10/25/05 Edition -- HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Aisle Seat Halloween Celebration II

DOMINION: Schrader's EXORCIST prequel, WAR OF THE WORLDS '53 Special Edition, and MORE!

October 31st is just days away, and if my earlier Halloween DVD column didn’t offer enough offerings ripe for the season, here’s the second installment of our annual genre round-up. Happy Halloween everyone!

DOMINION: PREQUEL TO THE EXORCIST (**½, 2005). 116 mins., R, Warner. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by Paul Schrader; Additional Scenes; Still Gallery; 1.85 Widescreen (16:9), 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

The Film: Paul Schrader’s attempt at filming a prequel to “The Exorcist” resulted in one of the more well-documented tales of studio turmoil in film history. You’re more than likely familiar with what happened when director Schrader’s work was screened for Morgan Creek and producer James G. Robinson: deemed too light on horror and too heavy on cerebral, theological discussion, “Dominion” was permanently shelved by its distributor. Morgan Creek then hired Renny Harlin to film an entirely different picture with a re-worked screenplay, utilizing several of Schrader’s cast members on the same standing sets at that.

Harlin’s film was nowhere near as bad as its reputation would lead a viewer to believe, but still grossed only a moderate amount at the box-office. Meanwhile, fans have clamored to see Schrader’s original vision -- and incredibly, as promised by Morgan Creek, that time has arrived as Warner this Tuesday releases Schrader’s version of “Exorcist IV” on DVD (after a token theatrical release on a handful of screens last May, opposite the opening of “Revenge of the Sith”!).

Officially titled “Dominion: Prequel To The Exorcist,” Schrader’s version -- like Harlin’s -- stars Stellan Skarsgard as Father Lancaster Merrin, here a “priest on sabbatical” in 1947 East Africa. After uncovering a church buried in the landscape, Merrin begins to question the nature of true evil after all sorts of strange happenings occur: a young invalid begins a remarkable recovery after Merrin and the local doctor (Clara Bellar) repair his injured limbs; two British soldiers, sent to guard the church, are brutally killed; and a demonic presence makes its presence known, both through the boy (Billy Crawford) and in furthering a conflict between the British and the local tribes, already skeptical of the troops and Christian missionaries in their area.

Though similar in many respects to Harlin’s released version, “Dominion” is indeed a subtler film. There are few scary moments, not many special effects, and Schrader uses the power of suggestion to convey the message of William Wisher and Caleb Carr’s original script (which Alexi Hawley re-wrote for the Harlin production). Vittorio Storaro’s atmospheric cinematography seems more elegant in the Schrader version, and Gabriel Mann’s performance as a young priest sent to work with Merrin ranks as the Schrader picture’s major asset (Mann was replaced in the Harlin version by the less emotive James D’Arcy).

What’s surprising, though, is that Harlin’s “Exorcist” is -- on balance -- the more satisfying one. Schrader’s movie would like to be an introspective meditation on the nature of evil, but it’s curious how slow-moving and straightforward “Dominion” ultimately is. There isn’t a great deal of depth to the supporting characters and there’s something simplistic about how the story progresses from one scene to the next, without much elegance or particular artistry.

“Dominion,” tellingly, also isn’t especially scary: the lengthy exorcism sequence at the end is clumsy and routine, as opposed to being suspenseful or, at the least, disturbing (the substandard special effects are also part of the problem). The decision to disclose Merrin’s haunted past right up-front at the film’s beginning is also ill-advised; Harlin’s film wisely chose to work the WWII flashbacks throughout the movie, adding to the drama.

Also revealing here is Skarsgard’s performance: though he gives an understated performance in “Dominion,” his Father Merrin is more tortured, more emotive, and more effective in Harlin’s movie. It’s possible that having to make the movie a second time gave Skarsgard a bit of an edge in his reprisal, but regardless -- even among the comparative bombast of the Harlin picture -- his performance is superior the second time around.

