Thursday, August 9, 2012

THE FACULTY (Blu-ray)

In the late Nineties, filmmaker Robert Rodriguez was an up-and-coming talent, and it didn't take long for the Weinstein Brothers to pull him into the Miramax fold. After he scored a moderate success for the label with the B-horror flick FROM DUSK 'TILL DAWN, written by their Golden Boy, Quentin Tarantino, they partnered Rodriguez up with another of their rising talents, SCREAM scribe Kevin Williamson. The resulting collaboration, the enjoyable 50's sci-fi throwback, THE FACULTY (1998), came out on Blu-ray from Echo Bridge Entertainment a couple weeks back.

Small town Harrington High is like pretty much any American High School, with a rigidly-established social strata and a student body composed of the usual stereotypes - jocks, nerds, troublemakers, mean girls, cheerleaders, etc. But when various members of the faculty (including Robert Patrick, Jon Stewart, Famke Janssen, Bebe Neuwirth, Salma Hayek and Piper Laurie) start acting unusually aggressive and, well, weird, a group of students begin to realize that their teachers have become infected by and taken over by slug-like alien parasites. Under the leadership of "bad boy" Zeke (Josh Hartnett, BLACK HAWK DOWN) and pretty cheerleader Delilah (Jordana Brewster, THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS), the kids fight to retain their humanity and uncover the source of the invasion.

With a paranoid plot owing more than a little to 50s science fiction flix like INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD and IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, and angsty teen characterizations and "meta" humor right out of Williamson's own SCREAM (and DAWSON'S CREEK), THE FACULTY is fairly predictable stuff... but it's also pretty entertaining.

The terrific cast, which also includes Elijah Wood, Clea Duvall, and Christopher Macdonald, is a potent mix of genre veterans and then-unknowns on the brink of box office stardom. The late 90s digital special effects are comparatively restrained and reasonably effective. It's also nice to be reminded that Rodriguez actually can shoot a movie outside of his greenscreen stage - the photography by Enrique Chediak is stylish, with a muted, cool color palette that is both attractive and atmospheric.

Previously released on DVD in '99 by Dimension/Disney in a pretty crappy, overly dark transfer, this new HD edition from Echo Bridge is a pleasant surprise. The 1080p HD presentation represents the film's original 16x9 1.85:1 aspect ratio (the package says 1.78:1, but it looks a bit wider than that to me; in any case the difference is negligible), and is remarkably sharp and crisp. There is virtually no print damage or speckling in evidence, and the carefully subdued hues appear to be rendered accurately. Audio options include a reasonably dynamic Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, a 5.1 DTS track, and 2.0 Stereo. There are no extras included, not even subtitles or the theatrical trailer.

For fans of filmmakers and actors involved, the Echo Bridge Blu-ray of THE FACULTY is a good deal. Like most of the label's video titles, it's budget-priced, and it does offer a respectable, if utterly bare-bones, HD version of the movie. The film is fun, too.

Recommended.

BUY:   Faculty [Blu-ray]