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Lightning Bug (2004)
Blu-ray Disc Released: 1/15/2013
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/26/2013
We've talked before about how easy it is for artists in the entertainment industry to get pigeonholed. These individuals find some level of success doing a certain thing and they then find themselves unable to branch out into anything. (I would venture to say that this happens the most with actors.) However, we should never discourage anyone from trying something different and given the number of slashes in Hollywood (actor/director, singer/actor, etc.), it's clear that it is possible to branch out. Robert Hall entered the world of filmmaking in the early 90s by doing special effects makeup and creature creation. However, he wanted to take a chance as a writer/director and he did just that with Lightning Bug.
Lightning Bug takes place in rural Alabama in the 80s. Green Graves (Bret Harrison) has moved here with his mother, Jenny (Ashley Laurence), and his brother, Jay (Lucas Til). Jenny is down on her luck and moves the family into a ramshackle trailer. Green loves horror movies and it's his dream to go to Hollywood to do special effects for the movies. He makes friends with Billy (George Fauhgnan) and Tony (Jonathan Spencer), and they enjoy doing things like chasing lightning bugs through the fields. (Hence the film's title.) Green also gets to know Angevin (Laura Prepon) who works at the video store and shares his love for movies. Green's life takes an odd turn when his mother begins to date and then eventually marries Earl (Kevin Gage), a violent man who likes to drink. Green lobbies to have his special effects creations showcased at the local Halloween haunted house, but he must overcome the narrow-minded townspeople who think that the "spookhouse" is wrong. He must also avoid Earl's apparent hatred for him. Will Green be able to achieve his dreams?
Lightning Bug is a veiled version of Writer/Director Hall's life story, portraying his life growing up in Alabama where he dreamed of working in Hollywood. With this project, he has created an incredibly odd film which plays like the after-school special from hell, as it combines a somewhat whimsical look at the life of a teenaged boy with some incredibly graphic and horrific events. The result is a movie which never gels and never finds any sort of groove.
Let's be honest, Lightning Bug is never really an uplifting movie, as it opens with Jenny telling the boys that their new home is a dilapidated trailer. From there, we immediately see that Jenny likes to get drunk with strange men...which is how she meets Earl. These scenes are juxtaposed with somewhat lighthearted scenes where Green hangs out with his new friends, Billy Martin and Tony Bennett (yes, you read that right). However, these scenes have an odd vibe, as Billy wants to have sex with his cousin. Then, we hear about how the boys like to chase lightning bugs in the woods. Is this something that teenagers would do? Time passes seemingly at random in the movie, and only once do we get a "One Year Later" on-screen title.
With this jump, the movie focuses more on Green's work on the "spook house" and his relationship with Angevin. The film's odd mis-matched feel continues here though. It seems that the "spook house" has opened and then it hasn't and then it has. Angevin's mom (Shannon Eubanks) forbids her from seeing Green, but when Green sees her near the end, it's as if he doesn't know who she is. Meanwhile, Green's violent relationship with Earl escalates only when it's necessary to bring some more drama into the plot.
Despite these narrative issues, it's clear that Hall was working hard to create a realistic portrayal of Green's life. However, he's made a movie which lives within two worlds. While remaining downbeat and real, the movie could have easily portrayed how Green attempts to overcome his sad life without all of the violence and profanity. On the other hand, Lightning Bug could have been very gritty and hardcore, dispensing with some of the sillier moments. Working on a clearly limited budget, Hall has assembled a good cast and, again, has made an earnest attempt at portraying his life. But, the poor pacing and the fanboy nods (Hey, is that yet another copy of Fangoria?) ruin the movie.
Lightning Bug made me nostalgic for video stores on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Image Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 28 Mbps. The film was shot on Super 16mm and blown up to 35mm and those limitation come through on this transfer. As one would expect, there is a fine sheen of grain on the image throughout the film. This is rarely distracting, but it's usually noticeable. The colors look fairly good, but some scenes do look somewhat washed out. There are a few nighttimes shots which are too dark. The image goes a tad soft at times, and we don't get the clarity which we are accustomed to from bigger budgeted films. The film carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Unlike the video, the audio doesn't portray the film's budget, as we get no hissing or pops here. The dialogue is audible and the music sounds fine. The stereo effects are OK, but the surround and subwoofer effects are flat.
The Lightning Bug Blu-ray Disc contains a wealth of extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Writer/Director Robert Hall. This is followed by a second COMMENTARY with Hall, Producer Lisa Waugh, Ashley Laurence and Laura Prepon. The viewer can choose to watch an "Extended Cut" of the film which is included here and runs about 110 minutes. "Afterglow: A Look Back at Lightning Bug" (25 minutes) offers modern interviews with the principal cast who talk about their experiences on the film and how they feel about it in retrospect. We also hear from some admirers and get their take on the movie. Hall, in particular, says a lot about what he put into the movie. "Luciferin: The making of Lightning Bug" (21 minutes) is a featurette from 2004 which offers on-set footage and comments from the casts and filmmakers. Unlike the previous extra, this provides more of an on-the-spot point of view, as the speakers give very fresh impressions of their experiences. The Disc contains fifteen DELETED SCENES which run about 19 minutes and can be viewed with COMMENTARY from Hall. The majority of these are nice enough to include a cue to let us know where they would have fallen in the movie. Some of these involve a new character played by Ogre from Revenge of the Nerds. We get the MUSIC VIDEO for the song "(Welcome to the) Sun Tangled Angel Revival" by Kevin Kinney. In an unusual move, we get the advertisement for this Blu-ray Disc release. In addition, the Disc includes the original TRAILER. The final extra is a PHOTO GALLERY which contains mostly behind-the-scenes stills.
Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.