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There is quite a lot of talent behind this little horror-comedy. Fan-favorite director Steve Miner (Friday the 13th: Parts II and III) shoots from David E. Kelley's ("Ally McBeal") witty script, and stars Bill Pullman, Bridget Fonda, Oliver Platt, Brendan Gleeson and Betty White are more than game for the over-the-top material about a giant crocodile eating the residents of a lakeside community. The initial marketing overplayed the horror elements, which earned the film a mixed reaction, but Lake Placid is a lot of fun. Just don't expect to be scared.
Gleeson's Sheriff Hank Keough and a deputy take a jon boat out on Lake Placid in the opening scene. The deputy dives beneath the water, where something attacks and tears him in half. The Sheriff recovers a giant, reptilian tooth from the body, and contacts the American Museum of Natural History about its origins. Bridget Fonda plays Kelly Scott, the paleontologist assigned to travel to Lake Placid and investigate. Scott is not a field worker, but receives the assignment after an affair with her boss goes south. Other competing egos on the trail include Fish and Game officer Jack Wells (Pullman) and eccentric croc enthusiast Hector Cyr (Platt). There's also a pre-career-Renaissance Betty White, who plays a sassy Lake Placid widow with intimate knowledge of the predator.
This little movie does a lot of things differently. It introduces characters midsentence, providing background and motivation without really doing much of either. And Lake Placid never hides its villain. From the opening titles you know it's a big-ass crocodile that is eating people without giving a single f**k, because this is a bona fide B-movie, dammit! I like Miner's laser focus here. The movie wastes no time shooting skinny-dipping teenagers getting ripped apart or unsuspecting townsfolk uncovering mangled bodies, triggering a beast-hunt. Instead, viewers are dropped in mid-investigation. There is something in the lake, and this group of wary "professionals" is going to find out what it is. And Fonda's Scott is going to bitch, whine and moan - a lot.
The CGI effects are underwhelming at best, but there are a number of impressive practical effects, including the giant animatronic crocodile unveiled in the disc's bonus features. The kill scenes are more funny than scary, which is a good way to describe Lake Placid. Kelley's script knows exactly what it is: a schlocky send-up of overly serious B-movies. The stars do not break the third wall with wink-wink, nudge-nudge awareness, but instead tease the audience with totally committed performances for the silly material. The script is witty, too, with a bunch of good one-liners and zingers between Fonda and her male co-stars. The crocodile doesn't have much personality, but is an efficient, reliable antagonist. The minor characters do a bunch of stupid stuff and get killed, and no one really cares about the expendable law enforcement support staff, which is used for croc bait. I am not a big Betty White fan, but she is funny here. Old ladies cursing; never not funny. Lake Placid does not reinvent the wheel, but at a scant 82 minutes it can probably used as the catalyst for some sort of drinking game.
Shout Factory's 2.35:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is certainly a notable upgrade from the old, non-anamorphic DVD but is not without its problems. There are some dirt and debris over the opening titles, but that cleans up considerably for the rest of the film. Contrast is a bit hot at times; with tanned skin tones and reddish hues. There is some nice detail and texture on display, especially in outdoor scenes. The image is a bit soft at times (possibly a source issue), and the natural grain structure is occasionally interrupted by some noise reduction and sharpening. There are a number of nighttime and shadow-heavy scenes, and the Blu-ray does an excellent job with shadow detail and black levels. I noticed light banding in a few scenes.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is reasonably immersive. The ambient sounds of the lake waft through the surrounds, and action effects are treated to some nice subwoofer support. Dialogue is crisp, clean, and mixed appropriately with effects and score. An English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is also included, as are English subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
I have repeatedly gushed over Shout Factory's allegiance to horror and sci-fan fans. Not long ago I would have said we would never seen films like Lake Placid get extensive Blu-ray releases, but, thanks to the Shout Factory crew, Miner's film gets a Collector's Edition Blu-ray release. This single-disc release is packed in a standard Blu-ray case. The newly created artwork is reversible, and the interior art features the original poster design. A slipcover with the new artwork wraps the case. Extras:
- The Making of Lake Placid (31:20/HD) - This newly created retrospective piece provides interviews with Miner, Pullman and a number of crewmembers. I wish a few more of the other actors would have participated, but this is still a fun piece, with stories from the set and production insight.
- Vintage Featurette (5:38/SD) - This EPK piece shows the direction Fox's marketing team was going with the movie.
- Theatrical Trailer (1:58/SD) - This doesn't really capture the film's unique tone.
- TV Spots (1:34/SD) - I remember these playing back in 1999.
- Croc Test Footage (7:21/SD) - I enjoyed this reel of Stan Winston testing his giant creation.
- Behind the Scenes Gallery (5:32/HD) - A fun reel of pictures from the set.
Shout Factory gives Lake Placid a nice Collector's Edition Blu-ray, which should appeal to fans of Steve Miner's 1999 killer-crocodile horror/comedy. Those expecting to be scared may want to look elsewhere, but Lake Placid is surprisingly funny, thanks to committed performances from its key cast. Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.