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The Little People Behind 'Godzilla'

November 05, 1998|ERNESTO LECHNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Size, it seems, didn't matter in the end and after the relative failure of this summer's "Godzilla," its makers hopefully might refrain from bragging in the slogans for their future movies.

As a home video experience, though, the grandiloquent, overdone "Godzilla" has more bite than on the big screen. Granted, two-thirds of the movie is plain ludicrous, but the beginning half-hour does a beautiful job at building a good old-fashioned sense of suspense. And the monster's first appearance, with its crispy, computer-generated looks and loud Dolby Digital grumbles, will make you feel happy that you went ahead and spent that money on your DVD player.

Showcasing some commendable sincerity, the movie's special edition goes straight for the kill. Why have an audio commentary with director Roland Emmerich or any members of the cast? Who needs those guys anyway? Fittingly, the only commentary you will find here involves the real stars of the picture: the special-effects people.

During the first hour or so, you get visual effects supervisor Volker Engel and his pal, associate supervisor Karen Goulekas; the two make an interesting pair. Where Engel philosophizes in his thick German accent, saying things like "This is a perfect mixture of scary and beautiful," Goulekas exclaims: "Those shots are cool!" It's the perfect balance between the concrete and the ethereal.

Halfway through the commentary, conceptual designer Patrick Tatopoulos joins in and livens things up with tidbits from his own experience designing the creature.

The most amazing fact about the production of such a complicated movie is the amount of mixed media that was used in every shot: a dizzying combination of miniatures, live action and layers of computer-generated effects.

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Remember the concept of interactive movies? Some years ago, there was talk of a new format that would take over Hollywood, where the audience members could control the outcome of a film's plot by pushing a button installed on their seats of the movie theaters.

The idea went nowhere very quickly, but now it's been resurrected for the DVD format.

"I'm Your Man" is the first title in a planned series of interactive movies distributed by DVD International, and it includes an original soundtrack composed by Joe Jackson.

The problem with the production is that its makers didn't have that much money to work with. The film is shot on video with obviously modest resources, and the pleasure in watching it is limited to the cute gimmick of deciding, from time to time, the outcome of a very silly story starring amateurish actors.

Laserdisc Releases

"The Wanderers" (1979, Image). A gritty, seriocomic look at gang life in the Bronx during the '60s, this bittersweet memento of a film was directed with flair by Philip Kaufman ("The Right Stuff," "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"). Includes an audio commentary with the director.

"Titanic" (1997, Pioneer). Forget VHS. The "King of the World" would want you to watch the ultimate Hollywood spectacle on a digital format anyway. Available on both a superior widescreen and a pan and scan version.

DVD Releases

"Species II" (1998, MGM). This eroticized entry into the slimy sci-fi genre includes an audio commentary with director Peter Medak, deleted explicit footage and the original theatrical trailer.

"The Spanish Prisoner" (1998, Columbia TriStar). David Mamet at his best, ever obsessed with deception and con artists. How Columbia TriStar could choose not to include any supplemental materials on one film that actually deserves them is beyond comprehension.

You can reach Ernesto Lechner at LechnerE@aol.com

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