12/18/06 Edition

Holiday Buyer's Guide, part 1
Andy Covers The Final Discs of 2006
SUPERMAN Special Editions, PIRATES, D&D and More!

Can you believe that Christmas is less than a week away?! Before you go ballistic trying to find a spot at the mall or hoping that online dealer ships out the previously out-of-stock item you need to give as a present (hey, we’ve all been there before, right?), here’s The Aisle Seat’s official Holiday Buyer’s Guide for 2006, split into two convenient parts: Disney, Warner and assorted titles today, and Fox, Paramount and Sony titles for tomorrow. Sound good? Then let’s get straight to it -- eggnog sadly not included!

New from Disney for Christmas: Depp, Narnia & More

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 2: DEAD MEN’S CHEST (***½, PG-13). 150 mins., Disney.

Like a cold summer beverage, a trip to the beach on a hot August afternoon, or an oasis in the middle of a mediocre summer season that saw a needless “Omen” remake and a “Superman” on anti-depressants, “Pirates 2" served up a much-needed slice of high seas escapism for entertainment-starved audiences.
Overlong and flawed, director Gore Verbinski’s sequel is nevertheless a hugely enjoyable romp, fueled by several knockout action sequences and colorful characters most obviously lead by Johnny Depp’s eternally sauced pirate Jack Sparrow. The film is confident, big, bold and plenty of fun -- an element many of this past year’s blockbusters completely lacked.

It’s tough to criticize a script that actually tries to do too much, but original writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio here attempt to develop several plot strands and weave a dozen returning characters throughout this 150-minute follow-up to the 2003 smash hit. The result is a story that’s both cluttered and padded, but the good news is that the duo’s dialogue is still often as sharp as a scalawag’s knife and the sprawling premise enables not just Depp, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley to reprise their roles from the original, but also give other supporting characters (like Jack Davenport’s agreeably disgraced Colonel Norrington and a pair of Captain Barbossa’s minions played by Lee Arenberg and Mackenzie Crook) an opportunity to get involved with the story.
Speaking of which, “Dead Man’s Chest” finds newly-arrived British bureaucrat Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) sentencing poor Elizabeth Swann (Knightley) and her fiancee Will Turner (Bloom) to prison for their involvement with Depp’s Captain Sparrow. Unfortunately, while Will is let go under a directive to retrieve Sparrow’s broken compass, o’l Jack has his own problems -- namely a debt to Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) himself, who comes calling out of the depths of the ocean with a crew of damned sailors, each mutating into a sea creature while serving out their sentences. Among them is Will’s father “Bootstrap” Turner (Stellan Skarsgard), who attempts to save his son while Sparrow waivers between helping out his friends and seizing Davy Jones’ chest for his own personal gain. If that weren’t enough, the movie also includes an escape from a tribe of restless natives, the arrival of Jones’ oceanic beast the Kraken, and a dizzying, sensational finale on a tropical island that’s both brilliantly edited and choreographed.

“Dead Man’s Chest” is slow to get going and does suffer from occasional repetition: the ILM special effects are more than impressive (particularly the animation of Davy Jones and his crew), but I wanted to see the Kraken do more than wrap its tentacles around vessels and slam into crew members over and over. The running plot of Davy Jones’ lost love is amusing but under-nourished, with a good amount of pay-off intended to occur in the third film, which is due out next summer.

Still, if you’re going to end on a cliffhanger, “Dead Man’s Chest” is the way to do it: use the opportunity to spring a last-minute surprise on the audience and in such a way that it promises something we haven't seen before. It ends this installment on a rousing high note that other movies with open endings (like the “Lord of the Rings” films and “Back to the Future Part II”) have failed to match, with the entire audience I was sitting with cheering at the surprise re-appearance of a character from its predecessor.

With Depp’s kooky, unpredictable central performance continuing to hold the film together, “Dead Man’s Chest” is a stylish, savvy sequel that offers more than enough pirate plunder to overcome its various deficiencies. Arrr once again, me mateys, Sparrow saves the day!

DVD GOODIES: Plenty of featurettes, including a “formal” hour-long documentary that’s fairly candid in its look at the difficult shoot, plus a fun examination of how the Disneyland/Disney World attraction was neatly revised to accomodate Depp’s Jack Sparrow creation. A commentary by writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio is unfortunately a bit on the bland side (perhaps no surprise with the two heavily involved in the shooting of the third movie when the track was recorded). Visually the 16:9 (2.35) transfer is spectacular and the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound a powerhouse.

ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: The highest-grossing film of 2006 (over $420 million domestic and a billion worldwide) is one of the most pure, unabashed entertainments of recent years at the movies. Tons of fun (though darker than the original), boasting a rousing cliffhanger capped by a cameo that sets the stage brilliantly for Part 3. A must-have for all but the most hardened curmudgeons of sea-faring movie-goers!

INVINCIBLE (***½, 104 mins., 2006, PG; Disney): Excellent sports movie bio of Vince Papale, who took advantage of a one-time opportunity at becoming a walk-on for the Philadelphia Eagles in the mid ‘70s and became one of the league’s all-time folk heroes in the process. This atmospheric and extremely well-performed underdog tale benefits enormously from Mark Wahlberg’s winning performance as Papale, with Greg Kinnear as understanding coach Dick Vermeil and Elizabeth Banks as his new love interest (a character apparently cobbled together from several different people). Director Ericson Core (who also shot the film) and writer Brad Gann have made one of the best sports films to come down the pike in several years; kudos also go out to Mark Isham for his solid score. Disney’s DVD is fairly light on supplements -- offering only one behind-the-scenes featurette and two commentaries, one from Papale and Gann and another with Core and editor Jerry Greenberg -- but this is a terrific film that’s one of my favorites of 2006. Highly recommended!

DISNEY TRUE-LIFE ADVENTURES (4 Volumes, aprx. $29 each): If you’ve got an older Disney viewer on your list to shop for, look no further than these  “True-Life Adventures” box-sets, compiling numerous, award-winning documentaries Disney and RKO released during the ‘50s. Though somewhat dated in their presentation today, keep in mind that, for audiences of the era, these “natural life” tales offered breathtaking, revolutionary footage of animals at play, and while many have been unseen for years, fans will be delighted by their return to circulation here. Vol. 1, “Wonders of the World,” features “White Wilderness” (1958 Oscar winner for best documentary), “Prowlers of the Everglades,” and Oscar-winning, two-reel shorts “Water Birds” and “Beaver Valley”; Vol. 2, “Lands of Exploration,” sports “The Living Desert” (1953 Oscar winner for best documentary), “The Vanishing Prairie” and “Seal Island”; Vol. 3, “Creatures of the Wild,” includes “The African Lion,” “Jungle Cat,” and “Bear Country”; and Vol. 4., “Nature’s Mysteries,” offers “Secrets of Life” and “Perri.” All sets also include additional vintage Disney shorts, introductions from Roy Disney, trailers, restored transfers and soundtracks (the transfers are in their appropriate, Academy full-screen format ratios), and colorful packaging. Highly recommended, especially for vintage enthusiasts!

DISNEY TREASURES Collectible Tins, Wave 4 (Available this Tuesday): The latest assortment of lavishly-packaged Disney Treasures limited tins arrives this week and offers another compilation of vintage, rarely-seen Disney goodness on DVD. “Your Host, Walt Disney” includes a collection of classic TV programs hosted by Disney himself, along with comments from Leonard Maltin and Diane Disney Miller; “The Hardy Boys” includes all the segments from the “Mickey Mouse Club” adaptations (1956-57) of the Franklin W. Dixon books, plus a reunion with stars Tom Considine and Tommy Kirk; “More Silly Symphonies” (Volume Two) offers over five hours of Disney-produced shorts in their acclaimed and popular series, produced between 1929 and 1938, with restored transfers and extensive commentary tracks; and “The Complete Pluto, Volume 2" continues the adventures of Disney’s favorite pooch with shorts produced between 1947 and 1951, including a trio of efforts starring Pluto’s “feline nemesis” Figaro. Packaging and extras (bonus interviews, Leonard Maltin comments) are all on-par with past Disney Treasures sets and, obviously, come strongly recommended for any studio fan.

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH & THE WARDROBE Four Disc Extended Edition (***½, 150 mins., PG; Disney): Elaborate, limited four-disc release of last winter’s box-office smash contains a new, extended version of the movie (running less than 10 minutes longer than the theatrical cut) and two new discs of extra features. Included in the latter is a terrific, feature-length look at the life of “Narnia” author C.S. Lewis and another disc sporting additional Making Of content. The 16:9 (2.35) transfer is right on-par with the preceding DVD, as are the 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks. Superior to the original 2-disc set and a nice pick-up for fans this holiday season -- and if you’re one of them, snag yourself one while you’re at it, as Disney will pull the lavishly packaged set from circulation on January 31st.

