Fox, 1963, Color, 248 mins.- 5 Star Coll. DVD

Martin Landau: "In obtaining her objectives Cleopatra has been known to employ torture, poison, and even her own sexual talents, which are said to be considerable."

Welcome to the film that, among other disasters, got Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton together, almost drove writer/director Joseph Mankiewicz into an early grave, and just about broke the bank at a major Hollywood studio. The familiar story of Cleopatra (a decidedly miscast Taylor), Julius Caesar (Rex Harrison) and Marc Anthony (Burton) unfolds with enough loving and fighting and political maneuvering to fuel a week's worth of soap operas. In the context of historical melodramas, it's actually not as bad as it might have been, and it really delivers the ol' spectacle. If you like massive sets and a cast of thousands to go along with your histrionics, if you want to see big battle scenes and even bigger parties, if you get a kick out of actors who have more exotic costume changes than a runway model- then you'll love this.

And once you've soldiered through the film, you can pop in the extras disc and take in the feature-length documentary, in which the story of the picture's production unfolds with the terrible fascination of a low-speed train wreck. Although it eventually won five Oscars, "Cleopatra" also earned a disastrous reputation- and that's where the real drama lies.

Paramount, 1980, Color, 87 mins.- Widescreen Coll. DVD

Robert Stack: “Flying a plane is no different than riding a bicycle....just a lot harder to put baseball cards in the spokes.”

This paragon of absurdity flew in out of nowhere and convulsed unsuspecting movie audiences with its nonstop barrage of wild gags. A parody of the “Airport” films and “Zero Hour,” among other things, it shows the dangers of eating airline food, as most of the flight crew and passengers of a jet on a routine run are stricken with a debilitating fish-borne illness. It’s up to Robert Hays, an ex-military pilot carrying a heavy load of baggage from “The War” (don’t ask which one), to get the plane down safely.

The story brings the expected stock elements into play- the troubled romance, the sick child, the singing nun, the airport official with a substance-abuse problem, the pilot who likes gladiator movies, the copilot who plays for the Lakers, the pilot’s wife who sleeps with a horse- all of the usual stuff. But it’s given a fresh spin by the creative team of Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker- and by actors like Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, and Leslie Nielsen, who blow their previously serious images right out of the water. The film is dated by a number of topical references, but the gags come so thick and fast that it doesn’t matter. Extras include the trailer and an audio commentary by the above mentioned creative team.

Universal, 1975, Color, 125 mins.- 25th Ann. DVD

Roy Scheider: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

With this picture, director Steven Spielberg shot himself into the movie biz stratosphere by doing for ocean swimming what Hitchcock did for showers. This film was also largely responsible for creating the phenomenon of the summer blockbuster, although it’s such a well-crafted piece of entertainment that it’s impossible to resent it for that.

New England island police chief Schieder, an everyman type who has a dislike for the water, finds himself dealing with a man-eating shark, and runs into the expected political and economic obstacles to closing the beach at the height of tourist season. Shark expert Richard Dreyfuss and shark hunter Robert Shaw join forces with Scheider in a climactic showdown with the toothy critter, which is a veritable force of nature. The story maintains a brisk pace from the opening scene, slowing only for a bit of character development here and there, including one exceptionally good scene which explains the crusty Shaw’s dislike of his prey.

The film’s one weak point is the infamously troublesome mechanical shark, but the creative ways used to show the presence of the beast without really showing it only add to the suspense. If you haven’t seen this, do yourself a favor and check it out before somebody remakes it with twice the special effects and half the intelligence. Disc extras include photos and a documentary.



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© Melt Magazine 2002