Welcome to this column dedicated to my appreciation of physical media supplements called: Feature Presentations. The goal of this column is not to say whether a film is good or bad and worth picking up or not—I would like to highlight the discs that go the extra mile and provide film fans with enough tasty tidbits to satisfy even the hungriest of cinephiles. With all that out of the way, today’s article will focus on Return to Paradise from Imprint Films.
As a disclaimer of transparency, I was provided a review copy of Return to Paradise for this episode of Feature Presentations. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
What would you do if your actions caused the potential death of another human being? The idea of such a morality play sets the foundation for 1998’s Return to Paradise.
Three friends, Sheriff, Lew, and Tony, spend time in Malaysia bagging women, smoking hashish, and enjoying the idyllic locales. Sheriff and Tony return to the United States while Lew stays behind, enjoying the perspective he has gained. After two years, Sheriff and Tony find their lives upended when a lawyer breaks unwelcome news: Lew will hang by the neck in eight days for trafficking hashish unless the two men return to Malaysia and plead guilty to their part of the drug crime.
When it comes to films posing plot situations as this: will they or won’t they—most of the film’s enjoyment falls into whether you believe both options are legitimately worth the struggle the characters should feel. Unfortunately, the internal and external conflict never rose beyond surface level. Maybe it’s because of a woefully miscast Vince Vaughn as the protagonist, the title blatantly dictating the road the film will follow, or the script’s attempts to do everything in its creative power to make the viewer think it’s going anywhere other than its predictable conclusion.
Where the film falters, the Malaysian locales and a supporting performance from Joaquin Phoenix do what they can to keep Return to Paradise afloat. While still in the early years of his illustrious filmography, Phoenix takes what could easily be an over-the-type play for sympathy—begging for an Oscar nomination, instead settling into an understated and empathetic character. Unfortunately, neither he nor the sumptuous wonderland of Malaysia shares enough screen time to shine bright enough to save the movie from anything other than mediocrity.
While the film didn’t work wonders for me, Imprint Films stepped up with a solid, if unspectacular physical media release.
The Blu-ray disc comes inside a limited edition slipcase featuring the film’s theatrical one-sheet. Inside, the Blu-ray case features an art wrap with an alternate poster for the art wrap and interior artwork featuring a shot from the finished film. Including multiple designs for the physical media packaging, while not essential, is highly appreciated.
The disc’s features begin with an audio-only interview, “Force Majeure: Directing Return to Paradise,” with director Joseph Ruben. Ruben’s comments play out over stills and clips from the film as he discusses various aspects of the production. Interviews such as “Force Majeure” can be hit or miss, depending on how in-depth the interviewee divulges. Thankfully, Ruben packs plenty of behind-the-scenes information into this discussion.
Ruben begins by detailing how he was looking for a film opposite his film, Money Train, his current project, at the time. From there, he dives into the creative process of taking the film’s original script and reworking it with screenwriter Wesley Strick before getting into the casting of the leads. Ruben fondly recalls first meeting Vince Vaughn and knowing almost instantly that he wanted him to star, the quality Anne Heche gives off, and the method by which Joaquin Phoenix transformed himself into the character of Lew.
Ruben also finds time to delve into his thoughts on the finished product, his preference for the film’s title, and his understanding of a movie with such weighty themes struggling to produce financially. In place of an audio commentary, “Force Majeure” is a terrific interview piece.
“A Godless Place: Scoring Return to Paradise” is an interview with the film’s composer, Mark Mancina. While Return to Paradise fell flat in many areas for me, where it excels lies within the score. I’m not a music major, nor am I close to an expert, but Mark Mancina does wonders for the musical compositions of Return to Paradise.
I grew up on the works of Mark Mancina with Speed and Bad Boys, so I was excited at the prospect of hearing his thoughts. Mancina appreciates his early, action-orientated scores but stresses during this interview that he yearns for more than just a driving force behind a film. He discusses his approach to integrating Malaysian themes into a score and the delicate balance of scoring an emotional scene without hindering the actor’s performance. “A Godless Place” isn’t as substantiative as “Force Majeure,” but there’s plenty of information discussed during its brief runtime.
Imprint Films also includes archive interviews with Vince Vaughn, Anne Heche, and Joaquin Phoenix, conducted during the press run for Return to Paradise. Unfortunately, these EPK-style discussions are fleeting and mostly fluff. It is noteworthy to hear from Phoenix, who comes across as shy but grateful and respectful, but overall, there isn’t a lot of detail here.
The disc concludes with the film’s theatrical trailer.
And there you have it! The cast and crew of Return to Paradise wear their themes and ideas on their sleeves. It’s admirable, definitely noticed by this writer, but much of the film doesn’t hold together; I didn’t buy the central conflict or lead performance. What can you do? I’ll tell you what Imprint Films did: they got to the heart of the movie by creating two surprisingly detailed interviews, especially with director Joseph Ruben, taking a less-is-more approach. It may not be the sexiest list of supplemental material, but it’s efficient and acceptable. If you’re a fan of Return to Paradise, or if it piques your interest, don’t let an adequate release scare you off. Sometimes being adequate works quite well.