10/19/10 Edition Twitter: THEAISLESEATCOM
October Harvest Edition
Plus: Criterion's Crazy HOUSE, WINTER'S BONE and More

It’s that time of the year again. Leaves falling off the trees, pumpkins aligning doorsteps across neighborhoods all over the land, and almost on cue, hugely anticipated video releases en route to stores everywhere. This week finds Universal leading the pack with spectacular high-definition editions of the “Back to the Future” series and Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” two titles likely to be on many wish lists as we head into the holiday season.

Neither needs much of an introduction for viewers, with PSYCHO (****, 108 mins., Universal) being especially impressive in its translation to HD.

Hitch’s striking thriller was shocking for its time and still nets an R rating by today’s standards, with its macabre adaptation of Robert Bloch’s novel offering powerful cinematic images that have lost little of their impact since the film’s original release. Anthony Perkins’ unforgettable turn as Norman Bates, Janet Leigh’s role as Marion Crane (whose mounting paranoia after stealing money she’s supposed to deposit from her bank is just a blip compared to the horror she’s about to endure), Joseph Stefano’s taut script and, of course, Bernard Herrmann’s all-time classic, atmospheric score made “Psycho” Hitchcock’s most financially successful film and a picture that still holds up through his masterful direction and editing on repeat viewing.

Arriving in HD on Blu-Ray for the first time, Universal’s VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer of “Psycho” is generally exceptional. The studio has had a few misfires this year on their Blu-Ray releases (“Out of Africa” being most notable), but “Psycho” thankfully has not been smattered with an excessive use of digital noise reduction: most sequences exhibit sharp detail without too much edge-enhancement, and the deep black-and-white contrasts are striking. You’ve never seen “Psycho” look this good on video, and it’s matched by a truly outstanding new DTS Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. Produced using the French Audionamix system, which is able to extract a 5.1 soundtrack from a purely mono source, this is one of the most satisfying remixed soundtracks for a film of its era that I’ve heard, giving stereophonic separation to Herrmann’s score, the pre-existing sound effects and dialogue, without having to resort to jarring new foley effects (at least that’s their claim). Whether or not the track has been goosed just a bit by new material, it’s a meticulously designed mix that’s just as much of an enhancement as the new HD transfer (purists can still select the original mono mix, but I would imagine most viewers will be happy with the new stereo track).

A ten-minute segment on the creation of the soundtrack is among the extras in Universal’s 50th Anniversary Blu-Ray, which also sports the older 94-minute “Making of Psycho” documentary; the 25-minute “In the Master’s Shadow: Hitchcock’s Legacy” retrospective offering tributes from William Friedkin, Guillermo Del Toro, Martin Scorsese and others; audio segments from Francois Truffaut’s interviews with Hitchcock; news reel footage; “The Shower” scene with and without music, along with Saul Bass’ storyboards; “The Psycho Archives” with posters, ads, stills; trailers; and Stephen Rebello’s feature commentary. A must-see just in time for Halloween!

Universal has also served up another marvelous package with their BACK TO THE FUTURE TRILOGY Blu-Ray, which hits stores next week.

This long-awaited HD package includes 1985's highest-grossing film, "Back to the Future," along with its two sequels, shot back-to-back and released in Thanksgiving 1989 and May 1990, respectively.

Anyone who grew up in the '80s undoubtedly saw the original more than a few times, and the good news is that the picture remains a joyful blast of entertainment, with wonderful performances, smart writing, and infectious energy. The sequels, while not on the classic level of the original, remain highly worthwhile for separate reasons: 1989's "Back to the Future Part II" offered a delirious, dizzying time-travel adventure with a brilliant and underrated final third that put an interesting spin on the events of its predecessor. For those who thought Part II lacked heart and romance, "Back to the Future Part III" reprised the endearing character interplay of the original and brought the series to a perfect close.

Personally, I have a lot of wonderful memories of seeing the BTTF Trilogy while I was growing up.

The original opened in 1985, right before I started fifth grade. Back then, Michael J. Fox was a known commodity due to his work on the hit NBC series "Family Ties," and "Back to the Future" looked like a cute time travel picture geared specifically towards kids.

