Hal Holbrook

Short Takes: Doctor Who And The Daleks (1965), Capricorn One (1976), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) [Blu-ray]

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It’s a typical British summertime, which is to say that the weather has rather broken down and it’s turned cool, windy and showery – all of which creates ideal conditions for watching some old favourites on DVD and Blu-ray. I don’t have a huge amount to write about them, so I’ve made a triple-play combo post to cover what needs to be said …

Doctor Who And The Daleks (1965) [Blu-ray]

Not an episode of the television series, but rather a spin-off theatrical movie starring Peter Cushing and Roy Castle which adapts the show’s first seven-part Dalek serial by Terry Nation into a 79-minute feature – and to be honest, the story benefits from the compression. To simplify things for the overseas audience, the main character isn’t a mysterious alien Time Lord but an eccentric English inventor who actually goes by the name of ‘Doctor Who’, a tweak which tends to send die hard Who fans into apoplexy. For all that, Cushing is very engaging in the role and Castle is a great comedy sidekick; the part of Barbara (Jennie Linden) is rather watered down but 12-year-old Roberta Tovey is a very sound child performer giving the character of Susan a beyond-her-years maturity. Of course it’s the Daleks who are the true stars of the show and this is the first time they were ever seen in colour on the screen – and they look absolutely terrific. In fact the whole thing looks wonderfully expensive, especially the huge petrified forest set. The Blu-ray restoration does a lovely job in these scenes but can look a little beige and washed out in other areas and isn’t quite as good as I’d hoped for from the high definition upgrade; the sound is inevitably a rather limited mono affair. Extras from the old DVD release (an audio commentary by Linden and Tovey, an hour-long documentary on ‘Dalekmania’, a trailer and a few other odds and ends) are joined by a too-brief feature on the restoration process.

Capricorn One (1976) [Blu-ray]

Post-Watergate films in the 70s were understandably obsessed with paranoid conspiracy thrillers, and the writers of Capricorn One found perfect inspiration from the contemporaneous crackpot accusations that the 1969 Moon landings had been faked in a TV studio by NASA. Here they apply just that scenario to a fictional mission to Mars, with astronauts James Brolin, Sam Waterston and OJ Simpson pulled out of their Saturn rocket launch capsule at the last second and forced to go along with a hoax by their desperate boss played by Hal Holbrook. For the first half of the film it looks like they’re going to get away with it, despite a too-curious mission control technician blabbing about certain inconsistencies to a journalist friend (Elliott Gould, playing a cross between Philip Marlowe and Woodward & Bernstein) but then a devastating development transforms the second half into a nail-biting chase thriller across the arid vistas of the US south-west that includes some spectacular aerial photography by director Peter Hyams. Surprisingly given the film is almost four decades old it doesn’t feel anywhere near as dated as you might fear, and it’s still very effective in both slow-burn suspense and flat-out action modes with some great supporting and cameo performances from the likes of Brenda Vaccaro, David Huddleston, Barbara Bosson, David Doyle, Karen Black and Telly Savalas. Unfortunately the new Blu-ray high definition transfer from Network is a major disappointment: despite a clean image and some nicely vibrant and detailed outdoors desert sequences, so much of this looks flat and dull that it’s only a marginal improvement on previous standard definition DVD issues. You’ll need to have your remote control handy as the sound varies all over the the place, and there’s a prominent video encoding error two minutes in which while brief is still annoying. Extras-wise there’s nothing new on previous releases that consists of contemporary trailers and featurettes lacking any significant interest.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) [Blu-ray]

For some bizarre reason I didn’t get to see Raiders of the Lost Ark when it came out at the cinema, and I then carried on missing it for another 20 years thereafter, so the first Indiana Jones film I saw was Temple of Doom. Lacking its predecesor to compare it to I thought it was rather fantastic at the time and could never understand why it was always referred to as the least of the original trilogy of films. However, last week I watched it again for the first time in over a decade (and the first time in high definition) and was genuinely surprised to find myself deeply disappointed in it. Ironically my downwards reevalulation of the film goes in completely the opposite direction to that of everyone else, with Temple now being seen much more favourably today than it ever was during its original release. The action sequences are brilliantly staged and photographed of course, Spielberg not putting a foot wrong in that department from the opening set-piece in a Shanghai night club through to the climax in an underground mine; and Harrison Ford is very much on form and at his most charismatic as Dr Jones. Unfortunately the attempts to make his relationship with leading lady Kate Capshaw into a classic 1930s screwball affair never really came off, and Willie is such a weak ‘comedy female’ character screaming at everything and making a mess of anything she does that it even starts to feel worryingly misogynistic (don’t worry, Spielberg made it up to the actress – they’re married now.) The rest of the mainly ethnic cast are left saddled with playing racist caricatures as virtually everyone ends up as wide-eyed cultists (while the stiff upper lip British end up being the cavalry that saves the day) all of which means there’s none of the sense of developed supporting characters that make Raiders and Last Crusade such a rich and enduring delight. Away from the action and the screwball romance moments there’s also a jet black darkness running through the movie that’s quite remarkably inappropriate for a ‘family’ entertainment, with the film lingering far too long on some disturbing gross-out sequences than is good for it. As a result it loses its sense of fun and for all its spectacle I think these days I’d rather prefer the much-maligned Kingdom of the Crystal Skull over Temple of Doom. At least the Blu-ray can’t be faulted, with a top of the line video and audio presentation although you’ll need to get the four-film boxet for the full serving of copious extras other than the couple of trailers you get on the stand-alone release.

Magnum Force (1973)

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After watching and enjoying Dirty Harry a few weeks ago, I was looking forward to seeing the sequel, once again starring Clint Eastwood reprising the role of maverick San Francisco detective Harry Callahan.

It has a very strong and intriguing premise. Stung by criticism that the first film was too right-wing and fascist, the producers provide Harry with a group of rogue cops dispensing their own brand of capital justice on crooks that have evaded the legal system. That makes Harry look like a left wing civil rights champion and forces him – so quick to break the rules in the original film – to decide which side of the justice fence he’s really on. That should be a wonderful tension and opportunity for the film to dramatically portray some very fundamental issues about law and order. Read the rest of this entry »