10/12/10 Edition Twitter: THEAISLESEATCOM
October Chiller Edition
THE EXORCIST on Blu-Ray Reviewed

One of the most eagerly awaited releases to hit Blu-Ray this fall, Warner’s Digibook edition of THE EXORCIST (****, 122/132 mins., R) arrived in stores last week in a marvelous package that does full justice to William Friedkin’s blockbuster 1973 filming of William Peter Blatty’s bestselling book.

I’ve seen the picture many times over the years on video, though theatrically only once -- in its 2000 “Version You’ve Never Seen” edition, which has now been re-christened the “Extended Director’s Cut.” Not knowing how a packed audience of mostly-college students would react to that somewhat controversial re-edit of the groundbreaking 1973 horror classic, I sat pretty much in stunned silence 10 years ago as kids used to gore but little genuine scares from today's genre flicks sat quietly, patiently and spellbound by a movie that remains as fresh and potent today as it did decades ago.

This tale of demonic possession, shot in a documentary style by Friedkin and filled with tremendous performances (including Ellen Burstyn, Jason Miller, Max Von Sydow, and Lee J.Cobb), is obviously best remembered for cute little Linda Blair becoming inhabited by a demon that enjoys spewing buckets of pea soup and spouting endless profanities, but the other elements of the film remain just as intriguing and mysterious for me: the opening sequence of Von Sydow in Iraq, the strange coincidences and unexplained appearance of the "demon," and the religious themes which resonate throughout the movie and encourage repeat viewing.

Fans have long debated the alterations made to the 2000 revision -- which adds a fantastic new stereo soundtrack and some 10 minutes of footage author/screenwriter/ producer Blatty never wanted excised to begin with-- but for me, I found that it actually has more narrative shape and moves just a bit more coherently than Friedkin's original cut. True, the theatrical version of “The Exorcist” was (and still is) a classic, but some theological debate between priests Max Von Sydow and Jason Miller was cut against Blatty's wishes, as were scenes involving Linda Blair being examined by doctors that were referred to in the finished cut but never previously shown.

These sequences were deftly restored to the picture, along with the infamous "spider walk" sequence (the film's significant digitally-enhanced scene) -- a great new shock-scare moment further enhanced by additional "subliminal image" shots (one of which is neatly added to the film's climax). However, it's not just effects that make the scene's addition noteworthy: coming at the height of Burstyn's increasing paranoia, the spider-walk works perfectly as a progression of horror following the discovery of filmmaker Burke Jennings' death.

The most satisfying addition for me, however, is the expanded finale with Cobb and priest William S. O' Malley that poignantly closes the film on a note that Friedkin's original final ending was unable to do. The sound editing for the conclusion -- which intriguingly includes a note of the film's opening Iraq music -- is also effectively different in this version, reflecting the close of Blatty’s original novel.

Whether or not you’re a fan of this version of the film, there certainly seemed to be more point to the mostly-narrative enhancements found in the expanded “Exorcist” than in the purely-cosmetic changes George Lucas made to his "Star Wars” films. In some ways, this "Director’s Cut" is the movie Blatty all the while, and if nothing else, makes for an interesting contrast to the final cut Friedkin originally turned in.

Warner’s Blu-Ray edition of “The Exorcist” is simply sublime. The company has knocked the ball out of the park more times than any other label this year in terms of their Blu-Ray catalog discs, and this exceptional new VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer of the film – with both cuts of the film on-hand – will not disappoint. The entire image has a clarity and crispness no prior video release of the picture offered, while retaining its original appearance (there’s thankfully no ‘rethinking’ of the color timing that plagued Friedkin’s Blu-Ray of “The French Connection”). The nicely textured DTS Master Audio soundtrack is likewise superb on both versions.

Disc one of the double-disc BD set boasts the “Director’s Cut” (2000 version) with Friedkin’s commentary from that prior release, plus that version’s trailers, along with three new featurettes highlighted by extensive, previously unseen FX footage and make-up tests. This half-hour segment will prove to be a revelation for fans, as it also sports new interviews with Blatty, Friedkin, Linda Blair, Owen Roizman and others; a then/now comparison of the movie’s locations; and a ten-minute profile of the different versions of the picture, wherein Friedkin says the 2000 version is now his favorite and the most “complete” of the different cuts.

