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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Project X (1968) (Blu-ray)
Project X (1968) (Blu-ray)
Olive Films // Unrated // June 19, 2012 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted September 16, 2012 | E-mail the Author
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"Prescient" isn't exactly the first word that springs to mind when I think of a William Castle production, but impossibly, that fits the bill with Project X. This sci-fi/spy romp is set in a far-flung future where borders the world over have been completely reshuffled. The body of Hagan Arnold (Christopher George) -- geneticist, historian, and occasional secret agent -- has
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been placed in cryo-sleep after being rescued from a devastating jet crash. Before his plane went down, Arnold was able to relay a fragment of a warning to the military brass in Washington: the Sino-Asian forces are about to unleash a terrible weapon that'll bring the West to its knees in fourteen short days. What that weapon is remains unknown. The scientists and military leaders could just wake Arnold up and ask him -- they're standing just a few feet away from the man, after all -- but that wouldn't do any good. To protect Western secrets in the event of torture, Arnold was injected with a failsafe that would wipe his memory if he were subjected to severe physical duress. The serum was triggered, and Arnold's mind is now a blank slate. With those secrets hopelessly lost, the free world is all but doomed.

...but wait: the serum only wiped clean Arnold's conscious mind. A group of scientists (led by character actor Henry Jones) theorize that perhaps the answers they so desperately need are lurking within his subconscious. To reach it, they craft a new reality for Hagan Arnold. He's assigned a new personality...that of a bank robber on the run. Enlisting the military's endless resources and scouring museums for set dressing, they meticulously recreate a sleepy, remote farm as a hideout for "Arnold" and his gang. As Arnold was an authority on 1960s history in his intellectual days, that decade forms the backdrop for this unique experiment. With untold hundreds of millions of lives hanging in the balance, the hope is that Arnold's mind will be stirred enough for the scientists' machines to ferret out the secrets he'd retrieved.

Project X is uncharacteristically serious for a William Castle film, beginning with its unmistakeable sociopolitical edge. It's deeply critical of the violence and pervasive sexuality of the 1960s. One intriguing choice is that rather than cast Sino-Asia as the stock villains of the piece, the breakthrough they're believed to have made is something the West has long been working on as well. The concern isn't that the discovery Sino-Asia is believed to have made is so nefarious and unforgiveable; it's that they got there first. More fascist than democratic, The West isn't at all painted in a heroic light. Its leaders are warmongers. They're Thought Police. Justice is an illusion. One understatedly haunting reveal is that 'our side' engages in selective breeding and population control as well. Reproduction is a granted privilege rather than a fundamental human right, one that's denied to those deemed genetically
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inferior and forcefully sterilized. That's astonishingly heavy from a filmmaker associated with gimmickry and ballyhoo. Project X slightly predates the real-world Chinese government's population control policies, and though the gender disparity in reality doesn't approach that promised in the film, it does leave those scenes feeling that much more impactful as a result.

Of course, I'm more impressed by how ahead of the curve Project X is when it comes to science fiction. Its scientists have a term for implanting a new reality into the blank slates under their care: they call it 'the matrix'. The film's premise revolves around carefully constructing an environment to most effectively strike at secrets buried in its subject's subconscious. If that sounds familiar, then congrats! You've seen Inception. Then again, not all of its sci-fi elements are so forward-looking; there's very briefly a 'monster of the id' that's practically lifted wholesale from Forbidden Planet, seemingly there solely to break up the faux-1960s scenes with something more overtly fantastic.

If I'm making Project X sound too stodgy and self-serious, don't fret: it's a hell of a lot of fun too. I mean, you have a brain bobbing around in an oversized jar with electrodes jabbed into it, a gaggle of scientists trying to pass themselves off as cops and robbers circa 1968, a harem of nubile government factory workers in clingy lingerie, laser rifles, double agents, holograms, and all the ridiculous outfits and missing-the-mark tech that were envisioned as futuristic a half-century ago. William Castle wasn't working with much of a budget, so what'd normally be the lavish money shots were instead animated by the brilliant Alex Toth. They look terrific, of course, but I can't say they pass for live-action. Some of the sets seem like they'd tumble over if someone sneezed in the wrong direction. Whatever, though. That's
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all part of the fun. I'm always up for a genre flick with Christopher George in the lead, and the always-wonderful Henry Jones steals every last scene he's in.

It seems almost criminal that Project X hadn't found its way onto a shiny five-inch disc until this year. Olive Films has done as marvelous job as ever in rescuing this overlooked sci-fi gem from Paramount's archives, and its release on Blu-ray comes enthusiastically Recommended.

Sure, sure, Project X was clearly shot on the cheap. Its photography and lighting aren't even a little bit cinematic, looking as if the production was hammered out in a week with an off-season TV unit and a truckful of leftover props. There's a definite ceiling as to how terrific a movie like Project X can realistically look, but this Blu-ray disc takes the film every bit as far as it can go.

I'm honestly kind of floored by how tremendous Project X looks in high-def. The image is impressively crisp and well-defined, ekeing out more detail from this low-budget production than I would ever have thought possible. The grain structure looks wonderful, not smeared away by any overzealous digital noise reduction. Its colors come through brilliantly, every bit as robust as I'm sure they looked on the big screen 44 years ago. The quality unavoidably degrades throughout Project X's many optical effects, and though there's a fair amount of speckling, it's hardly enough to intrude. This high definition presentation easily eclipses anything I could've hoped to see, and I'm really not left with any complaints or concerns whatsoever.

Project X's AVC encode fits comfortably onto a single-layer Blu-ray disc. The mattes have been opened up a few scanlines to reveal an aspect ratio of 1.78:1.

Project X's monaural, 16-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack hits the mark too. The jazzy score by Van Cleave isn't exactly what I'd expect to hear in a science fiction-tinged spy flick, but it works surprisingly well. The score doesn't exactly roar from every channel, no, but it's reasonably robust. Project X's dialogue is consistently clean and clear throughout as well. It's also appreciated that the audio isn't dragged down by
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any clicks, pops, dropouts, or intrusive hiss. Once again, there's not a whole lot to grouse about here. Another very strong effort from Paramount and Olive.

There are no other audio options: no dubs, no commentaries, and no subtitles.


The Final Word
I grabbed Project X purely because of its cover, expecting a gloriously goofy genre flick in the proudest William Castle tradition. Though that campy charm is certainly present and accounted for, Project X is surprisingly smart and forward-thinking as well. It's a unique and genuinely interesting movie, and I'm thrilled that Olive has rescued it from obscurity for such a striking release on Blu-ray. Recommended.
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