The Towering Inferno- uncut!

inferno1Flicking through the tv channels this afternoon, avoiding the news in a desperate attempt to stay positive about all things 2020,  I stumbled upon The Towering Inferno, as I found myself slumming in the darkest scheduling corner of ITV4. The Towering Inferno is a guilty favourite of mine ever since it thrilled me as a kid, its got an incredible cast, cheesy characters, ropy effects and predictable drama but its a safe harbour these days, you know? Anyway, I settled down to watch the remainder;  it wasn’t far from the midway point- Dan Bigelow (Robert Wagner) and his mistress Lorrie (Susan Flannery, who I had a crush on back in the day) have just been enjoying some fun away from the party above when they realise the fire has broken out and trapped them. Dan eventually makes a run for it to fetch help but is engulfed by the flames leaving Lorrie to suffer an explosive end and… hold on, I’m sure Dan suffered a bit more in the flames for his indiscretions (extramarital sex = death in these period films, after all) and Lorrie… well, its awfully quick… did I blink and miss her plunge out the window…

Waitaminute. This thing has been cut.

The Towering Inferno, from 1974… whats this thing doing in a tv version? I used to hate tv versions, but back in the 1970s and 1980s they were what we had to suffer with. To be honest, I thought those days were over. This is 2020 now, after all, and The Towering Inferno… well, it was hardly The Texas Chainsaw Massacre when it came out, right?

In a spell of Sunday afternoon laziness I  could put up with the commercial breaks, maybe, but a cut version of the film? So I go and find my Blu-ray copy and resume the film from where the tv transmission has paused it, the picture is much better as is the sound and I really enjoy it- probably should have put it on from the start really.

I just can’t believe they are still airing a tv version of this movie. Infact, I’m looking at the title of this post as if I’ve gone a little stir crazy under lockdown. What a strange world we are living in: I had no idea people had to be protected from the brutality of Irwin Allen’s opus.

 

 

 

Jaws 4K coming….

I appreciate its a First-World problem and all that, with everything going on in the world today, but the recent news of an upcoming 4K disc of Jaws was mitigated somewhat by the decidedly dodgy packaging artwork currently being shown. I suppose individual tastes will vary, but I’m not a fan of this new box-art at all. Maybe its a problem with these ‘older’ releases that have already been released across so many formats over the decades, an inevitable need for the studio to freshen things up or differentiate/highlight a new release with new artwork and design? Whatever, being a purist I really prefer using original poster artwork, although that’s something typified now more by third-party catalogue releases (Indicator, take a bow) than first-party studio releases. The 4K releases of Die Hard, CE3K, Alien, Superman: The Movie… none of them, nor many others besides, were graced with their original theatrical artwork. In this case I think I’ll be transferring the 4K disc to my Jaws steelbook pictured above alongside the planned 4K art (I expect the second Blu-ray disc with the docs etc will be the same anyway).

I know what you’re thinking. You can’t tell the difference. I should get a life. Bah humbug, I’m surrounded by fools.

The mighty Ben-Hur

benhurWell, continuing my recent penchant for all things epic, last night I rewatched what is arguably the mother of all epics, Ben-Hur. They don’t make ’em like they used to- Hollywood does ‘big’ now in ways that were undreamed of in the pre-CGI era, but I think its clear that many of those old Hollywood epics can teach us a thing or two about characters and drama…  and old-fashioned things like well-structured, cohesive scripts.

Music, too- I think its an important thing we are missing in current films, the role music used to play. Miklós Rózsa’s score for Ben-Hur, which won him one of the film’s eleven Oscars, a single films record Oscar-haul at the time later equalled by Titanic and The Return of the King (and frankly, neither those two later films should be mentioned in the same breath as Ben-Hur– they simply aren’t in the same league) takes such a major part of what makes the film work, from the Overture through to the Main Title… indeed, almost every scene of the film (barring the actual Chariot Race, really, where its absence serves just as much importance) features music score. Its almost like a musical narration informing the viewer what is happening and why. Watching Ben-Hur and taking in the role of the  Rózsa score I am always reminded of Basil Poledouris’ brilliant score for Conan The Barbarian, which likewise provided a wall of sound throughout its film (in Poledouris’ case, lending meaning and gravitas to Arnie’s monosyllabic Cimmerian).

