Having A Movie Moment With Jon Longhi: Doctor Who Season One & Jack the Giant Killer

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, September 16, 2018 07:16pm | Post a Comment

By Jon Longhi

Welcome to this month’s Having A Movie Moment With Jon Longhi, where I review recent Blu-ray releases. Both of these Blu-rays came out in the past three months.

Doctor Who: Tom Baker - Complete Season One, BBC Video:
These are the episodes that first introduced the Doctor Who franchise to the American public. The series Doctor Who Season Onehad already run for more than a decade in England where the venerable Doctor had long been considered a national icon and a variety of stars had already played the role of the Doctor, but Tom Baker is the face and personality that made him beloved by legions of North American fans. So it makes perfect sense that these would be the first episodes of the long running series to get a deluxe Blu-ray upgrade here in the US. These were originally shot on video so there has been a lot of handwringing online about how good these would look due to the low quality of the original source materials. Many fans have questioned whether it is worth upgrading from DVD to Blu-ray. Well, as soon as I popped in the first disc of this and saw the beautiful sharp picture quality and heard the flawless sound, I realized this was a total no-brainer. This set is a huge improvement over the DVDs and possibly the best restoration I have ever seen of something that was originally shot on video. The image quality is flawless. Once in a blue moon there is a weird lighting artifact that the restoration couldn't cover up, but these are few and far between. Yes, this does reveal many of the shortcomings of the special effects. Now you can see like never before that all the monsters are made of bubble wrap and paper mache, but that is actually half the fun of this set. The production budget for these shows was comparable to what you would see for a local high school play. The special effects crew did the best they could with what they had and there is a funky low-fi style to their effects, which looks charmingly nostalgic in the harsh naked light of this Blu-ray.

But Doctor Who was never about the quality of the sets or special effects. What really made this show work was the scripts and characters, and those attributes are stronger than ever on this set. Tom Baker's Doctor is utterly charming and goofy, and, in my opinion, he is still the best Doctor of them all. The stories are really fun and fast moving with a distinctly British style. No matter how crazy things get, British rationality always wins out in the end. Everything is quite clever and engaging, and every episode ends in a cliffhanger. The series starts out with "Robot," a simple but effective giant monster story. Then the Doctor and a couple cohorts travel to "The Ark In Space." Despite its laughable paper mache monsters, this story is one of the best in the entire Doctor Who franchise. Its combination of alien weirdness, body horror, and human pathos really hit the mark. This set also contains "Genesis of the Daleks," which many Who fans consider to be the best episode ever filmed. It is a long and memorable story that provides the centerpiece to this collection. The Daleks are the most famous of Doctor Who's enemies and this origin story really delivers. Hopefully this will be just the first of many more Blu-ray sets to come.

Jack the Giant Killer, Kino Lorber:
This was always one of my childhood favorites. One of those magic movies that used to play on Saturday afternoon matinees or midnight Creature Features, it's kind of a perfect confection of old school fantasy Jack the Giant Killerand Ray Harryhausen stop motion special effects. I've watched this movie numerous times since purchasing it recently because it has always been a great nostalgic gem to me, and I guess I'm not alone because it actually was Amazon's number one seller in the fantasy/sci-fi genre when it was first announced. It's a film from a simpler time where the good guys were heroes and the villains pure evil. No moral ambiguity or shades of gray, just old fashioned Grimm's fairytale-style storytelling where you cheer the good guys and boo the bad. Movies like this go down easy during these morally repugnant times. Sometimes it's just refreshing to see how much more innocent we were a mere fifty years ago when this came out. The look of the film is pure 1950s with a bright garish Walt Disney style color. The new restoration makes this retro look even sharper and brighter --every castle, royal banner, and dragon has never looked better. There's a crazy use of color in this film. Many scenes have garish neony primary colors. The villain in the film, the evil sorcerer Pendragon, uses numerous spells that shoot from his eyes and hands like bright laser beams, and these effects add to the almost psychedelic look of the film.

The best effects, though, are the monsters. There are plenty of them and, though the stop motion effects are not quite as good as Ray Harryhausen's, they still give him a run for his money. We get two dragons (one of which is half octopus!), a giant, and a two-headed ogre. The creatures show up early in the film and get plenty of screen time, so if you are a classic monster movie fan, this film belongs in your top ten. Project Unlimited who also did the special effects for The Outer Limits TV show did the effects for the film and Jim Danforth, the only animator of the era in the same league as Ray Harryhausen, animated the monsters. The creature effects aren't as good as Danforth's later film When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth, but they're still pretty damn good and some of the best the era had to offer. The story itself is a very loose interpretation of the original Jack The Giant Killer fable. Kerwin Mathews, fresh from his role as Sinbad in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is perfect in the title role. Judi Meredith is also great as the princess/damsel in distress. As far as bonus material goes, besides the usual commentary and trailer, you also get the 91 minute musical version of the film! It is screamingly bad. I mean, just awful, but worth watching at least once for a laugh.

Relevant Tags

Movie Moment (12), Jon Longhi (24), Doctor Who (7), Tom Baker (2), Bbc (16), Ray Harryhausen (6), Jim Danforth (2), Kerwin Mathews (1), Monsters (13), Fantasy (23), Sci-fi (51), Blu-ray (30)