11/22/05 Thanksgiving Edition

An Aisle Seat Thanksgiving Feast

Andy Reviews The Rodgers & Hammerstein Special Editions, Harold Lloyd, and the new Muppets DVDs!
plus: LOVE AT STAKE, New TV on DVD and More

One of the great pleasures in covering DVD is when a minor cult item finally trickles out on disc --a movie that might be a particular favorite of yours but continues to fly under the radar after all these years.

This week is one of those happy occasions, as one of my all-time top guilty pleasures arrives in the digital format: LOVE AT STAKE (***, 87 mins., 1988, R), the wacky, ribald parody of the Salem Witch trials initially produced by DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group before o’l Dino’s fledgling DEG Studio went belly up.

Like “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” “Love At Stake” -- originally titled “Burnin’ Love” -- had to find another home, and that it did thanks to Hemdale Film Corporation and Tri-Star Pictures, who bought the picture and released it to theaters in April, 1988.

Autumn, though, is the better time of year to get into the crazy shenanigans of this little-known gem: a Mel Brooks-ian parody appropriately produced by Michael Gruskoff, who also produced Brooks’ classic “Young Frankenstein.”

“Love At Stake” is a movie very much in the vein of the Brooks/Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker school of comedy: a sight-gag filled affair set in 1692 New England. Patrick Cassidy plays Miles, a divinity student who returns home to find his childhood sweetheart (Kelly Preston) and his hometown of Salem in seemingly fine Colonial condition...that is, until incompetent mayor Dave Thomas and scheming judge Stuart Pankin opt to steal land -- and create the first-ever “Puritan Village Mall for over-sexed teenagers” -- by accusing innocent townspeople of witchcraft. Little do they know, however, that a real witch has arrived in town in the form of curvaceous Barbara Carrera, who sits idly by (for a while at least) and watches the shenanigans ensue.

Former Saturday Night Live writers Terry Sweeney and Lanier Laney collaborated with Gruskoff and director John Moffitt (a long-time TV comedy vet) for “Love At Stake,” an inspired lark that’s ridiculous from the opening and proceeds to reach actual heights of hilarity at various spots throughout the movie. I first saw the picture in high school and recall laughing so hard that I had to stop the tape once or twice. Obviously, the movie’s humor can be juvenile at times, but even now, as an adult, “Love At Stake” still tickles the funny bone: the inquisition sequence (with its cameo by Dr. Joyce Brothers) is uproarious, the court-appointed jester who sounds like Don Knotts is consistently amusing, the antics between Pankin and Thomas are often riotous, while the church-going flatulence scene with the late David Graf (aka Tackleberry from “Police Academy”) still ranks as a classic moment in unseen comedy cinema history.

Also adding to the fun is the movie’s anachronistic tone, including a first-ever Thanksgiving between the colonists and the local Indians, and numerous references to old movie cliches. Technically, the film is surprisingly polished: the production design by Roy Forge Smith and cinematography by Mark Irwin seriously evoke the real-life Sturbridge Village (nearby to our Aisle Seat offices) of old New England. Charles Fox’s pleasant orchestral score, meanwhile, adds just the right amount of seriousness for the comedy to bounce off.

This Thanksgiving, if you’re looking for an irreverent comedy to counteract the sentimental offerings on the tube, do yourself a favor and pick up “Love At Stake.” MGM/Sony’s DVD offers a 16:9 enhanced transfer that looks lightyears better than my ancient, worn-out laserdisc, plus a modest Dolby Digital mono soundtrack. Extras aren’t on-hand, but I can’t believe at long last that I’m typing an actual DVD review of “Love At Stake” in the first place -- so no complaints from these quarters. Highly recommended!

Also new from Sony is the DVD debut of Robert Altman’s equally little-seen O.C. AND STIGGS (**, 110 mins., 1984, R), a movie that MGM basically gave up on after poor test screenings in 1984, never released nationwide, and subsequently sent onto the more obscure shelves in your old video store after a very limited theatrical run -- some four years later!

Of course, it didn’t take a genius to figure that the combination of director Altman with National Lampoon AND the teen comedy genre wasn’t a pre-ordained recipe for box-office success. Writers Donald Cantrell and Ted Mann had scripted “O.C. and Stiggs” as a mostly traditional ‘80s youth comedy, but Altman had other ideas in mind, and directed the film with a satirical edge like many of his works.

