APES ON FILM: By The Pricking of My Thumbs…

Posted on: Feb 16th, 2022 By:

by Anthony Taylor
Contributing Writer


Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.



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3 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Jason Robards, Jonathan Pryce, Diane Ladd , Pam Grier
Director: Jack Clayton 
Rated: PG
Studio: Disney/Buena Vista
Region: Free
BRD Release Date: September 7, 2021
Audio Formats: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p HD
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Run Time: 95 minutes

Ray Bradbury is arguably the greatest American writer of all time. He wrote a short story and/or worked on a novel every day of his adult life, leaving a rich legacy of unforgettable narratives that have been adapted, adopted, re-interpreted, and spread throughout the ground water of worldwide culture for more than seventy years. Though Bradbury’s semi-autobiographical memoir is Dandelion Wine, the novel Something Wicked This Way Comes conveys the true essence of the man – his experiences, his beliefs, his philosophies – like no other of his works. It has been strip-mined by no less than the likes of Stephen King repeatedly to good effect in books like Salem’s Lot, Needful Things, and Doctor Sleep, and its influence has never been diminished.

The 1983 film adaptation of the novel by Disney has many positive facets. The casting of Jason Robards and Jonathon Pryce was inspired, the screenplay by Bradbury himself is a wonderful adaptation without being pedantic in honoring the source material, and many of the supporting performances are fine. Ultimately, it fails as good film due to limitations of technology and lack of vision on the part of the studio in post-production, as well as a lackluster job by director Jack Clayton.

Clayton, the director of 1961’s THE INNOCENTS, certainly seemed a good candidate for the job. One would surmise then that he would be a good choice to helm a film based on a beloved classic book about two boys who beat back the coming of a weird, malevolent carnival and its proprietors, saving their hometown and righting the wrongs done by black magic. But he wasn’t. Yes, there are wonderful sequences within the movie – the library showdown between Pryce’s Mr. Dark and Robards’ Charlie Halloway is brilliant – but the bulk of the film falls flat on multiple levels.

Performances by young leads Vidal Peterson  and Shawn Carson are inconsistent. The whole story hinges on viewers believing that the pair are blood brothers in dire circumstances – afraid, but heroes at their core; neither delivers this, unfortunately. Besides Robards and Pryce, other standouts are Pam Grier as the Dust Witch, Royal Dano as Tom Fury, and Bruce M. Fischer  as Mr. Coogar. Angelo Rossitto  has a good moment or two as a demonic barker at the carnival.

Disney’s culpability comes in what I can only assume was a surfeit of oversight. The studio spent a year re-shooting, editing, and generally misunderstanding how to complete the movie. In an era where independent shops like Boss Films or Stan Winston Studios were creating excellent visual effects on reasonable budgets, Disney opted to keep optical effects in-house, resulting in a lot of shaky, underexposed traveling mattes, THAT DARN CAT!level animation overlays, and a lot of film grain bloom from poorly executed optical film printer composite shots. The most egregious wrong done to this film is that the color timing is all over the pace. The lack of a consistent color palette for such a metaphorically rich film is a crime, and it’s hard to figure out where to point the finger of blame – director or producers? The movie comes across as way too much Disney, not enough Bradbury. What it needs is a remake by Guillermo Del Toro, frankly.

Disney Movie Club’s Blu-ray presentation is a bare bones release, and exclusive to members only. No extras of any kind are included, which seems like a missed opportunity. The picture is dusty and spotty, with scratches and pops throughout, most noticeably in the opening scenes. The enhanced definition here also serves to reveal that the film was clearly shot on the backlot and in Burbank sound stages, resulting in an unenhanced visual environment for home viewing. DMC even bumped the original aspect ratio of 1.75.1 up to 1.85.1 – it seems just to thumb their nose at purists. Audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1.

I wish I could recommend this disc, but truly cannot. It’s not worth the hassle of the Disney Movie Club format (reminiscent of the Columbia House Record Club, you have to opt out of a monthly shipment at a premium price) to get such lackluster presentations for home viewing, especially for films with marginal viewing value.

Let’s hope Guillermo is reading and has an AHA! moment.

An expanded version of this review appears in issue 40 of Screem Magazine.




Anthony Taylor is not only the Minister of Science, but also Defender of the Faith. His reviews and articles have appeared in magazines such as Screem, Fangoria, Famous Monsters of Filmland, SFX, Video*WatcHDog, and more.


*Art Credit: Anthony Taylor as Dr. Zaius caricature by Richard Smith

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