Having gone to film school for four years, I can say with utter certainty that there is nothing more punishing than having to sit through a bad student film (just about all of mine included). 'Channels' is a movie so poorly executed on every level -- writing, directing, acting, editing, perhaps even the catering -- that it gave me a serious case of film school deja vu. It's like watching the most pretentious and inept piece of freshman drivel, only one that someone dragged out to feature length and tried to pass off as a real movie. In fact, 'Channels' may be so utterly dreadful, that it's unfair to even compare it to student films.
Our story concerns Hollywood producer Black Racklin (Nat Christian, who also wrote and directed), who's firmly ensconced in a middle-aged creative rut. His current project is floundering, his friends and co-workers are haranguing him for his obvious lack of motivation, and the moneyman behind the project (Ed Asner, apparently late on his mortgage payments) is about one minute away from firing him.
Racklin, however, is the only director in history who has enough time during his shoots to sit around every night and watch TV. There he spots the beautiful and wise "Janet Goodwin" (Kimberly Oja), a character on a daytime soap who spouts all sorts of life-affirming profundities -- and instantly melts Black's "black" heart (get it?). Then, thanks to a supernatural twist of fate (i.e., a cheap rotoscoped lightning bolt), "Janet" suddenly becomes real and magically appears in Racklin's living room. What follows is a bizarre romantic comedy that tries to prove that in the grand cosmic scheme of things, love is still possible even when all human hope appears to be gone.
If 'Channels' sounds like a Lifetime-lite version of 'Heaven Can Wait' meets 'Click' meets Weird Al Yankovic's 'UHF,' that's giving it too much credit. This movie commits just about every sin of bad movie-dom, from the amateurish direction (there is so little sense of screen geography that I couldn't tell where I was most of the time) to the obvious and heavy-handed screenplay ("You used to make films that were real and alive, and now you're too dead to realize it!" a character screams at one point -- oh, boy). Writer-director Christian also makes the fatal mistake of having his boring main character narrate the entire film -- we're not seeing events dramatized, we're being told in excruciating beat-by-beat detail exactly what we're seeing on-screen. It's like watching one of those really lame shot-on-video public access soap operas and having it read to you at the same time.
That 'Channels' also plays like a high school play with a slightly bigger budget is also thanks to a cast that is largely comprised of the director's friends. How names like Asner (looking more and more like Wilford Brimley every day) and Joan Van Ark got sucked into this I'll never know, but nevertheless their performances are listless and unmemorable. If there is one bright spot in the movie, however, it's Oja. She's an appealing, likeable presence, and does what little she can to brighten a movie that's one seriously dim bulb. She's the only reason I'm even giving this flick half a star.
I suppose I could go on and list everything else that's terrible about 'Channels.' How about the haphazard editing? The cardboard-cutout sets? Or the horribly annoying score that contains only a single mawkish motif and the relentless tapping of a synth hi-hat that seems to run the entire length of the film's interminable 107 minutes? But I'll spare you the agony. Just take my word for it -- the only reason to watch 'Channels' is to get an education in how not to make a movie.
'Channels' is the first HD DVD title from Vanguard Cinema that I've reviewed, and I will give them credit -- they've done at least a decent job with such a poor source. This 1080i/MPEG-2 encode is passable, but boy, does this movie look cheap.
That 'Channels' was obviously shot on video is not the problem. Rather, the visual style is the definition of sickly. I don't think I've ever seen a high-def transfer where the fleshtones actually looked purple -- some shots are so poorly photographed in natural light that the experience is akin to falling asleep during a suntan, then suddenly opening your eyes and everyone looks blue. The palette is generally washed out and lacking in much pizzazz, though at least chroma noise isn't as bad as I expected (thank goodness for small favors!)
As you would expect, detail is flat and fuzzy, and the image never rises above being strictly 2-D. Shadow detail is particularly poor, and sharpness suffers. I'm only giving a Video rating of 2 stars because it's the source itself that's poor, and at least this transfer doesn't suffer from overt artifacts (for MPEG-2, I've seen worse). But 'Channels' is certainly an HD DVD release I'd never watch again.
Vanguard offers only a lowly Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track (640kbps) for 'Channels.' Since the film's "sound design" barely earns the term, I guess the lack of a high-res audio option is no great calamity.
Don't expect any surround presence -- this is a front-and-center mix all the way. Stereo separation is fine, at least, and there are no major dropouts, but the movie certainly sounds cheap, with obvious ADR, a lame synth-score (the incessant high-hat is particularly annoying) and dialogue that's flat and tinny. Is 'Channels' listenable? Sure. But that's the only compliment I can really pay it.
Vanguard offers the same supplement package on the HD DVD of 'Channels' that graced the earlier DVD edition. All of the video material is presented in 480i/MPEG-2 video, and there are no subtitle options.
'Channels' performs a rare triple lutz of bad cinema -- it's amateurish, pretentious and derivative. Despite the obvious good intentions of the filmmakers, it's a movie destined to hog the back shelf of Blockbuster, collecting dust. I suppose Vanguard has done the best they could with this HD DVD, as the video and audio are passable considering the quality of the source, and there are a few extras. But 'Channels' is such a weak effort that I can't even recommend this as a rental.