The fusion is this oddity, starring Daniel H. Jenkins and Neill Barry as the title heroes: a pair of teens who enjoy making life miserable for the Schwab family (Paul Dooley and Jane Curtin), who run an insurance agency in their Arizona town. Dennis Hopper (parodying his “Apocalypse Now” role), Ray Walston, Martin Mull, Jon Cryer, Cynthia Nixon, Melvin Van Peebles, Tina Louise and Louis Nye are a few of the familiar faces who pop up in Altman’s bizarre little movie, which isn’t so much funny as it simply feels off-kilter...very, very “off.”

Altman doesn’t provide a commentary for this MGM/Sony DVD edition, but does appear in a new interview, recalling his work on the film. Needless to say, Altman is candid and owns up to the picture’s problems, including the fact that he didn’t entirely respect the work of Cantrell and Mann -- who, in turn, were equally displeased with the movie Altman directed. He also notes that MGM didn’t know what to do with the film, but that he enjoyed working on it, and thinks it has some quirky, redeeming value to it (it must be an inside joke, since there’s little appeal on the surface of this self-indulgent mess).

MGM’s DVD also provides the first-ever 2.35 widescreen presentation of the film on video (it’s not enhanced for 16:9 televisions, however), restoring the edges of the original Panavision frame but -- regrettably -- no more sense to the story. King Sunny Ade’s musical numbers do provide a brief lift, and come through decently in the monophonic soundtrack.

Last but (arguably) not least among Sony/MGM’s offerings is THE HEAVENLY KID (**, 1985, 91 mins., PG-13), a forgettable Orion teen comedy starring Lewis Smith as a ‘50s greaser brought back as a would-be angel to hapless nerd Jason Gedrick.

Director/co-writer Cary Medoway faded away after this effort, which does boast one pleasant twist (Gedrick’s mom, played by Jane Kaczmarek, is actually Smith’s lost love), but nothing much in the way of laughs or romance. What’s more, the threadbare production quality of the movie doesn’t help, nor does the Kennard Ramsey synthesized score: it’s all dated in a bad way.

Still, it seems this comedy has developed a small following over the years, with one reviewer on the back jacket proclaiming it “A Classic ‘80s Movie.” I suppose there is someone out there who will rave about ANY film made in the decade...and heck, I’ve already confessed to having a jones for “Love At Stake,” so who am I to judge? (Memo to my friends at Sony: when you do the Special Edition one day of “Love At Stake,” I will be more than happy to supply any back jacket quote or commentary you need!).

The no-frills MGM/Sony DVD boasts an acceptable16:9 transfer with a decent mono soundtrack.

Harold Lloyd Classics Bow on Disc

The great comedian Harold Lloyd receives a loving DVD retrospective in New Line’s seven-disc box set, THE HAROLD LLOYD COMEDY COLLECTION, which hit stores last week.

Lloyd had reportedly worked for years to restore many of his classics, and while collectors can debate the merits of these new transfers, the results make for a spectacular release -- a fitting historical tribute to Lloyd and old Hollywood -- that’s packed with superlative extra features.

Volume One (all three double-disc “Volumes” are available separately) offers Lloyd’s 1923 classic feature “Safety Last,” with commentary from Leonard Maltin and Richard Correll; the 1920 two-reeler “An Eastern Westerner”; the 1919 short “Ask Father”; “Girl Shy,” the 1924 feature with an alternate organ score; and the 1920 two-reeler “From Hand To Mouth.” The disc’s second platter offers two talkies -- the 1934 feature “The Cat’s Paw” and the 1936 effort “The Milky Way” -- plus the 1923 silent feature “Why Worry?”, production galleries and a featurette entitled “Harold’s Hollywood: Then And Now.”

Volume Two offers the 1927 feature “The Kid Brother,” with commentary from Richard Correll and Lloyd’s granddaughter Suzanne Lloyd, plus author Annette D’Agostino Lloyd; Lloyd’s seminal 1925 classic “The Freshman,” sporting commentary from Maltin, Correll, and historian Richard W. Bann; the 1919 shorts “Bumping Into Broadway”and “Billy Blazes, Esq.,” the latter with an alternate organ score. The volume’s second disc offers the 1922 production “Dr. Jack” and the 1930 favorite “Feet First,” plus featurettes on Robert Israel and Carl Davis’ modern scores (Israel penned most of the new soundtracks contained in this set), while the flip side offers 1922's “Grandma’s Boy,” 1921's “Now or Never,” and the 1920 two-reeler “High and Dizzy.”

