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Category:    Home > Reviews > Thriller > Drama > Science > Nuclear > Teens > The Manhattan Project – Special Edition (Lionsgate/DVD-Video)

The Manhattan Project – Special Edition (Lionsgate/DVD-Video)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: C+     Film: C+



The genius/loner cycle of tech comedies in the 1980s is one of the most interesting and understudied.  For every silly hit like My Science Project, Weird Science, Project X and War Games, there was a masterwork like Real Genius and even a cult film in Marshall Brickman’s The Manhattan Project (1986) which owes something to the latter two yet is its own film in interesting ways.


Christopher Collet plays 16-year-old Paul, a young man with a bright future and a good demeanor, but his mother Elizabeth (Jill Eikenberry) is becoming involved with a nuclear scientist (John Lithgow) who is also nice to him.  He even takes him to work… at his top secret nuclear science lab and that gives Paul an idea.  Why not team up with his girlfriend (Cynthia Nixon) and steal a warhead to make a nuclear bomb!


Well, kids will be kids, at least back then.  Towards the end of what was decades of films about the safety of childhood and the teen years, Paul does what he does with the assumption of “what can they do to me, I’m just a kid” before that line was permanently blurred, but the film acknowledges that the line was never really there in the first place if the stakes are high enough.


He soon finds out that if you set of the feds enough, it will make E.T. look even more like a fantasy (especially that suspicious re-edit) and if anything is a culmination of the many ideas and impulses of its own cycle plus child-safe films like E.T. that began to surface in the 1980s.  That is its appeal, pulling no punches to the very end, which ironically is more of a 1980s ending than following through on its edgiest moments.  John Mahoney (Say Anything…, The Coen Brothers’ Barton Fink and Peter Yates’ underrated Suspect) is effective as the military antagonist and Robert Sean Leonard makes his feature film debut.  Though it never takes off, its consistent darkness is more appealing than ever and its cult status will continue for decades.


The anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 image is not awful, but seems lacking throughout in vibrancy as if it were taken from a slightly aged print.  Director of Photography Billy Williams, B.S.C., has always been one to deliver exceptionally interesting cinematography and you at his best, always feels like you are going somewhere you have not been before or should not go.  Besides lensing Ken Russell’s first theatrical films, Billion Dollar Brain and Women In Love, John Schlesinger’s Sunday Bloody Sunday, Sir Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi and Yates’ Suspect.  He is one of the main reasons this film is the cult hit it is.


The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo was issued in Dolby A-type theatrical analog sound and this mix shows its age.  If they could go back to Philippe Sarde’s original music masters and the original sound stems, though this is often a quite film, a DTS 5.1 upgrade would not be hard.  Extras include a trivia track as one of the subtitle options, the original theatrical trailer, full length audio commentary by Brickman et al and two featurettes.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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