Ultimately, watching “Dominion” -- while a fascinating experience -- gives the viewer plenty of evidence why Morgan Creek wanted to ditch Schrader’s film. With precious few references to William Friedkin’s classic, “Dominion” doesn’t feel like it has any connection with the original “Exorcist,” and the story moves too slowly, too straightforwardly, for its own good. Harlin’s version has some awkward passages of its own, no question, but ultimately conveys the same themes in a more effective and satisfying manner, adding some fresh elements and ideas that make it the superior work.

DVD Rundown: Warner’s DVD offers a superb 1.85 transfer with a fairly elaborate 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack. Schrader was able to cobble together a soundtrack of original Angelo Badalamenti compositions (he wrote about 15 minutes of music gratis for his frequent collaborator), the metal group Dog Fashion Disco, and tracked music from Trevor Rabin’s score from “Exorcist: The Beginning.” It works effectively enough, though a full score by the composer surely would have been more satisfying than what ended up in Schrader’s final cut.

In addition to about seven minutes of deleted scenes culled from a workprint, Schrader also contributes an intermittently interesting commentary, steering clear of the post-production controversy but justifiably pointing out issues that plagued his own version. The director also points out several elements of “Dominion” that were inherited from the first director on the project -- the late John Frankenheimer -- including Gabriel Mann being cast in the role of Father Francis and the hiring of cinematographer Storaro (he doesn’t mention that Frankenheimer had originally pegged Liam Neeson to play Merrin). By and large Schrader’s talk will be of interest for fans, though I assume he had to bite his tongue about the torturous process that his film went through after being shelved.

Interestingly, Schrader does discuss a last-minute coda that was added after it was determined by Morgan Creek that his movie wasn’t scary enough. The director notes the sequence never worked and he happily excised it from his final version -- though one can tell, simply by hearing him discuss the sequence, that he must have been aware his project was in trouble even before principal photography ended.

Fright Factor: Though not entirely satisfying, Paul Schrader’s “Dominion” is at last available for all “Exorcist” fans to see -- and what a happy, rare occurrence it is for viewers to be able to watch two versions of the same film by two different directors. Though I prefer Renny Harlin’s second take on the story, there will be some fans who, at the least, will appreciate Schrader’s more plaintive approach. I just wish there was more theological meat and character development in “Dominion,” which regardless of how you feel about it, will nevertheless rank as a must-view for genre aficionados now that it’s finally available on disc. Recommended.

WAR OF THE WORLDS (****, 1953). 85 mins., Paramount. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by Ann Robinson and Gene Barry; Commentary by Joe Dante and film scholars; Making Of featurette; H.G. Wells featurette; Complete Orson Welles Mercury Theatre Broadcast; Full-Screen, 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo and mono sound.

The Film: George Pal’s awesome 1953 production of the H.G. Wells novel represents ‘50s sci-fi at its best. From the majestic, opening words of Sir Cedric Hardwicke’s narration and Leith Stephens’ score, to the first appearance of Pal’s saucers and the scenes of stars Gene Barry and Ann Robinson hiding in a farmhouse from the invading Martians, few other films captured the imaginations of viewers like director Byron Haskin’s movie. The original “War of the Worlds” set the standard for dozens upon dozens of genre films that followed in its wake, and still ranks today as one of the greatest sci-fi fantasy pictures ever made.

DVD Rundown: Paramount’s Collector’s Edition DVD offers numerous supplements of note and a brand-new transfer of the 1953 film. The colors are vibrant and the print in superb condition, though I detected several instances of digital compression (perhaps noise reduction?) in sequences where there’s an especially bright image on-screen (it’s especially apparent during the stock-footage filled prologue, and later when the Martian saucers appear with smoke surrounding them). Though most viewers won’t find this to be a distraction, I did find it surprising to see on a Paramount release. On the audio end, the stereo soundtrack is an improvement on the original mono mix (which is also included), but it sadly lacks the depth and clarity of the 1995 laserdisc’s stereo remix.

