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4.1 out of 5 stars39
4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 8 September 2011
Altered States [Blu-ray] [1980] [US Import]When I first saw this in the cinema I staggered outside in a state of total bewilderment/bliss. Without doubt Ken Russell's most out there (like pluto) production and coming from the man who brought you The Devils,Tommy and Lair of the White Worm that's really saying something. The story concerns the efforts of an experimental (mostly on himself) scientist to try and link the effects of strong psychotropic drugs to physical regression into a primordial state. Sounds a bit highbrow? Don't worry, this is Ken Russell, so there's lashings of kinky sex, weird religious imagery and some of the best visual interpretations of tripping off your tits you'll ever see. Oh, and William Hurt is fantastic in what was his first major role.
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on 4 May 2005
William Hurt is fantastic in this film as the brilliant scientist (Dr. Eddie Jessup) who is disillusioned with 'normal' life & seeking a greater truth beyond the boundaries of science & religion. The supporting cast are also brilliant. Blair Brown as Jessup's long suffering & concerned wife, Bob Balaban as his friend & colleague, Arthur (a familiar face from films such as close Encounters of the third kind & 2010) & Charles Haid as the highrate a initially highly sceptical (and it his to be said hugely entertaining) Mason Parish.
Often these types of films can come across as cheesy & more comical than frightening. This is more often than not accompanied by poor acting, which doesn't help matters as the actors rarely come across as convincing given the situations they find themselves in. No such problems with Altered States. I think it's a classic example of the genre & demonstrates that as weird & unlikely as a plot might be it can still come across as convincing genuinely eerie if handled right i.e. good acting, good script, compelling story line & maybe some decent special FX. All to often these days the special FX seem to be put before everything else & as such films of this genre lack substance & usually don't amount to much outside of the box office. For me the special FX in this film still stand up & look good. They are of the kind that's become something of a lost art in the world of digital CGI FX overkill! The trip sequences are extremely surreal & somewhat disturbing in parts but there are some great sequences that definitely start to mess with your head! The part where Dr.Jessup regresses into primitive man is very eerie & convincing.
IMO a classic of the genre. They simply don't make them like this anymore. I'd give this film 4 stars overall but I'm stretching to a 5 because it's a personal favourite.
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on 8 January 2006
This film first scared me about 12 months before I saw it - there was an article in OMNI magazine featuring a selection of stills, which freaked me out.
It was, therefore, with some trepidation that I approached a chance to see it at the cinema. I have it at home now and it really is so well-made that it still "does it to me" even after all this time. This is largely due to the marvellous score by John Corigliano.
I think that Blair Brown's performance as the hapless wife is hugely underrated. The FX were groundbreaking then and still highly effective now.
My personal scariest moment is the one where one of Jessup's subjects "trips out". Her facial expression and the words of the script conspire to make me uneasy even now.
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Home video doesn’t do Altered States any favours. In the cinema, particularly from the front row in 70mm with six-track stereo, it’s stunning (so stunning, in fact, that when I saw the film at a preview at the old Warner West End’s biggest screen, Ken Russell was urging everyone there to move back, telling them “You’ll be sorry”). It’s diminished even on the largest of small screens, where it seems less of an all-encompassing trip and more of a Ken Russell film (when you hear a zonked-out William Hurt screaming, “It’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen! I’m witnessing the birth agonies of a nun!” you know our Ken’s calling the shots). Much of it is still effective as Hurt’s experiments with sensory deprivation and mind-expanding drugs cause him to revert to earlier evolutionary life forms, but on the small screen it’s the framing sequences and Jekyll and Hyde plot rather than the intense psychedelic imagery that tend to work best – unless, of course, you’ve dropped a few tabs yourself, in which case you probably won’t need it anyway.

