BUY FROM AMAZON: CLICK HERE!
STUDIO Shout! Factory
RUNNING TIME 82 minutes
• The Making of Lake Placid (Featuring New Interviews)
• Vintage Featurette
• Behind the Scenes Still Gallery
• TV Spots
What do a sheriff, a fish and game officer, a paleontologist, a professor of mythology, and Oliver Platt’s wig have in common? They’re hunting a giant crocodile, of course!
Bill Pullman, Bridget Fonda, Brendan Gleeson, Oliver Platt, Steve Miner
Giant croc in lake. Cause much trouble. Humans must kill.
I’m not usually one to look back at nineties culture with rose-colored glasses, but if you like mid-to-big budgeted sci-fi horror and creature features, the nineties were a great time to be around. Tremors, From Dusk Till Dawn, The Faculty, Deep Blue Sea, Deep Rising, Anaconda, Event Horizon, Mimic, The Relic, Wolf, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Predator 2, Gremlins 2, Alien 3… most of these movies still hold up remarkably well, especially when it comes to their practical effects. I’ll even argue that most of these flicks have actually gotten better with age.
Lake Placid, however, doesn’t quite belong on the same echelon. Despite its impressive cast, none of the principal players are delivering their best work. Brendan Gleeson and Bill Pullman, playing the film’s main cops, come across as flat and unlikeable for most of the film. This is likely no fault of their own, because their characters are featureless and nearly devoid of charm.
Bridget Fonda does her best to anchor the film as a protagonist, but her character is the film’s biggest blemish. What does she add to the narrative other than a point of view? From a standpoint of plot, she’s functionally useless. Remove her character, and the whole central conflict (cops vs. croc) works in exactly the same manner. In my limited knowledge of screenwriting, the rule is this: if you’ve got a scene that performs no function in your script, you need to repurpose it or remove it. The same can be said for entire characters. As it stands, her character doesn’t belong in the film.
The odd thing is that David E. Kelly (creator of Ally McBeal), who wrote the script on spec, seems to know that Fonda’s character shouldn’t be there. She’s a big city paleontologist steadily employed at a major museum. She doesn’t do field work, but the museum is content to put her on a private plane and fly her out to Maine just to look at ONE TOOTH. The whole setup is dumb, and the cops in Maine are just as surprised to see her there as we are. Kelley attempts to justify our protagonist’s arrival in Maine by creating a trite story of a workplace romance gone sour. It’s one of the things that makes Lake Placid a dumb horror comedy instead of a smart horror comedy.
Another thing that bears mentioning is that her character is a very sexist creation: she alternates between bravado and cowardice, she’s essentially useless, prissy, snobby, bitter, contradictory, and her only discernible character arc is her falling for Bill Pullman’s character. Somehow, that’s supposed to make her less of a stuck-up city girl. She falls out of two boats, one car, one helicopter, and lands in the water no less than four times throughout the course of the film. This could be a running gag but it’s always played as an action beat, creating damsel in distress moments. The film goes too far when she asks a female cop if it’s likely that she’ll be raped while staying in Maine. It’s a played for laughs, but it’s ugly, stupid, and crass in a completely unfunny way. Fonda’s character remains an enormous missed opportunity: to have a compelling and intelligent female scientist as the protagonist in a male-centric creature movie. The Field Museum’s Emily Graslie (host of The Brain Scoop) would be very disappointed.
Another character that doesn’t really seem to have any reason for showing up is Oliver Platt’s wacky mythology professor, Hector Cyr. He’s obsessed with crocodiles to the point of owning a helicopter with a custom crocodile paint job. It’s as silly as it sounds, but at least the film finds humor in it. What the film doesn’t seem to find humor in is the fact that our characters are so ill-equipped to be in this movie. However, it’s inherently interesting to see a bunch of misfit morons take on odds they seem incapable of overcoming (a la Alien). The idea of a squeamish paleontologist, a rich mythology expert, and some cops taking on a thirty foot croc is kinda funny, but the film doesn’t mine this idea for the humor it could provide.
I’ve been beating this film up for five paragraphs, so it may sound like I’ve made up my mind, but allow me to switch gears. This movie may not be smart or even good, but it’s not without its charms. Most of the jokes, while crass and dumb, are admittedly funny. Betty White saying “If I had a dick, this is where I’d tell ya to suck it!” never fails to make me smile. The dynamic between Gleeson and Platt manages to squeeze out a few chuckles as well. There’s also a fabulous, classic, incredibly tropey scene transition where Fonda says “I’m not going to Maine! That’s ridiculous.” CUT TO: MAAAAAINE!! John Ottman’s score blares perfect musical punctuation as we see Fonda’s plane swooping through the frame. It gets me every time.
In technical terms, the film holds up surprisingly well. The cinematography by Daryn Okada is quite beautiful, Steve Miner’s direction is solid, there’s a splash of great gore, the CGI still looks okay, and the animatronic crocodile looks great. The film’s production value is insanely high. There are shots of Hector Cyr’s helicopter that are filmed FROM ANOTHER HELICOPTER. That’s so luxurious by today’s standards that I’m just flat-out impressed. Try getting this film made for 27 million bucks today. It wouldn’t happen.
While Lake Placid still holds up on a technical level, it definitely hasn’t aged well in terms of its cultural relevance. It’s full of groan-worthy sexist “city girl” tropes. The protagonist is effectively disposable, and several key performances come off flat and uninteresting. While these factors may prevent Lake Placid from reaching the B-movie glory of something like Deep Blue Sea, they don’t prevent the film from being fun.
While this Scream Factory Collector’s Edition is a little light on extras, the video and audio quality are on par for them, which is to say they’re fantastic. There’s no commentary, which is a bummer, but the making-of documentary features recent interviews with director Steve Miner, Bill Pullman, Daryn Okada, and several members of the effects team. The documentary isn’t long, but we’re 15 years away from the film’s release, so everyone speaks with a refreshing amount of candor. The vintage featurette is standard EPK stuff, but it’s worth a watch. If you’re a Lake Placid fan, you’re gonna want this.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars