10/26/10 Edition Twitter: THEAISLESEATCOM
Haunted Halloween Edition

When it rains, it pours for Blu-Ray owners. As if Universal’s release of “Back to the Future” this week isn’t enough (a title I covered in last week’s column), Fox has upped the ante and delivered the motherlode with their utterly spectacular, six-disc ALIEN ANTHOLOGY box-set. While Fox’s 2003 “Alien Quadrilogy” DVD release set standards in the format for its wealth of supplemental content as well as its picture and sound quality, those attributes that have been matched, surpassed, and then some by this high-def package, which offers all the goodies from that release, piles on new content, offers never-before-seen footage and wraps it all up with some of the Blu-Ray format’s most impressive transfers produced for catalog content.

As Ridley Scott mentions in his liner notes, this long-gestating project was the culmination of two years of hard work by Charlie de Lauzirika and the folks at Scott Free. It’s hard to heap enough superlatives on top of this release because from its presentation on down to its massive extra features (the majority of which are exclusive to the box-set), the “Alien Anthology” is like opening up the ultimate Christmas present for fans of the series.

The mammoth package includes all four "Alien" films in both their theatrical release versions and extended Special Edition edits, with a pair of supplemental discs jammed with content from the 2003 documentaries, the “Alien” and “Aliens” laserdisc box-sets, never-before-seen deleted materials and plenty (and I do mean plenty) more.

Because most of us are more than familiar with the four films, I'm not going to spend a great deal of time critically analyzing the pictures.

Suffice to say, ALIEN (****, 1979, 117 mins. theatrical, 116 mins. Special Edition) rode the sci-fi wave that "Star Wars" ignited and became a classic in its own right thanks to Ridley Scott's direction, the film's evocative production design and striking H.R. Giger creature effects. The story may be simple and derivative (and methodically paced), but everything about the execution of "Alien" is elegant and eerie. Both the film's theatrical version and the more recent, so-called "Director's Cut" are included -- as Ridley Scott states about the latter, it's not really a "Director’s Cut" but an alternate version with extra footage. It's also a bit faster-paced, as evidenced by the shorter running time, adding a couple of extra glimpses of the alien and the infamous cocoon scene at the end (which thankfully has been trimmed from its unexpurgated outtake state on previous laser/DVD editions). No matter which way you go, "Alien" is still a classic of the genre, regardless of the many shameless imitations that followed in the wake of its release.

Its belated 1986 follow-up, ALIENS (****, 137 mins. theatrical, 154 mins. Special Edition) deservedly ranks as one of the great sequels of all-time, with James Cameron's brilliant reworking of the franchise opening up the story and characterizations of its predecessor. Sigourney Weaver rightly copped an Oscar nomination for her work as Ripley here, and the supporting performances (especially Michael Biehn and Bill Paxton) add depth to a rollercoaster ride of a movie that's bigger and quite different than its predecessor, upping the amount of scares and enhancing the material with plenty of action. Though fans again have their preference between the two versions of the picture, I find the theatrical version to be the superior one, faster-paced and more satisfying than the “Director’s Cut.”

While "Aliens" improved in many ways on its predecessor, the ill-fated ALIEN 3 (**, 1991, 114 mins. theatrical, 144 mins. Special Edition) wrote the text-book on how not to make a sequel. This unrelentingly grim and tedious film was a disastrous way for David Fincher to start his career in features, the messy result of a handful of writers and filmmakers having been previously attached to the long-in-development project. What ended up being made was not only an unsatisfying follow-up to "Aliens," but a movie that generates almost no legitimate scares, being dull and derivative of what came before. Fincher chose not to participate in the Special Edition’s creation, but a longer preview assembly – adding some 30 minutes of previously excised footage – that debuted in the Quadrilogy release returns here and improves somewhat on the original theatrical version, especially in clarifying who the prisoners actually are (which we all know was a problem in the theatrical cut).

After the calamity of the third movie, one might have assumed that ALIEN RESURRECTION (*½, 1997, 109 mins. theatrical, 116 mins. Special Edition) would have been an appreciable improvement on its immediate predecessor. Joss Whedon ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer") came on-board to write the script for French auteur Jean-Pierre Jeunet, but the end result was a tiresome and gory freak show variant on the earlier movies, with more colorful characters than "Alien 3" but less visual style. The theatrical version of the movie is included here along with a new "alternate" Special Edition (like Scott, Jeunet states that his original edit is the "Director's Cut"), which adds an unnecessary epilogue to the picture and minor character extensions.