Warner’s Blu-ray relelease is a major improvement over the previous DVD, with an excellent transfer that handles the shifts from darkness to overexposed light equally well and a very decent sound mix that can’t quite replicate the original ‘Megasound’ mix that was also used on Wolfen, but handles both the impressive sound effects that at times mesh seamlessly with John Corigliano’s jabbing score as well as the dialogue quite impressively. Sadly the disc comes up short on extras – just the original trailer – which is a shame considering the film’s contentious production history: the film had a false start at Columbia with Arthur Penn directing and John Dyskstra providing the special effects before Warner Bros. picked up the project only for Russell and Oscar-winning screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky to fall out (apparently over Russell’s handling of the dialogue scenes), with Chayefsky taking his name off the picture. With most of the participants still working and Russell still alive at the time the disc was produced, a documentary or audio commentary seems a real missed opportunity.
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on 18 August 2015
What a wonderfully brilliant film, sends you back straight to that older and, yes, better world before neoliberalism, when science was still connected to an idea of passion, personal growth and discovery, to the idea that knowledge has something to do with transformation and is real when it springs from a deeply personal, sometimes Faustian, drive. Call me a romantic, but that idea has no cash value in the administered world anymore. The only thing - towards the end the idea that absolute reality is terrible and so there is no other truth than human love is a bit dated perhaps and if you want to see it, a dark foreboding of what the 80s were going to bring. Ultimate reality is not terrible. But the frame, that the encounter with the absolute restores humanity by restoring love was very good. And as a film, technically, cinematographically, iconic - wow!
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on 13 September 2007
Are you looking for something different? This film is most definitely that. I am writing this in a post-hypnotic buzz after just watching this film and I'm still a little spaced out.

I think I just sat through 90 minutes of people yelling at one another in a mad demented professorial kind of way. The acting was real and everything fitted well. This movie keeps you thinking all the way through; it grabs your mind and sucks, then keeps on sucking.

This is not a horror movie, but it has a sharp edge of horrific to it. Jessup walks that edge throughout, in his passionate search for answers. This film has the feel of 'too good to be true', where you are aware that something is enjoyable but it could all go horribly wrong at any moment. Jessup keeps you balanced at that point, not knowing whether his next experiement will destroy him. Expertly done.

This is certainly not a 'live happily ever after' kind of movie. It will leave you with questions, but not the usual sort of 'huh, so what was that about?' which you get after some particularly bad script writing. Prepare to question life, the nature of the universe and existence.
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on 28 September 2013
The late, great Ken Russell was apparently a hired-hand on this no-nonsense adaptation of 'Marty'-author Paddy Chayefsky's dense sci-fi novel of the same name when the original director (I think it was Arthur Penn??) left the project.
Who would have thought Russell was the man for the job?! But the choice was genius - Russell brings his own idiosyncratic stamp to this story about a 70s Harvard professor (William Hurt - outstanding in his first big screen starring role) who's conducting sensory deprivation experiments on himself to access 'primal memories' and access altered states of consciousness. The experiments prove too successful and he begins to physically regress to early human...
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on 15 March 2010
i found this sci-fi fantasy/horror film to be has all the earmarks of a David Cronenberg film,but it isn't a Cronenberg's certainly bizarre,to say the vaguely echos Stanly Kubrick's 2001: A Space's a real psychedelic trip,that for sure.this is one case where its all about the journey,not the destination.the ending isn't necessarily all that satisfying,and that could make the movie pointless,depending on how you look at it.for me,getting to that point was interesting,and yeah,maybe the ending could have been more satisfying.but i don't think that was the point.for me,Altered States is a 3/5
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on 9 August 2009
Well,i've seen this over and over again since it came out,and it still works for me! This film demands your attention,and should not be watched when tired and worn out. See it with fresh eyes and mind to get the most out of it. Just hope that the remake wont stink,but keep the magic and claustrophobic feeling of the original! Little known fact: Pop group A-ha recreated the hallway scene for the Take on Me video.
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on 28 December 2005
Altered States not only is a very important "coming out" of actor William Hurt, but his portrayal of Dr. Jessup is exsquisitely understated just as it needs to be. I enjoyed this film on 2 levels. First, the obvious plotline. It was quickly paced and entertaining and one did not even have to understand the premise of Jessup's research to enjoy the film. Second, however, was the theoretical concept he was pursuing. If one does his research on this, it will add more substance to the film's premises as there is a body of evidence to support his hypothesis. What that hypothesis IS needs to be found out by the viewer. Also note the over the top perfomaince of Charles Haig, of Hill Street Blues fame. I like clinically correct, or almost clinically correct, films of this genre and this one, 25 years later, still will intrigue.
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