Return of Captain Invincible
Elite // PG // $19.95 // November 20, 2001
Review by Adam Tyner | posted January 7, 2002
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Someone of influence at Elite Entertainment is clearly a fan of Australian director Philippe Mora. Of the five of his films currently available on DVD, three are from Elite, including this latest release, 1983's Return of Captain Invincible. Despite a total lack of familiarity with the movie, I enjoyed Mora's rather underrated Howling III: The Marsupials enough to give it a shot, sight-unseen. Return of Captain Invincible doesn't fit snugly into any of the usual category headings, blending '40s serial-style superheroics with slapstick and a musical in the Rocky Horror Picture Show vein. Perhaps this was calculated attempt at duplicating Rocky Horror's underground success, but as was the case with the RHPS followup Shock Treatment, both critics and audiences shied away from Return of Captain Invincible. In the nearly twenty years since its initial release, Return has attracted a small but fiercely loyal fanbase, who should probably skip down a couple of paragraphs while I rant about how much I disliked this outlandish film.

Captain Invincible (Adam Arkin) possesses an impressive array of superhuman abilities, ranging from flight to superstrength to mastery of magnetism to his amazing computer brain. Revered in the 1940s as he put the kibosh on Nazism and won the hearts of millions, the good Captain found his deeds quickly forgotten as a Congressional committee baselessly accused him of being un-American and sympathizing with the Communist forces. Captain Invincible disappeared from sight for decades, guzzling alcohol on the streets of Sydney, Australia. He's called upon once more when the United States government's Hypno-Ray is swiped, threatening dictatorial rule over the country and perhaps the world at large. With the help of an Australian officer (Kate Fitzpatrick), Captain Invincible strives to restore his atrophied abilities and take down Mr. Midnight (Christopher Lee), the malevolent mastermind behind both the Hypno-heist and the Captain's fall from grace years ago.

Genre-hopping movies like Return of Captain Invincible, with precious few exceptions, are either adored or despised, with little gray area in between. Despite my exceedingly high hopes, I have to say that I fall squarely in the latter category. Richard O'Brien churns out the most lifeless songs of his career, lacking the wit and whale-sized hooks of his work in Rocky Horror. The musical numbers are invariably an annoyance, grinding the movie to a screeching halt for minutes at a time. What's presumably intended to pass for humor generally comes in the forms of sight gags and weak puns. Though the idea of killer vacuum cleaners and deli owners sporting gefilte fish machine guns might seem funny, the execution is scattershot and rarely successful. Then again, maybe this shouldn't have been entirely unexpected, considering that one of the scribes of Return of Captain Invincible was Steven de Souza, a writer/director whose oeuvre includes Street Fighter, Judge Dredd, and Hudson Hawk. The acting is pleasantly hammy across the board, which is not quite a surprise considering that Alan Arkin receives top billing. Christopher Lee is always a joy, and though he plays the same by-the-numbers dastardly villain he's portrayed a couple hundred times by now, putting Lee in the setting of what's ostensibly a comedy is an interesting move. It's not quite a shock that he hasn't been offered many singing roles since, though. I have a tendency to gravitate towards very strange films, and I even count Leprechaun In Space as one of my all-time favorite movies. Everything I'd read about Return of Captain Invincible seemed as if it would appeal to me, but I didn't enjoy this oddball flick the slightest bit.

Video: Return of Captain Invincible's theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 has been reproduced in anamorphic widescreen on this DVD release. The limitations of its age and the film's budget are evident, but the overall quality of the video is typical of Elite's output, which is, of course, a compliment. Light grain creeps into a number of exterior shots, but print damage and assorted speckling are practically non-existent. Black levels are pretty solid, and though colors rarely leap off the screen, the palette is much along the same lines as other low-budgt efforts from the same general time period. It seems as if the cyan was cranked up excessively in the initial shots in Australia after the nearly endless newsreel footage, but aside from a couple of mildly soft portions, there's not much to complain about. After reading comments on the soft and muddy Laserdisc, this DVD would appear to offer a marked improvement, though I have no point of comparison. Return of Captain Invincible isn't destined to replace Fast and the Furious or whatever your demo disc of choice may happen to be, but this strong presentation looks about as great as this movie likely ever will. It's probably worth noting that this new transfer was supervised by Phillipe Mora and should be representative of whatever it was he had in mind.

Audio: The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio sounds like the great majority of mono-to-six-channel remixes, with a soundscape that's not particularly expansive. The level of bass of inconsistent, and though the low-frequency hum of the Captain's magnetic powers posed quite a threat to my foundation, the subwoofer was listless during explosions that should've packed a far greater punch. Occasionally during dialogue, small portions of syllables will crackle from the rears, and I rather doubt this was intentional. The various musical numbers sound decent enough, though the resources available didn't allow for the sort of pricey tweaking presented on the Rocky Horror DVD. As is often the case with these sorts of remixes, there isn't much in the way of split surrounds, though the discrete placement of some sound effects makes effective use of the rear channels. Purists might object to the original soundtrack not being included, but I'd guess most others would agree with me that this disc doesn't sound any better or worse than 'okay'.

Supplements: The only extra is the theatrical trailer. I very much enjoyed Mora's commentary track for Howling III: The Marsupials, and although one was noticeably absent in the announcements for Return of Captain Invincible that were made some time ago, I still had some glimmer of hope that a commentary would be included here as well. It's a shame that considering Mora's involvement at the transfer stage that a discussion of some form wasn't recorded.

Conclusion: Perhaps to make this peculiar movie more palatable as a purchase, Elite has dropped their usual list price a few bucks, and Return of Captain Invincible can be found with little effort for as low as $15 shipped from a number of online retailers. Even that low price might be difficult to swallow, and it's doubtful that most of those who'd enjoy the novelty value of this movie would find that feeling carrying over to multiple viewings. Rocky Horror completists and Christopher Lee buffs may find this disc too tempting, but for anyone else who can't resist, a rental would probably be the most sensible option.


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