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LAKE PLACID

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Bill Pullman, Bridget Fonda, Oliver Platt
Director:  Steve Miner
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  20th Century Fox
Features:  Trailer, Featurette, Talent Files, 3 Television Spots
Length:  82 Minutes
Release Date:  January 11, 2000

Film **1/2

It seems like ever since Jurassic Park came on the scene, and introduced a way of combining expert CGIís with models to create seamless creature effects, Hollywood has been trying to find more and more ways of using the technology to scare their audiences into plopping down more money at the box office.  And itís also obvious that for every truly entertaining film that comes out in the genre, like Deep Blue Sea, there are at least two others that fell way short, like Congo or Anaconda.  Their most recent offering, Lake Placid, falls somewhere in between.  Like many films of the genre, itís a bit lacking in brainpower, but unlike the better films, rather than allowing you the luxury of dismissing what is implausible or silly, it kind of forces you to dwell on them a little too long for comfort.

Case in point:  the movie opens with a bang as a scuba diver goes into the water, but only half of him comes back out.  Now, being that he went into the water, there are really only two creatures that could have bitten him in two:  a shark, or a large crocodile/alligator.  And being that it happened in a lake, you can pretty much rule out a shark.

Enter onto the scene a game and fish warden (Pullman).  He canít figure out what might have done this to the man, even going as far as suggesting a bear, until heís politely reminded that bears donít attack people underwater.

Enter expert number two, a paleontologist (Fonda), who is given a tooth pulled from the dead body.  She examines it, and announces that itís ďdefinitely reptilianĒ.  Itís enough to get her sent from New York to Maine to investigate.  But she supposedly canít figure out what reptile attacks underwater, either.

Now, even if you believe that two experts in their field canít put together the evidence and come up with a crocodile, you have to wonder why, when they know something in the lake is big enough to bite a man in half, that they would go exploring the water in little, easily flippable canoes.  And flip they do, time and time again, as the movieís key motif for suspense is spilling actors into the water.  I pretty much lost count.  (Interestingly enough, later the big croc goes terrorizing the cast on land, and flips a pickup truck, which naturally spills even more actors).

It takes the arrival of a rich mythologist (Platt), to land his helicopter on the scene and announce to the incredulous team that it is in fact a crocodile theyíre dealing with.

Then, of course, there are the other standard shock movie clichťs.  Why is it, for example, that only in these films do three supposed professionals come together for an investigation, and immediately dislike each other, and constantly hurl barbs and insults at one another over the course of doing theyíre jobs?  Well, probably because most writers assume thatís the only way to hold their audienceís attention during the spells when the croc isnít on the screen.  And why is it they camp out near the water so calmly at night, knowing that crocodiles do in fact, crawl out on land?

But I have to give the film credit where its dueÖthe big fella looks great.  Heís a menacing, 30 foot, 150 year old Asian reptile that pops out of the water unexpectedly to take out cows or whatever else happens to be too close to the waterline.  As far as special effects goes, heís one of the better ones, even a bit more convincing than the sharks in Deep Blue Sea.  And light-years beyond the goofy snake in Anaconda. 

So, when the film promises some thrills and chills, it does deliver, though it lacks the big punch that Deep Blue Sea managed to bring.  And, it offers one of the yearís most entertaining supporting roles, played by Betty White.  I really wish I could print one of her many zingers here, but, youíll just have to hear them for yourself.

Lake Placid really strains the limit of just how dumbed down a summer movie can be and still manage to be entertaining.  I think it succeeded in finding the boundary and walking on its edge, without ever quite crossing over.

Video ***

Itís not anamorphic, but it still a pretty decent offering from Fox.  I noticed a slight bit of grain in one or two of the darker scenes, but for the most part, clarity is very good and images are sharp, crisp and cleanly rendered.  Coloring was good throughout, with no noticeable bleeding or distortion.  A few lower lit settings were inherently softer than their counterparts, but nothing I would consider problematic or even a distraction. 

Audio ***1/2

This is a good 5.1 mix that offers as much dynamic range as you would hope for a scare film.  The rear channels are selectively but effectively used from flyovers to the chaotic scenes with the big croc.  The subwoofer is also sparingly used, but kicks in at the right moment to add depth and bottom end to the action sequences, not to mention the big fellaís menacing growls.  All in all, a good listen.

Features **

This disc is a marketerís dream come true.  A trailer, three TV spots, a promotional featurette, and talent files is what you get.  Plus some fairly cool animated menus with sound.

Summary:

Lake Placid is certainly decent, if not spectacular, summer-style movie entertainment.  It boasts some good effects and a few genuine scares peppered with laughs, which help the picture stay just afloat despite the weight of the silly script and lost actors.  Feel free to stop by Lake Placid for a visit.  Just make sure you donít feed the animals while youíre there.