HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Special Effects Collection
HTS Overall Score:74
WARNING: THE SCORES ABOVE ARE A COMBINED SCORE FROM ALL 5 FILMS, THE INDIVIDUAL SCORES ARE CONTAINED BELOW IN THE INDIVIDUAL SECTIONS OF THE REVIEW
Warner is back once more with ANOTHER quad set of classic movies for us to enjoy today. This time, instead of a set of classic horror films, we have a set of 4 movies that were known for being special effects extravaganzas of their time. Sure they won’t exactly rival the CGI of a “Transformers” or “Lord of the Rings” movie, but back then, this was considered a monumental achievement. Each come from different genres, and different takes on similar genres, but all are a blast to watch and are well worth the upgrade to Blu-ray thanks to a nice quad set of 2K scans for this release.
The first out of the gate is 1954’s “Them!”. It’s shortly after the Second World War and the unfortunate bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Things have gone back to normal, at least for the time being. Two cops, including Sgt. Ben Peterson (James Whitmore) run across a 6 year old girl in the middle of the New Mexico desert, wandering around in total shock. Taking her back to her place they find the place ransacked and the body of her father murdered. Taking her back to the hospital, they call in a specialist, Dr. Harold Medford (Edmund Gwenn) and his daughter, Dr. Patricia Medford (Joan Weldon) to see if they can snap the girl out of it. Dr. Medford has his suspicions, but isn’t sure until the is able to snap the young girl out of her trance and she starts screaming about “Them!”.
Upon investigation of the New Mexico desert they find exactly what Dr. Medford had feared. Giant ants, mutated to over 8 feet long from the radiation of the nuclear bomb. Hunting down as many of the creatures as they can, they only end up destroying a majority of the monsters. It seems humanity was too late to stop them all, and a group of queens and their mates have flown off into God knows wear to hunker down and form nests. Being that they’re ants, they repopulate at an enormous rate, much like their smaller siblings, but these ants are able to wipe out all of humanity if they aren’t destroyed.
Using every resource that they have at their disposal, the U.S. military and intelligence officers, along with the Medford’s and Sgt. Peterson, all search and hunt for the creatures as quietly as possible. Much of their work is hush hush as they don’t want to start a panic among the general populace, but soon people start seeing things. Some are seen in Texas and others elsewhere. Tracking them down to their source is hard enough, but soon they start to find the nests and destroy the queens and their larvae. The last one, though, is going to be a doozy. The last queen has made its home under one of the largest cities in the U.S., Los Angeles, and if not handled correctly spells doom for the whole city. Whether that be by the ants themselves, or by the U.S. Military botching this very delicate situation.
“Them!” is one of the best creature horror films of its time. There were so many of these films out during that time period, and many of them forgettable. Or at least so laughably bad that MST3K got ahold of them and tore them to shreds over popcorn. “Them!” manages to carry a fantastic cast of actors and a very tightly cohesive story. It’s fairly simple, and one born out of the fear of the atomic age. Back then everything horror or sci-fi had to do with atomic radiation (as did many comic books that came out about this era as well) and the effects of using it. Logically it makes sense. It was a barely understood process by the general public, and the effects of radiation were horrible in the short term, and very few people even knew what the long term effects would be, so speculation ran wild.
The terror is pedestrian by today’s standard of blood and gore, but it’s an intense film that uses the terror of a previously thought benign creature to a frightful end. The puppetry used for the ants still is quite impressive, and the life size models used blend seamlessly with the real world environment. I had an absolute blast chewing this little film and have to say that it is a shining jewel among the trash that came out in the 1950’s in the sci-fi genre.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=57297[/img]Mighty Joe Young :4stars:
“Mighty Joe Young” came off of the “King Kong” craze, taking the general idea of a giant gorilla and tweaking it here and there to make it their own. It was a semi cult classic that actually spawned a 90s remake starring Bill Paxton and Charlize Theron by Disney (although debatably worse than the original). Looking back at the 1949 version you can see some of the cultural norms and changes that we might find quaint today, especially in regards to the indigenous people of Africa, but the story itself is very well done and I can see why it made it into this boxset. The stop motion animation of Joe is stunning for 1949, showing some technical wizardry that many others had tried but failed at in comparison.