The work of the actors and their performances in Ben-Hur cannot be over-stated; it occurred to me re-watching the film last night how the scenes must have seemed when being filmed on-set without that score lifting and intensifying every moment, every victory, every betrayal. The level of intensity in the performances in the cold light of a midweek morning or afternoon, on-set over multiple takes, minus that music carrying and lifting, well, it must have been a whole different experience on-set. I guess that’s the magic of movies: ‘magic-time’ indeed, as Jack Lemmon used to describe it. Its possibly a skill of actors we take for granted- reaching a level of performance and drama ‘cold’, without having that music helping.

Such a pity George Lucas was never that good a film-maker, or had the necessary ambition, to lend his Star Wars prequels the level of ‘epic’ and meaning that Ben-Hur has. Its clear that the Pod-race of The Phantom Menace takes so much inspiration from the Chariot Race of Ben-Hur, but this sequence has a drama and meaning that Lucas’ film totally lacks. Why couldn’t Star Wars prequels be as serious and dramatic and self-important as Ben-Hur? Why couldn’t the Evil Empire of a galaxy far, far away be as mighty and real and tyrannical as Rome, and Anakin be as strong a character as Judah Ben-Hur or, perhaps as flawed and doomed as Messala? Star Wars is often described as modern myth for our times, but it seldom had the ambition or self-seriousness of mythology, always content to be ‘just’ entertainment or ‘just’ a children’s matinee serial.

Oh well, I’ve caught myself daydreaming movie what-ifs again. What a thing it must have been, back in 1959 and 1960, watching Ben-Hur in cinemas for the first time, that sense of epic spectacle, of event. We have ‘event’, tent-pole releases these days but I doubt anything could really recapture what Ben-Hur must have been like when it came out.

Kingdom of Heaven and the Shelf of Shame

kohWatched the Roadshow Directors Cut of Kingdom of Heaven last night; what a bloody brilliant movie that is. I think Kingdom of Heaven is possibly the best example of the transformative power of the Directors Cut- sure, the DCs of Watchmen and The Abyss are much better than their original cuts, too, but they remain flawed films in many ways, but the DC of Kingdom of Heaven is just, well, to put not too fine a point on it, a bloody brilliant movie, and is one of Ridley Scotts best films. His last truly great film, too, I suspect (I guess its only competition would be The Martian, but, well, I like The Martian but clearly Kingdom of Heaven is the better movie). This is the same guy who brought us Prometheus and Alien: Covenant? I find it so hard to believe; incredible. I make no apologies for stating that this film is one of my favourite all-time movies, which makes it a little odd to confess that I gave not seen it in several years….

Of course, I’ve watched the DC of Kingdom of Heaven several times before- first on a sumptuous R1 DVD edition many years back, and later when it arrived on a lacklustre Blu-ray edition (here in the UK, anyway). The reason why this post features in my Shelf of Shame series is that this copy is the Ultimate Edition steelbook, that contains the three cuts of the film via seamless branching (theatrical, DC and Roadshow cuts) with a second disc containing the exhaustive special features from that old DVD edition. To my frank disbelief I bought this edition back in 2015 and its been sitting on the shelf ever since, which is some kind of madness considering that, as I have mentioned, this is one of my favourite movies. Maybe its the length of the film. The Roadshow version, which features an Overture and an Intermission, runs well over three hours (as I adore the score for this film, I find that Roadshow version by some margin the best version to watch), and like Once Upon a Time in America, the longest films may be the greatest, but they do demand more time and consideration when scheduling.

