Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Lifeforce - Scream Factory Blu-ray/DVD Combo Review

With an insatiable hunger, they are coming...

Director: Tobe Hooper
Writer: Dan O'Bannon, Don Jakoby
Stars: Steve Railsback, Mathilda May, Peter Firth, Frank Finlay, Michael Gothard
Year: 1985
Running Time: Theatrical 106 Minutes, Director's Cut 116 Minutes
Studio: Scream Factory
Region: A
Buy it on: Amazon

Tobe Hooper's space vampire epic Lifeforce hits Blu-ray courtesy of Scream Factory in a Collector's Edition Combo Pack. This review only covers the longer director approved cut of the film. The Blu-ray disc does include the shorter cut of the film though.

After allegedly* directing Poltergeist Tobe Hooper signed a 3-picture deal with Cannon which resulted in the films Lifeforce, Invaders From Mars and my personal favorite Hooper film Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Hooper was given a budget of $25 Million for Lifeforce which was a massive fortune for Cannon to spend on a movie. Teamed with Alien writer Dan O'Bannon (whose film Return of the Living Dead would also release in 1985) and Don Jakoby Hooper got to work on what Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus hoped would be a sci-fi spectacular that would rake in some Star Wars money. Unfortunately Lifeforce opened against and got it's ass completely kicked by Ron Howard's Cocoon and Lifeforce ended up being a bit of a flop, earning back less than half of it's budget.

I only got around to seeing it for the first time last year, but I got kick out of Lifeforce despite a few glaring flaws. We have a heck of an opening and a wonderfully exciting third act, but a middle section that really sucks the life out of the whole film.  After they've established Mathlida's awesome powers and hint that Railsback and Mathilda might be connected she escapes the military facility and begins to jump around from body to body, eventually ending up in the body of a pre-Picard Patrick Stewart. I haven't been this pissed at a  character changing bodies since the centerfold chick turned back into Charlie in Critters 2.

I'm not sure how it's handled in the book, but I personally really don't enjoy the whole body switching subplot of the film. It didn't seem necessary and just needlessly complicates an already fairly complex film. Things gets extra stupid once we make it to the Patrick Stewart scene. Railsback is a perfectly fine actor, and he's good for the most part in Lifeforce but he goes way over the top in this scene and gets all "Game over, man! Game over." on us. When he's screaming at Stewart and Stewart is speaking with Mathilda's voice dubbed over his, I've gotta be honest here, I was laughing pretty hard. So yeah, that scene doesn't work for me at all, but as soon as that scene is over Lifeforce suddenly decides to get awesome on us. When Railsback and Peter Firth are racing through the streets of a London that's been decimated by space vampires the film really hits it's stride and becomes quite thrilling and intense as it races towards a satisfactory conclusion.

Originally they planned to do more with the crew on the space shuttle Churchill, but a producer shot that idea down and wanted to see them back on Earth sooner. I personally would've liked to have seen more of the Churchill and the alien craft as the design work on the two ships was amazing. If I had a chance to edit this movie back in 1984 I would've added 10 to 15 minutes of the Churhill and crew to the beginning, dropped the whole section of the film where Mathilda switches bodies and jumped into the rousing finale sooner. 

If you like stunning French women with perfect bodies, you are in for a treat as Mathilda May is 100% naked for about 10 minutes, not so much as a sock. Unfortunately, she eventually finds some clothes and turns into Patrick Stewart.


Mostly good, though I have to say the corpses who had been "vampirized" looked just way too much like puppets. The female corpse they find in the park is especially odd looking. Also, the subpar fake Patrick Stewart head is pretty ridiculous, but at least it's good for a laugh.

I didn't care for the mummy-like creatures, but I did dig the zombie vampires (zompires?) at the end causing all the panic in the streets of London. I was also very impressed with the Churchill shuttle and the alien craft. I thought both looked amazing, I'm truly upset more of the film didn't focus on the Churchill crew. Something they did that I found very smart was setting the film in the present, instead of the future. So all the computers and technology you see on the spacecraft are accurate according to what was actually being used at the time. A lot of sci-fi takes place way into the future and it's distracting when a movie takes place in the year 2589 and they're using technology from the early 1980's. In Lifeforce the plot takes place in 1984 or 1985, so the technology looks exactly like it should.

Things to watch for:
Vampire Mind Meld
Face Lightning
Patrick Stewart's Latex Head
Track Suit Zombie
Night of the Elderly Dead

The Disc

Tobe Hooper personally supervised the AVC encoded 1080p transfer and it's quite impressive. As I've mentioned before, I'm certainly no expert on video quality so I won't go too far into describing the flesh tones and black levels or any of that because I just don't have that great of an eye for this stuff but the screenshots below should give you a good idea what to expect.

Bonus Features:

  • The original theatrical version in HD (on the Blu-ray Disc only)
  • Audio Commentary with Director Tobe Hooper, moderated by Fillmmaker Tim Sullivan
  • Audio Commentary with Special Make-up Effects Designer Nick Maley
  • New Interviews with Director Tobe Hooper, Actor Steve Railsback, and Actress Mathilda May
  • Original “The Making of Lifeforce” Featurette
  • Still Gallery
  • Theatrical Trailers
  • TV Spot

  • We get not one but two audio commentaries, plus interviews with Hooper and the two leads Railsback and May. In Hooper's interview he discusses the decision to not use the "silly" book title The Space Vampires, and what it was like making films with Cannon. The Mathilda May interview is actually longer than Hooper's, nearly 16 minutes long. She comes off as an incredibly sweet woman with a warm personality as she candidly talks about what it was like auditioning for a film with no acting experience and no knowledge of the English language. My favorite extra is the vintage Making of Lifeforce featurette. It's a fairly fluffy piece, as you'd expect from a promo video from the mid-80's but I find it hard not to enjoy these kind of videos. This is great as it goes behind the scenes on some of the effects work like the chopper zombies and shows us how Dykstra and crew destroyed London.

    Final Thoughts
    Lifeforce is a very ambitious film that falls short of greatness, though it's still pretty epic and highly entertaining, as long as you don't mind a few heaping helpings of cheese. Scream Factory's Collector's Edition Blu-ray is packed with hours of extra features, and the Tobe Hooper approved color corrected transfer is a beauty. Fans of the film will be very pleased with this package Street date is 6/18, preorder it now from Scream and get a free 18x24 poster.

    *If this little comment pissed anyone off, I do believe Hooper actually directed Poltergeist, I'm only kidding.


    Britt Reid said...

    Is this new "director's cut" similar to the European version that was used on the MGM DVD?
    It featured more footage aboard the Churchill before entering the alien ship as well as an explanation of the "Nerva Drive".
    (The US theatrical version was only released on VHS.)

    One minor correction: it's Peter Firth as SAS Colonel Caine, not Colin Firth.

    phelpster said...

    Yeah I'm not too familiar with Life force, and I've only seen one version but I believe it is the European cut.

    Thanks for pointing out the Colin Firth error. I think I read the col in colonel and Firth and assumed it said Colin Firth


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