Steel and the Warner Archive

Steel on DVD

The Warner Archive DVD-on-demand program has expanded its coverage. Now it’s not just old movies but includes fan favorites or early work by known stars from all decades. For example, I just received for review a kitschy favorite of mine, the 1997 Steel.

You can buy Steel beginning April 6. Although the DVDs are made to order, based on this, they’re very professional in quality, with attractive cover art, a standard-looking informative back cover, and image on the disc itself. There is a caveat on the back cover that the disc may not play in “recorders and PC drives”; I don’t know if that’s to cover possible issues or prevent duplication. Chapters are put in every ten minutes instead of at particular scene breaks, and there’s no menu to access them directly, although you can use the remote to jump forward and back.

Steel on DVD

In the movie, Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal) stars as the beetle-headed Steel, aka John Henry Irons, a former soldier who wants to protect his city in a scrapyard suit of armor. Judd Nelson in a terrible squared-off brush cut is the villain, an arms dealer who perverts Irons’ non-lethal weapons into gang tools. Annabeth Gish (as Sparks) and Richard Roundtree (Uncle Joe) are the hero’s support staff. (Trivia: Hill Harper, who now plays Dr. Sheldon Hawkes on CSI: NY, is the gang member sporting an eyepatch.)

I like Gish’s performance a lot, since she seems natural even when spouting terrible pun-filled dialogue or pretending to be bitter over her wheelchair and the loss of the use of her legs. Shaq, unfortunately, has the bulk but not the personality or acting ability. I do admire him for doing all his own stunts, though — there wasn’t anyone available who could double a seven-foot-tall guy. And some of the technology is amusing. They’re trying to use the internet and wireless technology, but compared to where we are now, the gadgets look like museum pieces.

Steel featuring Annabeth Gish

Since this is from the 90s, before they figured out how to make really excellent superhero movies, it’s of interest mostly for nostalgia value or for fans of not-very-good comic book films. As expected by a movie that has Quincy Jones as one of its producers, the music is well-chosen. The idea of a “blue collar Batman” (or Iron Man) is great, and the story, about evil weapon makers and the conflict between security (weapons to protect us, not getting involved) and service (in the army or as a hero), could be timeless, but it all winds up seeming cliched and tired.

I’m still glad to have a copy, though, because Steel came out while I was DC’s webmaster and AOL site maintainer. I remember getting a call from AOL on the Friday it opened — they were willing to promote us on the front page of the site, if we could pull content together in time. I ran around getting signoffs on the material, it went up… and I quickly saw that our click-through counts weren’t rising significantly. I knew then that not a lot of people were interested in the film. It’s a shame, because with different casting, it could have been a minor franchise. On the other hand, without Shaq, it might never have been made at all.

Shaquille O'Neal as Steel

The only extra on the disc is the original trailer, a nice touch. The studio provided a review copy, which brings up my main qualm. The downside of the Warner Archive program is the cost. Since they’re the only source, they set the price at $19.95 for a movie, and that’s what you pay, unless they run discount specials. (For instance, right now you can get five single discs for $55 with free shipping, a significant savings.) Plus, you pay shipping unless you buy $60 or more at a time.

I prefer the ability to shop at a variety of retailers in order to find the best price or buy used if list is too high for my taste. There are a bunch of old movies I’d like to own at $10 or less, but $20 is too much for my budget, when we’re talking about a DVD without extra features. This film, for example, might be a good $5 buy for a bad movie night with friends, but I’m not sure how big the audience will be at full price. Then again, this way, Warner isn’t out anything if it doesn’t sell. They’re making it available; it’s up to you if it’s worth the cost to you. If you want it bad enough, $20 isn’t that big a deal.

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