Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
Ventura, standard 1.33:1, languages: English Digital Stereo, subtitles: English, single side-single layer, 18 chapters, rated NR, 87 min., $19.95, street date 12/7/99.
Directed by Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler. Starring David Beard, Jim Seward, Stefan Avalos, Lance Weiler, Rein Clabbers, Michele Pulaski.
On Dec. 15, 1995, Steven Avkast and Locus Wheeler, the hosts of a cable show called Fact or Fiction, went into the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. Aided by Rein Clackin and Jim Suerd, they were going to do the first live broadcast in search of the legendary Jersey Devil. Only Suerd came out alive. It took the police two days to find the bodies. It took the coroner four days to put them back together. It took the jury one and a half hours to sentence Suerd to life in prison. One year later, filmmaker David Leigh decided to make a movie about it. Using the footage shot by the four, he discovered the truth about what really happened that night in the woods. A truth more horrifying than ever imagined.
When The Blair Witch Project hit movie screens in 1999, it received much acclaim for its originality and cleverness. However, a few folks may have felt otherwise, since a little-known flick from 1998 called The Last Broadcast covered much of the same territory.
I can't speak for the filmmakers, of course, so I have no idea how bothered - if at all - they were by the similarities between their film and BWP, but ultimately I think they should be happy with the success of the imitator simply because TLB made such a minor impression upon audiences. With the attention given to BWP, TLB has reached an audience it otherwise never would have found.
Just how similar are the two movies, anyway? In my opinion, sort of, but not glaringly. The basic stories have a lot of commonalities - a mysterious folk legend that involves a supernatural evil, a plot that largely takes place in remote wooded areas, documentary filmmakers - but the execution and conclusions are very different. BWP presented its material in a very plain, matter-of-fact manner; we were supposed to believe that this footage was found after the characters disappeared and it was assembled in a very basic way that told the story without comment.
In TLB, however, the tale unfolds through an actual "documentary" being made by David Leigh (David Beard). As such, this movie comes across much more like the faux-documentary Curse of the Blair Witch that can be found on the BWP DVD; much more of an editorial viewpoint comes across through it, unlike the more mysterious element of the actual BWP movie.
Ultimately, the main difference between the two comes down to this: BWP is a much better movie than The Last Broadcast. The former succeeds because it seems so real much of the time; that sense that all what we saw actually happened pervades the film, and the objective way in which the material appears adds to the suspense and the creepiness.
The same cannot be said for TLB. Both films offer cheap production values, but while this aided BWP, it hurts TLB. For the movie's $900 budget (!), it's a remarkable accomplishment, but the product remains very amateurish. Say what you want about the annoying characters of BWP; at least they were believably acted. Their TLB counterparts don't achieve anywhere near the same level of success, unfortunately; the cast is made up largely of friends and family, and the lack of talent inherent is stunning. The very poor acting renders the film unbelievable just because it so rarely seems real; the end produce appears really fake just because I couldn't buy any of the on-screen talent, and whatever illusion the filmmakers tried to create gets lost.
The documentary format also hurts TLB. It's an intentionally cheesy project styled after shows like In Search Of... but while that format rationalizes the poor production values, it doesn't make the product more believable. If anything, it makes it harder to accept what we hear; the documentary comes across as so forced and awkward the it often disrupts any illusion that gets created.
Ultimately, "believable" seems to be the word to which I return, and it lacks in TLB. The movie gets somewhat creepy during its last third, but unfortunately this spell is completely broken by the film's terrible ending; I don't want to discuss much about it so I won't ruin it for you, but I found the conclusion to be cheap, silly and tremendously lame. It was actually a good thing I didn't like the movie more, because that finale would have completely ruined it for me.
As it stands, I found The Last Broadcast to be a clever project that clearly earned points for originality (and for low budget filmmaking) but unfortunately is one that didn't entertain or interest me for the most part. As someone who made Super 8 flicks when I was a kid, I envy the filmmakers their ability to do this, but that doesn't make the end result any more compelling. Maybe it's not as original, but The Blair Witch Project stands as a far superior piece of work; The Last Broadcast is an admirable dud.
