Lifeforce Blu-ray Review
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Written by Dan O'Bannon and Don Jakoby
1985, Region A, 116 minutes, Unrated
Blu-ray released on June 18th, 2013
Steve Railsback as Colonel Carsen
Mathilda May as Female
Peter Firth as Colonel Caine
Frank Finlay as Dr. Fallada
Patrick Stewart as Dr. Armstrong
Aubrey Morris as Sir Percy Heseltine
When an international space shuttle is sent to collect data on Halley's Comet, the crew is surprised to find an alien craft hidden within their target destination. An away team is sent to investigate and discovers three sleeping humanoid figures encased in crystal containers, which are immediately brought back to the ship. When the cargo is delivered to Earth, there are more questions than answers since the astronauts are either missing or dead.
The crystal containers remain intact and are brought back to London for further study. Police are quickly placed on high alert when one of the life forms escapes into the city and begins wreaking havoc. News arrives that the shuttle's escape pod has landed and mission commander Colonel Carlsen has survived. He is immediately brought to London for debriefing and tells a story that under other circumstances would appear to be the ramblings of a deeply troubled mind.
The police have no time to doubt Carlsen's testimony, as it seems there is indeed a space vampire threatening the destruction of the entire human race. Luckily, due to his early encounter with her, the astronaut has developed a telepathic bond with the alien and can track her movements. Carlsen is joined by Colonel Caine in the search, but the troubles continue to escalate as the city is quarantined due to crowds of undead monsters spreading the disease at an alarming speed.
Wow, holy smoke, does this sound like a batshit crazy movie or what?
This film has got everything. There are naked vampire women running around sucking the life out of just about every man they meet (plus an unfortunate lady jogger in Hyde Park). There's awesome spaceship stuff in outer space, plus creepy puppet people on Earth and big explosions and weird zombie vampire things in the streets...jeepers, if I saw this as a fifteen-year-old boy I would adore...wait a minute...unfortunately that is exactly the age I was when this came out and I think I was both confused and bored, except when the sexy vampire lady was on screen. What should have been the most awesome movie ever ended up as kind of a dud and it is hard to say why. Maybe the film took itself too seriously or perhaps it was hard for audiences not to chuckle at some of the over-the-top set pieces.
In the mid-80s, Cannon Films producers Menahem Golan and Yorum Globus wished to step up their game beyond their B-movie reputation with Lifeforce, a sci-fi horror film unlike anything that had come before. Based on Colin Wilson's novel The Space Vampires, with a screenplay written by Dan O'Bannon (Alien) and Don Jakoby (Arachnophobia), it was to be filmed in gorgeous 70mm like the classic epic Lawrence of Arabia and would be their highest-budgeted production to date. Following the success of Poltergeist, director Tobe Hooper was offered a three-picture deal with the company and he quickly assembled a high-profile crew including visual effects genius John Dykstra (Star Wars) and composer Henry Mancini (The Pink Panther).
The mostly British cast is filled with noted thespians including Peter Firth (Equus), Patrick Stewart (X-Men), Aubrey Morris (The Wicker Man) and Frank Finlay (The Three Musketeers). French ballerina Mathilda May was cast as the nubile vampire and Steve Railsback (Helter Skelter) filled the lead role of the American colonel determined to save the world at any cost. While everyone involved has had nothing but positive things to say about the production, somehow the end result didn't click with audiences or critics at the time. Lifeforce was moderately successful in its European release, but it was re-edited for American audiences and in the process lost around fifteen minutes of material, leaving most viewers confused.
Over the years, Lifeforce has been forgotten, shit on or generally ignored by American audiences. It received a limited theatrical run where it died a quick death and was dumped on VHS saddled with a murky full-frame transfer. Later, a widescreen version appeared on Laser Disc and it was presented in an extended cut that restored some sense of understanding to the plotline. A no-frills (MGM) DVD followed and now the fine folks at Scream Factory deliver a shiny new special edition Blu-ray release featuring both versions of the film so audiences can finally figure out what is going on. It is still not a terrific movie, but it really should be seen to be believed.
Video and Audio:
Lifeforce receives a stunning new transfer that shames all previous releases. The picture is presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio with an amazing amount of detail and clarity. This edition has been fully restored under the supervision of director Tobe Hooper and now offers a vibrancy missing from earlier discs and improves upon black levels and flesh tones.
The disc defaults to a robust DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix and really delivers with a powerful use of the surround channels. Dialogue levels remain clean and free of distortion while music and effects tracks give the system a real workout. There is a nice balance between front and rear speakers during the interrogation sequence with Patrick Stewart. The original stereo track is also provided as a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix. English subtitles are provided.
The theatrical cut receives only a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix.
Scream Factory continues to impress with their treatment of cult classics and this release includes both the original European cut (116 minutes) and the unfortunate U.S. Theatrical edit (101 minutes). The majority of the changes are in the opening third of the picture, but luckily the only things deleted were large chunks of the initial setup, some interesting plot points and a bit of character development.
The extended cut features two commentary tracks, the first with Tobe Hooper, moderated by Tim Sullivan. Hooper really seems to be enjoying himself as he shares countless anecdotes from the production. The second commentary is with makeup artist Nick Maley, moderated by Michael Felcher, and once again Felcher proves to be an accomplished interviewer. Maley discusses his work on this production as well as several others, including Star Wars and Krull.
Dangerous Beauty with Mathilda May (15 minutes) is a really interesting interview with the actress, discussing her role as a mostly nude, mostly mute antagonist. She talks about her approach to the material and how she used her career in dance to define her movements.
Carlsen's Curse with Steve Railsback (7 minutes) is a welcome visit with the actor who talks about how he became attached to the project, working with the cast and crew and other memories from the set.
Space Vampires in London with Tobe Hooper (10 minutes) is a laid-back conversation with the director who shares additional insights on the production.
Making of Lifeforce (21 minutes) is an original press kit release from 1985, featuring interviews with the cast and crew and lots of behind-the-scenes footage from the set.
The original trailer, TV spots and a gallery of stills rounds out the special features on this disc.
A copy of the film's extended cut is also included on a DVD.