No surprise: The video event of the week is the new two-disc Criterion Collection DVD of The Thief of Bagdad, Alexander Korda's gorgeous 1939 Technicolor Arabian Nights fantasy. Technically, the set is an incremental improvement over the last video version (on MGM in 2002), with sharper picture and brighter color; it also features two new commentary tracks, the first a fanboy chat between TTOB enthusiasts Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese, and the second a typically informative one by film scholar (and my old Video Review colleague) Bruce Eder. The second disc has a couple of de rigeur making-of documentaries; both are interesting enough, although my guess is you'll probably only watch them once.
In any case, the movie itself is the thing here; the special effects and art direction (it's hard to miss the uncredited influence of the great William Cameron Menzies) remain spectacular, the score by Miklós Rózsa is beyond fabulous, and if there's ever been a suaver villain than Conrad Veidt I have yet to see him. Menzies, incidentally, was also the visual genius behind the original 1924 silent version (with Douglas Fairbanks) and one of the biggest talents ever to work in American film; I can't think of a picture he was involved in -- even low budget mishegass like The Maze -- that isn't memorable on some level (this is hardly news, I know, but it behooves repeating nonetheless).
That said, the weekend is upon us and as usual things will be mostly quiet around here until Monday. So while we wait, here's an obviously relevant little project to tide us all over --
Best Pre-2001: A Space Odyssey Special Effects Fantasy or Sci-Fi Flick!!!
Pre-2001, of course, because the modern Special Effects era more or less begins with Kubrick's classic.
Okay, here's my totally top of my head Top Six:
6. Noah's Ark (Michael Curtiz -- 1929) Still the most spectacular flood ever filmed, and the scariest. As well it should be -- three extras actually drowned in it.
5. The Fighting Devil Dogs (William Witney and John English -- 1938) The fabulous Flying Wing, death rays, and a costumed villain -- The Lightning -- who looks suspiciously like Darth Vader.
4. Dr. Cyclops (Ernest B. Schoedsack -- 1940) Courtesy of King Kong's co-creator, extremely mad doctor Albert Dekker shrinks some pesky scientists down to twelve inches. In gloriously unreal 40s Technicolor, which is why it's here instead of the equally worthy Incredible Shrinking Man.
3. First Men in the Moon (Nathan Juran -- 1964) On balance, F/X wizard Ray Harryhausen's best. Certainly, it's his eeriest, and the giant caterpillar is still a wonder. (Don't blink, or you'll miss Peter Finch in a cameo).
2. Forbidden Planet (Fred McCleod Wilcox -- 1956) Monsters from the Id!!!! Not to mention some Disney animators loaned out to create them.
And the number one pre-2001 special effects flick is --
1. The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming -- 1939) Forget the great music and the fabulous performances (if you can) -- it's the flying monkeys, the witch skywriting "Surrender, Dorothy!" and the Wizard's disembodied head that really make you go "Cool!"