Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection, Vols. 1 & 2
Universal's rather awkwardly (not to mention ungrammatically) titled triple-DVD Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection (Volumes 1 and 2) is an uncommonly generous 10-movie package, originally released as two separate collections available exclusively through Best Buy, and then combined here for wide-relesse. The package features two classic titles that transcends the genre (The Incredible Shrinking Man, Dr. Cyclops), one supremely clever sci-fi thriller (The Monolith Monsters), and one first-rate sci-fi/horror chiller (Tarantula), a pair of adventure/horror titles (The Land Unknown, The Mole People), one good and one bad, respectively; two unusual Jekyll/Hyde-type stories (Monster On The Campus, The Leech Woman), and a monster-on-the-loose thriller (The Deadly Mantis) as its highlights. As they were all made at the same studio, and all but one (Dr. Cyclops) within a period of just four years, three of them by the same director (Jack Arnold), and one of the others by Arnold protege John Sherwood, there's a certain unity to some of the material, but never really a "sameness." Arnold was a creative and clever enough director so that no two of his movies look or feel exactly alike, and the work of Sherwood and director Virgil Vogel is different enough so that neither of the other two is repetitive. The new film-to-video transfers are superb -- Tarantula (1955), in particular, runs circles around the laserdisc edition from 15 years earlier, to the point where, in the medium shots, you can see the texture in the fabric of the suit that Mara Corday is wearing in her first scene; and for the first time one can actually make out the monster in the night scenes, even as the latter are still lit convincingly as night shots; the transfer is crisper and generally brighter than anything seen on the laserdisc edition, which was a major step forward from the earlier transfers for the television market. The aspect ratios vary from full-screen (1.33-to-1) to anamorphic widescreen (2.35-to-1), depending upon the movie, although all seem to work well within the framing accorded them. Strangely enough, the transfer isn't quite as good on The Incredible Shrinking Man as it is on the others, with a bit more grain in evidence. The second group of five movies are not as well made as a group, but they are, in many ways, more outrageously entertaining. Ernest Schoedsack's Dr. Cyclops (1940), the oldest picture here, is -- along with Jack Arnold's The Incredible Shrinking Man -- one of the two most technically adept productions here; both movies involve size-alterations of their characters, with Schoedsack's picture adding the further challenge of Technicolor. Cult Of the Cobra is a fine thriller with a colorful cast of B-leading men (several of whom became TV stars); The Land Unknown is the only one of these pictures shot anamorphically (2.35-to-1), and while it's not too special as a thriller -- apart from the presence of Henry Brandon in one of his more offbeat roles -- it does look great (and better than it ever did full-screen); The Deadly Mantis was the one of these pictures that kids seemed to resonate to best, a traditional monster-on-the-loose thriller with above average acting credentials (starring a pre-Peter Gunn Craig Stevens); and The Leech Woman is just creepy, with Colleen Gray piling up a significant body count as a woman bent on preserving her youth at all costs. The Deadly Mantis and Dr. Cyclops are presented full-screen (1.33-to-1), while Cult Of The Cobra and The Leech Woman are shown in 1.85-to-1. The movies have all been given a reasonably generous allocation of chapter breaks, and there are trailers, but that is as far as the bonus materials go. And that brings us to the only frustration here -- the missed opportunities where Tarantula, for one, and The Incredible Shrinking Man, especially, are concerned. Tarantula was based on a half-hour television production entitled No Food For Thought, directed (and, if memory serves, co-authored) by Jack Arnold, and it would have been nice to have tried to secure the latter as a bonus feature here. And The Incredible Shrinking Man is a good enough movie (and based on a good enough book) -- and had an involved enough production history -- so that one could reasonably have expected something in the way of a "special edition" release on it; apart from the many incarnations of the book and art associated with the story, there's even a performance clip of Ray Anthony leading his band in a live performance of the title-theme from a 1957 television variety show, which could have been included here.