The third volume kicks off with the 1928 feature “Speedy” and the 1920 short “Haunted Spooks,” each offering commentary provided by D’Agostino Lloyd and Correll; the 1921 effort “Never Weaken”; and the 1924 feature “Hot Water,” also with an alternate organ score. Last but not least, the second disc includes the 1932 effort “Movie Crazy,” the 1920 two-reeler “Get Out and Get Under,” and 1926's “For Heaven’s Sake,” with the flip side offering 1920's “Number Please?”, 1921's “A Sailor-Made Man,” “I Do,” and “Among Those Present,” as well as a featurette, “Greenacres.”

Though the three two-disc “Volumes” are available individually, the box set also includes a bonus disc, featuring over three hours of content. Leonard Maltin hosts the package, which includes tributes from celebrities ranging from Debbie Reynolds and Robert Wagner to John Landis; vintage Lloyd interviews and home movies; biographies of countless collaborators and stars of Hollywood’s golden age of silent cinema; a USC Delta Kappa Alpha tribute to Lloyd hosted by Jack Lemmon and Steve Allen; radio shows (with Best Buy offering an additional bonus CD with more radio content); publicity and photo galleries that include a look at Lloyd’s fascination with the 3-D format, with red-and-blue glasses provided as well!

One can argue that the DVD format hasn’t given the Golden Age of Hollywood enough packages like this. New Line’s set offers an abundance of classic comedy that holds up today thanks to Lloyd’s trademark humor and insights into the human condition, and the presentation -- from the informative commentaries to the various featurettes -- adds an immeasurable historical component. It’s a must-have and easily one of the finest DVD sets of 2005.

The Muppets Return To DVD

Jim Henson’s Muppets have traveled a somewhat rocky road on video over the years. The initial Muppet feature films -- 1979's “Muppet Movie” and 1981's “Great Muppet Caper” -- were first released on VHS by CBS/Fox Video. Later, the torch was passed to Disney, who re-issued both movies on VHS and laserdisc (neither in widescreen).

In the DVD format, Henson’s properties were handled for a time by Columbia TriStar, which resulted in the first-ever widescreen presentations of those two Muppet features on video, even if the transfers (albeit 16:9 enhanced) left something to be desired.

Now that Henson has finally been sold off to Disney, it should come as no surprise that the studio is re-releasing the Muppet features on DVD yet again (sans the Tri-Star released “Muppets Take Manhattan”). Subsequently, next week will mark the debut of Disney’s new DVD editions of THE MUPPET MOVIE (***, 1979, 95 mins.), THE GREAT MUPPET CAPER (***½, 1981, 98 mins.), THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL (****, 1992, 85 mins. [Widescreen] and 89 mins. [Director’s Cut, Full-Screen Only]), and THE MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND (**, 1996, 100 mins.).

Sadly, it seems as if Kermit and the gang will never receive the spotless video presentation that these movies deserve, with Disney failing to provide new prints on their  “Muppet Movie” and “Caper” DVDs and dropping the ball entirely on “The Muppet Christmas Carol” for a different reason.

In my original reviews of Sony’s DVD editions from 2001, I noted that the transfers were at times soft and grainy -- perhaps a result of the movies changing hands so many times over the years (for example, “The Great Muppet Caper” was produced by ITC, theatrically released by Universal, initially packaged by CBS/Fox on video, then handled by Disney, then Sony, and now Disney again!).

Disney has promoted these releases as being remastered, but the sad truth is that “The Muppet Movie” and “The Great Muppet Caper” look nearly identical to Sony’s DVD efforts from a few years back. The colors may be a tad crisper on a big 16:9 TV, but to my eyes these transfers seem to have been sourced from the very same prints as Sony’s discs -- thereby making a “double dip” for these discs a waste of time if you still have the older releases in your library.

Adding insult to injury is that Disney dropped the lone major supplement from Sony’s releases: a 25-minute series of camera tests director James Frawley shot for “The Muppet Movie,” showing Kermit and the gang outside the confines of their English studio for the first time. Collectors will want to make a note of that and retain the original DVD if at all possible. (Here, Disney has included a “Pepe Profile” of Kermit that runs a grand total of five minutes).