THE FOX AND THE HOUND 2 (2006, 69 mins., G; Disney): The studio’s latest direct-to-video sequel is a lightweight but pleasant continuation of its 1981 predecessor, though decidedly not as melancholy as the original. Solid animation and some engaging songs (along with a breezy Joel McNeely score) sell the further adventures of Tod and Copper, which kids ought to enjoy (adults may miss the bittersweet tone that the original had, which is almost completely absent here). Disney’s DVD includes a perfect 16:9 (1.78) transfer with 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks, along with a music featurette, music video, and interactive games for kids.
AIR BUDDIES (2006, 80 mins., G; Disney): The seemingly never-ending kids’ series about a lovable lab and his off-spring are back to celebrate the franchise’s 10th anniversary (!) with this fitfully amusing new adventure -- this time focusing on Air Bud’s lovable litter of puppies. Comical action backed by various celebrity voices (from Michael Clarke Duncan to the late Don Knotts) makes this a perfect present for little ones this Christmas, with Disney’s DVD offering a 16:9 (1.78) transfer, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, a Jordan Pruitt music video, behind-the-scenes featurettes and more.

HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL: 2-Disc Remix Edition (98 mins., G; Disney): One of the highest-rated cable movies of all-time is quickly back on DVD in a new, double-disc edition to capitalize on the program’s popularity. Sadly, while the movie is presented in its original version as well as a new “sing along” release exploiting karaoke potential, the film itself is presented in its same, standard full-screen version (why no 16:9?) as the previous release. Despite the added features (new interviews, making of footage, etc.), then, some may want to hold off for the inevitable triple-dip that will follow in the likely not-too-distant future.   

STEP UP (**, 103 mins., PG-13; Touchstone): Unlikely box-office sleeper hit from last summer is a fairly hackneyed tale of a teen from the wrong side of the tracks (Channing Tatum) who improbably becomes the partner for a pampered, beautiful young dancer (Jenna Dwan) after doing community service at her performing arts school. Ridiculous and predictable, “Step Up” nevertheless captivated teen audiences, who, in turn, ought to enjoy Buena Vista’s DVD, which offers deleted scenes, bloopers, commentary, a handful of music videos, and a Making Of featurette, plus a 16:9 (2.35) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Warner Delights: Superman, Smallville & More!

SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE 4-Disc Special Edition (****, 151 mins., 1978, PG; Warner)
SUPERMAN II 2-Disc Special Edition (****, 127 mins., 1981, PG; Warner)
SUPERGIRL (**½, 124 mins., 1984, PG; Warner)

If you didn’t splurge for Warner’s massive “Ultimate” Superman box-set, the studio has offered all the individual Man of Steel titles available for purchase separately.

The new, four-disc release of the original 1978 SUPERMAN reprises the supplements from the previous Special Edition DVD (commentary from Richard Donner and Tom Mankiewicz; screen test footage and multiple documentaries; outtakes; isolated John Williams score and separate score extracts) but adds a good amount of new special features as well.

Chief among the additions is the restoration of the 1978 theatrical cut, though sadly with the same, “enhanced” 5.1 remixed soundtrack that was included in the previous, longer Director’s Cut of the movie (also included here). Fans should note that the original ‘78 Dolby mix was supposed to be included here in 2.0 surround, but all copies contain the “new” soundtrack on that track instead, and Warner has since issued a phone number for replacement discs (800-553-6937), which will be available at a future date.

That disappointment aside, it’s great to see the theatrical cut back in circulation: while I love watching the outtakes from the series, the original cut plays better than Donner’s 2001 extended edition, removing the lengthy (and needless) sequence where Lex Luthor toys with Superman’s abilities and an awkward scene with Superman and Jor-El that was only noteworthy for being one of the few discarded Brando sequences from the first movie.

Also new here is a commentary track with Iilya Salkind and Pierre Spengler, who offer background detail on the conception and history of the production, making it a nice contrast to the sometimes overly chatty Donner-Mankiewicz track. Salkind specifically mentions that Donner wanted Jerry Goldsmith to score the movie but, since he “wasn’t available,” the producers were fortunate to get Williams, who they say not only did an outstanding job scoring the picture but stayed over-time in London to accommodate the film’s rushed schedule.

