Cocoon (US - BD)
Gabe remembers too late how much he doesn't like Ron Howard's alien movie...
Down and out boat tour guide Jack Bonner (Steve Guttenberg) accepts a too good to be true commission, and travels out to sea with a group of oddball scientists. The scientist collect a series of large, barnacle covered, cocoon like objects from the ocean floor, and then drop them off in a nearby pool, which they have rented. Ben (Wilford Brimley), Arthur (Don Ameche) and Joe (Hume Cronyn), trio of friends from a nearby retirement home, sneak into the pool for a dip, mostly ignoring the strange cocoons in the pool. The next day the geriatric men find themselves full of energy, vigour, and general happiness. The effect is short lived, however, and the friends are forced to risk exposure to return to the pool. But what they don’t know, and what Jack discovers, is that the strange scientists are actually visitors from outer space, and the use of the pool risks the success of their peaceful mission.
This is all my fault. Sometimes I just get Blu-rays for review without asking, but I was given the option of not taking a review copy of Cocoon, but I went the other way. Regular readers will know I have a particular allergy to ‘80s sap and pop culture. I tend to enjoy the era’s ‘best’ on ironic terms, excepting of course the genuine classics. Cocoon foregoes simple dopiness, and devolves quickly into an embarrassing montage of old people acting silly. The entire exercise does not charm me beyond a few mediocre highlights, despite a group of solid actors clearly giving it their best, and having a good time. I admit that large elements of the story are entirely original, but the overall structure, and the character elements are dull, tropey, and frankly kind of insultingly simple (again, despite some wonderful performances). And there’s Steve Guttenberg…constantly attired in incredibly short shorts. I know it’s superficial and small of me.
I’ve often heard Cocoon cited as one of the major reason people learned to hate Steven Spielberg in the 1980s, though clearly these people don’t remember Spielberg didn’t actually make the film—the world’s most boring Oscar winning director, Ron Howard, did. Howard’s lack of style is really the only thing that proves Spielberg had nothing really to do with the project, even if ILM’s best Close Encounters effects work against the notion. There is a sort of checklist of the Beard’s most era-defining tropes in the film, including gentle aliens, lonely kids of divorced parents, and outcasts experiencing an impossible adventure ( E.T. meets Close Encounters meets Goonies with geriatrics), but apparently this was just a case of giving the audience what they wanted. Spielberg would get his shot at a similar story for his section of the Twilight Zone movie, which is actually much worse than Cocoon (the section, not the entire film).
Fox has not put a lot of love or care into this particular first time Blu-ray release, and I’m afraid I can’t recommend a rebuy for fans on video terms alone (check the audio section though, for some good news). The transfer’s grain levels are very inconsistent, which leads me to believe the source material wasn’t in very good shape. The grain isn’t even a common issue of indoor versus outdoor shots, or day versus night, the build-up just comes and goes. It’s never a massive problem, but it’s also never not a problem. The sharpness and detail levels don’t really go too far beyond most up-converted DVDs, though there is a little more to see in Howard’s flat wide shot compositions. Edge-enhancement is a problem throughout, and it’s pretty heavy. Colours are nice and full without any major compression problems, and despite the edge-enhancement the contrasting elements are reasonably sharp. The otherworldly blue and orange tinted special effects are a clear highlight, as is Tahnee Welch’s nude bottom. Modern eyes and sharpened images are very much not kind to this film’s special effects, however.
This DTS-HD Master Audio Track is way, way, way more impressive than I was expecting from an older film Fox was dumping on Blu-ray without much fanfare. The opening minutes are massive and glorious it practically makes up for the unfortunate video quality. There isn’t an excess of bombastic moments, but man are these 5.1 channels loud when James Horner’s score kicks in. Perhaps it’s just that Horner’s music is the major saving element of the whole production. The non-bombastic stuff is also well mixed, and features plenty of subtle stereo interactions and directional effects. The rear channels come well into the mix during the stylized underwater scenes, which feature plenty of fluttering bubbles, and during any overtly alien activity. You might hate the sound of dolphins by the end of the film, but otherwise the disc is almost most the upgrade for fans on sound alone.
The extras begin with Ron Howard’s commentary track. Howard has some important factoids to share, but they are few and far between. Besides all the blank space, a lot of the subject matter is pretty dry, as is Howard’s tone. The volume of the Dolby Surround track, which is very high quality, by the way, is cranked up so loudly during the moments Howard isn’t speaking (which can last several minutes) it’s often startling when Opie starts talking again. This is followed by the aptly titled ‘Behind-the-Scenes Featurette’ (07:00, SD), a vintage EPK that doesn’t do much to tell us about actual filmmaking process. ‘Ron Howard Profile’ (02:30, SD) is another elongated commercial for the film, featuring the same narrator, with a focus on the then only slightly famous director. Three more similar EPKs like ‘Underwater Training’ (03:30, SD), ‘Actors’ (02:50, SD), and ‘Creating Antareans’ (04:00, SD), follow, along with a teaser, a trailer, three TV spots, and a Cocoon: The Return trailer.
Cocoon still pushes all the wrong buttons, but I cannot deny the original story elements, or the solid performances. I certainly won’t judge the film’s many fans, as there’s really nothing expressly bad about it, even if Ron Howard’s direction is often lifeless, and the tone is sometimes maddeningly saccharine. I suppose Cocoon just brings out my inner curmudgeon. This Blu-ray release is a mixed bag. The video quality is an upgrade in terms of overall detail and colour quality, but the transfer is grainy enough to be comparable to an up-converted DVD. The sound, on the other hand, is surprisingly solid, and even occasionally well above average. The extras are pretty dull, though Howard’s inconsistent commentary does feature some effective factoids.
*Thanks to Troy at Andersonvision.com for the screen-caps, which have been taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 6th April 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Director Commentary, Behind the Scenes Featurette, Ron Howard Profile, Underwater Training, Actors, Creating Antareans, Trailer, TV Spots
Easter Egg: No
Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Don Ameche, Wilford Brimley, Wendy J. Cooke, Hume Cronyn, Brian Dennehy
Genre: Fantasy, Romance and Sci-Fi
Length: 104 minutes