While fans have debated for decades over
its standing in the pantheon of Gene Roddenberry’s universe,
there’s little question in my mind that STAR TREK: THE
ANIMATED ADVENTURES (1973-75)
deserves to be placed in the
“official” canon of the Trek galaxy.
The last among the respective Star Trek series to reach DVD, there was
some question if this Emmy-winning, early ‘70s Filmation
adaptation of “Star Trek” would be revived at all. Some
Trekkies have thumbed their nose at the colorful, Saturday morning
adventures of Kirk, Spock and the Enterprise crew, saying the more
juvenile-oriented fare shouldn’t be placed on a pedestal with the
scripts of the original series.
However, Paramount’s new, four-disc DVD compilation (available
November 21st) of the complete “Animated Series” makes a
pretty good case that it should.
Using several writers from the original series (including David Gerrold
and D.C. Fontana) and recruiting the entire cast from William Shatner
and Leonard Nimoy down to “Harry Mudd” himself, Roger C.
Carmel, this respectful continuation of the live-action series is
satisfying for both kids and adults alike. Though the plots tend to be
more outlandish in nature and the stock music recycled from show to
show (there’s no Alexander Courage theme here but a carefully
re-arranged rip-off instead), the spirit of the original “Star
Trek” shines through with references to its predecessor’s
various episodes, sequels to original stories (including
“Mudd’s Passion” and “More Tribbles, More
Troubles”), and some superb efforts of its own (particularly the
moving episode “Yesteryear,” involving a juvenile Spock and
his favorite pet, who dies trying to save his young charge’s
The animation is standard Filmation fare, but the design of the
characters, original cast involvement, and use of the show’s
sound effects compensate for the occasionally limited visuals. Even the
lone absence among the cast -- no sign of Pavel Chekov, for whatever
reason -- is off-set by star Walter Koenig’s involvement behind
the camera, penning the episode “The Infinite Vulcan.”
At its best, the “Animated Series” feels like entertaining,
old-school Original Series Trek -- just with ‘70s Saturday
morning animation substituting for live-action. Those who’ve
never sampled the series are urged to check Paramount’s release,
as are fans who haven’t seen the series in years.
The transfers are as vibrant and colorful as any Filmation series could
possibly look, while Paramount has done an exceptional job remixing the
original mono sound for 5.1 stereo.
Fans will also enjoy a good, if not overwhelming, assortment of special
features: a 20-minute documentary on the production sports interviews
with Filmation’s Lou Scheimer and Hal Sutherland among staff
writers; a multi-part segment connects the dots between various
“Animated Series” elements and other Trek series and films;
and commentaries are on-hand as well, including writer David Wise, Trek
experts Denise and Michael Okuda (who contribute three text trivia
tracks), and David Gerrold, who talks about his contributions with
“Bem” and “More Tribbles, More Trouble.”
More Paramount TV on DVD
Frank Drebin fans rejoice!
It’s taken more time than we might have liked, but the Complete Series
of POLICE SQUAD!
(1982, 150 mins., Paramount)
has finally landed on DVD courtesy
This short-lived (six episodes) ABC series ran in the summer of 1982
and garnered minuscule ratings in spite of positive reviews...a shame
at the time, since this effort from the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker trio
attempted to do for TV cop series what “Airplane!” did for
big-screen parodies in the early ‘80s: offer rapid-fire gags,
hilarious fake “freeze frame” endings, and boast the
participation of guest stars who never made it out of the opening
It was all ahead of its time, but the ZAZ crew clearly had the right
idea: this detective saga would later be spun-off into “The Naked
Gun” some six years later, recycling many of the same gags and
offering Leslie Nielsen reprising his role (co-star Alan North would be
replaced by...O.J. Simpson!).
Paramount’s single-disc DVD presents all of the series’ six
shows in satisfying full-screen transfers with even better 5.1 Dolby
Digital stereo soundtracks. Three commentary tracks (two by the ZAZ
guys and producer Robert K. Weiss; another by staff writer Robert Wuhl)
are on-hand, plus a gag reel and some extra “Freeze Frame”
footage shot for an aborted attempt at editing all the episodes
together for European theatrical exhibition. An interview with Leslie
Nielsen, audition tapes, and other goodies round out a splendid package
that’s one of my favorite DVDs of 2006 to date.
Two of producer Aaron Spelling’s most memorable ‘90s series
arrive also on DVD at long last in satisfying presentations from
Outside of my high school and college graduations just happening to
coincide with the same years as the characters on BEVERLY HILLS, 90210
I have to admit that I couldn’t really relate to Brandon, Brenda
and the gang on Fox’s long-running teen soaper. I mean, things in
my high school didn’t really match up with the surf, sand, and
obviously too-old students (I’m talking about you, Steve
Sanders!) who populated the halls of “90210" -- but that being
said, that fantasy aspect was also part of the series’ charm.
