11/7/06 Edition --
RIP Basil Poledouris (1945-2006)

Bond Is Back On DVD!
Andy Reviews The Restored ULTIMATE EDITIONS of 007's Exploits
Plus: Rodgers & Hammerstein Special Editions, Fox Wrap & More

So here we are again: New James Bond. New 007 movie. New video release of the entire Ian Fleming cinematic franchise. And I know what you’re thinking -- “do I have to buy these movies...all over again?!?”

It’s a perfectly valid question for a series that’s likely been issued on video (be it tape, disc, or DVD) probably more times than any in cinema history. The difference, though, is that this time MGM has employed the use of Lowry Digital -- the firm best known for their outstanding work on so many of the DVD medium’s finest transfers (from “Citizen Kane” to the Special Editions of “Star Wars”) -- to handle their new “James Bond Ultimate Edition” packages.

In turn, Lowry has performed a painstaking, frame-by frame restoration of the entire series for the new DVDs -- and the results are often so breathtaking that it’s as if you’re seeing these classic Bonds for the very first time.

This week marks the U.S. debut of the Lowry restorations as MGM and Fox roll out a pair of box-sets coupling 10 of the Eon Productions blockbusters (Volumes 3 and 4 will be available next month):

-Volume 1 features GOLDFINGER (****, 110 mins., 1964), DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (***½, 120 mins., 1971), THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (**½, 125 mins., 1974), THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (***½, 131 mins., 1987) and THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (**, 128 mins., 1999).

-Volume 2 features THUNDERBALL (***, 1965, 125 mins.), THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (***, 126 mins., 1977), A VIEW TO A KILL (**, 131 mins., 1985), LICENCE TO KILL (***, 133 mins., 1989) and DIE ANOTHER DAY (***, 127 mins., 2002).

Each film is presented in its own double-disc slimcase (liner notes are housed outside in the exterior box) containing a freshly restored 16:9 transfer and equally new, superlative 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks. A point of departure from the prior Region 2 “Ultimate” releases is that each picture’s respective, original stereo or mono mix is on-hand as well. Though purists may prefer the original tracks, for me the new 5.1 sound adds immeasurably to films being presented in surround for the first time (such as “Goldfinger” and “Man With The Golden Gun”), but in most cases it’s the transfers that take center stage -- and with good reason.

Putting on the new version of “Goldfinger” was a sight for sore eyes. I had prepared myself for the experience by sampling the first 10 minutes of MGM’s older DVD presentation, and the difference is virtually like comparing VHS to DVD -- never mind one DVD to another! What appeared soft and grainy in the 1998 DVD is now sharp and clear in the new transfer -- faded colors have been restored to their full glory and hairs, scratches and other issues from the previous release (and, obviously, all prior versions as well) have been corrected with the utmost care for the original image. For the first time one can sit down and appreciate “Goldfinger” as it was intended to be seen -- something that, for those of us who weren’t around back in ‘64, will be a revelation. (It also makes the wait for next month’s “Dr. No” and “From Russia, With Love” DVDs nearly unbearable to think about!)

Above: MGM's original DVD (left) and the new, 2006 Lowry Restoration (right) of Goldfinger.

Other transfers are likewise outstanding across the board, though the enhancements will be most noticeable on the older titles. Of this batch of 10 Bonds, the least impressive transfer is arguably “The Spy Who Loved Me,” with somewhat muted colors and a general softness in relation to the other films in the series (it’s possible the production’s mid ‘70s film stock is to blame). Still, even there the new DVD is an improvement on past releases.

For supplements, the lion’s share of goodies from the previous Special Editions have been reprieved here, with new materials added throughout -- particularly new Roger Moore commentaries where applicable. Moore’s presence adds a major touch of class to the new discs, even if his comments are sporadic in nature and are (as you would expect) fairly classy, without a lot of criticisms being doled out from the veteran star.

Also among the new supplements in the “Ultimate Edition” packages are:

-Screen tests, vintage Sean Connery and Honor Blackman interviews on “Goldfinger”
-Deleted and alternate scenes from “The World Is Not Enough,” along with a 1999 featurette, Hong Kong press conference, and alternate angles for the “Thames Boat Chase”
-“Oil Rig Attack” deleted footage, test reel and alternate footage, and a vintage Connery interview on “Diamonds Are Forever”
-Moore commentary on “The Man With the Golden Gun,” plus additional interviews and vintage footage of Moore and Herve Villechaize on “The Russell Harty Show”
-Press conference and EPK materials on “The Living Daylights,” plus additional deleted scenes
-Vintage promo films, TV advertisements and more on “Thunderball”, including the NBC special "The Incredible World of James Bond" (not included on the previous DVD)
-Additional featurettes on “Die Another Day”
-Moore commentary on “The Spy Who Loved Me,” plus vintage 1977 featurettes (one of which was included on the original 1997 “Spy” DVD, not the Special Edition release)
-Moore commentary, deleted scenes, and test footage on “A View to a Kill”
-Deleted scenes and new featurettes on “Licence to Kill”

Most venues seem to be selling the box sets for just about $60 a pop -- a pretty decent chunk of change, especially considering the amount of times the Bond films have been released before. For some, the lack of individual availability (at least for now) will prove to be a detriment -- and for others who intend on their next purchase of the Bonds to be in an HD-based DVD format (Blu Ray or HD-DVD), I can understand the possible hesitation on the part of some consumers to hold off on purchasing these sets.

However, rest assured that your dollar here goes a very long way: Lowry’s new transfers are nothing short of remarkable, particularly on “Goldfinger,” which looks virtually HD-worthy as it appears here, even in standard-definition DVD. The supplements are fun (if mostly rehashed from the previous releases), the soundtracks are tremendous, and the movies themselves as irresistible as ever -- particularly now that you’ll be able to see details here and there for the first time. That alone makes this an upgrade worth every penny, and designates these releases as our Aisle Seat Picks of the Week!

New From Fox

Rodgers & Hammerstein Collector’s Editions: SOUTH PACIFIC (***, 1958, 157 and 172 mins.), THE KING AND I (***½, 1956, 133 mins.) and CAROUSEL (***, 1956, 129 mins.)

Musical fans have reason to rejoice over three new, double-disc Special Editions of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “South Pacific,” “The King and I,” and “Carousel.”

The major development among these Fox releases is the premiere of the long-lost Roadshow Version of “South Pacific.” Running 172 minutes (approximately 15 minutes longer than the general release print), fans will be thrilled to see the original, premiere version of the movie for the first time in 50 years. Most of the “new” footage is comprised of short edits throughout the movie, but although on first glance the additions would seem to be relatively minor “asides,” the film flows more smoothly as a result of their restoration, giving further depth to supporting characters and enhancing the setting. Credit goes out to Fox for unearthing this rarely-screened print, with the “Roadshow”-exclusive material restored from its healthiest surviving elements (the footage is faded in color and stands out from the rest of the film, making it easier to identify).

Fox’s Special Edition also includes a pair of fascinating audio commentaries by Richard Barrios (on the Roadshow version), Ted Chapin and Gerard Alessandrini (on the theatrical version); a terrific, vintage 60 Minutes interview with “South Pacific” author James Michener, as interviewed by Diane Sawyer; archival Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza footage from the original stage production; Movietone news reels; a Making Of featurette; karaoke subtitles; Mitzi Gaynor’s screen test; the trailer and more. Visually, the 16:9 (2.20) transfer is leaps and bounds above the previous DVD and the 5.0 Dolby Digital sound robust and full-bodied (a 2.0 stereo mix is also available).

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s one-two punch of “The King and I” and “Carousel” have also been newly remastered on DVD this week with copious extras.

Darryl F. Zanuck’s production of “The King and I” remains a perennial and is presented on DVD with an isolated stereo soundtrack; commentary from Richard Barrios and Michael Partantiere; the “Anna and the King” TV pilot with Samantha Eggar commentary (!); numerous featurettes; stills and audio from the deleted song “Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?”; vintage stage excerpts with Yul Brynner and Patricia Morison; a superb 2.55 (16:9) transfer and 5.0 Dolby Digital surround.

While not as warmly embraced as “The King and I,” “Carousel” is a strange, compelling musical based on a play that inspired the 1934 film “Liliom.” That film is presented here, alongside a new, remastered 2.55 (16:9) transfer of “Carousel”; isolated score (in stereo); a brand new Making Of featurette; still and audio from deleted songs; Movietone newsreels; and a vintage stage excerpt with Jon Clayton and John Raitt.

Needless to say, all three come highly recommended without hesitation, joining last year’s equally outstanding DVD releases of “Oklahoma!,” “The Sound of Music,” and “State Fair.”

Also New From Fox: Spies, TV, and More!

Three “Cinema Classics Collection” packages compliment Fox’s distribution of the new James Bond DVDs this month.

THE CHAIRMAN (**½, 98 mins., 1969, PG) is a silly Arthur P. Jacobs production, directed by J. Lee Thompson, with Gregory Peck as a Nobel winning scientist who’s sent as a spy into China to decode a formula...that could save the world! A terrific Jerry Goldsmith score helps sell this comic-book adventure that Fox has done a spectacular job preserving on DVD.

Two “international version” extended scenes offer R-rated nudity and sexual situations, while a 17-minute “mini film” includes additional outtakes and fragments of other discarded scenes. Commentary from historians Lee Pfeiffer and Eddie Friedfeld and the original trailer round out a highly entertaining disc, backed by a terrific 16:9 (2.35) transfer with 2.0 stereo and mono sound.

A bit slower-paced but more acclaimed by the critics of its day was THE QUILLER MEMORANDUM (**½, 1966, 104 mins.), Michael Anderson’s somewhat leisurely espionage thriller containing a script by Harold Pinter.

George Segal plays a U.S. spy investigating the deaths of two British secret service agents attributed to a Neo-Nazi movement in West Berlin. Alec Guinness, Max Von Sydow, George Sanders and Senta Berger co-star in this well-shot but sometimes limp 1966 Fox release that’s aided immeasurably by a haunting John Barry score.

Another commentary from Pfeiffer and Friedfeld and the original trailer are included on a DVD that also boasts an okay mono soundtrack and an acceptable 16:9 (2.35) transfer from a print that does occasionally exhibit its age.

Finally, Fox has also released a new, 2-disc FLINT ULTIMATE COLLECTION coupling “In Like Flint” with “Our Man Flint” and a busted ‘70s TV pilot, plus commentaries and other extras. Sadly, we received plain copies of the 2002 DVD versions for review and not the new box set, so your guess is as good as mine in terms of how much of an upgrade Fox’s new package is on its predecessor (the retail price is around $15 in many outlets, so it’s admittedly not much of a gamble).

Capsule Takes

JOHN TUCKER MUST DIE (**½, 90 mins., PG-13, 2006; Fox): Betty Thomas’ amiable teen comedy became one of the sleeper hits at last summer’s box-office, raking in over $40 million. “Desperate Housewives” co-star Jesse Metcalfe is the heartthrob who is eventually schooled by three of his former flames (Arielle Kebbel, Ashanti, and Sophia Bush) looking for revenge on his cheating ways. Enter unpopular girl Brittany Snow, whom the girls target to break Metcalfe’s heart but...you can figure out the rest. Colorful, bouncy and well-performed, “John Tucker Must Die” is one of the better youth comedies to pop up in the last couple of years, with Fox’s DVD offering both 16:9 (1.85) and full-screen transfers, deleted scenes, the original version and a “too hot for theaters” extended cut, commentary from Thomas and numerous Making Of featurettes. Surprisingly not bad. (Available November 14th)

A FISH CALLED WANDA (***, 1988, 108 mins., R; MGM/Fox): After several delays the long-awaited Special Edition of 1988's “A Fish Called Wanda” will be available in a couple of weeks. This delightful comedic concoction remains one of the 80s’ funniest flicks, with pitch-perfect performances from the ensemble of John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline and Michael Palin splendidly selling Cleese’s script and the direction of veteran Charles Crichton hitting all the right notes. New to MGM’s double-disc release are over 25 minutes of deleted scenes; commentary from Cleese; a new documentary; trivia track; and other amusing odds and ends. The 1.85 (16:9) transfer is a definitive improvement on previous DVD editions and a 5.1 Dolby Digital track bests the movie’s original mono mix, which is also included here. (Available November 21st)

WHO MADE THE POTATOE SALAD (2006, 90 mins., 2005, R; Key Video/Fox): Where’s Urkel, you ask? Well, HERE’S Urkel! Yes, Jaleel White is back, here as a police officer who runs afoul of his fiancee’s crazy new family. This African-American variant on “Meet The Parents” (the back packaging even directly references this) is pretty much standard-issue but some laughs do pop up in writer-director Damon “Coke” Daniels’ comedy. Fox’s DVD includes a 1.78 (16:9) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE: Cooking Up Fun (2006, 45 mins., Fox): More adventures for Strawberry and the gang are on-tap in this latest DVD from Fox, offering 45 minutes of edu-tainment for the kids, bonus recipes and a music video. Good to see Shortcake and friends still going strong several decades after their original debut!

Aisle Seat TV on DVD

BOSTON LEGAL: Complete Season 2 (2005-06, 1165 mins., Fox): The chemistry between stars James Spader and (Emmy winner!) William Shatner propel this David E. Kelley comedic-court room series from being just another workmanlike network drama into often uproarious entertainment. Their performances and some offbeat writing are the main reasons to savor “Boston Legal,” which is often as irreverent as anything on the network airwaves (particularly so given its genre). Fox’s seven-disc set preserves the series’ second season with all 27 episodes presented in 1.78 (16:9) widescreen, 2.0 Dolby Surround stereo, and a pair of featurettes rounding out the special features. Definitely worth catching up on, and highly recommended! (Available Nov. 21)

M*A*S*H: 11th Season Collector’s Edition (1982-83, 390 mins., Fox): The long-awaited 11th and final season of “M*A*S*H” preserves one of TV’s most-watched programs in history (the two-hour finale, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen”). The show’s farewell year only offers 16 episodes, but what the series might lack in quantity it more than compensates for in quality, with strong writing and wonderful performances putting a splendid cap on what remains one of the finest series ever produced. Full-screen transfers and mono soundtracks comprise the fine presentation, though extras are lamentably on the non-existent side. Still, an obvious must-have for all “M*A*S*H” fans.

REBA: Complete Season 4 (2004-05, 484 mins., Fox): The generally well-liked (if little-seen) sitcom with country singer Reba McEntire was recently renewed as a midseason replacement on the CW network -- and just in time, Fox has released all 22 episodes from the series’ third season on DVD in standard full-screen transfers and 2.0 Dolby Surround soundtracks. Obviously recommended for fans. (Available Nov. 14)

TALES FROM THE CRYPT: Complete Season 5 (1993, 380 mins., Warner): 13 Episodes comprise the fifth (1993) season of the long-running HBO horror anthology series. Spotlighting performances from Steve Buscemi, Traci Lords, Martin Sheen, Billy Zane and others, the Cryptkeeper and pals had begun to wear out their welcome a little by this point, and with the first “Crypt” movie due out (“Demon Knight” -- remember?), it’s understandable that the attention for the franchise had begun to swing from the series to the big screen. Still, die-hard fans of the show will find morbid humor and light gore scattered about the 5th season, which Warner has released in good-looking full-screen transfers with 2.0 Dolby Surround stereo. Extras include a “Death of Some Salesmen” virtual comic book!

HARVEY BIRDMAN: ATTORNEY AT LAW Season 2 (151 mins., Warner): The offbeat Cartoon Network show returns to DVD in a new anthology comprising the series’ second season. Sporting full-screen transfers, deleted scenes, commentaries from Stephen Colbert and Gary Cole, and other goodies, this is a terrific set for “Birdman” addicts, and if you’ve never seen the show -- check it out. A little might go a long way, but at times “Harvey Birdman” hits the bulls eye as it skewers Hanna-Barbera cartoons and its varied parade of characters.

New & Coming Soon on DVD

THE FALLEN IDOL (***½, 1948, 95 mins., Criterion): Carol Reed’s first collaboration with writer Graham Greene was this 1948 British drama-mystery profiling Ralph Richardson as a butler, involved in an affair and a murder, and his relationship with a young boy named Philippe (Bobby Henrey), who suspects him of murdering his wife. Georges Perinal’s cinematography is striking in this memorable British film that many critics rank with the decade’s finest; Criterion’s new, restored digital transfer preserves the outstanding visuals provided by Perinal and production designers Vincent Korda and James Sawyer, along with a 2006 documentary, “A Sense of Carol Reed,” offering interviews with many of the director’s collaborators. The original press book and new essays from Reed biographer Nicholas Wapshott among others round out a truly entertaining and highly satisfying film that jump-started a collaboration that would soon lead to another classic, “The Third Man.”

CINEMA PARADISO: Limited Edition (***½, 1989, 295 mins [Both U.S. Theatrical and Director’s Cut Versions], R, Genius/Weinstein): Three-disc edition of Giuseppe Tornatore’s acclaimed 1989 smash offers the U.S. theatrical version with a new commentary sporting the director and Italian film historian Milicent Marcus; a pair of new documentaries; a Food Network tribute; the Director’s Cut; and a CD soundtrack preserving Ennio Morricone’s rich, unforgettable score. The Weinstein/Genius Products box set is rounded off by one sheet and lobby card reproductions, plus additional Food Network recipes from Michael Chiarello. Strongly recommended for its new supplements and excellent, limited edition packaging.

HATE CRIME (2005, 104 mins., Image): Writer-director Tommy Stovall’s first film about the murder of a homosexual man and the subsequent investigation is compelling in spite of some awkwardly written passages. The cast (Seth Peterson, Chad Donella, Bruce Davison, Giancarlo Esposito, Brian J. Smith) is fine and Image’s DVD includes commentary from the director, deleted scenes, featurettes, the trailer, 16:9 (1.78) widescreen and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

STRANGERS WITH CANDY (91 mins., 2005, R; ThinkFilm): I’m not a big fan of Amy Sedaris’ Comedy Central series in the first place, so I’m likely not the right critic to cover the feature version of “Strangers With Candy.” This theatrical spin-off with Sedaris, Stephen Colbert, and other members of the ensemble cast rehashes most of the same gags as the series and is packed on DVD with loads of bonus features (commentary, deleted scenes, 16:9 widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound), and comes best recommended -- naturally -- for fans of the show.

PUSHER TRILOGY (318 mins., 1994-2005, Magnolia Entertainment): Denmark-produced trilogy of films about drug dealers and the Copenhagen underworld from filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn has met with growing international cult support. Magnolia’s DVD box set of Refn’s three “Pusher” films includes new full-screen (“Pusher” I) and 16:9 (II and III) transfers, 2.0 Danish language tracks with English and Spanish subtitles, commentary on the second and third films and various featurettes -- including clips from the 2007 Bollywood remake!

Quick Takes: New November Titles From Echo Bridge

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS - THE MUSICAL (2005, 120 mins., Not Rated): If the jacket indicating that “Val Kilmer Is Moses!” is enough to pique one’s interest, then this DVD presentation of last year’s massively expensive, Kodak Theater staging of “The Ten Commandments” is likely to satisfy the curious. Patrick Leonard’s songs run the gamut from the pleasant to the forgettable, but they do keep this effects-filled production afloat through a host of both good and bad performances (as for Kilmer, he’s better than you might anticipate). It’s all a bit of a mess, but at least it’s a lot more affordable than ticket prices ($100 and over) for the show itself! Echo Bridge’s DVD includes a 16:9 transfer, 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital sound, and an interview with Kilmer. (Available Nov. 21st)

THE RAT TAMER (1995, 89 mins., Not Rated): Hugh Jackman plays a troubled prisoner in this edited-down, feature version of the Australian TV series “Correlli.” Worth it for Jackman’s U.S. fans to see one of the star’s earliest performances, but since this isn’t a proper presentation of the series’ 10 episodes, “The Rat Tamer” only comes recommended with strong reservations.

SCHOOL FOR SEDUCTION (2004, 104 mins., R): Entertaining British comedy makes its debut on this side of the Atlantic. Fetching Kelly Brook plays an Italian woman who starts a “school for the seductive arts” in working class Newcastle -- a female version on “The Full Monty” then results in director Sue Heel’s pleasant romantic confection. Echo Bridge’s DVD includes a widescreen transfer. (Available Nov. 21st)

DISASTER ZONE: Volcano In New York (2005, 92 mins., Not Rated): Alexandra Paul tries to help ex-husband Costas Mandylor save the Big Apple from a volcanic experiment gone horribly wrong. Blame scientist Michael Ironside for the trouble in this Sci-fi Channel original movie presented here on DVD in 16:9 widescreen.

OBSESSION (1997, 100 mins., Not Rated): This 1997 French-German import is getting dusted off just in time to capitalize on star Daniel Craig’s newfound fame as Bond, James of the 007 persuasion. Alas, Craig and Seymour Cassel are the only identifiable names who pop up -- both in supporting roles -- in this nearly decade-old (and forgettable) tale of a tragic love triangle.

LOVE THY NEIGHBOR (2006, 89 mins., Not Rated): First a volcano, then a nervous breakdown? Things are barely better for poor Alexandra Paul in this small-screen affair with a more domestic bent, as Paul moves with her family into a new town with psychotic neighbors soon making life tough for one and all (and she left “Baywatch” for this?!?). (Available Nov. 21)

NEXT TIME: An HD-DVD Extravaganza with reviews of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE III, THE THING, ARMY OF DARKNESS, plus Paramount's latest including POLICE SQUAD! Until then, don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards and direct any emails to the link above . Cheers!

Get Firefox!

Copyright 1997-2006 All Reviews, Site and Design by Andy Dursin