While fans may lament the fact that there’s still ample footage from the three-hour plus “Superman” TV version that has again failed to materialize on DVD, Warner has still provided even more goodies being issued on disc for the first time.

Making its most welcome DVD debut is the original, 50-minute ABC “Making of Superman” special, narrated by the great, late Ernie Anderson (he of “Sunday Night Movie” announcing fame, and father to Paul Anderson of “Boogie Nights”). This promo-ish piece sports tons of great, vintage footage recounting the film’s production, most particularly candid interviews with Reeve and especially Brando, who unforgettably discusses his then-record smashing salary for what amounted to a cameo (albeit top-billed) role.

The 1951 George Reeves feature “Superman and the Mole-Men” is also on-hand here, along with nine of the classic Fleischer Studios cartoons, all having been newly remastered from vault elements.

It’s a tremendous set that represents the definitive package of “Superman” on video to date, and if it weren’t for the soundtrack issue and lack of extra deleted scenes, I’d have rated this as one of 2006's elite discs. As it is, it’s still a must-have for any Superman fan!

While ample attention has been given to the Richard Donner cut of “Superman II,” Warner has wisely decided to issue a separate Special Edition for the theatrical cut of Richard Lester’s SUPERMAN II.

This new 2-disc set gets off to a rocky start in its opening moments because of a fluctuating soundtrack and discoloration running down the left hand side of the frame – but once the action begins, fans ought to be happy with the presentation as the new 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack are appreciable upgrades on the prior 2001 DVD.

Watching “Superman II” (the “real” film) again was a revelation following the recent release of the “alternate universe” version, as so many of the film’s best scenes were excised from the “Donner Cut”: the film’s opening sequence in Paris, Lois’ discovery of Clark’s true identity, and particularly the movie’s rousing finish with Superman returning to the White House are all absent from the Donner version, making it ironic how the more “heartfelt” and supposedly “sensitive” of the two versions is actually missing the true heart and soul of the movie.

At any rate, Warner has not only given us a superior DVD presentation of the theatrical “Superman II” here, but added some excellent supplements to go along with it.

Another commentary by Ilya Salkind (with comments from Pierre Spengler) is on-hand, and gives an alternate perspective on the dealings that led to Richard Lester’s firing (basically, he says everyone was drunk with power after the original film’s success). Salkind mentions the film’s TV version (and how many scenes were restored for it), as well as the music, saying that John Williams wasn’t available to score the sequel, but that Ken Thorne stepped in with instructions to re-use Williams’ themes and add some flourishes of his own (which Salkind notes at various points throughout). If Salkind and Spengler spend some time defending the released movie, it’s understandable, as the reputation of the massively successful 1981 sequel has been tarnished over the years from revisionist criticism and the whole Donner situation becoming more public. Now that both versions are out there for all to see, perhaps it’ll lead some fans back to realizing how satisfying the original “Superman II” is to begin with.

Two interesting, vintage specials are also on-hand: “The Making of Superman II” boasts more tremendous behind-the-scenes footage of the picture being made, though for whatever reason, Warner had to make use of a PAL print for its inclusion here. Sadly, because of conversion/pitch-correction issues, the sound is sluggish throughout, with every speaker (from Christopher Reeve to Ernie Anderson) sounding as if they’re in slow-motion.

“Superman’s 50th Anniversary” was a 1988 CBS special that was produced by “Saturday Night Live”’s Lorne Michaels and boasted the participation of numerous SNL’ers (Jan Hooks, Al Franken, and host Dana Carvey to name just a few). This dry, comical retrospective on Superman’s history is pretty funny and includes many familiar faces playing bit roles (from Peter Boyle and Ellen Greene to Noel Neill and a young Marcia Gay Harden), and while the joke wears thin after a while, it’s a refreshing switch from the usual promotional fare.

A full slate of trailers, all the Fleischer Studios cartoons, AND a bonus featurette on the Fleischer shorts rounds out a disc that, again, only falls short in the deleted scenes department: while one excised moment (the brief, laughable bit where Supes bakes souffle for Lois) is on-hand in the supplements, numerous deleted scenes contained in the TV version of the movie are NOT available here.

Also newly released from Warner is SUPERGIRL, in its 124-minute “International Cut” that’s a basic reprise of Anchor Bay’s out of print DVD from some years back. Regrettably, special features on Warner’s disc pale in comparison to the Anchor Bay effort, with the Anchor Bay commentary with director Jeannot Swarzc reprieved and the original trailer included -- but no deleted scenes or the “Making of Supergirl” present and accounted for. What’s more, the 16:9 transfer seems a bit grainier than the Anchor Bay DVD, while the framing appears to be identical (and, subsequently, a bit over-matted) to its predecessor. Recommended only if you missed the previous release.

SMALLVILLE: Season 5 HD-DVD (2005-06, 22 episodes, 925 mins., Warner).

The fifth season of the contemporary “Superman” series on The WB saw the series move to Thursday nights in what was anticipated as being the final year for the program -- particularly with the much-hyped “Superman Returns” feature film due out at year’s end.

Fortunately, as series co-creator/executive producer Al Gough mentions in his liner notes, the series truly did see both a creative and ratings renaissance in its fifth year, with exciting new storylines and plot developments that took advantage of its fine cast and the potential that exploring the life of a young Clark Kent entailed.

In year five, Clark (Tom Welling) and the gang have gone their separate ways after high school graduation, and young Mr. Kent enrolls at a college where his new teacher (played by “Spike” himself James Marsden) is actually the villain “Brianiac,” sent from Krypton to unleash General Zod and all hell on Earth. Meanwhile, Clark’s on-going off-again/on-again relationship with Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk) reaches a breaking point; Lex Luthor’s continued mining of Kryptonian meteorites comes closer to unlocking the truth about Clark, though with decided ramifications for his father (the superb John Glover); and Jonathan Kent’s running for U.S. senator necessitates much of the family’s energy, with Lois Lane (Erica Durance) assisting Kent’s run against challenger Lex himself.

As usual with “Smallville,” a compelling central plot line is augmented by fun, effective standalone episodes, like “Aqua,” featuring a young Aquaman (which nearly led to a spin-off series before the pilot was rejected); the excellent, holiday-oriented “Lexmas,” exploring an alternate existence for our young villain-in-training; and “Thirst,” with Kreuk’s Lana temporarily becoming a fetching vampire vixen (!) in an amusing, if over-the-top, Halloween episode.

DVD GOODIES: Warner’s five-disc HD-DVD edition surpasses our review of the standard definition set with enhanced 1080p transfers, while most of the extras from the standard version have been carried over (two commentaries, unaired scenes, a featurette on the 100th episode) with the addition of an “in-program” feature boasting a look at the visual FX (this function is accessible during the premiere episode “Arrival”). The Dolby Digital Plus soundtracks are also superb.

ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: A perfect present for “Smallville” fans with an HD-DVD player or drive.       

E/R: Season 6 (1999-2000, 22 Episodes, 976 mins., Warner): Alan Alda’s guest starring stint as a veteran doctor at the end of his career highlighted the sixth season for the long-running NBC series. Sadly, “E/R” had begun to wane in the creativity department by this point, offering more unspeakable tragedies for some of its characters (plus, Clooney had long, and wisely, jumped ship by this point), but long-time fans should still enjoy this collection of 22 episodes from the show’s 1999-2000 season. Warner’s presentation is excellent, offering 16:9 transfers, 2.0 Dolby Stereo soundtracks, unaired scenes and a gag reel.

THE YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA CLAUS (90 mins., 2006; Warner): Live-action, fairly agreeable TV remake of the old Rankin-Bass animated special. John Goodman is a perfect fit for Santa and Delta Burke an ideal Mrs. Claus, while Eddie Griffin and Chris Kattan serve up appropriate shenanigans as the elves who save Christmas for one and all (sadly, Harvey Fierstein and Michael McKean are less than satisfactory as the miserable Snow and Heat Misers, respectively). Director Ron Underwood does a decent job mixing the slapstick and sentiment in this 90-minute NBC film, which comes to DVD in a straightforward Warner release in 16:9 widescreen and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.  
Nostalgic TV on DVD: D&D and The Electric Company Return!

One of the happiest developments of 2006 has been the rise of several independent labels and their release of vintage TV shows that you’d never have imagined would be released on DVD years ago (“Match Game,” anyone?)

BCI Eclipse has been leading the charge in that department, having released numerous classic Filmation series from “Flash Gordon” to “Blackstar.”

