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A Return to TWIN PEAKS
Paramount's Brilliant DVD Set Preserves a TV Classic

TWIN PEAKS -- David Lynch and Mark Frost's groundbreaking series which debuted to controversy, acclaim and big ratings in the spring of 1990 -- has returned to DVD in a sparkling new “Gold Box” DVD collection courtesy of Paramount. I was in high school at the time of its premiere and became thoroughly captivated, like most of the nation, by the series’ first eight episodes, which quickly established the program as a cultural phenomenon.

Regrettably, few series have ever risen and then fallen as quickly as “Twin Peaks” (its second season went totally off the tracks, resulting in one of the most unsatisfying endings of a series in TV history), and Paramount’s DVD box-set (1990-91) -- produced by Charlie de Lauzirika -- brilliantly recounts its history, ranking as one of the finest video releases of the year. David Lynch personally oversaw the digitally remastered transfers and remixed Angelo Badalamenti's supremely memorable, haunting soundtracks for 5.1 Dolby Digital, resulting in a crisp and enormously satisfying technical presentation.

For the most part, “Twin Peaks” has held up well -- its misguided second season notwithstanding. Lynch and co-creator/producer Mark Frost established an off-beat, at-times disturbing, at-times mysterious, at-times hilarious crime drama/prime-time soap that broke the rules of standard TV dramas in its day. Kyle MacLachlan stars in the role of his career as FBI agent Dale Cooper, who travels to the sleepy Pacific Northwest town of Twin Peaks to investigate the murder of high school sweetheart Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee). Of course, not everything in this quiet small-town is as picaresque as it seems, with Cooper and Sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean) uncovering a seedy murder plot, a variety of suspects and colorful characters who populate a world that’s undeniably Lynch-ian, but held in check somewhat due to the confines of network TV -- resulting in a more satisfying series than what likely would’ve transpired if Lynch had no boundaries (for the latter, check out the bloated mess that was 1992's Lynch-directed “prequel” feature “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me”). The series is quirky yet serious, comical yet foreboding -- more so than numerous other “offbeat” prime-time dramas (like “Northern Exposure” and even the recent “Desperate Housewives”) that tried to mimic the series’ essential premise to some degree.

While the DVD transfers are superb, even better are the extras: de Lauzirika, one of the top producers working today in assembling DVD supplemental content, offers a heaping of cherry pie, jelly donuts and coffee -- and then some! A lengthy documentary examines the show's production and meteoric rise to the top of the charts and critical “Best” lists. People tend to forget how groundbreaking “Twin Peaks” was for its time -- the cast appeared on a variety of talk shows, graced the covers of magazines, garnered enormous ratings (at least during its first season) and influenced an entire generation of series and films produced in its wake.

“Secrets From Another Place,” the nearly two-hour long production documentary, dives into all of this, from what make the show so compelling in its beginnings, to Badalamenti's brilliant scoring and then -- candidly at that -- dissects how the series went wrong...very wrong...in its second season. And make no mistake, viewers new to “Twin Peaks” and discovering it on DVD here for the first time may be shocked at how self-indulgent, unfocused and disappointing the series' second season is -- especially coming off the first season. It was an unfortunate comedown that resulted in viewers quickly exiting and the series being likewise canceled (I was so shocked with the series' unsatisfying cliffhanger conclusion that I sent off an angry letter to TV Guide, which was printed in June of 1991 -- thereby marking the unofficial beginning of “The Aisle Seat”!).

Mark Frost is on-hand along with a number of cast members (including the still-gorgeous Madchen Amick and Sherilyn Fenn, Kyle MacLachlan, Ray Wise, and others) in the 105-minute production overview, and their comments about what went awry during Season 2 results in one of the most honest and satisfying DVD documentaries you'll find. It's understandable that the creators had problems trying to figure out how to extend the original "who killed Laura Palmer?" mystery, but their solution is close to an unmitigated disaster that also offered a more serious and pretentious tone, making it downright difficult at times to watch (part of the problem is that Lynch and Frost had both gone off to make their own movies, a clear sign of waning interest on the part of both parties).

Lynch fans and die-hard Peaks devotees will still find these second-season episodes to be intriguing if nothing else, though as a major fan of the series' first eight shows, it's still like swallowing a bitter pill when you re-watch misguided avenues the program went down -- all the while losing its weird and wonderful charm from its origins. It's a feeling that seems to be universally shared by everyone involved with the production -- as cast member Kimmy Robertson herself confesses, "the second season sucked! I stopped watching it!"

In addition to the straightforward documentary there's a half-hour, enjoyable segment directed by de Lauzirika, "A Slice of Lynch," which is the only place where you'll find comments from Lynch himself. Set in a Peaks-ian diner, Lynch "finds" Kyle MacLachlan, Madchen Amick and John Wentworth, all of whom discuss their recollections about “Twin Peaks” in a satisfying 30-minute segment.

Additional extras include a few surviving deleted scenes, the "Log Lady" introductions Lynch shot for the series' Bravo airings, MacLachlan's hilarious parody from "Saturday Night Live" (from September 29, 1990), a "Return to Twin Peaks" look at a series fan festival and an interactive map of the show's shooting locales, and a "Black Lodge Archive" packed with promotional materials. Among the latter are Julee Cruise's "Falling" music video, on-air ABC promos, Japanese TV commercials (talk about rare!) for "Georgia Coffee," image galleries, ads for the old "Twin Peaks" 900 number ($2 for the first minute!), and "Lucy Bumpers" from the initial ABC broadcasts.

It’s a sensational package that’s capped by the inclusion of the series’ European “pilot”, which Lynch and Frost became involved with when Warner Bros. offered the duo money in advance of the pilot’s production -- so long as they produced an ending (which resolved the Laura Palmer mystery) for European theatrical exhibition, which Warner would handle.

Since this episode was owned and distributed outside the parameters of the regular series, it has been out-of-circulation for some time and left off most prior video releases of “Twin Peaks.” Thankfully, though, it has been included in the “Gold Box” package, alongside the series’ original U.S. broadcast version, which leaves the door open for the mystery that captivated a nation of viewers and carried “Twin Peaks” to the forefront of cultural consciousness -- at least for a short while.

Also newly available on DVD is the third and final season of Rob Thomas’ marvelous, criminally under-watched series VERONICA MARS (2006-07; Warner), starring the irrepressible Kristen Bell as the smart, sexy, sassy teen detective, who here heads off for college but can’t leave trouble behind.

Though adorned by critical raves, “Veronica Mars” struggled to find viewers on the little-seen CW Network (formerly the WB) during its first two seasons. Thinking that its highly-involved, episodic structure didn’t lend itself to the nature of broadcast repeats and hiatuses, Thomas -- likely under marching orders from the network -- decided to shift gears a little during VM’s third season.

The result was a more fragmented, and less satisfying, season with some mysteries that carried over from week to week, but also a number of self-contained story lines that would be started, and concluded, in the space of one episode.

Though still well-acted and written, there’s no question Season 3 of “Veronica Mars” was compromised by network interference, while the bizarre “revolving door” of numerous cast members (weeks go by without seeing familiar faces, who then mysterious re-appear as if they never vanished) only adds to the frustration. This was one of the smartest, freshest television series in recent memory, and seeing it intentionally “tinkered” with during its third (and ultimately final) season is nothing short of disheartening, even if it was still one of TV’s best shows in spite of its shortcomings.

Warner’s DVD box-set preserves the concluding year of “Veronica Mars” in excellent 16:9 (1.78) widescreen transfers and 2.0 Dolby Digital audio.

Extras will prove to be of chief interest for series fans: in addition to a look behind the scenes, Warner’s has also included the never-before-seen “mini pilot” that tried to sell clueless CW executives on a prospective Fourth Season. Set several years in the future with Veronica in her first days as an FBI agent, the footage illustrates Thomas’ game attempt at keeping the series going by retaining Bell’s beloved heroine and re-introducing her with a new cast and surroundings that, presumably, would make the show “new” to the mass audience that always eluded the series.

It’s bittersweet to see, since even in its few fragmented minutes I could tell the potential was here to resurrect “Veronica” in a brand-new format that still would’ve felt familiar to fans. Sadly we’ll never know, though fans are still hopeful that we haven’t seen the last of Veronica Mars -- a sentiment I certainly share.

New on Blu Ray and HD-DVD

MR. BROOKS: Blu Ray (*½, 120 mins., 2007, R; MGM/Fox): Dismal, if well-acted, thriller with Kevin Costner as a schizophrenic businessman with another personality: that of a cunning killer embodied on-screen by William Hurt. Demi Moore (looking good) is the cop on his trail, but a conniving on-looker (Dane Cook) tips Costner off to her role in the investigation, leading to a cat-and-mouse game...of death! Director Bruce Evans and his co-writer Raynold Gideon (who together wrote “Stand By Me” and “Starman” back in the ‘80s) have fashioned a slow, depressing psychological study of a killer with decent performances, but once you get past the film’s central conceit, “Mr. Brooks” brings little else to the table and misfires particularly at the end. There’s plenty of blood and grime on-hand, but outside of the fine cast, little to distinguish it from most of today’s similarly grizzly genre offerings. Fox’s Blu Ray release does sport a splendid 1080p transfer with a low-key, albeit effective, DTS-HD Master Audio track. A decent supplemental package includes commentary from Evans and Gideon, deleted scenes, a trailer, and several Making Of featurettes.

HOME OF THE BRAVE: Blu Ray (**, 106 mins., 2006, R; MGM/Fox): Little-seen chronicle of a group of U.S. soldiers returning home from Iraq and trying to re-adjust to their “normal” lives after being ambushed in combat. Irwin Winkler’s well-intentioned but meandering film offers good performances from Samuel L. Jackson, Jessica Biel and Chad Michael Murray, but the film’s sentiments tend to run all over the place, serving up a pretentious yet weirdly patriotic message in a movie that’s often tediously paced. Fox’s Blu Ray transfer captures the nuances of Tony Pierce-Roberts’ cinematography in a capable 1080p transfer while 5.1 DTS-MA audio conveys the explosions of the movie’s Iraq-set sequences effectively. Extras are limited to a commentary and an on-screen trivia track.

THE HILLS HAVE EYES 2: Blu Ray (*, 89 mins., 2007, Unrated; Fox): Wes Craven’s tepid remake of his ‘70s horror favorite became an even weaker sequel, released to diminishing box-office returns this past spring. This less-of-the-same rehash follows a group of National Guard trainees who run afoul of the New Mexico desert’s in-bred mutants; what little character development there is on-hand takes a back seat to would-be scares and gore, not to mention some unpleasantries in regards to how the mutants reproduce. Yawn! Fox’s Blu Ray disc does include an excellent AVC-encoded transfer and DTS-MA lossless audio, plus deleted scenes, an alternate ending, and Making Of featurettes.

TALK TO ME: HD-DVD (***, 119 mins., 2007, R; Universal): Don Cheadle and Chiwetel Ejiofor are terrific in this fine period drama, based on the life of outspoken Washington D.J. Ralph Waldo “Petey” Greene, Jr., an ex-con who took to the airwaves and became a radio legend during the turbulent ‘60s. Director Kasi Lemmons has fashioned a mostly straightforward biopic that really clicks due to the conviction of Cheadle and Ejiofor’s performances -- in yet another year of mainly mediocre films justice would be served if both were rightly honored at Oscar time for their work here. Universal’s HD-DVD release presents “Talk To Me” in an excellent 1080p, VC-1 encoded transfer with Dolby TrueHD sound and extras including deleted scenes and two Making Of featurettes.

Recently Released

THE PRINCESS BRIDE: 20th Anniversary Edition (**½, 1987, 98 mins., PG; MGM/Fox): Hugely disappointing new release (the third by my count on DVD) of Rob Reiner’s 1987 adaptation of William Goldman's book offers three relatively brief new featurettes recounting the production, as well as the “official” DVD game. Regrettably, it drops nearly all the extras from the prior Special Edition DVD, including two commentaries, the “As You Wish” documentary, trailers, Cary Elwes’ home movies and other, vintage advertising materials. The transfer (16:9, 1.85) and 5.1 sound here are fine but the loss of numerous supplements makes this one for completists only; fans are advised to track down that prior 2001 Special Edition DVD instead.

1408: 2-Disc Edition (**½, 104 and 112 mins., PG-13; Genius): John Cusack here gives one of his strongest performances in recent memory as a B-list writer who specializes in the paranormal but doesn’t believe the supernatural actually exists. One day he receives a mysterious invitation to check into room 1408 in NewYork City’s swank Dolphin Hotel, much to the chagrin of manager Samuel L. Jackson. Seems that the room is packed with more ghostly activity than all of the Overlook Hotel itself, something that takes Cusack only a few minutes to realize.

Director Mikael Hafstrom does an effective job moving this Stephen King adaptation along, the script by Matt Greenberg, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski effectively developing Cusack’s mounting paranoia as other “guests” of room 1408 manifest themselves, not to mention our protagonist’s deceased young daughter.

The first hour of “1408" works just fine, but things fall apart once Hafstrom and the writers try and pull an obvious “false ending” trick that doesn’t work at all. The movie never recovers from this “twist,” either, limping weakly to an unsatisfying climax and concluding sequence that left me thinking “who cares?”

Like a “Twilight Zone” episode stretched out to feature length, “1408" isn’t all that bad, and Cusack’s performance alone makes this worth a rental. Yet at the same time, one feels that a missed opportunity to deliver a genre classic a la “Poltergeist” was missed here, with the movie’s botched final act putting the final nail in the film’s coffin.

Genius Products’ 2-Disc Special Edition includes a longer Director’s Cut (112 mins.) edit of the film offering about 10 minutes of extra footage as well as an alternate ending which works a little bit better than the released version, though not enough to save the film’s fumbled final third. Deleted scenes, director commentary, numerous featurettes, a strong 16:9 (2.35) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound round out the package; fans should note a Blockbuster-exclusive version (available only for rental) offers two OTHER alternate endings not included in any other DVD edition!

New Animation & Holiday Fare on DVD

RATATOUILLE: DVD [Coming on Blu Ray] (***, 111 mins., 2007, G; Disney)
PIXAR: Short Films Collection Vol. 1 DVD and Blu Ray (54 mins., Disney): Animator-director Brad Bird’s latest effort didn’t quite break through to “Cars” or “Incredibles”-like box-office numbers, but truth be told, “Ratatouille” -- the latest from Bird and Pixar Animation Studios -- is a good deal more satisfying than most of Pixar’s more recent efforts. Outstanding character design and appropriate Parisian flavor make this tale of an unlikely alliance between a rat named Remy and a restaurant bus boy named Linguini a tasty treat with gorgeous colors and rich comic timing, perhaps not as “moving” as other Disney-Pixar offerings but still satisfying for both kids and adults alike.

Disney’s DVD cooks up a robust 2.35 (16:9) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, deleted scenes, a new animated short with Remy and Emile, the theatrically-released “Lifted” short, and a featurette with Bird and chef Thomas Keller.

Also newly available on DVD and Blu Ray this week is the first anthology of Pixar’s self-contained (and often award-winning) shorts, dating back to the company’s first work with Lucasfilm (1984's “The Adventures of Andre & Wally B”) to more recent efforts. If you’re a Pixar fan there’s some repetition on-hand here (as in, recent shorts like “Jack-Jack Attack” and “Mater and the Ghost Light,” produced for the video releases of “The Incredibles” and “Cars,” respectively), but the vintage goodies will prove to be of enormous interest for animation devotees just the same. Adding a little bang for your buck are the disc’s extras, including animation tests and commentaries, with transfers appearing spectacular -- especially on Blu Ray.

CARS: Blu Ray (***, 2006, 116 mins., G; Disney): Disney/Pixar's 2006 box-office hit arrives on Blu Ray in a spectacular new HD transfer, as you might anticipate.

Visually, at least, “Cars” is just as much of a feast as other Pixar 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 Blu Ray release sports most of the extras from the prior DVD -- including deleted scenes and the "Mater and the Ghostlight" short -- and adds an interactive game, a never-before-seen deleted scene, and additional featurettes, all exclusive to the BD release. The 1080p transfer is just as phenomenal as you'd anticipate while PCM and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound round out the audio options. 

LOONEY TUNES: GOLDEN COLLECTION Volume 5 (Warner): The latest outstanding anthology of classic Warner Bros. animated shorts offers four discs chock full of vintage WB goodness, plus an ample gold mine of extras.

Disc one centers on classic “Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck” shorts, including “Transylvania 6-5000,” “Ali Baby Bunny,” “Stupor Duck” and “You Were Never Duckier,” with corresponding commentaries and selected isolated music and/or music-and-effects tracks on-hand for most of the shorts. “Fun-Filled Fairy Tales” like “Bewitched Bunny,” “Holiday for Shoestrings,” “Little Red Walking Hood,” “Tweety and the Beanstalk” and “Tom Thumb In Trouble” adorn disc two, while veteran WB animator Robert Clampett receives his own tribute on disc three. The disc is capped by “Early Daze,” a self-described assortment of pre-1950s shorts, while extras include a documentary on Chuck Jones, vintage “Private SNAFU” and “Mr. Hook” WWII cartoons, three different network specials (“Carnival of the Animals,” “Bugs Bunny’s Looney Christmas Tales,” and “Bugs Bunny’s Bustin’ Out All Over”), Milt Franklin’s alternate opening music theme, recording sessions, other commentaries and interviews.

For fans this is another essential must-have release; for the more casual viewer, the two-disc “Spotlight Collection Volume 5" might suffice, offering here 30 of the shorts from the Volume 5 box-set.

THE PINK PANTHER: A PINK CHRISTMAS (1978-81, 80 mins., MGM/Fox): Three late ‘70s animated TV specials starring the Pink Panther at last hit DVD. Fox’s single-disc anthology includes the charming “A Pink Christmas” (1978) holiday special along with “Olym-Pinks” (which aired the night before the closing ceremony of the 1980 Lake Placid games) and “Pink at First Sight,” a 1981 Valentine’s special. Transfers and soundtracks are just fine, making this a must for Pink Panther fans.

CHUCK JONES COLLECTION (1973-75, 150 mins.; Lionsgate): After departing from Warner Bros., animator Chuck Jones produced a variety of network TV specials, several of which are being brought to DVD in a pleasing, affordable new DVD anthology from Lionsgate. Included in this 150-minute single-disc package are “A Cricket in Times Square” (1973), “A Very Merry Cricket” (1973), “Yankee Doodle Cricket” (1975), “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” (1975), “The White Seal” (1975) and “Mowgli’s Brothers” (1977). Though the animation of these CBS and ABC-broadcast specials isn’t on the level of Jones’ best work, there are amusing and heartwarming moments interspersed throughout these half-hour shows, best enjoyed by young children and Jones devotees. Lionsgate’s transfers are in solid condition given their age and a bonus 15-minute featurette examines Jones’ legacy sporting interviews with June Foray among others.

AQUAMAN: The Complete Collection (1967-68, 264 mins., Warner)
THE SUPER FRIENDS TEAM: Galactic Guardians (1985, 170 mins., Warner): More classic Saturday morning nostalgia hits DVD in a pair of releases eagerly anticipated by DC Comics fans.

Filmation’s 1967 adaptation of “Aquaman” is arguably the best (faint praise as that may be) adaptation of Atlantis’ guardian hero, with Warner’s two-disc set sporting all 36 cartoons from its late ‘60s, pre-Super Friends incarnation (fans may note these episodes have been culled from their longer, original presentation as the “Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure”; the Superman episodes have been previously released, separately, a year ago). Solid transfers and a retrospective look at the series’ creation makes this a must-have for all Aqua-fans.

Hanna-Barbera, meanwhile, concluded their long run of “Super Friends” adventures with the 1985 “Galactic Guardians” variant, offering Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman, Superman, Firestorm, Aquaman and new member Cyborg taking on a fuller run of villains from the DC universe. Fans consider this to be a superior effort to most prior “Superfriends” series from the ‘70s and ‘80s, with Warner again offering a double-disc set with a retrospective documentary. Recommended for all pajama-clad super-heroes...or for those who used to don such garb when they were younger tykes.

A FLINTSTONES CHRISTMAS CAROL (1994, 69 mins., Warner)
TOM AND JERRY: A NUTCRACKER TALE (2007, 49 mins., Warner): Cute made-for-video holiday offerings (yep, it’s November 1st, so it’s officially “the holiday season,” right?) from Warner hit DVD for the first time.

“A Flintstones Christmas Carol” is a pleasant enough 1994 production with Fred understanding the meaning of the holiday while the new “Tom and Jerry: A Nutcracker Tale” includes a fun animated variant on the timeless tale with a particularly vibrant soundtrack supervised by John Mauceri. Full-screen transfers and stereo (2.0 on “Flinstones”; 5.1 on “Tom and Jerry”) soundtracks are all fine, with the latter release also including interactive games for the little ones.

Vintage TV on DVD & More From Paramount

LOVE, AMERICAN STYLE: Season 1, Vol. 1 (1969, 10 hours, CBS/Paramount): Dated but enjoyable pop-culture relic from the late ‘60s makes for colorful sitcom fun on DVD.

This anthology series offers either two or three self-contained stories of dating and relationships with a wide assortment of the era’s stars. Included in these first 17 episodes from the series’ debut  season are Bill Bixby, Yvonne Craig, Flip Wilson, Arte Johnson, Margaret O’Brien, E.J. Peaker, Dwayne Hickman, Gary Lockwood, Barry Nelson, Sid Ceasar, Tina Louise, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, Broderick Crawford, Richard Deacon, Phyllis Diller, Bob Crane, Carolyn Jones, Red Buttons, John Beck, Ted Bessell, Peter Palmer, Rich Little, Jessica Walter, Morey Amsterdam, Shari Lewis, Scatman Crothers, Joe Flynn, Stefanie Powers, Leslie Parrish, Jackie Joseph, Lesley Ann Warren, Regis Philbin, David Hedison and a young Harrison Ford!

Transfers and soundtracks are all in good shape, with even shorter comical vignettes interspersed between the separate stories.

PERRY MASON: Season 2, Vol. 2 (1959, aprx. 13 hours, CBS/Paramount): The final 15 episodes from Season 2 of the long-running Raymond Burr series hit DVD at last this November. The full-screen transfers and Dolby Digital mono soundtracks are all just fine.

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE: 2-Disc Special Edition (1946, 130 mins., Paramount): The perennial Frank Capra drama (I admit it, it’s not one of my favorites) returns to DVD in a new Special Edition from Paramount. Included are dual restored and colorized versions of the film, along with a Making Of narrated by Tom Bosley, the original trailer, and a tribute to Capra narrated by his son Frank Jr.

NEXT TIME: CLOSE ENCOUNTERS Debuts in High-Definition on Blu Ray and more! Until then, don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards, check out the newly relaunched Aisle Seat Blog, and direct any emails to our new email address. Cheers!

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