While Frank Marshall has been a remarkably successful producer since the early '70's, he has also had a few enjoyable efforts in the director's chair, with his 1993 drama "Alive" being the most noteworthy work. The true story of a 1972 place crash that stranded members of a Uruguayan rugby team in the midst of the Andes mountains (with Canada subbing in for the Andes), Marshall and a terrific cast manage to overcome a John Patrick Shanley screenplay full of fair-to-mediocre dialogue to create a moving and powerful picture.
The film opens and closes with a close-up of John Malkovich (uncredited), playing a survivor who recalls his account of what happened. While possibly not in the film's original plans, Malkovich is a strong enough actor to really set the tone for the movie and conclude it well. After the brief opening, the film sets into a terrifically played and terrifying crash sequence that still is tense and visually impressive nearly ten years later.
After the crash, the survivors gather what little food and shelter they have and huddle together to await a rescue that, after a short while, doesn't seem to be on the way. Lead by Antonio (Vincent Spano) and Nando (Ethan Hawke), the remaining survivors believe that the only way that they could be saved is to begin an unbelievable trek across the mountains. Unfortunately, the only way they figure that they can survive is...well, by eating the people who passed away. They also smoke a lot, which one wouldn't think would be too good if you want to try and be high up in the mountains.
As mentioned, Shanley's screenplay does not create characters that aare particularly well-realized, but performances from Hawke, Vincent Spano, Josh Hamilton, Illeana Douglas, Jack Noseworthy and others do provide very convincing performances. Technically, the film looks great, as well. British Columbia/Canadian locations stand in for the Andes, while Peter James provides cinematography that captures both the beauty and the cold isolation of the group's surroundings. Famed producer Marshall can also certainly round up a fine crew, including editors Michael Kahn (who has edited many of Spielberg's films) and William Goldenberg (who has edited many of Michael Mann's), as well as production design by Norman Reynolds ("Alien 3", "Mission: Impossible") and special effects by ILM.
While parts of it are not for those easily grossed-out, "Alive" still remains a well-done adventure that does a fine job trying to portray the horrors that these survivors faced on their way to freedom. Note: The DVD is titled the "30th Anniversary Edition", due to the fact that the anniversary of the event is this year.
VIDEO: "Alive" is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen by Touchstone Home Video. While rather problematic at times, this is still a very respectable and quite enjoyable transfer. Peter James' cinematography does a terrific job of capturing the often-spectacular scenery and this transfer usually does his work justice. Sharpness and detail remain very good, as fine details are often clearly visible. Detail in some of the darker scenes is a little lackluster, but remains realistic for the situation.
The faults with the presentation are not major, remaining minimal and scattered throughout. Edge enhancement appears in minor-to-mild amounts on a few occasions, only rarely becoming bothersome. A few print flaws appear, such as a speck and mark or two, but these flaws seemed more isolated towards the front quarter and end quarter of the movie. Some scattered artifacts appeared in the darker scenes, but these were rather minor.
Given the locations, this is certainly not a colorful film, but the rare colors that did appear seemed accurately rendered. Flesh tones remained natural, as well. While not an excellent transfer, this was still a very good one.
SOUND: "Alive" is presented by Buena Vista in Dolby Digital 5.1. Given the fact that the film came out fairly early in the history of 5.1, the sound design is relatively minimal and this remains a pretty front-heavy soundtrack. Surround use was noticed during the plane crash (and avalanche), but otherwise, the rear speakers only subtly brought in some minor sound effects and provided light reinforcement of the James Newton Howard score. Dialogue was crisp and clear, as were sound effects. While this soudntrack would very likely be considerably more aggressive had the film been made now instead of nearly 10 years ago, this is a fine soundtrack for its time.
MENUS: Fairly basic animated main menu, which also offers various definitions for things like: tragedy, instinct and hope.
EXTRAS: Aside from a very brief introduction to the film by director Frank Marshall (who I wish would have provided a commentary), there are two main documentaries (which also have Marshall intros): "Alive: 20 Years Later" and "Return to the Andes".
"20 Years Later" is the main supplement, a 1992 BBC documentary that lasts a little over 50 minutes and features interviews with a group of the real-life survivors, who recall the horrors (in detail) of their ordeal and discuss the continued friendship of those who survived. When not interviewing survivors (who also participated in being consultants on the film and discuss their feelings about a movie being made), the documentary provides quite a bit of behind-the-scenes footage, as well. "Return to the Andes" is a 12-minute featurette that follows Nando on one of his recent trips back to the mountains.
Final Thoughts: While not for everyone, "Alive" still presents a strong tale of courage with some very good performances. Buena Vista's DVD offers a couple of very good documentaries as supplements, along with generally good audio/video quality. Recommended.