Now the label has unearthed another favorite among Saturday morning devotees: the Marvel Productions series DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, which ran for two years (a total of 27 episodes) on CBS from 1983-85. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never played D&D itself (heck, I haven’t), as this self-contained adventure-fantasy series focused on a group of kids who magically found themselves transported into the land of the “Realm,” where giant dragons, assorted villains and monsters lurk around every corner.

The animation is strictly along the “G.I. Joe” lines of the era (this was a Marvel animated series, after all), but the stories are actually not half-bad. In fact, as the years have progressed, the D&D program has actually gained a robust cult following, with many fans signaling out the later episode “The Dragon’s Graveyard” as the series’ finest.

BCI’s lavishly packaged box-set offers all 27 episodes of the series with occasional commentary tracks and fresh full-screen transfers. A colorful booklet includes synopses of every episode and airdate, while a hard-bound “Animated Series Handbook” offers stats for a playable D&D adventure starring the heroes and settings of the series.

Not only that, but a bonus disc is packed full of supplements, from a half-hour retrospective documentary to a script of the final, unproduced episode -- and a radio dramatization of that said story! Additional scripts, storyboards, a live-action fan short “Choices,” alternate and rare footage, and DVD-ROM materials round out another marvelous, vintage TV release from BCI, and a must for fans of the series.

One possible problem for fans, though: some music, in various second season episodes, was apparently changed for the DVD box set. Fans have carped that some of the music in “The Dragon’s Graveyard” was altered, though as I’ve never seen the episode before, I can’t comment on the differences (this “alternate score” is actually mentioned on the episode’s DVD trivia page). The music that IS present is rousing, Johnny Douglas action scoring (similar to “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends,” which Douglas also composed) and contains a particularly sweeping, Asian-influenced end title that would make for a perfect album...if the day ever comes when Marvel opens its vaults and enables one to happen.

Also newly available from The Shout! Factory is THE BEST OF THE ELECTRIC COMPANY VOL. 2, which offers 20 of the best episodes from the classic, fondly-remembered PBS series of the ‘70s (which was broadcast well into the ‘80s) with Rita Moreno and Morgan Freeman leading delightful, talented cast.

As with their prior “Electric Company” DVD box set, the shows contain some of the series’ most memorable skits; an ample dose of The Amazing Spider-Man (“...nobody knows who you are!”); guest star appearances from the likes of Victor Borge, Bill Cosby and others; and the unforgettable “Adventures of Letterman.”

Special features this time out include a retrospective featurette offering cast members Luis Avalos, Jimmy Boyd, Judy Groubart, Skip Hinnant, and Hattie Wilson; a bonus interview with Dick Cavett talking to Cosby; trivia; and more.

They seriously, and sadly, don’t produce children’s programming like this any more, so buy a set to remember -- and show your kids what quality educational TV ought to be!

December Capsule Takes: New From Genius and More

POLICE STORY: Dragon Dynasty Edition (1993, 100 mins., Fortune Star/Weinstein/Genius): After botching so many Asian imports for over a decade, the Weinstein Company has turned the corner and created a new “Dragon Dynasty” label that will deservedly do justice to the films they’re importing. First on the list is Jackie Chan’s 1993 favorite “Police Story,” presented here intact with Cantonese 5.1 audio and subtitles; rare deleted scenes including an alternate beginning and ending; commentary from Chan’s “Rush Hour” director Brett Ratner; an interview with Chan; trailers; and more. The 16:9 (2.35) transfer is solid and the presentation finally one that befits one of Chan’s finest outings. Here’s hoping more “Dragon Dynasty” packages follow down the line...

ALEX RIDER: OPERATION STORMBREAKER (2006, 93 mins., PG; Weinstein/Genius): Horribly botched British import attempts to do for teens what “Spy Kids” did for kid-spies. Needless to say it doesn’t work, despite a game cast (Ewan McGregor, Bill Nighy, Robbie Coltrane, Stephen Fry, Andy Serkis, Mickey Rourke, and a miscast Alicia Silverstone among them). Genius’ DVD offers a 16:9 (1.85) transfer, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, and numerous featurettes plus the original trailer.

CHESTNUT (2004, 87 mins., G; Miramax/Genius): Cute dog tale (unsurprisingly from the same folks who produced “Air Bud”) about a baby Great Dane puppy and the two young sisters who adopt him. Predictable but harmless family fare, presented in full-screen by Genius with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

NEXT TIME: Part 2 of our annual Aisle Seat Holiday Buyer's Guide! Also, don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards and direct any emails to the link above

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