11/1/05 Edition

Aisle Seat November Arrival Edition

plus: paramount catalog titles, hammett, battle of britain & more

Quick note before we start this week: don't forget to check out the Aisle Seat Message Boards, where we currently have a discussion about real-life ghost stories going on....in celebration of Halloween, of course! Don't forget to post your thoughts and personal experiences...and don't be afraid to do so!

As we hit November 1st (already?), the new TV season is certainly off and running. Already a handful of new shows have proven to be big hits, while a number of older series (“Smallville” in particular) have seen ratings increases, almost certainly helped by robust sales of DVD box sets.

Here’s our latest Aisle Seat round-up of new TV on DVD box sets: from sitcoms to seriousness, sci-fi to the silliest moments of “The Brady Bunch,” there’s a show (or two) to match any viewer’s persuasion this month.

VERONICA MARS: SEASON ONE (2004-05). 22 episodes, Warner Home Video, Aisle Seat DVD Pick of the Week. WHEN DID IT AIR: Tuesdays, 9pm, UPN. THE RUNDOWN: Chief among my current favorite shows, Rob Thomas’ smart, sassy series boasts some of the strongest writing on the small-screen today. Kristen Bell is a revelation as Veronica Mars, an enterprising high school student still recovering from the murder of best friend Lilly Kane. While a man sits on death row awaiting his execution for Lilly’s death, Veronica attempts to find out the real culprit behind Lilly’s murder and examines a number of possible suspects, including her ex-boyfriend (Teddy Dunn), the immature son (Jason Dohring) of a box-office superstar (Harry Hamlin), and the school’s resident tough guy (Francis Capra). Meanwhile, Veronica’s father -- Neptune, California’s former police sheriff (the wonderful Enrico Colantoni) -- now works as a local private eye, which enables our heroine to tackle a variety of other cases along the way. WHY IT WORKS: Fully developed characters and fresh writing that’s funny and biting without ever becoming pretentious (something Joss Whedon’s series often had issues with), “Veronica Mars” is as good as it gets in modern dramatic television. With a gripping central mystery and episodes that vary from suspenseful to hilarious, there’s no show currently more satisfying on TV than this one. Bell’s remarkable performance and the work of a superb ensemble also make this one of the most essential DVD box sets of the year. WHAT DOESN’T WORK: Not much...in fact, the only curse of “Veronica Mars” has been low ratings. Opposite “Lost,” the series hasn’t gained much ground in the Nielsens since moving to Wednesdays this season (it’s improved a little), which means this critically acclaimed show remains buried to a lot of viewers. DVD FEATURES: Warner’s six-disc box set offers highly satisfying 16:9 transfers with 2.0 Dolby Digital soundtracks. Though there aren’t a lot of special features, over 20 minutes of deleted scenes are on-hand, along with an elongated edit of the show’s pilot. For the latter alone, the set comes strongly recommended for fans and first-time viewers alike. ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: Given the show’s ratings, there’s a good chance that most viewers haven’t ever turned on “Veronica Mars.” If you haven’t, you’re missing out: this is one enormously entertaining series, far more than just another “teen” show or even the “modern Nancy Drew” some have called it. Acting, directing, and writing are top-notch across the board, making DVD a potential haven for viewers who missed the series’ first season. If you missed it before, it goes without writing that you have no excuse now!

