own domestic home video releases, but perhaps similar to digital music downloads, some long-unavailable TV shows might get a second life online.

If old transfers of one-off TV series like Logan’s Run (1977-1978) can be bought via iTunes, why can’t an established Canadian online vendor offer up seasons or complete series of local shows like Wojeck (1966-1968), Strange Paradise (1969-1970), or the still-unreleased Seasons 2 and 3 of This is Wonderland (2004-2007)?

Maybe we’ll just have to wait for the Hobo to get things started, since that specific show seems to be a signal of progress. (Think about it: every time a new distribution venue and ancillary market opens up, the dog is always there.) Of course, if the first wave includes Sweating Bullets (1991-1993) or Street Justice (1991-1993), then it’s clear the apocalypse has begun.

Wait a minute! They ARE out on DVD in the U.S., but at least we have the 49th parallel to protect us.

Let the record also state that I did not even mention The Trouble with Tracy.




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