DVD of the Week – ‘The Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection Volumes 1 & 2’ – May 13, 2008

Originally released in 2007 as a pair of exclusive box sets for Best Buy, this collection of Universal sci-fi films and atomic monster movies uses the term “classic” in the generic sense – many of the films here are on the decidedly silly side – but that doesn’t mean they aren’t a lot of fun.

Yet it does feature one masterpiece of the era: Jack Arnold’s 1957 film of Richard Matheson’s The Incredible Shrinking Man (scripted by the author himself). The title is pulp but the story of a man (Grant Williams) who suddenly, inexplicably begins to grow smaller after drifting through a radiation cloud is compassionate and intelligent, a portrait of a man who becomes alienated from his own everyday world as he changes. The special effects are tremendous, of course, transforming once harmless household realities into life-threatening hazards (his battle with a spider, armed only with a sewing needle, is thrilling), but Arnold’s investment goes beyond the handsomely realized spectacle of trick photography to dig into the psyche of Williams’ increasingly diminutive hero as he deals with his sudden helplessness, his freak-show appearance in a world of giants (in one touching moment he connects with an equally petite circus midget), and the mystery of his own future as he devolves to microscopic levels. The marriage of the physical and the metaphysical makes his drama uncommonly affecting. This title has been one of the most requested of its genre.

Arnold was a prolific director of low-budget sci-fi spectacles in the fifties and it would have been nice to see a set devoted to his films. This collection features two others, including his highly entertaining atomic creature feature Tarantula (1955), with Leo G. Carroll as the experimental scientist who turns a desert spider into a menace that stalks the barren hills of the southwest desert. The hungry arachnid graduates from rabbits to cattle to people as it grows and creeps across the barren countryside in search of food, dwarfing the desert hills in simple but unsettling special effects shots. Arnold creates a surprisingly eerie mood with his austere visual style and winds the film up in building tension with his rapid pacing. Arnold’s contributions to the set also include Monster on the Campus (1958), one of his decidedly lesser efforts, and The Monolith Monsters (1957), which he wrote but did not direct.

I reviewed the set for my DVD column on MSN:

The earliest film in the set, Dr. Cyclops (1940), is a mad scientist classic directed by Ernest B. Schoedsak (of King Kong fame) and starring Albert Dekker (behind coke-bottle glasses) is the eccentric researcher who shrinks his fellow scientists down to doll size. As for the rest of the set: John Agar takes on The Mole People (1956), Craig Stevens battles The Deadly Mantis (1957), Faith Domergue discovers the Cult of the Cobra (1955), Jock Mahoney meets dinosaurs in The Land Unknown (1957), and Colleen Gray becomes The Leech Woman (1960).

Read the complete review here.


Paramount is cashing in on the excitement of the new Indiana Jones movie with a repackaging of the original trilogy with new, if rather modest, supplements.

The new “Introductions” to each film (each running under ten minutes) feature interviews with producer George Lucas and director Steven Spielberg reminiscing over the origins and inspirations for each film. The best of the short, brisk featurettes (all directed and produced by the talented Laurent Bouzreau) explore “The Melting Face” from the first film (“It’s pretty gory, but I love that effect,” confesses Spielberg) and the “Locations” of each film (a zippy tour led by producer Robert Watts), and there are excerpts from a 2003 on-stage interview with leading ladies Karen Allen, Kate Capshaw and Allison Doody…. It’s a fine set, but hardly the definitive edition, which makes me wonder if there’s yet another edition in offing, perhaps when the fourth installment is released this Christmas?

Read the complete review here.


Here’s a digest of the other DVD releases featured on my MSN column:

Movies: Denzel Washington’s second directorial effort The Great Debaters, Francis Ford Coppola’s Youth Without Youth, his first film in ten years, and Masahiro Takada’s gently meandering Honey and Clover, a tale of young love and life lessons from Japan:

I confess that I enjoy this distinctly Japanese genre of young love and teenage/young adult life. This, a particularly restrained example of the genre, is low key almost to a fault, yet it’s sweetly charming in its embrace of gentle conflicts and easy rhythms. And it neatly steers clear of the contrived complications of American stories of emotional and sexual minefields.

TV: The 2008 TV movie adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry’s landmark play A Raisin in the Sun, the 1976 mini-series The Adams Chronicles and the sprawling 1977 British documentary series All You Need Is Love:

There’s no shortage of ambition in this 17-episode series directed in 1977 for British TV by music journalist and filmmaker Tony Palmer. Subtitled “The Story of Popular Music,” this the closest we will ever get to a definitive portrait of such a sprawling topic. It doesn’t even arrive at rock and roll until episode 13, first exploring ragtime, jazz, the blues, Tin Pan Alley, swing, R&B, country music and more. In addition to the rich collection of archival performance footage that is the staple of such programs, Palmer takes his camera crews all over America and beyond to shoot original footage of some of the biggest popular music stars of all time and interview musical luminaries from Bing Crosby to David Bowie, Roy Rogers to Paul McCartney. There is no narrator, only the words of the witnesses interviewed for the production.

Special Releases: Raoul Walsh’s The Big Trail (1931), the early epic western of the sound era and pioneering widescreen feature that gave John Wayne his first leading role, available in its restored widescreen form for the first time on home video, plus a whole bunch of Frank Sinatra releases, including Frank Sinatra: The Golden Years (with the DVD debut of four feautres) and The Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly Collection, with all three musicals they starred together in:

The story of On the Town (1949) is so slim as to be almost abstract – singing sailors Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Jules Munshin look for girls on 24-hour leave in the Big Apple – but the movie is all heart. … It’s one of the essential Hollywood musicals and the greatest of three big-screen pairings between Hollywood’s all-American hoofer and the Great American Voice. In Anchors Aweigh (1945), their first teaming, eager beaver Sinatra tags along with ladies man Kelly while on leave in Los Angeles…


The weekly column goes live every Tuesday on MSN Entertainment.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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