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A poor script darkens 'Night Skies'

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

An action classic, a new science fiction film and another serial set in a jungle are in the mix for this week's DVD column.

Night Skies

On March 13, 1997, thousands of people in Arizona watched a group of UFOs in the sky over Phoenix. The incident received national attention and to this date no explanation about these lights, which appeared to be flying in formation, has been offered.

Needless to say, this mass sighting is suitable material for a movie and "Night Skies" uses the event to present a story about a group of people who witnessed the UFOs in a decidedly personal way.

A group of young people is traveling to Las Vegas on back roads spot the lights and subsequently crashes their RV. They meet another driver, whose truck has stopped mysteriously, and then begin a torturous encounter with aliens.

The film is based on the recovered memories of Richard (played by Jason Connery), the truck driver. While the UFO sighting themselves and Richard's story should provide the fodder for a good story, director Roy Kynrim and writer Eric Miller waste too much time on setting up the relationships between the victims.

The focus of the story should have been on Richard: what happened to him on board the UFO, how he was found and what his life was like later. A documentary probably would have been more interesting a film.

The creepiest moment doesn't happen until the end of the film when actual footage of the lights is shown.

Competently shot and with a solid performance from Connery (yes, he's Sean's son), "Night Skies" crashes due to a poor script.

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Lost City of the Jungle

In my last DVD column, I recounted the experience of watching the over-the-top 1936 serial "The Lost City." Well, being a serial fan (or a glutton for punishment) I next tackled the other new release from VCI Entertainment, the 1946 Universal Studios release of "Lost City of the Jungle."

Among serial fans, the chapter plays from Republic Pictures were always praised as being the best made with those from Universal as being too talky and the ones from Columbia as being simply goofy.

This serial is a talkfest. The characters are always talking about what has happened or going to happen and there is very little action. As usual logic doesn't play much of a role in the serial universe and this production is no exception.

I can't really describe the plot other to say the good guy (Russell Hayden) has chased a warmonger (Lionel Atwill) to an Asian nation that sits in the middle of the snow-covered Himalayas in a state of perpetual summer. The bad guy is after a rare element that will be used to perfect a defense to the atomic bomb, thus threatening the balance of power and creating more war.

This was Atwill's last screen role. The veteran movie villain died during the production and in some scenes his character is played by a double with his back to the camera. It was a rather sad ending for someone who had once co-starred with the likes of Marlene Dietrich.

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Police Story

Jackie Chan fans should be very happy with the release on DVD of one of Chan's best films, which for many years was only available on an out-of-print VHS tape or in a hard-to-find boxed set.

The 1985 film was not Chan's first hit, but it was a film that helped form his reputation for the blending of comedy with amazing stunt work.

Chan's eager to please young cop has the task of protecting a witness needed to testify against a mobster and the film centers on the criminals' efforts trying to kill Chan.

This was the first Chan picture I saw back around 1990 and it instantly made my wife and I Chan fans and hungry to watch more films from Hong Kong.

It's a shame that Chan's reputation has been affected by a strong of lackluster Hollywood films and I hope a new generation of fans can discover his one- of-a- kind brand of film making through this movie and other classic Chan films.

The DVD features a commentary by Hong Kong expert Bey Logan and director Brett Ratner as well as a very insightful documentary on Chan's stunt team and an interview with Chan on the making of the film. It also features an alternative beginning and ending to the film.

If you're an action fan, you've got to see this movie.