However, when I saw the movie for the first time that summer, it was clear even to a 10-year-old that the movie's appeal went far beyond the barriers of youth movie-goers. Adults loved the picture's multi-generational story, which managed to encompass comedy, time travel, '50s nostalgia, and themes of relating to one's parents that are timeless -- regardless of how antiquated some of the '80s jokes are (including the hilarious reference to Tab, which was dated even when the movie was first released!).

For a lot of reasons, BACK TO THE FUTURE (****) is one of my favorite films. Fox plays a typical '80s teen with typical '80s parents whose relationship with crazy inventor Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) results in the teenager traveling back to 1955. There, he inadvertently alters the course of his own history by disrupting the moment when his father (Crispin Glover) and mother (Lea Thompson) meet and fall in love. What's worse, mommy now has a crush on him (!), forcing Marty to find a younger Doc and try to set things right before his existence is wiped away.

There's just an optimistic and charming element inherent in Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale's BTTF screenplay that few films in the sci-fi/fantasy genre can match. Fox's Marty and Christopher Lloyd's Doc Brown are two highly likeable protagonists, and equally noteworthy is the supporting work of Thompson and Glover as Marty's parents, along with Thomas Wilson's bully Biff Tannen. While the picture's portrayal of both the '50s and the '80s are highly idealized, they still provide an interesting contrast to Fox's quest to reunite his flawed parents and keep his existence together after causing a rift in the space-time continuum.

In nearly every facet, BTTF works splendidly -- here we have one of Alan Silvestri's best scores, Dean Cundey's warm cinematography, a couple of bouncy Huey Lewis & The News hits, and a story that continues to entertain even some 25 years after its original release.

Four years later, Zemeckis and Gale, along with most of the original cast and crew, returned to the series for a pair of sequels shot back-to-back.

Although a big box-office hit, BACK TO THE FUTURE PART II (***½) is a movie that received a negative (and mostly unwarranted) backlash from critics and audiences shortly after its release. Most of the complaints came from viewers who didn't care for the picture's frantic, non-stop action, open-ended finale (pretty absurd considering that the third movie was opening less than six months later), and claims that it lacked the "heart" of the original. While the latter may be true, I've always found it curious that critics who often carp about sequels being carbon-copy retreads chose to attack a follow-up that remains one of the more innovative sequels ever produced.

In Part II, Marty and Doc Brown travel into the future where Marty and girlfriend Jennifer's kids are having problems -- but their attempts to set things right there cause ramifications in the past once Biff steals the time machine and changes the course of history.

Zemeckis calls Part II the "most interesting film" of his career, and in many ways it is. Although it picks up right from the end of the first movie, Gale and Zemeckis chose not to write a mere “remix” of its predecessor, but rather a fast-paced and frantic time-travel adventure that ultimately goes back into the original film from a whole different angle. I always found that portion of the picture to be enormously entertaining, since it reprieved portions of the first film through its own distinct, dramatic story line -- clearly the most unique element in Gale's underrated script.

As far as the rest of the movie goes, I've always loved the way that the picture weaves a complicated and yet not-all-that confusing story that spans pasts, presents, and futures with great special effects, particularly innovative for their time. It's a rollercoaster ride that ends leading right into the next installment, very much like an amusement park attraction you can't wait to take another turn on.

The one valid criticism that was leveled at the movie -- that it lacked the warmth and heart of its predecessor-- is more than compensated for in BACK TO THE FUTURE PART III (***½), which abandons the technical wizardry and time-traveling element of the second picture and concentrates on telling a central story -- marked by a charming romance between Doc Brown and a Hill Valley woman (Mary Steenburgen) -- set in the Old West.

Or, to be more precise, in the Old West of Hollywood's Golden Age. A handful of character actor veterans pop up in this fitting end to the trilogy, which focuses on Marty trying to get back to his present while Doc falls in love and has to contend with Biff Tannen's gunslingin' forefather (Tom Wilson again, in another appropriately nasty performance).

Another rousing score by Alan Silvestri (his finest of the series in fact) rounds out a perfect finale to the series, which -- along with its predecessors -- has finally made its way onto Blu-Ray in the form of a BD/digital copy combo package offering all the requisite bells and whistles you might hope.