For supplements, Paramount has included a half-hour look back on the production, “The Sky Is Falling: Making War of the Worlds,” which incorporates fresh interviews with Barry, Robinson, effects guru Ray Harryhausen and others, plus a ten-minute profile of the author -- “H.G. Wells: The Father of Science Fiction -- offering comments from author-filmmaker Nicholas Meyer among others. The featurettes are interesting and chart the long struggle to make “War of the Worlds” (Harryhausen, in fact, had wanted to film the picture himself for years, and there’s remarkable test footage of his proposed Martian on-hand). Two commentaries are also available to select during the movie: an enjoyable discussion between director Joe Dante and movie historians Bob Burns and Bill Warren, who focus primarily on the lasting impact of the Pal picture; and a second commentary with stars Ann Robinson and Gene Barry, with Robinson carrying (to put it mildly) most of the talk.

Rounding out the DVD is the full broadcast of the Orson Welles Mercury Theatre production, complimented by stills. It’s unfortunate that there’s no way to fast-forward through the recording (you press play and start from the beginning, and just let it run), but it’s nevertheless a most welcome addition to the set.

Fright Factor: One of those movies that any self-respecting sci-fi fantasy fan has to own, Paramount’s long-overdue “War of the Worlds” Collector’s Edition DVD offers an excellent array of special features. Though the transfer curiously ranges from outstanding to disappointing, the DVD overall comes very highly recommended.

DRACULA A.D. 1972 (***, 1972). 96 mins., PG, Warner. DVD FEATURES: Trailer; 1.85 Widescreen (16:9), 1.0 Dolby Digital mono.

The Film: With sagging box-office receipts driving a stake through the heart of Hammer’s period Dracula films, the studio opted to bring The Count into the present day -- a decision that paid off (to some degree) with this outlandish and highly entertaining “mod” piece.

A group of “hep cat” kids decide to revive The Count in swingin’ early ‘70s London, including Professor Van Helsing’s curvy young granddaughter (Stephanie Beacham, proudly displaying both of her strongest assets throughout). As it turns out, young Johnny Alucard is one Johnny Rotten, as Christopher Lee’s Drac finds the groovy young British kids to be a tasty treat. Bewildered by the goings-on, Beacham turns to Grandpa Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) to save the day.

Hopelessly dated in many respects -- but no less entertaining for being so -- “Dracula A.D. 1972" marked the first appearance of Lee’s Count and Cushing’s Van Helsing together in the same movie since the first Hammer release, 1958's “Horror of Dracula.” Dramatically, “A.D. 1972" isn’t on the level with that earlier classic, but director Alan Gibson’s movie is more accessible and arguably endearing than most of the Hammer Dracula films. With a touch of humor, a “mod” score by Mike Vickers, and engaging performances from both Lee and Cushing, “Dracula A.D. 1972" provides irresistible fun.

DVD Rundown: Warner’s DVD offers a good-looking 1.85 widescreen transfer with a 1.0 Dolby Digital mono soundtrack. The hilarious theatrical trailer is also included.

Fright Factor: Hammer’s attempt at revitalizing their aging Dracula franchise didn’t last for long as Lee and Cushing returned for just one more series entry: the dismal “Satanic Rites of Dracula,” in which the participants appeared as if they wanted to be anywhere else. Here, though, the stars look like they’re having a grand time, and the movie offers plenty of entertainment for both series fans and newcomers alike. Good fun!

HOUSE OF WAX (*1/2, 2005). 113 mins., R, Warner. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: B-Roll/Bloopers Video Commentary; Three Making Of featurettes; Alternate Opening; Gag Reel; Trailer; 1.85 (16:9) Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

The Movie: The latest “Dark Castle” production from producers Joel Silver and Robert Zemeckis is a notch better than “Ghost Ship” and “House on Haunted Hill,” but roughly not as good as “13 Ghosts”...which doesn’t say a whole lot for this in-name-only update of the Vincent Price ‘50s favorite.

Elisa Cuthbert ditched her blonde “24" locks for her role in the ‘05 “House of Wax,” which feels more like a variant on “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” as a group of helpless teens (including Cuthbert, brother Chad Michael Murray, boyfriend Jared Padalecki, and pal Paris Hilton) find themselves stranded in a shady small town (is there any other kind in these films?). There, the group encounter a pair of maniacal brothers who reside in the “House of Wax” along with what appear to be too-lifelike human recreations.....and can you guess what happens next?

