"We don't need no thought control."
The Pink Floyd cover by the short lived compilation band Class of '99 sets the stage for one of the better sci-fi/horror mixes since the original 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers,' not that that's saying much, considering how few and far between good creature features are. The cliche is nearly ageless. What if my teacher is really an alien from outer space?
We've all had an "eccentric" educator or three, who we thought just couldn't be human due to bizarre appearances or peculiar mannerisms, and it's sometimes hard to accept that, no matter how truly different they are, they're really just like us. They've got the same organs, the same brain...or do they? That's the setup for Robert Rodriguez's 'The Faculty.'
The faculty at Herrington High School in Ohio are acting a bit strange. Dying, coming back to life, stalking, murdering, that sort of thing. A small group of students (including Jordana Brewster, Clea DuVall, Laura Harris, Usher, Josh Hartnett, Shawn Hatosy, and Elijah Wood) are on to the fact that there's something big going down at their school, but in just a day and a half, they've become extremely outnumbered and outgunned by the aliens around them. The faculty (featuring Famke Janssen, Robert Patrick, Bebe Neuwirth, Piper Laurie, Salma Hayek, Jon Stewart, and Harry Knowles of Ain't It Cool News fame) and the students they have "changed" are out to assimilate and spread, and no one is going to get in their way.
The late '90's and early '00's were a time loaded with fresh new faces who would become stars, a time overloaded with teen horror flicks that were more self aware than their predecessors, a time when cinematic technology began to grow by leaps and bounds, with films focusing more on effects and style rather than any form of substance or suspense. 'The Faculty' is one of the films that was a throwback to simpler times, in the midst of a very modern movie.
'The Faculty' acknowledges those who came before it, with many scenes directly relating the characters current plight to the happenings of the film and how events unfolded. The set up is the same, as is the slow change that is hardly recognizable due to how methodical it gets, building an army that is near unstoppable before it is even spotted. This film knows it isn't original, and appeals to fans of sci-fi past, but doesn't leave modern fans in the dust, creating a tale that is appreciable by numerous generations.
Repeat viewings of 'The Faculty' only enhance the experience, as there are numerous little clues casually sprinkled around in throw away lines that suddenly become relevant, if not prophetic, to those familiar with the film, creating an extremely high replay value. I can't say that I have found any replay value in any iteration of 'Body Snatchers,' so perhaps the re-imagining trumps it's ancestor.
Not all is perfect, though. As much as I enjoy this film, it is a tad predictable, leading the audience by the hand with a few sequences that linger a few moments too long, while some actors and actresses drop off the face of the Earth (Hayek, were you only commissioned for a day or two of work?). Characters in the end show dramatic changes in personality. Rodriguez doesn't show off his trademark flare, despite the amazingly talented (though unproven) cast in his hands. If the script were any less solid, this could have turned into a disaster.
I'll be the first to admit that when I go into a viewing for an Alliance release, I expect the worst, and even then, I'm often disappointed. Maybe that is part of why I was so pleasantly surprised with the treatment of 'The Faculty' on Blu-ray.
First and foremost, the packaging indicates the film is in 1080i, which is another one of those damned typos. While the faux menu screen that pops up before the film is in 1080i, once the film starts rolling (or continues rolling if you exit and resume play on your PS3), it's 1080p for the rest of the way.
While that vital issue on the art is a typo, there is another error that isn't a typo, sadly. The film has been slightly opened up, from the 1.85:1 ratio to 1.78:1. Most viewers won't notice a real difference here, as they'll just see the film filling their widescreen TVs and be satisfied, but there are a few instances in the film where this light opening up of the matte cuts off detail, even if it isn't truly crucial to the film. Even if most don't care, I loathe it when films aren't presented au natural.
Anyways, back to the pleasant surprise that is the video. Colors are strong in day time shots, with amazingly sharp contrast at times. Detail stands out amazingly in hair and clothing detail (and even in Duvall's freckles, though it is easy to see the some makeup covering them slightly), but the tale of the tape is in grass, which goes from extreme detail down to single blades in one shot, to the next having an entire field be a green blur with no distinction.
As said above, colors are strong in daytime shots, as dark interiors and nighttime sequences suffer a bit, partially due to lighting killing the boldness of clothing and sets, but also due to an enhanced grain level (think spike), and delineation absorbing detail like it were another sci-fi creature: the blob. Blacks are pretty solid in day shots, but damn if the dark sequences don't kill it.
There is a bit of an edge enhancement issue that is not too difficult to spot, but there was no real sign of DNR or other tampering. Skin tones come through naturally, showing amazing range in lighter and darker complexions with no yellow splotchiness. Dirt is present in the source, though it isn't drastic. My final complaint can be construed as praise for the transfer, as the effects stand out and look incredibly dated, while Harris' nude scene makes the tape covering her breasts stands out so much it looks like painted duct tape. That's gonna leave a mark!
The audio for 'The Faculty' defaults to a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, while a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is available as the only option in the "menu" (besides a French dub). From the very opening shots, the difference between the two tracks is dramatic, as The Kids Aren't Alright blends in with the movement on the Miramax logo in the Dolby Digital track immediately, sounding utterly shrill, while a quick flick to the HD audio brings clarity and sharpness to the audio. The music no longer muffles the coach screaming at the football players, and everything is good with the world again...well, save for that pesky invasion...
Dialogue is clear, with nary a word muffled or drowned out by any effect or soundtrack spot (the soundtrack, by the way is superb, featuring Class of '99, Soul Asylum, Garbage, Oasis, and the under-appreciated Stabbing Westward). Early on, bass lets its presence be known, emphasizing even minor impacts, accenting the soundtrack, and giving off some solid (though not too amazing) bump scares. Fidelity is strong, with an early sequence of the coach running while blowing his whistle showing off the high ends beautifully.
Surround use is solid, though again unspectacular, as random ambience is present any time there are shots loaded with students, just nowhere near as busy as the scene looks. Localized effects are sprinkled through the film, though they feel forced, sporting a boosted volume level that just seems unnatural to the scenes they reside in. The climax has tons of high pitched creature moans and shrieks locating in random speakers and is nicely done, but still isn't worth bragging over.
Some sequences have a minor (not drastic) lip synching issue, while there is a blip in the audio in the third act right before the school bus confrontation, but that could be explained by a bad cut/transition rather than an error in the audio. This track isn't perfect, but it is pretty good, and compared to many recent Alliance releases, is golden.
Alliance doesn't provide any extras for this release, a somewhat common occurrence for the studio, but to be fair, there really weren't any extras on the domestic DVD release. We lose out on a trailer. Not exactly end of the world material right there.
'The Faculty' may not be for everyone, but it's certainly for me, even hitting on my long standing uneasiness concerning collapsible bleacher sections. The cast is comprised of quite a few stars in the making, with a fun script, and nice creepy atmosphere that is somewhat believable for a sci-fi/horror film. Alliance may not be the best Blu-ray distributor, as they sport a fairly spotty reputation (to put it politely), but this has to be one of their better releases. Ignore the packaging misprint concerning the film's resolution, and give this one some consideration.