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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Special Effects Collection (Blu-ray)
Special Effects Collection (Blu-ray)
Warner Bros. // Unrated // October 27, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $54.96 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted November 3, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
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The Movies:

Warner Brothers' four disc Special Effects Collection boxed set brings to Blu-ray for the first time four of the studio's effects heavy catalogue titles. Sci-fi and monster movie fans should be pleased!

The Son Of Kong (1933):

Basically picking up where King Kong left off, The Son Of Kong once again follows Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong), the former filmmaker extraordinaire ow living in a cheap Manhattan apartment basically trying to hide from the world after the events that took place at the end of the first movie. While plenty would be happy to drag him into court and see that he got his just deserts, he and Captain Englehorn (Frank Reicher) decide to sail to Asia.

When they land, Carl is struck by Hilda (Helen Mack), a woman who plays guitar and sings for a living out of a small tent setup near the port. She's far from a solo performer, rather, she uses a small army of monkeys to help out with the act! Before you know it, Hilda's tent has been torched and her father is dead and she and Carl are an item. When things go bad aboard the ship, she and Carl, wind up on the shore of Skull Island with Englehorn and Charlie (Victor Wong) along for the ride. What do they find there? A huge albino gorilla named Kiko who Carl is convinced is the offspring of King Kong…

Released the same year as the original King Kong and made fast and cheap to cash in on that film's success, The Son Of Kong is as entertaining as it is all over the place. The film bounces back and forth from adventure to suspense to drama to comedy and back again. It's odd seeing the dastardly Denham cast as the hero here. You could maybe make the case that he's out for redemption but he's not, he's staying away from those who want to come after him and once he's on Skull Island, he just can't help but want to do ‘something' with this fascinating, and unusually friendly, albino ape. It's in his blood!

The performances are pretty decent here. Armstrong plays Denham well enough, he's more likeable here than maybe he needs to be but it works. He and Frank Reicher are fun to watch together. Helen Mack is adorable here, very easy to like, but the real start of the show is Willis O'Brien's effects work, chiefly Kiko. Not only do we get Kiko himself, but there are some pretty fun set pieces involving giant bears and some pretty great dinosaurs. You know how it goes on Skull Island, there are creatures aplenty and the movie shows them off nicely. This one doesn't top the original, and at times you don't really get the impression that they were trying to, but it is a fun sequel.

Mighty Joe Young (1949):

This one starts out in Africa where a girl named Jill Young (Lore Lee Michel) lives on a ranch with her father, John (Regis Toomey). She becomes intrigued by a baby gorilla and makes a trade with a few natives so that she can basically keep it as her pet. Twelve years later, Jill (now played by Terry Moore) is all grown up, the gorilla named Joe still her pet. Enter Max O'Hara (Robert Armstrong, a fast talking New York City promotor. He and his right hand man, a cowboy named Gregg (Ben Johnson), are in Africa looking for animals to bring back to perform in a night club act that O'Hara is putting together. They run into Joe but can't catch him. They do, however, figure out that Jill owns him. They talk her into coming to America with Joe for a chance at the big time, and she agrees to do it.

When they get to American soil, O'Hara wastes no time in getting Joe setup at his club, even getting Jill in on the act when she wants. Things seem to be going well enough at first, but as Joe's star begins to rise the crowds become bigger and more obnoxious. Longing to return to his homeland, Joe eventually makes a break for it once he's plied with booze by a trio of ne'er-do-wells. He goes on a bit of a rampage and the powers that be figure they're going to have to put the mighty ape down, but Jill and her new associates come up with a plan of their own…

Mighty Joe Young is pretty great stuff. It takes the King Kong concept in some interesting directions. O'Hara is clearly Carl Denham reincarnated and the premise, at least initially, is more than a little familiar but this goes out on its own enough to work quite well. Terry Moore is quite likeable here, it's interesting to watch her act alongside ‘Joe' in a few scenes. Robert Armstrong and Ben Johnson both deliver pretty solid performances here as well.

As you'd probably guess though, the creatures once again upstage the human performers in the film. Willis O'Brien once again gets credit here but working alongside him on this film was a young Ray Harryhausen and the work he and the other members of the effects team put together for this picture is pretty impressive in that they're considerably more expressive, animated and ‘living' then a lot of what we see in other movies made around the same time. The film goes at a good pace, it benefits from a strong score and it's got some pretty unforgettable set pieces too. This one holds up remarkably well, definitely worth revisiting (or seeing for the first time if you've missed out).

