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Urban Legend (1998)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 7/22/2008

All Ratings out of
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/22/2008

In case you aren't familiar with the lingo, a "script doctor" is a writer in Hollywood who is brought in to repair problems with a screenplay, such as dialogue, pacing, or perhaps more. These writers are often uncredited, but they are well-known around the industry. Well, my wife and I would be perfect for this job, as, while we watch movies, we often create scenarios or lines which are much better than what is happening on-screen. (Although, to be honest, most of my ideas involve zombies and explosions.) For my wife, her best idea was a rewrite for the ending of Event Horizon, which, to this day, blows me away. For me, it was an additional scene for Urban Legend, which would have been the perfect denouement for the movie. Watching Urban Legend again on Blu-ray Disc, that old idea came rushing back.

Urban Legend takes place on the campus of Pendleton College. Following an opening scene murder, a group of friends, Natalie (Alicia Witt), Brenda (Rebecca Gayheart), Paul (Jared Leto), Parker (Michael Rosenbaum), Sasha (Tara Reid), and Damon (Joshua Jackson), discuss the incident, and the talk turns to urban legends (specifically the hook-hand date legend). Next, the topic of urban legends arises in a class taught by Professor Wexler (Robert Englund). Soon, more murders occur, all with an urban legends theme, and all in proximity of Natalie. Is someone stalking her? Are her friends safe? Natalie begins to investigate urban legends, while journalist Paul fights with the school administration to reveal more information about the murders. At first, no one wants to take Natalie seriously, but as the bodies begin to pile up, only one question remains; who's next?

The slasher cycle -- films in which a masked killer offs a series of teenagers -- came to fruition in 1978 with the release of the classic Halloween. These films were popular for a while and then the craze petered out in the mid-80s. In 1996, Scream revived the genre and it also added a hip, tongue-in-cheek approach to the films. Urban Legend, which came along two years later, is the perfect example of this trend, as it features all of the pros and cons of the period.

If nothing else, Urban Legend must receive kudos for its central idea -- the inclusion of urban legends into a series of murders. Not only have urban legends become a unique part of American folklore, but they are often inherently creepy as well. Instead of being seen as predictable, the fact that we are already familiar with some of these stories makes the movie all that more fun. Along these same lines, audiences members versed in these tales will attempt to anticipate which ones will be used. (More on that in a moment.)

One of the biggest differences between the slasher films of the 80s and the films of the 90s is the look of the movies. 80's movies like Mother's Day and New Year's Evil often had a cheap, grimy look. Urban Legend personifies the slick and well-made approach that we saw in the 90s. And while some purists may poo-poo this, I can never fault a film for at least look as if it has its act together. First-time director Jamie Blanks keeps things moving along quite well and the murder sequences are well done.

However, Urban Legend has its pitfalls as well. The killer wears a parka with a fur-lined hood and a ski mask. Is that scary? A killer who is cold? The point is supposed to be that the outfit makes the killer non-descript -- it could be anybody. However, who wants a non-descript slasher? We were weaned on the masks of Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees, and even Scream had the Ghostface Killer. So, the first time we see the killer, our reaction is, "Hey, he's going to shovel the walk." Also, the characters here are a bit banal, even for a film in this genre. It's hard to muster feelings when they are murdered. The placement of red herrings are also awkward here. One character is pushed very hard as a suspect...well, they are once the film makes it very apparent of its intentions.

Many of the slasher films of the 90s could be described as "fun, but forgettable" and Urban Legend certainly falls into that category. The movie has some clever murders, some funny moments, and a nice look. Only the silly appearance of the killer holds the film back. Well, that and the fact that the ending could have used one more urban legend to really drive the point home...and I'll always feel that the ending in my head was better.

Urban Legend calls you from inside the house on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 27 Mbps. With Blu-ray, I've noticed that movies that are only a few years old can suffer from defects. However, things look very good here. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. The picture has an amazing amount of depth, and some shots has a quasi-3D look. The colors are also excellent, especially the reds. Much of the film takes place at night, but the image is never overly dark. The Disc offers a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.8 Mbps. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. As with the video, the audio here is better than expected. The stereo effects are bold and noticeable, as are the surround effects. The in-film music and score fill the speakers and the surround sound really comes to life during the attack sequences. These scenes are punctuated by a nice amount of subwoofer.

The Urban Legend Blu-ray Disc contains only two extras. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Jamie Blanks, Screenwriter Silvio Horta, and actor Michael Rosenbaum. This is a fun chat, as the trio discuss the film's production at length. We learn about the locations, the cast, the story, and the logistics of shooting the film. Unlike many directors who are blase about their projects, the enthusiasm which Blanks shows for his first film is a nice change.  Next up is a 10-minute Making-of Featurette which offers a lot of on-set footage with comments by Blanks. This is followed by footage of Composer Christopher Young working at his piano, and Joshua Jackson performing ADR. We then see Young conducting an orchestra, and finally two deleted scenes with Tara Reid and Michael Rosenbaum.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long