Review Date: January 22, 2005
Released by: Columbia
Release date: 12/7/2004
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes | P&S: Yes
With the remake of Assault on Precinct 13
infiltrating theatres, what better time to revisit one of John Carpenter’s earlier works, Eyes of Laura Mars
? Released in 1978, Eyes of Laura Mars
is a film based on a script by Carpenter, who sold the rights to Columbia to raise money to make Halloween
. Although Carpenter did not direct, his vision is no doubt brought out throughout Eyes
. It is impossible to know how the film would have turned out had Carpenter been allowed to direct, but as a film by the respected Irvin Kershner, how does it hold up? Let’s take a look into the Eyes of Laura Mars
After a psychedelic shot of the eyes of Laura Mars (Faye Dunaway
), we are treated to an introduction much in the same vein as Halloween
. Through the perspective of the killer, the camera glides around the house until the killer finds his prey and subsequently plucks her eyes out. While committing the murders, the killer had been reading the works of popular photographer, Laura Mars. Mars has developed a notoriety for herself, in the way she combines sex and death into her photo shoots. She stages her beautiful, scantly clad models into scenes of car accidents and death, fetishizing them in a way similar to David Cronenberg’s Crash
. Like Crash
, Mars’ work is deemed very controversial, and questions are mounted as to whether her brutal photography will drive others to start murdering. The whole “vulnerable audience” criticism that has dogged the horror genre for years.
It is discovered that the murder was of someone very close to Mars, and the murdering doesn’t stop there. Another of Mars’ friends, and suspiciously also the wife to her ex-husband (Raul Julia
), is also murdered, but something about the death is peculiar. Laura actually witnessed the death in first person, as if through her camera lens she was able to see through the eyes of the killer. She continues to get these telepathic visions, and as the body count rises, a suave detective (Tommy Lee Jones
) is hired to try to put the pieces together. When Laura tries to tell the detective of her visions, her sanity is quickly thrown in check, and her career begins a downward spiral.
As facts begin to slowly arise, Mars finds out that many of her earlier pictures were shockingly similar to real life crime scene photos. Is there something going on that she doesn’t know about, and worse, could she herself be the killer? Her killer visions continue, until her psychic sightings come to overpower her own.
Eyes of Laura Mars
works primarily because of the concept of the film. Carpenter’s screenplay is incredibly perceptive and articulate, twisting the perceived influence of horror films on real life murder into a feature length story. Just as Laura Mars was able to psychically witness future events, Carpenter seemed to be able to predict the backlash that Halloween
would cause upon many cultural critics. Many people have cited the slasher film as one that forces the audience to identify with the killer through its many first person perspectives, pinning the blame on people like John Carpenter for whatever tabloid murder hits the papers. So with Eyes of Laura Mars
, Carpenter addresses the issue the media’s perceived cultivation of violence before it would even become an issue with his films.
Carpenter cleverly uses the eyes as the central symbol of the picture, using them to question who we are and what we see. Does Laura’s ability to view the murders put her equally to blame for them? Or more broadly, is the director of the film himself to blame for shooting such controversial material? Like with the films of Dario Argento, Carpenter uses Laura’s photography occupation as a metaphor for the director himself, as he points and shoots recreated scenes of violence on screen. Laura’s shocking photo shoots may seem a far stretch, but it is very much what happens on every horror film set, so for Carpenter the material seems to hit close to home. If Laura is to blame for actively witnessing in the crimes, then that makes us, the viewer, also guilty for indulging in horror films. Carpenter piles on the paradoxes as a playful little attack on the over-analysis of the semiotics of the horror genre.
The cinematography works brilliantly to add further layer upon Carpenter’s clever script. The design of Laura’s room, with its cascade of mirrors, gives cinematographer Victor J. Kemper the chance to really exploit angles and reflections to create a feeling of unease. It also works to further question identities, and whether or not we are the people we see through the mirror (or the camera for that matter). There are several shots where Laura is broken into a number of mirror images, suggesting that she is more layered than meets the eye. There is a final shot too, composed with such precise detail, that it says more than pages of exposition can explain. At times, this is a fabulously looking motion picture.
As promising as the ideas that Carpenter creates in the first two acts are, the final act ultimately ends a moderate disappointment. The basis for Mars’ psychosis is never really explained, as the focus of the third act instead falls on Tommy Lee Jones and his detective pursuits to track down the killer. For a film with a title like Eyes of Laura Mars
, you’d think it would have the conviction to follow its titular character throughout. Alas, Mars remains virtually comatose during the finale, and the interesting observations that Carpenter makes about the media industry ultimately go unresolved as the film drifts into a detective yarn.