Disc two includes the original theatrical version, along with the extras from the 1998 DVD, from Friedkin’s on-camera introduction to his original commentary; Blatty’s original commentary with sound effects tests; interviews with the duo from that release; original trailers (albeit only presented in standard-definition); Mark Kermode’s BBC documentary; and the ending that had been deleted from the theatrical cut.

With a top-notch transfer and soundtrack, “The Exorcist” is one of the premiere releases of 2010 on Blu-Ray. Add in literally hours of supplements and you’ve got a package that will keep fans spellbound – just as the still scary and thought-provoking classic film does some 27 years after its original release.

New On Blu-Ray From Fox/MGM

Michael Mann’s penchant for tinkering with his films after their theatrical release has reached something of a fever pitch with his new “Definitive Director’s Cut” of one of his best movies: the 1992 adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper’s THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS (****, 114 mins., R; Fox).

A movie that underwent a turbulent production that saw Fox bump the picture’s original, highly-visible July 4th weekend opening to the fall, have Mann re-cut his reportedly three hour initial version down per the studio’s wishes, and see Randy Edelman come in to rework some of the music after a reported breakdown in communication between original composer Trevor Jones and Mann, “Mohicans” felt like a film that was primed to become a major box-office disappointment before it opened.

Happily, the resulting film proved the doubters wrong and ranked as one of the year’s (some may argue the decade’s) finest films – a rugged, authentic outdoor adventure with Daniel-Day Lewis brilliantly embodying Hawkeye, and striking up a magnetic chemistry with co-star Madeline Stowe, in a story set against the backdrop of Colonial America with spectacular cinematography by Dante Spinotti and production design from Wolf Kroeger. Vivid action scenes, a stirring romance, great performances (Wes Studi and Russell Means lend ideal support) and unforgettable soundtrack all culminate in a truly inspired production from Mann, working at the height of his filmmaking ability in what would be the first of three outstanding films he made in the ‘90s (“Heat” and “The Insider” followed).

The movie’s production woes reportedly did not enable Mann to implement all the editorial work he wanted on the picture. Despite the film’s solid grosses and widespread critical acclaim, the director re-cut the film in 2002 for its Director’s Cut DVD, eliminating some dialogue and making mostly minor tweaks here and there, including the removal of Clannad’s popular song “I Will Wait For You” and the addition of some unnecessary dialogue from Chingachgook during the film’s final scene.

Fans of the movie who lamented some of those changes will be happy to note that Mann once again has gone back in and reworked “Mohicans” for a second time. His new “Definitive Director’s Cut” doesn’t find Mann crafting his rumored three-hour version (Jodhi May fans will remain disappointed that her role still remains mostly on the cutting room floor), but ironically returning, for the most part, to his original theatrical version – restoring lines of dialogue that he cut for the prior DVD, adding Clannad’s song back in (though this time with Native American lyrics), and taking out the preachy, unnecessary dialogue at the picture’s end (the images spoke for themselves). While it can be frustrating that Mann can’t always seem to leave well enough at times, the alterations – in this case – improve the picture over its 2002 edition and make for a more satisfying version all told.

Also far more satisfying here than any prior DVD release of the film is Fox’s excellent AVC-encoded 1080p transfer. One of the most breathtaking visual films of its era, this sharply detailed presentation is very good indeed, preserving the movie’s original grain and adding detail unseen since its original theatrical release. DTS Master Audio sound robustly backs the film’s potent, multi-composer soundtrack, which Edelman had told me years ago in FSM that he may have rescored completely had there been the time to do so.

Supplements aren’t overwhelming but will prove to be of major interest for fans: a new, 42-minute doc includes interviews with all the principals (Stowe still looks great) plus behind-the-scenes footage, presented in HD; there’s also a new commentary from Mann along with the original trailers. Highly recommended!

Also out from Fox this week are several other catalog titles from the MGM vaults.

