Matinee: Collector's Edition gives film fans, as well as general audiences, another chance to appreciate a movie which might have gone forgotten. Shout! Select shows their love for the title with a good, high definition, multi-channel audio presentation and plenty of supplements to keep viewers entertained long after the movie's over. Only a few elements prevent Matinee from being a true classic, but that does not diminish its entertainment value, and easily earns highly recommended status.
I saw Matinee when it was released on VHS after a lackluster theatrical release back in 1993, and could not remember a thing about it. Reviewing this Collector's Edition on Blu-ray with all its supplements now convinces me that I must have been half-asleep or suffered amnesia during its rental, because this movie is fun and delightfully satisfying. This Joe Dante film pays homage to B-movies as well as 1960's childhood, and is clearly a labor of love. There is a wit and sincerity which makes Matinee appropriate for families, but especially appealing to cinemaphiles. The Blu-ray itself is one of those must-own releases, packed with an abundance of old and new supplementary materials and offering a presentation of the film which looks great on high definition.
The story is straightforward, but involves different characters and sub-plots which all come together at the showing of a monster movie called "Mant!" Lawrence Woolsey (played by John Goodman, who is pitch perfect in this role) is a carnival-barking filmmaker, whose skillfully combines schlock production with audience-involving gimmicks and in-your-face special effects for a memorable, if superficial, movie-going experience. His featured actress and companion (played with aplomb by Cathy Moriarty, who also inhabits her charcter terrifically) begrudgingly supports the fast-talking Woolsey even though she tires of his antics. They put on a big show in Key West, Florida with their creature feature, "Mant!" (a radioactive being who is half-man and half-ant; think: Brundle-Ant), which coincides with the Cuban Missile Crisis, and thus capitalizes on the political paranoia. The release attracts the attention of two movie-going brothers, Gene (Simon Fenton) and Dennis (Jesse Lee Soffer) Loomis who have a father in the military where his fate, as well as the world's, looms under the threat of nuclear war. The focus on the boys introduces us to other supporting characters and potential love interests, including a feisty young activist named Sandra (Lisa Jakub), and a popular girl Sherry (an immediately recognizable Kellie Martin) whose preference for bad boys eventually comes back to haunt her. They all end up at the premiere of "Mant!" and what should have been a simple fun time at a monster flick turns into a real-life (PG-rated) disaster movie for all.
There is no doubt that Matinee is full of tricks, with clever references and endearing tributes. The attention to detail when it comes to costumes, set designs (a bomb shelter figures prominently towards the end) and characterization is amazing, and a second viewing will probably only increase a viewer's appreciation. And yet...despite its clever premise, memorable set-pieces, some good performances, and the confident direction of Joe Dante, Matinee falls a little short of being the true classic it could have been. While all of these elements sound fine and dandy (and they are), the movie meanders a bit and occasionally stalls, especially when it comes to the young main characters. It's like a Steven Spielberg movie directed by an imitator who still has not shaken off the stylistic influences evidence in his last big hit, Gremlins. Spielberg is a master when it comes to involving the audience into a kid's world (his "Kick the Can" segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie is a major exception) and Dante isn't quite capable of eliciting a simlar response.
There is sincerity and sentiment among the kids, but I grew impatient with the teenage love connections and would rather have focused more on the adults. The young actors read their lines well and and assume their roles proficiently, but aren't quite as sympathetic or as charming as one would hope. British-born teenage actor Fenton is in the lead role as the kid whose father is called away for duty, and warms up to Woolsey's character. He is likable, but I found his persona to be a bit bland and lifeless, despite all the events in his life including his relationship with Sandra, and a melancholy family which includes a worried mother and an emotional brother. A few of the other supporting characters are played too broadly to be believable including Sherry's ex-boyfriend, ex-con and bad poet Harvey Starkweather (James Villemaire) who seems like he was pulled off the set of an amateur production of Grease, along with Harvey the Theater Manager (Robert Picardo) whose paranoid antics (he has a bomb shelter all ready for the big one) gets a bit old. The comedy is at its best when its played straight, and at its smarmiest when actors go over the top.
