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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Vic: I'm proud of you guys. Now you're ready.
DVD ReviewI've never been the type of person that would fearlessly scale a mountain, or brave a wild rapid. That's not the type of activity I would personally seek out, and the thought of camping or hiking leaves me just as cold. I'm not sure, but maybe it has something to do with seeing Deliverance in my formative years, and those nightmares about squealing like a pig. Regardless, a film like White Water Summer, a somewhat underrated title from 1987, has now surfaced on DVD, and it also reinforces my desire to steer clear of the extremes of nature, but for far different reasons.
Vic (Kevin Bacon) leads an assorted group of four teens on an extended adventure in the rugged Sierras. The whole idea of the trip is to teach the kids courage, survival and teamwork; it's sort of a stripped-down Outward Bound-type excursion. The group includes Mitch (Jonathan Ward), Chris (Matt Adler), George (K.C. Martel) and Alan (Sean Astin), a reluctant participant, having been more or less forced to go by his parents. It doesn't take long for the thrill of the adventure to sour, at least for Alan initially, as Vic is revealed to be an extremely harsh taskmaster, and one who is prone to either major mood swings or intense motivational behaviors. As their journey becomes more physically strenuous and intense, their inter-relationships become more volatile, as Vic cruelly pushes Alan to his emotional limits.
Kevin Bacon gives an edgy, off-balance performance as Vic, who, based on his actions, is just about the last guy I would want leading me into the mountains. As the film progresses, Vic's sanity, stability and reasoning are put under scrutiny, and it's never really clear if he's nuts or not. The whole issue of what type of parents would send their kids out alone into the wilderness with Vic is never really addressed, and some of his actions are just this side of completely insane. Sean Astin (Samwise Gamgee in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy) as Alan is the focal point of inexperienced teens, and he of course is forced to dramatically gain all manner of personal growth and courage under the fiery temper of Vic as their adventure turns tragic. His performance goes through some natural changes as the film unfolds, and he carries it off well.
The real star of White Water Summer is the beautiful cinematography of John Alcott. Alcott, who died shortly before this film was originally released, also worked on such visual epics as A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon and 2001:A Space Odyssey. He paints the outdoors to be big, rugged and unforgiving, and that adds a lot to the overall dramatic tone. A sequence featuring the crossing of a long, narrow rope bridge that spans a gorge is a dizzying bit of cinematography that never seems to cop out with badly matted studio cut-ins. Alcott shot the scene from above and below, and this really gives the scene an edge. Despite the title, their are only a couple of white water scenes, including the climactic river ride pictured on the cover. This is another of example of an extremely realistic looking sequence, where it doesn't appear to be distant shots of stunt doubles dressed like the actors. We can see their faces clearly, and that certainly builds tension.
My only real complaint are the sporadic scenes that feature Alan speaking directly to the camera, in what seem to have been hastily added, and out of place, sequences. Coming on the heels of Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986), I'm sure some studio head demanded that White Water Summer include a cocky kid talking right to the audience. These scenes are jarringly incongruous, and stick out like the proverbial sore thumb.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: A very clean 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer from Columbia TriStar is quite a pleasant surprise here, especially considering this film's age. Colors are well-saturated, and appear very natural, while black levels are solid with excellent shadow detail. Image detail is very sharp on what appears to be a print that is free of blemishes or scratches. Some minor edge enhancement was noticeable. A 1.33:1 pan & scan transfer is available on the flipside of the disc.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: White Water Summer features an aggressive 4.0 Discrete Surround mix that is a vast improvement over some of the less impressive 5.1 mixes I've heard on newer films. There are a lot of 1980s rock songs in this film, and the rear channels are used extensively to fill out the soundfield with music. Ambient sound effects, such as chirping birds or rushing water, also provide much depth and fullness. Directional imaging across the front channels is minimal, but effective when used. Dialogue is clean and distortion-free.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Karate Kid
Extras Review: Fullframe trailers for White Water Summer and Karate Kid are the only real extras to be found here. Columbia TriStar has included their usual plethora of subtitles (English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai), as well as 28 chapter stops.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsJeff Bleckner's White Water Summer dances around the lack of a deep plot, but still manages to kick out a fairly exciting wilderness tale. Beautiful outdoor scenery, and a wacky Kevin Bacon keep things interesting enough to merit a rental.
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