Lake Placid Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review
Directed by Steve Miner
Written by David E. Kelley
1999, Region A, 82 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on July 8th, 2014
Bill Pullman as Jack Wells
Bridget Fonda as Kelly Scott
Oliver Platt as Hector Cyr
Brendan Gleeson as Sheriff Hank Keough
Betty White as Mrs. Bickerman
Mariska Hargitay as Myra Okubo
Adam Arkin as Kevin
Game warden Jack Wells and paleontologist Kelly Scott are investigating the mysterious death of a Maine forestry worker in the waters of Lake Black. A giant tooth retrieved from the corpse, originally believed to be a fossil, actually belongs to a massive 30-foot Asian crocodile that is currently eating anything that ventures too close to the water. Eccentric millionaire Hector Cyr, who reveres crocodiles and travels the world to study them, joins the hunt, as does Sheriff Keough, a man with little time for the sarcasm of these whining interlopers. What follows is a bit of an adventure picture in which the research team sets out with assorted trapping devices in hopes of possibly capturing this modern miracle of nature alive.
Unfortunately, the crocodile is more interested in eating both trespassers and as much wildlife as possible than being transported to a nature preserve. This is a darkly comic tale of two worlds colliding as the modern scientists are forced to deal with a classic monster they have no way of understanding. Their efforts lead to Mrs. Bickerman, the sole resident of the surrounding lakeside property, a woman who speaks her mind and has little tolerance for outsiders who threaten her daily routine. While she is less than forthcoming with any information, the group discovers she may have more knowledge of what is going on here than anyone could imagine, but can they figure out the truth in time in order to survive intact?
There was a time at the end of the 20th century when multiplex cinemas were awash with horror movies featuring giant sea creatures: Anaconda (1997), Deep Rising (1998) and Deep Blue Sea (1999) to name only a few. Most of these films were fun tales that incorporated moderate amounts of CGI into the classic monster picture formula in order to boost the scare factor. Lake Placid however doesn't take itself too seriously and succeeds as a black comedy that somehow manages to mix the exploitation world of Roger Corman (Piranha) with a hint of Preston Sturges (Sullivan's Travels). It fails to hit the heights of either influence, but it successfully delivers an old-fashioned fright flick with characters that know how to banter.
Screenwriter David E. Kelley (Picket Fences, Boston Public) has a distinct voice that differs from the self-aware Kevin Williamson (Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer) wave of films that dominated the box office at the time, but his script is not as satisfying as that of a similar John Sayles (Alligator) project almost 20 years earlier. While the allure of a screenplay by Kelley is hard to resist, there is a fair amount of laziness when it comes to some basic elements. The Maine-based plot is set on Lake Black and when a character asks about the name, we are told “They wanted to call it Lake Placid, but it was already taken.” An odd joke, made more bizarre in that it affects the title of the film. While not a deal breaker by any means, this exchange sets a precedent that any legitimate questions raised will be dismissed with a flippant retort.
Director Steve Miner (Friday the 13th Parts 2 & III) knows how to build suspense and manages to keep things moving here, even when the tone is at odds with the script. There are several nice touches along the way that hint at the presence of the unseen beast, including the behavior of surrounding fish and wildlife. By the time our heroes are actively evading the giant croc, Miner has fully endeared each to us so there is a real threat that anyone may be in danger of being eaten. Cinematographer Daryn Okada (Phantasm II) paints a gorgeous picture that makes great use of the natural scenic landscape while successfully matching the design for the oversized sets so the two worlds blend seamlessly. While some of the CGI beast shots are a bit dodgy by today's standards, the practical crocodile assembled by Stan Winston (Pumpkinhead) and associates is still very impressive and fun to watch as it interacts with the cast. This creature is the obvious star of the film and appears up to the task more often than not.
Bill Pullman (Lost Highway) and Bridget Fonda (A Simple Plan) do most of the heavy lifting as our reluctant heroes Jack and Kelly. Pullman's no-nonsense Everyman approach to the role offers a nice dynamic to Fonda's “fish out of water” scientist. Sadly, she receives the short end of the deal, as any back story provided her character is inconsistent and heavy-handed. Luckily she is a strong enough actor to overcome the shortcomings and remain likeable. The real favorites of the cast, however, are Brendan Gleeson (28 Days Later) and Oliver Platt (Flatliners) as Sheriff Keough and Hector Cyr respectively. The two share enough comic barbs to keep things light and entertaining. There is a long running gag involving the sheriff being the only one to land in one of Cyr's traps and Gleeson really delivers. Platt feels like a safe casting choice in many of his roles, but the eccentricities of his character here are even more fun when channeled through this quirky actor.
At the time of release, much was made of the inclusion of Betty White (Hard Rain, Mary Tyler Moore) in the cast and some of her saltier dialogue as the reclusive Mrs. Bickerman. This was merely one of many times the nonagenarian has ruled the entertainment industry with her comedic timing. It is also worth pointing out a trio of cameos that are fun but ultimately meaningless: first are Adam Arkin (Halloween: H20, Sons of Anarchy) and Mariska Hargitay (Perfume, Law & Order: SVU) as Fonda's boss and co-worker whose affair sends her on the journey, and (for film nerds) director Miner appears as the helicopter pilot who delivers her to Maine. While it is nice to see Hargitay and Arkin on screen, their scenes are the only time we are outside the environment and the film would likely have benefited had Fonda's entrance coincided with her arrival in Maine.
Despite negative critical response, the film was successful enough to spawn three made-for-television sequels (seriously), all of which can be easily avoided, but the original is actually better than the sum of its parts. The brisk 82-minute running time will keep anyone from getting bored, and it is pretty difficult to resist a big-budget monster movie that delivers the goods while simultaneously poking holes in the trappings of the genre. Lake Placid is neither the best nor worst entry in the killer crocodile sub-genre, but it is a lot of fun and even features a nod to the helicopter scene in Jaws 2! Do yourself a favor and give it a shot – you know you want to see the giant beast Stan Winston made.
Video and Audio:
The original 2.35:1 aspect ratio is properly presented here for the first time, as the previous DVD was a non-anamorphic transfer that was a bit lacking. This new release is quite the upgrade and the colors and fine detail both benefit. Much of the third act takes place at night and luckily none of the action is lost in the darkness.
The default DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix really opens up the surround channels for both atmospheric effects as well as music cues. Dialogue is clean and clear and when the crocodile attacks, there is plenty of bass to elevate the drama. A DTS-HD MA 2.0 track offers a solid presentation that preserves the original stereo mix as well, but this is included more as a gift to purists. English subtitles are provided for anyone in need.
An all new half-hour retrospective making-of featurette includes recent interviews with a large number of cast and crew. Bill Pullman, Steve Miner, Daryn Okada, Marshall Harvey (editor), John Willett (production designer), Nick Marra (effects supervisor) and Toby Lindala (makeup effects) all have kind things to say about the production.
The 1999 promotional featurette (5 minutes) is also on hand and features several talking-head clips with stars Bill Pullman, Bridget Fonda, Oliver Platt, Betty White and director Steve Miner. This is a quick fluff piece that breaks no new ground in marketing the picture, but it is still nice to see the (brief) behind-the-scenes clips of the talent at work.
A brief (7 minutes) glimpse at some crocodile test footage is pretty self-explanatory as the mechanical beast is placed in the water for rehearsals.
A behind-the-scenes photo gallery of 40 images offers many nice shots of the crocodile construction and on-set prep of assorted effects work, Steve Miner working with actors, etc.
The original theatrical trailer and TV spots round out the special features on this disc.