12/5/06 Edition

December TV on DVD Wrap
Andy Reviews New Releases Including MATCH GAME!
Plus: MGM's New ROCKY Special Edition and Disney's Latest

December is here and some of the final discs of 2006 are winging their way to a chain near you. A plethora of box sets and Special Editions are on tap this week, including several eclectic new offerings from BCI, MGM’s newest edition of “Rocky,” and the latest TV on DVD box sets -- including a retrospective Special Edition of TV’s “Match Game”!

December TV on DVD From Fox

HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER: Complete Season 1 (2005-06, 22 episodes, 482 mins). WHAT IT IS: CBS’ Monday sitcom block has faded in the ratings since the heyday of “Raymond” and company, but this engaging, more youth-oriented show has energized the “Eye”’s audiences a bit. Josh Radnor plays Ted, a twentysomething who tries and find the girl of his dreams, something that we know will eventually happen since the program is narrated by Bob Saget as the more adult version of Radnor’s character. Alyson Hannigan and Jason Segel play his best friends, while Neil Patrick Harris reinvigorated his career by playing Ted’s wild, unbridled “wing man” Barney. DVD FEATURES: Fox’s four-disc box set offers the first season of “How I Met Your Mother” with crew commentary on selected episodes; a “Video Yearbook” featurette; blooper reel; 1.33 Full-Screen transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks. ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: The performances are amiable and the writing consistent in this winning comedy’s inaugural 22 episodes. Sitcom fans thirsting for anything even marginal on the airwaves these days is urged to check out the DVD if they haven’t done so already.
ST. ELSEWHERE: Complete Season 1 (1982-83, 22 episodes, 1001 mins.). WHAT IT IS: Before it all ended up just a dream in the mind of a mentally challenged boy (a groaner of an ending if there ever was one), “St. Elsewhere” was one of NBC’s flagship shows during their Nielsen dominance in the 1980s. This comic-drama set at Boston’s fictitious St. Eligius Hospital offered a superb ensemble cast from William Daniels and Mark Harmon to Howie Mandel and Denzel Washington. Doing for the hospital genre what NBC’s “Hill Street Blues” did for the hour-long police procedural, “St. Elsewhere” enjoyed ratings success and Emmy wins during its lengthy run on the Peacock. DVD FEATURES: Two episode commentaries; five featurettes including a look at co-star Tim Robbins’ early performances; solid 1.33 full-screen transfers and 2.0 Dolby soundtracks. ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: Years before “E.R.” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” “St. Elsewhere” set the standard for numerous contemporary medical dramas that followed. The beginning years of the series were the most satisfying, and Fox’s four-disc DVD set preserves the program’s initial 22 episodes in a quality presentation that fans should find highly appealing.

BONES (2005-06, 22 Episodes, 963 mins.).WHAT IT IS: Emily Deschanel plays Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan, a quiet, hard-working anthropologist whose existence gets a major shot in the arm when she’s recruited by FBI agent David Boreanaz to assist in the investigation of various cases. Based on the life of real-life anthropologist-author Kathy Reichs, “Bones” is sort of like a “CSI” variant with a breezier, at times romantic flavor due to the chemistry between Deschanel and Boreanaz, whose relationship develops through the course of “Bones’” first season. DVD FEATURES: A pair of episode commentaries; exclusive DVD featurettes, including a look at the real Reichs; excellent 16:9 transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks are all on tap. ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: “Bones” is fairly predictable and the repartee among the supporting cast comes off as more than a little forced, but this is still a stylish, slick program that coasts along on the performances of its leads. It’s nothing substantial but if you can get into the characters and appreciate Deschanel and Boreanaz’s work here, “Bones” is entertaining enough and easy to see why it’s been a moderate success since it started its run in the fall of 2005.