Technically, each film looks more than satisfying in Universal’s VC-1 encoded 1080p transfers. Colors, details and overall sharpness levels are superb across the board; while there does seem to be a bit of filtering going on, it’s nowhere near the level of, say, Blu-Ray blunders like “Gladiator” and the first edition of “Gangs of New York,” so I’d anticipate most Blu-Ray owners will be quite pleased. On the audio end, DTS Master Audio soundtracks are all nicely textured with directional activity.

In terms of new extras, each film includes its own new retrospective documentary, dubbed “Tales From the Future,” presented on each platter in multiple parts.

This HD-produced retrospective offers new comments from Zemeckis, Gale, Spielberg, and all the stars; even Claudia Wells, who notably hadn’t been interviewed on-camera about her role as Jennifer in the original  BTTF, appears (and looks great too) and divulges how she left the business at the time of the sequels' shooting to focus on her family. While some of the anecdotes have been heard before in other featurettes, for the first time viewers are able to see actual footage from Eric Stoltz’s five weeks of shooting as Marty McFly. The Stoltz footage is extremely brief and we never so much as hear him utter a word (are they still trying to keep his performance a secret?), but it’s still jarring to see him in Fox’s shoes. Even in these brief moments something seems just, well, wrong about Stoltz in the part, since other than bearing more of a physical resemblance to Crispin Glover than Fox, one can’t imagine he would have been able to fill the needed comedic demands of the role (and apparently, according to Zemeckis, he didn’t).

There’s also a brief look at Silvestri’s score on the first “Back to the Future” disc, though the composer himself only appears in archival interview segments.

In all, this is a much more comprehensive documentary than the prior DVD’s fluffy featurettes, sporting a greater amount of interviews and anecdotes, and running just about two hours all told (the BTTF material runs about an hour; the sequels run 30 minutes each).

The other big new addition to the Blu-Ray is the inclusion of all the footage from “Back to the Future: The Ride,” the terrific, but now defunct, Universal Studios amusement park ride which opened in 1993 and closed in the Hollywood and Orlando locales in 2007 (it’s apparently still running in the Tokyo venue). The 30 minutes of footage (culled from a videotape master) on-hand here includes all the pre-show material and the ride itself, with Christopher Lloyd and Tom Wilson reprising their roles as Doc and Biff.

Plenty of supplements have been carried over from the DVD edition and, in certain cases, enhanced for the Blu-Ray. Among the latter are the deleted scenes and outtakes from the trilogy, some of which have been remastered for high-def, as well as a trivia track, which has been incorporated into the “U-Control” Blu-Ray pop-up options (along with storyboard comparisons). In addition to the music videos, archival promotional material, DVD documentaries from the prior release, and other assorted, previously-released odds-and-ends, both the Q&A “live commentary” and scene-specific commentaries from the DVDs have been ported over to the Blu-Ray.

The live Q&A session with Zemeckis and Gale was recorded at USC under the guidance of home video specialist Laurent Bouzereau earlier this decade. The track runs anywhere between 60-90 minutes each on all three films, with the two filmmakers fielding questions read by Bouzereau from students. The two cover the bases from the (mis)casting of Eric Stoltz in the original version of BTTF, to the infamous "To Be Continued" line that was added to the video release of the first movie. Along the way, the two talk about Fox's crazed schedule, Spielberg's involvement in the films, and -- most tellingly -- Crispin Glover's insane demands that lead to his ouster from II and III (and how the sequels had to be rewritten to cover for his absence). There are some revealing moments in this track, but getting to the tastier nuggets does, admittedly, take a while.

The secondary commentary track, another holdover from the DVD, with Bob Gale and producer Neil Canton is more interesting but, unfortunately, is also pretty dry. More than a few times Gale brings up topics but refuses to go into them, claiming that they were already covered in other supplements.

However, the shortcomings involved with the respective commentaries has been diminished now with the addition of the “Tales From the Future” documentary, putting the cap on a highly satisfying Blu-Ray package of one of the sci-fi/fantasy genre's most beloved franchises. Unquestionably recommended!

New From Lionsgate

WINTER’S BONE Blu-Ray and DVD (***½, 94 mins., 2010, R; Lionsgate): Atmospheric, well-performed and sharply-written tale of a headstrong Ozark teenager, saddled with caring for her young siblings, who sets out on a journey to find her missing, troubled father, who recently put up the family home as collateral for his bail.