Obvious from the get-go, “House of Wax” has the same problems as its Dark Castle predecessors: namely, a bland, tedious story, cardboard heroes, and a distinct lack of surprises. Jaume Collet-Serra’s film is polished technically, I suppose, but there’s little of interest here from either a suspense or gore standpoint. It’s all routine from start until end, and maybe just a bit more mean-spirited than the norm -- which is hardly an accolade.

DVD Rundown: Warner’s DVD offers a strong 1.85 transfer with an elaborate, bass-heavy 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack. Extras include an amusing half-hour “Video Commentary” with Cuthbert, Hilton, Murray and Padalecki watching various sequences and bloopers from the movie (it’s more fun than sitting through the film, at least). Additional bloopers, a discarded opening sequence, and three Making Of featurettes are included along with the theatrical trailer.

Fright Factor: The 2005 “House of Wax” is best left for undemanding, hard-core horror fans only.

SINGLE WHITE FEMALE 2: THE PSYCHO (*, 2005). 91 mins., R, Sony. DVD FEATURES: 1.85 Widescreen (16:9), 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

The Movie: Ugh! Yet another horrid made-for-video cash-in, this in-name-only “sequel” (more like a rip-off) stars Kristen Miller as a young woman who trades in one vicious roommate (one-time Baywatch babe Brooke Burns) for a legitimate psycho (Allison Lange, a brunette version of Kirsten Dunst) who just wants to be “BFF.”

The original “Single White Female” wasn’t anything especially memorable, but this watered-down rip-off only serves to improve its predecessor’s image. The appealing Miller looks like she could do some effective work elsewhere, but she’s saddled by a lousy part in a movie offering no suspense or entertainment of any kind.

How embarrassing that director Keith Samples once founded Rysher Entertainment back in the ‘90s...and finds himself a decade later helming awful direct-to-DVD sequels instead of running a studio. Go figure!

DVD Rundown: Sony’s DVD offers up a satisfying presentation with a 16:9 enhanced transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. There are no extras of any kind to speak of.

Fright Factor: Other than seeing how bad it is, there’s little reason to check out “Single White Female 2: The Psycho.” In the words of Mad TV’s Bobby Lee, a definite...PASS!

BEWITCHED (**, 2005). 102 mins., PG-13, Sony. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary; Deleted Scenes; Featurettes: Trivia Track; 1.85 Widescreen (16:9), 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

The Movie: After years in pre-production, director Nora Ephron opted to make a movie-within-a-movie (or, to be more precise, TV-series-within-a-movie) adapted from the old sitcom staple, satirizing Hollywood and bloated star egos at the same time it presents a typical romantic comedy framework. The latter involves innocent witch Nicole Kidman moving to L.A. and quickly becoming the breakout star of a “Bewitched” TV remake spearheaded by obnoxious has-been superstar Will Ferrell.

One can debate the decision not to simply update “Bewitched” (which, arguably, offered more possibilities for a modern remake than most vintage sitcoms that have made their way to the big screen over the years), but the results of Ephron’s film consist of a wealth of missed opportunities.

Kidman’s Isabel is a poorly-conceived characterization -- a witch trying to live a mortal life who either comes across as a sheltered innocent or a complete idiot, while Ferrell’s Jack Wyatt is a loud-mouth boob typical of the former SNL star’s screen roles. The two have zero chemistry together, which kills Ephron’s aspirations for a modern romantic comedy in the second half of the film, including an endless succession of vintage standards on the soundtrack. That might have worked for “Sleepless in Seattle,” but not in “Bewitched,” which among other things, also wastes a superb supporting cast, including Michael Caine as Kidman’s father (I’m still trying to ascertain why Caine delivers all his dialogue in a whisper), Shirley MacLaine as the show’s co-star, Kristin Chenoweth as one of Kidman’s neighbors, and Stephen Colbert as the series’ head writer.

The only laughs come courtesy of a last-minute cameo by Steve Carell, who amusingly reprises Paul Lynde’s Uncle Arthur and, in the process, hints at what a straight “Bewitched” remake might have been with this cast -- sans Ferrell’s grating lead character.

