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Top reviews from the United States
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I saw this movie at the theater when it was released back in 81. Took a friend back with me to see it a second time. Such a great film that was very different from anything else at the time. So when I saw that it was on blu-ray, I decided to get a copy. It was wonderful to see the movie again after not having seen it since the 80s. But the audio on this DVD was very poor. You could barely hear the quiet parts, so I would turn it up just loud enough to hear what they were saying, then, BOOM!! When something would suddenly happen it was SO LOUD that it was annoying! The sound was very tinny with very little bass too. They could have done something more with the audio on this. There were no options to adjust it in any way. So I was a more than a little disappointed. But it was still great to see the film again. The picture was OK, only slightly grainy in parts, but vivid in others. But overall, I think that they could have done something more with this film in putting it out on blu-ray. Quality-wise it wasn't much better than a regular DVD, and the audio was terrible. Some films are worth restoring properly, and this is one of them. If they ever decide to do so, then I will have to get rid of this copy and purchase a new one. Do it right the first time!
Reviewed in the United States on December 24, 2014
I'm actually at a little bit of a loss what to say right now because I'm almost overwhelmed by what I just saw. I'd liken it to a drug experience if only I'd ever taken drugs before, but the degree to which watching this film simulates what its characters go through is astounding. The story is rather simple: a scientist, Eddie Jessup (William Hurt, in his feature film debut) has been doing sensory deprivation experiments, but after a trip to Mexico, he starts doing those experiments under the influence of a powerful psychedelic drug which might possibly be affecting his genetic makeup. Plot-wise, it's not too complicated as it just follows Eddie's personal journey and evolution over the course of these life-altering experiments. Every actor was very capable and William Hurt was especially good considering this was his first role. However, the real magic of the film is in its many hallucinatory images which range from the sacrilegious to the primal. Even if you haven't seen the film, you might already be familiar with the image of a six-eyed, goat-headed man on a cross. Early on, Eddie mentions that he had visions as a young man that were out of Revelation and this imagery is kind of a perversion of that. However, the imagery that occurs later on in the film is extremely hard to describe and honestly it's best if you just see it for yourself. There are some interesting observations/connections made between religious and psychedelic experiences, and also mental disorders, however the true power of this film is in its images, which were realized with some incredible visual effects. I don't think this film will be to everyone's taste, certainly not those who are religious and might be offended by some of the imagery, but for those brave enough to give it a try it's an experience you won't soon forget.
Altered States is a metaphysical science-fiction tale featuring John Hurt as the scientist Dr. Eddie Jessup. He is determined to discover God. He tries to achieve that by sensory deprivation and hallucinogenics all in the hopes of enlightenment.
The movie really looks like a drug trip many times. That’s because Jessup is constantly seeing visions of all kinds of crazy images. The twist is that Jessup’s experiments end up transforming him which is where the sci-fi part comes in. In fact, you can’t tell whether he’s really changing or just having another bad trip half the time.
What’s also funny about the story is that Jessup is a genius completely caught up in his own thoughts. His wife for example wants to talk about serious things and he ignores her and goes off into his own thoughts. He’s a dreamer caught within his own dreams.
Sometimes you can just tell when a movie's been adapted from a novel, which can devote hundreds of pages to complex concepts like "obsessive scientist conducts experiments combining hallucinogens and sensory deprivation chambers and starts physically transforming as a result." Condense that into two hours, though, and you have what feels like a "hallucinations in a sensory deprivation chamber" movie trying to jockey for space with a "scientist hideously transforms" movie, both of which feel under-cooked as a result.
Interestingly enough, six years later saw 'The Fly' playing quite a bit like it took the "transformation" half of this movie and just went whole hog with it. Likewise, 'Altered States' might have been better off focusing more on the trippy visuals (which are interesting and evocative even with the all obvious cut-and-paste matte shots) and saved the transformation aspect for a shocking climax.
On a different note, I don't know if William Hurt is a sex symbol but he's naked quite a bit in this movie if that's your jam, and there's some boobs, too.
The screenplay was adapted from the 1978 novel of the same name by Paddy Chayefsky. What worked in a book is not too successful as a movie. The chapters talk at each other, over each other, and endlessly. It is very wearing. Ken Russell’s direction means that intense emotions and the bizarre are stressed. If you liked this movie then you may also like “From Beyond” (1986) based on an H.P. Lovecraft story.
5.0 out of 5 starsA Thinking Man's Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde for the 21st Century !
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on December 26, 2019
Excellent treatment of the old Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde theme, taking it to new levels of quantum physics/nature of reality as a high flying American science professor combines the effects of Ayahuasca with electro magnetism on the human brain using himself as guinea pig much to the consternation of his doubting colleagues. 80% of this film script is scientific, exploring scientific possibilities of quantum realities and how to access them, the drama only coming in at the end, exploring the notion of whether the internal subconscious can be actualised into external reality via dimensional access. Some spectacular filmic druggy imagery similar to Kubrick's "2001 ~ A Space Odyssey". His experiments do go beyond his expectations with reverse time travel merging with the present day. A very interesting treatment of alternate realities for anyone interested in ayahuasca, psy-ops, remote viewing, esp, extra sensory consciousness. parallel universes etc. Thinky thinky as opposed to Hammer Horror. A thinking man's "Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde" .
5.0 out of 5 starsFantastic and fast-paced body-horror film about the search for God in man
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on January 16, 2020
Brilliant Blu-ray version of Ken Russell’s Altered States starring William Hurt, Blair Brown, Charles Haid, Bob Balaban with a first appearance by Drew Barrymore. Frenzied, hallucinogenic and body-morphing results come from disaffected Harvard professor Jessup’s attempts to locate the primordial self via a route of self-deprivation (isolation tank) and sensory augmentation (peyote). His hallucinations build in intensity over time until his very physical structure morphs into an horrific series of proto-human and cellular transformation, while his family and colleagues reactions escalate into dismay and panic. The answers he gets provide a climactic reunion with the essential and ecstatic glue of the universe, i.e. love. A moral battle between scientific obsession and human concerns, the pace is breakneck, the horror-fantasy intense and the visuals astounding. Don’t think, just see it.
Enjoyable mad scientist on psychedelic drugs Jeckyll and Hyde caper. The special effects were probably groundbreaking at the time but look more than a little creaky now. Still worth a watch but don't expect to be blown away by the graohics unless you haven't watched any new film in the last 30 years.