Review Date: March 31, 2008
Released by: CMV Laservision
Release date: 2/2/2003
Region 0, PAL
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
Every time the conversation on Internet message boards turns to possible future releases from MGM on their Midnite Movies line, there is always one long lost title that never fails to garner requests from fans Ė 1977ís The Incredible Melting Man
. While other hotly requested movies like Witchfinder General
and Food of the Gods
are (eventually) released, MGM never utters a word about the fate of this little film, which was part of their Midnite Movies line during the VHS era. Although announced at one point by Synapse Films, Don May had to cancel his release when he discovered that MGM owned the title in perpetuity, and that producer Max J. Rosenberg had duplicitously double-sold the rights to him (at least he got his money back before Rosenberg passed away). Fans of the film were left high and dry.
But, even if MGM doesnít want to release The Incredible Melting Man
, we at least have this German DVD to hold fans over with, featuring a beautiful, remastered 16x9 transfer supplied by none other than...ummmmm, MGM.
Keep reading for details.
We open in a space capsule orbiting high above the planet Saturn. Astronaut Steve West (Alex Rebar
) is leading the three-man expedition. But something goes wrong inside the vessel. A disturbance on the suní surface sends everything haywire inside. West begins bleeding from his nose and then everyone inside the capsule loses consciousness.
We catch up with West some time later as he lays bound and sedated in a quarantine hospital. Though the American public is being told that the Saturn mission was a success, the reality is that only West returned alive, and he has been infected with a strange disease that is literally melting his flesh away. Whatís worse, another manned expedition to the planet is set to blast off from Cape Kennedy the following morning. The government desperately needs to know whatís wrong with the man. However, when heís left alone in the room West breaks free of his restraints and tears off his bandages. Seeing his disintegrating features in the mirror he goes berserk and attacks a nurse, devouring part of her head and escaping. Shocked by the carnage, Dr. Ted Nelson (Burr DeBenning
), the Saturn projectís medical chief, sets out to find West before he can hurt anyone else.
Unfortunately, with his melting process accelerating, West has lost most of his humanity and is now little more than a cannibal seeking to somehow replenish his own cells by feasting on the flesh of others. As the body count rises, Nelson is joined by the projectís military chief, General Mike Perry (Myron Healy
) to aid in the search. But can these two men stop the carnage, or is West destined to kill until he melts completely?
The Incredible Melting Man
is a classic ďgimmickĒ movie. In this case, the gimmick is the central idea of a monstrous melting man killing people. With the gimmick established as the central idea, all other elements of the story (things like logic, character behavior and scientific accuracy) are bent further and further away from reality until they work with the gimmick. Itís not surprising that the movie feels more like a 1950ís monster movie than a 1970ís splatter flick, despite some impressive gore effects. Gimmick monster movies had been far more common twenty years earlier (think of films like The Tingler
, which came up with a scientifically absurd monster and built an entire plot around it). Released by American International Pictures, the filmís original poster art and theatrical trailer are even reminiscent of the type of salesmanship the company was doing in the 50ís. Even the title is a throwback to movies like The Amazing Colossal Man
. Unfortunately, The Incredible Melting Man
is mostly a bore.
It is standard screenwriting orthodoxy that a filmís hero should be a proactive character. That is to say that, rather than waiting for events to happen, the hero should have initiative to go out and tackle the problem, with his successes or failures becoming factors in the plot. In this way, it is the hero who drives the story forward, rather than letting events drive the story and having the hero only react to them. This is not a universal rule - throughout history talented filmmakers have created classic works that successfully broken it. However, if one pays close attention to the classics of cinema, one will see that many of the best main characters are the ones who spend most of their time acting instead of reacting.
Unfortunately this is a lesson that was evidently lost on writer/director William Sachs. As the heroes of the piece, Dr. Nelson and General Perry are amongst the laziest and least compelling characters in screen history. After Steve West escapes from the hospital, General Perry is so concerned about maintaining secrecy that, rather than calling in other elements of the federal government to help, he instead forces Nelson to search for the melting man by himself. So what does Nelson do? He makes lunch at home and talks with his wife about what happened. Eventually he tramps off into the woods with a Geiger counter to search for West. When Perry decides to join him in the search, what happens? They briefly investigate one of the melting manís killings and then go back to Nelsonís house for dinner, after which Nelson spends more time talking with his wife while Perry takes a nap. Both men profess that finding West is urgent, yet their actions say otherwise. Who cares if the melting maniac is out there slaughtering people and possibly exposing others to whatever disease is causing his condition? Who cares that the crew of the next Saturn mission might end up with the same ailment? Itís as if both men know that theyíre not going to be held accountable for what happens, so why waste energy on the search when the problem is eventually just going to solve itself by melting completely? William Sachs has the intelligence enough to realize that the two menís halfhearted search attempts are lame - he gives Nelsonís wife a scene in which she screams at both of them, saying that ďIíve never seen such a feeble excuse for a search in my life!Ē - but doesnít seem to realize that audience members will have a hard time staying engaged with the movie if both its heroes would rather sit on their asses than find the monster.
