12/18/07 Edition -- The New AISLE SEAT BLOG Is Now Live & Relaunched!

Holiday Buyer's Guide
From HALLOWEEN to THE SIMPSONS, Over 30 Titles Covered
Plus: HD-DVD and Blu-Ray Round Up!

What a year it’s been for DVD lovers. Special Editions of older titles, and the slow rise of both high-definition formats (sure the “war” is tough, but with prices as low as they’ve plunged because of the competition, deals have been widespread since Thanksgiving), have made this a terrific viewing year for movie buffs -- even if DVD sales continue, in the big picture, to decline (perhaps the sagging film industry with its continuously disappointing major high-profile releases are partially, at least, to blame).

For our annual Aisle Seat Holiday Buyer’s Guide we’ve rounded up all the latest DVDs, HD-DVDs and Blu-Ray discs, from new releases to re-issues of catalog titles in spiffier (or not) packaging. We’ve also included a look at Disney’s latest “Treasures” tins, a full rundown on recent TV on DVD titles, and capped it off with a box-set for Red Sox fans everywhere.

Without further ado, here’s this year’s Holiday Gift Guide, complete with the warmest wishes for a splendid Christmas and New Years from yours truly. Ho ho ho!

New on HD-DVD

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: Season One HD-DVD (13 Episodes, 2003-04; Universal): Smart, exciting modern remake of the ‘70s sci-fi favorite improves immeasurably upon its predecessor and hits HD-DVD in a fine, if not quite flawless, new high-definition edition from Universal.

For those unfamiliar with the Sci-Fi Channel updating, the central scenario remains the same (more or less) as Glen A. Larson’s predecessor: in a distant galaxy, the long-dormant, robotic Cylons revive to destroy all remnants of humanity, while the surviving humans -- led by a reluctant President (Mary McDonnell) and the gruff Commander Adama (Edward James Olmos) -- try and navigate through the universe to find Earth...if it actually exists.

Developed characters, intense dramatic situations that result from genuine human emotion -- not just special effects -- and tremendous performances have made “Battlestar Galactica” one of the top series (and not just a genre series, either) on the air today. “Next Generation” vet Ronald D. Moore spearheaded this serious reworking of the old Universal series, which has managed to reap solid ratings, unanimous critical acclaim and only a bit of disdain from hard-core fans of the ‘70s version. For everyone else “Battlestar Galactica” is television, basically, at its best in the 21st century.

Universal’s HD-DVD box set offers VC-1 transfers and Dolby Digital Plus soundtracks that, for many viewers accustomed to seeing the series in regular-definition, ought to be quite satisfying. On the other hand, the video isn’t flawless, with some artifacting on-hand at times, grain and other issues that prevent the set from appearing pristine. That said, it’s hard to tell if this is an issue with the mastering, or simply a product of the show’s budget and how it is shot.

In terms of content, the original, two-part pilot mini-series is present, along with the 13 episodes from the first season. Commentaries from the show’s creators are on-hand for the pilot and nine of the hour-long episodes, while other extras include numerous behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, storyboards and more. Additional picture-in-picture content and web-enabled bonus features, as well as an interactive guide to the characters and spacecraft, put the icing on the cake. Overall, this is a must for all BG and HD-DVD owners, in spite of its not-quite-powerhouse transfer.

THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM: HD-DVD (***½, 116 mins., 2007, PG-13; Universal): Matt Damon reprises Jason Bourne in this stirring, sensational third entry in the Robert Ludlum spy series, one that wisely offers some fresh twists on the formula established by its prior installments.

A marked improvement in particular on “The Bourne Supremacy,” “Ultimatum” finds Damon chasing after his identity at long last, with the government in hot pursuit and few allegiances on his side. Director Paul Greengrass keeps the action moving along at a rapid clip with stupendous set-pieces and a story that’s more straightforward and satisfying than the previous effort, with Damon as the ideal embodiment of Ludlum’s hero and Julia Stiles finally getting more to do as this installment’s female lead.

“The Bourne Ultimatum” is exciting, fast-paced and enormously entertaining -- superior to the recent James Bonds (yes, even “Casino Royale”), an ideal spy film and arguably last summer’s finest movie on top of it.