Set in rural West Virginia and authentically shot on location, director Debra Granik’s picture won awards at Sundance earlier this year and a number of critical kudos – all deservedly so. A memorable study of a 17-year-old girl struggling to make ends meet with a deadline looming that threatens to tear her clan – which is barely hanging on by a thread as it is – apart, “Winter’s Bone” is richly drawn, low-key and unpretentious.

Jennifer Lawrence is a revelation as Ree Dolly, who is threatened, beaten and yet remains determined to provide a semblance of a life for her much younger brother and sister despite a catatonic mother and father who has made his living producing meth; her quest takes her into turbulent waters around her small town as she tries to find her father’s location. John Hawkes is equally outstanding as Teardrop, her uncle with (abundant) problems of his own but tries to help without getting in his own way.

Both actors are superb and the sense of time and place is flavorfully captured by Granik (who adapted Daniel Woodrell’s novel with Anne Rosselini) and cinematographer Michael McDonough, making for one of those small “indie dramas” that actually works. Granik paces the film leisurely but smartly doesn’t allow for “Winter’s Bone” to drag on or become distracted by peripheral storylines; this is a focused, extremely satisfying little movie that’s one of the better films I’ve seen this year.

Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray of “Winter’s Bone” looks well-composed; shot on HD digital video the movie looks just fine in its 1080p transfer, while the DTS Master Audio soundtrack includes a number of memorable song interludes. Extras include a commentary with Granik and McDonough, a few deleted scenes, extra musical performance, and a 45-minute production featurette. The DVD offers the same extras with a 16:9 transfer (1.85) and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack. Highly recommended!

New From Fox

Also in time for Halloween comes Fox’s Blu-Ray edition of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (***, 100 mins., 1975, R), a jam-packed Special Edition of the midnight movie staple.

Boasting a new 4K/2K restoration from the original camera negatives, this AVC encoded 1080p transfer of “Rocky Horror” naturally looks fresher than any worn-down old movie house print you could see in theaters. Details are crisp, colors are strong, there’s a fine amount of grain and the DTS Master Audio soundtrack is potent (the original mono mix is also on hand), making for a superb technical package all told.

A host of new features are on tap, most of which seek to replicate the “Midnight Movie” experience by including a picture-in-picture “Shadowcast” performance of the movie as it plays, an unrated “callback track” from 1983 that offers audience participation responses to the film, a trivia track, and a “prop track” that cues you into using assorted props while viewing at home. There are also karaoke options, pressbook and photo galleries, an hour-long look at the “Shadowcast” picture-in-picture production, plus a bevy of previous extras including deleted scenes, outtakes, Richard O’Brien and Patricia Quinn’s commentary, the alternate B&W opening, alternate credit and misprint ending, music videos, and both the UK and US versions of the film.

It’s all presented in a hardbound “digibook” package with full-color glossy photos that will prove to be tasty indeed for all “Rocky Horror” addicts.
MOULIN ROUGE Blu-Ray (**½, 128 mins., 2001, PG-13; Fox)
ROMEO + JULIET Blu-Ray (**½, 1996, 120 mins., PG-13; Fox): Two eclectic Baz Luhrmann films hit Blu-Ray this week as well in strong new high-def packages.

Lavishly designed and often superbly scored with mostly-contemporary rock songs arranged as Hollywood musical fare, Luhrmann’s 2001 “Moulin Rouge” spins a tragic tale of love in the infamous Parisian nightspot. Nicole Kidman essays the Moulin Rouge's top diva -- a courtesan whom penniless writer-composer Ewan McGregor falls for even as she fights consumption. Supporting turns include John Leguizamo as one of McGregor's fellow struggling artists and Jim Broadbent as the Rouge's producer, but the often overbearing star of the movie is director Luhrmann's filmmaking, which veers from Busby Berkley-styled musical numbers to the most headache-inducing editing of an MTV video.

