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It's 1962 and fifteen-year-old fan Gene Loomis (Simone Fenton) can't wait for the arrival of Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman), who is in town to promote his latest offering of atomic power gone berserk, Mant! But the absurd vision of Woolsey's tale takes on a sudden urgency as the Cuban Missile Crisis places the real threat of atomic horror just 90 miles off the coast. With the help of Woolsey's leading lady, Ruth (Cathy Moriarty), the master showman gives Key West a premiere they'll never forget. Anything can happen in the movies and everything does in this hilarious tribute to a more innocent (and outrageous) time in American cinema. (From Shout Factory’s official synopsis)

 Matinee: Collector's edition
At his best, director Joe Dante is able to contextualize geeky pop culture references within the framework of compelling political commentary. As his career has dwindled into the ‘90s, it sometimes felt like his patented affectionate work has been replaced by the harsher tones of Quentin Tarantino and his hipper contemporaries. Fortunately, cult fandom has been very kind to Dante’s more overlooked post- Gremlins (1984) output, namely his blackly comedic Americana satires The 'Burbs (1989) and Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990). Before retreating back to familiar ground with the genuinely disappointing Small Soldiers (1998), Dante made again attempted to blend his influences and interests with 1993’s Matinee. Co-written by Jerico Stone and frequent Dante collaborator Charles S. Haas, Matinee combined their fond memories of classic monster movies with the fictional biography of a William Castle-inspired director and the story of Florida teens dealing with the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The film was well-liked by critics, but still a box office disappointment; a problem that contributed to its untimely disappearance into obscurity for the rest of the following decade.

At the risk of sounding more dismissive than I intend to, Matinee doesn’t quite have the content to back up its fantastic concept. In its efforts to appeal to a younger, mainstream audience, it is sometimes mired in banal kids movie clichés and PG-rated threats that lack impact and don’t jibe with the very real fear of nuclear annihilation or Dante’s tongue-in-cheek mean streak. The children’s’ point-of-view is not the problem (it is, in fact, a clever way to frame the story), but the filmmakers seem trapped between making social statements, making fun of suburban culture, and capturing the wholesome sentiment of the Cold War era. The prototypical high school dramas, Spielbergian odes to the broken family unit, and tacked-on romantic subplot all keep getting of the way of the infinitely more compelling main plot about a boy finding a father figure in a schlock filmmaker, while trying to parse a major political crisis. With the director unable or unwilling to bare his teeth, Matinee falls into generic coming-of-age territory between the bits that Dante actually cares about – i.e. the references to ‘50s/’60s exploitation/horror movies, the soliloquies about the ‘magic of cinema,’ the genuinely frightening atomic bomb imagery, and the cameos from regular collaborators (Dick Miller, John Sayles, and Robert Picardo in particular).

 Matinee: Collector's edition
Even though it comes across as overly-busy and watered-down compared to Dante’s most subversive films, Matinee still deserves recognition for its many original qualities, charming film-within-a-film gags, and great performances, fronted by a top of his game John Goodman. I must admit that the film was a tweenhood favourite and that the Boy’s Adventure trappings acted as an educational “Trojan Horse” at the time. It was my major introduction to the history surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis and led me to research the event beyond the Cliff’s Notes version I got in history class. Matinee was also ahead of the curve with its blend of Cold War and B-movie nostalgia. I assume it was the first family film to deal with the Cold War following its end and many of its ideas and themes popped up again in Brad Bird’s Iron Giant, six years later in 1999.

