Tag Archives: copy

Front Row Entertainment’s Fantasy Mission Force VHS (1996)

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Unlikely as it may seem, I was super stoked to find this sealed VHS copy of the Jackie Chan film Fantasy Mission Force at the Midway Plaza Goodwill recently. And not because I’m a Fantasy Mission Force megafan, either; lots of people love it (albeit for all the wrong reasons), but I can’t count myself among them. It’s a whacked-out flick, and I probably should enjoy it for the complete insanity that endears it to so many others, but I just don’t. And you can’t make me.

Nor am I an especially big kung fu movie fan. I like some of the Bruce Lee films, and I have a special affinity for The Dragon Lives Again (a nutbar “Brucesploitation” film where “Bruce Lee” dies, goes to the underworld, teams up with Popeye, and fights Dracula. Yes, really), but if I have any kind of kung fu fandom in me, it is only of the most casual variety.

(Anyone who has seen both is probably now wondering why I like a film as oddball as The Dragon Lives Again but don’t like the-also-super-weird Fantasy Mission Force. Search me. Also, while on the subject of weird kung fu, I so wanted to love Bruce Lee Strikes Back From The Grave, but man, aside from that opening intro, dude, screw that. Awesome theatrical poster, though.)

Fantasy Mission Force ostensibly stars Jackie Chan (his role basically amounts to a bit part), is ostensibly set during World War II (cars from the 1970’s show up, and references to Abraham Lincoln, James Bond and Rocky are made), and is ostensibly…well, I don’t really know where I was going with that kinda-gag. It’s a crazy flick, though. (To be fair, all of the inconsistencies are intentional.) It starts off with a bizarre singing-drinking party, then later there’s a Scottish soldier and his ultra-annoying sidekick, a tribe of Amazons, and a sojourn to a haunted house. It’s one “what the hell?” moment after another, and I’m not exaggerating, that reaction is pretty much nonstop throughout the whole thing. Oh, and to top it all off, there’s an obnoxiously catchy theme song that bores itself into your head for 97 years at a time.

Actually, when I describe the movie like that, Fantasy Mission Force does sound pretty awesome. I take back all the awful things I said about it? Nah.

So, if I don’t really like the movie, why get so jazzed upon finding a sealed copy at Goodwill? It’s not even remotely rare, and if all I wanted was a sealed copy, I’m sure they’re found easily enough online. No, only nostalgia could get my adrenaline pumping in regards to a film like Fantasy Mission Force. Here’s the ultimate proof:

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That $2.99 price tag. I know it by heart. The image is burnt into my memory. This sticker is proof-positive that this tape originally came from Best Buy’s fabled (in my mind) $2.99 VHS section. Not only did I dearly love this section, where films of an otherwise-doubtful sales-potential resided (silent shorts, b-westerns, spaghetti westerns, cheesy horror/sci-fi; a lot of crap not unlike Fantasy Mission Force, basically), but that also means that this copy of Fantasy Mission Force is as identical in every aspect as possible to the one I had in the late-1990’s. Where did my original copy go? All will be revealed in due time (settle down, I’ll get there.)

Also, don’t you just love that picture above? Jackie seems to be glaring at the price with so much resentment. “I’m only worth three bucks?!

For a short time in the late-1990’s, I was on a kung fu kick, so when I saw this tape (and having seen no other Chan flick beforehand) in Best Buy’s $2.99 section, I snapped it up right quick. I was already well-acquainted with the section, so it’s not like I didn’t know what could reside there, but that didn’t stop me from happily carrying it to the checkout counter like I’d just found a pot of friggin’ gold. It must’ve been the summer of 1998, because I’m positive I didn’t have this the summer before, and because the clerk asked if I was getting it for my Dad for father’s day. No, nosy checkout guy, this one is [was] mines. Further evidence it was summer of ’98? I had my copy of the film for about a year before it left me.

Where, how and why it went, you’ll soon know. But first, a closer look at the tape itself.

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Front Row Entertainment was a budget outfit, and make no mistake, their Fantasy Mission Force sure looks like a budget tape. You’d never see a major studio putting out something looking like that above. That said, it IS a bit more competent than a lot of cheapo videos. At least as far as the packaging goes. I mean, look at it. The pinks, blues and whites make it look like something akin to an ice cream cone. Do I dare take a bite out of it? It’s an aesthetically pleasing sleeve, even if it doesn’t scream “hot kung fu action!” and completely belies the actual product, which as previously mentioned, is NOT a thing of beauty.