While I'm obviously not a fan of the third and fourth films in the franchise, the “Anthology” BD box-set is nevertheless essential for its supplements and behind-the-scenes chronicle of the series -- a strikingly honest assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of each picture. (If only most DVD/BD supplements were as comprehensive as this.)

Technically, the new AVC-encoded transfers are nothing short of revelations. “Alien” looked phenomenal on DVD and appears even more detailed and more satisfying here, yet “Aliens” – long a problematic title for standard-definition given its inherent grain and low-light cinematography – is the title that’s truly glorious to behold, managing to retain its inherent grain and crispness while looking brilliantly detailed. “Alien 3"’s garish color scheme is more suited for high-definition as well, and even the visuals of “Alien Resurrection” receive a boost from the move to Blu-Ray. DTS Master Audio soundtracks are also outstanding in their sonic rendering of effects, dialogue and music, while purists can select the original stereo mixes for the earlier films in the series as well.

Each “main” movie disc offers commentaries, isolated score tracks and deleted scenes, the latter of which have been remastered for HD and look nearly as good as the movies themselves. There’s also a “Mu-Th-Ur Mode” on each movie wherein on-screen prompts tell you what’s happening on the various audio tracks (i.e. what the commentary is discussing; what cue is playing on the isolated score mix, etc.), as well as on-screen trivia and information on what “Enhancement Pod” materials (more on that in a moment) are available on supplemental discs 5 and 6 pertaining to what you’re watching. You can then make a bookmark (“data tag”) so that this material instantly pops up when you insert the special features discs – yet while this feature is meant to make navigating the vast amount of extras more manageable, truth be told I found it’s almost like reading a road map because there’s just so much here!

The vast majority of the extra features are housed on Discs 5 and 6 (presented in 480p) – from the comprehensive 2003 documentaries to separate archival sections for each film, offering more deleted materials, laserdisc archives for “Alien” and “Aliens,” vintage promo segments, previously released featurettes, trailers and more. Thus, even if fans would prefer to wait for a standalone release of, say, “Alien” or “Aliens,” they’ll likely be missing out on most of the great extras housed exclusively in the Anthology box-set.

From a sheer musical standpoint, the “Anthology” BD adds even more content (namely, isolated score tracks for every film) on top of an already-abundant collection of riches.

In terms of commentary, we learn that Jerry Goldsmith never recovered from having his opening and closing credit themes removed from "Alien." James Horner says he was nearly fired by the producers of "Aliens" because he couldn't compose the score's climactic cue in the short time frame they desired. And Elliot Goldenthal says the sound mix of "Alien 3" was a muddled mess, in a flawed movie he stills calls "incomplete."

The candid comments of Goldsmith are just one of the highlights of the “Alien” extras, which include the 1999 “Alien Legacy” retrospective plus the three-hour 2003 documentary, produced for the Quadrilogy release, on Disc 5. This is a smart, expertly-crafted Making Of that treads over ground other laser and DVD supplements first charted, but does so even more comprehensively. All the major players are interviewed, from Sigourney Weaver to Ridley Scott, David Giler and writers Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett among others.

As you'd anticipate, every facet of the movie is covered – including the score. Goldsmith notes his disappointment at the removal of his music for the end credits, how the "alternate" main credit theme he composed in a matter of minutes was used instead of his original (preferred) piece, and how Scott failed to communicate with him about the direction of the score. Also interesting are editor Terry Rawlings' comments about using Howard Hanson (it was better than Goldsmith's work, which "wasn't his best" in Rawlings' mind), and David Giler's bizarre description of Goldsmith's music being too overbearing, "like 'Patton'" (umm – ok, Mr. Giler!).

A multi-angle view of the chestbuster scene, storyboards, stills, two different edits of Mark Kermode’s “Alien Evolution” doc, an archival promo featurette, Sigourney Weaver's screen tests, and more deleted scenes are included in the supplements on Disc 6 – and the “Anthology” makes amends for the Quadrilogy’s lack of isolated scores by including not just one but two different isolated score tracks, one featuring Goldsmith’s intended, original score (with pop-up cue information) as well as another for the final soundtrack.