Now on Blu-Ray, Luhrmann’s visual extravaganza once again had me admiring its imagination one moment and being completely turned off by its excesses the next. On the plus side, McGregor and Kidman give two of their best performances, and the soundtrack is a gas, with Craig Armstrong's marvelous orchestral backing making the seemingly disparate songs come together. The problems with the movie can all be attributed to Luhrmann's hyperkinetic direction, which repulses as much as it draws you in to its unique visual universe. Fortunately, the movie calms down after a headache-inducing opening 20 minutes, and it's much more tolerable on the small screen, where somehow the excesses don't seem quite as self-indulgent, and the relationship between McGregor and Kidman doesn't seem as lost.

Fox’s old two-disc DVD was one of their best supplemental packages, and most of the extras have been carried over to Blu-Ray with even more goodies. There’s the standard picture-in-picture mode offering commentary and interactive features that pop up during the movie itself. Deleted scenes, multi-angle features on the choreography (which often comes across as jumbled in the final cut), all-new interviews with the cast and filmmakers, trailers, music videos, and more grace a disc that looks dazzling, as you might expect, with its AVC encoded 1080p transfer and DTS Master soundtrack.

Also new from Fox is a Blu-Ray edition of Luhrmann’s 1996 ROMEO + JULIET, the off-the-wall but occasionally effective modern rendering of Shakespeare’s classic with strong performances from Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes (the less said, the better about a supporting cast comprised of Brian Dennehy, Paul Sorvino and a particularly off the wall John Leguizamo).

Once again boasting a fully remastered AVC encoded transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack, “Romeo” looks fantastic in high-def, while ample extras Include another picture-in-picture commentary from score composer/arranger Craig Armstrong, Marius DeVries and Luhrmann among others; uncut footage; several featurettes on the music, including the temp score; a documentary on the soundtrack; and filmmaker and interview galleries.

New From Criterion

One of the strangest movies I’ve watched in years (if not ever), Nobuhiko Obayashi’s Japanese haunted house effort HOUSE (88 mins., 1977) improbably lands the Criterion treatment just in time for Halloween.

Obayashi’s eclectic (and that’s putting it mildly) work follows a group of school girls (with names like “Gorgeous” and “Kung Fu”) to the countryside where they meet with Gorgeous’ aunt, a demonic cat, and a piano that consumes some of them whole.

From a filmmaking standpoint “House” offers every trick in the book, whether it’s comic-book like montages, stop-motion, optical effects and matte paintings – visually the film is very much “alive” in such a way that I can see how die-hard Japanese cinema aficionados, and particularly anime lovers, will groove to the movie’s wild sensibilities.

From a story or dramatic standpoint, however, the picture is a total failure, initially coming across like a Japanese episode of “Sesame Street”, marked by upbeat songs and score utilized in complete contrast to what we’re seeing on-screen (an irony I don’t believe was intentional), then turning into an utterly insane, Mario Bava-esque horror movie with occasional topless nudity and buckets of blood.

Almost completely incoherent, “House” veers from being a near-total embarrassment to an oddly watchable, tripped-out Toho release from a time when Godzilla was going into his first retirement. Adventurous viewers who enjoy some of the nonsensical narratives of certain animes may want to give it a shot, but I would certainly advise a rental before investing fully in this “House.”

Criterion’s Blu-Ray is presented in 1.33 full-screen with English subtitles; colors pop and the movie looks vibrant in the superb AVC encoded transfer. Mono sound is also on-hand (there’s no English dub since the film was never released outside Japan), along with extras including a video featurette sporting an interview with Obayashi; a 1966 experimental film from the director; a brief video interview from director Ti West; the trailer; and booklet notes that attempt to make sense of it all by Chuck Stephens.

Also new from Criterion this month is a bona-fide masterpiece: Stanley Kubrick’s 1957 United Artists release PATHS OF GLORY (****, 88 mins).

Kirk Douglas gives one of his best performances as a French colonel trying to defend several of his men, accused of cowardice after failing to carry out a mission in WWI. A searing script by Kubrick, Calder Willingham and Jim Thompson, adapted from Humphrey Cobb’s novel, gives this Douglas-produced Bryna effort all the dramatic juice it needs for Kubrick and an excellent supporting cast (Adolphe Menjou, Ralph Meeker among them) to craft one of the most powerful war films ever made.