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The back of the sleeve is plain-Jane, but adequate enough. I mean, the description is perfectly serviceable, though the final sentence is a massive understatement. Maybe it’s impossible to properly explain a film like Fantasy Mission Force in the space of one VHS back-cover.

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See, sealed. Did you think I was lying? I wasn’t. I can get an opened copy anywhere, so I refuse to crack the seal of my assuredly-from-Best Buy-and-just-like-the-one-I-used-to-have version.

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No, I didn’t succumb to temptation (ha!) and open it. As fortune would have it, I received a totally random and completely sleeve-less copy in a recent tape lot. Why was it in there? Was it a premonition? I don’t have the answer to those burning questions, and you’d better believe I wasn’t even remotely as excited as I was when I found the Best Buy-sealed copy (seriously, what are the odds of that in this day and age?), but if nothing else, it allows me to show you, the reader, what the actual tape looks like. Exciting, isn’t it? Amount of tape used: approximately a foot. High quality it was/is not.

Okay, the preliminaries are out of the way. Now, the real reason I was so excited to find this: my original copy is the subject of one of my fondest Northeast Ohio horror movie host memories. Behold!

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That is absolutely my original copy in The Ghoul’s hand, during the summer of 1999. The Ghoul had been on WBNX TV-55 for roughly a year at that point, and that year had seen me become a big fan of his. I had also watched my copy of Fantasy Mission Force twice in that year, and I just couldn’t stomach a third. I mean, no kidding, it sucks pretty bad. So, my VHS became the subject of the first package I ever sent The Ghoul. The package also included a “Parma Yo-Yo” (which The Ghoul seemed to like a lot but never did anything with again) and a big “Ghoul Power!” banner, but the Fantasy Mission Force tape was a grand finale of sorts. Being a young, 13-year old Ghoul fan, of course I asked him to blow the thing up.

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Being a man of the people, The Ghoul kindly obliged my request (“ask and you shall receive in Ghoul Power land!”), and trust me, there is no more fitting fate for Fantasy Mission Force than one of The Ghoul’s boom-booms. I really was jumping up and down during this whole segment, and the final fate of my awful movie was totally the topper. You have no idea how much I just loved all this. And while it doesn’t translate as well into still-pictures, this was a seriously satisfying blow-up.

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Those final two images are the last looks I ever had of my beloved Fantasy Mission Force tape. I don’t know what kind of firecracker he used, but man, that thing obliterated the video, as you can well see. It was, and is, a beautiful thing.

Keep in mind, not once have I regretted sending The Ghoul that tape. Oh, there are plenty of tapes I had, later got rid of, and ended up regretting, but this wasn’t one of them. The whole segment has become legendary to me. Fantasy Mission Force may not be good for much else, but it was certainly good for this.

And now I have a sealed copy, just like the one I sent to The Ghoul 15 years ago! Has it really been that long? Sure doesn’t seem like it. Maybe if The Ghoul ever comes back to local TV, I’ll send him this copy, too…

Nah, the chances of me coming across another sealed copy from the long-gone Best Buy $2.99 section are just too slim. The only question remains: where to put the tape? It’s stupid sealed Fantasy Mission Force, after all. It’s gotta go somewhere of semi-honor, doesn’t it?

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It’s got action like Commando, and it’s got comedy like Dan Aykroyd. A fitting combination? Hmmmm…

Batclips DVD Review

The $1 DVDs you sometimes find in the checkout aisle of grocery stores or in forlorn sections of major retail joints are often hit-and-miss. After all, there’s only so many public domain movies, TV shows and cartoons that can be released over and over again. Often, the companies presenting the umpteenth release of a given film to the public have to rely on creative cover art to trick unsuspecting passerby into thinking a particular DVD they’ve got collecting dust on the shelf is in actuality the feel-good, must-have hit of the holiday season. My favorite examples? Releases of John Wayne’s public domain 1930’s B-movies that feature cover art made to look like it’s for ‘real’ John Wayne movies. Why, certain people could very well be tricked into thinking Randy Rides Alone is of the same cinematic quality as The Searchers!

That’s not to say I don’t love the $1 DVD section at stores, though. In all honesty, I will happily rummage through the budget titles before I even think about glancing towards the ‘real’ big-time DVD releases. I know what I’ll find there, but the $1 section can be like a neverending grab-bag of surprises. You can find some truly awesome titles if you’re willing to dig past a lot of junk discs. An example of budget DVD greatness? Batclips.

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This one seemingly came out of nowhere when it showed up in $1 racks a few years ago, but don’t let the cheap price fool you. This is an awesome DVD and absolutely worth the dollar (it’s hard to beat a buck anyway, but given some of the material presented, I can easily see them charging a bit more and not being called out on it). The cartoonish artwork and rather odd tagline on the front cover may lead some to think this is a cut-rate documentary on the origins of the Batman character, but it’s actually about 30 minutes worth of material pertaining to the 1966-1968 Batman TV series starring Adam West (as well as the 1966 film based on said series and starring said badass). Let me clarify that this is often listed as Bat Clips, with a space between the two words, but the spine and description on my copy both call it Batclips, no space, so that’s what I’m calling it, too (I only mention this because while doing my research on this DVD, the spacing issue did indeed mess with my search results).

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Due to legal problems, the actual 1966-1968 TV series has, thus far, not been officially released in any format (though the 1966 movie has). But believe it or not, for those craving some 60’s Batman, this DVD actually holds some genuinely interesting tidbits. According to the back of the packaging, this was put out by Treasure Box Collection, which is one of those companies that has released a ton of movies, TV shows, etc. out as dollar DVDs. Or were they one of those companies? I heard they went out of business, and the single website link I found was dead, so…? Come to think of it, I haven’t seen any DVDs put out by them lately. Is it just my area, or have they closed up shop?

Either way, their products usually (always?) featured the “Platinum Collection” band across the top of the artwork,¬†ostensibly meant to give the package a more “collectible” aura. And I’ll tell you right now that unless “Digitally Remastered” is just a fancy term for “transferred to a digital format,” well, lets just say this isn’t exactly Criterion Collection quality here. In fact, it appears the entire contents of the disc come transferred straight from a VHS source, complete with the video imperfections that are inherent to the format. That said, everything here is entirely watchable, and “Digitally Remastered” is a term thrown around so often regarding budget DVDs that it really doesn’t mean anything anymore. Just don’t go in thinking this to be comparable to something Kino had a hand in, okay? As you’ll see in a bit, the picture could be sharper, sure, but why nitpick the picture quality of a $1 DVD? There’s some really terrific, really unexpected stuff here, and damn dude, it was a dollar.

Also, my copy is in a regular plastic snap DVD keep case, but apparently Batclips was later reissued in a thin cardboard sleeve, albeit with the same artwork (that version apparently has a running time of “Approximately 60 Minutes” listed, though no mention of a running time is anywhere on my copy, and besides, the DVD is only about half that length). I haven’t seen that “edition” in person, however, and indeed, I haven’t seen Batclips available locally since, well, since around the time this copy was in stores. Does that mean the sealed Batclips I have stored away will one day be worth $1000?! Or MORE?!?!

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“An inside look at a superhero phenomenon?” is, to me, a bit of an odd tagline. At first, I thought the question mark at the end was a typo (typos being fairly common with $1 DVDs), but considering it’s found on the front and back of the case and on the disc face itself, it seems they were trying to give the impression this DVD would dig down and deep into what makes Batguy tick. Alternately, it also makes it sound like the DVD is going to be some kind of dirty laundry tell-all documentary, though of course it’s not.

The description on the back cover actually isn’t too far off. Aside from the mention of “posters” (which I don’t understand since there’s no picture gallery or anything on the disc, unless they’re talking about the covert art, which is found on the case, disc, and menu screen) and the phrase “…more Batmania than has ever been assembled in on [sic] DVD before” which I’m guessing is a bit of an exaggeration (unless we’re talking budget DVDs only, in which case they’re probably right), the description is really pretty accurate. Honestly, I was expecting much of it to be BS, but the DVD does indeed live up to the promises made on the back, more or less.

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There’s the front and back of the DVD itself. Thankfully, it’s a factory pressed silver disc, as opposed to a DVD-R or something, thus ensuring years of Batclips lovin’.

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The real jewel of Batclips is found right at the beginning of the DVD: the 7 minute, unaired Batgirl promo used to sell ABC on a third season of Batman. Not only is this completely unexpected, but it’s also a step closer to the actual episodes of the series that have so far been barred from official release. The pilot is set up like a mini-episode of the series, complete with narration and “Pow!” exclamations during fight scenes. The story goes that the ratings for Batman had fallen so much during the second season that ABC was questioning whether they wanted to bring it back for a third. So, the producers made this short pilot introducing Yvonne Craig as Batgirl. ABC was impressed enough with the pilot to give season three a go, and Batgirl became a regular castmember and fellow crimefighter to Batman and Robin.

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For a seven minute “episode” that was never intended to be seen outside of wherever this was shown to ABC execs in 1967, it’s pretty entertaining. Then again, 60’s Batman can do little wrong in my eyes. The gist of the pilot is that bad guy The Killer Moth and his henchmen are hanging out at the library, where Commissioner Gordon’s daughter Barbara (BATGIRL) works. Batman and Robin show up to kick some Moth ass, and quickly wind up in a predicament. Batgirl lends a hand. One funny scene, during a brawl with The Killer Moth’s henchmen, has Batman chatting with Batgirl, occasionally turning to punch out a bad guy, and then casually turning back to the conversation.

This pilot is the sort of thing you wouldn’t be surprised finding at a fan convention or something, but it showing up on a commercial DVD is definitely eyebrow raising. Where did it come from? How did Treasure Box Collection get it? How were they allowed to release it? Has Batgirl lapsed into the public domain, or is it a grey area legally? Batclips wasn’t exactly sold under the counter, and while it’s not really seen on shelves nowadays (not around here, at least), it was pretty widely available at the time (dollar DVDs tend to get around, y’know?). The only copyright found on the package is one credited to “Dan Dalton Productions.” So, I take it Mr. Dalton is one of the chosen few in the position to release this stuff? I mean, God bless him for making this DVD happen either way, but I’d hate for anyone to get into any trouble. Maybe that’s why Batclips is seemingly so scarce on DVD nowadays, or worse yet, why Treasure Box Collection appears to be incommunicado? Did Warner Bros. or DC Comics or whoever the hell owns all this stuff put their foot down?!?! Tune in next week, same Bat time, same…oh, never mind.

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From there the DVD swings into a 1972 public service announcement by the U.S. Department Of Labor Wage & Hour Division. The subject? Batgirl hasn’t been getting equal pay because she’s a girl, and thus isn’t sure if she wants to save Batman and Robin from being all blowed up. The PSA features Batman series stars Burt Ward as Robin and Yvonne Craig as Batgirl, as well as NOT Adam West as Batman (Bats is instead portrayed by Dick Gautier, though he adequately looks and sounds enough like West to keep the mega-fans at bay). Batgirl claims she’s been working for Batman “a long time,” but is paid less than Robin for the same job. I never really thought Batgirl worked for Batman, but was rather a separate but kindred crimefighter, right? Then again, they needed something to set the PSA in motion, in which case I’m all for some inaccuracies if it means getting Bats into it. Batman’s response when Batgirl states men and women are to be paid equally for the same job by the same employer? “No time for jokes, Batgirl!” Damn!

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Next, we’re presented with not one but several trailers for the 1966 Batman feature film. One of them is even partially in Spanish. They vary in length, and while they’re certainly neat to see, the “samey” nature of them quickly wears a bit thin. Featuring Adam West and Burt Ward in their respective characters announcing the upcoming film and the benefits to humanity it features, the stable of villains in it, as well as the required action shots, it’s all very cool, but some would say a little would have went a long way here. I guess Treasure Box Collection or whoever initially put this thing together was determined to use everything they had?

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There had been some movie serials in the 1940’s, but 1966’s Batman was the first full-length, color Batman film. It retained a lot of the campy fun of the series, albeit with a higher budget, allowing for some additonal Batgadgets and whatnot (which were then used in the series). An all-star assembly of villains (The Joker, Catwoman, The Penguin and The Riddler) also made this, in theory, the Batman movie to end all Batman movies. Frankly, I love it, but as previously stated, 60’s Batman, in TV or movie form, can do little wrong in my eyes. Obviously, this film is a quantum leap away from the 1989 Tim Burton film and it’s 1992 sequel, not to mention the Christopher Nolan films of recent years. If you’re not a fan of the 1966-1968 Adam West series, the feature film version probably isn’t going to do much to change your mind.

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After finishing up with the movie trailers, a 30-second promo for the series is seen. There’s no station I.D., date, timeslot or voiceover, so I can’t tell if this was meant for the original airings of the TV series or for later syndicated broadcasts. It features Commissioner Gordon calling Bruce Wayne on the Bat Phone, and then Batman and Robin swinging into action. There’s plenty of room for a local voiceover, station I.D. or timeslot to be inserted, so, I don’t know. I’m guessing this was for local airings after the series ended, but I could very well be wrong. I do know that in the early/mid-2000’s, before your NEO Video Hunter had wholly begun to collect his own material (something I now do absolutely exclusively), this promo was making the rounds on the internet, and if I recall correctly, it was listed as a 60’s spot. Which brings up an interesting point: I have a feeling that all or at least most of the material on Batclips was probably circulating (perhaps together, perhaps individually) in one form or another before Batclips collected it all into one convenient package. Maybe it was all the turf of fan-made comps available exclusively at conventions and the like, or maybe there was an official (or semi-official) VHS release at some point in the past. I don’t know, I have no proof, I’m only speculating.

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And that brings us to the most oddball section of Batclips: the personal appearances portion. First up: Adam West, in character as Batman, making a personal appearance at what seems to be a car show or the like somewhere. From the looks of the fashions seen in the crowd, this was maybe the late-80’s or early-90’s, and there seems to be a date on the banner hanging behind West that might say 1992, but the video quality is so soft that it’s really hard to tell. This was very clearly filmed with a home camcorder, a fact made all the more obvious by the picture and sound quality.

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It would be easy to make jokes about this, but the fact of the matter is that Adam West, Burt Ward and Yvonne Craig were all severely typecast by their roles in Batman, and whenever film or TV work was scarce, making personal appearances at conventions, car shows, store openings, etc. was a good way to pay the bills. Furthermore, West is never anything less than completely engaging and personable. He stays in character as Batman, makes jokes, speaks freely with audience members, and perhaps what impresses me most, clearly states that he’s not going to leave until every member of the audience that wants an autograph gets one. See that book he’s holding above? He tries to get the lady who brought it to read a scene with him, which she declines. I actually own a copy of that same book (a collection of older comic stories put together in the 1960’s to capitalize on the then-hot TV series), and I think if I’m ever fortunate enough to meet Adam West in person, I’d like to bring my copy to be autographed. Or, I could always bring, you know, Batclips.

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Next up, more camcorder action from the sidelines of some talk show that was apparently hosting a Batman cast reunion, complete with a recreation of the set. As evidenced by the crewmembers often obstructing the view, this was probably not an official outtake of whatever show this was.

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This part of Batclips works as a curiosity piece, but unlike the Adam West appearance prior, much of the sound is unintelligible, the camera is often moving, crewmembers are sometimes in the way, and there’s just no real rhyme or reason to any of it. I can safely say this is the least watchable part of the entire DVD. Don’t get me wrong, it’s interesting to have, if for no other reason than to have the cast all together on one stage, but it’s not something most people will want to watch over and over.

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The DVD ends with a 17-second kinda-animated sequence intended for…well, I don’t know what the hell this was intended for,

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The sequence starts off with the stick of dynamite (or is it just a firecracker?) blowing up, and then several Batman-esque action cards being shown before cutting to that probably-not-professional-drawing of Batman, who for whatever reason is thinking of his own logo (or possibly just a regular ol’ bat). it’s a real non-sequiter of a sequence, and I have no idea what it was meant to be a part of. The clip has some age to it, that’s for sure, so maybe it was meant for the movie theater and/or drive-in circuit, perhaps from some point in the 1970’s? I have absolutely no basis for that guess, just a gut-feeling, and just like that promo I was talking about earlier, I could very well be wrong.

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So there you have it, Treasure Box Collection’s DVD release of Batclips. It may look like an unassuming budget DVD, but man, it’s waaay cooler than you’d expect it to be, especially for only a buck. When this was purchased, multiple copies of Batclips were easily found at the same grocery store this copy came from, but since then, the DVD has apparently become scarce. At the time of the writing, there are only three used copies on Ebay, and one used copy on Amazon, and, get this, they’re all priced around $30! Granted, sellers can ask any price they want, but the point is that if this were still in some kind of wide-release (relatively speaking, I mean), both sites would in all likelihood be littered with both new and used copies at a much wider-range of prices. So, I wonder if legal actions were quietly taken when word of this release reached the respective copyright owners? Or, maybe because the film elements aren’t as widely available as other public domain movies on dollar DVDs, when Treasure Box Collection went under (*if* they went under), releasing a similar collection just isn’t as easy for other companies, especially since Dan Dalton Productions is¬†supposedly in charge of the content. Of course, I have zero evidence that any of this is true, once again I’m just speculating, but it’s sure interesting to think about.

No matter, because I can say that as someone with some experience in budget DVDs (dubious honor that may be), I’ve never seen anything like Batclips, before or since. You can find some neat releases in the $1 DVD section, but from my viewpoint, Batclips is honestly the best disc I’ve ever found at that area. It just goes to show you, don’t pass up those cheap DVDs, because you never know what you’ll find!