The film starts out by showing us the start of Mighty Joe. Adopted by a young girl in Africa named Jill Young (Terry Moore), a little Gorilla baby is given new life. Fast forwarding another decade and we have an intrepid businessman heading off to Africa to rustle up some adventures for his next night club opening. Taking along Gregg (Ben Johnson), a Texas cowboy who wants to tag along, the fast talking slick Willy gets more than he bargained for. Bagging lions is easy enough, but when a 16 foot gorilla starts crashing the party things get dicey real fast. Ready to shoot the beast, Gregg is stopped by Jill, who informs him over ownership of Joe (or in her mind, her partnership with). Seeing an opportunity for money, this businessman ropes her and Joe into a contract to star in his newest African themed nightclub.
Back in the big apple, Joe and Jill and are making big bucks for the owner. Unfortunately it comes at a price. Joe is humiliated and treated as an object more and more as time goes on. The club goers are becoming ruder and ruder, throwing things until finally the beast has had enough. Locked in his cage under the club, 3 drunk clubbers feed the poor gorilla some booze, sending him on a drunken rampage of the club. The officers of the law don’t see Joe as the victim here, and order the gorilla put down. Not willing to give up, Jill, the Club owner and Gregg make a “free Willy” dash for freedom in an effort to liberate the giant gorilla before his sentence. This sets out a manhunt across state borders for the three humans and their cargo.
“Mighty Joe Young” was a technical marvel of its ear. The stop motion animation used and the blending of the live action pieces is absolutely amazing at the time. Even watching it today I have to tip my hat to the creators of the film, as it looks better than it ever should. The 2K remastering does a good job at cleaning up the source, but you can also see a bit of the blending that was a tad LESS obvious in the old DVD.
“Mighty Joe Young” isn’t as comical as the filmmakers were hoping for, especially in the opening bits with Joe tearing apart the cowboys attempts to take him down, but it’s a wonderful piece of escapism entertainment with some great deviations from the traditional King Kong storyline.
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms :3stars:
“The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” is considered the granddaddy of the Ray Harryhausen creature feature films. In fact it is widely considered to be the forefather of many a creature feature, and allowed Warner to greenlight next year’s “Them!” after the success. During the 1950’s humanity was obsessed with the consequences of atomic energy and creating fantastical stories off of the theory of radiation side effects. We’ve had everything from mutant zombies, to mutant bugs, to unleashing Godzilla for goodness sakes. Now we bring out the old classic “creature from the black lagoon” theory and modernize for the atomic age. Although, if you look closer, you see that Harryhausen and Ray Bradbury were really just making a big dinosaur film in the veneer of something more serious (although no one can really complain).
After an arctic testing of an atomic weapon goes off in the North Pole, the observers are witness to a millions of years old dinosaur breaking free from its icy slumber. No one will believe Professor Tom Nesbitt (the only survivor, played by Swiss actor Paul Hubschmid), as his story seems too fantastical to mesh with reality. After being laughed out by the military, as well as the scientific community, Tom is approached by a scientist by the name of Lee Hunter (Paula Raymond) who ends up believing his tall tale. Setting out to find proof of the beast’s existence, they finally find another living soul who has seen the dinosaur.
Taking this find back to Lee’s boss, Thurgood Elson (Cecil Kellaway), the world’s leading Paleontologist, they are able to capture of the curiosity of the scientist. Tracking all the known whispers and rumored sightings of the monster down the coastline, they finally pinpoint where his final destination is. Excited beyond belief, Professor Elson races to the estimated exit point for the beast and waits in an underwater vessel to see it. Meeting his demise a tad early, Elson’s departure leaves the rest of the team with a sense of foreboding. A sense that comes true when the monster comes up on land and starts to wreak havoc on the unsuspecting population.
Interestingly enough, “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” isn’t a big scare fest for nuclear devastation. Instead of twisting the story to prove that our testing of nuclear devices unleased our destruction. The ending statements by Dr. Elson make it clear that ANY natural or manmade disaster could have turned the creature loose, but it was through nuclear science that the humans could actually come up with a way to pierce the Dinosaur’s thick hide.