Oh well, this lockdown and isolation we’re living during Covid19 has to be good for something, right? We have the time, I guess, to enjoy some of these longer films now.  And, er, I really need to rewatch Once Upon a Time in America, too, now that I think about it…

I hate double and triple-dipping but I’ll say here and now, this film desperately needs a 4K UHD edition. Please, someone, by all that’s Picard, make it so. This is one of Ridley’s greatest movies- they put that damned Robin Hood flick of his on 4K UHD, and those Alien prequels, but not this? Kingdom of Heaven looks fine in HD, but there is noticeable banding and blocking in some sections of this film, particularly during fade ins and fade outs, which I suspect is down to the sampling rate limited by the length of the film and the multiple branching over the single disc. Its hard to believe I’m berating a Blu-ray disc when it used to be the pinnacle of home viewing (I wonder how bad the DVD looks like?) but its clear to me that a 4K UHD would handle a lot of such sections, as well as the dark interior scenes, much better than a Blu-ray encode can manage.

I was really buzzing, though, after watching this. As its been a few years since last watching it, some of it surprised me, regards what I had actually forgotten, such as the layers of the storytelling, the different character arcs and moments, particularly in this extended version. Its quite complex and nuanced and features a great cast in great form, with brilliant direction and some really fine editing. Naturally its a beautiful-looking film, but some of the pacing and composition work… really, its the director at the absolute peak of his game, here. I can’t really understand why people talk about Ridley and mention Gladiator etc but not this, but I can only assume that’s because they saw the original version and not the DC. I recall watching that theatrical release back in, crikey, 2005, and being disappointed by it; sure it looked beautiful (as one would expect of Ridley, especially with period pieces) but the whole thing felt simplistic and formulaic. Which is why I rate this edition so highly as an example of just how good extended or directors cuts of some films can really be.

A sense of the alien in films pre-Covid19

contagionIts really strange watching films of late. There are scenes with crowds and people getting together, even times when  -horror!- someone shakes someone else’s hand in greeting or hugs somebody. Such casual wanton misbehaviour! Whenever this happens I get this weird feeling that something is terribly wrong and alien about it.

We’ve only had a few weeks of this lockdown/social isolation thing going on, and its pretty horrible not being able to visit friends or family properly and, er, touch people like we used to. But the strange thing, even almost insidious thing about it, really, is how it now looks so weird seeing the old ‘normal’ way of living in films and being almost shocked by seeing it. Its a little like seeing pre-2000 films in which people smoke a lot; the further back in time when the film was made, the more prevalent and ‘social’ it is – go back to a film made in the and 1950s and people tend to smoke endlessly in the oddest places (in retrospect) and its so inclusive and social as the people progressively damage each others health and encourage each other to work harder at it. Thinking its fun, that its… sexy.  The old being ‘human’ becomes something decidedly alien.

That’s happening now, as if things actually changed overnight. I’m living in a world in which chat shows on television have ‘virtual’ interviews via webcam or game shows have panellists playing from home (Have I Got News For You is such a bizarre experience just now its almost like watching a Japanese game show). Even on Breakfast television presenters are either doing so remotely from home or sitting in the studio several feet apart, and yet in movies, naturally, things are from a different time, like, from a month ago or something, and obviously very different- its just so weird how it feels watching it. I have to exercise additional suspension of disbelief to just accept such ridiculous scenarios lacking social distancing or enhanced cleanliness. The world has gone crazy and its left all our movies feeling just that little bit odder and unreal.

Mind you, the other night I noticed Netflix have got Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion available, a film I haven’t seen since I first saw it back in 2011 on a rental and like some damn fool who hasn’t had enough fear from watching the news, I watched the first half of it. How horribly prescient that film is proving to be, and suddenly it looks like the most normal film I’m watching now. Seeing people wearing masks, gloves and PPE and trying to manage containment and isolation procedures is like, everyday stuff now. No longer as alien as it seemed back in 2011, its now, er, so normal.

