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EVOLUTION
Movie: 2.0; Disc: 3.5 [Dreamworks Home Entertainment]

Director Ivan Reitman had a smash hit upon his hands when he made Ghostbusters back in 1984. The movie, a modern comic marvel, combined some of the funniest comedians of the era—Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Bill Murray, Rich Moranis—with some of the most amazing special effects offered in movies at the time. All the components worked... the sizzling sexuality of Sigourney Weaver, the dazzling visual effects, the comic camaraderie between the leads ... so the film's success prompted a sequel (although not nearly as effective).

It seems Reitman is returning to the well one time too often with Evolution, a title that suggests science text-book academics, missing links and prehistoric marvels. Unfortunately, the movie is more It Came From Outer Space, with a smile, as demon aliens arrive on Earth via meteorite and begin multiplying at an incredible rate until ultimately growing into a Buck Rogers-style gigantic blob (imagine Quatermass II with the doom creatures recreated with a budget) by movie's end. Without doubt, the incredible special effects featured in the movie, created by the Phil Tippett Studio, are the real stars of the movie, absolutely the only reason for viewing the movie.

The sequences in the shopping mall with the rapid fire creatures running wild, pursued by the scientific team, is dramatic and fun all at the same time. The film's climax, featuring the formerly mentioned blob who must be killed by receiving a cosmic suppository is childishly gross, but still funny for all the adolescents housed in adult bodies.

However, the chemistry between the major human characters of Ghostbusters made it the darling of critics and fans almost 20 years ago, but here the human chemistry falls flat. Star David Duchovny, who left The X-Files to do movies such as Evolution, is simply mediocre. He has that hound-dog sensitive face, says the lines professionally, but he fails to connect with female lead Julianne Moore, who appears to be slumming by doing this movie. So intelligent, sexy and charismatic in films such as Boogie Nights, Magnolia and Hannibal, here, she is simply silly and seems to be opting for a quick pay check. Comic Orlando Jones almost is enough to ignite the spark to bring this movie to life, but even he is overwhelmed by blandness surrounding him. Likewise, Seann William Scott has some good moments, especially at the movie's beginning when his car is literally destroyed by the meteor from beyond, and his passion to prove himself as a virgin firefighter is cleverly humorous. But when you compare the cast of Ghostbusters to Evolution, and compare the script and the interactions between the lead cast, that's when the film goes south.

Simply from the point of view of the special effects, both films impress with state of the art visuals, and perhaps, for non-thinking fans of the science fiction genre, special effects may be enough. But unfortunately, as a complete movie experience, Evolution is decidedly bland. However, Dreamworks must be commended for taking care in putting together the DVD edition of Evolution. The pristine 1:85: 1 anamorphic print, presented with both a Dolby Digital 5.1 and the superior DTS surround soundtrack, the film looks and sounds the best it could. Supplemental features include conversations with the major cast members and director Ivan Reitman, Storyboards, a Visual Effects featurette, and for me the highlight, several deleted sequences. Too bad the movie never lives up to the superb presentation that Dreamworks offers. However, for a drunken evening of fluff and yucks, Evolution might just be exactly what the doctor ordered.

MAD MAX
Movie: 2.5; Disc: 3.5 [MGM]

Mad Max, the audacious debut of future movie superstar Mel Gilson and director George Miller, is a movie best remembered as a blur in one's past rather than a movie to be revisited today. Without doubt The Road Warrior is the classic of the trilogy and best exemplifies Miller's visual style and Gibson's Mad Max character. Mad Max, a violent B movie with minimal plot and motivation, features loving photography of speeding autos and cycles running down the road, crushing, burning, exploding, flipping, flying and metal crunching on Australian streets of death. Mad Max is only a low-budget shadow of the infinitely superior second entry, this first entry being more an attitude and a visual exercise than a full-blown movie.

First of all the characters are macho stereotypes, comic book cut-outs, the police as maniacal, brainless and hormone-driven as the villains, who are even more psychopathic and cruel, but the cops wear the bronze badges and the villains become the modern equalavent of Marlon Brando's Black Rebel Motorcyle Club from The Wild One as filtered through numerous Italian Westerns.

From the movie's beginning, the villains, seen in souped up hot-rods of the near future, ride down the endless highways with their eyes ablazd and mouths open, screaming and whooping it up, for no apparent reason other than these are joyriders out for a deadly amusement park thrill ride. Their motives are simply that they are evil. The police's only duty, it seems, is keeping the highways safe for the innocent, but they are equally foolhardy.

The movie involves Max pursuing first psychopath, Nightrider, who speeds through an off-limits construction area and kills himself crashing into another parked vehicle, exploding upon impact. It seems Nightrider's best buddy Toecutter and his gang of crazoids vow revenge, and the rest of the movie concerns first the maiming of Max's best friend cop Jim Goose who is trapped in an overturned vehicle leaking gasoline as Toecutter forces his gang member to torch the car, burning Goose to a cinder. But this is small change compared to the terrorizing and road-kill slaughter of Max's infant child and wife, who are brutually mowed down on the open road. After Max's revenge is complete, the film abruptly ends. The video game is over.

Granted, the film's kinetic style does gain momentum during the film's final third, with Max's forced vacation (by his supervisor) into the country with his wife and child. The manner in which Max manages to quite accidentally cross paths with Toecutter's gang is the stuff of which B movies are made. But Miller's direction is crisp and suspenseful with wife Jessie's romp through the endless woods to reach the beach, pursued by Toecutter's men, and the sequence where Jessie runs out of the cabin to find her child and instead finds Toecutter's gang with one greasy member bouncing her baby on his lap. The intensity of the wife, clutching her child to her chest, running full throttle down the road, leading to the motorcycle gang's advance charge, resulting in their brutality of simply running her and her baby over in the middle of the road, is emotionally draining and gut-wretching.

But Mad Max is more of an emotional roller coaster ride than a true movie. The plot is attitude and setting—good vs. evil and who will rule these streets of death. The acting is more attitude and bluster, eye-rolling and snarls. Truly, Mad Max is a comic book come to life. Fortunately, the DVD release marks the debut of the original Australian voice track instead of the American dubbing that American International served up upon the film's release here in America, the studio thinking the heavy Australian accents would be too difficult to understand for American audiences. To be honest, the Australian original is easy to understand.

The DVD offers both a panned-and-scanned and letterboxed version, and the print featured is pristine and sharp. Numerous features include an audio commentary track (which unfortunately does not feature director George Miller), a photo gallery, Triailers and TV spots, a wonderful 5.1 Dolby Digital surround soundtrack and several documentaries. Even though the film did not hold up as well as expected, the presentation here is state-of-the-art, and with the original soundtrack restored, the movie here on DVD is superior than the version released to theaters here in the States back in 1979. And wow, does Mel Gibson look young!