DEEP RISING/ THE PUPPET MASTERS – Blu-ray review

After pioneering films like Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park proved computer generated effects to be commercially viable, there was a boon in the old creature feature style films in the mid nineties using the fresh and innovative technology. There was no longer a reliance on men in rubber suits or wire and pulley systems to get otherworldly monsters to fly about. Writers and directors were able to expand their creativity and creature designs beyond earthbound physical limits.  During this period “Deep Rising” jumped aboard using familiar action plots and infusing it with newfangled computer generated creepy crawlies.

The story is already in motion when the film begins. On a stormy night, a ramshackle boat is crashing through rain and waves headed by Captain John Finnegan (Treat Williams) and his small crew consisting of Joey (Kevin J. O’Connor) and Leila (Una Damon). They are ushering a group of roughneck mercenary types led by Hanover (Wes Studi) towards a small island in the South Pacific. It’s a contract job for Finnegan, a nice guy who specializes in ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ jobs for money.   At the same time a large cruise ship full of rich types is gallivanting about in the vicinity. Finnegan’s mechanic Joey stumbles across their passenger’s cargo which so happen to be high powered missiles.  After the mercs rough him up and Finnegan intervenes with a shotgun and tensions reach a boiling point, all is quelled when he says he doesn’t care what the cargo is, he just wants to get paid for doing the job. At this point Finnegans crew realizes that they are targeting the cruise ship to perform a heist. They reach the ship and the mercs board it armed to the teeth with high powered automatic weapons ready to pillage and plunder.  Little do they know that the passengers have already been decimated by a blood thirsty, underwater kraken-like creature that has jumped aboard from a crevasse down below. Once they find out what’s going on, it’s an icky race to survive.

“Deep Rising” can easily be described as “Die Hard” meets “Poseidon” meets “The Relic.”  Much like “The Relic”, it probably shouldn’t be as good as it really is but it works on a pure entertainment level.  It is a very self aware movie and that is what makes it so much fun.  It fully embraces the absurdity and charges forward like a shark devouring on some chum. Chaos and firepower reign supreme in this flick.  Sticky red blood is thrown against walls aggressively after quick monster attacks; thousands of rounds of ammunition are fired gleefully and when finally seeing the creature in all its glory it crashes and slithers about forcefully coming across as an honest threat.  The pacing is lightning quick as the plot progresses during scenes of chaos or when the survivors are catching their breaths after escaping an attack.  The cast is also a plus, especially the mercenaries.  Many of them are currently recognizable actors early on in their careers.  Everyone has an attitude and a gun to back it up.

There are a couple of things holding it back from achieving a possible cult status level. It would have benefited from some more gratuitous violence and not just snatch and grab approach with blood splatter aftermath.  There are some nice kills but nothing memorable. Treat Williams is likable enough but lacks a star-like charisma which puts him in the serviceable action hero category.  He comes off as more of a cool uncle rather than a true asskicker.  The effects would have been pretty darn good back in 1998. They do not hold up exceptionally well but they are still not outright horrible.  They are dated however that is not necessarily a bad thing.  They match the fun tone of the film now. You can laugh at it and appreciate it at the same time.

The second half of the double feature is “The Puppet Masters”, a mid 90’s body snatchers emulator actually starring Donald Sutherland who was already in the “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” remake back in 1978.  It starts off right with a couple of teens seeing something crash in a field. From there on out, we see things from the FBI’s point of view.  Federal Agents Sam (Eric Thal) and Mary Sefton (Julie Warner, led by Andrews Nivens (Donald Sutherland) are called in to investigate the crash. Right from the get-go they are suspicious of all the people in the town closest to the crash as they seem to emit no emtions. They quickly realize the infection can spread quickly via little alien creatures that attached themselves to human’s bare backs and tap into their spinal column at the base of the neck.  As the threat spreads, the Feds and military must find a way to stop it before it’s too late.

“Masters” plays it more seriously than “Rising.” There are some moments of intended humor but it’s few and far between.  But it isn’t a grueling affair either, it plays it right down the middle employing as much realism as needed.  Mostly limiting the point of view to the Feds is nice touch in a movie like this.  It helps add some mystery to the story where the audience has to piece things together as the characters do.  It’s also adds greatly to the “who’s who” element.  When someone leaves your site, anything can happen to them and they may not be who they really are when they come back.  It’s feeling is present throughout the entire film.  Another positive is that the Feds are all competent. They use psychological cues to analyze the townsfolk early on. Julie Warner realizes that flirting and appearing sexual has no effect and is used as an early tactic. Later they use technology and good ole fashion duplicity to infiltrate the hive.  It has a fun “how is this going to get solved” vibe. There are also some pretty good moments involving stunt work.

It’s not all good though. There are some pacing issues that plague the middle portion by trying to add some character depth and motivations. It’s commendable that they tried but it isn’t entirely successful.  While the use off cgi is rather effective for its age some of the practical effects of the alien creatures can be goofy.  There is a rather generic ending that happens to wrap things up rather quickly and it could’ve been a deal breaker (in a bad way) however a strong final action scene is tacked on leaving it on a high note.  Just ignore the fact that is doesn’t make too much sense considering the prior resolution.

Video:
The video is quite strong for an unsuccessful catalog titles from the mid nineties.  This is a humongous step up from Mill Creek’s other release of “Color of Night/Playing God” release. While those transfers were chock full of grain and print damage, the “Deep Rising/The Puppet Masters” transfers are sharp and show a lot of detail that was not so visible on DVDs. “Deep Rising” is a murky looking picture as it takes place mostly at night and in dimly lit locations but it looks clean.  “The Puppet Masters” is the grainier of the two however there is still a tremendous amount of detail throughout.  Night scenes are fairly grainy but that seems to be from the film stock used and lighting conditions and not he transfer. Both films have their soft focus moments but again they seem to be more an effect from the filming process and not in post production.  Only a full restoration of both films would make them better but that probably will never happen.  Fans of the films should be happy with the results.

Audio:
“Deep Rising” has a surprisingly strong DTS-MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack.  There is a lot of opportunity for some nice LFE and it takes advantage of it as best it can.  This is an aggressive soundtrack from the beginning storm at sea all the way until the very end.  All dialogue is easily intelligible and does not get drowned out during all the chaos.  The crashing and thumping of the creature is especially nice as it twists metal and shatters glass.  All the gunfire has some terrific heft and echo effect.  “The Puppet Masters” is only presented with a 2.0 DTS-HD MA soundtrack.  It is actually quite large for a stereo track.  There is quiet a nice widespread soundstage throughout especially during the scenes with music.  Dialogue is good for the most part although Donald Sutherland’s mumbling acting ways can sometimes get lost amongst the other sound effects going on. The experience could have benefited from some surround activity, especially during many of the action scenes.

Bottom line:
“Deep Rising” works well as a time capsule movie. It is genuinely entertaining with a tinge of laugh-ability infused into it.  It’s well acted for what it needs to be with a lot of early actors who went on to noticeable careers.  Would I watch it again? Yes, probably on a raining Sunday afternoon. “The Puppet Masters” is not as entertaining however it is still a serviceable movie that is at least worth one viewing.  It does not reinvent the body-snatcher genre but it also does not insult it either. Both films have surprisingly good video that transcend expectations.  Audio, while not as good is still well represented consistently (except for the Donald Sutherland mumbling).  No extras to speak of but at the price point, it’s to be expected. Recommended for sci-fi fans looking for a good time without thinking too hard.

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