We need life to go back to weird, like those other movies, as soon as safely possible.

Angel Has Fallen

angelfCan we talk about casting? I ask because, while I expected very little, really, from this film (London Has Fallen was almost a parody of the first film, it was so bad), I had at least hoped for a few hours mindless diversion from everything going on in the Real World- alas, right from the start it proceeded to derail itself at breakneck speed. As soon as Danny Huston turned up as Mike Banning’s old friend seeking a favour, it was clear that this so-called good guy was going to do the dirty on old Mike and prove to be a double-crossing bastard. I like Huston, he’s a very good actor, but he’s gotten so typecast now its working against the films he features in. Forget any twist, it ensures the viewers are about thirty minutes ahead of our hero.

A film like Angel Has Fallen has enough trouble with originality and predictability- expecting the screenwriters to create something novel and surprising is clearly far too much anyway, and I suppose it could be argued that the fans of these films actually enjoy being ahead of things anyway. Keep ’em simple, keep ’em predictable seems to be the order of the day with action flicks like this- Tales of the Expected, I suppose, fits pretty well. But its really done no favours with such routine and unimaginative casting. I suppose the casting directors are doing whats asked of them (find a good ‘bad guy’ actor, and sure, Huston’s one of the best, no doubt) but its damned infuriating to me.

Its not as if there is anything unique regards Angel Has Fallen in this, its getting pretty commonplace in both film and television. Its such a pity that they can’t be more imaginative and surprising with casting. Ever since Henry Fonda turned out to be such a shockingly surprising villain in Leone’s classic Once Upon a Time in the West in 1968 (I’m sure there will be earlier examples, its just one that immediately springs to mind) it was proven how powerful such daring casting can prove to be. I’ve remarked several times on this blog over the years that Tom Hanks would make a fantastic Bond villain someday, if only someone would write it with the mother of all twists.

Instead the casting of someone like Danny Huston just deepens the sense of formula and routine that permeates Angel Has Fallen. To be clear, Huston is very good and is perfectly capable as the villain, but we’ve seen him do it before and the film just continues to tick the boxes, so to speak. There is no surprise, we always feel ahead of the plot, and I hate that in film- I prefer to be hoodwinked, surprised by the creative teams sleight of hand, so to speak, but its clear that with films such as this that is no priority, or that the team behind it aren’t capable, or just don’t care. The cynic in me suspects that with this third film in this franchise, its all about making money by not upsetting the proverbial apple cart, regards what the target audience expects. Quite what Morgan Freeman is doing still slumming in these films is quite beyond me- its like everyone’s just in it for the money.

Angel Has Fallen is currently streaming on Amazon Prime

 

Sitting through Seat 25…

..isn’t easy. Its not that its a bad film, its perfectly fine, except that the whole piece is hooked on a premise so silly, it just seems to flounder on the brink of farce. Which is such a pity, because its clearly well-intentioned, its that the script just lacks that certain polish that, er, a ‘proper’ ending or consistent internal logic might provide.

seat25Faye Banks (Madeleine Cooke) is trapped by her life: unfulfilled in her marriage, stuck in a soul-crushing office job working with people she doesn’t connect with, feeling unloved and estranged by a father who is emigrating to another country. Faye can see the days blurring into one another and she needs to get out, escape. Fortunately she wins a ticket to Mars.

Ah, Mars; apparently the ice caps have melted and Mars is warming up, gaining an atmosphere, and alongside it a magnetic field that shields the planet from any communication to/from Earth so no-one can actually see what is happening or how or why. An (apparently Scottish) entrepreneur has reacted to this by financing a one-way mission sending a bunch of settlers to Mars-  twelve men, twelve women, presumably engineers and scientists and experts. Accompanying these bold explorers will be another: a member of the public who wins a competition for the twenty-fifth seat on the flight.

