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Scream Factory release: ‘Millennium’ and ‘R.O.T.O.R.’

Scream Factory release: ‘Millennium’ and ‘R.O.T.O.R.’

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Welcome to another Scream Factory blu-ray release review! This time, we look at the double-feature Millennium/R.O.T.O.R., released on February 23rd 2016.

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Packaging

Both films are featured on a single blu-ray disc, which itself is housed in an amaray case. Much like with the week’s other release, Curse/Curse II: The Bite, the paper slipcover is reversible, the front cover featuring poster art from the original promotion campaign and the opposite side adorned with images from both films as well as the credits in small print at the bottom.

The disc top itself sports both of the movies’ original logos with the appropriate colours and fonts.

After the Shout and Scream Factory logos play out, viewers are presented a screen where they select the film they want to watch.

There is no cardboard slipcover to house the blu-ray case.

 Feature presentations

 MILLENNIUM-POSTERMillennium

Written by John Varley

Directed by Michael Anderson

U.S.A., 1989

10 years in the making due, predominantly, to a revolving door of cast and director changes, Millennium, finally helmed by Michael Anderson, was released in 1989. In fact, one of the few creative people to have worked on the project from its inception was scribe John Varley, although that was in large part due to the fact that he wrote the original short story as well as the expanded novel. Varley is even on record as expressing a certain level of disappointment at how his original vision of the film was lost, piece-by-piece, as the years went by and cast and crew credits kept switching.

The movie opens with quite a bang, the sort of scene that immediately grabs the viewer’s attention. A Boeing 747 passenger flight suddenly experiences mechanical failure just at the very moment the pilots notice another identical plane flying above them. The aircraft unfortunately crashes, bringing in Bill Smith (Kris Kristofferson), an aviation safety inspector, to investigate the tragedy. The famous black box featuring a recording of the final few minutes the pilots were alive suggests something is amiss: it seems as though the passengers were already dead as the craft went down! Shortly thereafter Bill meets Louise Baltimore (Cheryl Ladd, famous for playing Kris Munroe on Charlie’s Angels), a beautiful if mysterious woman with whom he has a one-night stand before she vanishes. Little does Bill know that he and Louise are but a small part of a massive operation originating from the future on which the survival of human race depends!

Perusing some of the comments and reviews for Millennium, one is immediately struck by the level of disdain held for the picture. Dated, cheap looking, uneventful, convoluted, the list of criticisms aimed at the movie is long and then some. Thankfully Scream Factory thought it prudent to release it on blu-ray, providing with a second chance, a second life if you will. It would be very interesting if some people revisited Anderson’s film several years removed from their first experience and shared their thoughts. Perhaps they’d still shun the picture, but that would be an unfortunate outcome, for it holds a solid amount of pleasure, many of which are quite unexpected.

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It would only be fair to state from the outsight that its inclusion in the Scream blu-ray collection is a little odd. Said branch generally strives to add popular or long-forgotten thrillers and horrors movies to its lineup. It would be a great challenge to describe Millennium as a thriller. Attempting to box it into the horror genre would be absolutely laughable. That being said, Anderson and company deliver a genuinely engaging, oftentimes very funny movie, the comedic elements being completely intentional on the part of the filmmakers. The first 15 or 20 minutes do in fact present the story as something of a mystery, with each little hint of science-fiction involvement leading viewers to possibly think they’re in for a weird, creepy adventure, but in truth the entire mystery is explained about halfway through, from which point onwards the film actually morphs into a comedy-drama, with Louise Baltimore becoming a fish out of water of sorts as Bill Smith tries to win her over.

While major plot points will be avoided so as to not spoil the fun for those that might consider picking up this release, suffice it to say that Kristofferson and Ladd have very solid chemistry together, which in of itself is a minor miracle given how different they are as actors. Ladd in particular, playing the part of someone visiting from the future, demonstrates smooth, effective comedic timing through innocent yet odd gesture and responses to things Bill Smith and anyone from his time would consider totally mundane. Whether or not viewers want to see the movie become a comedy or not is fair game for a debate. However, it is always best to judge a film for what it is, and in this case, it’s pretty fun.

Lastly, some mention should go to the production and costume designs for the few scenes transpiring in the future. Granted, the ideas shown are not always the most original (one character is essentially a version of C-3PO, only with a greater understanding of human feelings), but to completely overlook the effort that went in to creating the future world would be highly prejudice. The look of the picture harkens back to the last few years when hand-made craftsmanship was more apparent for viewers to cherish, and the things filmmakers wanted to bring to life for this movie were daunting to say the least.

Millennium is an unfairly maligned film. It has its charms and the cast and crew clearly want to make the best movie they can.

rotorR.O.T.O.R.

Written by Cullen Blaine and Budd Lewis

Directed by Cullen Blaine

U.S.A., 1988

The film industry, and filmmakers themselves, is constantly prone to repeating and copying what resonates at a given time. For the past few years, nostalgia has been all the rage, leading to the return of various beloved properties from decades past in the hopes that old fans, and maybe new ones, will catch a new wave of old favourites. In other instances, movies with extraordinarily similar premises will be released within very limited time spans. The most baffling of such examples is when the copycat team strives to capture the magic of a popular film or television series without any of the resources used to create what originally inspired them.

