Editor’s Notes: The Scorch Trials, The Phantom of the Opera, and The Hurricane are available now on their respective formats .
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (Twentieth Century-Fox Home Entertainment), based on James Dasher’s best-selling series of novels, picks up where The Maze ended. Its survivors — teenagers Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and pals Minho (Ki Hong Lee), Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Frypan (Dexter Darden), and Winston (Alexander Flores) — wind up in the Scorch, a barren wasteland created by an environmental catastrophe. Thomas encounters Aris (Jacob Lofland), a loner who knows something evil is going on. The corporation WCKD, overseen by the despotic Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson), is using the kids as lab rats, since they are immune to the disease that’s turning people into crazed, zombie-like Cranks, who maraud through the region. To avoid death, Thomas and crew escape into the mountains in search of a safe haven.
Despite harrowing escapes from assorted villains, horrific creatures, and other obstacles, The Scorch Trials never seems to get anywhere. The repetitive screenplay has lots of action scenes but the plot — what there is of it — is threadbare. One chase follows another to the point of tedium. Many of the questions raised are far more interesting than the answers provided. Tapping into the current popularity of zombies makes all too obvious the producers’ desire to be commercial.
The Scorch Trials suffers from an uneven pace. The film starts sluggishly with excessive exposition before it gears up for the action. Once it begins, however, it’s non-stop, and its bright young cast do their best to make the most of the limited material.
Bonus extras on the Blu-ray Combo Pack include deleted and extended scenes with optional audio commentary by director Wes Ball, screenwriter T.S. Newline and others; several behind-the-scenes featurettes; visual effects reel focusing on individual scenes; gag reel; and concept art and storyboards.
The Phantom of the Opera
The Phantom of the Opera (Kino Lobber) is the original silent feature film that inspired successive remakes and a Broadway musical. Lon Chaney, the “Man of a Thousand Faces” stars as Erik, the horribly disfigured man who haunts the passageways and underground chambers of the Paris Opera.
The story is simple. Erik is infatuated with soprano Christine Daae (Mary Philbin), understudy to the opera’s star diva, Carlota. Through threats and intimidation and, eventually, more drastic means, the Phantom forces the opera management to let Christine perform. But this isn’t enough for him. The Phantom kidnaps her and takes her into the depths of the opera’s sub-basements, where he lives and keeps a shrine devoted to Christine. Deep underground, alone with the Phantom, there is little chance of rescue. Norman Kerry stars as Raoul, Christine’s beloved, and Arthur Edmund Carewe appears as Ledoux, a mysterious presence who pops up here and there, his purpose not realized until late in the film.
This is Chaney’s masterpiece, with make-up that is still frightening today. Chaney inserted discs into his nostrils to flare them, and had fish wire hold his mouth open so it could not be closed. With additional facial make-up and hairpiece, his Phantom takes on the appearance of a living cadaver.
This original version far outshines later tellings of the same story. The sets, in particular, are sumptuous and stood for decades on the Universal lot as “the Phantom stage.”
The Blu-ray release presents the 1929 theatrical version, restored from archival 35-millimeter elements, highlighted by the Technicolor Bal Masque sequence (in which the Phantom interrupts the revelry in the scarlet robes of the Red Death) and several meticulously hand-colored sequences. This Blu-ray release offers the film in two historically accurate projection speeds (each with two different soundtrack options). Bonus content includes the 1925 theatrical cut, which contains scenes that were removed from the 1929 release version, and lengthy excerpts from the 1930 sound version, which no longer survives intact.
The Hurricane (Kino Lorber) is one of director John Ford’s most popular films of the 1930s, largely on the strength of its spectacular visual effects. Based on the novel by James Norman Hall and Charles Nordhoff that was first serialized in “The Saturday Evening Post,” the film follows the plight of Terangi (Jon Hall, Arabian Nights), a native of the French-controlled island Manakoora. After marrying his childhood sweetheart, Marama (Dorothy Lamour, Road to Morocco), Terangi takes a job on a ship. While docked in Tahiti, Terangi gets into a fight with a white man, an offense punishable by a prison term. Strict French governor DeLaage (Raymond Massey) is bound to uphold the law. Appeals made by a doctor (Thomas Mitchell), priest (C. Aubrey Smith), the ship’s captain (Jerome Cowan), and the governor’s own wife (Mary Astor) fail to change DeLaage’s resolve.
This begins a chain of events that entangles the freedom-loving Terangi in an ever-tightening web of white “justice.” Terangi escapes many times only to be captured and sentenced to longer and longer terms. Each time he gets away, he tries to return to Manakoora and his beloved Marama, while DeLaage, with Javert-like obsession, relentlessly pursues him. The personal story of the two lovers is underscored by the theme of institutional colonialism. The conflict is between personal freedom and oppressive, racist, imposed laws.
One of Hollywood’s earliest disaster films, The Hurricane features a 15-minute climactic sequence created by special-effects wizard James Basevi, who was responsible for the earthquake scenes in San Francisco a year earlier. The hurricane scenes were directed not by Ford, but by an uncredited Stuart Heisler, a fact acknowledged by Ford himself. Though filmed nearly 80 years ago without benefit of computer enhancement, these scenes still pack an impressive dramatic wallop. The Moon of Manakoora, written by Frank Loesser (lyrics) and Alfred Newman (music) for this film, was recorded by Dorothy Lamour in 1937 and became an American pop standard.
Special features on the Blu-ray release, newly remastered in high definition, include audio commentary by film historian Joseph McBride, author of Searching for John Ford: A Life, and the original theatrical trailer.