Universal’s HD-DVD (a “combo disc” with the standard-definition version on the platter’s flip side) includes a dynamic VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer with a powerhouse Dolby TrueHD audio track and a load of extras, including “U-Control” picture-in-picture content, deleted scenes, featurettes, and commentary from Paul Greengrass.

As satisfying an HD experience as any title released this year, “The Bourne Ultimatum” comes highly recommended!

STARDUST: HD-DVD (***, 127 mins., 2007, PG-13; Paramount): Rollicking, offbeat fantasy epic from director Matthew Vaughn, who adapted (along with co-writer Jane Goldman) Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess’ novel. This comic, sweepingly romantic fantasy stars Charlie Cox as a dashing hero who falls for a literal star (in the physical form of lovely Claire Danes) battling a witch (Michelle Pfeiffer) in a faraway land that also features Robert DeNiro as a pirate (!) and assorted supporting roles filled by the likes of Ricky Gervais, Rupert Everett and Peter O’Toole. A little long but filled with enough imagination and visual splendor to make for an ideal HD-DVD, where the transfer and Dolby Digital Plus sound are both exceptional. Extras include a Making Of (in HD) plus deleted scenes, a blooper reel, and the trailer (also in high-definition); the standard-definition DVD includes the same extras along with a fine 16:9 (2.35) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

THE HEARTBREAK KID: HD-DVD (**½, 114 mins., 2007, R; Dreamworks): The Farrelly Brothers and Ben Stiller reworked the old Neil Simon/Charles Grodin “Heartbreak Kid” for this box-office disappointment, which was theatrically released just over two months ago! Dreamworks’ HD-DVD and DVD releases are available next week and present a solid presentation of this not-bad comedic re-do, peppered with a few laughs as well as misfired jokes that feel like leftovers from “There’s Something About Mary.” That being said, Stiller and Michelle Monaghan are engaging, while co-star Rob Cordry nails his role as Stiller’s married-to-the-bone cohort. The HD-DVD edition sports a terrific 1080p transfer with TrueHD sound, while both discs include commentary from the Farrellys, deleted scenes, a gag reel and other featurettes, as well as the trailer (in high definition on the HD-DVD side).

Blu-Ray New Releases

LOST: Season 3 Blu-Ray [also on DVD] (2006-07, 991 mins., Buena Vista): Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse got their groove back during “Lost”’s third season -- one which may not have brought back the millions of viewers who jumped ship during the program’s turbulent second season, but nevertheless restored the faith of those die-hard fans who remained, all of whom had reason to wonder exactly where “Lost” was heading.

Season Three may not give us any more answers, but after a dismal opening arc (which was separated from the rest of the broadcast season by several months -- directly resulting in the show losing viewers it may never regain), “Lost” settles back into the satisfying mix of adventure, mystery, and psychological thriller that marked it as one of television’s most inventive and entertaining series during its first season. And yes, the producers even give us some answers as to what’s really happening, even though they -- as always -- raise other questions as much as they provide some semblance of a resolution.

It’s all enormously entertaining, even if the final episode seems to head off in a direction you’d wish it wouldn’t go...but at the same time, “Lost” has never been a series that’s been overly predictable, and undoubtedly Lindelof and Cuse will have more tricks up their sleeve when the series returns in January (albeit for only seven or eight shows if the strike isn’t settled).

Buena Vista’s DVD box-set of “Lost”’s third season looks and sounds great, but it’s blown away by the Blu-Ray edition, which offers a marvelous AVC-encoded 1080p transfer with uncompressed PCM sound and numerous extras, including never-before-seen flashbacks, behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, commentaries, bloopers, and even a look at the show’s countless literary references. The Blu Ray release also includes two exclusive extras, including an interactive game that supposedly unlocks answers to some of the show’s greatest mysteries (yeah, right!).

It’s a stellar package on every count, a must for “Lost” and Blu-Ray buffs. Highly, highly recommended!

HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 2: Blu-Ray (111 mins., 2007, Disney): The most-watched non-sporting event in cable TV history (and the second most-viewed overall) comes to Blu-Ray in a vivacious HD transfer with uncompressed PCM audio and extras its teenage audience ought to love (including a “rehearsal cam,” sing-along karaoke, music videos and bloopers). The standard DVD edition is also fine (though it’s full-screen only), with both versions including a bonus musical number re-cut into the film proper.

