Aisle Seat November Madness Edition

Golden Age Titles from THE MORE THE MERRIER to the Marx Brothers
Plus: HELLBOY Director's Cut and The Mail Bag Returns!
By Andy Dursin

In just a couple of weeks, Fox will be releasing an alternative "Director's Cut" DVD of DAREDEVIL, the entertaining (and, for me at least, underrated) Marvel comic book adaptation starring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner.

The concept of Director's Cuts is not new, but it seems as if the DVD medium lately has extended even more life to them. No longer are Director's Cuts the exclusive property of Steven Spielberg and Oliver Stone; now, even movies that performed only modestly well at the box-office can re-surface in new, expanded editions.

That's the case with Guillermo Del Toro's HELLBOY (**1/2, 2004, PG-13; Columbia TriStar), which I first reviewed back in July.

Though that 2-disc Special Edition was chock full of supplements, Columbia TriStar has done one better and released and even more comprehensive 3-disc Director's Cut release. Sporting nearly all of the supplements from the earlier DVD, this second edition sports Del Toro's preferred long version, running 132 minutes (about 12 minutes longer than the theatrical version) and offering additional character scenes that do enhance the picture. While the movie is still flawed, this release better fleshes out the story and its characters and is superior overall to the released edit.

Just as enticing are the new special features, including an exclusive commentary track by the director, additional storyboards, and commentary from composer Marco Beltrami. While not especially useful as an isolated score track (Beltrami talks over much of it), this is still a rare opportunity to hear a composer speak about his score, the challenges of working in the genre, and his collaboration with Guillermo Del Toro.

The second and third platters in the set offer additional special features: video introductions from stars Ron Perlman and Selma Blair, a cast video commentary track with the stars, the 2 ½ hour documentary from the previous DVD, deleted scenes, character bios, branching DVD comics from creator Mike Mingola (with new text by Del Toro), trailers, TV spots, poster concepts, production workshops, director's notebooks, pre-production art and more. The 1.85 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound are both on par with the previous DVD edition. Highly recommended for fans!

Also new from Columbia is yet another edition of Stanley Kubrick's seminal black comic masterpiece DR. STRANGELOVE (****, 1963, 96 mins., Not Rated), which this time boasts a crisp and gorgeous new 16:9 transfer in its 1.66 aspect ratio.

While previous DVD editions of the Kubrick classic alternated between 1.33 full-screen and 1.66 widescreen dimensions, Columbia here opted to stick with the 1.66 ratio to accommodate a fully anamorphic transfer. The results are highly impressive, besting any previous version of the film and offering a brand new 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital mix that also trumps the original mono track (itself also included here).

New supplements add to the set's value: two documentaries offer fresh interviews with Roger Ebert, Spike Lee, political journalist Bob Woodward and others, who discuss the lasting impact of Kubrick's classic and the reality of nuclear war in "No Fighting in the War Room," while "Best Sellers: Peter Sellers Remembered" includes candid David Frost thoughts on the late actor, with rare footage culled from the actor's estate. Two featurettes have been ported over from the previous disc ("The Art of Stanley Kubrick" and the superb "Inside the Making of 'Dr. Stangelove'"). Lastly, a lengthy interview with former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara rounds out the release, which also includes a collectible scrapbook with a Roger Ebert essay and production stills.

Last but not least from Columbia this week is their beautiful new edition of George Stevens' classic comedy THE MORE THE MERRIER (****, 1943, 104 mins.,) starring Jean Arthur as a single girl who rents out her apartment to millionaire Charles Coburn. Coburn quickly tries to play matchmaker and fix Arthur up with Joel McCrea's nice-guy Army sergeant in a frantic, romanticized WWII-era Washington, D.C.

Later remade as the Cary Grant vehicle "Walk Don't Run," this crisp, funny, and charming comedy represents '40s cinema at its most divine. Columbia's new remastered version looks terrific, with the original black-and-white transfer appearing in solid condition, with the movie only intermittently showing its age from a visual angle. The mono sound is also OK.

More classic comedy can be found in Universal's lavish 6-disc set, THE MARX BROTHERS: SILVER SCREEN COLLECTION, which includes five of their theatrical efforts: "Duck Soup," "Horse Feathers," "Monkey Business," "Animal Crackers" and "The Cocoanuts."

Though none of these late '20s/early '30s efforts are as funny today as "A Night at the Opera," for example, this set is still a must for any Marx Bros. fan: the original black- and-white transfers look as good as they're likely to get on DVD, with the occasional flaw inherent in the source materials. Though 1929's "The Cocoanuts," for example, is stilted and restrained due to its primitive filmmaking, the later "Duck Soup" shows how much the medium had advanced in just a few short years: its ridiculous comedic heights are pure bliss.

Universal's set is nicely packaged in book-bound form, complete with a 40-page booklet offering anecdotes about each picture and numerous production stills. Sadly, the supplements on the discs themselves are a disappointment, with only three vintage Today Show interviews (the first new sign of NBC's ownership of Universal) being present: older conversations with Harpo and Groucho are included, along with an '80s interview with William Marx (Harpo's son) offering rarely-screened home movie footage of the Brothers at work.

Despite the lack of extensive special features, this is still a nice set that all Golden Age comedy fans shouldn't pass up.

For animation fans, Warner Home Video's long-awaited LOONEY TUNES GOLDEN COLLECTION Vol. 2 (320 mins., four discs; The Aisle Seat DVD Pick of the Week) will likely rank as the "gotta-have-it" DVD release of 2004.

Again packaged in a colorful cardboard fold-out, this set offers four more platters of classic Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies madness, all in fully remastered transfers that blow the doors off any previous release of these shorts. Each disc is loosely grouped via characters (Bugs Bunny Masterpieces, Tweety & Sylvester, Looney Tunes All Stars: On Stage & Screen, and Road Runner & Friends), with supplements including commentary tracks and, yes, even a few isolated scores worked into the mix!

Some of the standout gems here include "One Froggy Evening" (sporting a music-only track and commentary from Michael Barrier), "What's Opera, Doc" (music AND voice- only tracks, with commentary by Chuck Jones, Michael Maltese, and Maurice Noble, plus another commentary with Daniel Goldmark), "The Three Little Bops" (commentary by WB animation expert Jerry Beck and Stan Freberg, plus music and voice-only tracks), "Broomstick Bunny" (commentary by June Foray, combined music and effects track), "Hyde and Hare" (music only track), "Guided Muscle" (music only track), "Gee Whiz-z- z" (music only track), "Scrambled Aches" (music only track), "Zoom and Bored" (music only track), and "A Bear For Punishment" (commentary by Michael Barrier, combined music and effects track).

Additional extras are also in abundance, from a busted TV pilot ("The Adventures of the Road Runner"), featurettes on Tex Avery and Treg Brown, opening sequences from the beloved Saturday morning show "The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show" and more.

Though Warner has also packaged a two-disc "Spotlight Collection Vol. 2" offering roughly half of the shorts from this set, aficionados are urged to plunk down the extra cash for double the entertainment value with the "Golden Collection." Absolutely recommended!

Also New on DVD

A CINDERELLA STORY (**1/2, 2004). 95 mins., PG, Warner Home Video. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Additional scenes, cast commentary, screen tests, Making Of featurette, interactive games, music video; 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
Cute teen comedy with Hilary Duff as a smart high schooler who trades text messages with her secret admirer -- the school's sensitive quarterback (Chad Michael Murray), who unknowingly is falling for the diner-working girl outside his social clique.

This pleasant youth vehicle offers an amusing comedic combination of "Cyrano" and a modern "Cinderella" variant, with Duff's evil stepmother being a ridiculously over-the- top Jennifer Coolidge and her fairy godmother appearing in the form of Regina King's kindhearted diner manager.

Inoffensive and forgettable, "A Cinderella Story" is fairly charming for what it is, with the usual messages about being true to one's self and breaking free of parental expectations interspersed throughout the Leigh Dunlap script. Along the way, there are some laughs and nice sequences, making for an appealing family entertainment.

Warner's DVD offers a pristine 1.85 Widescreen transfer with a bouncy 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, including an array of upbeat pop tunes and Christophe Beck score. Supplements include some brief deleted scenes, screen tests, fluffy Making Of featurette, commentary with Hilary "and friends," the original trailer, and games for kids.

Lion's Gate Round-Up

FRANKENSTEIN (2004, 204 mins., Not Rated): TV mini-series adaptation of the Mary Shelley classic unfortunately evokes more memories of Kenneth Branagh's 1994 flop than the Boris Karloff rendition. Produced by Robert Halmi's Hallmark Entertainment, Alec Newman stars as Frankenstein and Luke Goss attempts to put a humane spin on his monstrous creation, who later chases him around the world. Julie Delpy and William Hurt offer support, while Donald Sutherland appears in the role of the Antarctic ship captain whom Newman relays his story to. Fairly well-made but drawn out and ultimately disappointing. Lion's Gate's DVD includes a full-screen transfer (as the movie was originally shot) with an okay 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, interviews with the stars and a typical "Making Of" short.

5IVE DAYS TO MIDNIGHT (2004, 255 mins., Not Rated): Sci-Fi Channel mini-series stars Timothy Hutton as a professor who receives a police file recounting the details of his own murder. Angus MacFadyen, Randy Quaid, and Giancarlo Esposito co-star in Michael Watkins' entertaining enough suspense-thriller, which Lion's Gate has released on DVD with numerous special features, including 16:9 widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital audio, commentaries on the first and fourth episodes by Watkins and cinematographer Joel Ransom, and four Making Of featurettes. Recommended.

UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: Special Edition (**1/2, 1992, 102 mins., R): Special Edition re-issue of the Roland Emmerich sci-fi actioner, best known for its teaming of Jean- Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren as robotized soldiers, killed in Vietnam, who are brought back to life as unstoppable super-combatants. With a better-than-average supporting cast (Ally Walker, Jerry Orbach), this dumb but entertaining B-actioner offers plenty of entertainment value for its target audience. Lion's Gate DVD offers a fresh, remastered 2.35 transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, along with commentary from Emmerich and Dean Devlin, two Making Of featurettes, recent interviews with Van Damme and Lundgren, plus an alternate ending. Well worth the double-dip for fans.

Also New This Week

AMERICA'S HEART AND SOUL (***, 88 mins., 2004, G; Disney): Colorful, entertaining documentary seeks to celebrate the American Spirit by interviewing a variety of folks about their intriguing exploits. Nicely shot and scored by Joel McNeely, this is a satisfying, uplifting Disney documentary that offers original John Mellencamp songs, extended musical performances, a Making Of featurette, and commentary from director/producer Louis Schwartzberg. Disney's DVD also sports 1.85 (16:9 enhanced) and full-screen transfers, plus 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

SPANISH FLY (*1/2, 94 mins., 1998, R; Miramax): Dapha Kastner (Harvey Keitel's wife) wrote, directed, and starred in this 1998 independent comedy as a female journalist who flies to Madrid in order to write an expose on the "macho men" of Spain. The results are predictable in this talky, dry romantic comedy, which co-stars Danny Huston, Marianne Sagebrecht, and Martin Donovan. Tellingly, Kastner has yet to make, much less star, in another feature. Miramax's DVD includes a 2.0 Dolby Surround track and 1.85 widescreen transfer enhanced for 16:9 televisions.

Aisle Seat Mail Bag

From Michael:


Are there any plans for special editions of the Clive Donner TV movies "Oliver Twist" (1982 - George C. Scott, Tim Curry), "The Scarlet Pimpernel" (1982 - Anthony Andrews, Jane Seymour, Ian McKellen), and "A Christmas Carol" (1984 - George C. Scott, David Warner, Susannah York)? I know they are already out on VHS (and DVD for "Pimpernel" and "Christmas Carol"), but I was hoping that better editions would be made available in the near future. I loved watching these movies on TV when they were first aired. My parents recorded them when they aired, and we watched them over and over again as I grew up. I thought they were well done -- acting, sets, costumes, cinematography, music. Speaking of the music, any chance that Nick Bicat's scores were or will be made available on CD? With the recent interest in television DVDs and CDs, I've got my fingers crossed.

Also, I have a question about two TV movies I cannot remember the name of, and am wondering if they were ever available on VHS or DVD. The first movie starred Michael Caine as a London detective on the hunt for Jack the Ripper (I think); the second starred Anthony Andrews as Moriarty. Any possibilities those are available?

Also, any chance that Allyn Ferguson's TV movie scores for "The Count of Monte Cristo", "The Man in the Iron Mask", "Les Miserables", "Little Lord Fauntleroy", "A Tale of Two Cities" and "Ivanhoe" were released on CD? Maybe in a compilation? I know that's a lot of questions, but I've always wondered. I finally got around to asking. I enjoy your articles - they're the first ones I read for any info on upcoming DVDs.

Michael, thanks for the questions and kudos. They're much appreciated! Sadly, I don't know of any plans for new editions of those highly-regarded Clive Donner tele-films, though I'd love to see them.

The first TV movie you're thinking of is the terrific JACK THE RIPPER (1988) with Michael Caine, Armand Assante and Jane Seymour. First broadcast in the U.S. on CBS, that two-part tele-film has been released on DVD by Anchor Bay only in the UK, where it has excellent special features (including footage from the first filmed attempt at making the show) and commentary. Unfortunately, I don't know of any plans for its DVD release here.

The second TV-film starring Anthony Andrews as Moriarty was HANDS OF A MURDERER (1990), which starred Edward Woodward and John Hillerman as Holmes and Watson, respectively. (It also had a script by Charles Edward Pogue, of "The Fly," "Kull the Conqueror" and "Dragonheart" fame). It's newly available on DVD domestically from a company named Wellspring, which I'm not overly familiar with (my pal Paul MacLean tells me that they just issued a pretty lousy-looking edition of Akira Kurosawa's RAN).

As far as Allyn Ferguson's scores go, I believe that he issued a promo edition of some of his scores -- perhaps someone in the know can fill us in there. [Prometheus released three volumes of The Film Music of Allyn Ferguson on CD. Vol. 1 featured The Count of Monte Cristo and The Man in the Iron Mask, and Vol. 2 featured Ivanhoe along with Camille -- SB]

From Bruce Marshall:

Hey Andy,
Like you I am a big fan of SCTV! My "holy grail" are the SCTV eps that were made for cable tv (Showtime or HBO?) -- the only ones I never saw. D'ya know if they are slated for a dvd release?
Bruce, I believe the plan is for Shout! to issue the later episodes first, then work backwards to the original, 30-minute syndicated shows from the late '70s.

From Charles Thaxton:

Hi Andy

One thing you mentioned in your DVD review yesterday about FIRE IN THE SKY is the actual abduction sequence in the film, which was a MAJOR disappointment to serious ufologists when it came out since what was depicted in the film is NOTHING like what Travis Walton actually reported (read his book for the real story).

Walton himself makes a cameo in the film twice...walking by the car in the street scene in town, and in the town meeting seated amongst the crowd(with a brown beard and ball cap) I met Travis and Mike Rogers years ago and they were pretty convincing and really...what did they ever really gain from their story? (besides DVD and film royalties...)

Mark Isham's score is one of my favorites.

From John Maimone:
Did anybody notice that the City on the Edge of Forever episode has the "Good Night Sweethart" music again [in the STAR TREK SEASON ONE box set]? On VHS it was replaced by another song. Just an observation!!

From George C. Matthews:


I was born and raised in Ayer, Massachusetts. I am 65 years young. Besides loving film scores, I love our Red Soxs. It's been a long time coming for us, but in my lifetime, our team became CHAMPIONS. All the playing teams played great. We are resting now before the snow comes, but we still have the Patriots as well as our basketball and hockey teams.

George, it's been an awesome last few weeks in New England, as I'm sure you're well aware -- just as it's been for any Red Sox fan in the world. Something we'll be celebrating long into 2005 and surely beyond as well. Cheers!

NEXT TIME: Vangelis checks in with ALEXANDER and Michael Giacchino tries out feature scoring with THE INCREDIBLES.


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