Video


Matinee’s cult following took its time to grow and was not treated particularly well on DVD. The first releases (from Image in the US, Cine Plus in Germany, and Pathe! in the UK) were all non-anamorphic, followed by an utterly barebones 16x9 enhanced disc from Universal. At some point, Universal did a new scan and the film showed up on HD television. The first Blu-rays were released from Koch Media in Germany, Carlotta Films in France, and Arrow in the UK. I do not have access to any of those releases, but a glance at the Caps-a-holic comparison page seems to verify that all three transfers were taken from the same source (the only notable differences are found in overall brightness). Shout Factory’s Shout Select release also appears to be using that source, which is not surprising, as the company still typically defaults to studio scans for most of their releases. Unfortunately, as so often seems to happen with older Universal masters, the results are problematic. The good news is that this isn’t a Cat People or Darkman-like, painful DNR and over-sharpening situation – it’s more of a general weakness. Important things like detail and colour quality are mediocre, but still noticeably better than standard-definition quality, which makes this an upgrade over the truly disappointing DVD releases. The bigger issues relate to digital noise and other compression artefacts. Film grain clumps into blocky background shapes, which can contribute to mushy wide angle compositions. In addition, bright spots often overload and swell into relatively harsh quantisation effects. Other similar complications, including edge enhancement and a few flat primary hues, also crop up, but are negligible compared to the noise. Given the fact that literally every other Blu-ray on the market features a version of this same transfer, I definitely wouldn’t recommend fans avoid this release; rather, they just need to be prepared for some problems.

 Matinee: Collector's edition

Audio


Matinee is presented in its original stereo and 5.1 remix options, both in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. Contrary to what I’d normally suggest, I’m going to recommend the remix this time. Both tracks are just fine, but the remix does more than just center the dialogue and punch-up the bass – it clearly separates the effects and music tracks, bringing out sharper sound and neater directional movement/environmental ambience. The movie theater sequences, in particular, exhibit exceptionally realistic rear-channel echos. The stereo track is the more ‘authentic’ option, but has a flatter quality and lacks crispness in the performance tracks. Jerry Goldsmith’s bouncy, whimsical score is slightly lost in 2.0 and gets a nice aural bounce from the extra speaker support.

Extras


  • Master Of The Matinee (20:29, HD) – Dante discusses the difficulties in getting the film financed, the many changes made to Jerico Stone’s original script throughout pre-production (it was originally a pure fantasy/sci-fi movie), recapturing the era, his own experiences as a B-movie fan, and the cast.
  • The Leading Lady (12:02, HD) – Actress Cathy Moriarty fondly recalls accepting the part and working with Dante, and the cast.
  • MANTastic! The Making Of A Mant (25:12, HD) – Production designer Jim McPherson talks about the design and fabrication of the Man-ant suit/makeup and puppet miniature, complete with original concept illustrations.
  • Out Of The Bunker (16:17, HD) – Actress Lisa Jakub praises her co-stars and Dante’s direction, discusses her character (Sandra), and digs into the film’s social/political side.
  • Making A Monster Theatre – Production designer Steven Legler breaks down the construction of the film’s various sets.
  • The Monster Mix –Editor Marshall Harvey talks briefly about his memories of the actual Cuban Missile Crisis, Universal’s financing, and his job as editor.
  • Lights! Camera! Reunion! (21:13, HD) – The Shout Factory exclusive extras are completed with this interview with cinematographer John Hora, who recalls the pains of shooting on-site at Universal Studios, budget problems, and the challenges of shooting the movie.
  • Archival extras:
    • Paranoia in Ant Vision (32:37, HD) – This interview with Dante was recorded for the French Blu-ray (hence the French text) and was also included on Arrow’s disc. It overlaps quite a bit with the new interview, but is a bit more slickly made.
    • MANT! (22:45, HD) – The complete film-within-the-film, including an introduction from Dante, who offers a short history of ‘50s monster movies.
    • Vintage EPK featurette (4:27, SD)
    • Raw behind-the-scenes footage (8:22, SD)
    • Deleted/extended scenes from Joe Dante’s personal workprint (2:21, HD)
    • Still gallery
    • Trailer


 Matinee: Collector's edition

Overall


Matinee is still worthy of re-discovery, even if it’s not quite as clever as I remembered. Shout Factory has done their best with limited original materials, reproducing basically the same decent, but problematic transfer seen from previous Blu-rays. The 5.1 DTS-HD MA remix sounds great and they’ve included enough new and catalogue extras to earn the company’s new ‘Select’ label.

 Matinee: Collector's edition

 Matinee: Collector's edition

 Matinee: Collector's edition

*Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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