The transfer on “The Great Muppet Caper” sadly suffers from all the same ailments as Sony’s previous DVD, here with some heightened resolution but not nearly enough to warrant another purchase if you own the original disc. Another brief “Pepe Profile” examines the creative talent that is Miss Piggy.

“The Muppet Christmas Carol” -- the 1992 movie that remains my favorite of all the Muppet films, thanks to Michael Caine’s sterling performance as Scrooge and a marvelous song score by Paul Williams -- is back on DVD, following a full-screen only release from Disney several years ago.

Unfortunately, though the 16:9 enhanced transfer here is markedly superior to its predecessor (and includes director Brian Henson’s commentary from the previous release, as well as a gag reel and “Pepe Profile” of Gonzo), Disney inexplicably chose to frame the inferior, 85-minute theatrical version in 16:9 widescreen -- leaving Henson’s Director’s Cut (sporting the wonderful “When Love Is Gone”) to an “Extended Full-Screen Version” only!

Frankly, I thought we’ve reached the point in the DVD format where stuff like this no longer happens, but this regrettable decision comes at a price to the package overall: “When Love Is Gone” is nothing short of the most dramatic moment in the entire film, one of Williams’ finest ballads, and absolutely essential to the story itself. Disney hastily cut the song from U.S. theaters because of their concern with little kids finding it too emotional and “boring,” but a reportedly angry Henson later restored it to every subsequent video release of the film.

That makes the decision here to include the song only in the Full-Screen version a mystery that only the powers-at-be can explain (after all, if the Full-Screen version is aimed at placating kids, shouldn’t the 16:9 version be comprised of the longer cut for adults?). As for me, I’ll be sticking to my widescreen laserdisc, which still remains the most representative release of Henson’s vision to date.

That leaves "Muppet Treasure Island," the tedious, overlong 1996 effort that -- isn’t this how it always goes? -- receives the best overall release of the bunch. The 16:9 enhanced transfer is superb, the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound effective, and a “Pepe Profile” of Fozzie rounds it off. (Even here, though, the package isn’t perfect: for whatever reason, Disney has opted to eliminate the Brian Henson commentary from the previous full-screen DVD!).

Ultimately, Disney’s new Muppet DVDs rank as a disappointment all told. If you haven’t owned either “Muppet Movie” or “Great Muppet Caper” before, the transfers are basically identical and the DVDs not a bad value for the money (despite the exclusion of the original “Muppet Movie” camera tests from Sony’s DVD). “The Muppet Christmas Carol,” meanwhile, receives a sterling 16:9 transfer -- sadly of the version most Muppet fans wouldn’t prefer to see, leaving the Director’s Cut in cropped pan-and-scan. And last but not least, “Muppet Treasure Island” looks and sounds nice, but leaves off some of the supplemental material from its previous DVD edition.

Hopefully for the Muppets’ next DVD incarnation, Disney will finally get it right and enrich the discs with some meaningful special features, in addition to uncovering new elements for the initial two films. Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo, and the rest of Jim Henson’s beloved characters deserve nothing less.

Rodgers & Hammerstein Special Editions

Fox has just issued brand-new, double-disc Special Editions of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s classic movie musicals “The Sound of Music,” “Oklahoma!” and “State Fair,” with more to follow in 2006.

Naturally, musical theater aficionados should find much to rejoice about with these new DVDs, including the addition of fresh commentary tracks and other goodies, plus new 16:9 enhanced transfers as well.

THE SOUND OF MUSIC (****, 174 mins., 1965, G) obviously needs little introduction to most viewers. Robert Wise’s seminal musical film here gets a new 2.20 (16:9) transfer with 5.0 Dolby Digital sound that is, as memory serves, superior to Fox’s older “Five Star Collection” DVD release. New supplements include a recent introduction from Julie Andrews; a new commentary by Andrews, Christopher Plummer, and other cast members; the addition of a karaoke “Singalong” subtitle track; numerous new featurettes including the retrospective documentary “My Favorite Things: Julie Andrews Remembers,” a reminiscence with Andrews and Plummer, an A&E Biography special on the Von Trapps, Mia Farrow’s screen test, trailers, TV spots, and more.