MASTERS OF HORROR, Season 1, Vol. 4: Blu-Ray (Anchor Bay): Fourth Blu-Ray edition of the Showtime series includes Takashi Miike’s “Imprint”; Joe Dante’s “Homecoming”; John McNaughton’s “Haeckel’s Tale”; and Mick Garris’ “Chocolate,” starring Henry Thomas and Matt Frewer. Extras include commentaries on every episode along with excellent HD transfers and PCM 5.1 audio tracks.

CAST AWAY: Blu-Ray (***, 144 mins., 2000, PG-13; Fox): It's not the best movie of either director Robert Zemeckis or star Tom Hanks, but in spite of an often contrived screenplay (with deadening "civilization" sequences that open and close the picture), "Cast Away" manages to work just well enough to fit the bill as a solid enough entertainment and an excellent Blu Ray disc.

Hanks plays a FedEx manager (blatant commercial tie-in #1) whose plane is ditched en route to Russia. Washed up on an isolated island, the sole survivor braves the elements in a tropical paradise where his only companion is a Wilson volleyball he names after the manufacturer (blatant commercial tie-in #2).

Thanks to fine cinematography by Don Burgess and solid work from Hanks, "Cast Away" works splendidly in its isolated-from-the-world sequences, even if glaring plot deficiencies abound (there's no wildlife, birds, or insects aside from conveniently placed fish that frolic near the shores). Of course, while this section of the movie pales in comparison to other "Robinson Crusoe"-like chronicles of survivors shipwrecked or lost in the wilderness (the original "Blue Lagoon," "Walkabout," and the first half of "The Black Stallion" come immediately to mind), the drama and Hanks' performance offset the lack of freshness in the story.

What ultimately sinks "Cast Away" from being a great movie are the bookending sequences involving Hanks and his fiance (Helen Hunt), which never work since neither character is developed enough to garner any kind of emotional resonance -- she's there as a plot device, and the movie never dives into what makes Hanks tick aside from his being a FedEx employee. The obvious message of our civilization being obsessed with deadlines and work is hammered home time and time again in the William Broyles, Jr. screenplay, but there's nothing else to pique our interest or emotions aside from the basic plot of a man being marooned on a desert isle.

In fact, once Alan Silvestri's modest score makes its first appearance right near the end, "Cast Away" turns into a Discovery Channel-like variation on "Forrest Gump," managing to be less heavy-handed but equally cliched in its own way.

If a different script could have improved the film's open and close, "Cast Away" could have been a classic. As it is, the picture is worth viewing for Hanks's performance and the cinematography, even if some shots that look "too good to be true" were almost certainly enhanced by CGI effects --- so much for stressing man's own ability to single-handedly triumph without the use of ever-present technology (and a sad precursor to Zemeckis’ subsequent “all digital” productions “The Polar Express” and “Beowulf”).

Fox’s Blu Ray disc includes an excellent AVC-encoded transfer with 5.1 DTS-Master Audio and only a few extras ported over from the prior DVD, including commentary, a trivia track, and the trailer in HD.

MR. & MRS. SMITH: Blu-Ray (**½, 2005, 120 mins., PG-13; Fox): Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s star power fuels this so-so action romp from director Doug Liman (“Bourne Identity,” “Swingers”), which grossed over $170 million and turned into one of 2005's few bona-fide box-office hits. Pitt and Jolie play a married couple unaware that their spouse is actually a professional assassin, hired to take out a hit on a target (Adam Brody) both are pursuing! Simon Kinberg’s script unfolds leisurely, allowing for the palpable chemistry between Jolie and Pitt to take center stage. Vince Vaughn pops up in an unbilled role as Pitt’s co-worker, and John Powell’s score punches up the action. Still, “True Lies” this isn’t, with the movie’s story being too simplistic and straightforward to offer much entertainment outside of its lead performances.

Fox’s Blu Ray edition sports a fine AVC-encoded transfer with 5.1 DTS-MA audio and a hodgepodge of extras from prior DVDs, including deleted scenes, three different audio commentaries, trailers, and the Fox Movie Channel “Making a Scene” featurette.

