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Elite Entertainment presents
Communion (1989)

"I saw little blue doctors, dad. And tall thin ones, too, with big eyes. Are they real, dad?"
- Andy Strieber (Joel Carlson)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: July 30, 2000

Stars: Christopher Walken, Lindsay Crouse
Other Stars: Frances Sternhagen, Joel Carlson, Andreas Katsulas
Director: Phillippe Mora

Manufacturer: Henninger Interactive Media
MPAA Rating: R for (violence, highly disturbing imagery, language, partial nudity)
Run Time: 01h:40m:15s
Release Date: June 20, 2000
UPC: 790594266622
Genre: sci-fi


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- A-B+B+ A

DVD Review

Whitley Strieber's best-selling book Communion, and this film have had an enormous cultural influence, by making alien abduction concepts part of mainstream thinking. Without them, probably never would have made it onto the air. The almond-eyed "greys" (though never referred to as such in the film) are immediately recognizable icons to just about everyone.

Whitley Strieber (Christopher Walken) is a successful horror novelist living in New York. When he builds a cabin in the country and invites some friends to come stay with him and his family (Lindsay Crouse as wife Anne, and Joel Carlson as young son Andy), their sleep is disturbed by bright lights and vaguely terrifying sensations. When the episode is repeated, Whitley begins recollecting highly disturbing images and fears he's losing his mind. When he is sent to a sympathetic psychiatrist, Dr. Janet Dudley, she puts him under hypnosis where he begins to recall the terrifying truth about what has happened to him, and that the same thing is beginning to happen to Andy.

The film interestingly enough takes a fairly agnostic approach to the subject matter. It's never quite entirely clear whether this is in fact all in Whitley's mind. Subversively, the office of Dr. Dudley contains echoes of much of the imagery that is retrieved under hypnosis; the African carvings are similar in form to the greys, extremely bright light comes in through the window, much like the lights at the cabin. In a prefiguring of the controversy over recovered memories, it is entirely possible that the credulous Dr. Dudley helped create the memories that Whitley is recounting. This possibility is heightened by the fact that, as we soon learn, she has formed a "support group" of other alien abductees.

The cast turns in good performances, with young Joel Carlson being extremely effective as the young boy who is puzzled by what seems to be happening to him, and alternately afraid and reassured by what the aliens are telling him. The one false note is that Walken for some reason decided to pay Strieber as a vaudeville Jew with a thick accent; as we see in the interview segments, the real Strieber has no such accent. Walken does do a good job of being embarrassed about what it is he thinks he's seeing and the difficulty of explaining these crazy occurrences to people.

The aliens are not terribly convincing. Director Mora refused to use any optical effects on this film. This leaves the blue aliens with stiff rubber faces that only make nominal changes, and just looks incredibly fake. The greys are obvious puppets, with completely immobile faces; at first I found this last characteristic annoying but the film does give a reasonable explanation for it.

True or not, the film does provide plenty of good scares. And you won't soon forget the rectal probe with what looks like a garden hose with a salt shaker on the end. Yikes!

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic picture is generally pretty good. However, the transfer is on the dark side; although the characters and the commentary refer to "blue" aliens, they appear black in the film. Notably, they are indeed a blue-black on the outtakes, indicating that something went wrong in the color timing of the transfer. We also get some nasty moire effects on the many sets of blinds. Bit rates are good, ranging between 7 and 8 Mbps.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The audio, originally in Dolby Stereo, is remixed for DD 5.1 here. There is plenty of subwoofer sound, especially in the abduction sequences. Directionality is limited, except that during the abduction sequences and in flashbacks, there is a whooshing sound that travels through the viewer like an energy bolt. This is a highly effective and quite disquieting sound mix.

Eric Clapton's main theme comes through clearly and without clipping; the other incidental music is effective and has excellent range. Dialogue is occasionally difficult to understand, making the absence of subtitles particularly obnoxious. Overall, a good sound mix, but the original mix should have been included as well. Hence I downgrade from an A- to a B+

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
2 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
1 Featurette(s)
Storyboard
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Phillippe Mora and William J. Birnes, publisher of UFO magazine
Packaging: other
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:38m:59s

Extra Extras:
  1. Footage of surgical removal of alien implant
Extras Review: Elite gives us a nice array of extras on this release. Foremost is a most unusual commentary, with director Phillippe Mora and publisher of U.F.O. magazine, William J. Birnes. Instead of screen-specific commentary, the two have a wide-ranging discussion about UFOs and Roswell, philosophy ranging from existentialism to Marx, and the cultural impact of the book and the film. They're both quite articulate and have a lot to say on the subject. Mora seems to have been rather on the skeptical side when the film was made, but to have gradually become a believer. He does, however, acknowledge that it's difficult to evaluate whether the people who have claimed abduction since the film got the idea from the film, or whether they simply feel that it's now safe to come out of the closet.

About 15 minutes of outtakes and dailies are included; these are full-frame and in rather marginal condition (as is to be expected from dailies). Most of the material relates to interaction between Walken and the aliens. This portion also includes the original ending of the film, which was jettisoned in favor of a more ambiguous conclusion. The outtakes are accompanied by commentary from Mora.

Instead of a featurette proper, we get raw footage that was intended for promotional purposes. This material is 1.85:1 ratio, but is in fairly poor condition, with plenty of damage and a great deal of hiss. The behind-the-scenes footage is interesting but brief.

Two theatrical trailers, both 1.85:1 and hissy, are included. Both are really just teaser-style trailers. A still gallery of 46 color and black & white photos is included; the stills are thoughtfully windowboxed and the b&w photos include promotional captions. We also get 61 storyboards for one of the abduction sequences. There is not a direct comparison to the film, however.

The final extra is the brief footage of surgery upon an abductee to remove what purports to be an alien implant from his forearms. This is an excerpt from an upcoming film by Mora, According to Occam's Razor. This seems much more credible than the "alien autopsy" footage that made the networks some time ago. We see removal of a small black object, but it's quite unclear what exactly the thing is.

Overall, an excellent package of extras.

Extras Grade: A

 

Final Comments

A culturally significant film, with truly terrifying moments, in a nice (albeit slightly too dark) transfer. The remixed sound helps with the impact upon the viewer. Plenty of extras are included, making this a must-buy for anyone interested in the alien abduction phenomenon.

 


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