The supplements on “Aliens” are likewise comprehensive, starting with the addition of two new isolated score tracks – one for the soundtrack as featured in the film (where Horner’s score was heavily reworked), and another offering Horner’s intended compositions as best they can be presented. In the 2003 Making Of, Horner recounts his trouble writing for a movie that was still being re-cut and re-filmed once the recording sessions began. Despite the troubles, the composer seems to be diplomatic about the countless alterations Cameron made to his score in post-production, but dives into full frustration about how Gale Anne Hurd threatened to fire Horner from the movie when he needed more time to write the movie's (classic) climactic cue. Horner claims that he told them to go ahead and try and find a "more experienced" composer than he – a fiery exchange that proves more honest than anything you'll typically find in a DVD supplement, and the 180-minute Making Of is again filled with great production anecdotes and a thorough history of the production.

The Anthology’s supplemental disc 6 houses all the additional “Aliens” behind-the-scenes materials you’d expect, along with the long-coveted deleted scene where Carter Burke (Paul Reiser) meets his fate – a moment previously seen only in still photos, and shown here for the very first time. There’s even all the footage from the “Aliens” mid ‘90s motion simulator amusement park ride (which I remember going on at the now-defunct Spooky World in Berlin, Mass. when I was at Boston College).

“Alien 3" may have the tastiest supplement of all, and even better, de Lauzirika’s original 2003 documentary – now re-christened under its intended title “Wreckage and Rage: Making Alien 3" – is presented here uncut for the first time. Some of it was reportedly discarded because it was "too honest" for DVD, but even with the edits, it was a gripping account of a movie that never should have began shooting in the first place. Now, restored to its original tell-all form, it’s a spellbinding piece that’s far more compelling for me than the movie that ended up on-screen.

Renny Harlin and Vincent Ward are on-hand to discuss their earlier versions of the third movie's premise, which sounded far more intriguing in Harlin's version (which was supposed to have been set on the alien's home planet) and Ward's illogical but visually audacious conception (Ripley crash-lands on a wooden planet run by monks!). Both discuss their departure from the movie and how director Fincher had to deal with a script worked on by "too many cooks" that was being constantly rewritten during shooting.

The program is rich with honest comments from the cast and crew, including cinematographer Alex Thomson and composer Elliot Goldenthal. Thomson notes that not even he could tell the difference between some of the characters at a pre-release screening, while Goldenthal engages in a fascinating dissection of the movie's unappealing sound mix. The composer's comments are refreshingly direct and pinpoint the movie's weaknesses, though it's equally interesting to hear the sound effects editors say that Goldenthal's music was too loud and overbearing – and how the filmmakers initially considered using no music at all!

Whether or not you like “Alien 3,” there's no doubt this documentary is a must for all movie buffs, both for pointing out the failings of the finished movie and the more interesting directions that original versions of the story might have produced.

“Alien Resurrection”’s special features include one more mammoth documentary – running a few minutes under three hours – featuring interviews with the principal filmmakers (including Jeunet) and a substantial look at the disappointing score by John Frizzell, which is easily the weakest of the series.

There are also four additional “Enhancement Pods” contained on the fifth disc, created exclusively for the Blu-Ray, which feature additional outtakes from de Lauzirika’s 2003 documentaries (from Renny Harlin’s decision to quit “Alien 3" and more of Fincher’s turmoil shooting the sequel), raw outtakes, dialies and more. Among the gems are Goldsmith talking about how he found the “Alien” characters “disgusting” and originally was rooting for the monster!

All the discs are housed in a gorgeous, functional, small hardbound book with a guide to the disc contents and liner notes from Scott, who notes that the Anthology Blu-Ray serves a primer for his own, upcoming return to the series “filled with Aliens, Space Jockeys and...something even more dangerous you haven’t seen yet.” After watching this outstanding box-set, it’s hard to imagine viewers won’t be excited by returning to that universe all over again.

