David E. Kelly, the creator of TV's ALLY McBEAL and THE PRACTICE, and FRIDAY THE 13TH series veteran Steve Miner give theatrical audiences a cockeyed turn on the monster movie with LAKE PLACID, on Blu-ray courtesy of Shout! Factory's Scream Factory line.
When Lincoln County, Maine sheriff Keogh (Brendan Gleeson, GANGS OF NEW YORK) pulls out only half of a diver from Black Lake, Fish and Game warden Jack Wells (Bill Pullman, THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW) is called into visit. Nature-phobic New York Museum of Natural History paleontologist Kelly Scott (Bridget Fonda, SINGLE WHITE FEMALE) also finds herself sent to Maine to look at the prehistoric-looking tooth fragment pulled out of the diver's body, more to "cool off" when her married boyfriend/boss Kevin (an uncredited Adam Arkin, also in Miner's HALLOWEEN H20) dumps her for her colleague Myra (a pre-LAW AND ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT Mariska Hargitay). Keogh is more than skeptical about speculation that a crocodile could be lurking in the lake even with the arrival of wealthy and kooky mythology professor Hector Cyr (Oliver Platt, FLATLINERS) who has traveled the world to swim with crocodiles (who he believes are godly given the many societies who deify them). One headless deputy later and the team realize that a thirty foot Asian crocodile has somehow made it halfway across the globe and has somehow managed to alter the local ecosystem, but the mystery is how it has been able to sustain itself in the isolated lake with no history of disappearances and only off-her-rocker Mrs. Bickerson (THE GOLDEN GIRLS' Betty White) living nearby. With the citing confirmed, Jack has Florida Fish and Game on their way to kill the thing, but Hector and Kelly try to convince him and the sheriff that the croc is of ecological significance: the trick is how to capture it without become lunch themselves…
LAKE PLACID runs a lean and mean eighty-two minutes (less with the extended credits), not bothering with any random teenage victims or more fool-hardy crock hunters getting mulched, focusing instead between croc attacks on the interplay between its quirky main quartet. Pullman and Fonda are likeable even in the obligatory "will they, won't they", but Gleeson and Platt are a delight (even more so than White's well-remembered performance). Meredith Salenger [THE KISS] has a smaller fifth wheel role as the female deputy but is more than the "nice boobs" as Hector refers to her. The Stan Winston (THE THING) animatronic effects and Digital Domain CGI have held up really well; these and the beautiful lensing by Daryn Okada (PHANTASM II) and production design of John Willett (FREDDY VS. JASON) – both of whom had just come off HALLOWEEN H20 with Miner – make this film the closest Miner got to a studio blockbuster-style flick (although he has worked regularly in television since then, his only subsequent feature efforts have been James Van Der Beek and Jessica Simpson vehicles and the dire DAY OF THE DEAD remake).
LAKE PLACID was one of those early Fox non-anamorphic DVD releases that apparently never received an anamorphic upgrade (unless the version in the triple feature set with ALLIGATOR PEOPLE and SWAMP THING was 16:9). While the first Sci-Fi Channel hit Blu-ray upon release (the "Syfy" third and fourth films are DVD-only so far, just as well), the original LAKE PLACID makes its Blu debut courtesy of Shout! Factory's Scream Factory line. Licensed from Fox, Scream's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 transfer is a nice surprise considering their Blu-ray of RAVENOUS (also licensed from Fox). The image looks appropriately warm – despite being shot in Canada in November – with natural skintones, and the mix of animatronics and CGI hold up well in high definition (the make-up effects are technically impressive but the severed heads are no better here than in the Stan Winston Studio-designed THE RELIC from the same period). The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 tracks are appropriately enveloping – especially when it comes to John Ottman's sweeping score – and optional English SDH subtitles are also included.
The only new extra is the "Making of LAKE PLACID" (31:20) featuring contributions from actor Pullman, director Miner, cinematographer Okada, seasoned editor Marshall Harvey – whose resume includes everything from THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER, THE BURBS, Joe Dante's SMALL SOLDIERS to Dario Argento's DRACULA 3D and some of the MASTERS OF HORROR TV movies, as well as Miner's previous two films MY FATHER THE HERO and BIG BULLY – production designer John Willett (Miner's HALLOWEEN H20), effects supervisor Nick Marra (WRONG TURN), and effects make-up artist Toby Lindala (TV's THE X-FILES). Pullman and Miner recall their initial curiosity about a horror project from David E. Kelly, appreciating the mix of horror and comedy, the casting, and realizing that the key was in the staccato delivery of the dialogue (Miner instructed the actors to not be afraid to interrupt each other). Harvey discusses the importance of editing in the effectiveness of comic and horror scenes (as well as Okada and Willet discuss the ambitious idea to build an entire lake for greater control (sinking a five million gallon concrete pool in a piece of land to let in Canada), as well as shooting there in the winter (the underwater scenes were shot later in California). Miner and Pullman also recall working with White – who had no problem with the language but was curious as to where her character would have learned such words – while Marra and Lindala discuss working with the hydraulic crocodile (the sight of which scared off the live bear brought to the set for one of the suspense set-pieces).
Also included is a "Vintage Behind the Scenes Featurette" (5:38) with sound-bytes from Fonda, Pullman, Platt, Gleeson (with his real accent), and director Miner, as well as a better look at the hydraulic croc and some of the CGI. The "Croc Test Footage" (7:21) is several minutes of silent, upscaled home video of the mechanical croc in the water. Nothing really happens since the crew is just basically seeing how it looks rising out of the water, how it looks as the camera pans over and discovers it, and so on. The rest of the disc content consists of the theatrical trailer (1:58), TV spots (1:34), and a behind the scenes still gallery. (Eric Cotenas)
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