A crisp, satisfying AVC encoded 1080p transfer is the highlight of Criterion’s eagerly-awaited Blu-Ray release of “Paths of Glory.” A commentary with critic Gary Giddins leads the way on the supplemental side, with other extras including a 1966 audio conversation with Kubrick; a 1979 TV interview with Douglas; new interviews with Kubrick associate Jan Harlan, producer James B. Harris and Christiane Kubrick; a French TV piece about the real-life events that inspired the story; the trailer; and booklet notes. Highly recommended!   

New From Blue Underground

I can’t say I’m a fan of MANIAC (88 mins., 1980), William Lustig’s controversial, seedy serial killer tale of a nutjob (Joe Spinell) who preys on young women, murdering them and then scalping them for a place in his collection of mannequins.

Tom Savini’s make-up effects are grizzly and effective, yet the story is sleazy, the violence disturbing and the performances off the wall, with Spinell being alternately unsettling and just plain nutty in the lead; Caroline Munro (Spinell’s “Starcrash” co-star) gets a thankless role playing opposite him in a movie that’s been alternately beloved by exploitation fans and chastised for its raw violence and repellent story line.

If you’re an admirer, Blue Underground has done a tremendous job with their double-disc Blu-Ray edition of “Maniac.” The gorgeous 2K high-def transfer is on par with “Vigilante” and looks fabulously detailed at every turn; this is how every catalog film should look in high-def if given the chance, while the DTS Master Audio sound is effectively remixed.

Extras are copious, from two different commentaries offering Lustig, Savini and others, to an interview with Munro, new talk with Savini, interview with Jay Chattaway (who wrote an effective score for the picture), interview with songwriters Michael Sembello and Dennis Matkovsky, trailers, TV and radio spots, a “Maniac 2" promo reel, a look at the film’s controversy, “The Joe Spinell Story” and other goodies, with most all of the segments presented in high-def.


JONAH HEX DVD (*½, 82 mins., 2010, PG-13; Warner): Misfired Warner Bros. production evokes memories of the Will Smith-Kevin Kline “Wild Wild West” as another “western gone wrong” that bombed at the box-office. In this case, bomb is an understatement, as this DC Comics adaptation limped to a $10 million worldwide gross last summer.

The film itself plays in line with its fiscal performance – an obviously cut-to-shreds 82-minute succession of action sequences and one-liners starring Josh Brolin as the title character, a former Confederate soldier whose run in with a sadistic officer (John Malkovich) leaves him both physically scarred and graced with mystical Native American powers after he’s brought back from the verge of death. Years later, Hex is recruited by the government to take down the villain who killed his family and left him for dead, who has become something of a post-Civil War terrorist.

“Jonah Hex” offers a terrific cast from Brolin and Malkovich to Michael Fassbender (as Malkovich’s henchman), Aidan Quinn, and Megan Fox as the requisite prostitute with a heart of gold who falls for our battle-scarred hero. Alas there are so many things wrong with the released movie that it’s hard to tell why any of them signed up for it in the first place. The jumbled screenplay, credited to “Crank” auteurs Neveldine & Taylor (who were slated to direct the project but left due to “creative differences”), never establishes the characters or gives us a reason why we should care, leaving the project as a soulless, bizarre mess that one imagines might have made more sense in a longer version (then again, maybe not!).

Warner’s DVD of “Jonah Hex” sports a nice 16:9 (2.35) transfer and 5.1 soundtrack, the latter comprised of a laughable score by Heavy Metal band Mastodon that was doctored to some degree by a credited Marco Beltrami, who had to replace John Powell, another post-production casualty on the picture. A few additional scenes are the only extras on-hand.

LOST BOYS: THE THIRST DVD (81 mins., 2010, R; Warner): Second direct-to-video sequel to “The Lost Boys” thankfully plays a lot better than its predecessor “The Tribe.” This sequel finds Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander taking center stage as The Frog Brothers, with Feldman’s Edgar hired by a young woman to find her missing sibling.

A lot more fun than “The Tribe,” “The Thirst” isn’t any great shakes either, but its reliance on humor is a welcome change from its prior entry, while director Dario Piana keeps the action moving. There’s also a lot more Feldman here than in its predecessor (he also served as an executive producer), but in this case it’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially for devotees of the original.

