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Blu-ray Disc Released: 6/9/2015
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 6/17/2015
One would have to assume is that the last thing that a filmmaker wants is for their movie to look or seem "dated". Sometimes, it's unavoidable, especially if a movie is focusing on a specific fad or trend. In other situations, those behind the movie simply don't care, and allow the fashions and props featured in the movie to be something that will be out of style or obsolete almost immediately. But, some movies are just a product of their time. They capture a certain moment that is relevant to that time period and highlight something which defines that era. Something which later generations simply may not get. This is certainly the case with the thriller F/X.
Rollie Tyler (Bryan Brown) is a special effects wizard and the best in the game. If you want someone to die horribly in a movie, Rollie is the guy that you call. He's approached by a federal agent, Martin Lipton (Cliff De Young), for a special job. A mob informant, Nicholas DeFranco (Jerry Orbach), is going into witness protection. Rollie is hired to make it look like DeFranco has been shot and killed, therefore his enemies won't go looking for him. To ensure that the stunt goes of without a hitch, Lipton and his boss, Mason (Mason Adams), insist that Rollie be the gunman. But, something does go wrong. DeFranco is actually killed and Rollie is framed for the crime. Now on the run from the law and the feds, Rollie must use his unique talents to clear his name.
Although special effects makeup had its turning point in 1973 with Dick Smith's work on The Exorcist, the 1980s were the true heyday of the medium. Artists like Rick Baker and Rob Bottin were nominated for Oscars (winning 7 times in Baker's case) and were viewed as rock stars. Many young people (especially teenaged boys) aspired to be makeup artists and attempted to emulate the gore and monsters which they saw in movies. Magazines like Fangoria were just as much about covering movies as they were about showing behind-the-scenes FX stills (which often lead to unintentional spoilers). So, it was a simple stroke of genius for Screenwriters Robert T. Megginson and Gregory Fleeman to create a film with a special effects makeup artist was the protagonist. They then took the idea even further by having him use his talents to fight back.
The interesting thing about F/X is how well it layers this idea onto a fairly standard and almost pedestrian thriller story. Even if you haven't seen the trailers, you know that something is going to go wrong with the "assassination", otherwise we wouldn't have a movie. Following this, Rollie is on the run, like so many other fugitives that we've seen in movies and television shows. The film wisely takes it time in having Rollie use his special effects skills. In fact, the first time that he has to defend himself, the result is a fairly violent brawl. The second half of the film has Rollie opening his bag of tricks and the finale is a showcase of gags. (The movie does raise some troubling questions about how Rollie also happens to be a technical genius in addition to being able to build monsters, but I'll let that slide.) The second half of the film is also where we meet Lieutenant McCarthy, played by Brian Dennehy, who I'd actually forgotten was in the movie. How odd to trot out a very recognizable star so late in the film.
As someone who was alive when F/X was first released, watching it today is somewhat odd and saddening. I hate to sound like an old man, but do kids today even know what practical effects are? With every monster movie featuring CG creatures and some even resorting to CG blood (really?), it's difficult to imagine anyone even having an interest in special effects makeup anymore. Whereas Rollie was good with building gadgets, in today's movie, he would be a hacker or a computer genius of some sort. Those issues aside, F/X still works on many levels. The film is well-paced, the action scenes are well done and there is one surprising death. The third act still plays well and even if we are scratching our heads as to how Rollie had a full-size projection screen in his duffle-bag, we are enjoying his ingenuity and remembering a time when latex trumped megabytes.
F/X will make you distrust balloons on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Kino Lorber. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear for the most part. However, there is an obvious amount of grain on the image throughout the film, and there are some mild defects from the source materials, such as black dots. The image is a bit soft, which effects the level of detail, but the picture doesn't have the flat look which can plague older movies. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.6 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sounds effects. Being a 2.0 track, we aren't treated to any dynamic effects, but the dialogue, music, and sound effects work well together, and never drown each other out.
The F/X Blu-ray Disc contains a few extras. We begin with an "Interview with Director Robert Mandel" (14 minutes), which is entitled "Murder By Illusion". In this modern-day discussion, Mandel talks about the making of the film and it's particular challenges, and other highlights of his career. "The Making of F/X" (14 minutes) is an EPK from 1986 which offers a trailer for the film, on-set footage and interviews with Brown, Orbach, and actual effects artist John Stearns. The extras are rounded out by a TRAILER for F/X, as well as a TRAILER for F/X 2.
Review Copyright 2015 by Mike Long