DVD Rundown: Sony’s Special Edition DVD offers commentary from Nora Ephron (who co-wrote the film with her sister, Delia), several behind-the-scenes featurettes, several minutes of deleted scenes (culled from a workprint), and an on-screen “WitchVision” trivia track. The 1.85 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack are both superb.

Halloween Viewing Fun Factor: If you have no other choice but to abandon the traditional concept of a spooky frightfest for your Halloween viewing (a date, perhaps?), the disappointing “Bewitched” could still function as an adequate supernatural comedy...provided your expectations are very, very low.

SEASON OF THE WITCH (**½, 1973). 104 mins., R, Anchor Bay. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Supporting Feature “There’s Always Vanilla”; Interviews with George A. Romero and star Janina White; Alternate Opening Credit Sequences; Trailer; Still Galleries; 16:9 Widescreen, 1.0 Dolby Digital mono.

The Movie: Also known as “Jack’s Wife” and “Hungry Wives,” George A. Romero’s little-seen 1973 film follows the repression of an everyday suburban housewife (Janina White) who finds ultimate satisfaction in dabbling in the black arts -- at the cost of her boring marriage and routine domestic existence.

An interesting, if not entirely successful, early work from Romero that’s less a genre piece than it is a fascinating time capsule of domestic repression and feminine empowerment. White’s superb performance anchors the film, which was killed at the box-office after its distributor idiotically retitled it and dumped it into theaters.

DVD Rundown: I rented “Season of the Witch” on VHS back in high school and recall how grainy the transfer was. Unfortunately, Anchor Bay’s DVD appears to have been mastered off the same, musty old print, which seems like it’s a generation or two off its original source (or possibly even mastered off the VHS itself). Anchor Bay included a disclaimer that runs before the movie that the print was the only source available, and it’s a shame, because it further compromises the already-modest appearance of Romero’s film.

Supplements include a revealing, 20-minute new interview with star White, who left acting and L.A. in the late ‘70s, never to return. There are also alternate credit rolls featuring the movie’s other titles, a later “Season of the Witch” trailer, and a still gallery.

The second side of the disc features another “lost” Romero work -- the bittersweet romance “There’s Always Vanilla” -- which was initially conceived as a 30-minute promotional reel for star Ray Laine. In a new interview included here, Romero notes that the extended feature didn’t work as well as the original short -- something that can be gathered from watching this DVD.

Fright Factor: An intriguing work recommended for Romero fans and viewers looking for something a little different in their Halloween viewing. Recommended despite the poor transfer, with superb supplements courtesy of Anchor Bay.

INVASION: EARTH (1998). 4 hrs., 31 mins., NR, A&E. DVD FEATURES: Production Notes; History of Alien Invasion Films; Full-Screen, 2.0 Dolby Surround.

The Movie: Fred Ward is part of an international military coalition sent to England where a pair of extraterrestrial races are battling to dictate the future of the Earth.

This 1998 TV mini-series was the first co-production between the Sci-Fi Channel and the BBC. Unfortunately, after airing once on Sci-Fi domestically, the production has basically been forgotten since it wasn’t successful enough to merit a sequel.

Therein lies part of the problem with “Invasion: Earth”: the ending is one of those gigantic letdowns that takes everything that came before it and makes it even worse than it actually is. Ward spearheads a solid cast (Vincent Ragen, Maggie O’Neill and Anton Lesser among them), but the show tends to meander through its six installments (of 50 minutes each) before it...well, let’s just say reaches a finale that’s less than satisfying. Call it an honorable failure.

DVD Rundown: A&E’s two-disc DVD offers all six parts of “Invasion: Earth” in soft, but satisfying, full-screen transfers with a modest 2.0 Dolby Stereo soundtrack. Production notes, cast bios, and a short “History of Alien Invasion Films” rounds out the release.

Fright Factor: This intriguing but ultimately disappointing production is literate but ultimately unsatisfying, with an ending that ruins whatever goodwill had been established before it. Despite the performances, “Invasion: Earth” was a disappointment back in 1998 and remains one today.

