- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Dutch director-writer Dick Maas goes literally over the top with The Shaft (Artisan Entertainment, priced for rental VHS, $19.98 DVD), a lavish, CGI-enhanced American remake of his satiric 1985 machines-amok terror tale “The Lift.” It’s our…

Video pick of the week

When an express elevator in New York’s fictional 102-story Millennium Building begins malfunctioning, repairmen pals James Marshall and Eric Thal rush to the rescue. Unfortunately for the local citizenry, the guys’ best efforts go for naught as the crazed contraption keeps claiming fresh human prey.

Determined tabloid reporter Naomi Watts (of “Mulholland Drive” and “The Ring” fame) winds up joining Mr. Marshall after Mr. Thal falls victim to the lethal lift. Their investigation ultimately leads to the possible involvement of mad scientist Michael Ironside, disgraced architect of an earlier experiment involving computer chips enriched with living dolphin brains.

While “The Shaft” lacks the relative subtlety of Mr. Maas’ original “The Lift,” it delivers plenty of thrills, filtered through a slyly winking European eye reminiscent of fellow Dutch director Paul Verhoeven’s earlier stateside films, particularly “RoboCop” and “Total Recall.” The highly capable supporting cast of “The Shaft” includes such familiar faces as Edward Herrmann, Dan Hedaya, and Ron Perlman, late of “Quest for Fire” and TV’s “Beauty and the Beast” series.

Artisan’s full-screen DVD transfer looks fine, but this is one disc that would have benefited from a director’s commentary track detailing the film’s backstory. Still, thriller fans should be happy with the movie itself, which inexplicably failed to nail a U.S. theatrical release.

Cult corner

Warner Home Video proffers a trio of pop-cult faves in new DVD editions. Director Alan Parker’s 1980 high-school smash Fame, which spawned a successful TV series, makes its digital debut in a deluxe “class reunion” edition complete with Parker audio commentary, a making-of featurette, a “‘Fame’ Field Trip” to New York City’s High School of the Performing Arts, and an original theatrical trailer.

Something of a surprise hit in its earlier VHS incarnation, 1991’s The Spirit of ‘76 spoofs that much-maligned decade as a time-travel glitch beams a team of 2176 A.D. Americans back to the 1970s. The cast includes such icons as David Cassidy, Leif Garrett, Tommy Chong, and Devo, while the disc contains commentary by director Lucas Reiner and his famous dad, Carl, additional scenes, behind-the-scenes clips, music videos and more. The titles are priced at $19.98 each.

A more recent homevid cult phenomenon, Allan Moyle’s 1995 grunge comedy Empire Records, featuring early appearances by since-ascendant stars Liv Tyler, Robin Tunney and Rene Zellweger along with a rich alt-rock soundtrack featuring the Gin Blossoms, Cranberries and Better Than Ezra, returns in a “remix special fan edition” that caters to the flick’s followers with additional scenes, music videos and more. The DVD is tagged at $24.98.

The ‘A’ list

In ‘A’ movie developments, two new hard-edged crime dramas crash into area vidstores this month. Paramount issues director Joe Carnahan’s Narc, starring Ray Liotta as a gung-ho Detroit narcotics cop and Jason Patric as his increasingly suspicious partner.

MGM Home Entertainment counters with Dark Blue, directed by “Training Day” scripter Ron Shelton and featuring Kurt Russell as an over-the-top Los Angeles homicide detective and Scott Speedman as his intimidated rookie protege. Both titles will be priced for rental VHS and also available on DVD.

‘T2’ redux

“Terminator” devotees in search of an interim fix until “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” arrives at local ‘plexes can check out Artisan Entertainment’s T2: Extreme DVD ($29.98). Beyond a frame-by-frame digitally enhanced transfer of the Schwarzenegger sequel showcase “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” the two-DVD set incorporates audio commentary by director James Cameron and co-scenarist William Wisher, behind-the-scenes footage, two new documentaries, and interactive DVD-ROM features galore.

Mostly ghostly

Artisan also offers a treat for classic comedy buffs with a new DVD double-feature: 1938’s Topper, based on the Thorne Smith novel, casts Cary Grant and Constance Bennett as sophisticated ghosts who complicate the life of milquetoast Roland Young. The latter reprises his role in the 1942 sequel Topper Returns. The twin-bill disc, due next week, sells for $19.98.

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: What is happening with Gods and Generals? I didn’t get a chance to see it during its run. Will it be released on video?

Joann Brown, via e-mail

Warner Home Video recently announced a July 15 launch for that 2003 Civil War epic, available both on VHS and DVD.

Send your video comments and queries to Phantom of the Movies, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002 or e-mail us at: phanmedia@aol.com Check out our Web site at www.videoscopemag.com.

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