MAD MAX (***½, 88 mins., 1979, R) offers an HD reprise of its 2002 MGM Special Edition DVD release, which was noteworthy for offering the first North American presentation of its original Australian dialogue.

The first of too-many post-apocalyptic films that would follow throughout the 1980s (along with one brilliant sequel and a disappointing third entry), George Miller's first adventure starring our good pal Max (Mel Gibson) ranks as a top pick for Blu-Ray owners, even if the BD/DVD combo package is housed in a standard DVD sized case (why??). The 1080p AVC encoded transfer offers an appreciable enhancement over its prior DVD, while all the potent extras from that release have been carried over, including its extensive retrospective documentary. Split into two sections – one focusing on the production, the other on Mel Gibson's casting with comments from the original crew (though Miller is notably absent) – this is a fine overview of the landmark picture, while an equally insightful audio commentary features cinematographer David Eggby, Jon Dowding, Tim Ridge and Chris Murray. These extras, along with the trailers, are housed on both the BD and the DVD, while the latter also includes other documentaries, a photo gallery and additional goodies carried over from its prior package.

Finally, one wonders why – of all the thousands of movies that have yet to see a release in high-def – MGM opted to release the putrid TROLL 2 (No stars, 95 mins., 1990, PG-13) on Blu-Ray.

This in-name-only, cheaply-made sequel to “Troll” (which looks like a cinematic work of genius compared to this film) went right to video in the early ‘90s and appalled genre fans of all kinds (at least those who actually saw it) with its inane story, amateurish performances, laughable special effects and general ineptitude. While I’ve always enjoyed bad movies that offered “so bad, it’s good” pleasures, I’m not a big aficionado of movies that are “so bad, they’re awful.”

Even though “Troll 2" qualifies in the latter category for me, that hasn’t stopped the film from attracting what I’m guessing are a very small (but loyal) group of viewers who have catapulted the picture into cult infamy. A recent documentary “Best Worst Movie,” about the so-called “legacy” of the film, has played on the festival circuit to solid reviews, yet I can’t help but think some of “Troll 2"’s rise in popularity isn’t hype generated by the people who made the movie trying to sell it as this masterwork of poor moviemaking. The trouble I have with that angle is that, as horrible as “Troll 2" is, I can think of hundreds of “bad movies” that are more entertaining.

Now, if you are a part of the “Troll 2" cult, this month is your time to celebrate since MGM has issued the film on Blu-Ray. There’s only so much that high-def can do to enhance this piece of trash, but the AVC encoded transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack are each as strong as can be expected given the material.

While fans of this picture can rejoice over its release, I can’t help but feel depressed that “Troll 2" is on Blu when so many, far, far, far more deserving pictures will likely never see the light of day in high-def. Maybe MGM has a master plan to solve their bankruptcy issues, and it’s “Troll 2" on Blu...right?!?!

Also new from MGM and Fox is the complete first season of SG-U STARGATE UNIVERSE (871 mins., 2009-10), with Robert Carlyle, Ming Na and Lou Diamond Phillips starring in Syfy Channel’s continuation of the “Stargate” franchise, which has so far been met with mixed reaction from fans, most of whom have criticized the series for its weak story lines and lack of resemblance to prior “Stargate” entries.

Oddly, after releasing a pair of separate BD and DVDs for the series, splitting up its first season into two parts, Fox has -- just a few months after those releases -- gone back and released the complete first season in this five-disc box-set, boasting an extended pilot episode, commentaries, BD-exclusive interactive game, featurettes, AVC encoded transfers and DTS Master Audio soundtracks.

Also New From Buena Vista

French documentarian Jacques Perrin’s previous films “Winged Migration” and “Microcosmos” met with great acclaim on both sides of the pond, and his latest effort, OCEANS (84 mins., 2010, G), has arrived in North America in the form of an abbreviated Disney Nature release with new narration by Pierce Brosnan and...yes...an end credits song by Joe Jonas.

Speaking of which, narration in the domestic releases of imported nature documentaries has proven to be something of a recurring theme; some fans carped about Morgan Freeman’s “Penguins” banter, while others have been critical of the work of Sigourney Weaver and Oprah Winfrey on the U.S. versions of BBC imports “Planet Earth” and “Life,” respectively.

Brosnan’s intonation on “Oceans” isn’t bad by itself, yet the script by Michael Katims fails to match the majesty of Perrin’s visuals, shot around the globe on varied climates from the Galapagos Islands to the Arctic. Not particularly preachy, Katims’ script still seems to have been authored with its Disney family audience in mind, which makes for a brisk 84-minute view for kids – yet, all told, the picture isn’t substantial enough for adults. As great as the visuals in “Oceans” are (Perrin, working with Jacques Cluzaud, captures some amazing sights throughout), there’s really nothing here you haven’t seen before, and done with greater detail and insight as well. Perhaps there was more meat in Perrin’s 104-minute French version, and something was lost in the translation -- either way, “Oceans” is a great-looking but disposable addition to the ever-growing crop of nature documentaries we’ve seen of late.

That being said, Disney’s “Oceans” Blu-Ray offers a robust AVC encoded 1080p transfer with DTS Master Audio sound. Both the visuals and soundtrack are exceptionally strong, virtual “demo worthy” quality, while extras include filmmaker annotations, bonus videos, music videos and public-service announcements. The 2-disc combo pack also includes a DVD as well offering a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 audio.

Also new in the “Disney Nature” series is THE CRIMSON WING: MYSTERY OF THE FLAMINGOS (80 mins., 2008, G), an altogether more satisfying doc from directors Matthew Aeberhard and Leander Ward, chronicling the incredible phenomenon of flamingos who breed in harsh conditions in Tanzania’s Lake Netron.

Utilizing a “less is more” approach, writer Melanie Finn’s script steers clear of excessive narration, with the impressive visuals and the Cinematic Orchestra’s fine soundtrack often speaking for themselves. At a hair under 80 minutes, this first Disney Nature production is one of the company’s best to date, with an impressive set of visuals and a compelling story making for a recommended view for adults as well as older kids.

Again offering a razor-sharp AVC encoded 1080p transfer, “The Crimson Wing” does not disappoint on Blu-Ray. Strong colors and a nicely textured DTS Master Audio soundtrack comprise the BD portion of the combo pack, with extras including a behind-the-scenes featurette, filmmaker annotations, screensaver and other goodies; the DVD’s 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack, meanwhile, are complimented only by the behind-the-scenes documentary on the supplemental side.


HE’S YOUR DOG, CHARLIE BROWN DVD (25 mins., 1967; Warner): Snoopy packs up and joins Peppermint Patty after being sent off to obedience school by his owner, good o’l Charlie Brown, in this particularly amusing 1967 Peanuts special.

Previously issued on DVD as part of Warner’s “Peanuts: ‘60s Collection,” this standalone remastered Warner presentation affords viewers the opportunity to buy the special in its own, separate release.

What’s new here is the inclusion of the 1980 special “Life is a Circus, Charlie Brown,” making its home video debut, along with a fun featurette on the Redwood Empire Ice Arena, which Charles M. Schulz built in the ‘70s.
TWO AND A HALF MEN - Season 7 DVD (463 mins., 2009-10; Warner): CBS’ top-rated comedy suffered through a bit of a tumultuous season because of star Charlie Sheen’s assorted off-screen problems; as a result, the series was reduced to 22 episodes from its original order. Not that it made a big difference in the ratings, since Season 7 of “Two and a Half Men” remained strong in the Nielsens.

Warner’s Season 7 DVD box-set offers the episodes "818-jklpuzo" (guest starring Eddie Van Halen), “Whipped Unto the Third Generation,” “Laxative Tester, Horse Inseminator,” “For the Sake of the Child,” “Give Me Your Thumb,” “Untainted by Filth,” “Gorp, Fnark, Schmegle,” “Captain Terry’s Spray-On Hair,” “That’s Why They Call It Ball Room,” “Warning It’s Dirty,” “Fat Jokes,” Pie and Celeste,” “Yay no Polyps,” “Crude and Uncalled For,” “Tinkle Like a Princess,” “I Found Your Moustache,” “Ixnay on the Oggie Day,” “Keith Moon is Vomiting in his Grave,” “I Call Him Magoo,” “Gumby with a Pokey,” and “This is Not Gonna End Well.”

