Here’s a look at a few cult-favorite films starring superpowered beings and now available in the ultra-high definition format.
Mystery Men (Kino Lorber, rated PG-13, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, 121 minutes, $39.95) — Director Kinka Usher’s loosely based 1999 adaptation of Bob Burden’s quirky comic book series that co-starred a bumbling superhero team was a big-budgeted flop but forever remains a cult classic.
The superpowered spoof took viewers to Champion City to meet Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear), a hero out of supervillains to fight but always ready to take another lucrative endorsement deal.
To keep busy, his alter ego Lance Hunt convinces the parole board to release archenemy Casanova Frankenstein (Jeffrey Rush) who quickly kidnaps the superhero and threatens to kill him.
A group of inadequate heroes band together to rescue him including Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller), powered with boundless rage but no powers; Blue Raja (Hank Azaria), a utensil-flinging dork with a fake British accent; the Shoveler (William H. Macy), a father who wields a shovel; the Bowler (Janeane Garofalo), who fights crime with her father’s skull inside a bowling ball; Spleen (Paul Reubens), power by a gassy disposition; and Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell), only invisible when no one is watching.
Yeah, that’s an impressive ensemble cast, packed with comedians supplemented by more diverse casting choices including musician Tom Waits as a nonlethal weapons designer, Doug Jones (Hellboy’s Abe Sapien) as the hero Pencilhead, Louise Lasser (“Mary Hartman”) as Blue Raja’s mother and even director Michael Bay as a Frat Boy gang member.
It’s obvious after a fresh viewing that Mr. Usher’s skewering of the superhero genre was ahead of its time, and fans of the genre will really appreciate it.
For its release on 4K Ultra HD, artisans created a new 4K scan from the original camera negative with high dynamic range grading, and the excellent screen-bursting results are visually crisp and hue-saturated.
Moments worth an examination include the fiery destruction of a criminal asylum; a cracked desert landscape with a beat-up, baby blue station wagon driving across it; a neon-green tornado sucking the Spleen into the air; Frankenstein’s lair’s ornate fireplace mantle incorporating three statues of female torsos; and the Spleen and Invisible Kid standing in front a full moon.
Best extras: The 4K and included Blu-ray disc version of the film offer a vintage commentary track from 2000 with Mr. Usher that has him often remind us how everything was great during the production.
He points out actors’ performances and ad-libbing, costuming, make-up and visual effects design heightening the humor; and he regrets cutting lots of stuff in scenes due to lack of final run time.
The Blu-ray disc also contains a series of recent interviews, available for the first time in the American home entertainment market, featuring 23 minutes with the director, 12 minutes with costume designer Marilyn Vance, nine minutes with effects supervisor Todd Tucker and nine minutes with film music historian Daniel Schweiger.
Also included is a vintage episode from the series “Spotlight on Location” from 2000 covering the making of the “Mystery Men.”
The Return of Swamp Thing (Lightyear Entertainment, rated PG-13, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, 88 minutes, $49.95) — A sequel seven years in the making came out in 1989 to again showcase DC Comics’ famed plant-man in a live-action format.
However, the end result of director Jim Wynorski effort moved from the intriguing horror themes of Wes Craven’s original movie to loading up the camp and offered a B-movie dud, awkwardly acted and loaded with cheesy action.
Surprisingly, legend Louis Jourdan returned as the resurrected genetic scientist Dr. Anton Arcane, now in full Dr. Moreau mode, and creating creature-human hybrid mutations nearly on demand with the ultimate goal of achieving immortality.
His plot ultimately required the DNA of his deceased wife and enter Heather Locklear, as stepdaughter Abby, to help with that. On a warpath to stop Dr. Arcane is the Swamp Thing aka Alec Holland (Dick Durock) who takes a liking to the stepdaughter who also finds him quite the masculine foliage.
Due to a minuscule budget, the movie suffers especially with practical effects one would find in “The Toxic Avenger” film and some terrible rotoscoped lighting effects that look like they belong on Saturday morning shows.
The decision to have two annoying kids popping up that look like they appeared in an “Our Gang” comedy also does not help.
The best part of the movie is the opening credits, offering a montage of the Swamp Thing’s appearances in comic books with Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Born on the Bayou” playing in the background.
The 4K restoration, derived from the original, interpositive film stock adds high dynamic range enhancements and, despite the preponderous of dark-green muck in the swamps, delivers a sharp, optimal viewing experience.
The rubber prosthetic creatures look crisp, gooey and slimy, especially the leech man and cockroach man. The Swamp Thing’s costume, in particular, is worth inspecting for the detailed textures. His resurrection in a bathtub offers a full gamut of green shades including florescent hues.
Best extras: The 4K disc offers a new digital goodie, an interview with producer and comic book aficionado Michael Uslan.
After delivering a brief history of comic books and superhero movies, he remembers such production nuggets as the swamp was full of tannic acid that melted the make-up appliance glue; out-of-control “Dynasty” fans were mean to Ms. Locklear; Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee (dating Ms. Locklear at the time) shooting machine guns with blanks on set; the stringent budget issues; blowing up a school; and the importance of the Swamp Thing comic book series,
Pop in the Blu-ray disc for the same extras as the 2018 MVD release (actually it’s the MVD disc included) that first has a pair of commentary tracks, one from 2018 with Mr. Wynorski, composer Chuck Cirino and editor Leslie Rosenthal, and an even more vintage track from 2003 with Mr. Wynorski.
Next, additional interviews (that sometimes duplicate the commentary tracks) offer 17 minutes with the director (remarking Jourdan was a “pain in the butt”); five minutes with producer Arnie Holland (got Ms. Locklear an interview with Howard Stern); seven minutes with Mr. Cirino (had to musically match Jourdan playing random piano notes during a scene); and nine minutes with Miss Rosenthal (reminiscing about cutting up vintage comic books for the opening).
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