Prior to producing “The Sound of Music,” Rodgers and Hammerstein had sat on filming OKLAHOMA! (***½, 145 mins., 1955) for a number of years since the stage production continued to pack in audiences. When the movie was eventually filmed with Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones, director Fred Zinnemann’s faithful cinematic rendering likewise became a huge hit. Fox’s two-disc set here offers both the Cinemascope version of “Oklahoma!” alongside its Todd-AO counterpart (the Cinemascope ratio is framed at 2.55 and the Todd-AO at 2.20), which offers some alternate takes and angles that some viewers have proclaimed to be superior from its better-known, Cinemascope cousin.

While that’s open for debate, what’s not worthy of discussion is the discrepancy between the two transfers: the Cinemascope print looks vibrant and colorful, while the Todd-AO version is blurry and filled with imperfections by comparison. I’m not familiar enough with the two versions to know if the Todd-AO prints are in far worse condition, but I assume that’s partially to blame for the inferior nature of its presentation. That being said, many fans have rung in on the Home Theater Forum to voice their displeasure over the Todd-AO transfer, noting that the original, non-anamorphic DVD of the Todd-AO print is superior in many regards.

For supplements, Fox’s two-disc set offers a fascinating commentary from R&H Organization president Ted Chapin and Hugh Fordin on the Cinemascope version, while Shirley Jones joins Nick Redman for a leisurely chat on the Todd-AO print. There’s also a superb “Cinemascope Vs. Todd-AO” featurette that examines the two different processes, two vintage Todd-AO shorts, an excerpt from a 1954 R&H TV tribute (that aired on every network at the time!), trailers, and another karaoke singalong track.

Last but not least is STATE FAIR, which arrives here in both its 1945 version (***, 100 mins.) and its lesser-regarded 1962 remake from director Jose Ferrer (**½, 118 mins.). Phiilip Stong’s novel had previously been brought to the screen in a non-musical production in the early ‘30s, but the 1945 film starring Jeanne Crain, Dana Andrews, Vivian Blaine and Dick Haymes remains the cream of its respective crop.

The ‘62 version, by contrast, offers a more dated, teeny-bopperish experience with Pat Boone and Bobby Darin partnered with the likes of Pamela Tiffin and Ann-Margret. Rodgers added some new songs for this version, which still boasts impressive Cinemascope photography and lush arrangements from Alfred Newman and Ken Darby.

Fox’s DVD includes commentary on the ‘45 adaptation from historian Richard Barrios and Tom Briggs, who in the early ‘90s served as the co-author of “State Fair”’s Broadway musicalization, while Pat Boone rings in with some infrequent, nostalgic comments during the ‘62 remake. Another extract from the 1954 R&H television tribute is on-hand, as are more karaoke singalong tracks, trailers, still galleries and a “From Page to Screen to Stage” featurette.

Most unusual of all, however, is the very rare 1976 TV pilot for “State Fair,” starring Vera Miles, former child actor Mitch Vogel (“The Reivers”), and a pre-“Buck Rogers” Tim O’Connor. This saccharine reworking of Stong’s novel feels more like a rip-off of “The Waltons” than a cousin of its predecessors, with Vogel performing an original song at a county singing contest and Linda Purl as the object of his affections. Vogel’s boyish charm had worn off by the time this project was produced and, as a result, it’s easy to see why the pilot stalled out here, though Laurence Rosenthal’s background score is nice enough.

Overall, despite the sometimes problematic look of “Oklahoma”’s Todd-AO version, these three sets are musts for all R&H and musical fans, and should serve as an appetizer before the long-awaited restored edition of “South Pacific” hits DVD next year.