One the few theatrical pursuits of “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry that only die-hard movie buffs remember today, the “Great Bird of the Galaxy”’s utterly bizarre and irresistibly entertaining 1970 black-comic thriller/high school sex comedy PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW has at last been released on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive. With a cast comprised of Rock Hudson, Angie Dickinson, Telly Savalas, Roddy McDowall, James Doohan, Joy Bang and an endless succession of attractive young ladies, how can you go wrong?

In Roddenberry’s screenplay (based on a novel by Francis Pollini), cheerleaders are being murdered at a southern California high school, wrapping up awkward virgin (and football team manager) John David Carson in the investigation. There aren’t a lot of suspects to go around either, since it’s pretty obvious which seemingly “all-American” coach (Hudson) harbors a few dark secrets. Thankfully, Telly Savalas’ pre-Kojak detective is on the case, leaving most of director Roger Vadim’s film to be devoted to Carson’s attempts to deal with his sexual awkwardness, emotions stirred up by his gorgeous female classmates and the arrival of new teacher Dickinson on campus.

With that cast and story line, “Pretty Maids” is most certainly a cult movie if there ever was one. It’s surprising, then, that the movie’s only prior video release came in the form of an MGM/UA VHS tape back in the ‘90s. No laserdisc edition, no DVD – just the occasional airing on Cinemax until Warner’s new Archive release, which is now available online and for $24.99 offers a remastered, 16:9 presentation of this offbeat, memorable MGM production.

The movie is a time capsule of its period, from Lalo Schifrin’s bouncy score to the Mike Curb-produced theme song -- performed by the Osmonds! “Mod” era fashions, topless nudity, the bizarre presence of Scotty and the Squire of Gothos as Savalas’ investigative team, some big laughs and a quick pace make “Pretty Maids” a one-of-a-kind picture that would match up on a neat double-bill with another black-comic high school thriller of its era: the memorable Anthony Perkins-Tuesday Weld vehicle “Pretty Poison.”

“Pretty Maids” is a bit all over the place as you might anticipate from the Roddenberry-Vadim collaboration, but it’s undeniably fun, managing to work as an unusual coming-of-age piece, thriller and a snapshot of its era all at once. It’s long been one of my favorite “guilty pleasures” and comes strongly recommended for anyone who finds the subject matter or the cast remotely interesting. Groovy, baby!

New From HBO

Next week HBO releases on Blu-Ray one of the most eagerly anticipated releases of the fall: a 6-disc edition of THE PACIFIC (530 mins., 2010), the acclaimed follow-up to “Band of Brothers” from executive producers Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman.

Grimmer in overall tone than its predecessor, “The Pacific” primarily focuses on three American marines (James Badge Dale, Jon Seda and former “Jurassic Park” child star Joe Mazzello) as they travel across the Pacific and enter into battles quite unlike the European combat seen in “Band of Brothers.” The setting and terrain are more foreign; dangers like starvation and malaria are just as deadly as the enemy itself; and the Japanese combatants more renegade in their tactics than anything the marines have encountered before.

From Guadalcanal through Peleliu and Iowa Jima, “The Pacific” is a gut-wrenching tribute to the Pacific theater battles and the men who fought in them. The stories of the three participants don’t intersect, so the sense of comradery among the characters present in “Band of Brothers” is lacking here, making it a bit more difficult for the viewer to connect to its protagonists. If anything, “The Pacific” is also more graphic and unsettling than its predecessor, and conveys the grim reality of war and the nature of combat in a different, yet still memorable, manner than its esteemed counterpart. Not as satisfying than "Band of Brothers" all told, "The Pacific" still comes strongly recommended.

HBO’s Blu-Ray package of “The Pacific” unsurprisingly looks and sounds outstanding. The 1080p transfers and DTS Master soundtracks are marvelous across the board, while a few extras include a 30-minute look behind-the-scenes, historical background documentary, and profiles of the real marines featured in the show.

Also coming soon from HBO on DVD is Al Pacino’s Emmy-awarding performance in YOU DON’T KNOW JACK: THE LIFE AND DEATHS OF JACK KEVORKIAN (134 mins., 2010), Barry Levinson’s chronicle of the controversial figure with an excellent supporting cast including Susan Sarandon, Brenda Vaccaro, John Goodman and Danny Huston. HBO’s DVD sports a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 audio, along with extras comprised of cast interviews and conversations with the real-life people they portray.