Paramount’s six-disc DVD box set offers respectable full-screen
transfers for the first, breakthrough
(1990-91) of “90210" on the Fox airwaves, and
watching it truly is like experiencing a blast in the past. Here are
all the characters as young, impressionable teens (except for Ian
Zierling and Luke Perry, who seemed too old even then as bad-boy
Dylan), in stories that definitely have more of an “Afterschool
Special” sort of feel to them than the years that followed, when
soap opera-ish romances were played up (indeed, the demise of Brian
Austin Green’s best friend -- and first season cast member --
provided one of the tragic moments in season 2).
Nevertheless, the cast, from Ziering’s Steve Sanders to Jennie
Garth’s good-girl Kelly, remains one of the series’ most
enduring elements, and the constant, episodic progression from light
subplot to heavy-handed melodrama is something that kept the series
going for years. (Even after Shannen Doherty’s departure
“90210" had something of a creative renaissance while it entered
the Tiffani-Amber Thiessen years!)
Supplements here include several retrospective featurettes, an
interview with creator Darren Star, plus selected commentaries by Star.
Obviously, highly recommended for fans!
Also recommended for fans is the Complete
of another Spelling/Star creation, MELROSE PLACE
, a spin-off from “90210" that focused on the
older exploits of twentysomethings at an L.A. apartment complex.
The show launched in 1992 (during 90210's third season) and lacked the
more appealing characters from its younger, earlier-time slot brethren.
More of an explicit night-time soap opera, “Melrose”
nevertheless quickly gained its own following and really took off once
Heather Locklear joined the cast as the scheming “Amanda.”
Paramount’s eight-disc set offers solid full-screen transfers, an
episode guide, mini-featurettes including a retrospective look back,
and 2.0 Dolby Surround soundtracks.
Last but not least from Paramount is the
Complete First Season
of THE GHOST WHISPERER
the successful CBS Friday night series with Jennifer
Love Hewitt as a regular antiques dealer (and newly-wed) who also
happens to be able to communicate with dearly (and sometimes
not-so-dearly) departed souls.
Though it quickly settles into a formula, “The Ghost
Whisperer” is entertaining, if predictable, episodic television.
Anchored by Love Hewitt’s enormously appealing performance (her
visual assets don’t hurt, either), this series offers family
drama, supernatural thrills, and usually a good amount of mystery in
each show as Hewitt’s heroine Melinda Gordon assists ghosts with
whatever matters are preventing them from “crossing over”
to the other side (be it an unfinished relationship or seeking the
cause of their deaths). Supporting our heroine is David Conrad, who
does a particularly nice job as Melinda’s husband -- a
firefighter with a strong base in reality, who can’t see or hear
the spooky happenings his wife does.
“The Ghost Whisperer” won’t win a Peabody, Pulitzer,
or Emmy, but it’s engaging and entertaining, well-produced with
fairly involving story lines (aside from a clunker here or there).
However, it’s the cast that really puts the show over the top,
with a couple you can root for and some more dramatic passages that
close the year on a high note.
Paramount’s six-disc box set offers all 22 episodes from the
first season in sharp 1.78 (16:9) transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital
soundtracks. A good amount of extras include several featurettes,
numerous commentary tracks, deleted scenes, and a blooper reel.
New From Fox
It might be uneven but the return of FAMILY GUY
the airwaves last year was a sight for sore eyes for fans of Seth
MacFarlane’s ribald and often hilarious animated series.
Fox’s prior “Volume 3" DVD box set offered
the first half of the “new” episodes (first broadcast from
January-September 2005), and now the studio is back with another new
DVD compilation, VOLUME 4 (2005-06,
, which sports the second half of last season’s
Though the newer “Family Guy” shows tend to be a bit more
erratic than the program’s early years, there are some definite
gems in this group of 14 episodes, which originally aired from November
2005 through this past May.
Top of the lot is “Brian Goes Back to College,” which finds
the Griffin’s canine attempting to get his degree at Brown while
Peter parodies “The A-Team” in what’s arguably the
most satisfying episode of the newer shows.
Other solid episodes find Peter establishing his own Church of the Holy
Fonz; Stewie and Brian further cultivating their “Odd
Couple” relationship as they try and form their own “Brat
Pack”; Stewie taking on arch-rival biological brother Bertram;
and a fitfully amusing parody of “Poltergeist” complete
with Jerry Goldsmith’s original music and ample references to the
1982 Spielberg production (there’s also a hysterical parody of
the old Tri-Star Pictures logo!).