New TV on DVD...With a ‘70s Groove

FANTASY ISLAND: Complete Season One (1977). 775 minutes (14 episodes plus the pilot and second telefilm), Sony. WHEN DID IT AIR: ABC, Saturdays. THE RUNDOWN: A staple of Saturday night viewing for viewers in the ‘70s and ‘80s, this long-running series -- along with “The Love Boat” -- offered audiences a weekly anthology getaway with guest stars and varied plots. Ricardo Montalban stars as the charismatic Mr. Roarke, who alongside his assistant Tattoo (Herve Villechaize), welcomes a succession of guests who seek to live out their dreams and desires, be it just having a date with a pair of ladies (like Ken Berry in “Double Your Pleasure”) or finding the child you gave up for adoption in the second TV pilot “Return To Fantasy Island.” ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: It’s doubtful anyone who grew up between the late ‘70s and mid ‘80s didn’t, at some point, catch “Fantasy Island.” The ABC series was a huge hit and often boasted a mix of light, comedic tales and darker, more dramatic ones each week. Montalban’s performance always hit the right note, though one can detect a bit more sinister, Bradbury-esque tone at play in the original ‘77 pilot and its follow-up tele-film (both included here). Guest stars run the gamut from ex-superstars to familiar sitcom faces, including Bill Bixby, Sandra Dee, Peter Lawford, Dick Sargent, Victoria Principal, John Schuck, Lisa Hartman, Maureen McCormick, Marcia Strassman, Don Knotts, Sue Lyon, Pamela Franklin, Michele Lee, Jim Backus, Lucie Arnaz, Jane Wyatt, Theodore Bikel, Rich Little, Lana Wood and Richard Dawson among others...whew! DVD FEATURES: Sony’s four-disc box set offers crisp, gorgeous transfers with mono sound and even a pair of featurettes: “Creating The Fantasy” and “Spending The Day At Fantasy Island,” each offering comments from producer Leonard Goldberg, writer Ron Friedman, guest stars Mary Ann Mobley, Ken Berry, Adrienne Barbeau and others. The original promotional teasers are also on-hand. ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: A top-notch package from Sony, with sterling transfers and a few engaging supplements to boot. Hopefully this will pave the way for more seasons to follow....now, where’s “The Love Boat”?

FAME: The Complete First Season (1982). 768 minutes (16 episodes), MGM/Sony. WHEN DID IT AIR: NBC, Thursdays. THE RUNDOWN: Alan Parker’s acclaimed 1980 movie was cleaned up a bit for the small screen and functioned perfectly as a long-running drama the whole family could enjoy. The chronicles of a group of students (Lee Curreri, Erica Gimpel, Carlo Imperato, Valerie Lansburg, Gene Anthony Ray, P.R. Paul, and Lori Singer) at the New York City School of the Arts is filled with uplifting stories, exciting musical numbers, and strong character development. Best of all are Debbie Allen as their dynamic dance instructor and Albert Hague as the sage Mr. Shorofsky, who lend an able hand to the aspirations of their young charges. ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: “Fame” had a long life in syndication but actually started out its small-screen existence as a lead-in for the first season of “Cheers.” This amiable series remains entertaining and good fun for all ages (a nice switch from its R-rated predecessor), with engaging performances and accessible plots. Best of all is Sony’s DVD presentation, which includes the initial 16 episodes from the show’s one and only season on NBC. The transfers are in crisp, excellent condition, with all the colorful fashions of the era well represented. DVD FEATURES: No extra features, but perhaps those will be saved for future box sets. Now that Erica Gimpel is back in the spotlight (as a regular on “Veronica Mars”), hopefully she could be tapped to provide a commentary next time around. ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: The quintessential ‘80s series receives a sterling presentation on DVD courtesy of Sony. The shows themselves have held up better than anticipated, with universal issues of growing up, fitting in, reaching for the stars and dealing with failures all equally represented across the spectrum of these 16 episodes. Recommended! (Cue Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford’s theme song!).

THE WHITE SHADOW: Complete Season One (1978). 719 minutes (15 episodes), Fox. WHEN DID IT AIR: CBS, Mondays. THE RUNDOWN: Ken Howard stars as a former pro basketball star whose buddy coaxes him into coaching a downtrodden inner-city high school team. Howard’s Ken Reeves, though, not only uses the opportunity to continue his own career in the game but likewise tutor the young men he’s placed in charge of. Dramatic situations both on and off the court run the gamut from one of the players dating a white girl (“LeGrand Finale”) to tackling the subject of inner-city gangs (“That Old Gang of Mine”). ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: A viewer favorite, “The White Shadow” is a satisfying drama of growing up with a strong lead performance from Howard and a superb ensemble cast that guided the series through three seasons on the CBS airwaves. DVD FEATURES: Fox’s four-disc box set includes a pair of commentaries: Howard and co-star Timothy Van Patten on “The Great White Dope,” and director Jackie Cooper and writer Mark Tinker on the “Pilot.” There’s also a nice, short retrospective, “More Than Basketball,” that offers interviews with Howard and numerous talents in front of and behind the camera. The full-screen transfers are in good shape and the soundtracks also satisfying. ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: “The White Shadow” ended its run just about the time I began watching TV routinely (or at least “The Incredible Hulk” instead of “Sesame Street”!). This is a series that’s sure to bring back a healthy dose of nostalgia for viewers who grew up alongside it, and its themes of angst, peer pressure, teenage life and just figuring out where to go from high school are still timeless. Recommended!