New on Blu-Ray

HIGHLANDER (***, 116 mins., 1986, R; Lionsgate)
HIGHLANDER 2 (**, 109 mins., 1990 [2004 reconstruction], R; Lionsgate)

Russell Mulcahy’s “Highlander” is another guilty pleasure of mine. Forget the myriad of sequels and TV series that followed: taken on its own terms as a singular piece of sci-fi/fantasy entertainment, this 1986 box-office flop is a thoroughly romantic, captivating yarn about an immortal Scot named Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) who finds out “there can be only one” and subsequently fights with despicable Clancy Brown across modern-day New York City for the prize of The Coolest Man Who Can’t Die.

Along the way, Gregroy Widen, Peter Bellwood and Larry Ferguson’s script pauses for flashbacks to 1536 Scotland where we see how Connor came to inherit his blessing (and curse), his training with the charismatic Ramirez (Sean Connery) and how his newfound ability to never age causes his love life to be a shambles. Back in 1985, Lambert falls for a forensics expert (Roxanne Hart) and attempts to prevent Brown from continuing his centuries-old reign of terror.

Breathtakingly shot in the UK, Scotland and New York City, there’s something just undeniably entertaining about the original “Highlander.” The film’s sense of adventure and romance are infectious, and even its sillier attributes – like Brown’s scenery-chewing bad guy – are compensated for by Arthur Smith’s cinematography, Mulcahy’s flashy action scenes, and a score by Michael Kamen that’s unquestionably one of the late composer’s finest works. It’s over-the-top but a lot of fun, serving as the launching pad for decades of neverending spin-offs and sequels.

“Highlander” makes its U.S. Blu-Ray debut next week after having been released in most international territories by Studio Canal last year. Lionsgate’s BD transfer and soundtrack are identical to that release, with the VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer looking more detailed and far more satisfying than any prior video edition; portions of the image still appear hazy at times but one surmises that these were issues with the original cinematography. Overall, Studio Canal is to be congratulated for not applying too much noise reduction here, which would have been the easy solution to “smoothing over” the image’s occasionally uneven attributes. The DTS Master Audio sound is also satisfying, though on the supplemental side, most of the extras from the international Blu-Ray have been excised. While Lionsgate’s domestic release retains Russell Mulcahy’s commentary and several deleted scenes (in HD), it leaves off the Studio Canal BD’s other supplements, including an excellent 85-minute retrospective on the production, along with the trailer and an additional interview with Christopher Lambert.

Those who might have imported that release will have no use for this rendition, but for other domestic “Highlander” fans, Lionsgate’s BD platter is quite satisfying and certainly priced right around $15 in most outlets.

The troubled 1990 sequel “Highlander 2,” meanwhile, also receives its Blu-Ray debut in a package that does justice (as best it can) to the wacky Mulcahy-directed sequel. The 2004 re-edit of the film dumps both "The Quickening" and "Renegade Version" from its subtitle, and adds a plethora of new digital effects that actually do improve the movie's alternately effective and shoddy visual design (the latter partially due to the original shoot having run out of funds).

What's more, an extensive set of supplements, ported over from the prior DVD, includes a terrific documentary recounting the movie's turbulent shoot in Argentina and subsequent editorial re-cutting, plus a hysterically funny unused ending and an insightful conversation with composer Stewart Copeland. Copeland notes how using Los Angeles session players may be technically proficient but often pales in comparison to the emotion that can be garnered from using a full cohesive orchestra (like the Seattle Symphony, which was utilized for "Highlander 2") that's used to playing as a group. Additional segments profile the cinematography and the original Cannes promo reel, along with the original trailer.

There’s likely to be a lot of discussion among fans about the Blu-Ray’s AVC encoded 1080p transfer. It’s obvious that the different attempts at re-editing the picture took their toll on its visual quality, since this HD presentation ranges wildly from poor-to-satisfactory, depending on the materials being utilized. Sequences involving the added special effects look the strongest here, while there are other sections that don’t look a whole lot better than a non-anamorphic DVD (these are mostly in the picture’s first half-hour). Quite obviously the picture’s restoration/recutting necessitated the use of elements that were far from pristine, so those factors have to be taken into account when judging its overall appearance. On the whole, the portions of the transfer taken from superior elements are an appreciable upgrade from the DVD, and short of seeing, say, the theatrical version itself preserved in high-def, there’s unlikely to be a superior presentation of “Highlander 2" than this one, while DTS Master sound rounds out a must-have purchase for series fans.

