Friday, October 1, 2010

Jacob's Ladder

Initially published here

Since its release in 1990, the film has been known, first and foremost, as a “Gotcha!” movie. “Gotcha!” movies invariably feature an out-of-left-field twist, typically right near the end, which triggers a desire to reevaluate everything you thought the film was about right up until that moment. Because of this, many “Gotcha” films tend to be either loved (“My God, I never saw that coming!”) or loathed (“My God, I saw that coming from a mile away!”) strictly on the strength of their twist.

Jacob Singer (played by Tim Robbins fresh off his breakthrough role in Bull Durham) is a Vietnam veteran trying to make sense of his new life stateside when he finds himself plagued with nightmarish visions of demons trying to kill him. When he finds out that other members of his platoon are suffering the same harrowing thoughts, he attempts to find out if the Army is somehow responsible. And then … jeez, I guess journalistic decorum obliges me to not give away the twist to a 20-year-old movie. Does anyone out there who doesn’t already know going to have any interest in watching the film now? How about this -- I’ll just reference “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” and leave it at that.

The problem with most of these films is that they typically don’t hold up well to the reverse scrutiny that they seem to demand. Much of the film’s plot, character development, heck, even individual shots and sounds, don’t make any sense when considered in light of the “Gotcha” moment. Jacob’s Ladder is truly pretentious in its pretending to be much smarter and intellectually rigorous than it actually is. As a horror film, however, it holds up surprisingly well and much of its more frightening imagery is still capable of instilling dread during a quiet, late night viewing.

This Blu-ray edition is short on the “Wow” factor that many people have come to demand from the new format. What we get instead is simply the best looking and sounding version of the film ever on home video. There seems to be a significant amount of grain in the imagery which is in keeping with many of the film’s grim locales (subways, VA hospitals, some decidedly un-gentrified NYC neighborhoods). I suspect this is as good as the film has looked since its premiere.

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