Quality film news, reviews and features
6th October 2013 18:00:00
Posted by John White

Lifeforce

Blu-Ray Review: Lifeforce is a gloriously mounted coke dream. Belting along at incredible speed, hurdling logic and good taste and giving the viewer all the jollies they could wish for in a supreme light show with verbal narrative only occasionally intruding. The self confidence of the stupid momentum is never in doubt and the story never sticks with an idea long enough to allow you to consider it. Lifeforce is a glorious, demented bubblegum picture, determined that you'll not want to think about how you got to the end of it just what great fun the ride was.

The Film

After directing one of the best horror films of all time, Tobe Hooper attracted quite a bit of attention and found himself with openings in Hollywood that meant bigger stars, bigger budgets and far less control. Soon he found himself sacked from The Dark with all sorts of questions raised about his competence and forced into TV, not for the last time, to reclaim his good name with the excellent Salem's Lot. Returning to cinema, he was again replaced on Venom and then handpicked by Spielberg to direct Poltergeist, a project many believe Spielberg actually directed himself. Away from his original collaborator, Kim Henkel, exposed by big budgets and allegedly too fond of pharmaceutical enhancement, Hooper next signed on with the Cannon Group to make a film of Colin Wilson's Space Vampires.imageDan O'Bannon (Alien, Total Recall) was asked to fashion a screenplay and many of the best effects people in the industry were on board when Hooper started to shoot in the UK. He was to see the film through to completion, but not before witnessing the final version being cut down by 15 minutes by Golan and Globus for its theatrical release. Still, following the bad reputation he had previously gathered, Hooper had proved his doubters wrong by delivering a high budget, effects heavy blockbuster on his own terms.

Objectively, it would be plain wrong to pretend that Lifeforce is cinematic art. It does possess proper and able actors of the quality of Patrick Stewart and Frank Finlay, but it also asks one to be snogged by Steve Railsback and the other to be obsessed with what happens following death giving him the immortal final words "Well, here I go". Yet, what causes most eyebrows to be raised is the sheer quantity of gratuitous nudity the director asks of his 18 year old female lead. Surrounded by a male cast, virtually silent and only ever clothed for mere seconds, Mathilda May's birthday suit poise is breathtaking.imageSuch cartoon sensibilities are glorious throughout the whole film. Taken as a guilty pleasure, you can laugh your way through the nonsense of the HQ of the European Space Agency being policed by unarmed security guards, and a plot that involves a trip to a Yorkshire high secure unit for no discernible reason other than having hunk Railsback snog everyone as his chief sleuthing strategy.

The rather shaky plot has a science expedition to Halley's Comet finding an Alien spacecraft recovering the three naked humanoids inside. The expedition is sabotaged on the way back to Earth but salvaged with the Aliens brought, presumably dead, to London for examination. There one of them, the most comely and sole female, escapes after sucking energy out of her guards and zombifying them. She escapes cross country as her spacecraft heads for an orbit above a London beset by a zombie outbreak. The SAS are called in with the sole survivor of the expedition - can they stop her?imageBasically Lifeforce is a gloriously mounted coke dream. Belting along at incredible speed, hurdling logic and good taste, and giving the viewer all the jollies they could wish for in a supreme light show sans sense and narrative. A supreme self confidence keeps the stupid momentum up and the story never lingers on an idea long enough to allow you to consider it.

Hooper orchestrates this glorious and demented bubblegum movie superbly giving us a nonsense packed thrill ride that leaves you grinning broadly with your intellect hiding in another room.

The Disc

Our good buddies at Arrow have ported over much of the Shout Factory release with I believe some extra restoration work having been done on the transfers to improve some of the less action heavy scenes. The package includes the international (116 mins) cut, along with the special features, on a BD50 and a BD25 containing the theatrical cut, reversible cover art and a booklet that we have not seen and won't comment upon obviously. Both discs are Region B-locked and both cuts of the film come accompanied by two superb lossless tracks, and a music and effects track. The master audio mix is awesome, terrifying in the midst of the action and atmospheric as the film moves to the next setpiece. This is as good a surround mix as I have heard in a while, truly enveloping and absorbing.imageVisual quality is similarly excellent with sharp detailed images, presented with little obvious tinkering and a fine natural layer of grain. Hooper apparently colour adjusted these transfers himself so the appearance may be different to what you have experienced before but this is no Friedkin like botch job. Bright when it needs to be and with great black levels, the effects shots look well integrated,and it must be said that this is a lovely, lovely transfer.

In terms of the special features, the option of the music and effects tracks is welcome as it enables the sheer visual strength of the film to show through. The commentaries are a bit more mixed though - I never thought I'd have to sit through a make-up FX commentary and a visual FX one as well and to get the full value of both I suppose you really, really need to be interested in both areas. I would admit I am not terribly taken by either extra, finding the small tidbits about the chaos or the badness of Hooper like a needle in the proverbial when trawling through two hours of comments each. Smith is a bit more fluent and instructive and consequently easier to listen to.

Hooper's commentary suffers from his introversion and consequently the set-up of him being interviewed is a sensible one. Sentences hang, verbs disappear and while his general points are understandable, there's little here to be excited by other than his continued weird idea that the film is really about relationships. Personally, I've not been "out" with any permanently naked people who suck the life out of everyone around me, but then I've also not done anywhere enough drugs. The one admission I thought important was that Golan/Globus's sole rule was that May had to be naked throughout. He's also interviewed for another short piece where he praises the simple nature of Cannon's production and talks about calling in favours to get O'Bannon on board.

May's interview understandably deals with how weird it was to be naked, 18 and in London speaking little English during the making of the film. Still very elegant, May talks about giving up her dreams of being a dancer and enjoying learning English from listening to Finlay's great voice. In his interview, Railsback emphasises the tastefulness of the nudity and his admiration of Hooper, whilst detailing his own battle against stereotyping.

The large making of documentary is a collection of interviews from surviving crew and Nicholas Ball about their recollections of making the film. It's rather sweet how people contradict one another during it - Ball will talk about how May's limited English kept her apart on set whilst the make-up people will say the opposite. Tales of ogling electricians and suspicions of chemical assistance are shared in what doesn't really add up to much new light on the film, to be honest.

Cannon and Tristar trailers complete an all HD haul of extras. The collector's booklet is said to include an interview with John Dykstra and an essay from Bill Warren, along with stills and poster art.

Summary

One of the best guilty pleasures, Lifeforce gets a magnificent release from Arrow
Details and Specifications
Blu-Ray Review

Region: B

Certificate: 18

Distributor:
Arrow

Running Time:
116/103 mins approx
Soundtracks:
International Cut:
DTS HD MA 5.1
LPCM Stereo
LPCM Stereo (Music and FX)
DD Stereo (Tobe Hooper Commentary)
DD Stereo (Nick Maley)
DD Stereo (Douglas Smith)

Theatrical Cut
LPCM Stereo
DTS HD MA 5.1
LPCM Stereo (Music and FX)

Subtitles:
English

Director:
Tobe Hooper

Main cast:
Steve Railsback
Mathilda May
Frank Finlay
Patrick Stewart
Peter Firth
-- more --
Ratings
Film
8
Video
9
Audio
10
Extras
6
9
About John White
John lurks in the shadows of Digital Fix reviewing films meant for people half his age and twice his intellect. The madder, the stranger and the more squalid a film the more likely he is to acclaim it the Citizen Kane of its kind. Apart from looking both startled and menacing, John is a former editor of the TV section at Digital Fix, you can find his scribblings there here. John can be found on Google Plus, and on Facebook too.