The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953):

Based on a short story by Ray Bradbury, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms begins, as many monster movies do, when the government does some clandestine atomic testing out in the Arctic Tundra. Around the same time, a scientist named Tom Nesbitt (Paul Christian) witness the emergence of a dinosaur and subsequently the death of paleontologist Thurgood Elson (Cecil Kellaway) when that same dinosaur takes his life. Unfortunately for Tom, he's the only one who saw this happen and, not surprisingly, nobody believes his story.

But weird things keep happening on pretty regular basis, things that indicate that maybe, just maybe, Tom's not off is rocker. Some boats are attacked and a lighthouse gets trashed… there's evidence that something huge was responsible for this. Eventually a paleontologist named Lee Hunter (Paula Raymond) and Colonel Jack Evens (Kenneth Tobey) start to figure that there might be some truth to what Tom's been going on about, and when that very same monster that killed Tom's partner shows up in New York City, well, it's time for rampant destruction on an epic scale!

The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms is a classic monster mash if ever there was one. Once again highlighted by some fantastic special effects work from Ray Harryhausen, this movie goes at a good pace and features enough footage of the dinosaur doing his thing to please pretty much anyone even remotely interested in these types of films. The effects work is great, the creature moves really well and the scenes where it trashes New York City, culminating in a remarkable set piece at Coney Island, are still impressive. There's just a lot of very impressive creativity at work here, you can't help but admire what went into getting this movie made the way it was made. If the story is a little pedestrian and predictable so be it, everything else works really well.

The cast are fun here, however. Paul Christian works just fine as the guy who first figures out what's going on here. He develops a decent chemistry with Kenneth Tobey's army man and Paula Raymond's foxy dinosaur expert, the three of them wind up making a pretty good team. It's also amusing to see a young Lee Van Cleef pop up in this one alongside Donald Woods, both cast as soldiers.

Them! (1954):

When this one starts out, an Arizona cop named Ben Peterson (James Whitmore) and his partner are on patrol when they find the young ‘Ellinson girl' (Sandy Descher) clearly traumatized from something. The cops start digging around and find that the trailer she lived in with her parents has been destroyed, some strange, sticky goop covering what's left of it. The girl's parents are nowhere to be seen. Things spiral quickly from that point, a few more unexplained deaths in the area including that of Ben's partner start to cause the local populace to become understandably concerned.

After a cast is made of a giant footprint found in the area, the Feds send in Robert Graham (James Arness) and Harold Medford (Edmund Gwenn) who, along with Harold's daughter Pat (Joan Weldon) are experts in the study of ants. As it would turn out, atomic testing in the area has contaminated the caves the litter the desert underground with radiation, the kind of that turns regular ants into giant killer ants! The military did what they could to contain the threat but some of the ants have escaped and are now on the rampage.

Anytime you can get a bunch of giant irradiated killer ants into your movie, you should take advantage of it, because the scenes with the ants running amuck are definitely a highpoint of this one. By mixing in elements of Cold War era paranoia alongside the mutated bug action the film may stand as a product of its time but that's not a bad thing and it adds to the movie's quirky qualities. Some great location shooting helps with the atmosphere, the desert scenes in particular are the perfect place for the action to play out overtop of, while the cast go ‘all in' and deliver some pretty inspired work.

The giant killer ants themselves are pretty great. It doesn't really matter what the humans throw at them, at least not to start with, they're going to do what they're going to do and what they're going to do is trash the place but it's fun to watch. Lots of very cool giant pincher action here and while the movie was originally intended to be shot in color, it works very well in black and white (and this might help in hiding some of the obvious effects work a bit too).

The Blu-ray:

Video:

Son Of Kong, Mighty Joe Young and The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms are all presented in their original 1.37.1 fullframe aspect ratio in glorious black and white, just as it should be. The images here are nice and clean and show very good contrast and detail. Black levels are solid and the transfers are free of compression artifacts. Each transfer has been cleaned up nicely, presented here in AVC encoded 1080p high definition, and the improvements over the previous DVD issues are extremely noticeable. The optical effects shots are understandably not as crisp as the other shots but that's always going to be the case due to the filmmaking technology of the era in which these pictures were made.