As with the series’ original batch of episodes, MacFarlane and
his writers incorporate a liberal dose of pop culture references as
obscure as one could possibly imagine, leading to frustration on the
part of some viewers when they can’t identify the joke (or,
another gripe with non-fans, that the joke IS the reference). Lately
“Family Guy” has even parodied itself, with a recent
episode finding Stewie saying “what, no film clip
available?” when he started a line about “remember the time
when Peter...” and no associated bit popped up (it also goes
without saying that Stewie and Brian’s interaction yields the
most laughs on the program, especially lately).
Similar to their previous box-sets, Fox’s three-disc release
offers perfect full-screen transfers with rollicking 5.1 Dolby Digital
soundtracks. Extras are in abundance as well, with over 40 deleted
scenes, commentaries on every episode, a choice of censored and
uncensored soundtracks on a pair of shows, featurettes and more.
Also out from Fox this week is the first stand-up special for
“Family Guy” genius Alex Borstein, DROP DEAD GORGEOUS
(2006, 71 mins.)
. Borstein has plenty of experience performing
live (having been an alumnus of “Mad TV”), and her stand-up
is sharp and often hilarious, if not a tad raunchy. Fans of
Borstein’s work will love this; others may find it quite amusing
as well, particularly if you’re a “Family Guy” fan,
since the comedienne tours viewers around the studio in one of the
disc’s bonus features.
Coming November 21st
HOME ALONE: Family Fun Edition (***½, 103 mins.,
1990, PG; Fox):
Long-awaited Special Edition of the John
Hughes-Chris Columbus Christmas perennial shines in spite of a hideous
“Family Fun Edition” moniker.
With a new 16:9 transfer enhancing the splendid, snow-capped holiday
visuals provided by cinematographer Julio Macat and an improved 5.1
Dolby Digital soundtrack, the presentation here alone would be enough
to recommend this re-issue for “Home Alone” fans. Fox,
however, has gone the extra mile by including a new commentary track
with Columbus and Macaulay Culkin that’s great fun and filled
with trivia; 15 mostly disposable deleted/alternate scenes; a gag reel;
numerous featurettes, both new and vintage, including fresh comments
from Culkin, Columbus, John Williams and others, plus a handful of
trailers as well.
In the new 20-minute Making Of, it’s noted that “another
composer” (i.e. Bruce Broughton) had originally been attached to
the project but bowed out due to a scheduling issue; the filmmakers
considered Williams’ subsequent involvement to be a happy
accident where a “better puzzle piece” fell into place. No
offense to Broughton’s abilities, but it’s hard to argue
with their assessment: Williams’ marvelous, holiday-tinged score
put the film over the top, while the movie itself remains a mixture of
mirth, merriment and holiday feeling that’s lost none of its
appeal over the years. Highly recommended!
34TH STREET (***½, 96 mins., 1947; Fox):
Christmas classic is back on DVD in a fine Special Edition package
offering a new, colorized version of the film plus its original
black-and-white print. Commentary from Maureen O’Hara accompanies
both versions while an excellent AMC “Backstory” episode
recounts the production and a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
featurette, promo shorts and other vintage material round out the disc.
For whatever reason, the planned inclusion of the “Miracle”
TV version from 1973 (with Jane Alexander, David Hartman, Sebastian
Cabot and Roddy McDowall) didn’t happen. The tele-film is indeed
listed as being included on the back cover but is nowhere to be found
on the actual, finished set we received!
FULL HOUSE (***, 1952, 118 mins; Fox):
Classics Collection” DVD from Fox offers a restored print of this
1952 production from a handful of different directors (including Henry
Hathaway and Howard Hawks), adapting five O.Henry tales with narration
by John Steinbeck to boot. Fox’s DVD offers a restored print of
the film with commentary by Dr. Jenny Lind Porter; a pair of
featurettes on O.Henry; a pair of older, short adaptations of the
author’s work; and a restoration comparison.
It might be slow moving and its
story may not provide any more answers on repeat viewing than it does
the first time around, but Krzysztof Kieslowki’s THE DOUBLE LIFE OF
VERONIQUE (***, 1991, 97 mins., R)
is still a beautiful,
leisurely, enigmatic tale of a Polish woman who has a twin of some kind
in a French music teacher. The two ultimately find out, to some degree,
about their connection and their placement in the universe...sort of.
Both are played by Irene Jacob in a movie that’s layered with
questions and puzzles and very little in the way of answers, but this
is a movie of mood and movement. Zbigniew Preisner’s score and
the cinematography of Slawomir Idziak combine to craft a spell on the
viewer, and provided you don’t push the film too hard for a
resolution, “Veronique” provides a unique viewing
experience on par with Kieslowski’s “Colors” trilogy.
