Survival Quest [DVD]
Director : Don Coscarelli
Screenplay : Don Coscarelli
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1989
Stars : Lance Henriksen (Hank), Mark Rolston (Jake), Steve Antin (Raider), Michael Allen Ryder (Harper), Paul Provenza (Joey), Ben Hammer (Hal), Dominic Hoffman (Jeff), Traci Lind (Olivia), Dermot Mulroney (Gray), Catherine Keener (Cheryl), Ken Daly (Chocker), Reggie Bannister (Pilot)
Don Coscarelli's Survival Quest is a modestly mounted adventure parable about the dangers of indoctrinated militarism. Set deep in the northern Rocky Mountains, it tells the story of two survivalist groups that come into conflict with each other 80 miles from any form of civilization. One group is learning how to live and survive in harmony with the natural world and, in the process, become stronger people, while the other is paramilitary training group that focuses on learning how to stalk and kill their prey.
“You survive with heart, not with hardware,” says Hank (Lance Henriksen), the tough, ut slightly mystical leader of the former group. His teachings emphasize group solidarity and an ethos that none survive unless all survive. The ideology of the paramilitary group is well summarized by its fascistic leader, Jake (Mark Rolston), who insists that no one is to be trusted and everything should be action, not reaction.
The primary focus of the film is on Hank's group, which is composed of six city slickers who are trying to leave various troubles behind them. Among the more interesting are Hal (Ben Hammer), who is determined to prove that being of retirement age doesn't mean he has to quit living; Olivia (Traci Lind), a pampered rich girl who is having second thoughts about her impending nuptials; Cheryl (Catherine Keener), a recent divorcee trying to learn to live on her own again; and Gray (Dermot Mulroney), a sullen twenty-something convict on temporary leave from prison. Director Don Coscarelli, who also wrote the script, gives us the briefest of character sketches before throwing these disparate characters together, and although his script lacks heft, it is often redeemed by his good casting choices.
At first, Survival Quest appears to be a man-vs.-nature parable in the mold of Deliverance (1972), which found the underlying horrors of the adventure genre by stripping away the sentimentality often associated with freedom from the repression of civilization. Coscarelli clearly believes in the redemptive power of nature in the raw, and one of Survival Quest's greatest attributes is its beautiful cinematography, which captures forest, waterfalls, and breathtaking mountain ranges in ways that convey their power without losing sight of their inherent danger. When the film falters, it is when Coscarelli gets sidetracked in trying to be cutesy, such as when Joey (Paul Provenza), the goofiest member of Hank's group, plays with a bear cub only to find himself face-to-face with an unhappy mamma bear (the fact that the cub is a black bear and the adult bear is a grizzly is irritatingly sloppy, as well).
The core of the story, though, is the conflict between the two groups, each of which represents an approach to human survival, and therefore humanity itself. Jake's group emphasizes preemptive violence, and their training sessions have all the hallmarks of militarism run amok: power for its own delusional grandeur. Hank's group, on the other hand, stresses the importance of teamwork and unity, and credit Coscarelli and particularly Lance Henriksen for making Hank a free soul who is comfortable in his own leathery skin without either dripping New Age-y goo or being such a cardboard he-man that he thwarts all chances of emulation. In some ways, Hank is a character right out of a James Fenimore Cooper novel (or The Deer Hunter), but he remains resolutely human. At one point, he literally credits his involvement with the Boy Scouts as his saving grace as a teenager.
Survival Quest was made independently by Coscarelli during a decade of limited activity. He followed up his major cult hit Phantasm (1979) with The Beastmaster (1982), a sword-and-sorcery epic that developed a dedicated following (including yours truly) on cable television in the early 1980s. Survival Quest is the only film Coscarelli made in more than a decade that wasn't a sequel to Phantasm, and in many ways it represents his strengths as an intrepid independent filmmaker. The film certainly bears some of the hallmarks of a low-budget production, especially the action sequences, which rely far too heavily on jagged cutting to create the illusion of danger. The film also illustrates the pitfalls into which an independent filmmaker can stumble when trying to cater to a mainstream audience. While the film's location photography gives it an inherent grittiness, Coscarelli undermines much of its power by insisting on an overly forced happy ending. It's nice to see good guys survive, but not when it comes at the expense of both logic and the tone of the rest of the film.
|Survival Quest DVD|
|Distributor||Anchor Bay Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||April 10, 2007|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|The back of the DVD case notes that the anamorphic transfer of Survival Quest was made under Don Coscarelli's “personal supervision” from “vault elements.” For a low-budget production that is nearly 20 years old and has been MIA for years, the image certainly looks great, with strong colors and no dirt or scratches anywhere. The image is a bit on the soft side, but I attribute that to the film's modest budget. It's not going to have the sharp gloss of a studio-produced film. The original stereo soundtrack has also been remixed in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. The surround track is generally effective for the musical score and ambient background noise, although it does sound a bit strained when trying to create explicit surround effects such as gunfire coming from a particular direction. On a side note: It is not mentioned anywhere on the DVD itself, but I read in an interview with Coscarelli in If Magazine (http://www.ifmagazine.com) that he re-edited the film, so the version on this DVD represents a “director's cut” that is different from the version that played in theaters. Having never seen the film before reviewing this DVD, I cannot comment on what the changes are.|
|The only supplements on the disc are eight and a half minutes of video footage shot during the production by Coscarelli associate Paul Pepperman, two U.S. theatrical trailers, and one international trailer. While I'm pleased this film is finally available on DVD, I can't help but be a bit disappointed that Coscarelli didn't supply more supplementary material. Survival Quest is a film that has fallen through the cracks for years, and this would have been a great opportunity for the director to talk about it and put it in context with his other work.|
Copyright ©2007 James Kendrick
Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick
All images copyright © Anchor Bay Entertainment