THE SIMPSONS MOVIE: Blu-Ray (**½, 2007, 87 mins., PG-13; Fox): Matt Groening’s animated clan made the leap to the big-screen last summer with huge box-office results in tow -- a big surprise to the pundits given how many years the Fox series has been on the air, and also how stale the series itself has become in recent seasons. That said, “Simpsons” fans will love this “epic” tale of Homer and the clan trying to save the world, with Fox’s Blu-Ray edition sporting a fine MPEG-2 encoded transfer with DTS-MA audio, two commentaries, deleted scenes, trailers and other goodies. Although the movie isn’t much more than a few episodes of the show glued together (with music by Hans Zimmer and slightly better animation), given how bad most of this year’s films have been, perhaps it’s unsurprising how well the film performed theatrically.

THE LEGEND OF ZORRO: Blu-Ray (***, 130 mins., 2005, PG-13, Sony): OK, so this sequel to the 1998 hit has a bit too much story and not enough dramatic momentum moving it forward -- it's as if the filmmakers never found a compelling hook for a “Zorro” sequel, and the movie was eventually made with as promising a plot as they could find. That being said, director Martin Campbell's reunion with stars Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones is still a rousing slice of old-fashioned matinee fun, with Zorro out to stop a terrorist (the wonderful Rufus Sewell) from causing havoc when California is about to join the union. James Horner's spirited score and Phil Meheux's scope cinematography provide a boost to the entertainment, which ought to please fans of the original, provided you realize going in that this sequel is inferior -- but still fun. Sony's Blu-Ray disc offers just an outstanding AVC-encoded 1080p transfer with uncompressed PCM audio,  commentary from Campbell, deleted scenes (including an abandoned sequel set-up prologue and epilogue), and several Making Of featurettes. Hopefully the “Mask of Zorro” will follow shortly from Sony on Blu-Ray as well.

New on DVD

HALLOWEEN: 2-Disc Special Edition (**, 121 mins., 2007, Unrated; Dimension/Genius): Rob Zombie’s graphic “reworking” of John Carpenter’s seminal 1978 horror classic is a little better than the franchise’s last few sequels, though that’s faint praise given how low the series has fallen since the days of Donald Pleasance and Jamie Lee Curtis.

Zombie here tries to tap into the psychological, white-trash origins of masked killer Michael Myers, who as a kid enjoyed torturing animals before trying to slay his family. As you might expect, those revelations aren’t especially shocking, the film not especially scary, and the performances all just kind of bland (even Malcolm McDowell’s Doc Loomis seems muted, lacking the unhinged vivacity of Pleasance’s performance). Tyler Bates’ score reuses John Carpenter’s classic theme but for the most part “Halloween” 2007 shows how more is less, especially when compared to the relative subtlety of the original.

Dimension’s two-disc Special Edition DVD includes commentary from Zombie, an alternate ending, bloopers, cast auditions, the trailer, deleted scenes, and several other featurettes, along with a top-notch 16:9 (2.35) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

THE LAST LEGION (**½, 2007, 102 mins., PG-13; Weinstein/Genius): Old-fashioned action spectacle -- which tanked in theatrical release late last summer -- offers Colin Firth as a general who tries to take down invading enemies during the final days of the Roman empire, aided by a wizard (Ben Kingsley), a daring female warrior (Aishwarya Rai), and a certain sword named Excalibur. Director Doug Lefler handles this international Dino DeLaurentiis production with moderate success, the movie offering some occasional derring-do and a decent Patrick Doyle score. Certainly it’s not the grand, sweeping epic DeLaurentiis intended (and some of the dialogue is terrible), but for escapist fare “The Last Legion” is watchable enough and not-bad for a night’s rental. Genius’ DVD includes a fine 16:9 (2.35) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, deleted scenes, commentary, Making Of featurettes and the trailer.

UNDERDOG: DVD & Blu Ray (**½, 82 mins., 2007, PG; Disney): Cute, forgettable Disney live-action adaptation of the ‘60s cartoon hero here stars a CGI-enhanced canine who takes to the skies after being doused with a mad scientist’s secret potion. Jason Lee provides the voice of “Underdog” in this moderately entertaining film for kids, which Disney brings to both DVD and Blu Ray this week with a few special features, including bloopers, deleted scenes, a Making Of featurette, Dolby Digital sound and 2.35 (16:9) widescreen transfers (the DVD also includes a full-screen version).