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: SEASON ONE (2003-04). 13 episodes (plus mini-series), Universal. WHEN DID IT AIR: Fridays, Sci-Fi Channel. THE RUNDOWN: Smart, exciting modern remake of the ‘70s sci-fi favorite improves immeasurably upon its predecessor. The central scenario remains the same: in a distant galaxy, the long-dormant, robotic Cylons revive to destroy all remnants of humanity, while the surviving humans -- led by a reluctant President (Mary McDonnell) and the gruff Commander Adama (Edward James Olmos) -- try and navigate through the universe to find Earth...if it actually exists. WHY IT’S WORTH YOUR TIME: Developed characters, intense dramatic situations that result from genuine human emotion -- not just special effects -- and tremendous performances make “Battlestar Galactica” one of the top series (and not just a genre series, either) on the air today. “Next Generation” vet Ronald D. Moore spearheaded this serious reworking of the old Universal series, which die-hard fans of the old show objected to for about five minutes...until it was clear that the new version is a far better work of science fiction and overall drama in every way, shape and form. WHAT DOESN’T WORK: Sometimes a bit slow moving, “Battlestar Galactica” doesn’t provide the upbeat enthusiasm of its “Star Wars”-influenced predecessor. Once you get into it, however, the series provides a level of character depth and involvement few sci-fi series have ever achieved. DVD FEATURES: Universal’s five-disc DVD box set offers exemplary 16:9 transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks. The original, two-part pilot mini-series is present, along with the 13 episodes from the “First Season.” Commentaries from the show’s creators are on-hand for the pilot and nine of the hour-long episodes, while extras (on disc five) include numerous behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, storyboards and more. ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: Whether you disliked or loved the original “Battlestar Galactica” is irrelevant to one’s enjoyment of the new “BG.” From Tricia Helfer’s sexy Cylon to the terrific lead work turned in by Olmos and McDonnell, this is a rare genre show that reaches dramatic heights that few other series have ascended to in recent years. Universal’s attractive box set packages the essential mini-series with the initial 13 series episodes, making for a highly recommended package all around. A must!

STAR TREK ENTERPRISE: SEASON FOUR (2004-05). 22 episodes, Paramount. WHEN DID IT AIR: Fridays, 8pm, UPN. THE RUNDOWN: The fifth incarnation of Gene Roddenberry’s sci-fi franchise sailed off into the sunset in its fourth and final year. For the most part, “Enterprise” had a sturdy final frame courtesy of producer Manny Coto (one-time director of horror cult classic “Dr. Giggles”), who attempted to tie-in the series with the original show by way of references and storylines directly related to the exploits of Kirk, Spock and the gang. The latter can be felt most evidently in “In A Mirror Darkly,” a two-part salute to the original “Trek”’s classic “Mirror, Mirror.” There are a number of other story arcs which give the show more dramatic weight than it had before, but most of the good will is kiboshed in the hugely disappointing series finale, “These Are The Voyages.” WHY IT’S WORTH YOUR TIME: Fans who gave up on “Enterprise” missed some of the series’ strongest hours in its final season. The performances also carry a bit more urgency, something the early years of the show almost completely lacked. WHAT DOESN’T WORK: Instead of sending the Enterprise crew off on a strong note of their own, Rick Berman and Co. opted to have TNG vets Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis return to reprise their Riker and Troi roles, with Frakes mugging endlessly and the episode trying (but failing) to connect the dots between the respective “Trek” franchises. Needless to say it didn’t work. DVD RUNDOWN: Paramount concludes their superb “Trek” packages with a six-disc set sporting superior 16:9 transfers and 5.1 soundtracks. Given that this was the most recent edition of “Star Trek,” it should come as no surprise that “Enterprise” looks and sounds better than any of its predecessors on DVD. Special features are also on-hand, including the regulation deleted scenes, outtakes, and behind-the-scenes featurettes. ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: “Enterprise” had some strong moments and a likeable cast, but never really seemed to get into a comfortable groove during its four seasons. Perhaps its worst crime was that it was simply dull. Too many trips to the well resulted in the entire “Star Trek” franchise being put into an apparent hiatus, but one that seems to be a deserved one. A new take and a fresh creative team are needed to launch “Star Trek” back into orbit.

