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Eclectic DVD presents
J-Men Forever! (1978)

"This is the Lighting Bug, you dug?"
- Lightning Bug (Machine Gun Kelly)

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: January 08, 2003

Stars: Peter Bergman, Philip Proctor, Machine Gun Kelly, Jack Angel
Other Stars: Joan Gerber, Rod Gist, John Mayer
Director: Richard Patterson

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (some language, drug humor, crude jokes)
Run Time: 01h:25m:44s
Release Date: November 19, 2002
UPC: 022891102496
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- B-B-C C+

DVD Review

The technique of taking someone else's film and re-dubbing it into something else is nothing new; Woody Allen made a classic out of the idea with his silly re-imagining of a Japanese spy epic with What's Up, Tiger Lily? Many have tried similar projects, but they usually fail for a variety of reasons, specifically the lack of effective humor. J-Men Forever, spawned from the innards of the Firesign Theater, is no masterpiece, but it actually manages to hold its own while doing an extremely daring thing: re-dubbing classic Republic serials from the 1930s and 40s. The story is now altered to tell the tale of the 'J-Men', a special government agency dedicated to fighting off the menace of rock 'n' roll music, not to mention drugs. They're called into action when a radio-jock villain by the name of Lightning Bug decides to wage war on all those who like boring music. Of course, the Lightning Bug is actually portrayed by a variety of Republic serial villains like Ming The Merciless and The Crimson Ghost (the evil-doer whose image is often seen as the logo for the punk rock group, The Misfits).

The J-Men call up their most trusted and powerful allies to help battle the Lightning Bug's evil plan to install rock DJ's all over the nation, and those allies include all sorts of unbalanced weirdos who are, in actuality, portrayed by clips of heroes like Shazam, Captain America, and Commander Cody. Eventually, the Lightning Bug also decides to traffic drugs into American cities, hoping that an onslaught of marijuana will devastate the peace-loving populace. The J-Men unfortunately must rely on some rather flawed heroes to combat this evil, but it doesn't matter anyway as the Lightning Bug isn't exactly the most menacing bad-guy ever made. The entire film, spliced together from those various serials, is not only a satire of those very same shorts, but also a clever sting against some of the late 1970s anti-rock and anti-drug culture.

Technically, the project is impressive, as it skillfully uses elements of the actual dialogue mixed-in with the new dubbing. Thought was obviously put into the film and the editing and general collage of serial material is, admittedly, pretty funny. Yes, J-Men is juvenile, but nowhere near as stupid or uncreative as similar "let's re-dub a classic film" kick-offs have been. It also has its smart moments, and that's where its central humor comes from. The best is the series of jokes in which old Shazam footage was used to create the character "Captain Madman", as well as the reinterpretations of old Captain America footage. The footage made specifically for the film (in which the writers, Proctor and Bergman, appear as J-Men characters) is seamlessly mixed in and is careful to not go overboard and break the dead-pan mood. Another bit of kudos goes to the score composer, who created a perfect orchestral work that captured the serial adventure sound without being obviously funny or aiming for the laughs. J-Men Forever is definitely worth a look, especially since the DVD marks an end to the long period in which this work has remained out-of-print. It's also a fairly clever stab at the genre, despite some weaker moments. The endless marijuana humor starts to wear the second half thin, but it eventually pays off.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Obviously, since most of J-Men is edited together from old serial footage, the image quality is not the most advanced, but it's handled rather well with minimal source damage and absolutely no sign of a weak digital transfer. While it is a bit soft in places, the age and general mistreatment of the original negative is mostly to blame for that. Otherwise, the black & white image is pretty good, all things considered.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: While a 2-channel expansion of the original mono and a new Dolby 5.1 mix are offered, there's virtually no difference between the two. The 5.1 mix adds no new sounds or directionality, or even much clarity. In fact, it sounds almost identical to the mono in every sense of the term. So, unless I missed something, there is no difference between the two tracks other than slightly better focus in the center channel dialogue in the 5.1. Neither track is bad, they both perfectly capture both dialogue and all the subtle musical cues, but the hype about a new 5.1 mix is all-for-naught, as there's nothing at all special about it.

Audio Transfer Grade: C


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Interviews with Phil Proctor and Peter Bergman.
Extras Review: The added extra of interviews with Phil Proctor and Peter Bergman are quite interesting, in that they add a slight historical context to the ideas and motivation behind the J-Men concept. In addition, we hear from a few others related to the project, including Judd Holdren, the man who played the original Commando Cody from the serial of the same name; at least he has a sense of humor about it. The interviews aren't masterful supplements to the film, but are certainly a welcome bit of insight that had never been included with previous releases.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

Many, many people are already huge 'cult' fans of J-Men, and, as a result, nothing I say will stop them from going out and buying this version. That's not a bad thing, though, as this new DVD is the ultimate way to enjoy the film without having to seek out overpriced bootlegs or mangled videocassettes. If you've never seen it, give it a chance. It's much smarter than some of its peers and satirizes the serials its based on in a very lighthearted manner. It's juvenile at times, but that's part of the charm.


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