Enter R.O.T.O.R. (Robotic Officer of the Tactical Operations Research/Reserve Unit) a film that no one, unless they’ve been entirely sheltered from 1980s action movies, could watch without thinking about Robocop or The Terminator. In fact, Robocop was remade only a couple of years ago, so even people not familiar with the original would still be reminded of Robocop. Starring unknown actor Richard Gesswein as a Dallas police captain/ranch owner/head of the police technological research facility, the movie tells the story of how a greedy, influential individual pulling the strings forces a science department to come up with a perfect, robotic police officer. Only in this case, given the horrible time constraints to work out the kinks, things go sour very quickly, what with R.O.T.O.R. (Carroll Hunter) hopping on his motor bike by his own merry self and choosing to kill (relatively) innocent people around town, paying special attention to one Sonya Garren (Margaret Trigg), whom he chases throughout the night for reasons that are never made very clear.

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There is little point in beating around the bush. R.O.T.O.R. is the definition of a low budget picture that does not work. Fighting for the little guys is all fair and good, especially when they can pull one over the bigger budget mainstream products, but sometimes one simply has to recognize a bad small movie when one sees it. R.O.T.O.R. represents a special breed of awfulness, one that fascinates as much as it repulses. From that point of view, one is tempted to argue that it is so bad it’s good. Well, ‘good’ is too strong a word, although witnessing this calamitous train wreck is undeniably intriguing. Simply put, this is the sort of disaster for which one isn’t even sure where to begin to describe the errors of its ways. The main actor? Richard Gesswein appeared in only one film: R.O.T.O.R. He never worked in another movie again. He looks awkward and stiff throughout, completely ill at ease with having to carry the story. For that matter, he must have sounded atrocious when delivering his lines because they’re all dubbed. Why was he chosen as the star? What prevented writer-director Cullen Blaine from replacing him? Who knows, although one could guess funds had something to do with it.

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As for direction, it is all over the place. Certain establishing shots are legitimately okay, only for Blaine to weirdly indulge in others that do nothing but needlessly pad onto the running time. The pacing is sluggish, the edits make scenes as well as transitions to other scenes feel terribly awkward. Conversely, some scenes have almost no edits at all, but rather than the absence of cuts adding any sort of tension or emphasizing points, it simply results in said scenes completely lacking any sort of dynamism. The dialogue is comically bad. Some movies with a level of competency in other departments might get away with the variety of lines delivered in here. Not so with R.O.T.O.R, a film with so many deficiencies that the awkward dialogue comes across as even more cringe-worthy than had it been said by actual thespians. Compounding matters even more so is the fact that most of it was evidently re-recorded in post-production. Not only are the words spoken clunky, they quite literally sound terrible.

R.O.T.O.R is B.A.D. (Bludgeoning Asinine Disaster)

 

Video and audio quality

Presented in 1080p, despite the stark difference in their quality as movies, both Millennium and R.O.T.O.R look quite respectable on blu-ray. For such forgotten films, there is nary any scratches or debris to be found on the prints. Both films are presented with rather clean looking images. As has been written about a few previous Scream Factory releases on other blu-ray review websites, it is sometimes difficult to notice the grain structure of the image, inviting some to question whether the image is too clean. It’s definitely there, if one looks closely enough, but one would be forgiven by thinking certain scenes don’t seem to have any at all. Colour definition is generally strong, as are shadows.

Millennium’s audio credentials are an English-language DTS-HD Master Audio Stereo track. It serves its purpose, demonstrating a level of robustness when things go boom and allowing dialogue and other, more subtle audio cues to play out strongly and clearly enough.

R.O.T.O.R’s English DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track is a bit more limited, but that comes with the territory of having a Mono track as opposed to a Stereo one. Affecting the sonic experience is the film’s limited means, and by extension the dubious recording. Dialogue, especially when spoken when other sources of noise are present, is occasionally difficult to decipher. That said, almost everything else (apart from the respectable 1080p picture) is terrible, so this comes as no surprise.

 

Supplements

The disc is rather light on supplements. R.O.T.O.R offers a trailer, as does Millennium. The latter also features an alternate ending, approximately five minutes in duration. Most of the running time shows a concluding scene identical to the one that made the final cut, expect for the final thirty seconds or so. It looks a bit strange and is at odds with the tone the finale is going for. There is little question as to why director Anderson went in the direction seen in the actual movie.

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Final scream

Quite the dichotomous release, this one. Millennium, odd shift in tone notwithstanding, is surprisingly easy to recommend. R.O.T.O.R …less so. There are indeed people out there that eat this stuff up, the film fans that go crazy over truly god-awful movies. How else does one explain the fact that The Room keeps getting played every now and then in repertoire cinemas? More power to them, and they’ll probably be delighted to check out R.O.T.O.R on blu-ray. For everybody else, Millennium is the reason to pick up this release.

-Edgar Chaput

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