RUSH HOUR 3: DVD & Blu Ray (**, 90 mins., 2007, PG-13): Mediocre third installment in the Chris Tucker-Jackie Chan series treads water with a bland, uninteresting script that finds our unlikely duo tracking a Chinese criminal in Paris. A few good set-pieces and a couple of chuckles are barely enough to sustain the film’s 90 minutes, which still generated a surprising amount of box-office interest last August. New Line’s DVD and Blu Ray sets offer 2.35 transfers, commentary from director Brett Ratner, the trailer, deleted scenes and outtakes, a Making Of and production diary.

New Special Editions, Re-Issues & More

BRAVEHEART: 2-Disc Collector’s Edition (****, 1995, 177 mins., R; Paramount): Long-overdue Special Edition of Mel Gibson’s stirring 1995 Oscar winner offers several excellent new supplements and a fresh transfer.

Billed as a “digitally remastered” edition, Paramount’s 16:9 (2.35) effort here may not substitute for a HD-DVD version (which hopefully will follow in 2008), but still is an appreciable enough upgrade on the prior, single-disc DVD offering (thanks to a higher bit-rate). The 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is potent and the set is graced with a number of new extras, as well as Mel Gibson’s commentary, which has been carried over from the prior release.

“Albu gu Brath! The Making of Braveheart’” is the set’s highlight, a 50-minute documentary sporting a new Gibson interview and overview of the production, mixing archival footage with fresh comments from the filmmaker, who rightly praises James Horner’s score in its closing moments. “A Writer’s Journey” profiles scribe Randall Wallace’s efforts in a 20-minute profile; “Tales of William Wallace” is a half-hour examination of the real Wallace; a handful of archival interviews are on-hand with numerous cast and crew members, while a photo montage and two trailers round out the package.

Strongly recommended for all “Braveheart” admirers, though HD-DVD owners may want to pass for now in lieu of a possible high-definition release in the new year.

NATIONAL TREASURE: 2-Disc Collector’s Edition (***, 131 mins., 2004, PG; Disney): Two-disc “National Treasure” DVD (timed to coincide with the theatrical debut of the sequel opening Friday) offers some new extras along with a good-looking action-adventure yarn that provides solid escapism for viewers of all ages. Making their DVD debut here are additional deleted scenes with comments from director Jon Turteltaub and four new featurettes, joining most of the previous DVD’s supplements which have been reprieved here (including an alternate ending, other deleted scenes and featurettes). The 16:9 (2.35) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound are both superb.

CINDERELLA II: Dreams Come True (73 mins., 2002, G; Disney): Re-issue of one of the more harmless Disney direct-to-vid efforts, “Cinderella II” is back in circulation this week on DVD. A short, surprisingly well-drawn small-screen follow-up, “Dreams Come True” presents several self-contained stories focusing on the adventures of Cinderella, her villainous step-sisters, and the lovable mice immediately following the "Happily Ever After" conclusion of its predecessor. Disney’s “new” DVD package doesn’t offer a whole lot of new and/or improved content outside of a bonus interactive game, making it recommended only for family audiences who missed the prior DVD.

ROCKY: THE COMPLETE SAGA (1976-2007; MGM/Fox): Yet another “Rocky” box-set from MGM, offering the complete series from “Rocky” I-V plus last year’s triumphant “Rocky Balboa.” Sadly there’s nothing new here for fans, with the original “Rocky” being presented in a Non-Special Edition, single-disc offering (there’s an outstanding two-disc SE still available) and the first five installments offering no extras except trailers. Sigh.

THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (**, 87 mins., 1964; MGM/Fox): So-so adaptation of Richard Matheson’s “I Am Legend” starring Vincent Price returns to DVD, conveniently repackaged to tie-in with the release of the new Will Smith rendition. Anyone who picked up the title in MGM’s Midnite Movies Double Feature will have no reason to invest in this version, as it sports the same 2.35 transfer, mono sound, and interview with Matheson from its prior DVD release.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK (**½, 1977, 163 mins., PG; MGM/Fox): Double-disc set of Martin Scorsese’s occasionally brilliant, mostly-overlong musical with Liza Minnelli and Robert DeNiro offers a fine 16:9 (2.35) transfer, 5.1 Dolby Digital audio, and a plethora of extras both familiar (deleted scenes, commentary, photo gallery) and new (interviews with Minnelli and a fresh two-part documentary).