Misgivings aside, there is still plenty to enjoy with Matinee, especially in the second half of the movie when "Mant!" takes center stage and we, the Blu-ray audience, can sit back and enjoy the onscreen audience react to the humor and mayhem of this kitschy production. Dante has done a stunning job recreating the 1950's style (the bonus materials indicate there are some cultural anachronisms here and there). If not for its short running time, "Mant!" could pass as a genuine production from its time and genre. It delivers all the clichés (a scientist who serves as exposition, complete with nuanced condescension: "you will continue to metamorphose" he tells Mant, then turns to his wife and explains "or change"), irrelevancies (a dentist informs Mant that his transformation will lead to dire effects, but at least he has no cavities), deliberately bad dialogue ("Oh Bill, if you could just listen to the man in you and put the insect aside!" Mant's wife pleads, causing him to panic, "insecticide? Where?!"), over-the-top score (also composed by the late master himself, Jerry Goldsmith) and ridiculous concepts (Kevin McCarthy plays an army general who tries to lure the gigantic Mant off a building with a huge packet of sugar). "Mant!" is one of those films which would be well-suited for an all-out assault by Mystery Science Theater 3000 (or by Cinematic Titanic or Rifftrax). It's so good, that there were times when I was disappointed to break away from the movie-within-a-movie when returning to the main storyline. (Fortunately, the Blu-ray provides the "complete" "Mant!" film for our viewing pleasure.)
Shout! Factory has done an excellent job with this Collector's Edition, and the studio's efforts are greatly appreciated. Despite my occasional reservations, I have no doubt that I will be re-visiting this feature presentation in the near future.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Both movie and its bonus features are contained in a BD50, which is housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase and slipcover. The cover art is an original illustration, capturing perfectly the major elements of the movie: a giant ant with ihuman legs bursts through a movie screen with a nurse in one claw, while a suited, cigar chomping figure watches in the foreground as the audience scampers everywhere). The keepcase cover is reversible and features a grinning John Goodman looms over a movie theater while a nuclear cloud hovers in the bakcground. There are no inserts or any other additions to the package.
The feature is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, filling standard widescreen TVs with an AVC/MPEG-4 encoded picture. Some of the older bonus materials are presented in standard definition and with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, depending on the source.
The overall look of this 25-year-old movie is impressive, and a refreshing visual experience from the artificially flavored and colored productions of today. While not reference quality, I doubt fans of the movie will have notice too much in the way of imperfections or anomalies, although some exist. With the exception of "modern" day supplementary materials, fine details are a bit lacking overall, and there is an ever-present, but non-intrusive, grain which is particulary noticeable with subdued lighting, especially in the movie theater scenes. However, colors are distinctive and well-produced in brightly lit indoor scenes such as in the halls of a high school and in the kitchens of homes. There are different shades of reds on the "Mant!" costume, theater curtains and seats, girl's clothing and makeup which stand out vividly. TMant!" itself looks great in black and white, though resolution appears to be deliberately unexceptional but appropriate for its low-budget look. For a 1993 release which has not undergone any multi-million dollar clean-up and remastering, the visuals Matinee: Collector's Edition should satisfy audiences.
The packaging states "DTS-HD Master Audio Stereo" but the main feature is clearly contains a 5.1 surround mix, along with a two-channel presentation. Matinee's soundtrack is more than a bit laid back when it comes to any "wow" factor, but shines when it comes to clarity and articulation. Dialogue, "golden oldies" pop music, and Jerry Goldsmith's memorable score are very well-integrated in every scene. However, I missed the fact that there was no audio-only soundtrack.