16:9 transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks are on tap with lightweight extras comprised of a gag reel and featurette.

HUMAN TARGET Season 1 Blu-Ray (523 mins., 2010; Warner): Amiable but not particularly substantial action-comedy, frenetically adapted from a DC Comics property, stars Mark Valley as hero-for-hire Christopher Chance, who dons the identity of his clients-in-danger in order to save their lives.

“Human Target” first debuted as a series in the early ’90s with Rick Springfield in the lead; this new Fox series is a great deal more entertaining, with plenty of humor added into the mix, but ultimately it leaves you with the feeling you’ve seen it done before, and there’s not a lot here to bring viewers back for repeat viewing.

Season 1 of “Human Target” looks great on Blu-Ray; the crisp VC-1 encoded 1080p transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks giving viewers a better approximation of its technical attributes than its broadcast standards would allow. Extras include commentary on the pilot, unaired scenes, two featurettes, and an audio mix that’s been “enhanced” from its broadcast episodes, sporting a hard-working Bear McCreary score.

The 12 episodes include the “Pilot,” “Rewind,” “Embassy Row,” “Sanctuary,” “Run,” “Lockdown,” “Salvage and Reclamation,” “Baptiste,” “Corner Man,” “Tanarak,” “Victoria,” and “Christopher Chance.”

THE MENTALIST Season 2 (985 mins., 2009-10; Warner): Simon Baker is back as Patrick Jane, the California Bureau of Investigation’s special “consultant” who uses his various gifts to help solve a series of crimes.

Season 2 of the series has arrived on DVD from Warner, sporting its entire 23-episode sophomore campaign with episodes including “Redemption,” “The Scarlet Letter,” “Red Badge,” “Red Menace,” “Red Scare,” “Black Gold and Red Blood,” “Red Bulls,” “His Red Right Hand,” “A Price Above Rubies,” “Throwing Fire,” “Rose-Colored Glasses,” “Bleeding Heart,” “Redline,” “Blood In, Blood Out,” “Red Herring,” “Code Red,” “The Red Box,” “Aingavite Baa,” “Blood Money,” “Red All Over,” “18, 5, 4,” “Red Letter” and “Red Sky in the Morning.”

In addition to 16:9 transfers and 5.1 soundtracks, Warner’s five-disc set offers a number of extras, including unaired scenes on five episodes, a look behind the scenes with executive producer Chris Long, a look at real-life mentalist Luke Jermay and other goodies.

LEGEND OF THE SEEKER - Season 2 (Final Season) DVD (946 mins., 2009-10; Buena Vista): Sam Raimi was one of the producers behind this agreeable adventure fantasy series based on a series of novels by Terry Goodkind. “Legend of the Seeker” followed the exploits of Craig Horner’s young guide, who improbably becomes a hero as he teams up with the mysterious (and lovely) Bridget Regan and a wizard played by none other than Bruce Spence from “The Road Warrior” in order to defeat a demonic sorcerer from taking over the world. It’s not exactly “Hercules” or “Xena” but it was an admirable attempt at re-channeling some of those series’ magic, garnering enough viewers to warrant a second season but ultimately falling short of coming back for a third and final year.

Buena Vista’s DVD box-set of the series’ second, final season offers a good amount of extras, though not quite as many as its DVD predecessor. Extended scenes and several featurettes are on-tap here, along with 16:9 (1.78) transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks.

WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN Complete Series BD and DVD (598 mins., 2008; Lionsgate): Well-regarded animated rendition of the Marvel comics characters reportedly ran into some behind-the-scenes issues as it concluded its first season, ending on a cliffhanger that apparently won’t be resolved. Previously released piecemeal on a handful of Lionsgate releases, this good-looking Blu-Ray offers colorful AVC encoded 1080p transfers and DTS Master Audio soundtracks, offering all 26 episodes of the series with 29 commentaries, several featurettes and a trailer gallery. Lionsgate’s DVD offers a similar presentation on three DVDs with 16:9 transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks.