TV on DVD: New Releases

ADVENTURES OF YOUNG INDIANA JONES, Vol. 2: The War Years (Paramount): Paramount didn’t wait long to release this second anthology of episodes from the expensive, though only moderately-seen, Lucasfilm television series following a young Indy (Sean Patrick Flannery) through a series of adventures spanning the globe. 

This second DVD box-set offers the middle-third of re-edited episodes from the series, including “Trenches Of Hell” (Somme 1916, Germany 1916), “Demons of Deception” (Verdun 1916, Paris 1916), “Phantom Train Of Doom” (Africa 1916), “Oganga, The Giver And Taker Of Life” (German East Africa 1916, Congo 1917),  “Attack Of The Hawkmen” (France 1917), “Adventures In The Secret Service” (Austria 1917, Petrograd 1917), “Espionage Escapades” (Barcelona 1917, Prague 1917), and “Daredevils Of The Desert” (Palestine 1917).

As with the prior DVD, Paramount and Lucasfilm have crammed a series of lengthy, individual documentaries onto each episode’s corresponding platter, lending enormous historical insight into the background settings of each program. Visually, the full-screen transfers and Dolby Digital soundtracks are excellent across the board, making this another highly recommended purchase for all “Young Indy” fans.

THE MOD SQUAD, Season 1, Vol. 1 (1968-69, 12 hours, Paramount): Groovy ‘60s crime drama with Peggy Lipton, Clarence Williams III and Michael Cole as hippies-turned-undercover cops finally hits DVD in a superb package from Paramount. Though the DVD set only offers the first-half of “The Mod Squad”’s first-season, the transfers appear to be in good condition and extras include a trio of featurettes looking back at the production. Recommended, man!

RAWHIDE: Season 2, Vol. 2 (1960, 14 hours, Paramount): Back-end of “Rawhide”’s second season hits DVD in a four-disc set preserving the series’ later 16 episodes in remastered black-and-white transfers with mono sound.

FRASIER: Season 10 (2002-03, 9 hours, Paramount): Four-disc set features the tenth season of the long-running NBC comedy in full-screen transfers and Dolby Stereo sound.

ROB & BIG: Complete Seasons 1 & 2 (2006-07, 320 mins., Paramount): Street Skater Rob Dyrdek and cohort (and bodyguard) Christopher “Big Black” Boykin star in this nutty MTV series from the creators of “Jackass.” Paramount’s DVD box set includes all 16 episodes from the series’ first two seasons in full-screen transfers with ample extras on-hand for fans. (Available Jan. 8th)

THE TUDORS: Season 1 (2007, 9 hrs., Paramount): Inaccurate but entertaining enough portrayal of a young King Henry VIII makes for a soapy, stylish Showtime series. Paramount’s DVD set preserves the “Tudors”’ first season on DVD in superb 16:9 (1.85) transfers with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, featurettes and more. (Available Jan. 1st)

JACKASS 2.5 (2007, 64 mins., NR, Paramount): Mini-feature from Johnny Knoxville and his fellow “Jackass” buddies offers more manic stunts and laughs in footage primarily left over from “Jackass 2.” Bonus features include a Making Of featurette, bonus segments, a 16:9 (1.85) transfer and 2.0 Stereo sound. (Available Dec. 26th)

DIRT: Season 1 (2007, 607 mins., Touchstone): Courtney Cox stars as the editor-in-chief of a Hollywood gossip publication in this so-so F/X original series, which garnered okay ratings and mostly apathetic reviews last summer. Touchstone’s DVD box-set preserves the cable series’ first season in 16:9 (1.78) transfers with 5.1 Dolby Digital audio, deleted scenes, outtakes, and several featurettes that take fans behind the scenes.

THE WIRE: Season 4 (2007, 800 mins., HBO): Highly acclaimed HBO original series about life in the tough inner-city streets of Baltimore returns to DVD in a new box-set sporting its complete fourth season in fine 1.78 (16:9) transfers with 5.1 audio, six audio commentaries featuring creator David Simon and cast and crew members, plus a two-part, hour-long documentary.

Disney Treasures, SNL & The Red Sox

If you’re looking for something a little more unique for your DVD-loving gift recipient this season, Disney has issued three more of their wonderful DISNEY TREASURES limited-edition tins.