Still, Carpenter’s ideas remain potent even today, and those looking for a window into his career should consider Eyes of Laura Mars
as one of his pinnacle works. As well as stunning cinematography, the film is buoyed by fine performances from a cast of who’s who genre stars, like Brad Dourif, Raul Julia, Tommy Lee Jones and Faye Dunaway. Look hard, and Captain Haggerty of Zombie
fame also has a minor bit appearance. It may not deliver on all its initial insights, but Eyes
is still a film that deserves to be seen.
This disc is a flipper, with one side containing a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, and the other containing an redundant 1.33:1 abomination. The widescreen print has a fair grit of grain, which is somewhat disappointing given that this was a major Hollywood film. There is a fair number of specs and blemishes throughout, although it isn’t overly distracting. Columbia definitely could have cleaned up the print, but what is here is still more than acceptable. Colors look accurate, and definitely of the time. The plaid and pastels are on full display here, but there is no color bleeding or shimmering to be seen. Darks also look delineated and deep. It looks good, but Columbia no doubt avoided any work above the bottom line.
The film is presented in mono only, and sounds perfectly fine. Many of the disco songs included in the kitschy score, from “Let’s All Chant” to Barbra Streisand’s theme song, have surprising fidelity, and give the film real energy. The voices come across very clear, and there is little hiss or distortions audible. A more ambitious surround mix would have really opened up the sound stage, but still, this remains a solid mono transfer.
Although not a packed release, there is still a checklist of supplements included on this title. First up is a feature length commentary with the director Irvin Kershner. Kershner is pushing 80 years old, and it is no surprise that his commentary seems archaic and slowly delivered. He does not remember all that much from the production, and instead defaults into describing what is happening on screen. He talks about some of the cast and crew and some of the achievements they’ve gone on to after the film, but is never really that descriptive. He also talks a bit about Carpenter’s screenplay, and how he didn’t much care for it. He has an aged excitement in the way he speaks, but ultimately he talks about little of interest. Skip on this.
A seven minute EPK entitled “Visions” is included, and other than brief glimpses of New York circa 1977, it is completely disposable. It is amateurly shot, with a discontinuous flow, jarring arrangement of close-ups, and lack of title card identification of the speakers included within it. Dunaway speaks briefly and pompously about her character, and what I can only assume is a production designer of some sort, also speaks about the pictures and images included within the film. There are a few uninteresting looks behind the scenes, but they are mostly of lenses being changed and anything else the filmmakers viewed as completely unappealing.
Much better is an eight minute photo montage hosted by DVD producer Laurent Bouzereau is also included. Bourzereau tends to stay behind the scenes, so it is interesting to see him propel himself to the forefront of this release. He spends most of his time discussing the various changes between the film and Carpenter’s actual script. Some characters were added, others removed, and plenty more tinkered with in order to set up possible murder suspects. Bouzereau also repeats Kershner in saying that the pre-credit eyes shot was not part of the original script. He ends with a nice little valentine to Kershner, and how pleased he was to work on the DVD. This is one of the rare occasions where the photo gallery is the most interesting supplement on a DVD.
The DVD is wrapped up with a few talent files that basically just list the films and awards in which each of the principal actors and crew members have been involved. Also included are trailers for a couple of other women in peril films, Single White Female
and No Mercy
. No trailer for the actual film is included, which is increasingly becoming commonplace among Columbia’s catalogue titles. It is too bad that Bouzereau did not collaborate with John Carpenter for his take on the film, as it would have punched up these extras with something of major interest.
Eyes of Laura Mars
features a provocative and clever screenplay by John Carpenter, although the final act fails to deliver on his initial ideas. Still, a solid cast and strong Hollywood production values make this incredibly watchable. The image quality is good, if a bit grainy, and the audio is surprisingly sharp for a mono mix. The supplements are a relative disappointment, but Bouzereau’s little commentary is of moderate interest. John Carpenter fans eagerly awaiting his next project should check out some of the films made from his earlier screenplays, namely Black Moon Rising
and Eyes of Laura Mars
. He is more than just a skilled director, and this Eyes
DVD proves it. For a cheap $9.95 retail, Eyes
is worth seeing.
Movie - B
Image Quality - B
Sound - B
Supplements - B-
- Running Time - 1 hour 44 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English 2.0 Mono
- English Subtitles
- Spanish Subtitles
- Portuguese Subtitles
- Chinese Subtitles
- Korean Subtitles
- Thai Subtitles
- Commentary with director Irvin Kershner
- "Making of" featurette
- Photo gallery with commentary by Laurent Bouzereau
- Talent files
- Trailers for Single White Female and No Mercy