Even though this is an early nineties production (not exactly modern, but certainly not ancient when it comes to surround effects considering that blockbusters like Jurassic Park also made their debut), the soundtrack was a bit more modest than I expected. During the "Mant!" exhibition, I expected an abundance of directional sounds, music playing in the surround speakers, and distinct voices emanating from different channels. Instead, the ambient effects were generally reserved, prompting me on more than one occasion to check if my receiver was processing the signals correctly. A couple of scenes involving military aircraft fly impressively from front to rear, and the chaotic moments show off the soundtrack's dynamic range appropriately. Low frequency effects are produced solidly, and are most prominent when the movie theater begins to fall apart due to the "Rumble-Rama" effects (a precursor to tactile transducers installed to vibrate seats and floors). Given that this movie takes place in the 1960's, the restraint on surround sound may have been done purposely, but a more involving audio experience is always preferable in a movie like this.
Shout! Select has done a fine job in compiling supplements to this underrated movie. All featurettes are presented in two channel audio and in high definition video, though some scenes are from a standard definition source or well-worn and dated print. Some of the materials are a bit light when it comes to substance, and heavy when it comes to self-promotion. Some of the comments and exposition overlap or are repeated, but most of what is offered is still very enjoyable.
Master of the Matinee - An Interview with Director Joe Dante (20:29) provides a retrospective look at the making of the movie. Dante's comments about his issues and accomplishments are punctuated with a few clips which illustrate his comments nicely.
The Leading Lady - An interview with Cathy Moriarty (12:02) offers some fond memories by the co-star which are detailed and full of affection.
MANTastic! The Making of a Mant (25:12) spotlights creature designer Jim McPherson and "Mant!" actor Mark McCracken and their memories over the special effects and memorable suit.
Out of the Bunker - An Interview with Actress Lisa Jakub (16:17) gives the now-adult co-star a chance to recount her experience on the set and under Dante's direction in particular.
Making a Monster Theatre - An Interivew with Production Designer Steven Legler (15:35) is a detailed discussion over how the period sets were made.
The Monster Mix - An Interview with Editor Marshall Harvey (11:39) refers to Matinee as the director's "most personal memory" and a "love letter to the movies" and gives a retrospective on its production and release.
Lights! Camera! Reunion! - An Interview with Director of Photography John Hora (21:23) provides a surpriging amount of technical detail into the production of Matinee.
Paranoia in Ant Vision - Joe Dante Discusses the Making of the Film (32:37) is a 2011 French-made featurette originally titled "Paranoia en Fourmi Vision ou le Plaisir D'Avoir Peur" ("Parnoia In Ant Vision or The Pleasure of Being Afraid") and features an long interview with Dante, accompanied with clips and still photos.
Vintage Making of Featurette (4:28) is a general behind the scenes segment touching upon the production.
Behind the Scenes Footage Courtesy of Joe Dante (8:22) is an assembly of unprocessed footage which includes different takes and segments of the production itself. There is no narration (none is needed) and a time code runs on the bottom half of the screen.
Deleted and Extended Scenes Sourced from Joe Dante's Workprint (2:22) features a few seconds of additional scenes which provide further background on the characters, but are non-essential to the storytelling.
Still Galleries (3:58) is a photo gallery (with no music or narrations) focusing on the "Mant!" creature as well as some of the cast and crew.
Theatrical Trailer (1:57) is presented in 1.33:1 aspect ratio and appears to be un-restored, but in very good shape.
Mant! - The Full Length Version of the Film with Introduction (22:45) delivers the fictional main event of Matinee, presented in its "entirety" without edits or interruption. The film is preceded by an interview with Dante, and actually begins at the 6 minute, 37 second mark. Shot on 35 milimeter film, "Mant!" is presented in glorious black and white and looks like a product of the 1950's. As it turns out, much of this footage is seen in the main feature, so those wanting a "complete" picture will probably be slightly disappointed.
Though not the pop cinema masterpiece it might have been, Matinee provides solid entertainment worthy of your Blu-ray library. I must once again commend Shout! for their excellent presentation of a movie which might have been lost among all the home video offerings of superhero remakes and giant robot sequels which litter the marketplace. Matinee is worth viewing again and again, even at general admission prices.