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STUDIO Twilight Time
RUNNING TIME 95 minutes
• Isolated Score Track
• Commentary with Chuck Russell and Ryan Turek
• Cinefamily Q&A
Twilight Time delivers with great audio and video!
Shawnee Smith, Kevin Dillon, Donovan Leitch, Jeffrey DeMunn, Joe Seneca
Teens take on the ultimate amorphous horror. Things get gooey.
I have a habit of burying the lede in these reviews, so allow me get around that right now. The Blob is a damn good movie. I love how the peripheral characters are given memorable traits and interesting (sometimes tragic) arcs. I love that the flick is funny and satirical, but is mean-spirited enough to kill a kid in a very gruesome way. The humor is tar black in parts, like when the douchebag jock is revealed to have a trunk full of date rape accoutrements, like a battery-powered handheld mixer for cocktails, or a box of counterfeit class rings to give away like they were peppermints.
Shawnee Smith’s character isn’t bestowed with as many idiosyncracies as the prominent male roles, but her eventual turn to badass survivor is still satisfying. The creature effects are shockingly disgusting and beautiful, and I love how quickly the monster moves around. A lot of the miniature photography holds up, too. There are some shocks in the film that reverberate long after they’re over. I love that moments are set up and recalled in beautiful little ways, like the zipper on the kid’s jacket, or the visual foreshadowing when Shawnee Smith’s character gazes into a swirling snowglobe. I love the scene transitions, like when the Blob envelops the hobo’s hand, and we cut to an extreme closeup of a kid slurping Jell-O off a plate. “Kevin… don’t eat with your face,” his mother scolds. I laugh every time.
So now that we’ve gotten all that out of the way, I want to talk about what really stood out to me when I watched the film in 1080p for the first time. I had never taken much notice of the cinematography on previous viewings. I’ve never seen the film on a big screen, and the DVD copy is just okay, so I feel like I’ve never really been able to fully appreciate the way The Blob was shot. Now, after having seen a really great transfer, I have some big problems with how Chuck Russell frames his shots here. Much of the film is shot in closeup, which would be fine for a character drama, but this is a fun sci-fi action horror with some great set pieces. Russell rarely goes wide, and that detracts from a sense of geography and scale. The sewer set looks great, but hardly any of the sewer sequence goes wide enough to see how big and great it really is.
Also, Russell has a tendency to always place focus in the dead center of the frame, which gets stale if you don’t light and set up your shots like Stanley fucking Kubrick. Russell’s shots are often the kind of closeups that defeat the purpose of widescreen: a character smack dab with the middle, from the front, face half-lit, with nothing interesting on either side. They’re boring compositions, boring angles. That’s my biggest beef with the film. I do, however, like that Russell doesn’t lock the cameras down. Camera operators pan around to follow the actors, which feels fast, fun, and loose. There are quite a few tracking and steadicam shots that look great. The Blob engages most when the camera is moving.
Let’s talk about visual storytelling now, because this film really excels at it up until the government containment crew arrives. Verbal exposition is nearly nonexistent in the first fifty-four minutes, and the main characters are established so well through image alone that you could mute the dialogue and still get it. They’re archetypical, which helps, but they’re played in fun ways. There’s a cute cheerleader, and a nice football player that has a crush on her. There’s the chain smoking badboy, who will surely make that bitchin’ motorcycle jump at some point later in the film. That’s all apparent through image alone. Hell, even the whole condom/drugstore scene and the eventual payoff with the pharmacist works without sound. Then there are the little moments, like when we see the douchebag jock’s class ring floating in the slimy folds of the Blob, or when Kevin Dillon licks the face of the asshole deputy. It has the makings of great nonverbal cinema, with the exception of the funny dialogue. (“Great. I killed the strawberry jam.”)
But at that fifty-four minute mark we start getting exposition, and it’s really bad exposition. Some of it is pseudoscientific gobbledygook, but the worst of it is an oddly public argument between the two lead scientists as they spew their motivations all over each other. Scientist Two says “Hey! Townsfolk dead! Me sense ethical conundrum.” Scientist One replies, “Me understand conundrum, but Blob more important than dead townsfolk in flyover state. Townsfolk expendable.” It’s the kind of broad, expository conversation that happens only so another character can overhear it. The themes introduced in this section of the film are intriguing: cold war sentiments, government mistrust, justifying the deaths of a few by speaking about the lives of billions, but they’re handled in some really goofy ways. It doesn’t detract much from the fun of the film, and the containment crew is a great secondary villain in the film’s climactic sequence, but the sudden dump of exposition is rough.
It’s not without its flaws, but The Blob has earned the distinction of being one of the finest monster movies of the late eighties. It has aged superbly, and isn’t regarded as the landmark in creature effects it actually is. Its production values are admirable for a film made for less that ten million bucks, and it’s much more narratively intricate than it lets on. The Blob understands how moments make the whole, but that’s only part of why it’s so damn good.
Twilight Time really focused on the audiovisual presentation here, and it shows. The transfer is better than I could have hoped for. The grain of the 35mm print is always there, and sometimes it’s quite strong, so it would appear that no digital noise reduction was used. The color palette seems a bit muted, but that seems intentional. The audio track is a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, and while it’s not as showy as contemporary 5.1 mixes, it sounds great. I really would have liked to see a creature effects featurette on the disc, but the included featurette (a Q&A with Chuck Russell at Cinefamily) is okay. Chuck Russell’s commentary on the disc is much, much more informative.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars