by Jef Burnham
Now available on On-Demand DVD from the MGM Limited Edition Collection.
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How often do you find yourself wishing Hollywood would cast the children of famous, reclusive authors as comic book super heroes? All the time, right? Well maybe you didn’t hear the news, but way back in 1990 it happened. After innumerable nasty telegrams from comic book fans worldwide poured into the offices of Marvel Enterprises, J.D. Salinger’s son Matt was at last cast as super soldier Steve Rogers in Albert Pyun’s (Dollman) surely seminal super hero picture, Captain America.
Okay, so there may in fact have been no one pushing for this bizarre casting aside from Salinger and his manager, and yet it came to be. And with this release, we now have, at long last, an official DVD release of this, one of Marvel’s most tragically overlooked films— tragic for die-hard super hero film enthusiasts such as myself, at least. And we’ve MGM and the market created for the film’s re-release by this year’s Captain America: The First Avenger to thank for it.
How did such a thing come to be? To begin with, DC Comics had backed a series of immensely successful big screen adaptations of Superman beginning in 1979 and continuing throughout the 1980’s. Then, in 1989, DC had their most financially successful cinematic outing yet with Tim Burton’s Batman. In the years following, Marvel would look to cash in on the popularity of live action comic book films with a few efforts of their own. However, these outings proved less than fruitful. Neither 1989’s The Punisher nor this version of Captain America (originally completed in 1990, but not released until 1992) would receive a theatrical release in the United States, instead going straight to video. And Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four (1994) was not only denied release at the time of its completion, much like Captain America, but to this date has yet to see so much as a home video release. The reason for these films’ failure is simple: as rushed attempts to capitalize on the market for comic book adaptations created by DC before public interested faded, these films just weren’t any good (admittedly The Punisher is decent, but the other two… not so much).
That being said, I have a deep-seated affection for Pyun’s Captain America owing in part to my numerous adolescent rentals of the film on VHS. So enamored was I with the concept of live action comic book movies that even this turkey warranted multiple viewings. As an adult, of course, I watch it with a much more critical eye. Not only is it of historical interest in encapsulating Marvel’s attempts to capitalize on DC’s cinematic success, but it’s just such a colossal train wreck that you can’t help but be impressed. It’s got a lame-ass 90’s soundtrack, an Italian Red Skull rather than a German one, a Cap who feigns car sickness in order to steal cars, and a truly laughable Cap costume. Cap’s mask smashes Salinger’s face in awkwardly and makes it appear as though he has no chin whatsoever. And Cap’s ears, which traditionally stick out through holes in the side of his mask, are in fact rubber ears attached to the mask itself! Moreover, the direction is unimpressive, the editing ill-conceived, the script is poor, and the plot is virtually non-existent. But you have to give it this much: there’s far less whining and considerably more action here than in the 1979 made-for-TV Captain America starring Reb Brown.
As for the quality of the release itself, the quality of the picture is quite good, especially considering the requisite disclaimer at the beginning of these on-demand releases regarding the quality of the source material. In my experience with the Limited Edition Collection, this disclaimer is rarely necessary. The film is presented here in a respectful 1.33:1 aspect ratio in keeping with the original film negative. There are one or two digital peculiarities in the transfer to DVD here, a bit of debris evident on the print, and a couple scenes are a bit dark. Even still, the picture quality is still far superior to that of any previously available VHS or bootleg DVD (which is likely sourced from a VHS) of Captain America you happen to have lying around. The film’s trailer is included in this release.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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