Also New On DVD

THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY (**, 2004). 120 mins., PG, New Line. DVD FEATURES: Trailer; 1.85 Widescreen (16:9), 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital sound.

Virtually unreleased, muddled all-star production of Thornton Wilder’s novel, with an eclectic cast and excellent score by Lalo Schifrin. Wilder’s novel had formed the basis for two prior screen adaptations (1929 and 1944), neither of which met with enthusiastic critical reception, and the same applies to writer-director Mary McGuckian’s new film.

Gabriel Byrne plays Brother Juniper, who tries to ascertain whether the death of five individuals crossing a Peruvian bridge were linked by any kind of circumstance, be it coincidence or divine intervention. Unfortunately for Juniper, his findings are put on trial by the archbishop (Robert DeNiro) and viceroy (F. Murray Abraham), while the tale of the five individuals who perished on the bridge -- including hapless Kathy Bates, a femme fatale actresses’ Uncle (Harvey Keitel), her son, and a pair of twin brothers -- are recounted in flashback.

Reportedly costing upwards of $24 million, “The Bridge of San Luis Rey” was anything but a small independent film. DeNiro’s Tribeca Productions worked with what appears to be a dozen international production houses in order to fund this well-intentioned but clumsily told tale, which does, at least, offer scenic cinematography from Javier Aguirresarobe and a particularly fine performance from Bates.

The problem is that the movie never finds a strong dramatic center, with most of the plot revolving around Pilar Lopez de Ayala, who isn’t a charismatic enough actress to carry her role as “La Perichole.” McGuckian is also unable to corral the multi-ethnic cast into creating a believable recreation of 18th century Peru, making for a noble but ultimately failed experiment in period filmmaking (and a costly failure at that, since the movie barely grossed over $1.4 million).

New Line’s DVD offers a straightforward, satisfying 1.85 transfer of the film with solid 5.1 DTS
and Dolby Digital soundtracks. Though the myriad of accents often makes the dialogue difficult to comprehend, Lalo Schifrin’s elaborate orchestral score is one of the few blessings the picture has going for it, and ranks as one of the composer’s strongest efforts in some time.

CRIME STORY: The Complete First Season (5 Discs, 1986-87), Anchor Bay.
CRIME STORY: The Complete Second Season (4 Discs, 1987-88), Anchor Bay.

Launched with a great deal of fanfare by NBC as producer Michael Mann’s follow-up to “Miami Vice,” this ‘60s-era crime drama earned a cult following but only moderate ratings as it charted the investigation by a tough, uncompromising Chicago detective (Dennis Farina) into a local gangster (Anthony Denison), spanning from the streets of the Windy City through the glitzy early days of Las Vegas.

Performed by a perfect-pitch cast consisting of Farina, Stephen Lang, Bill Campbell, Ted Levine, and a myriad of later stars (Dennis Haysbert, Laura San Giacomo, David Caruso, David Hyde Pierce, Billy Zane, Steven Weber, Michael Madsen, Ving Rhames, Lorraine Bracco, Gary Sinise, and Julia Roberts among them), “Crime Story” is -- at least in its first season -- a compelling and consistently engrossing series. Though the show was renewed for a second season, “Crime Story” sagged a bit among the Nielsens as it progressed through its first season, and things didn’t improve as the show entered its sophomore frame. Truth be told, the plot also became more convoluted and less linear over time. In its final episodes, Mann and his crew attempted to get the Farina-Denison conflict back on track and even leave things hanging for a third season that never happened.

Anchor Bay has just re-issued the initial “Crime Story” First Season box-set -- which includes the excellent original pilot and the series’ initial 21 episodes -- to coincide with the release of the Second Season on DVD for the first time.

Alas, the spiffier new packaging aside, the DVD transfers are identical on the first season to Anchor Bay’s previous DVD effort, meaning the individual episode transfers are grainy and show an awful lot of digital compression. The second season -- likewise offering 22 episodes spread across four platters -- fares a bit better on the transfer side, but still, it’s unfortunate more discs and/or superior mastering wasn’t used to give these shows (made with top production values for TV at the time) the presentation that they truly deserve.