WAR OF THE WORLDS: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (1988-89). 23 episodes, Paramount. WHEN DID IT AIR: Weekends, syndicated to local affiliates (often paired with “Star Trek: The Next Generation”). THE RUNDOWN: 25 years after the events of the original “War of the Worlds,” the dormant alien bodies that the government rounded up return to life...just in time to complete the job they didn’t finish in George Pal’s classic film. Brash scientist Harrison Blackwood (Jared Martin), the surrogate son of the late Dr. Forrester, teams up with his beautiful new assistant (Lynda Mason Green) and an initially reluctant army colonel (Richard Chaves) in tracking down the extraterrestrials, who can now assume human bodies for a time before they decompose. WHY IT’S WORTH YOUR TIME: Though highly promoted by Paramount and paired in syndication with “Star Trek: The Next Generation” on most local stations, “War of the Worlds” never took off in the ratings. Now out on video for the first time, this somewhat pedestrian but well-acted show is a good deal more entertaining than I recall it being. Martin, Green and Chaves end up developing a decent chemistry with each other, and the references to the original Pal film (and even Orson Welles’ 1938 radio broadcast, here designated as the Martians’ first, failed invasion!) are neat. WHAT DOESN’T WORK: Despite using the design of the Martians and their ships from the Pal classic, the special effects are meager at best. The synthesized ‘80s score and modest production values have aged the show from a technical standpoint as well. DVD FEATURES: Paramount’s six-disc set includes all 23 episodes (including the 90-minute pilot) from the show’s first season. The full-screen transfers are fine, in keeping with the program’s modest production values, and any softness or grain inherent in the image is almost certainly a product of the latter. The stereo soundtrack is moderately effective. ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: Not groundbreaking or especially memorable, “War of the Worlds” serves up a modestly entertaining continuation of the original 1953 movie with amiable performances often compensating for sub-par production values and mostly routine scripts. Unsurprisingly, the show didn’t last for long: it returned for a second year by abruptly killing off two of its key characters and added a different group of aliens trying to invade the Earth (and fans, naturally, weren’t happy). Paramount’s set offers a satisfying presentation of this seldom-seen series, which ought to be of interest for sci-fi aficionados and fans of the original film. Recommended in spite of its production’s shortcomings.

THE BRADY BUNCH: COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON (1972-73). 23 episodes, Paramount. WHEN IT AIRED: Fridays, 8pm, ABC. THE RUNDOWN: Wilder, wackier, less grounded in reality...that just about sums up the fourth and penultimate season of “The Brady Bunch” on the ABC airwaves, which opens with the immortal three-part trip to Hawaii. Yes, it’s an epic, Brady style: the fam takes a vaco while Mike (Robert Reed) oversees a construction project. While groovin’ to some mellow tunes and hitting the surf, Bobby encounters an ancient Tiki idol that brings all kinds of bad luck with it, including a guest appearance by Vincent Price! As if the presence of that must-have story arc isn’t enough, Season Four also offers other Brady essentials such as “Today, I Am A Freshman,” “Cyrano De Brady,” “Fright Night” (a classic Halloween episode), “Jan, The Only Child,” “Career Fever,” “Everyone Can’t Be Benedict Arnold” (Peter branded a traitor), and “The Subject Was Noses.” The latter episode offers a guest star turn from future Spidey Nicholas Hammond and served as the basis for plenty of laughs in the later “Brady Bunch Movie.” DVD FEATURES: No supplements but high-quality full-screen transfers are on the docket here from Paramount. Once again, the studio has done an exceptional service to all Brady fans by including the rarely-seen, full-length broadcast episodes, which haven’t been screened since their original ABC runs. Great stuff. ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: Brady Bunch fans owe it to themselves to pick up Season Four. Though the show became more slapstick over time, it also loosened up, let its hair down (or, in the case of the Brady men, got their coiffures permed), and created some of the more indelible moments in Brady Bunch lore. Paramount’s DVD presentation once again gets the job done and comes highly recommended for all Bunch aficionados!