THE ADVENTURES OF OSWALD, THE LUCKY RABBIT is the most interesting of the batch, compiling the adventures of Disney’s pre-Mickey animated hero (brought to life by legendary animator Ub Iwerks) in shorts produced between 1926 and ‘28. Historians including Leonard Maltin and Jerry Beck are on-hand to lend their thoughts during several of these shorts, while Robert Israel offers new musical scores that accompany the segments. Bonus features include interviews and documentaries recounting Oswald’s legacy and his return to the Disney canon.

THE CHRONOLOGICAL DONALD, VOLUME 3, meanwhile, features 31 more shorts starring Disney’s favorite duck, all produced between 1947 and 1950. Extras include a retrospective on Donald with comments from his current vocal alter-ego, animator Tony Anselmo, as well as an “easter egg hunt” for variations of the Donald gag found at the end of the Mickey Mouse Club’s opening credits.

Last but not least is DISNEYLAND: SECRETS, STORIES AND MAGIC, offering vintage specials and footage of the first Disney park leading up to its opening and early years. Among the highlights: a vintage Cinemascope tour of the park (with a remastered 5.1 audio track as well as an isolated track of Oliver Wallace’s score), three “Disneyland” TV specials (“Golden Horseshoe Revue,” “Disneyland Goes to the Worlds Fair,” and “Disneyland Around the Seasons”), plus a new documentary including more archival materials and interviews. For Disney park aficionados this two-disc set is a must-have, packed with trivia and priceless footage.

As with the previous “Disney Treasures” releases, each of these limited-edition tins have a set amount of copies being pressed (50,000 on “Donald” and “Disneyland,” and 120,000 on “Oswald”).

Universal has also issued the Complete Second Season of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE (1976-77, aprx. 25 hours) in a marvelous eight-disc DVD package offering the complete, unedited contents of its sophomore year, from its host segments to various musical performances.

The incredible, varied array of celebrity hosts during this second year include Lily Tomlin, Norman Lear, Eric Idle, Karen Black, Steve Martin, Buck Henry, Dick Cavett, Paul Simon, Jodie Foster, Candice Bergen, Ralph Nader, Ruth Gordon, Fran Tarkenton, Steve Martin (again!), Sissy Spacek, Broderick Crawford, Jack Burns, Julian Bond, Elliott Gould, Eric Idle (a second time), Shelley Duvall, and Buck Henry. Musical performances are likewise as eclectic, including Joe Cocker, the Band, Brian Wilson, Chuck Berry, The Kinks, Santana and others.

As if seeing these nostalgic time capsules in their entirety wasn’t enough, Universal has also included the extremely-rare SNL Mardi Grais prime-time special (which has never been re-run in its entirety since its original Sunday night airing back in ‘77), dress rehearsal audio, Andy Kaufman’s screen test, and a collector’s photo book.

Finally, last on the docket this week is A&E’s eight-disc BOSTON RED SOX: 2007 WORLD SERIES COLLECTOR’S EDITION, a superlative package that preserves the Sox’ second World Series win in four seasons with complete Fox broadcasts of Games 5, 6 and 7 from the American League Championship Series (the Sox’ comeback win over the Cleveland Indians) and the complete, four-game World Series sweep of the Colorado Rockies. Fans have carped that the set should've included Games 1-4 from the ALCS, at the least, if not the Division Series as well, but just going on the merits of what's included, this is still an essential purchase for Sox fans.

A&E did an excellent job here by mastering the transfers from the 16:9 HDTV broadcasts, making for a superb visual package, while fans can select between Fox audio and the actual WEEI radio broadcasts on the four World Series games. Ample extras are also on-hand, including all the post-game coverage you’d want, highlights from earlier playoff games with the Indians and Anaheim Angels (including Manny Ramirez’s memorable Game 2 walk-off homer against the latter), and regular-season highlights as well. Whether it’s Clay Buchholz’s no-hitter or David Ortiz’s walk-off home run over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays from late in the season, A&E has assembled the majority of the year’s most memorable highlights in a convenient set complimented by stats on each of the games and other goodies in the individual game packaging.

Obviously if you are a Yankee or Rockie or Indian or Angel fan, you’ll have no interest in this set, but for all of Red Sox Nation (of which I’m a non-card carrying member), you’ve got another superb DVD box-set to place on the mantle -- one that will warm your heart long into the long, cold months of winter. Batter up!

NEXT TIME: BLADE RUNNER at last as we close out 2007! 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 email address. Cheers everyone!

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