Them! is also presented in black and white (save for a splash of color on the opening title) but framed at 1.78.1 widescreen, also in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. There are scenes here that are not as crisp as some might want but this looks like it was shot that way, likely in an attempt by the filmmakers to hide some of the necessities in regards to the effects work (wires and such). The same thing applies to some of the darker scenes, it makes sense in the context of the story that it would be dark when you head into a big underground cave, the transfer reflects that. This was taken from a new 2k scan of an interpositive and looks to be presented here without any digital manipulation and detail is definitely much, much stronger than the old DVD release. Black levels are also quite strong here, and texture is, aside from those soft scenes, also pretty impressive. Some are complaining about the colors on the title being incorrect but it's hard to say if that is actually the case or if this has been corrected here and the DVD was incorrect. Either way, the improvements here are substantial and this transfer, like the others in the set, is quite impressive.

Audio:

Son Of Kong, Mighty Joe Young and Them! get DTS-HD Mono tracks in English and Dolby Digital Mono options in Spanish, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms gets a DTS-HD Mono track in English with Dolby Digital Mono options in Spanish and French. Optional subtitles are provided for each movie in English, French and Spanish while Beast and Them! also get Japanese subtitles.

Range is understandably limited by the age of the source material, particularly in regards to the first two movies, and so there is some occasional flatness here and there but all in all the audio here is just fine. Some occasional hiss is present in The Son Of Kong if you really listen for it but it's minor. Giant ape and monster roars sound good here, nice and strong, while the scores for each of the four films definitely benefit from the increased depth and range offered by the lossless format. Balance is fine on each track and the levels are properly set. Dialogue stays clean, clear and nicely poised in the mix and for the most part everything is clean, clear and quite solid across the board.

Extras:

Extras are spread across the four discs in this set as follows (and all of them are carried over from the previous DVD releases, there are no ‘new' extra features here):

The Son Of Kong:

The only supplement for this first feature is the original theatrical trailer.

Mighty Joe Young:

This one fares pretty well in terms of extras, starting with a commentary track from special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen who is joined by actress Terry Moore moderated by Ken Ralston. This is a fun listen, with Harryhausen understandably concentrating his input on the effects work, talking up the different ways that the monster was brought to life, the sets, the puppets and more. Moore talks about how she landed the role, her thoughts on her character and on the film itself, what it was like working with the film's director and a fair bit more. Ralston makes for an enthusiastic moderator and he keeps the two participants on topic and engaged.

Also included on the disc is a twenty-two minute long featurette that is a conversation between Harryhausen and the three Chiodo Brothers (the guys behind Killer Klowns From Outer Space, some of the Critters movies and more). Obviously Harryhausen's work had a huge impact on what the Chiodo's did and how they did it and here they pick his brain about his start in the industry, his thoughts on various effects techniques and some of his career highlights. In a separate eleven minute long interview Stephen and Charles Chiodo interview Harryhausen specifically about his work on Mighty Joe Young, the techniques he used in the picture and his relationship with the film's director. A theatrical trailer for the feature is also included.

The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms:

The main supplement on this disc is Harryhausen And Bradbury: An Unfathomable Friendship, which is a featurette that runs seventeen minutes and is a document of a 2003 meeting between Harryhausen and author Ray Bradbury in which they got together at a WB studio to talk about old times and reminisce about some of the work they did together. It's a nice stroll down memory lane from two titans of the genre who are no longer with us. Additionally, this disc includes The Rhedosaurus and The Rollercoaster: The Making Of The Beast Of 20,000 Fathoms. This is a six minute talk with Harryhausen in which he talks about his work on this film, how it became quite a milestone for him and a big deal in the early part of his career, and his thoughts on the finished product itself as well as the various co-collaborators he was involved with on the shoot.

Finishing off the extras on this disc is a minute long featurette called Armatures that quickly covers some of Harryhausen's work on the picture and the film's original theatrical trailer.

Them!:

Aside from a fun theatrical trailer we also get a three minute collection of outtakes entitled Ants! showing the giant ant puppets and their respective puppeteers hard at work.

All four discs include static menus and chapter selection.

Final Thoughts:

Well, a few more bonus features would have been nice as there's nothing new here in that regard but otherwise, Warner Brother's release of the Special Effects Collection offers up four classic monster movies on Blu-ray from the first time in very nice condition. What's not to love about that? The transfers are very strong, the audio quite solid and the movies themselves remain some really entertaining vintage monster mashes. Highly recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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