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Blu-ray Disc Released: 6/18/2013
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 6/27/2013
Back when showmanship was still appreciated, movie trailers used to try and be as broad as possible. Movies will promise to have something for everyone -- "Singing, Dancing, Mystery, Intrigue, Romance, Laughs!" Even if these claims weren't accurate the movie studios wanted you to think that the movie in question was going to answer all of your prayers and cover all of the bases, but this rarely (if ever) happened. But, what if there was a movie which offered everything and the kitchen sink...and it still wasn't satisfying, what would that look like? That would probably look a lot like Lifeforce.
As Lifeforce opens, a space shuttle (Churchill) which is a joint venture between the U.S. and UK (does Britain have a space program?) is on its way to explore Haley's Comet. When they get close enough to the comet, the astronauts realize that some sort of spaceship (which is 150 miles long) is inside of it. The team, lead by Colonel Carlsen (Steve Railsback), investigate the craft and find it filled with mummified giant bat creatures and three humanoids, two males and a female. They take the seemingly lifeless creatures onto the Churchill. Months later, the Churchill approaches Earth, but with no radio contact. The Columbia is dispatched to intercept and all that's found on-board are three aliens, lots of corpses, and evidence of a fire. The aliens are taken to the Space Research Center in London, where they are overseen by Dr. Fallada (Frank Finlay) and Dr. Bukovsky (Michael Gothard). When the female awakens, kills a guard, and escapes, Colonel Caine (Peter Firth) is called in to investigate. However, a beautiful alien on the loose is just the tip of the iceberg, as the aliens have powers which threaten to overtake the planet.
In the early 80s, Cannon Films was taken over by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, who struck paydirt making action films with Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson. They began to make a lot of low-budget movies, but they also sought to be big Hollywood players as well (at one point, they were in line to make a Spider-Man movie). The $25 million sci-fi extravaganza Lifeforce was meant to be a summer tentpole movie in 1985. While it didn't boast any big stars, it featured director Tobe Hooper, who was hot from Poltergeist (no, we're not getting into the debate right now) and was still known for Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The ads boasted special effects from the legendary John Dykstra.
Now, let's look at everything this movie has going for it. It's got some pretty cool space shuttle/outer space sequences. (Keep in mind, in 1985, the space shuttle program was still relatively new, so seeing one in a movie was cool.) It's got zombies overtaking London. It's got Steve Railsback, best known for playing Chares Manson in Helter Skelter chewing the scenery. It's got what was for many their first exposure to Patrick Stewart. It's got Frank Finlay, playing Dr. Fallada in a cool, "I've seen this all before" fashion. And, it's got Mathilda May as the female alien, who walks around naked for most of the film.
With all of that happening, Lifeforce should be a classic, but it simply isn't. The movie isn't a total disaster, but you walk away saying, "A lot happened. Why didn't I like that more?" The first answer lies with the pacing. This Blu-ray Disc release offer the 116-minute cut of the movie, in which the first half is loaded with far too much scientific talk. Again, Finlay's performance is a hoot, but most of this simply drags. Even in the 101-minute U.S. theatrical cut, which is also included here, it seems to take Lifeforce a while to get going after the interesting outer space-set opening. The second half offers much more action, but the zombie apocalypse comes out of nowhere and doesn't fit the rest of the movie. Railsback's performance may be entertaining in a crazy theater way, but he's not really heroic leading man material, even if the character is meant to be flawed. And finally, and I know this is going to sound weird, the movie is simply too British. These people should be freaking out over what is happening but they simply maintain their stiff upper lips and carry on (as it were).
Lifeforce is a film which has been lost to time. It's not good enough for people to recommend, but it's not so bad that it falls into the Mystery Science Theater 3000 category. The movie is worth watching, if nor nothing else to see what a movie packed wall-to-wall with stuff looks like. And to see a movie which will make you say, "Is she ever going to put some clothes on?"
Lifeforce could have used a few more buck in the wardrobe department on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Shout! Factory. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only trace amounts of grain at times and no notable moments of defects from the source material. For a movie which is nearly 30 years old, it looks pretty good most of the time. The colors are strong, but some scenes are a tad dark. The level of detail is good, but the depth doesn't measure up to more modern films on Blu-ray. The Disc carries a DTD-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Many times when an older track is remade in 5.1, there is little difference. Here, we actually get some noticeable surround and stereo effects, as well as some mild subwoofer action. This does help to accent all of the on-screen wackiness.
The Lifeforce Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Tobe Hooper. This is followed by a second COMMENTARY with Special Make-up Effects Designer Nick Maley. The Disc contains the Theatrical Cut of the movie, which runs 1:41:17. "Dangerous Beauty" (15 minutes) is an interview with actress Mathilda May and, as one would expect, the first topic broached is the nudity. "Space Vampires in London" (10 minutes) has Director Tobe Hooper speaking about various aspects of the film, including how he got the gig and some of the production. Steve Railsback reminisces about the movie in "Carlsen's Curse" (7 minutes). "Vintage 'Making-of Lifeforce' Featurette" (21 minutes) is a piece from 1985 which I remember seeing on HBO over-and-over at the time. This contains on-set footage and interviews with the filmmakers and cast. This pays a lot of attention to the visual fx and the special effects make-up. We get two THEATRICAL TRAILERS, a TV SPOT, and a Still Gallery.
Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.