THE JEFFERSONS: COMPLETE SEASON 4 (1977-78). 26 episodes, Sony. WHEN DID IT AIR: Wednesdays, 8:30, CBS. THE RUNDOWN: One of TV’s all-time funniest sitcoms became even more entertaining in its fourth season on the airwaves. Despite the passing of George’s mother Olivia (Zara Cully) late in the season, a new character was added to the cast in the form of Marcus Garvey (Ernest Harden, Jr.), an employee at George Jefferson’s new store in the lobby of their building. For the most part, though, the one-liners and situations are just as amusing in the show’s fourth season as they ever were, with the series’ formula in peak form. The three-part “George and Louise in a Bind” was originally a 90-minute “flashback” episode filled with scenes from not just “The Jeffersons” but the characters’ initial appearance on “All in the Family.” DVD FEATURES: Sony’s latest “Jeffersons” box set offers three discs of competent full-screen transfers and mono sound. A one-page insert includes a brief synopsis of each episode. ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: I grew up on “The Jeffersons” and, unlike a lot of sitcoms I liked as a kid (“Gilligan’s Island,” anyone?), the show is still hilarious today. Sony’s DVD includes solid transfers for one of the show’s more “vintage” and wholly satisfying seasons. Recommended!

DARK SHADOWS: THE REVIVAL SERIES (1991). 12 episodes, MGM/Sony. WHEN DID IT AIR: Fridays, 10pm, NBC. THE RUNDOWN: Dan Curtis tried to revive his original day-time soap with a new, prime-time “Dark Shadows,” but the results were nowhere near as successful the second time around. A strong cast including Jean Simmons, Roy Thinnes, Lysette Anthony, Michael T. Weiss, and Adrian Paul were among those who stepped into the roles vacated by the original DS cast, but this NBC series lasted only three scant months on the airwaves. Perhaps the problem was in Ben Cross’ resident vampire Barnabas Collins, who never projects the kinds of menace or sexual energy one would associate with the role, and Joanna Going basically going nowhere in the plum dual role of Victoria Winters and Barnabas’ lost love, Josette. Production values on the series were high -- with decent special effects, Bob Cobert music, and directors including Curtis and future “X-Files” helmer Rob Bowman -- but the remake of “Dark Shadows” was not long for this world. (Don’t worry, fans: another version is in the works!). DVD FEATURES: The prints are in decent shape, but why in the world did MGM opt to master this 1991 series in 16:9 widescreen? There’s no way “Dark Shadows” would have been framed for widescreen, so this move to placate 16:9 TV owners comes at the expense of the series’ original 1.33 aspect ratio. No special features are included. ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: Fairly entertaining, this short-lived revival would have been more satisfying on DVD had the show been framed in its proper full-screen ratio. Why things like this keep happening are anyone’s guess, but it’s a disappointment on an otherwise competent, no-frills box set from MGM.

ALIAS: COMPLETE SEASON 4 (2004-05). 22 episodes, Buena Vista. WHEN DID IT AIR: Wednesdays, 9pm, ABC. THE RUNDOWN: Secret agent Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) is back -- and once again wrapped up in a myriad of story lines, including a growing relationship (of the romantic kind) with partner Michael Vartan, the emergence of her half-sister Nadia (Mia Maestro) in the “Black Ops” squad that Sydney now finds herself a part of, and the bizarre appearance of ex-villain Ron Rifkin, now leading that very group! WHY IT’S WORTH YOUR TIME: Solidly acted, occasionally witty, and always intriguing, “Alias” is a unique series that gets back on-track in Season Four after a poorly received third season. WHAT DOESN’T WORK: Alas, creator J.J. Abrams’ action-adventure-thriller has gotten itself tangled in its own strange narrative web to the point where -- if you’re not a long-time “Alias” viewer -- it’s difficult to plunge into a new episode and garner much satisfaction from the show. The series’ depth, then, is both a blessing (for fans) and a curse...for everyone else. DVD RUNDOWN: Buena Vista’s six-disc set includes an ample amount of bonus content, including an interview with Jennifer Garner, deleted scenes, bloopers, numerous interviews and more. The 16:9 enhanced transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks are all top-notch for the small-screen. ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: “Alias” devotees will find Buena Vista’s DVD presentation to be highly rewarding, thanks to its copious supplements and strong technical presentation.