PREDATORS Blu-Ray (**, 107 mins., 2010, R; Fox): Robert Rodriguez taking over the “Predator” franchise, producing a direct sequel to the 1987 Arnold-McTiernan classic, in an “old school” (non-CGI) visual framework should have resulted in – if nothing else – a rollicking good monster mash, but the best you can say about “Predators” is that it’s better than the “Aliens Vs. Predator” films. Or, at least the second one.

That’s not much of a consolation prize as the often boring “Predators” finds a group of Earth-bound hunters, soldiers and killers mysteriously brought to another planet where they’re, once again, hunted down by Predators with a few new tricks up their sleeve (including some barely-glimpsed “Predator Dogs”). Leading the humans is mercenary Adrien Brody, which alone presents part of this picture’s problem: it says something about genre films produced in 2010 that instead of strong, physically imposing action heroes we have Brody, whose lack of physical presence is compounded by a charisma-free performance where the actor seems to be channeling Christian Bale as Batman with his monotone delivery.

Unsurprisingly, Brody is blown away on-screen by Larry Fishburne and his all-too-brief cameo as a human who’s spent just a little too much time in the Predator’s hunting ground – the “Fish” is completely over the top as he rolls his eyes and talks to an invisible “friend” about how to knock off Predators and what to do with the planet’s new human prey. If there was justice for genre flicks at the Oscars this is the very embodiment of an effective Supporting Actor performance, but perhaps Fishburne will get some more interesting roles off his memorable, albeit quick, contribution.

Otherwise, “Predators” is just by-the-numbers and more often than not dull: director Nimrod (all-too appropriate) Antal takes forever to get the movie started and isn’t particularly adept at staging action sequences, with too many run-ins with the Predators occurring in claustrophobic quarters. The editing and choreography of these moments is awkwardly handled, while the story gives viewers nothing new -- and little in the way of amusing lines or character development. There’s no suspense, no excitement here, and it all ends, appropriately enough, with a completely open final scene setting the stage for another sequel which, judging from the film’s only modest box-office receipts, is unlikely to come to fruition.

Fox’s Blu-Ray edition of “Predators” at least looks good: the AVC encoded 1080p transfer doing justice to the film’s often dim cinematography. The DTS Master Audio sound is nicely textured with effects and John Debney’s music, which uses more than a few quotes from Alan Silvestri’s original “Predator” score. Extras include commentary from Rodriguez and Antal, plus a few deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes featurettes, a digital copy, and a “motion comics” prequel to the film.

ROBOCOP TRILOGY Blu-Ray (MGM/Fox): High-defintion anthology offers all three installments of Orion Picutres’ late ‘80s/early ‘90s sci-fi franchise, with a reprise of its 2007 “Robocop” Blu-Ray release and the HD debuts of poorly-received sequels “Robocop 2" and “Robocop 3.” Since director Darren Aronofsky’s planned updating of the series is on hold given MGM’s financial woes, this is the best look we’re going to have at the hulking robotic police officer for some time to come.

The original ROBOCOP (***, 103 mins., 1987) was one of the big hits of the summer of 1987, and has been released in a number of different video releases over the years. MGM’s Blu-Ray does contain its unrated version on a MPEG-2 encoded, single-layer 25GB Blu Ray platter, and while the transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack are both satisfactory (if seemingly culled from an older, pre-existing HD master), it offers none of the special features from its multiple DVD editions (commentaries, featurettes, etc.).

