Lake Placid (1999)
Studio: Scream Factory
Release date: July 8th, 2014
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Technically, Lake Placid was released in 1999, but it feels like you might as well employ fucking carbon dating to really determine how old it is. Watching it is akin to peering into a time capsule, as youíll find yourself constantly confronting a bygone era: remember Bill Pullman? Bridget Fonda? Oliver Platt? Hell, do you remember a time when creature features were summer blockbusters and not relegated to irony-soaked Saturday night slots on the SyFy Channel? Mostly, the film makes you miss the idea of Lake Placid: a silly, (relatively) large-budgeted monster movie about a giant crocodile that takes itself just seriously enough yet still knows itís a goofy killer-crock flick.
Which isnít to say the film itself doesnít hold upóitís still enjoyable enough, particularly in its efficiency and complete lack of pretense. The setup: when a diver is devoured by a mysterious aquatic creature, a rural Maine town summons paleontologist Kelly Scott (Fonda) to investigate. Along with the town sheriff (Brendan Gleeson), a local game officer (Pullman), and a thrill-seeking crocodile hunter (Platt), Scott camps out on the lake shore in an effort to draw out the beast, which winds up being a 30-foot man-eating crocodile.
You know, thatís pretty much it, and thatís kind of refreshing given the bloated state of many modern blockbusters (though, to be fair, Lake Placid was a bit of an outlier in this respect even in 1999). Iím not saying itís impossible to make a deeply nuanced or legitimately unsettling film about oversized crocodiles, but I am saying that maybe Steve Miner was smart enough to not even bother. Instead, his film embraces the schlock early and often, with the opening scene even climaxing with the ill-fated diver being torn in half. Jaws it ainít (by comparison, Spielbergís decision to have Chrissie Watkinsís crab-infested remains wash up on the beach feels tasteful).
But it does sort of have the same idea as Jaws in that itís trying very hard to be the best nature-run-amok film it can possibly be. Obviously, the effort doesnít catapult Lake Placid anywhere near the stratosphere (itís not Minerís fault that he isnít exactly Spielberg), but itís appreciably slick and well-made all the same. The (then) A-list cast brings an air of legitimacy to the proceedings, and everyoneís fine-tuned to the scriptís sensibilities: even though the whole thingís a goof, no oneís playing too broad or winking too much to completely undermine the film. Instead, theyíre mostly hanging loose and just having fun.
Itís sort of interesting that just about everyone seems to dislike or condescend towards each other for much of the film, yet it all manages to feel pretty good-natured. Fondaís arc essentially sees her cool off from uber-bitch to sorta-smarmy-bitch, while Gleeson and Platt needle each other the entire time. Betty White (I think making her debut here as incongruously foul-mouthed Betty White 2.0) tells folks to suck her imaginary dick.
That everyone winds up coming off so affable is almost a miracle. I suppose itís also a testament to the cast, many of whom have sadly smaller profiles these days; seriously, who would have guessed that Gleeson and White would be arguably the most successful Lake Placid alums fifteen years later. Plattís career has been especially inexplicable, especially when his Lothario act here is the funniest thing Lake Placid has to offer (at one point, he dances the Carlton, as if this couldnít be any more 90s).
Really, to be a horror-comedy, Lake Placid is much more amusing than it is riotously funny. The dialogueís sort of snappy and it hits some goofy beats (like Platt constantly ensnaring Gleeson in his traps), but I wouldnít exactly consider it to be the height of wit. Any more backhanded compliments like that, and itís going to really sound like Iím championing mediocrity, which isnít exactly the case (though it must be said that delivering perfectly acceptable, harmless movies became Minerís niche there for a while).
Rather than doing that, letís instead highlight what Lake Placid gets right compared to so many of its successors: it takes its creature seriously. The crocodile is not to be fucked with: its body count is low but impactful, and the fine effects work ensures that youíre not laughing at him. While Miner employs a mix of practical (via Stan Winstonís studio!) and digital, the latter still isnít too distracting despite the passage of time. In fact, all of these ultra-cheap modern creature features should be downright mortified that fifteen year old effects still often put them to shame. I consider crocodiles (and alligatorsóscrew both of these giant reptiles, honestly) to be the most skin-crawling creatures on the planet, but even I donít have time for that laughable looking bullshit.
Between that and striking just the right tone, Lake Placid pretty much serves as the platonic ideal for knowingly silly creature features. Ironically, maybe it can be compared to Jaws in that its imitators were often low-rent cash-ins that completely missed the mark by mistaking its glib approach as a license to be willfully stupid and bad under the pretense of being "cheesy" (I have to wonder if this fate even befell its made-for-DVD sequelsóan official OTH investigation is in order). In contrast, Lake Placid is only a little dumb but pretty well executed, which is something that canít be said for a lot of films of this ilk. Itís a shame that this genre has hit such a nadir that films like Piranha 3D and Shark Night are an exception rather than the rule these days. More than anything, Lake Placid just leaves me longing for the days when a theatrical summer blockbuster could star Pullman, Fonda, Platt, and a giant, man-eating crocodile.
Back when I first reviewed Lake Placid a few years back, I said a Blu-ray upgrade would be welcome, and Scream Factory has obliged with a new collectorís edition. From a presentation standpoint, this disc is miles ahead of Foxís lone, pitiful DVD release from 2000. The studio never even bothered to issue an anamorphic update, so the move to high-definition is a vast improvement that immediately justifies tossing out the old disc. The 5.1 DTS-MA track also brings some rumbly low-end to an altogether lively mix since the film provides ample opportunity for an expansive, dynamic soundstage.
Foxís old DVD was also quite bereft of extras (this was back when studios were touting ďinteractive menusĒ as extras), and Scream has picked up the slack here too with a 30-minute making-of retrospective with the cast and crew (including Pullman and Miner) that takes viewers through the filmís production via recollections and anecdotes. A five-minute vintage featurette provides a look at the filmís marketing, while a seven-minute reel of croc test footage provides a peek behind the effects curtain. The filmís trailer, some TV spots, and a behind-the-scenes gallery make up the rest of the supplements, and Scream has once again commissioned their own new artwork as part of a reversible cover that includes the filmís original poster.
As a long-time fan of Lake Placid, Iím glad to see it finally receive a more-than-respectable treatment on home video. Itís been a rough decade-plus for this particular sub-genre, so the least we can do is hold up one of the better efforts on a pedestal so imitators can get a good look at how these things are supposed to be done. comments powered by Disqus Ratings: