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Master of the World (Special Edition)
Directed by William Whitney, a director best known for his work on various westerns, serials and TV shows over the years, is the man behind this film based off of a script by Richard Matheson (which in turn adapts Jules Verne's two novels Clipper Of The Clouds and Master Of The World) made in 1961 for AIP.
The story, set in the early nineteenth century, begins when an arms manufacturer named Mr. Prudent (Henry Hull), his daughter Dorothy (Mary Webster), her fiancé Phillip Evans (David Frankham) and a government agent named John Strock (Charles Bronson) are taken aboard a massive flying blimp-like structure dubbed The Albatross created almost entirely out of compressed paper by a mad genius named Captain Robur (Vincent Prince). He, along with his crew, spend their days flying around the planet hoping to force all of the world's super powers to put down their arms. In short, he's declared war on war. While Robur's idea is certainly a noble one, his methods are questionable at best, particularly when he starts dropping bombs from his flying machine in order to force his point. While Strock tries to figure out a way to stop him before he goes too far, feelings arise between him and Dorothy, much to the dismay of Phillip.
Jules Verne adaptations were a hot cinematic commodity in the late fifties and early sixties so it makes sense that AIP would want to get in on that. Matheson's script is a solid one, mixing in some interesting political subtext (it's fairly common knowledge that Verne was not at all hawkish in his politics) while Whitney's direction shows some serious creativity in terms of how to bring Verne's rather epic vision to life with a limited budget. While the stock footage inserts and miniature effects work might be dated by modern standards, it's hard not to appreciate the design work that went into creating The Albatross. It's inside the ship that the vast majority of the film plays out and where the design work is the most effective as when we step outside the interior stock footage tends to reign supreme but there's still a lot to love about the look and fairly palpable cinematic texture of the movie. The film is also a very colorful one, using plenty of primary colors to give the film a candy coated and at times almost surreal vibe.
As far as the performances go, Price is great as Captain Robur, and even if his character is essentially Captain Nemo in a blimp instead of a sub Price really makes the most of the part and delivers a few rather passionate tirades with utter conviction. It's his dedication to this performance that helps us almost look past his gigantic fake bushy eyebrows and glue on beard. His back and forth with Bronson's Strock is often times the best part of the movie, and the tension between the two men is pretty believable. Henry Hull is a bit goofy in his part, his voice sounding more like a cartoon character at this point in his life, while the lovely Ms. Webster isn't given a whole lot more to do than look pretty, but she does that well. Look for a young and frequently shirtless Richard Harrison as one of Robur's minions and for character actor Vito Scotti as a French chef, the movie's only real source of intentional comic relief. Les Baxter's score for the film is a great one, though some will note the absence of the theme song, missing from the end credits of this version of the movie (which runs 102 minutes and which does feature the prologue intact). A sequel was planned and though AIP started basic pre-production on it, the movie never materialized.
Master Of The World is presented in AVC encoded 1080p 1.85:1 widescreen. The transfer takes up 32.4Gbs of space on the 50GB disc. The widescreen image shows quite a bit of damage during the opening credits and minor, sporadic print damage here and there for the rest of the film. Otherwise this looks decent even if it doesn't appear to have been given a brand new remaster. Colors are handled very nicely, this is a bright and colorful looking film and that comes through well in this transfer. Skin tones look good and while detail levels are not going to blow your mind, they are pretty good overall. Again, some more cleanup work and a new scan would have yielded better results but what's here looks good, even if it leaves room for improvement.
The English language 16-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track sounds good. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. No problems here, the audio sounds nice and clear, very clean. The track is properly balanced and free of any noticeable hiss, distortion or sibilance. Range is a bit limited due to the original elements but overall it sounds just fine.
Extras start off with a new commentary track from film historians Tom Weaver, David Schecter, Richard Heft and Vincent Price biographer Lucy Chase Williams. This track covers a lot of ground, including the Jules Verne story that the movie was based on, the Verne craze that swept Hollywood in the late fifties and early sixties, the different character actors that pop up in the movie, details on both Price and Bronson's careers and details on their involvement in the film, Price's own voice being used during the earthquake/eruption scene, Richard Matheson's screenplay and interactions with Charles Bronson, stories from the set and lots more. The bulk of the track is Weaver going solo but he brings the other participants in here and there to chime in on their various areas of expertise or to do some voice work on the track. It's quite informative and very listenable. Weaver's sense of humor is also appreciated.
Carried over from the Shout! Factory release is a commentary track from actor David Frankham moderated by Jonathan David Dixon that proves to be quite interesting. Frankham gives us some insight into how he was brought on board to act in the film after everyone else had been cast and shares stories about acting alongside both Price and Bronson. He also gives some insight into what he tried to bring to his character and his thoughts on the rest of the cast he worked alongside and the film's director. The commentary is nicely paced and quite interesting.
Also included is Richard Matheson: Storyteller (also carried over from the Shout! Factory release), a seventy-two minute featurette that covers the life and times of the film's screenwriter. This is a pretty great and very thorough selection of interviews conducted in the early 2000s where he talks not only about his thoughts on this film and how it turned out but also some of the other scripts that he worked on at this point in his career, including some of the Price/Corman/Poe films. Some of his work for television is also covered and throughout all of this, Matheson is quick to give his opinions on all of this, be those opinions positive or negative.
The disc also includes a trailer for the feature as well as bonus trailers for The Raven, The Comedy Of Terrors, The Last Man On Earth, The Tomb Of Ligeia, War-Gods Of The Deep, Scream And Scream Again, Theater Of Blood and The House Of Long Shadows. Menus and chapter selection are also offered and this release comes packaged with a slipcover.
Master Of The World may look dated to audiences today but it stands the test of time as a creative work of fantasy with some great performances and a smart script. Definitely worth revisiting, especially for Vincent Price fans. Kino's Blu-ray looks and sounds quite good and contains some nice extra features as well. 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.