That original Blu-Ray release is offered here alongside the format premieres of the reprehensible ROBOCOP 2 (*½, 117 mins., 1990, R) and the uninspired ROBOCOP 3 (**, 1992, 105 mins., PG-13), which sat on the Orion shelves for nearly two years before being released to negligible box-office returns in the fall of '93. The latter boasts Jill Hennessy in an early lead role and Robert John Burke in Peter Weller's metallic footsteps. Thankfully, as tedious as Fred Dekker's more kid-centric PG-13 rated film is, it's not nearly as much of a disaster as Irvin Kershner's near-franchise-killing first sequel, which indulges in sadistic violence and bad taste in a way that makes Verhoeven's original almost seem tame by comparison.
Extras are limited to trailers on the two sequels, while the AVC-encoded 1080p transfers and DTS Master Audio soundtracks (presented on 50gb discs) have clearly been more newly mastered than the original “Robocop.” No matter what audio format you hear it in, though, Leonard Rosenman's score from "Robocop 2" is still an abomination. Sing with me now: “Ro-bo-cop!”

MIRRORS 2 Blu-Ray and DVD (90 mins., 2010, Unrated; Fox): Direct-to-video sequel to the Kiefer Sutherland horror outing “Mirrors” is more of a shlocker than its predecessor with a young woman seeking revenge from beyond the grave for her murder, and assorted victims lined up as lambs for the slaughter. A few familiar young faces (Nick Stahl, Christy [formerly Carlson] Romano, Emmanuelle Vaugier) pop up in this fairly well-executed variation on both its predecessor and corresponding Korean version “Into the Mirror,” though the movie is more violent than actually scary. Fox’s Blu-Ray edition of “Mirrors 2" sports a good-looking AVC-encoded 1080p transfer, DTS Master soundtrack, deleted scenes, and a couple of featurettes, along with the DVD version of the film, which offers the same extras along with the entire “Into the Mirror” feature and a lenticular 3-D cover.

ALTITUDE Blu-Ray (**, 90 mins., 2010, R; Anchor Bay): Agreeably made, low-budget horror outing follows a group of five teens on a small plane where all kinds of supernatural shenanigans and time paradoxes occur. Graphic novelist Kaare Andrews displays a good sense of visuals so although “Altitude”’s story isn’t anything sensational, the picture is watchable enough for what it is, with a not-bad ending almost salvaging its routine elements. Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray boasts a nice 1080p transfer with Dolby TrueHD audio and a number of extras including commentary with the director, a concepts gallery and several featurettes.

TV On Disc

I’ve written in the past that DESIGNING WOMEN re-runs managed to get me through my first year of college. No matter what time I’d come in from class up at Ithaca College, one of several different stations would be airing syndicated repeats of the popular CBS prime-time series – one of the top sitcoms of its era and a show that still manages to entertain through its sharp writing and peerless ensemble cast.

Season 4 of the series (1989-90, 10 hours) is one of the show’s best, if not arguably its finest altogether. Linda Bloodworth-Thomason’s 27-episode fourth season neatly ranges from shows that are silly and just plain funny (“Julia Gets Her Head Stuck in a Fence,” “Julia and Suzanne’s Big Adventure”) to others with strong dramatic content, like “They Shoot Fat Women, Don’t They?,” which directly dealt with star Delta Burke’s weight gain and earned a wealth of critical kudos. By this point in time the show had established its footing and the timing of the cast is on-target at every step, whether it’s pushing some of its social messages or just producing laughs.

Shout Factory’s Season 4 DVD set of “Designing Women” looks just fine with its full-screen transfers and mono soundtracks. No extras are on-hand, but a nice color booklet offers a titles-and-airdates guide along with full color photos.

FALLEN Blu-Ray (4 hours, 2007; Image): Surprisingly watchable ABC Family mini-series thankfully has nothing to do with the dismal Denzel Washington thriller “Fallen.” Rather, this teen-centric drama follows an 18-year-old orphan (Paul Wesley from “The Vampire Diaries”) who finds out he’s a fallen angel dubbed the “Redeemer” who has the potential to send other angels, cast out of heaven, back home, while battling other villains. Based on a series of young adult novels “Fallen” is more than serviceably executed for what it is, with decent special effects, a nice mix of drama and fantasy, and religious themes all thrown in for good measure.

Image’s Blu-Ray includes the complete, three-part series as it aired on ABC Family in 2006-07 with excellent AVC encoded 1080p transfers and uncompressed PCM audio tracks. Extras include a BD-exclusive interview with Wesley.

NEXT TIME: The first discs of November! 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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