KOLCHAK - THE NIGHT STALKER: The Complete Series (1974-75). 20 episodes, Universal. WHEN DID IT AIR: Fridays, 10pm, ABC. THE RUNDOWN: Fresh off a pair of top-rated TV movies, Darren McGavin’s irascible reporter Carl Kolchak soon settled into his own weekly series. Though not as well-received as Dan Curtis’ original tele-films (“Night Stalker” and “Night Strangler”), there’s plenty of entertainment to be found in Kolchak’s 20 one-hours, including run-ins with Jack the Ripper, a voodoo priestess, extraterrestrials, vampires, werewolves, The Devil himself, a Native American medicine man, a headless motorcyclist, a Bayou “bogeyman,” and a crocodile-like creature...the latter guest starring Tom Bosley! WHY IT’S WORTH YOUR TIME: “Kolchak” set the standard for numerous genre series that followed, including Chris Carter’s “The X-Files.” Forget the current modern-day remake: the “old school” Kolchak is as hip as they come, with McGavin’s engaging persona making for the perfect counterpoint to the weekly supernatural goings-on. WHAT DOESN’T WORK: The series quickly settled into a formula and never lives up to the precedent established by its two, Richard Matheson-penned predecessors. Though I enjoyed catching up with the episodes I hadn’t viewed before, it’s fairly evident why “Kolchak” wasn’t renewed for subsequent seasons. DVD RUNDOWN: Universal’s three-disc box set includes all 20 episodes from “Kolchak”’s first and only season. The full-screen transfers look to be in decent condition -- a bit worn but unsurprising given how little the full series has been screened over the years. The mono sound, sporting a moody theme by Gil Melle, is in similar shape. ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: Entertaining in spite of its silliness, “Kolchak” has at last arrived on DVD in a quality box set from Universal. McGavin’s performance anchors the series through its strongest (and weakest) hours, and fans ought to be more than pleased with the series’ DVD box set.

ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS: SEASON ONE (1955-56). 39 episodes, Universal. WHEN DID IT AIR: Sundays, 9:30, CBS. THE RUNDOWN: The esteemed director stepped into television with this marvelous, long-running anthology series. The half-hour, self-contained stories ranged from lighthearted to deadly serious, offering turns from a variety of stars, writers and directors, and all framed by humorous introductions by The Master himself. In its best moments, “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” is representative of some of the finest of ‘50s television -- a remarkable achievement given the wealth of quality on the broadcast spectrum at that time. The episodes collected here include: Revenge, Premonition, Triggers in Leash, Don't Come Back Alive, Into Thin Air (also known as The Vanishing Lady), Salvage,  Breakdown, Our Cook's Treasure, The Long Shot, The Case of Mr. Pelham, Guilty Witness, Santa Claus and the 10th Avenue Kid, The Cheney Vase, A Bullet for Baldwin, The Big Switch, You Got to Have Luck, The Older Sister, Shopping for Death, The Derelicts, And So Died Riabouchinska, Safe Conduct, Place of Shadows, Back for Christmas, The Perfect Murder, There Was An Old Woman, Whodunit?, Help Wanted, Portrait of Jocelyn, The Orderly World of Mr. Appleby, Never Again, The Gentleman from America, The Babysitter, The Belfry, The Hidden Thing, The Legacy, Mink, Decoy, The Creeper, and Momentum. DVD RUNDOWN: The set’s packaging is rather plain (some information about the respective episodes would have been welcome), but Universal has included a bonus featurette, “Alfred Hitchcock Presents: A Look Back,” offering comments from Pat Hitchcock, producer Norman Lloyd and assistant director Hilton A. Green. Some viewers have reported trouble with Universal’s DVD-18 (dual layer discs glued together) format, which was utilized in this set. All I can tell you is I’ve yet to have an issue with any of Universal’s discs, though readers on The Aisle Seat forum will tell you otherwise. The black-and-white transfers look to be in decent, satisfying condition. It has also been noted that, in many cases, Hitchcock’s introductions and epilogues have been trimmed slightly, to edit out the sponsor names of that particular show, but it’s not a major problem (some long-time fans, however, have reported other Hitch sequences being edited for no apparent reason here). Whatever you do, however, make sure to bypass the episode summaries, which precede the individual shows and divulge the twists for most episodes! ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: One of the best anthologies produced for television, this three-disc box-set offers ample value for your viewing dollar (the set retails for under $30 in most outlets), and a decent package (sans an insert) to boot.

JEOPARDY: An Inside Look At America’s Favorite Quiz Show! (2005). Aprx. 101 minutes, Sony, available November 8th. THE RUNDOWN: Merv Griffin’s game show empire began with this still-running viewer favorite. In this single-disc DVD from Sony, host Alex Trebek takes you behind the scenes with a look at how the ever-popular syndicated series is produced, offering ample footage and interviews with the show’s unheralded behind-the-scenes staff. One episode is even included with five different angles available for your viewing disposal, while five full shows are also on-hand: Trebek’s first “Jeopardy!” from the current incarnation’s beginning in 1984; all-time champ Ken Jennings’ losing 75th episode (how did he ever write “FedEx” in that Final Jeopardy answer? Looks to me like he might have just wanted out!); and the three-part “Ultimate Champions” show, which was culled from the recent airwaves. Other extras include additional featurettes giving the “Jeopardy!” fan all they ever wanted to know about how the show is manufactured. ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: Fun for fans. I may be wrong but -- if memory serves -- this is the very first game show released in the DVD medium. Sony’s DVD approaches the subject matter from the angle one would anticipate, giving the viewer a decent (but not exhaustive) examination of what makes “Jeopardy!” tick. The multi-angle feature is fun but the quality of video presented is poor, making the most entertaining element of the DVD being the inclusion of five full episodes. If you’ve seen them before, well, there’s always a new show somewhere on the dial later on this evening.

Paramount Catalog Titles: Noir and More

WARNING SHOT (***, 1967, 99 mins.; Paramount): After pulling the trigger on a mysterious man with a gun who turns out to be a seemingly benevolent L.A. doctor, cop David Janssen is suspended from the force. The District Attorney (Sam Wanamaker) wants him to hang for his reckless behavior, but Janssen believes there’s more to the mystery of the doctor’s whereabouts than initially appears.

One of several late ‘60s attempts at updating a ‘40s “film noir,” “Warning Shot” boasts a number of “Guest Star” supporting turns, including Joan Collins (as Janssen’s soon-to-be ex-wife), Carroll O’Connor (the judge), Eleanor Parker (the late doctor’s floozy of a bride), Ed Begley (Janssen’s boss at the precinct), Stefanie Powers (the doctor’s office nurse), Steve Allen (a local talk show host), Lillian Gish (a possible witness), and George Grizzard (playboy pilot) among them. Producer-director Buzz Kulik was never particularly renowned for his artistry, but “Warning Shot” is an effective, no-frills action-thriller. TV veterans Kulik and writer Mann Rubin (adapting a Whit Masterson novel) fashion a taut late ‘60s piece with a solid performance from Janssen and a swingin’ jazz score by Jerry Goldsmith that’s infectious at every turn.

Paramount’s DVD presentation of this entertaining period piece is superb: the 1.85, 16:9 enhanced transfer is in excellent condition and the mono soundtrack swells with Goldsmith’s memorable soundtrack, still one of his most satisfying “unreleased” works.