(By the way, before any of you compose educational e-mails, yes, I know about Cannibal Holocaust, the film that beat both TLB and BWP to the fake-real punch. I've never seen the movie, though, so I can't comment on it.)
The Last Broadcast appears in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; because of those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although it's incredibly difficult to give one coherent rating to the quality of the picture, I awarded it a "C+" because it seemed to look pretty decent and it appeared to adequately replicate the original image.
BWP was tough to rate as well, but at least it restricted itself to two cameras (one video, one 16mm film) and showed the footage from those in a straightforward manner. TLB, on the other hand, uses a variety of different media and manipulates those shots in a number of different ways; it's a big old mess of a film in that way. As such, some images look very good while some look atrocious. Of course, they're supposed to look atrocious, so I can't fault the DVD for accurately replicating the original photography.
The main problem I noticed that didn't seem to result from the original film involved jagged edges. I saw a lot of these throughout the movie; in fact, the picture often resembled the "ropiness" I sometimes witness when anamorphically enhanced DVDs are downcoverted on my 4X3 TV, even though that wasn't the case here.
The film's Dolby Surround soundtrack actually sounded pretty good. Of course, it presents a lot of inconsistency with its dialogue and effects - again due to the wide variety of source materials - but all seemed reasonably clear, and the score came across nicely. The latter offered some deep bass and seemed pretty smooth. Use of the surround channels seemed inappropriate, though; sometimes voices would bleed through back to those speakers as well as coming from the front, and the other surround effects appeared artificial. Still, for such a modest project, I found the audio to be surprisingly strong.
Although it lists for only $19.95, The Last Broadcast presents a surprisingly strong roster of supplemental features. First up is a running audio commentary. We mainly hear from directors/actors Steven Avalos and Lance Weiler, some members of the cast also chime in from time to time. I found this to be a pretty dull and spotty commentary. Despite the film's brief length, Avalos and Weiler don't seem to have much to say; they generally focus on technical details and offer little insight into the project. The cast comments are occasionally interesting, but these statements are few and far between. It sounds like they have hours of recordings from which this track was culled, but still little of consequence appears.
A few video extras appears as well. "Legend of the New Jersey Devil" will disappoint anyone expecting a Curse of the Blair Witch-style project. It's just a 2 minute piece that quickly offers the background of alleged demon. Basically, it's just some narration that ominously details this brief history. It's not bad but it's too short to manage any real interest.
The DVD includes three "behind the scenes" sections. "Behind the Scenes of Production" lasts for a little more than seven minutes and little shows the directors sitting around and talking about how the film was made. This program offers a few decent details about the shoot.
"Behind the scenes of post production" goes for a little more than four minutes and strongly resembles the previous piece. It was too technically oriented for my liking, but it was mildly interesting.
Finally, "Behind the scenes of distribution" goes for about six minutes and the directors discuss how their picture got from its original video origins up to big screen. They cover the technical details of this and also review the route they took to get the film shown. This section is probably the most compelling of the bunch since it has the least to do with the film itself.
Three trailers appear. We get the "first promotional trailer", which apparently was used in the attempt to obtain distribution, plus the "theatrical and television trailer". Those two are actually the same thing. Also, the DVD may or may not include a booklet; I rented it from Netflix so I cannot say which is the case.
While I admired the creativity and ingenuity that went into the making of The Last Broadcast, I have to acknowledge that the movie itself is something of an amateurish mess that rarely maintains much of a scary or creepy - or realistic - aura. The DVD itself decently replicates the original material, and it offers a few supplements despite its bargain price. For those who liked The Blair Witch Project, The Last Broadcast might make for a good rental just to compare the two, but that's about the extent of any positive recommendation I can make; I simply didn't think much of the film.
Current as of 3/26/2000
James Berardinelli's ReelViews--"The Last Broadcast's enjoyability, not to mention its credibility, is seriously compromised by the way in which it is wrapped up."
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