“The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” is one of the weaker Harryhausen films, and really is what I would call “Harryhausen light”. It’s a fun little jaunt, but you can tell that this was basically a film for Harryhausen to play around with his lifelong love of dinosaurs.
Son of Kong :2.5stars:
“Son of Kong” is one of those few sequels that takes into account all of the damage done in the first movie. After King Kong has been dispatched on the Empire State building, Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) is under indictment for bringing such a terror on the city. Everyone who had buildings damaged by the giant ape is suing him, and the Supreme Court is looking to indict him for being a public menace and causing so much damage. The poor guy is so stressed that he’s holing up in his apartment with his caretaker waiting for this to either blow over, or blow him over. His savior comes in the form of Captain Englehorn (Frank Reicher). Allowing him safe passage out of the country before the defecation hits the rotary oscillator, the two run as fast as they can.
Running leads them to a little dump in the Far East, one which nets them another trip back to Skull Island. Captain Helstrom (John Marston), the very man who told them about Skull Island in the first place, hints to them of buried treasure on the island. Eyes full of sparkling jewels and tales of riches, the three men set sail for Skull Island once more. Only thing is, Helstrom has a few ideas of his own. After accidentally murdering a poor girl’s father, the audience knows he’s up to no good, but Denham and Englehorn are unaware of the troubles coming their way. Hilda (Helen Mack), the daughter of the man Helstrom murdered, stows away on the ship, only to spill the beans on his dirty deeds. Unfortunately it’s too late, as Helstrom has rallied the crew against the two men, forming a mutiny.
Thrown overboard with nothing but a life raft, Englehorn, Denham and Hilda have to make their way to Skull Island in a dingy. There they find out that Kong wasn’t the only ape on the island. In his place is a young gorilla, assumed to be his son. Feeling sorry for the guy after what happened to King Kong, Denham refrains from shooting him and instead lets the ape hang around while they search for the treasure. As with most of these early films, the treasure is found, but at a substantial cost to them, and to Son of Kong.
“Son of Kong” is easily the weakest of the 4 movies, and really not thought of very highly by the general movie going public either. It takes a LOOOOOOOOONG time to get to the island (40 minutes out of 70 minute film), and when they do get there, the search for the treasure feels a bit rushed. The best parts of the movie actually are the first 40 minutes where we deal with Denham and his lawsuits, as well as the inclusion of Hilda into the story. That tale actually could have been fleshed out a good bit more and made into a much more entertaining film. Instead the forcing of Kong’s son feels like an exercise in Stop Motion animation more than anything.
Not Rated by the MPAA, Rated PG-13, Rated PG, Rated R
All of these 4 movies have received brand new 2K IP scans that really elevate them to the highest plane they’ve ever been. Grain is fairly intense, but not overly obnoxious or fake. Many of the scenes with giant Ants look a bit awkward due to the technology of the day, and sometimes a sky shot, such as when the helicopter flies over heard when they dispatch the first ant, or the softness occurs down in the L.A. sewer tunnels. Aside from those anomalies, the disc look immaculate, without any major speckling or print damage. The black and white image looks fantastic with different shades and textures of gray, and only some very mild crush to the trained eye. Fine detail is fantastic all around, and to put it mildly, I’ve never seen the movie looks THIS good.
Mighty Joe Young :3.5stars:
“Mighty Joe Young” has been given a 2K IP scan that really cleans up the old film quite nicely. With the stop motion animation the optical effects are superimposed over the rest of the film, sometimes showing some age related issues that just can’t be helped. The movie itself looks fantastic, with a nice layer of grain and wonderful fine detail. When they blend live action film with the stop motion animation, you can easily see the differences in quality from the older effects, and that can be noticeable at times. Black look deep and inky, and I have no complaints about the compression of the disc. Honestly I don’t think the film can look any better with the technology available to us.
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms :4stars:
“The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” also comes from a nice 2K scan, showcasing a very tight layer of grain and some wonderful looking detail. As with “Mighty Joe Young” the optical effects with the stop motion animation were superimposed on top of the film itself, and there are varying degrees of visual quality due to that. Black levels still remain story, when there isn’t a whole bunch of special effects on screen, the fine detail is actually amazing. I did notice a tad bit of black crush here and there, and sometimes a flicker of banding, but there wasn’t anything too obtrusive. Definitely the best the film has ever looked.
Son of Kong :4stars:
Being that this is one of the films from the old RKO library, Warner had to really work to get the image up to snuff. As you can tell, some of the source elements weren’t treated to hotly, and you can see some print damage as well as fading in certain scenes. Other times the film look spectacular, with a tight grain structure and some very impressive detailing. The stop motion animation was a bit weaker compared to say “Mighty Joe Young”, but the limited styling blends fairly seamlessly with the rest of the live action footage. Black levels are solid and I didn’t notice any major fluctuations in contrast. While the source material isn’t PERFECT, “Son of Kong” looks light years better than the decade old DVD.
As with most movies of this era, “Them!” comes with a Mono DTS-HD MA track. I have no complaints with it whatsoever, as a mono track it does all that it can possibly do with a single channel. Dialog is crips and clean, free of any background hiss or distortions to my ear and the effects work well with the limited sound design. The roaring of the flamethrowers and the throbbing “thub thub” of the helicopter blades all come through with appropriate power and seem well balanced.
Mighty Joe Young :4stars:
The DTS-HD MA Mono track sounds impressively well done, with some strong mixing of dialogue and the limited effects available back in those days. Dialog is always strong and clear, and they never sound out of phase with the rest of the effects. There’s some mild LFE usage baked into the track, but nothing too substantial. In reality this is a simple dialog driven film, with some mild surrounding effects for good measure. The track does a wonderful job with the simple design.
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms :4stars:
Not to be left out, “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” uses the self-same mono audio with good effect. Scored by the famed David Buttolph, it holds one of the most iconic creature feature scores of all times, and for good reason. The intensity and scope of the score is light years ahead of its competition and energizes the track quite nicely. Dialog is strong and mostly clear, but you can hear the vocals sometimes shift range and raise and lower in volume. However there is no sounds of audible distortion and the fidelity is quite good.
Son of Kong :3.5stars:
The DTS-HD MA Mono track is almost as good, but suffers a bit from old age. The audio fidelity is perfectly fine and dialog comes through strong and clean. The only real downside is that there is some minor distortion going on the in the background and the range is rather lacking. It was mixed flat and seems to have stayed pretty flat in the restoration.
• Theatrical Trailer
Mighty Joe Young
• Ray Harryhausen and "Mighty Joe Young"
• A Conversation with Ray Harryhausen and the Chiodo Brothers
• Commentary by Terry Moore and Special Effects Veterans Ray Harryhausen and Ken Ralston
• Theatrical Trailer
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms
• The Rhedosaurus and the Rollercoaster: The Making of "Beast
• Harryhausen & Bradbury: An Unfathomable Friendship
• Theatrical Trailer
Son of Kong
• Theatrical Trailer
This set of 4 classic films is another treat from Warner. Like they always do, Warner has released the set in a big digibook, as well as individual releases for those of you who like only a few in the set. Audio and video are a bit better than the last boxset, as well the amount of extras compared to the Hammer Horror set. “Son of Kong” is the only disappointing film in the collection, as the other three are bonafide classics. Definitely recommended
Starring: James Whitmore, Joan Weldon, Terry Moore, Ben Johnson, Robert Armstrong
Directed by: Gordon Douglas : Ernest B. Schoedsack : Eugene Lourie : Peter Sasdy
Written by: Ted Sherdeman, Russell S. Hughes : Ruth Rose : Lou Morheim, Fred Freiberger : Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 AVC / 1.37:1 AVC /1.37:1 AVC / 1.37:1 AVC
Audio: ENGLISH: DTS-HD MA Mono, French (Spain and Hispanic), Spanish, German DD Mono
Studio: Warner Brothers
Rated: Not Rated/Not Rated/Not Rated/Not Rated
Runtime: 92 minutes : 94 minutes : 79 minutes : 70 minutes
Blu-Ray Release Date: October 27th, 2015
Buy Warner "Special Effects" Collection Blu-ray on Amazon
Buy Them! Blu-ray on Amazon
Buy Mighty Joe Young Blu-ray on Amazon
Buy The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms Blu-ray on Amazon
Buy Son of Kong Blu-ray on Amazon
Recommendation: Great Buy
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