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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Thriller > Roger Donaldson Collection

The Roger Donaldson Collection (Anchor Bay)


†† Picture: B-†††† Sound: B-†††† Extras:†††† Film:

Sleeping Dogs (1977)††††††††††† C+†††††††† C+

Smash Palace (1981)††††††††††† B-††††††††† B-



At his best, Roger Donaldson is a formidable director.Lately, I have been hoping he would be a lead candidate to direct the next James Bond film, possibly with Quentin Tarantinoís Casino Royale screenplay, as the Bond producers have never let an American direct a film.Donaldson could bring back substance to the series, something I was reminded of when I finally caught up with the two films that helped put him on the map.


Anchor Bay has issued Sleeping Dogs (1977) and Smash Palace (1981) in a set entitled The Roger Donaldson Collection and it shows the rise of the New Zealand film industry with the rise of a director who was Hollywood-bound.Sleeping Dogs has many aspirations to be the kind of gritty, honest political thriller that the studios were actually turning out in their last golden period.Future star Sam Neill stars as Smith, who wants to live away form the chaos New Zealand is encountering with an extremist Right Wing government, but as is the case with such governments, they cannot leave anyone alone.He gets caught in the resistance and eventually has not choice but to fight back.Donaldson and the producers even landed Warren Oates, a nice coup that helps put the film squarely in the corpus of such great films.It itself is not as great as the best of those films, but it is ambitious and shows the rise of an important new talent in Donaldson, as well as New Zealandís potential to turn out formidable films.


That is confirmed further in Smash Palace a few years later, as former professional race care drive Albert Shaw (Bruno Lawrence) is living with his family in the great auto dumping ground that is the title location.It is his business and he is doing what he can to make a good life for his wife and daughter.When their life style becomes strained, she leaves and takes their daughter, which puts him on a tear.Besides trouble with civil-rights violating authorities, he discovers the affair she has been having and then kidnaps the daughter.Donaldson says after all he does, he is trying to show that Al is a nice guy, but the film blatantly ignores the problems with his behavior and nothing can justify how he acts.It is interesting to watch, but far from well rounded.This is not to say it should be politically correct or melodramatic and sappy, but it is a film that says tirades are fine and they are not.It was still intriguing enough to be a moderate hit and further put Donaldson on the map.


Both films are presented in anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 images and look decent for their age and considering the budgetary restrictions they were made under.Michael Seresin shot the first film, while Graeme Cowley shot the latter.They both capture why New Zealand is a great country and a great place to shoot a film.Under Donaldson, the camera gets into the characters, a trait he would carry over into his Hollywood work.Color is consistent in both, with Smash Palace looking slightly better.†† The sound has been remixed for Dolby Digital 5.1 AC-3 multi-channel on both, but is obviously limited by age and the low budget in which the films were made.Though they monophonic alternatives are credited as Dolby 1.0, they are fortunately 2.0 Mono, so you can get an idea what the original theatrical sound was like from those tracks, not to mention having them there for purists.


Extras include 2.0 Stereo audio commentaries on both films by Donaldson and guests.Sleeping Dogs includes Sam Neill and writer/actor Ian Mune, while Smash Palace includes Steve Millen, a specialty car driver supplying information about the cars throughout.Both DVDs also offer the same biography of Donaldson, with Smash Palace offering additional info on other cats and crew, plus interesting poster/stills galleries.Each also has long Making Of of the films at over and under an hour respectively, which shows how much work it took to even get these projects off the ground, let alone the growth of New Zealandís film industry in general.


As new Zealand took off, Donaldson came to Hollywood and founds himself doing a British co-production of The Bounty (1984) with then rising star Mel Gibson and an Anthony Hopkins who was holding steady as he headed for phenomenal, overdue success of his own.(A special all-region NTSC import of the film with extras is on DVD.)This lead to the all-Hollywood hit thriller No Way Out (1987), which helped put Kevin Costner on the map.After fluff like the Tom Cruise vehicle Cocktail (1988) and the mixed comedy Cadillac Man (1990) with Robin Williams and Tim Robbins, he embarked on his most ambitious film to date with the underrated thriller White Sands (1992, now on a decent DVD form Warner) that brought together Willem Dafoe, Mickey Rourke, Mary Elisabeth Mastrantonio, M. Emmet Walsh, and a then-unknown Samuel L. Jackson.Sadly, Morgan Creek panicked and the film did not get the release it deserved.


After a remake of The Getaway (1994) that had its moments and the fun, silly Alien knock-off Species (1995), Donaldson did the disastrous (narratively and literally) Danteís Peak (1997), the slow-moving Thirteen Days (2000) and the more successful thriller The Recruit (2003) with Al Pacino and yet another rising star, Colin Farrell.Some saw the film as oddly pro-CIA after the events of 9/11/01, but it was still a good thriller.All that was the result of the two films in this DVD set.


Though not always great, the films in The Roger Donaldson Collection show the right way a talent and a career get launched.DV-shooting gurus who are too easily impressed with the likes of fast money and Blair Witch garbage should take note.



-†† Nicholas Sheffo


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