MARCH 25, 2010
One of the bigger genre losses in recent memory, without a doubt, was Dan O’Bannon, who lost a cancer battle. He wrote several landmark genre films (Alien, Return of the Living Dead, Total Recall) and was about the same age as John Carpenter, George Romero, and other folks who are still active in the business - he was far from retirement, in other words. And he died without ever seeing a proper release for his film The Resurrected, which was his 2nd and last directorial effort (after ROTLD). Not only was the film taken away from him during post production, but it bypassed theaters and went straight to video, where it still has not been given the benefit of a widescreen release (even the DVD is full frame).
So I was delighted to see that the Egyptian would be showing the film in his original workprint form (along with Dark Star, which I had also never seen, despite my Carpenter hard-on). But I wasn’t expecting such a rough assembly - a non foleyed, non-scored, VHS copy is what they were showing. See, I’ve been to a hundred test screenings since I moved out here, and they are referred to as workprints. In my experience, these "workprints" have occasional missing or unfinished effects, and some color timing issues, but they have complete soundtracks (with scores from other films being used most often), and look good to boot. Resurrected, on the other hand, was covered in grease markings and VHS tracking lines, missing pretty much every bit of audio that wasn’t a spoken line (even some of that is missing), entirely missing shots, etc.
Now, had I seen the film before (in its release version), I’m sure it would be bearable/interesting. But it was really hard to focus on the story with so many distractions, and I wish the Egyptian had been more specific with regards to its state, as I probably would have watched the release version first. Instead I watched it later - since I knew it was a different cut, I rented the disc from Netflix so that I could compare. And now that I’ve seen both, I hate to say it, but I think the producers were right to fire O’Bannon and edit the film themselves (O'Bannon's brief thoughts on the matter are presented below, in lieu of a trailer).
Apart from the cheesy Richard Band score (as if there was any other kind of Richard Band score?), everything they did was an improvement over the O’Bannon version. Scenes are tighter, painfully bad attempts at comic relief have been removed, as well as a pointless love scene between the two leads. On the other hand, a brief, creepy scene at a gas station early on has been added, as well as other small bits throughout the film that give the film a focus and a tighter pace that the O’Bannon version sorely lacked. I was bored through most of his version, but I found the release cut (not 12 hrs after watching it in its other form mind you) interesting and enjoyable. It’s still a slow film, but in a deliberate, atmospheric way, like a good early episode of The X-Files, as opposed to the just plain dull O’Bannon version.
Either version offers a lead role for John Terry, probably best known today for playing Jack’s dad on Lost. He’s got dark hair here, and he proves an amiable lead - I think he should have been a bigger star. He’s got the same sort of personable leading man quality that Harrison Ford has in his glory years (a comparison that’s even more apt once they start exploring some underground tunnels in the 3rd act), and good chemistry with all of his co-stars (including Jane Sibbett, best known for playing Ross’ ex-wife on Friends). I also enjoyed Chris Sarandon’s performance(s) as the villain, though he disappears for far too long during the middle of the film (a problem exacerbated in the O’Bannon version). He essentially plays two roles (one of whom we’re not supposed to know is him, but Movie 101 rules - if a character is only seen in quick glimpses, and has a beard and other face-covering accessories, than he is a twin/clone/whatever of another character. See: The Prestige), but their differences are supposed to be subtle, something Sarandon pulls off effortlessly.
However, both cuts suffer from a core structural issue that seems to be taking two acts of a story and making them into three. The name of the damn movie, as well as a biblical quote from Job at the beginning, tell you what the movie is about, but it takes about 80 minutes for the characters to realize it, and then it’s over not much later, before the shit really hits the fan. I’m all for a slow build, but it builds to something that should be the 2nd act climax, not the end of the film. Sarandon never really gets to resurrect any sort of force, just two (really cool, for the record) creatures that are dispatched fairly quickly. As this was based on a Lovecraft story, I’m not too surprised that it all comes down to more or less stopping the evil before it really does anything, since a lot of his stories play out that way, but it didn’t make it any less of a blue balls-ian endeavor. It even starts with Terry telling the story, but this doesn’t have any payoff the way something like Fallen did (or, in my favorite example, Memoirs Of An Invisible Man, where he’s telling the story in flashback only up to a certain point, and then it becomes the present for the final 30 minutes).
The film also has an overwhelming number of flashbacks in which the narrator says what is happening, and then we hear the sentiment repeated. Sibbett begins telling a story where she “wanted to tell [Sarandon] to find someplace else for whatever he was doing”, and then we see her say to him “Find someplace else for whatever you’re doing!”. It reminded me of when you watch a serialized show on DVD and you have to hear a line twice back to back where it used to be interrupted by 4-5 min of commercials (or, nowadays, 4-5 presses of the DVR’s skip button). And yes, this means that the film is occasionally a flashback of flashbacks, a narrative device I’m never comfortable with, though it doesn’t seem as ill-thought out as some other movies (Titanic) - Terry tells the story from his POV and flashback-in-flashbacks are stories told TO him by other characters. But again, there is no payoff for this structure, so I’m not sure why they bothered in the first place.
The original story sounds more interesting, as it was told from the Sarandon character’s point of view (there doesn’t seem to be a Terry character, based on what I got from the Wikipedia entry on the novel) and involved vampire-esque actions. And Lovecraft apparently didn’t think much of the story, so I have even more reason to believe I will enjoy it if I ever get around to it (again, not a big HPL fan). Either way, I think O’Bannon made a good movie, and it’s a shame he felt it was destroyed by the producers - I’m all for the director protecting his vision, but the fact remains that his version was sluggish and horror-starved. This one improves it in pretty much all areas; if you have the opportunity to watch his original version, I would take it - but only if you have already seen the released one.
What say you?
P.S. Dark Star was pretty fun. Carpenter’s score is only about 2 notes removed from Halloween’s at times, and the finale, with a guy debating a robot bomb, is pure genius. And O’Bannon is a delight as the hapless Pinback. I wish the two of them had worked together again.