Survival Quest (US - DVD R1)
Gabe Powers enjoys his wilderness trek, but not enough to ever take it again
Five softies from the city attend the ultimate wilderness challenge: Survival Quest, four weeks at the North Rockies led by a tough but fair instructor (Lance Henriksen). Another, more military-based group ends up in the same area as Survival Quest when a flood takes out their normal stomping grounds. The groups' paths overlap, and the unstable and sadistic paramilitary squad decides to have some fun. Their shenanigans lead to a shocking accident that turns the peaceful nature trek into a desperate struggle for life and death.
Survival Quest has a title that describes the entire film. In a lot of ways it feels like a kid's movie made in the '80s mixed with a made-for-TV flick from the '90s. Remember films like Space Camp where kids are trained for a situation expecting the situation to never arise, and when it does they kick ass? Survival Quest is like that, only less convoluted, with a touch of Deliverance to boot.
Director Don Coscarelli is best known for his less 'normal' work. He's the mastermind behind all four Phantasm films, the Beastmaster series, and he recently directed Bruce Campbell as a geriatric Elvis in Bubba Ho-Tep. He's made quite a few less fantastical flicks, but none of them ever caught on. He is enough of a horror/sci-fi name to have a decent cult following, and Anchor Bay knows sticking Survival Quest on shelves the same day as their new special edition release of Phantasms one and three will make them a couple bucks.
Nothing in the film really sticks out as overly impressive, and I can't imaging anyone who isn't a massive Coscarelli fan wanting to own the film. It is a competently made little picture, but with the exception of a few of the more suspenseful action sequences the director doesn't do much to push the film too far over the adequate bump. The whole thing actually strikes me as a director-for-hire piece, only Coscarelli also wrote its formulaic script.
The only people other than Coscarelli fans I can see being interested in the film are those interested in the actors. If one thing is above average here it is the cast. The big story here is a young Catherine Keener (post major dental work), who actually shines with what little she has to do in what appears to be her first major film role. Dermot Mulroney doesn't have many lines, but holds the camera well, Paul Provenza is decent comic relief without being too annoying, but of course everyone ends up paling next to my main man, Lance Henrickson. Coming off Aliens Henrickson was actually looking like a major A-list star at the time, and he's as good as always.
Anchor Bay does another bang up job with some rather weak material. Everything's a little bit on the murky side, but outside of night sequences details are pretty sharp. Blacks are pretty deep, except for some of more overall dark scenes, which suffer a bit of low-level noise. Colours are a little muted, but appear accurate. The grain is prevalent, but not overwhelming.
The film has been remixed to 5.1 for this release, but the track serves little purpose besides sending a few nature sounds to the rear channels, which the original Stereo Ssurround track did anyway. But things are very clean, dialogue is clear, and the sounds of nature sound, erm, natural. Gunshots are a bit on the flat side, and bass is a bit lacking all over. The score is professional and reasonably large, but the music itself is atrociously sappy, often actually playing against the film.
The disc is a bit dry on extras, only housing some behind the scenes footage and collection of trailers. The behind the scenes stuff is similar to the 'home video' footage found on Coscarelli's Phantasm DVD (pretty much every version available, and the laser disc). The footage is rough and random, but offers a glance behind the curtain. The film's trailers are amusing because each trailer sells a different aspect of the plot. If you only saw trailer one you'd assume it was a family film, if you only saw trailer two, you'd swear it was 100%, relentless thriller.
This one's really, as I said, only for the Coscarelli elite, and maybe those few interested in the cast's early work. It's by no means a bad film, but I can't recommend more than a rental for the curious. It's nice to see Coscarelli outside of his comfort zone, but Survival Quest isn't worth the ninety minutes overall. Watch Walter Hill's Southern Comfort instead, or simply re-watch Deliverance.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 10th April 2007
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround English
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Extras: Behind the Scenes, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Don Coscarelli
Cast: Lance Henriksen, Catherine Keener, Dermot Mulroney, Mark Rolston, Steve Antin, Michael Allen Ryder, Paul Provenza
Length: 90 minutes