Warner’s DVD effort looks fine, offering a 16:9 (2.35) transfer and 5.1 soundtrack, along with a special “The Art of Seduction: Vampire Lore” hosted by the always seductive Charisma Carpenter.

New From History/A&E

THE BENNY HILL COMPLETE MEGASET: The Thames Years 1969-1989 DVD (48 hours., A&E/NewVideo): My parents always managed to keep me from watching “The Benny Hill Show,” which aired in syndicated here in the U.S. while I was growing up. A bit too raunchy for kids, the British comedian’s long-running series nevertheless tickled the funny bone of many fans on all sides of the Atlantic, and A&E’s Megaset compiles no less than 58 episodes which ran on Thames TV from 1969 through 1989. Totaling 585 sketches on 18 discs, this package basically has it all, with uncut episodes (which were edited for the U.S.) and a number of extras including a bonus documentary, trivia challenges, A&E’s Bio of Hill, featurettes and liner notes. Highly recommended for all Benny Hill enthusiasts!

GREAT DETECTIVES ANTHOLOGY DVD (27 hours, A&E/NewVideo): A series of Hercule Poirot, Jane Marple and Sherlock Holmes mysteries are compiled in this 18-episode, 12-disc box-set from A&E boasting the David Suchet Agatha Christie adaptions “Death on the Nile,” “The Mystery of the Blue Train,” “Taken at the Flood,” “After the Funeral” and “Cards on the Table”; Joan Hickson as Miss Marple in “The Moving Finger,” “At Bertram’s Hotel,” “Murder at the Vicarage,” “Nemesis,” “A Caribbean Mystery,” “The Mirror Crack’d,” “Sleeping Murder” and “4:50 from Paddington”; and Peter Cushing in the Sherlock Holmes tales “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” “A Study in Scarlet,” “The Boscombe Valley Mystery,” “The Sign of Four” and “The Blue Carbuncle.” Extras include a documentary “Sherlock Holmes: The Great Detective,” biographies and a full index of Poirot and Marple mysteries.

EMPIRES Megaset DVD (32 hours, History/NewVideo): The rise and fall of Ancient Rome, the origins of the Huns, Goths, Vikings and Mongols, the construction of the Pyramids in Egypt and ancient Greece are profiled in this 14-disc History anthology, focused on history’s great empires. Behind-the-scenes featurettes, a Modern Marvels bonus doc, and a Bio episode about Genghis Khan round out a few extras in this box-set.   

HOW THE EARTH WAS MADE Season 1 Blu-Ray (10 hours, 2009-2010; History/NewVideo)
EARTH AND SPACE Blu-Ray (aprx. 22 hours; A&E/NewVideo): On-location shooting and scientific analysis mark the first season of the popular History Channel series “How the Earth Was Made,” chronicling the origins of some of the Earth’s most well-known locations and geographical landmarks. The series’ 13 episodes are presented in AVC encoded widescreen transfers with DTS Master 2.0 stereo sound.

An even better value is History’s “Earth and Space” box-set, featuring the complete first seasons of both “How the Earth Was Made” as well as “The Universe” (both previously released) with AVC encoded transfers and 2.0 DTS Master Audio soundtracks.

WORLD WAR II 360 (aprx. 18 hours, 2008-09; History/NewVideo): Affordably-priced box-set from History sports the complete contents of “Battle 360" and “Patton 360.” My original capsules from last month’s individual releases read as follows:

BATTLE 360 Blu-Ray (aprx. 10 hours, 2008; History/New Video): CGI visualizations mark this 10-episode profile of the WWII aircraft carrier USS Enterprise and her battles in the Pacific. Crisp HD transfers, additional scenes and DTS Master Audio 2.0 stereo soundtracks adorn the three-disc set.

PATTON 360: Season 1 Blu-Ray (aprx. 8 hours, 2009; History/New Video): Interesting History Channel series uses decent CGI animation to detail the heroic campaigns of Gen. George S. Patton in the North African and European theaters of WWII. Aided by archival footage and historian interviews, this is an insightful new take on well-discussed material, enhanced by the HD presentation on-hand in New Video’s two-disc BD set with DTS Master Audio 2.0 sound.

NEXT TIME: A Halloween Round-Up! Until then, don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards and direct any emails to our email address. Cheers everyone!


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