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Magic (1978)

Dark Sky Films
Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/12/2010

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/15/2010

If you are a movie fan, especially a fan of a specific genre, you want to tray and see as many movies as possible. But, there are only so many hours in the day and occasionally one can slip through the cracks. I can remember seeing the TV ads for Magic as a child and thinking that they were incredibly creepy. I sort of remember seeing a few minutes of the movie on HBO, but it's fuzzy. I also dimly recollect hearing some negative reviews for the film. Despite the talent involved in the film, I haven't heard it mentioned in years. Dark Sky Films has now brought the movie to Blu-ray Disc.

Anthony Hopkins stars in Magic as Corky Withers, an amateur magician who is trying to get his big break. After starting at an open-mic night, Corkey brings a dummy named Fats into his act and the combination of magic and ventriloquism makes him popular. With the help of his agent, Ben Greene (Burgess Meredith), Corky's fame grows and he's on the verge of getting his own TV special. When Ben informs Corky that the network will require a medical exam, Corky snaps and flees the city. He heads to his childhood home in the Catskills and rents a cabin by an out-of-the-way lake. The cabin's are owned by Peggy Ann Snow (Ann-Margret), on whom Corky had a crush in high school. The two have dinner together, reminiscing about old times, and Corky uses Fats to charm her. Corky can't believe that he's spending time with his old flame, and this makes him re-think his career. When alone, he talks about all this with Fats. Will the pressure of this situation get to Corky?

(Spoiler Alert: In discussing why Magic isn't a good movie, I'll be revealing some plot devices. If you don't the movie ruined for you, please read with caution.) Looking at Magic today, one can't help but be impressed with it's resume. It was directed by Oscar winner Richard Attenborough, and the screenplay was written by Oscar winner William Goldman, based on his novel of the same name. Obviously the cast is headlined by Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins, who shares the screen with Oscar nominees Burgess Meredith and Ann-Marget. So, this should be a good movie, right?

It's not, and that's just crazy, because any movie with a ventriloquist dummy should be scary, but this one isn't. How do you mess that up? Well, for starters, you let Hopkins overact and play the character completely wrong. At the film's opening, Corky is supposed to be meek and shy...I think. As his fame grows, he comes out of his shell, but he often lets the dummy do the talking for him. The problem is that Corky is never likable. He always seems distant and somewhat angry. The movie wants us to like him in the beginning and then be shocked when he becomes unhinged later in the film. This doesn't happen because Hopkins plays him as a kook from the get-go. Then we have the dummy. Fats is supposed to look like Corky, and I guess that he does. But, Fats is some grotesque looking that he's not scary. "Regular" ventriloquist dummies, with their little heads and beady eyes and the way that they look at you like they know something about you, those are scary. Fats just looks like something out of one of Jeff Dunham's nightmares, and while that may be scary to him (and Peanut), it's not to me.

During the first act of Magic, I was very impressed with the way in which the story was structured. Large chunks of time pass by and the audience is made aware of that time has passed and ________ has happened. This flies in the face of the "let's show the character getting in the car, driving to the destination, and then getting out of the car" style of filmmaking which was popular at the time, and I love it when movies dispense of any non-essentials. But, the story really falls apart during the second half. Again, Hopkins fevered performance is barely in-check for most of the film, so when Corky goes nuts, it wasn't the least bit surprising. I learned from the bonus features on this Blu-ray that this was supposed to be a bit twist? Really? I would be disappointed by that in any movie, but a writer like Goldman should deliver better. Twist? As Goldman's creation Inigo Montoya would say, "I do not think this word means what you think it means." Of course, for me, the biggest disappointment was the fact that Fats wasn't alive. That creepy commercial which I saw as a child (which is included here), implied that the dummy comes to life. Well, he doesn't, as the movie doesn't wander into supernatural territory. And why did Oscar winning composer Jerry Goldsmith decide that the harmonica was a menacing instrument? Annoying maybe, but not menacing.

I think I now know why you never hear people discussing Magic. Despite the pacing of the first act, the rest of the movie (which is set in the most drab place ever) really drags. Even Ann-Margret doesn't look good here. What do you have to do to make Ann-Marget look bad? The only thing that looks worse at the sweaters which Hopkins wears in the film. A slack story combined with a bad location mixed with a twist which isn't surprising results in a film which only a dummy would like.

Magic wallows in the world of foul-mouthed plastic things on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Dark Sky Films. 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. Dark Sky is one of those companies which really puts work into older films and it shows. The image is very sharp and clear, showing only a slight amount of grain and some very mild defects from the source material, mostly small white scratches. The crispness of the image is impressive and this doesn't look like a movie which is over 30 years old. The colors look nice, although the overall palette is somewhat muted, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The clarity of the picture has given it very good detail and depth. The Disc carries a Linear PCM 2ch audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.5 Mbps. This mono track delivers clear dialogue and sound effects and has no hissing. The audio is never muddy and the music sounds fine.

The Magic Blu-ray Disc contains an assortment of extras. "Screenwriting for Dummies" (16 minutes) is an interview with William Goldman who discusses the origins of the story and the research which went into it. He then goes on to talk about how his novel was translated for the screen and he gives his opinions on it. "Fats and Friends" (27 minutes) explores the history of ventriloquism and shows footage and stills of famous dummies and their voices. The piece also offers examples of other films with scary dummies. "Victor Kemper: Cinematographer" (11 minutes) is an interview with the film's DP, who talks about his work on the movie and his views on the work of a cinematographer. "Ann-Margret Make-Up Test" (79 seconds) is a reel of the actress tossing her hair a lot. "Anthony Hopkins Radio Interview" (3 minute) is an audio-only talk with the actor who talks about acting and his approach to the role in Magic. "Anthony Hopkins Interview" (6 minutes) is an awkward piece, as the interviewer is speaking Spanish. The film's TRAILER is included here. We get two "English TV Spots", two "English Radio Spots", a "Spanish Radio Spot", and two "Spanish TV Spots". "English TV Spot #2" is the one that you want to check out.

Review by Mike Long.  Copyright 2010.