AUGUST 12, 2010
Much like “Phantom of the Opera”, I am starting to suspect that I just don’t care for the “Jekyll & Hyde” story, upon which I, Monster is based (though the names have changed and the credits simply say “Based on a story by Robert Louis Stevenson”. Well, which one? I hope it’s “Treasure Island”!). I’ve never read it, but I’ve seen like five cinematic versions, and haven’t really cared for any of them – are they ALL botching the book this much or is it just not the best narrative to begin with?
Even with the name-changing and such, I would think that casting Christopher Lee in the title role, and having Peter Cushing as his foil, would be enough to guarantee at least an entertaining (if not necessarily GOOD) version, but this is shockingly one of the most dull I’ve seen. There’s some enjoyment in seeing Lee in the “Mr Hyde” (called Blake here) scenes - especially one of the earlier ones where he seems to be playing the character as mentally challenged, with a big goofy grin on his face as he wanders around his lab seemingly amazed by everything he sees – but otherwise it’s just a bore. Cushing gets incredibly little to do, and Lee seems to have been saving all of his energy for the Hyde scenes, as his “Jekyll” (Marlowe) is very bland and forgettable. There’s a decent scene where Cushing confronts Marlowe about a murder, asking if he knows where Blake is, but otherwise the suspense just isn’t there. However, if you like scenes of guys sitting around in lounges, murmuring and smoking, then you will probably really dig the flick – there’s about a half dozen of those.
There are a few good moments early on, revolving around Marlowe testing his drug on a cat and a few people, who all give in to their subdued inhibitions (the cat becomes a crazy beast, the woman a whore, etc). But Lee’s the main draw, so this stuff doesn’t last long, which is a shame – I’d like to see a movie about like 10 different folks having their own reactions to the drug and wreaking havoc, instead of the umpteenth “scientist turns evil due to his own drug” scenario. And it’s at this point that the movie becomes even duller, because it’s the stuff we’ve seen before, and we know exactly where it’s going. Plus, either for budgetary or laziness reasons, it’s just too damn talky – at one point a guy tells Cushing a long story about how he encountered Blake – why not SHOW this stuff? Not that it’s the most exciting story, but anything is more visually interesting than two old dudes walking and talking. Cushing also seems a bit slow to figure out what’s going on – Lee actually tells him that he has created a personality altering drug early on, and later he even encounters “Blake” himself, yet it takes a friggin handwriting sample for him to start considering that Blake and Marlowe are the same guy.
In fact, the most interesting thing about the movie is that they designed it for 3D, but abandoned the process during filming. So you have a lot of shots of people waving stuff toward the lens (including a knife, from a hoodlum that Lee bumps into on purpose – Lee’s reaction is pretty hilarious), and a lot of scenes shot behind barred fences and the like, all of which would have probably looked really cool in 3D. Though whoever thought it would be a good idea to film most of the climactic battle between Lee and Cushing through a window (including a pan from one window to another where you just look at the wall between them) is a fool. 3D or not, who the hell wants to see the big moment in the film obscured by a fucking wall for a chunk of the (quick) fight?
Oddly, the transfer is so bad, it actually LOOKS like you’re watching a 3D film without the glasses on. Before it begins, we are given the disclaimer that “in order to present the most complete version possible, the film is taken from a few different sources and thus the quality will vary”. Yeah, it varies from either terrible or borderline unwatchable. It often looks like the videotaped result of someone filming an image being projected on a wall, and the 3D-esque coloring (really strong blues and reds for no reason) don’t do it any favors either. I’m actually shocked it’s a letterboxed (non-anamorphic) copy – everything looks like ass, but damned if they will crop out the sides!
I was also amazed to discover a pair of extras. One is the trailer, which looks worse than the movie itself, something I didn’t think could be possible. Like almost all trailers of the era, it gives away most of the film’s best moments and is too long, but it also has a terrifically awkward voiceover line: “Recommended only if your veins can stand the cold torment of evil. Not storybook evil, but the evil you may face this very night.” I believe this is the first time I’ve heard trailer guy clarify his own blurb. I’d love to hear that more often. Like maybe in the new Saw film trailer, he can be like “Jigsaw’s final game... and by that I mean it’s the last Saw film in this particular series. I’m sure they will reboot it in a few years.” A still gallery is also included, and they are actual production stills, not frames taken from the film like you usually get on these budget discs. The FBI logo at the top of the disc is also strangely lurid, so I guess that counts as an extra.
One thing about the disc as a whole – if you’re watching on a DVD-rom you cannot "grab" the slider and skip to a particular moment in the film, and most regular players will not show you the time elapsed/remaining. Anyone out there know why this is? Drives me insane, and I see it on low-grade discs more often than I’d like. I mean, if the DVDs I make on my own crappy PC (short films and other little projects) can have this basic functionality when I have no idea what I’m doing, it seems to me that these DVD companies would have to go out of their way to take it away. I demand explanation!
What say you?