Nevertheless, fans will want to track down the Second Season, and in spite of the less-than-satisfying transfers, the First Season as well, provided they haven’t purchased the older Anchor Bay set.

TARZAN: Special Edition (***, 1998). 88 mins., G, Disney. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Deleted Scenes, Commentary, Music Videos, Interactive Games; 1.66 Widescreen (16:9), 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

THE EMPEROR’S NEW GROOVE: New Groove Edition (***, 2000). 78 mins., G, Disney. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Deleted Scenes; Audio Commentary; Behind The Scenes Featurette; Music Videos; Interactive Game; 1.66 Widescreen (16:9), 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks.

Single-disc “Special Edition” re-issues of these two successful Disney films will disappoint die-hard fans since they strip a good deal of supplements from the out-of-print, double-disc Collector’s “Tarzan” and “Emperor’s New Groove” sets, respectively.

“Tarzan” at least offers the deleted scenes and alternate opening, plus audio commentary, from the Collector’s double-DVD set. Unfortunately, though the disc also includes music videos and interactive games, most (if not all) of the “Making Of” supplements have been removed for this re-issue, and a 5.1 Dolby Digital remixed track is the major new addition to the package. After comparing it to the original 5.0 Dolby Digital audio (thankfully included here as well), however, one can tell it’s been overhauled a bit too much for its own good.

“The Emperor’s New Groove,” meanwhile, does offer a handful of new deleted scenes (in storyboard form) that were left off the Collector’s release – but in every other way, its double-disc predecessor is superior in terms of special features. The “New Groove” edition does retain the previous set’s commentary, music videos, and 5.1 DTS soundtrack, but leaves off the lion’s share of supplemental material, some of which divulged the project’s genesis as a “Kingdom of the Sun”-titled musical.

At least the respective discs’ packaging is colorful and the technical presentation of each film is excellent. For viewers unconcerned with supplements, these two new re-issues will be worthy of a purchase, but any major Disney fan is urged to track down the Collector’s Edition double-disc sets, which fetch a decent penny online these days (and likely will go for more now that the word is out on these two, not-very “Special” DVD re-issues).

BIONICLE 3: WEB OF SHADOWS (76 mins., 2005, Disney/Miramax): Third entry in the CGI-animated Lego sci-fi series follows the “Toa” heroes as they try and finish building their new island home -- only to find out their great city has been over-run by the vile, evil Visorak. Like the previous “Bionicle” efforts, “Web of Shadows” offers fast, colorful action, solid animation and effects that ought to captivate young Bionicle fans. If you’re not an aficionado, the story can be hard to follow, however. Miramax/Disney’s DVD offers a gorgeous 1.78 widescreen transfer with excellent 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks, plus an animatic comic book adaptation, music, extras, and other features geared towards its young audience.

BILLY JACK: ULTIMATE COLLECTION (1971-77, Ventura Distribution): Tom Laughlin’s Billy Jack character made his debut in the AIP effort “Born Losers,” but only became an icon of ‘70s cinema with the release of Laughlin’s “Billy Jack” in 1971. Though highly dated today, Ventura’s four-disc box-set compilation of Billy’s four features offers a fascinating historical perspective on the era’s social mores and tastes -- it’s amazing to think “Trial of Billy Jack” broke box-office records back in the day, particularly at an unmanageable 171 minutes! Nevertheless, there’s some fun to be found throughout all four movies, particularly the Elmer Bernstein-scored “Billy Jack Goes To Washington,” co-starring future “Real People” hostess Sarah Purcell and the late, great Pat O’Brien. Multiple commentaries and a bonus disc grace this well-mounted box set, which include remastered transfers (the third and fourth installments were shot in scope) and both 5.1 “remastered” (i.e. newly added sound FX) and original mono soundtracks. Recommended as a cultural artifact of its time.

Hitchcock! TV on DVD, including Season 1 of WAR OF THE WORLDS -- and More! Don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards, direct any emails to the link above and we'll catch you then. Cheers!

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