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TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection: Science Fiction
These TCM collections being released in waves by Warner Brothers are fantastic. Each release comprises a four-film collection selected from a particular genre. The transfers are sourced from the most recent DVD for each film, which are uniformly excellent. Included on each disc are the same extras found on the most recent release as well - the only way you lose out is if the title in question has a two-disc special edition; in those cases, the contents of the second disc are cut altogether. But generally speaking, for $20 or $25, you get four grade-A movies, with the best transfers available, and often with some decent extras including commentaries.
This set, TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection: Science Fiction, includes four great titles, all of them previous released in very good editions.
Disc One, Side One
Kubrick's masterpiece is one of those films about which I can't have anything too insightful or illuminating to say. I've seen it a good fifteen times over the years, and its mysteries remain intact. Let's just say that this is a film that explores how man evolves from a state of ignorance, to a high level of technical proficiency, which then devolves back to a state of ignorance. The progression from apes who discover tools to the famous jump-cut of a "falling" spaceship reinforces mankind's belief in itself as a species that discovers and advances, century by century. Kubrick, however, sees human beings as limited - and envisions a future where men control impossible technologies, and yet are still ill-equipped to contend with the universe's ultimate nature. Wall-to-wall with iconic images, this is a feast for the eyes, ears, and mind that is inspiring, disturbing, and fodder for endless conversation.
Disc One, Side Two
As different from 2001 as you can get and still be a science fiction picture, this schlocky, paranoid dystopic vision casts a testosterone-addled Chuck Heston as a New York City police detective who uncovers a conspiracy the nature of which most of us already know. Although Phil Hartman's rendition of Heston's famous closing lines temporarily eclipsed the fame of the film itself, Soylent Green remains a potent cautionary tale - and very entertaining. The vision of an overcrowded planet depleted of its natural resources presages the future world of Wall-E, among others. The messages of environmental responsibility, while obvious, are passionately crafted, particularly during Edward G. Robinson's memorable death scene, set to Beethoven's 6th Symphony. The film's design boasts the somewhat gaudy flair that director Richard Fleischer is known for. Solid late-career appearances by Robinson and Joseph Cotton lend a bit of weight that balances out the hammy turn by Heston. Despite a few slow areas, Soylent Green is good, pulpy fun.
Disc Two, Side One
This re-telling of Shakespeare's The Tempest in outer space is probably the science-fiction film of the 1950s, and in my opinion that's primarily because of its design. I'm not knocking other aspects of the production (I'll do that in a minute), but when we think of that '50s "space age" look, so much of it is epitomized by Forbidden Planet's sets, costumes, and art direction. The sculpted, minimalist look, with lots of rounded edges, is complemented by fine matte work that does much to enlarge the scale of this studio-bound production. The visual effects are very creative, and although our jaded CGI-soaked brains cannot help but see them for what they actually are, the models and Robby the Robot and the rear-projection are lovingly crafted - besides, the film's design is in large measure the inspiration for hipster living rooms everywhere. As a piece of storytelling, the movie is stilted, with some frankly laughable performances, but these are dwarfed by the scale of the film's visual ambition, which ensures that Forbidden Planet is never boring.
Disc Two, Side Two
George Pal's visual elaboration of H.G. Wells' classic novel boasts a look altogether different from the other films in this set, but it's as well-crafted as a science-fiction extravaganza from 1960 could be. Rod Taylor plays the lead - George Wells, no less - who builds a time machine and travels far into the future only to find that humanity has bifurcated very strangely - and allegorically. The visual effects won an Oscar, and the time-lapse effects are still very cool, although some of the model work is less than credible. Still, this is a swiftly-paced film that grapples with the moral and scientific quandaries posed by the concept of time travel - to say nothing of a rather alarming set of predictions about the fate of humanity! Memorable imagery and a convincing lead performance by Taylor make for a very entertaining picture.
Two discs are housed inside a single-width keepcase, with basic four-panel cover art, typical for the TCM Greatest Classic Movies series.
The Video and Audio
All four of these transfers are excellent, with Soylent Green being the weakest of the four. Its transfer is 2.35:1 anamorphic, but it's a little muddy, with some shattered-looking blacks; it should be pointed out, however, that much of the fuzzy look was an optical touch meant to make the whole atmosphere look smoggy, and as such it's especially noticeable in exterior shots. But it's an effect that isn't processed terribly well and looks ugly. Soylent Green's audio is the original mono track, and despite a lack of dynamic range, it gets the job done. For more information on the previous individual releases from which the audio and video for other three films in this set was grabbed, you can refer to these earlier reviews by my able colleagues at DVDTalk: 2001 by DVD Savant, Forbidden Planet by John Sinnott, and The Time Machine by Brian Boisvert.
2001: A Space Odyssey
As this is a direct port of Disc One of the recent two-disc special edition, we get the original theatrical trailer and a commentary track by leads Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood.
All the extras from the previous release are here: A commentary track features director Richard Fleischer and co-star Leigh Taylor-Young. Two vintage featurettes make for fun viewing: A Look at the World of Soylent Green (10:03) is a pretty cool EPK and MGM's Tribute to Edward G. Robinson's 101st Film (4.51) is a highlights reel from a special event hosted by MGM in honor of the aging legend. The theatrical trailer is included as well.
Again, this version of the movie is a port of the two-disc special edition's first disc. Please refer to John Sinnott's review (linked above) for details on the very interesting extras on offer here.
The Time Machine
In addition to the theatrical trailer, we have an odd but hybrid documentary/sequel from 1993 called Time Machine: The Journey Back (47:40). This program, hosted by star Rod Taylor, contains priceless anecdotes of the production, and ends with a scripted scene with Taylor and co-star Alan Young reprising their roles, that serves as a sort of epilogue to the original feature.
All four films belong in any science-fiction fan's collection. Presented here with excellent transfers and sound, and a decent selection of extras, the only drawbacks are the missing second discs for 2001 and Forbidden Planet. Completists will want those editions, but for everyone else, this well-priced set is highly recommended.