There is a delightful flight of whimsy about this, something Ray Bradbury might have suggested in his Martian Chronicles, and in the 1950’s he may have pulled it off: but no-one can get away with a premise such as that in 2017 when people are still getting beaten up by photocopiers and driving banged-up noisy cars. Its just too silly. Mars is just too far away, getting there too difficult, the possibility of the Red Planet Terra-forming itself habitable unlikely in millennia never-mind the space of several years, the cost of getting there so great you’d never just give a ticket away to just anybody, or risk an Average Joe (or Josephine) with the responsibility.

Doubling even that, Faye wins the competition and doesn’t tell anybody. She doesn’t quit her horrible job and the horrible little people that work there, she doesn’t tell her husband who’s solution to their marital strife is trying for a baby. Faye just mopes around waiting for the competition results to go public, all the time getting bullied and ridiculed by almost everyone in her life. One of the problems with the film is that Faye cannot articulate what she is feeling or thinking; she internalises everything and mutely watches everything from the outside, in. She isn’t exactly an active participant in her own story.

seat25bWhat the film does well is portray the existential crisis of modern life, the general apathy and helplessness of people. Faye’s neighbours have a marriage as messed-up as her own: the wife bemoans her lack of a sex-life, resents her husband staying at home to look after their child while she goes to work. Faye’s work-colleagues externalise their own personal resentments by picking on and ridiculing solitary workmates, making false allegations of perversion against one man that causes him to get sacked. People trapped in horrible lives, daily nightmares of pointlessness.

Mars represents freedom, and escape, clearly the solution to all Faye’s problems, a road to another, better life. But it isn’t real: its Faye’s daydreams, looking out of her bedroom window and seeing Earth, below, as if she is already in orbit, or losing herself in dreams of walking on a Martian surface that is obviously just a beach tinged in orange light. Its romantic and perfect, not cruel and deadly.

I think Seat 25 really missed a trick regards the most elegant solution for the silly Martian fantasy it proposes: it should all be in Faye’s head. None of it should be real; the film should have pulled a Brazil-like twist in revealing that Seat 25 was the number of the park bench where Faye spends her lunchtimes from work. We all feel the need to escape, sometimes, and we all have our ways of doing it. Faye’s may have been a little more extreme but it was nonetheless valid- in a crazy world, just go crazy; half of Phillip K Dick’s fiction would echo such sentiment.

Seat 25, however, just goes all the way, and too far to maintain any credibility. Like a bubble floating in the air, it floats there for awhile, looking pretty and perfect, but all bubbles burst in the end.

Seat 25 is currently streaming on Amazon Prime

Steve McQueen: The Man and Le Mans

smcqSteve McQueen: The Man and Le Mans is a documentary film about the making of a movie- the 1971 misfire Le Mans, a passion project of Steve McQueen, the King of Cool who after the successes of his previous films could seemingly do no wrong, but proved ultimately undone by his obsession. Its one of those tales of ambition and excess and the folly of over-reaching that is so familiar to movie fans, tales the like of which can be an obsession of their own. Whether it be the disaster-turned-triumph of Apocalypse Now, or the grand what-if of films like The Magnificent Ambersons, the making of movies can be as fascinating as the films themselves. I have never seen Le Mans, but from what I have heard of it, I assume that this documentary is more entertaining than the film it chronicles- for all I know, the film may be a masterwork, but I doubt it.