AEON FLUX: The Complete Animated Collection (1995). 224 minutes, Paramount. WHERE DID IT AIR: MTV. THE RUNDOWN: Elaborate, deluxe edition of Peter Chung’s MTV “Liquid Television” sci-fi series reaches DVD in this definitive three-disc box set, sporting all of Aeon’s adventures. From a series of shorts to full-length episodes with a barely coherent plot, Chung’s oddball series follows the galaxy-trotting adventures of Aeon Flux, a secret agent who wears only a few clothes and mixes it up with handsome but villainous Trevor Goodchild. Detailed animation -- some of the first American-drawn “anime” -- backs a plot that’s often difficult to follow. ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: A series with a huge cult following, “Aeon Flux” is a clear example of style over substance (or, in this case, style AS substance). Chung’s animation has been here cleaned up and restored for DVD, with new dialogue and visual enhancements augmenting the original production. Fans will be sure to eat it up, but newcomers ought to proceed with caution: this is often incomprehensible, bizarre stuff, even for everyday sci-fi fans. Some of the latter may opt to wait for the big-screen movie with a flesh-and-blood Charlize Theron running around instead (count me in that camp). DVD FEATURES: Paramount has produced a marvelous DVD set with strong full-screen transfers and Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 soundtracks. Extras include commentaries with Chung and various crew members, plus the original Aeon shorts, commercials and countless production art galleries that adorn the third disc in the set. ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: Admittedly, I had a hard time getting into “Aeon Flux.” The initial shorts were cool for their design at the time, but these days, anime can be found all over the dial, while the story -- thin as it is -- never engages. Still, fans are sure to love this set, with remastered episodes, all the original shorts, some of Chung’s other works, and a behind-the-scenes look at the history of Aeon Flux included for good measure. If you’re interested in any or all of those supplements, be sure and check out Paramount’s definitive Flux box set when it streets this Tuesday.

Also New on DVD

THE HONEYMOONERS (**, 2001). 89 mins., PG, Paramount. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary with Cedric the Entertainer, Mike Epps, and director John Schultz; Making Of featurette; 8 Deleted/Extended/Alternate Scenes with optional commentary; Full-Screen only; 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Box-office flop from last summer puts an African-American cast into the irreplaceable shoes of Jackie Gleason, Art Carney and Co. to middling results.

John Schultz’s well-intentioned film stars Cedric the Entertainer and Mike Epps as Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton, still (in this version) trying to concoct the requisite crazy schemes to make a fortune while keeping their loving, but frustrated, respective spouses at bay (Gabrielle Union is Alice and Regina Hall essays Trixie).

The performers are having a good time but the story is far from captivating and the laughs likewise non-existent in “The Honeymooners,” which came and went at the box-office last May before anyone even realized it was released.

Paramount has re-edited the movie slightly for DVD, trimming some profanity to manage a PG rating (the running time remains identical to its theatrical release version). I assume the goal here was to try and sell “The Honeymooners” as a family film, since the DVD also only offers a full-screen transfer (no widescreen version is available). Certainly this version makes for adequate family viewing, but it also shows that the powers-at-be weren’t entirely clear as to what they were making with this picture: the movie should have been wackier and crazier in order to function as a “family” film, yet it’s too bland and straightforward to qualify as an adult movie. The work of four credited writers, dozens of producers, and a slight re-cut here simply wasn’t enough to make this revamp successful.

Paramount’s full-screen transfer seems a bit cramped at times but is otherwise clean and crisp. The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound offers a workmanlike score by Richard Gibbs, while special features include commentary from director Schultz and the male stars, a featurette, trailer, two “interstitials,” and eight deleted/extended/alternate scenes.

More notable than the movie is this trivia note: other than a few location shots, most of “The Honeymooners” was filmed in Dublin, Ireland!

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