Mill Creek offers up a “Non-Stop Thrills and Chills 2 Pack” with a pair of box office disappointments licensed from Disney’s back catalog, Deep Rising (a fan favorite) and The Puppet Masters (based on the novel by Robert A. Heinlein). Like most Mill Creek offerings, this a (mostly) no-frills double feature with serviceable audio and video.
Studio: Mill Creek (under license from Disney)
US BD Release Date: October 9, 2012
Original Release Year: 1998/1994
Rated: R (Deep Rising: for sci-fi violence and gore. The Puppet Masters: for violence, sci-fi gore, and brief language)
Running Time: Deep Rising: 106 minutes, The Puppet Masters: 109 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Deep Rising: 2.35:1, The Puppet Masters: 2.35:1
Audio: Deep Rising: English (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo), French (Dolby Digital 5.1); The Puppet Masters: English (DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo), Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo), French (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)
Subtitles (Both Features): English (SDH)
Deep Rising: 3.5 out of 5
John Finnegan (Treat Williams) is a boat captain for hire, whose catch phrase is “If the cash is there, we don’t care.” As Deep Rising opens, Finnegan is piloting a group of mercenaries through uncharted waters, and when his mechanic, Joey Pantucci (Kevin J. O’Connor), stumbles across torpedoes in the cargo bay, he begins to wonder if he’s gotten himself into some serious trouble. As it turns out, he has. Apparently, the mercs are planning to rendezvous with an ocean liner on its maiden cruise, with plans on sinking her and looting it for treasure. But a giant squid-like creature has beaten them to it, disabling the boat’s engines and devouring most of the passengers and crew. The only survivors are the ship’s captain (Derrick O’Connor), the ship’s owner Simon Canton (Anthony Heald), and a small-time thief, Trillian St. James (Famke Janssen). Now the goal is to get off the cruise ship, back to Finnegan’s boat, and escape in one piece before the tentacled sea creature picks everyone off.
Before Deep Rising, writer-director Stephen Sommers made two live-action family films for Disney, The Jungle Book and The Adventures of Huck Finn. His next film, Deep Rising, would be a departure, resulting in the types of movies Sommers is best-known for: fast-paced action with over-the-top visual effects and at least enough witty dialogue for the film’s trailer. In other words, guilty pleasures. Treat Williams, while not a usual choice as a male lead for film of this genre (Harrison Ford was offered but turned down the role), displays his knack for comedy as Finnegan, something he usually doesn’t get to do very often. Famke Janssen is not only stunning to look at, she also has some good repartee with Williams. Kevin J. O’Connor, Finnegan’s sidekick, is best in small doses, and is largely over-used here, and Sommers would reduce the roles offered to him in The Mummy, Van Helsing, and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. The rest of the cast are merely stereotypes to serve the plot, and they pull it off quite well. Although Deep Rising failed to deliver at the box office, the film has generated a large fan base thanks to DVD and cable.
The Puppet Masters: 2.5 out of 5
Robert Heinlein’s 1951 novel, The Puppet Masters, is a classic work of science fiction set in the 21st century that, like many alien invasion stories from that era, evokes a sense of Cold War paranoia. Nearly 40 years later, Hollywood Pictures would develop and release a movie loosely based on the novel, with a screenplay credited to Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio (Mask of Zorro, Aladdin, and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise) and David S. Goyer (Batman Returns, Dark City, and the Blade franchise). Most likely as a way to slash the film’s budget, the adaptation is set in modern-day America after a spaceship lands in the mid-west (as they always do). A team of government agents led by Andrew Nivens (Donald Sutherland) arrive to investigate, and find that the town’s population is being taken over by parasitic creatures that attach themselves to the back of their host, inserting a probe into their brain stem. Nivens is aided by his son, Sam (Eric Thal), also an gent for the Office of Scientific Intelligence (an off-shoot of the CIA), and Mary Sefton (Julie Warner), an exobiologist for NASA.
Much like this year’s John Carter, part of the problem with The Puppet Masters is that it feels very derivative, when in fact much of the material in the original novel inspired many of the films we’ve become familiar with, such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers and episodes of The Outer Limits, Star Trek, and Star Trek: Next Generation. That’s not to say that the movie itself doesn’t have problems. Both Donald Sutherland and Eric Thal’s performances are too low-key to be interesting, and the supposed relationship between Thal’s and Warner’s characters lacks any kind of chemistry. The movie is largely forgettable, with action sequences that are serviceable but on the whole rather bland. However, fans of TNT’s Falling Skies may get a kick out of the similarity between the parasitic creatures and seeing Will Patton (who portrays Captain Weaver, leader of the 2nd Massachusetts) play a crazed scientist studying the parasites and trying to find a way to destroy them.
Mill Creek has included both films on a single BD50 Blu-ray disc.
Deep Rising: 3.5 out of 5
Currently out of print on DVD, the previous Buena Vista release of Deep Rising was an early non-anamorphic porting of the same transfer used for laserdisc. Happily, the 1080p transfer provided to Mill Creek retains the film’s intended theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and was compressed using the AVC codec at an average bit rate of around 19 Mbps, occasionally maxing out at just over 23 Mbps. Colors are accurate, consistent and not overly saturated. Blacks are deep with minimal crushing. Detail is quite good, while retaining much of the film’s original grain structure. While virtually anything would be an improvement over the previous non-anamorphic DVD, fans should be very pleased with how the film appears on here Blu-ray.
The Puppet Masters: 3 out of 5
The transfer provided to Mill Creek does retain the film’s intended aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and was compressed using the AVC codec at an average bit rate of around 16 Mbps, rarely maxing out at just over 23 Mbps. This is an overly soft transfer, but not apparently from any form of digital manipulation, and could be from the source material and type of film stock used, as there seems to be a large amount of inherent film grain. A field of grass in the opening shot looks like a solid patch of smooth green. Close-ups favor much better, though, with visible textures in fabrics as well as beads of sweat and stubble on faces. Colors are consistent and accurate, but somewhat muted. Contrast is average, with some crushing of blacks evident in some of the darker scenes.
Deep Rising: 4 out of 5
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is very good, with nice stereo separation and clear dialogue, deep bass, and excellent use of surrounds. Jerry Goldsmith’s electronic/orchestral hybrid score also benefits from the dynamic range and higher fidelity of the lossless codec. This is a genuinely fun mix.
The Puppet Masters: 3 out of 5
Released theatrically with a matrixed Dolby Stereo 2.0 Surround mix, The Puppet Masters arrives on Blu-ray with a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo track that is somewhat troublesome. Dialogue is often drowned out by both background noise and the music score by Colin Towns. Bass response is adequate, and surrounds are used minimally.
Deep Rising: 1 out of 5
Theatrical Trailer (480i, 1:58): Presented in a letterboxed, non-anamorphic aspect ratio of 1.85:1, the trailer is only accessible from the pop-up menu while the feature is playing.
The Puppet Masters: 0 out of 5
As with the previous Buena Vista DVD release, there are no special features on this portion of the disc.
Overall: 3.5 out of 5
Currently selling for well-under $10.00 at most retailers (including Amazon and Wal-Mart), the disc is a worthy upgrade, especially for fans of Deep Rising.