Lifeforce Becomes a Killer DVD

Steve Railsback, Peter Firth, Frank Finlay, Mathilda May, Patrick Stewart. Directed by Tobe Hooper. Aspect ratio: 2.35:1 (letterbox). Dolby Digital 5.1. 116 minutes. 1985. MGM Home Entertainment 907017. Rated R. $24.98.

When I saw Tobe Hooper's Lifeforce during its 1985 theatrical release, I really didn't care for it. It didn't make much sense, the characterizations were awful, and I found it downright juvenile. After watching this new version, in letterbox format with 15 minutes of restored footage, I found myself reassessing my initial opinion of the film. The new footage closed holes in the story and characters were fleshed out, transforming Lifeforce into a pretty entertaining science-fiction flick.

The story, based on Colin Wilson's novel The Space Vampires, concerns a joint British-American space mission to Halley's Comet. When the British shuttle Churchill arrives at the comet, it discovers an alien spacecraft. While investigating the craft, astronauts discover thousands of dead aliens and three perfectly preserved human specimens in suspended animation. The astronauts take the humans and one of the aliens back to the shuttle for the return trip to Earth.

When the Churchill nears Earth, it doesn't respond to signals from mission control, so a second shuttle is dispatched to investigate. The Churchill proves to be a burnt-out shell, its entire crew apparently lost. The only things not destroyed are the three encased human specimens, which are taken back to London to be examined by government scientists. The female (Mathilda May) is removed from her case, but before she can be examined she attacks a guard, leaving him a withered husk. She escapes from the laboratory and goes into hiding. Her victims reanimate every two hours and begin draining others of their life energy. The rest of the film is a race against the clock to find her and stop the Space Vampires from draining the life force of every human being in London.

MGM Home Entertainment deserves high praise for turning Lifeforce into an absolute killer DVD. The only thing this disc lacks is anamorphic enhancement for widescreen televisions. The letterboxed transfer presents Lifeforce very close to its 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio, and the film looks simply phenomenal. Lifeforce was not a cheap film; the top-notch special effects by John Dykstra, in addition to the film's excellent production values, come shining through in this presentation. The image is as sharp and detailed as many of the best-looking discs on the market. Color reproduction is flawless; the richly saturated hues show no trace of noise or distortion. Digital compression artifacts kept a low profile throughout the presentation.

Lifeforce has been given the single greatest Dolby Digital 5.1-channel re-mix of any film from the mid-'80s. I was amazed by the soundtrack---channel separation was terrific, bass was deep and low, and the surrounds were deployed very aggressively for a film from this period. Another highlight is Henry Mancini's title music---a total "wow." Lifeforce also sports really cool animated menus that allow access to a theatrical trailer, plus previews of every scene, chapter-encoded into the DVD.