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There is something about director Ken Russell's movies that immediately induce strong reactions in just about everyone who sees them. ALTERED STATES ($25) is certainly no exception to that rule. Case in point: writer Paddy Chayefsky requested his name be removed from ALTERED STATES after witnessing Russell's particular vision of his work. Not having read Chayefsky’s book, I only can only comment on Ken Russell’s movie, which offered an intriguing and intelligent science fiction story, accompanied by engrossing visuals that are distinctly Russell’s.

ALTERED STATES stars William Hurt as Dr. Eddie Jessup, a research scientist who embarks on dangerous experiments designed to reach other states of consciousness. Jessup begins his experiments with sensory depravation, however he finds that this technique will only take his research so far. It is when he combines the depravation tank with a strong hallucinogenic used for centuries by certain South American Indians that he is able to take his research to the next plateau. What started out as a mind-altering experience, soon begins to alter Dr. Jessup’s physical being as well. Whatever he experiences within the altered state of consciousness manifests itself by altering Dr. Jessup’s DNA; transforming him into something other than human. The impressive ensemble cast of ALTERED STATES also includes Blair Brown, Bob Balaban, Charles Haid and Thaao Penghlis. Look for Drew Barrymore and John Larroquette in small supporting roles.

Warner Home Video has made ALTERED STATES available on DVD in both wide screen and full screen presentations on opposite sides of the disc. Those who must watch ALTERED STATES this way, won't be disappointed with the full screen version. However, anyone serious about the film, will want to witness ALTERED STATES in its correct 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Warner's wide screen presentation not only correctly frames the film, it also provides the all too crucial anamorphic component for 16:9 aspect ratio televisions. Warner’s transfer is very detailed, with a consistently sharp image. Additionally, colors reproduce with the amazing accuracy. The vivid, highly saturated hues never become distorted, nor do they display any traces of chroma noise. Blacks are a deep velvety black, and the transfer delivers good contrast. Digital compression artifacts are never overt, thanks to solid DVD authoring.

The 1980 vintage soundtrack has been re-mixed into Dolby Digital 5.1, with marvelous results. Instead of just transcribing Dolby Surround stems into the 5.1 channel format, this mix seems to be a lot more aggressive and broadly mixed than anything from 1980. Sounds seem to swirl around the viewer enveloping them in the sonic assaults that accompany the film’s psychedelic excursions into altered states of consciousness. Sure, the soundstage is definitely more open than standard Dolby Surround, however the track isn't as intense as something recorded within the last three years. Still, considering that ALTERED STATES is nearly twenty years old, the track left me suitably impressed. Also encoded into the DVD is a French language track, plus English and French subtitles.

The interactive menus contain a bit of animation and provide the standard scene and language selection features. As supplement, the DVD contains a theatrical trailer, two television spots and production notes.

ALTERED STATES is a minor science fiction classic and one of director Ken Russell's most accessible films. Warner has done a great job with the DVD; making this a worthwhile addition to the libraries of sci-fi fans everywhere. Recommended.


Altered States (1980)


DVD reviews are Copyright 1999 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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