HAMMETT (**½, 1982, 97 mins., PG; Paramount): Francis Ford Coppola produced this troubled but beautifully designed homage to the detective thriller.

Frederic Forrest stars as author Dashiell Hammett, hired by an old friend (Peter Boyle) to track down a missing girl in Chinatown...but nothing is as straightforward, of course, as it seems.

Wim Wenders made his American debut directing this evocative period piece, with splendidly atmospheric sets by Dean Tavoularis and an appropriately jazzy score from John Barry. Alas, “Hammett” was beset by production problems, including the first version of the movie being mostly discarded. Brian Keith was replaced by Boyle after the initial production was deemed to be a disaster, while Ronee Blakeley and Sylvia Miles originally played major roles, both ultimately excised altogether from the “second” version of the movie. Meanwhile, Ross Thomas and Thomas Pope re-worked Dennis O’Flaherty’s initial screenplay (adapted from Joe Gores’ book), with Philip Lathrop coming aboard to supervise new cinematography (Joseph Biroc shot Wenders’ original version).

Paramount’s DVD unfortunately includes no supplements, offering only a satisfying 1.85 widescreen transfer (enhanced for 16:9 TVs) with a quietly effective 2.0 Dolby Surround soundtrack.

“Hammett” is sort of a sleepy film: filled with marvelous attention to detail and a moody Barry score, it nevertheless struggles to capture the viewer’s attention. It’s unfortunate that Zoetrope wasn’t involved in the DVD’s supplements, since the opportunity was here to screen the never-before-seen first version of the movie with Brian Keith. The mystery over what happened to Wenders’ initial cut of “Hammett” remains one that the author himself would have found to be a puzzling one. (Note: click here for a PDF file that includes the original cast and synopsis of the movie before it was re-filmed).

SAVE THE TIGER (**, 1973, 100 mins., R; Paramount): Jack Lemmon deservedly copped an Oscar for his performance as a beleaguered businessman watching the American Dream fade away in writer Steve Shagan’s often pretentious diatribe against “The System.” Directed by John G. “Rocky” Avildsen, “Save The Tiger” is a film that hasn’t aged well: the movie’s then-liberal use of profanity (hear Jack Gilford drop an f-bomb!) and adult themes were shocking to audiences used to seeing Lemmon play light comedy roles, but these days, the movie comes across as little more than a watered-down “Death of a Salesman.” Still, as a product of its time, “Save The Tiger” provides an intriguing view, and Lemmon’s superb, layered performance remains one of his finest. Paramount’s DVD offers a crisp, vibrant 16:9 transfer and satisfying mono soundtrack, along with a commentary with Shagan and Avildsen -- one that’s in many ways more interesting than watching the film itself.

DETECTIVE STORY (***, 1951, 103 mins.; Paramount): Dated is one word to describe William Wyler’s 1951 adaptation of Sidney Kingsley’s stage play, starring Kirk Douglas as a hardened NYC detective who has to cope with a number of problems. Chief among those is the growing tension between he and wife Eleanor Parker, who harbors a shameful secret, and a bevy of everyday cases, including an early role for Lee Grant as a shoplifter and future 007 villain Joseph Wiseman as a petty thief. Robert Wyler (older brother of the director) and Philip Yordan adapted Kingsley’s play, retaining the taut dialogue and dramatic situations that were quite frank for their time -- something you have to keep in mind since any episode of “Law and Order” is more graphic than “Detective Story.” What keeps the film worthy of viewing are the performances, including William Bendix (as a precinct detective), Wiseman, Grant, Parker, and Douglas as the uncompromising protagonist, whose tough-guy antics mask a bitter and despondent personality. Paramount’s full-frame black-and-white transfer is in excellent condition, as is the mono soundtrack.