Criterion’s double-disc DVD edition is highlighted by a new
digital transfer; commentary from author Annette Insdorf; three short
documentaries produced by Kieslowski between 1970 and 1980; a short by
Kieslowski’s tracher Kamimierz Karabasz; the U.S. ending; a 1991
documentary on the filmmaker; a 2005 program recounting his work in
Poland; new video interviews with Zbigniew Preisner, Slawomir Idziak
and a 2005 conversation with Irene Jacob. Visually the disc is nothing
short of tremendous with Criterion’s 1.66 (16:9) transfer
complimented by a 2.0 surround soundtrack and optional English
subtitles. A must-view fans of the director.
New From Disney
One of the problems when Pixar produces a new film is that
they’ve raised the bar so high in the past thanks to “Toy
Story,” “Finding Nemo” and “The
Incredibles” that anything less than a masterwork is generally
regarded as a disappointment.
Such is the case with CARS (***, 116
mins., G, Disney),
which garnered mostly positive reviews and
raked in a very healthy $200+ million in domestic box-office. Yet,
because the film isn’t on the level of Pixar’s previous
classics, some viewers deemed the picture a step backwards for the
Visually, at least, “Cars” is just as much of a feast as
Pixar’s other works. This tale of a universe where autos exist in
a world of their own offers beautifully rendered backdrops and
characters, all in wide scope dimensions. The story involves a hot-rod
racin’ prima donna (voiced by Owen Wilson) who ends up in a
forgotten, rural ghost town with all kinds of vintage autos en route to
a racing championship. “Lightning McQueen” eventually
learns life lessons from his new pals -- including a sage veteran
voiced by Paul Newman and a saucy female with the strains of Bonnie
Hunt -- before making it back to the big-time NASCAR circuit.
The film’s gentle humor and well-developed characters make
“Cars” perfect for kids, and it’s on that level that
I can recommend the picture. It’s true that the movie isn’t
as sophisticated as its other Pixar peers, and the lengthy running time
for an animated feature (116 minutes here) that suited “The
Incredibles” so well seems inappropriate given the somewhat basic
story of “Cars.” Nevertheless, even as a tad-underwhelming
Pixar feature goes, “Cars” is top entertainment and
perfectly suited for family audiences.
Disney’s DVD includes a knockout 16:9 (2.35) transfer that is
breathtaking at every turn, while the 5.1 Dolby Digital EX mix races
with the sound of engines, Randy Newman’s score and a few too
many pop-country tunes. Special features include a new featurette (in
16:9, 1.85 widescreen) named “Mater and the Ghostlight,”
plus deleted scenes and a couple of featurettes -- enough to tide you
over before the inevitable 2-disc Special Edition hits the road one day.
TOTALLY AWESOME (93 mins., 2006, Unrated, Paramount):
One of VH1's first “dramatic” productions is this wacky
parody of every ‘80s teen movie imaginable. Directed and
co-written by “Chappelle’s Show” co-creator Neal
Brennan, “Totally Awesome” offers Dominique Swain as one of
three siblings who have a hard time fitting into their new high school.
That flimsy premise serves as a springboard for a dizzying array of
jokes skewering one noteworthy film after another, but the production
is somewhat crude and the hit-to-miss gag ratio under “Another
Teen Movie,” which essentially did the same thing (and more
effectively) several years ago. Paramount’s DVD includes a
colorful 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound; commentary
from Brennan and co-star Tracy Morgan; deleted scenes; bloopers and
outtakes; and several featurettes.
THE THIEF AND
THE COBBLER (**½, 73 mins., 1993, G; Genius/Weinstein):
pop-up book packaging does little to off-set the poor presentation of
this DVD re-issue of “The Thief and the Cobbler” (aka
“Arabian Knight”), Richard Williams’ ambitious but
troubled animated production that was ultimately completed, re-edited
and re-shot by Miramax in the early ‘90s. Fans hoping to see a
fully restored version of Williams’ original work will sadly have
to wait another day, as this new Genius/Weinstein DVD edition serves up
the same, old theatrical release cut from 1993 -- and, even worse, in
the same, old pan-and-scan transfer trimming the film’s 2.35
scope dimensions. A 16:9 version of the theatrical cut has been
released overseas, so what’s the reason for the full-screen?
(It’s bad enough we still have to watch the film in its
compromised theatrical version, but pan-and-scan too?). As with before,
Williams fans will have to keep waiting for the “Thief” to
finally see his time in the sun. (Available