What makes The Incredible Melting Man
bearable are its occasional moments of macabre humor (Nelsonís lazy inability to find West eventually results in his own mother-in-law being killed and devoured in a scene that is both intentionally and unintentionally humorous), and the excellent low budget makeup FX by a pre-An American Werewolf in London
Rick Baker. The needs of the plot donít allow for Steve West to melt at a consistent rate. After he escapes from the hospital his melting briefly accelerates, before slowing down and practically stopping for most of the middle and end portions. Finally, at the end, his melting suddenly accelerates rapidly, leaving him a pile of goo in just a few minutes. Yet at each step Bakerís effects are just convincing enough to allow for a brief suspension of disbelief, as well as add needed visual interest.
With its 50ís-style monster movie storyline and its 70ís gore FX, the movie was an anachronism even in its own day. The first time I saw it I couldnít have been more than twelve years old, but even at that age I knew that the real 50ís movies that I had seen worked much better in their own wacky ways. As much as I want to like the movie, I simply canít. As many fans as The Incredible Melting Man
can claim to have, it will never have me as one.
The principal version of the film is presented in a letterboxed 1.85:1 presentation in 16x9 PAL. Apparently CMV acquired their transfer from MGM, since the companyís logo graces the beginning and end of the film. As we have come to expect from MGM transfers, this one looks pretty good. Print damage is a non-issue, with very few blemishes, specks or scratches visible apart from the expected damage that pops up during the NASA stock footage. Colors by and large look great - the deep blues of the sky, the red blood of the melting manís victims and all the assorted bright hues from 1970ís America.
Unfortunately, much of the film takes place at night, and it is here that the transfer suffers. Everything seems way too dark. Blacks look crushed and shadow detail is usually poor.
Some people have commented that this transfer seems to be afflicted with weird motion artifacts that make everything seem jerky, and depending on how you view the movie, that is true. I suspect that the transfer MGM gave to the Germans was in NTSC, which they then had converted to PAL. The problem is when you watch the disc using a DVD player that converts PAL to NTSC, because the player cannot correct the process in which the original NTSC transfer was modified to display properly on a PAL television.
I tried playing this disc on three separate formats - on my computer, on a high definition display and on a regular NTSC television, and only on the NTSC set did I notice the motion artifacts. However, even when watching it on my computer and my 720p TV there was still quite a bit of ghosting and other motion anomalies.
The primary version of the film gets English and German soundtracks in 2.0 Mono. No problems at all here. The sound is crisp, clear and generally well balanced, with practically no background noise or distortion of any kind.
Remember how I said the ďprincipal version of the filmĒ? Thatís because this release contains not one, but two alternate presentations of the movie. Normally I donít consider additional cuts to be supplements, but in this case Iím not completely sure what to make of these two versions.
The principal version, the one whose transfer came from MGM, is the American theatrical cut that we are all used to from home video. The second version is also the American theatrical cut, but itís advertised as being the ďalternate fullscreenĒ version and was clearly taken from different and inferior film elements. The third version is labeled as the original German theatrical version. The running times of each are different. The principal version runs eighty-six minutes and eleven seconds, but twelve of those are taken up by the MGM logo at the beginning and end. The full-screen version doesnít have the logos, and runs eighty-five minutes, twelve seconds. I fast-forwarded through the fullscreen version and stopped to compare some of the gore scenes, but I didnít notice any differences in footage between the two versions. The German theatrical version runs seventy-eight minutes, forty-two seconds. Here there is definitely footage missing, including the aftermath of the melting manís killing of a fisherman, in which he tosses the victimís severed head into a river, where it goes over a waterfall and smashes open in graphic detail. The first two versions have the scene uncut, but in the German version all we see is the head floating down the river. Unfortunately, itís hard to tell how extensive the differences are since the first two versions are NTSC to PAL conversions and the German theatrical is a native PAL transfer, thus resulting in some additional variations in running times.
|MGM transfer||Fullscreen transfer||German theatrical transfer|
Visually, the main version with its transfer from MGM is the clear superior of the three versions, which are faded, murky and lack detail. The German theatrical is letterboxed at 1.85:1 and is 16x9 enhanced, but looks extremely beat up, with constant specks, scratches and splices. However, it is interesting to note that each version features noticeably different framing. Of particular note is the German version, which reveals that the MGM transfer is slightly zoomed in on all four sides Ė check out the pen in Myron Healyís pocket, which is completely cropped out of the MGM transfer.
The fullscreen version is available in either English or German (1.0 Mono each), while the German theatrical cut is available only in German 2.0 Mono.
The only other extras are the filmís original German theatrical trailer (which is exactly like the American theatrical trailers, aside from the dubbing and new title) and a still gallery set to music.
With the American dollar losing value on the international currency markets, itís hard for me to recommend imports in general, let alone for bad movies on DVDs of dubious quality from the Euro-zone. Viewers in Europe may find this release to be more worthwhile, but I would recommend that American consumers keep waiting. The Incredible Melting Man
is a bad movie and just isnít worth the hassle. Come on MGM, we know you can give us better than this.
Movie Ė D+
Image Quality Ė B-
Sound Ė B
Supplements Ė B-
- Running Time Ė MGM transfer - 1 hour 26 minutes
- Running Time Ė Fullscreen transfer - 1 hour 25 minutes
- Running Time Ė German theatrical version - 1 hour 19 minutes
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English 2.0 Mono
- English 1.0 Mono
- German 2.0 Mono
- German 1.0 Mono
- Alternate fullscreen version
- Alternate German theatrical cut
- Original German theatrical trailer
- Still gallery