JULY 25, 2012
I remember reuniting a big chunk of the usual movie-going group for The Faculty, as it came out during Christmas break of our first year at college and thus everyone was together for the first time since the end of summer. But with the fun of seeing everyone again, I didn’t remember much about the movie until a few months later, when Dimension inexplicably re-released it and (during another visit back home) my friend and I saw it again (after Analyze This, if memory serves). And then I declared that it wasn’t perfect, but it was a charming attempt at blending the rampant teen genre of the late 90s with an acknowledged Body Snatchers story.
Actually, it’s in that scene where the movie hits its low point; as Elijah Wood and Clea Duvall discuss the possibility that previous alien invasion movies and books were warnings about when it happened for real, Wood includes Roland Emmerich along with Spielberg and Lucas, because in 1998 we still looked fondly on ID4. Now the joke almost needs to be explained, because his films are more about generalized destruction (or Shakespeare’s authenticity!), so a younger audience might not remember that he made an alien invasion film that was (sadly enough) the biggest hit of 1996.
Otherwise, the script hadn’t dated as badly as I feared, especially compared to Kevin Williamson’s other post-Scream films. The soundtrack is more offensive than anything, with the likes of Creed and Shawn Mullins covering Alice Cooper and David Bowie, not to mention the awful supergroup Class Of 99 churning out a Pink Floyd cover that was grating THEN. Now it’s almost comical. But the dialogue isn’t too overly clever; only Jordana Brewster’s character seems to have walked in from Woodsboro.
It’s also a treasure trove of great character actors (including the tragic Daniel Von Bargen, having a blast as a social studies teacher who doesn’t even care what chapter they’re on) and “faces to watch” – this was the first time I had seen Brewster or Severance’s Laura Harris, and was only Josh Hartnett’s second film after H20. And you got Piper Laurie, Robert Patrick, and Famke Janssen hanging around, plus a pre-Daily Show Jon Stewart, sporting a hilarious goatee and scoring one of the film’s most awkward lines (about putting a pen in his eye – it makes no sense at all other than to foreshadow the fact that he gets a pen in his eye an hour later).
I also like that it takes its time developing each of the kids on their own (almost none of them seemed to have much of a relationship with the others; Shawn Hatosy dated Brewster’s character and she worked on the school paper with Elijah Wood, but I think that’s it) before putting them in pairs, finally having them all converge around the halfway point. I assume Dimension’s budget forced them to trim down some set-pieces (even Rodgriguez’ Spy Kids movies have more action I think, and the ending here is quite abrupt), but I think it actually works in its favor – it’s a charmingly low-key affair, and works best when it’s just the kids standing around or working on a plan. Even if it’s a direct lift from The Thing, the scene where they test each other to make sure everyone’s human is easily the film’s highlight, mixing humor (they have to get high to prove they’re not alien) and suspense, since Williamson’s script had done a good job of keeping just about everyone a viable suspect. Actually it had been so long since I watched the movie that I forgot who was an alien in the scene; I remembered who the ultimate villain was, but couldn’t recall who was merely infected here.
On that note, I still don’t get how the character that gets their head removed (and spider-ized like, again, The Thing) manages to survive at the end. I can buy the “once the queen is dead the infection dies and the host is OK” process, but this person LOST THEIR HEAD. Otherwise, it’s also kind of charming to see that the body count is rather low, with everyone happy/changed at the end. The angle about the alien race allowing people to let go of their peer-pressured needs to fit in and such is sadly underplayed, but there’s enough of it to appreciate the epilogue (though why Zeke would join the football team is a bit of a puzzle). In fact, I am still curious if the movie was re-edited or something; it’s not noticeably short (104 minutes, just a few less than Scream) but I’ve always found it odd that Rodriguez almost never mentions it when discussing his work.
Nor did he provide a commentary, which is another rarity. In fact the film has never had any special features whatsoever, and this new Blu-ray follows suit – not even a trailer is included (indeed, the trailer had a few clips that weren’t in the movie). However, the transfer is terrific – one of the best I’ve seen on a Blu from Echo Bridge, and obviously a huge improvement from the DVD, which wasn’t even anamorphic. There are a few selections for sound as well – DTS lossless is the way to go, but there’s a 5.1 Dolby Digital track and PCM audio as well. Sounded great on my (not particularly stellar) system, I even turned it down as it was kind of late and didn’t have to fiddle to hear dialogue scenes.
Available for like 6 bucks at most outlets, it’s definitely worth the upgrade if you’re a fan, and if you’ve never seen it or haven’t checked it out from theaters, I think it holds up well. Some of the CGI effects aren’t really helped by the high def transfer, of course, but otherwise I found it just as enjoyable as I did back then. I’ve been debating whether to try to find a print for a HMAD screening – now I know it’s a good idea.
What say you?