McQueen of course needs no introduction, he is one of the great icons of Hollywood, hardly ‘real’ now at all- star of so many classics (The Great Escape, Bullitt, Papillon, and so many others) he’s become more a screen legend, the real person lost in the shadow of those changeless, classic films that play over and over. One of the chief rewards of this fascinating documentary is the glimpse of the ‘real’ man – the actor, the producer, the flawed and monumental ego. It is surprisingly candid, painting McQueen in at times a decidedly unfavourable light: it is claimed by one interviewee that McQueen, at the time married with children, was a serial adulterer on-set, bedding as many as twelve women a week during the shoot. His passion for racing cars off-set as well as on-set endangered the lives of others, and when he crashed a car with beautiful co-star Elga Andersen alongside him, he bullied his personal assistant to take the blame rather than risk losing control of the project. On the other hand, many of the racing drivers and colleagues appearing in the film talk of the star with great respect and affection.

smcq2The film’s main problem was that it was being shot without a script, filming at Le Mans both during the 1970 24-hour race (McQueen intended to take part in the actual race, but the films insurers put a stop to such daring ambition) and then spending months at the track recreating the race with professional racing drivers, one of whom lost half a leg after a bad crash. The films biggest problem was that no-one, it seemed, could crack the script, measure it up to McQueen’s ambition to create the definitive, ultimate racing movie. Alan Trussman, screenwriter of McQueen’s earlier triumphs Bullitt and The Thomas Crown Affair, described a bruising meeting with the star, after which he never worked again in Hollywood: “I was the highest-paid screenwriter in town when I went to that meeting,” Trussman recalled, “and after that meeting, the phone never rang again.” McQueen’s role as producer caused increasing friction with the film’s director, John Sturges (of The Great Escape and The Magnificent Seven) who walked away from the project. Finally the panicked studio took control of the movie and diluted of its star’s grander ambitions, finally cobbled together a releasable movie from the millions of feet of film, which was released to poor commercial and critical response. It was a bitter experience for McQueen.

Its one of those stories of the corrupting power of huge success and wealth, someone reaching the top of the mountain and finding the only next step is down, and the all-too familiar tale of a film running out of control. Its a surprisingly affecting film, in which the candid treatment of the actor (part Coolest Man Alive, part Total Asshole) allows us a fascinating glimpse of, as one interviewee puts it, McQueen as Icarus, over-reaching and too close to the sun. Ultimately, regardless of the Silver Screen dreams he now appears in forever, he was only human, living as so few of us could ever dream of.

Steve McQueen: The Man and Le Mans is currently available on the BBC iPlayer, and also on DVD and Blu-ray 

Marvels 25th Anniversary Hardcover

marvels25thI have a very deep and abiding fondness for Marvels, a four-issue series that celebrated its 25th anniversary last year. Written by Kurt Busiek and beautifully illustrated by Alex Ross, the series was, as its title might suggest, a love-letter to the Marvel comics of old, particularly those of the 1960s when the comics were at their absolute peak. As a lad who grew up in the 1970s reading the b&w reprints published here in the UK, Marvels hit me as surely as if I had grown up in America in the 1960s reading the monthly four-colour originals.

Through the lens of newspaper photographer Phil Sheldon, Marvels took the proposition that the Marvel superheroes were real, and that Phil personified our own, mortals-eye view of the incredible larger-than-life figures and events that the Golden Age and subsequent Silver Age Marvel comics of the 1960s portrayed every month. Phil witnessed and photographed the original Human Torch, Prince Namor’s attack on Manhattan, the Fantastic Four’s battle with Galactus and the death of Gwen Stacey. Along the way Phil questions the role and purpose of the superhuman Marvels that had changed his world forever, and begins to weary of the continuous need of people and media to first idolise and venerate these heroes to superstars and then turn on them, belittle them, ridicule them.

marvels25thbRevisiting key events in Marvel history through the eyes of Phil is a journey of deep nostalgia for those of us who grew up with the comics, reliving adventures that enthralled us so. Nothing in any Marvel Studios Infinity War or Endgame could be as monumental or terrifying as the Galactus saga created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and nothing in any Spider-Man movie could be as heartbreaking as the death of Gwen Stacey, an event that changed comics forever. Its this last section, in Marvels issue 4, that so deeply affects me. When I was a kid, Spider-Man and its characters was as real as any movie ever could be, and Gwen Stacey just as real as anyone I read about or saw on television. Its not just the usual Marvel hyperbole that her death changed comics forever- the event signalled a watershed moment, and the treatment of it in Marvels was beyond perfect, it elevated it to something profoundly moving. Re-reading it in this new edition for the first time in a few years now, it was as breathtaking and emotional for me as it ever was.  Its a moment when its clear that Marvels itself isn’t ‘just’ a comic- its a genuine work of art.