Also New on DVD

HERBIE FULLY LOADED (**½, 2005). 102 mins., G, Disney. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Deleted Scenes; Commentary; Bloopers; Music Video, Making Of Featurettes; 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Innocuous modern update to the Herbie formula puts Lindsay Lohan through the standard issue paces of stars like Dean Jones and Don Knotts before her: into the front seat of the little, adorable Volkswagon Buggie with a mind of his own. Yes my friends, Herbie is back...and he’s back big! OK, maybe not that big -- “Herbie: Fully Loaded” managed to gross a respectable $61 million or so at the box-office last summer, not a bad amount considering its comparatively weak opening weekend.

This sometimes amiable remake from director Angela Robinson also stars Michael Keaton as her NASCAR driving dad, Justin Long as a member of their crew, Breckin Meyer as Lohan’s brother, and Matt Dillon chewing up the scenery as the heavy. The Thomas Lennon-Robert Ben Garant script was reworked by “Smallville” scribes Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, who try and develop the Keaton-Lohan father-daughter relationship as the centerpiece of the movie. This leaves Long, Meyer and Dillon without much to do, while the movie seems a bit unsure as to whether to go for the slapstick laughs of its predecessors or adhere to the confines of a more traditional family drama. Either way, the film is slight and forgettable but still provides inoffensive entertainment for youngsters.

Disney’s DVD offers an alternate opening and numerous deleted scenes with commentary from Robinson, who also provides a talk throughout the movie. Bloopers, a Lohan music video, and several Behind the Scenes featurettes round out the disc.

BATTLE OF BRITAIN: Collector’s Edition (**½, 1969). 132 mins., G, MGM/Sony. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary; Optional William Walton Score, Documentary and Featurettes; 2.35 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital.

Being able to watch a movie and choose, on the fly, between two different soundtracks is something that most soundtrack lovers can only dream about. Just imagine watching Something This Way Comes and being able to flip between Georges Delerue and James Horner's respective efforts; selecting from Alex North's 2001 or Stanley Kubrick's mix of the contemporary and classical; or turning off Horner's “Troy” in favor of Gabriel Yared's superb unused score.

While such opportunities are limited, viewers overseas have had the rare chance to watch the 1969 WWII epic “Battle of Britain” with either Ron Goodwin's score from its original theatrical release, or William Walton's original music, which was -- with the exception of the climactic "Battle In the Air" cue -- entirely discarded. Now that release has arrived on this side of the Atlantic, with MGM’s domestic 2-DVD Special Edition newly available in stores.

Much has been written about the two scores over the years, and recent CD re-issues from Rykodisc and Varese have coupled Goodwin and Walton's scores on the same platter, allowing for closer examination by listeners. Nothing, though, approaches the thrill of being able to actually watch “Battle of Britain” with Walton's score having been properly mixed back into the film, and seeing it intact, on-screen, for the first time.
Decidedly more classical in approach, Walton's music may be stiffer and less accessible than Goodwin's comparatively upbeat, march-laden offering. However, Walton's music does give the picture a greater depth dramatically than Goodwin's, being more mature and relatively introspective. There are also a few scattered instances of Walton scoring scenes that Goodwin opted not to and vice versa, though for the most part, both works are utilized sparsely during the course of the 132-minute film.
The mere fact that you can choose between the two scores is an educational and altogether fascinating feature for film score scholars and aficionados. Unfortunately, while the overseas Special Edition offered both scores in 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital, the domestic DVD offers the two scores only in 5.1 Dolby Digital, which may disappoint some audiophiles.

The remaining supplements on MGM’s new DVD are a straight reprisal of the overseas release: a solid commentary track with director Guy Hamilton, aerial sequence director Bernard Williams and historian Paul Annett; the “Battle For The Battle of Britain” documentary, and three featurettes plus an animated photo gallery. The 2.35 (16:9 enhanced) transfer seems to be a hair better than its previous DVD release as well.

NEXT TIME: Cameron’s ALIENS OF THE DEEP, Universal’s Sensational Hitchcock Box Set and More!
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