New From BBC

WONDERS OF THE SOLAR SYSTEM Blu-Ray (293 mins., 2010, BBC): Professor Brian Cox hosts this engaging tour of our solar system, from both a scientific and speculation viewpoint, chronicling the planets, the possibility of alien life but mostly the amazing facts most of us don’t know about the galaxy outside the Earth’s front door. “Wonders of the Solar System” is a superior work than, say, the History Channel’s “Universe” series, which also utilized CGI to get its points across but did so in a less subtle, introspective manner than the approach Cox takes here. Anyone interested in the subject matter would do well to check out BBC’s Blu-Ray edition, which includes satisfying 1080i transfers, DTS Master Audio soundtracks, and two bonus “Horizon” programs with Cox. Recommended.

SHERLOCK HOLMES DVD (550 mins., 1964-65, BBC): Douglas Wilmer’s well-regarded performance as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective was the highlight of this ‘60s BBC series. After an extensive search, the BBC found 11 of the 13 episodes from the show, with only “The Abbey Grange” and “Bruce-Partington Plans” being lost to the ravages of time; this double-disc DVD set includes the rest of the series’ episodes, including “The Red Headed League,” pilot episode “The Speckled Band” and “The Copper Beeches” among others. Transfers and soundtracks are as satisfying as can be expected given the age and condition of the elements.

DALZIEL & PASCOE Season 2 (377 mins., 1997, BBC): Warren Clarke and Colin Buchanan starred in this much-acclaimed BBC mystery series about mismatched investigators at Mid-Yorkshire CID. This second-season for “Dalziel & Pascoe” includes four story arcs (“Ruling Passion,” “A Killing Kidness,” “Deadheads” and “Exit Lines”), all in 14:9 letterboxed transfers and stereo soundtracks.

DR. WHO DVDs (BBC): Dr. Who fans have had much reason to rejoice with the release of a number of brand-new DVD editions -- veritable Special Edition packages for classic series episodes. Here’s a quick rundown of the BBC’s latest releases:

THE SPACE MUSEUM and THE CHASE (246 mins., 1965) - A pair of William Hartnell stories are on-tap in this double-disc set, featuring some of the earliest Dr. Who episodes. BBC’s DVD package is jammed with special features, including commentary from actors and writer Glyn Jones; a salute to Hartnell; photo galleries; slide shows; numerous interviews; Dalek promo materials and other goodies. The disc does include a “for clearance reasons, certain edits have been made” disclaimer.

THE TIME MONSTER (147 mins., 1972) - A lengthy plot line with Jon Pertwee’s doctor takes center stage in this release; BBC’s DVD includes a retrospective documentary, audio commentary, restoration comparison and PDF materials.

UNDERWORLD (89 mins., 1978) - Commentary from Tom Baker and fellow cast members, a 30-minute making of doc, photo gallery, and time-coded video clips from the show’s recording comprise the special features in this single-disc Special Edition of the early 1978 broadcast episode.

THE CREATURE FROM THE PIT (96 mins., 1979) - A Baker ‘79 favorite sports commentary from cast/crew members; interview with director Christopher Barry; an extended scene; photo gallery, visual effects crew retrospective and more.

THE HORNS OF NIMON (101 mins., 1979-80) - Another Baker plotline sports interviews with writer Anthony Read, commentary with Read and cast members, a profile of Blue Peter’s relationship with the good doctor, Peter Howell music demos, and PDF materials.

THE KING’S DEMONS (50 mins., 1983) - Peter Davison’s Doctor takes up the reigns in this short 1983 story set in 1215 England with the gang involved with King John. Commentary from Davison, a bonus commentary from director Tony Virgo on part one, a profile of the doctor’s companion Kamelion, historical background, isolated music score, photo gallery and PDF materials comprise a solid supplemental section on BBC’s remastered DVD.

PLANET OF FIRE (100 mins., 1984) - Another Davison entry, this multi-part story is housed on a double-disc set sporting extensive extras, including a new 66-minute edit of the production in stereo; Anthony Ainley retrospective; commentary; location profile; isolated score; 15 minutes of discarded scenes; and PDF materials.

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