marvels25thcI bought the original paperback collection of Marvels back in 1994, and its sobering indeed to realise that this new hardcover edition celebrating its 25th anniversary last year marks such a passage of time. Somehow the distance in time to its original publication is getting close to the original distance between Marvels and the 1960s comic-books it was a tribute to. Alex Ross’ beautiful artwork is as breathtaking now as it was back then- indeed in some ways its arguable that nothing has equalled it since. This edition actually reprints the 25th anniversary’s Marvels Annotated, which features a lengthy examination of each issue with panel by panel annotations that pick up references to the original comics and insights from Busiek and Ross about creative choices and technical details. This only reinforces my deep awe and respect for what they achieved. Coupled with additional background material, a Marvels Epilogue one-shot that serves as a coda to the original series and the original scripts and series proposals, this whole package is as definitive as any fan could hope for.

The Pirates of Blood River

piratesbrA matter of perspective, it turns out, is everything when watching old catalogue titles such as this for the first time. Hammer’s The Pirates of Blood River is, on first viewing, a rather average adventure flick obviously limited by Hammer’s production abilities: part of the charm of Hammer’s films are its stable of familiar faces (here Christopher Lee, Michael Ripper, Oliver Reed) in front of the camera, and the familiar (re-used) sets that also return time and time again in various slightly re-tweaked guises. But films can’t always get by on such charms, and sometimes they come short- The Pirates of Blood River doesn’t have any ocean, or even have a coastline, never mind an actual pirate ship (bar what is evidently stock footage used over the main titles). As one might expect from a landlocked production shot entirely at Bray studios and the nearby Black Park Lake (and a sandpit) the film rather feels like a pirate film in name only and maybe Hammer pushing ambitions too far.

piratesbr2And yet perspective helps: after watching the film and feeling rather nonplussed (I swear Christopher Lee looks so totally bored throughout I felt sorry for him) I watched this Indicator disc’s special features and finally some of the magic of the film was finally unlocked for me. The Pirates of Blood River was released in the summer of 1962, in time for the school holidays and edited (originally) to achieve a ‘U’ rating ensuring schoolboys the country over could go watch it. It proved to be an absolute smash hit with its target audience and would lead to further such adventure films from Hammer. The perspective that this is really a children’s adventure film finally allowed me to understand the film: I think I was expecting one thing and got something else (certainly its more Enid Blyton than Robert E Howard) – I suspect I suffered some misdirection from the title and Hammer’s reputation for horror. Some of the cuts to ensure a ‘U’-cert were later restored and this version is evidently much stronger than the version that thrilled children back in 1962, but it obviously remains fairy tame stuff (one of the special features compares the cuts/alternate versions, and its pretty interesting).

So I’m certain that when I get around to re-watching this film I’ll most likely enjoy it much more than I did this first time around. Perspective really is everything, sometimes, in just the same way as expectations are too: so many times I watch a film expecting little and really enjoy it, and sometimes expect too much and am disappointed. This is a very good example of finely curated special features aiding the viewer to appreciate a film, and is a very good advert for such releases. Its sad how special features and elaborate releases like this fifth Hammer box-set from Indicator are becoming so much rarer these days (certainly becoming increasingly reserved for catalogue titles, with even new ‘blockbuster’ titles relegated to EPK extras that do the films little justice). If I’d just stumbled upon this film on a television airing or streaming channel I wouldn’t have gotten much out of it all. Instead it turns out to be a welcome addition to my Blu-ray collection of Hammer films and one I’m sure I’ll enjoy more next time around.