Review Date: October 23, 2007
Released by: Anchor Bay
Release date: 04/10/2007
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
Don Coscarelli is known almost exclusively as the man behind Phantasm
. Only four of the ten movies heís directed are Phantasm
s, but most fans would be hard pressed to name anything other than maybe Bubba Ho-Tep
or The Beastmaster
. So despite being declared a Master of Horror, Coscarelli has quietly proven through the rest of his filmography that heís a man of versatility, tackling a number of genres in his limited filmography. One of his biggest transgressions was Survival Quest
, made in between Phantasm II
. Thereís no undead, just a group of hikers, the wilderness, and those long mountainous sunsets. Like almost all of Coscarelliís filmography, Anchor Bay is behind this small-scale release. Is this a quest Coscarelli fans should travel?
What do a sullen young convict, elderly retiree, bitter divorcee, clumsy city slicker and bride-to-be have in common? Theyíre all about to embark on the journey of a lifetime. This motley crew has signed up for the North Rockies Survival Quest
, led by world-weary leader, Hank (Lance Henriksen
). Most have never even been in the woods before, and now they are destined to spend a grueling four weeks in some of the toughest weather conditions. They learn to trust each other, climb a tree and build a fire, but nothing will prepare them for the perils that await them.
Nature is the last of the groupís worries when they run across the Blue Legion, a paramilitary group of young boys also training in the same patch of wilderness. Their leader, Jake Cannon (Mark Rolston
), belittles his soldiers to the point where they decide to pick on Hankís clan. The quiet convict, Gray (Dermot Mulroney
) seems the perfect target, and they try to have some fun with him at knife point. When Gray fights back though, that sends the other troops mad, to the point where they plot their revenge. When Jake gets shot and the blame falls on Gray, the Blue Legion plan out a full on vendetta against the Survival Quest
Itís more than just man versus nature now, its man versus man, as Hankís passive clan must outwit their military aggressors. Through the pursuit theyíll have to climb mountains in sub-artic temperatures, swim through rocky rapids and run face to face into nature, and theyíll have to do it together as a team. Itís not going to be easy, but it will be the best possible nature school they could have ever imagined.
While Survival Quest
may seem an anomaly in Coscarelliís catalogue, it represents one of his most universal themes, that of man versus nature. The Beastmaster
hinted at manís ties to nature through Darís connection with animals and his epic journey, but his recent Incident on and off a Mountain Road confirms it. Don Coscarelli is some sort of survivalist. I donít know if he got lost in one of those deserts he filmed Phantasm
in or what, but the man has a preoccupation with nature and how to conquer it. His Masters of Horror episode rather cleverly inverted the role of the final girl by instead making her world-weary and able to utilize enough traps and survival techniques to obliterate her enemy. Even Phantasm III
saw a little boy forced to live on his own, booby trapping his house like he were hunting for the Predator
. Survival Quest
though, is his most thorough meditation on the subject.
I say meditation because one of the finer aspects of the film is the almost plotless development of the first half. Coscarelli begins with a lengthy shot of the sunset in total silence without any story or music to guide it. In Herzogian fashion, he invites the viewer into this jungle, looking not to tell a story, but instead to convey a feeling. Coscarelli wants to commit the wilderness to film, and he does so with a fine touch. Even as the characters all emerge and group for camp, Coscarelli develops things with a series of survival challenges and scenarios rather than outlining a story. Heís teaching survival, not coalescing genre. Thereís a certain Zen beauty to Henriksenís character and performance, more quiet and confident than it has ever been. Heís lived the wilderness, and he asks his students to feel it the same way. In the way he quietly commands the landscape and the story, itís one of his best performances.
Then though, the film slips into a sort of auto-pilot, as the inevitable conflict rises between the two camps. The story even gets overly sensational, when guns are fired without much regard, and people start dropping like flies in what is up until then a reserved and realistic setting. The movie gets overly preoccupied with action that it almost loses its theme of man conquering nature not through weaponry or technology, but through mental know-how. Still, after the Blue Legion is all but disposed of, the film ends ultimately with a motivational hurrah for nature lovers. Even if plot gets sometimes in the way, this is an uplifting examination of the beauty and power of the world that lives beyond our cities and television sets. A world nearly as alien to us as the land of the Tall Man.
Anchor Bay presents the film in cleaned up 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen. While the film doesnít contain quite the visual splendor that Coscarelliís Phantasm
s do, this is still given a hansom transfer. The print is very clean and the image is sharp enough without resorting to edge enhancement. All the colors seem a bit more subdued than they could look and there is a bit of grain that resides throughout. Still, for a film as obscure as this, Anchor Bay has done what they always do by giving this a respectable transfer.
has been remixed into 5.1, but it doesnít sound all that different than the included mono track. Thereís almost no directionality in terms of both left and right and front and back, and the only thing that seems to come from anywhere other than the center channel is the score on occasion. Itís clean but itís pretty uneventful.
Other than a handful of trailers that really emphasize the action (it suggest to us that at least 10 people get theirs in the film) thereís just a short little behind-the-scenes compilation. These are featurettes of the best kind, verite looks into the production process without any talking heads. We just get to see the cast and crew doing their thing on set, and thereís nothing more revealing than that. Coscarelli is such a good speaker, and has done very well on commentaries in the past, itís a shame that Anchor Bay couldnít get him to do one for this disc. Still, even with just these short little extras, this feels like a satisfying release.
is a light, fun and sometimes even meditative exploration of man and his ultimate adversary, nature. While it may seem the odd man out in Coscarelliís oeuvre, fans of the survivalist themes of Incident On and Off a Mountain Road
and Phantasm III
should take to this, too. Anchor Bay has done a fine job with the video, and even if the 5.1 remix isnít really anything different, at least they put the effort in. The supplements could have been fuller, but the on-the-set footage makes for a nice peak into Coscarelliís method. Itís no masterpiece, but you could do a lot worse than go on this quest.
Movie - B
Image Quality - B+
Sound - B
Supplements - C+
- Running time - 1 hour 30 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 5.1
- English mono
- Behind the scenes footage
- Theatrical trailers