Lake Placid

Review by Guido Henkel

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Lake Placid  (1999)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Length:        82 mins.
Rated:          R
Languages:English, French
Subtitles:    English, Spanish
Format:       Letterboxed
Extras:        Featurette
                    TV Spots and Trailer

When the dinosaurs from “Jurassic Park” stomped through movie theaters across world, we all knew a new era of filmmaking had dawned, but little did we know how fast computer-generated images would become as commonplace as they are today. Since then we have seen a flood of computer-enhanced effects as well as a series of monstrous creations, coming to life in breathtaking realism to ignite the movies we see. The genre of monster movies has seen a glorious rebirth and is bigger than ever, bringing us more visceral creatures than ever before. One of the latest offerings in this genre is “Lake Placid” which is now available on DVD from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

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But if you expect a simple horror flick in the vein of one of the schlocky Alligator movies of the 80s, you are dead wrong. “Lake Placid” is a gripping, funny and highly entertaining movie that took me quite by surprise.

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As soon as I saw the name David E. Kelley appear in the movie’s opening credits I was intrigued to see more of the movie and I wasn’t disappointed. Kelley is the man behind highly successful TV series like “Ally McBeal” and has proven more than once that he has an uncanny talent to create quirky and intriguing characters, and that he knows how to write a funny line or two. As it turns out, the main attraction in “Lake Placid” are the characters rather than the actual alligator that has made its home in the cold waters of a placid lake in Maine.

Sheriff Hank Keough (Brendan Gleeson) is out on the lake with a diver, trying to find out what happened to the lake’s beaver population, when all of a sudden the diver is thrashed through the water by some unseen force and bitten in half. The local game warden, Jack Wells (Bill Pullman) comes in to investigate the case. A giant tooth is found in the wounds of the diver and sent to a museum in New York for analysis where it grabs the attention of paleontologist Kelly Scott (Bridgett Fonda). She travel to Maine

and soon yet another interested adventurer appears on the scene. Spleeny billionaire philanthropist Hector Cyr (Oliver Platt), who has a knack for crocodiles, is of the firm belief that the lake is inhabited by a giant alligator. Fending off insults from each other, the foursome try to find out what is really going on in the lake and soon they witness something they had never seen before. A 30-foot alligator has made the waters and lands of the lake its home. Now, the team has to find a way to rid the peaceful community of this dangerous animal, and soon they once again witness things they never though possible.

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As I mentioned before, although the alligator is the obvious attraction of the film from an effect’s perspective, most of the movie relies on the vivid and furious portrayal of the main characters. With clever dialogues and great comedic timing, the cast manages to pull of the impossible, to actually turn this movie from a blunt effect’s spectacle into a highly entertaining comedy with a number

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of truly thrilling and highly dramatic moments. “Lake Placid” is not a spoof of any sort, but an homage to one of the oldest genres of cinema. The situations we witness, and the dangers are very real, but the characters are only too human with their own little quirks and the permanent in-fights we get to witness. This whole combination even completely distracts from some factual errors the movie makes, as we take certain events and things simply for granted as they happen, without further elaborating whether they make sense or could actually happen.

The movie features a great cast, and especially Oliver Platt and Bill Pullman show us

great performances that give you the giggles. Interestingly, Bridget Fonda appears a little to stiff and almost overacting at times, but for the majority of the film, the entire cast pulls of a great show that makes “Lake Placid” enjoyable from the beginning to the end. To top it all off, you have to see “Golden Girl” Betty White in her role as Mrs. Bickerman. Her few on-screen minutes are real show stoppers!

Also the alligator is very well realized in the film. Computer generated effects and practical effects are nicely complementing each other. Although some of the computer-generated shots appear a little too smooth for their own good, they are usually well integrated into the live action plates, creating the illusion of the monster threat.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment is presenting “Lake Placid” in a widescreen presentation on this disc that restores the movie’s original theatrical 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Sadly the transfer is not enhanced for 16x9 TV sets, but is nonetheless highly detailed

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and beautiful to behold. There is no noise or film grain visible in the transfer and colors are bold and faithful. Especially fleshtones are very naturally rendered. Blacks on the disc are very deep and solid, and highlights are well balanced to create a great looking presentation of this film. The compression is beautifully done and without distracting artifacts. No pixelation, chroma noise or color bleeding is evident in the transfer, giving the film a first rate look.

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“Lake Placid” contains a Dolby Surround track as well as a 5.1 channel Dolby Digital soundtrack. Both are extremely well produced, although somewhat effects oriented. Dialogues are well centered, but appear slightly too low in volume on various occasions in comparison to the droning sound effects. The audio track has a wide frequency response with good bass extension and a clear high end. John Ottman’s music score is very dynamic and always helps to build the right mood for the images on screen. Sometimes almost playful, at other times ominously menacing, the track helps immensely to build the suspense for the vicious and sometimes surprisingly gory alligator attack scenes.

The disc contains a short featurette with interviews and a look behind the scenes of the making of Lake Placid”, but it is mostly your average promotional piece without revealing too much technical information about the real creation of the movie. Most of its

5-minute running time stems from utilizing clips from the actual film. The movie’s trailer and three TV Spots are also presented on this disc.

“Lake Placid” turns out to be a great popcorn movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously. With a good-natured wink at genre classics here and there, and a series of sarcastic dialogues, the movie is a fun and shock-filled thrill ride. Highly underrated, “Lake Placid” gives the genre an interesting and entertaining twist, mocking films like “Jaws”, “Jurassic Park” and “Piranha” while at the same time creating a level of suspense that is just as intense as in these films.

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January 10, 2000

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