Blu-Ray Review: Lake Placid (1999, Dir, Steve Miner)

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The late 90s was significant for the nature run amok genre, for I can recall five major movies, and when I say major I mean movies that were made for a wide theatrical release, got a wide theatrical release, and had big name stars in them, that came out between 1997 and 1999. It all started with Anaconda in spring of ’97, then Mimic in August of ’98, Lake Placid  and Deep Blue Sea (this could also fall in the science run amok category) in summer (July, I think) of ’99, with Bats rounding it all out in fall of that same year.

When it comes to the Giant Croc/Alligator sub-genre I have three favorites. Until someone comes along to knock it off the top spot Greg Mclean’s Rogue (2007) is about the best one you’ll ever watch. In the #2 spot Lake Placid (1999) is a very good rural variation on the giant gator myth, and, finally, we have the first giant alligator movie I ever saw, the one that literally explores the urban myth of “alligators-living-in-the-sewers,” Lewis Teague’s Alligator (1980).

Getting back to Lake Placid, when this first came out there hadn’t been a “killer croc” movie since the early 90s. I think, Alligator II: The Mutation (1991) was the last we heard of that sub-genre. I can’t think of another between then and ’99. What makes Lake Placid unique, though, is who wrote the script—David E. Kelley, who at the time Placid had come out was currently famous for creating the popular sitcom, Alley McBeal (1997-2002). He’s created more than a few TV series, the only one I ever watched and was an ardent fan of was Picket Fences (1992-1996).

A quirky nature run amok flick is probably how I would best describe this movie.

And for me the whole thing works.

In Placid you’ve got four major characters, Kelly Scott (the now retired from acting Bridget Fonda), a paleontologist, who’s been “shipped off” to Maine to examine a reptilian tooth that was found in a corpse; Sheriff Hank Keough (Brenden Gleeson), the local law enforcement who was present and accounted for when the aforementioned corpse was still alive and thrashing about in the Lake only to be pulled on board and found to be missing his lower half; Jack Wells (Bill Pullman), the Fish And Game officer called in by Keogh to find out why that dude he was assisting on the lake lost the lower half of his body and Hector Cyr (Oliver Platt), a rich mythology professor who’s specialty is crocs and gators. They all eventually learn the lake is home to a 30 foot long Asian Pacific crocodile.

None of these characters like each other upon first meeting, but as the movie progresses Kelly starts getting smitten with Jack and the contentiousness between Keogh and Cyr just gets worse, coming to blows at one point, but finally warming during the last half of the movie.

There are a few nice supporting characters I recognized, specifically, Jed Rees who played Deputy Burke, the poor guy who got his head chomped off on the boat while he was pulling up the underwater speakers. I remember seeing him afterwards in the Showtime series, The Chris Isaak Show (2001-2004). Loved that show. He was also in Galaxy Quest (1999) as one of the aliens Tim Allen and his crew help. Another famous face also has a small part as a cop, Meredith Salenger (The Kiss, Dream A Little Dream), playing a Deputy Sharon Gare, who comes real close to being croc bait, but the most famous supporting role, and a pivotal one for Lake Placid, is Betty White. She plays the “crazy old lady,” one with a secret. .

Another thing I loved about this movie, and all those nature run amok flicks I mentioned earlier, is that they all had adults as the main characters, not dumbass kids, which is the norm nowadays. The CGI for the croc was pretty damn good. Although the CGI bear it pulls into the lake was laughable in my opinion. It sort of “deflates” seconds before it’s hauled into the water. The animatronic FX, however, created by Stan Winston and his crew was top notch as always.

This movie ends with sequel potential but seeing as how long it would take for one of those tiny crocs to reach 30 feet or larger, any sequel would have to be set far into the future. In regards to the movies I listed at the beginning of this review, with the exception of Deep Blue Sea, unfortunately, Lake Placid got sequelized too, and I don’t mean that in a good way. I wish I did, but it didn’t turn out that way. Like Anaconda all the follow-ups went the SyFy channel route. To date there are three subpar sequels in existence. And I pray to God no more are made.

This movie has been on DVD before, but has never had a blu-ray release, well, thanks to Shout! Factory’s genre sun-label, Scream Factory, this past July 8th it has now been transferred to blu only (no combo for this one) and the 1080p 2.35:1 high definition widescreen wasn’t bad. I didn’t find it overwhelming, but certainly better than the previous 1999 DVD I had.

You get two audio options: a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio one and a 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio one. Both sounded good to me, and there are subtitles in English only.

Extras are as follows:

  • Making Of Lake Placid (31:20)
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Featurette (5:38)
  • 3 TV Spots
  • Croc Test Footage (7:21)
  • Behind-The-Scenes Gallery

The only actor Scream could get for the Making Of was Bill Pullman. As I understand it Bridget Fonda declined the offer and Oliver Platt was in the middle of filming something, No idea if Brenden Gleeson was approached but this is a good mini-doc regardless as Steve Miner and various other technicians dissect the flick. The bear in the movie ran off the set the moment he saw the animatronic croc and they could not get him back, so they had to submerge the prop in the water so he wouldn’t see it.

It was also mentioned that CGI was still quite expensive when this was being filmed which is why a physical prop was included in the movie. Nowadays, they said, if this movie was made the croc would be all CGI.

Yes, it would.

All the extras from the ’99 DVD were ported over and that includes the vintage featurette, the TV spots and the trailer. Aside from the Making Of, other new extras included are the Croc Test Footage which is without any sound and shows part of the animatronic prop at varying degrees of “submergment” (yeah, I know it’s not a word) in the lake. I also got a kick out of the 40 photos in the Behind-The-Scenes Gallery, which mostly covers the FX.

Back in the early to mid 2000s I caught a nature doc about giant crocs. Now when one of those docs says it’s about something giant generally you’re in for some disappointment because the animal is never really as giant as you think it’s going to be. There was one titled, Super Snakes, or something like that, and it was about giant anacondas. Sure the snakes were big, but I wasn’t wowed by their size. Well, this particular croc doc, and I wish to God I could recall it’s exact title and where it aired, I seem to think I saw it on PBS, lived up to it’s title. It was about a giant croc researchers were following down in the Amazon, and there was this one shot of it in the local river with a bunch of hippos and that damn croc, I shit you not, was as big as those goddamn hippos!

I thought to myself, ‘Holy fuckin’ shit… those giant alligator movies are based on something real! Goddamn, look at that?!’

I vaguely remember planning to record it, because it was set to be repeated, but I can’t recall why I never did. And I’ve seen a bunch of giant alligator docs since then, but none of those they showed were as big as a goddamn hippo. And I have never seen that doc again.

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