New From BCI Eclipse

MATCH GAME: The Best Of (4 Discs). WHAT IT IS: “This DVD is so funny...when I watched it, I had to ____.” Yes, the classic Gene Rayburn-hosted, CBS network game show has arrived on DVD in a superb, four-disc box set preserving some 30 complete, “Best Of” episodes from the long-running series. Historically speaking, this is the most extensive presentation of a game show on DVD to date, and it wouldn’t come for a more deserving series: “Match Game” represents the funniest, and most unpredictable, entry into the game show craze that dominated daytime network TV for decades until the 1980s. With Rayburn hosting, “Match Game” served up laughs on a daily basis, allowing guest panelists Brett Somers and Charles Nelson Reilly among others to improvise and quip on the often hilarious (and/or groan-inducing) open-ended phrases panelists and contestants would compete to complete. DVD FEATURES: BCI has served up full, uncut episodes from the program’s Rayburn-hosted run (1973-82) in transfers direct from the original video tape. In addition to being interviewed, Somers hosts a “greatest moments” featurette while the show’s original 1962 pilot is also on-hand. A nice tribute to Rayburn rounds out the disc. ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: This is a wonderful trip down memory lane for nostalgia buffs and game show lovers. BCI has included a good amount of episodes spread across four discs, and seeing the stars and Rayburn interacting with contestants who weren’t always on the ball is just as good as it gets for game show fun. Here’s hoping BCI is able to secure rights to other series and present similarly satisfying DVD compilations like this one. (And while I’m in the mood, here’s another one... “My DVD player is so tired....” [“HOW TIRED IS IT?] “My player is so tired that when I tried to access the menu screen it ____!”)

ARK II: The Complete Series (1976, 15 Episodes). WHAT IT IS: Live-action Filmation series aired on CBS for a few years beginning in 1976, focusing on the post-apocalyptic adventures of the Ark II -- basically a futuristic Winnebago populated by Captain Jonah (Terry Lester), medic Ruth (the attractive Jean Marie Hon), young scientist Samuel (Jose Flores), and Adam, a talking chimp! The group travel across a biologically devastated Earth trying to help out mankind any way they can. DVD FEATURES: Another winning Special Edition from BCI Eclipse, this four-disc presentation of the mid-late ‘70s Saturday morning staple offers ample special features, from a 30-minute “Making Of” with new cast and crew interviews; a pair of commentary tracks; photo and art galleries; and full DVD-ROM materials including episode scripts and the show’s bible. Crisp transfers and soundtracks cap off another great package from BCI. ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: I can recall “Ark II” just a little from growing up in the ‘80s, and chances are others will fondly remember this well-intentioned sci-fi show for kids -- sort of like a junior, socially conscious version of “Star Trek” or “Planet of the Apes.” BCI is to be commended again for going the extra mile here and including all sorts of bonus features that make it an attractive, nostalgic package all the way around.

JOURNEY BACK TO OZ (1974, 88 mins., BCI Eclipse): Filmation’s sequel to the L. Frank Baum novel and the ‘39 MGM classic recruited Judy Garland’s daughter (aka Liza Minnelli) to provide vocals for Dorothy, plus added an all-star cast to provide the other voices (Ethel Merman, Milton Berle, Danny Thomas, and Margaret Hamilton, this time as Aunt Em). However, while all the vocals were recorded in 1964, financial difficulties meant that it would take some 10 years (!) before the picture was completed and released. “Journey Back To Oz” isn’t awful but it IS a step below most animated films even of its period, with fairly simplistic visuals barely being a cut above the studio’s traditional Saturday morning cartoons. Bland songs by Walter Scharf fail to energize the limp story, but it’s still an interesting curio nicely captured on DVD by BCI. This 35th Anniversary edition (or 45th, depending on how you look at it) includes commentary from Filmation’s Lou Scheimer, Hal Sutherland and Fred Ladd, plus interviews with the crew, an image gallery, and even Bill Cosby’s live-action, videotaped “wraparounds” as the Wizard which were shot to pad the film out for TV broadcasts. The transfer is in acceptable shape and the mono sound is also okay.

New From Disney: Blu Ray and More

BLU-RAY Review: ENEMY OF THE STATE (***, 132 mins., 1998, PG-13, Buena Vista): Will Smith makes for a perfect everyman as a Washington lawyer given the footage of a U.S. senator's murder by an old Georgetown pal (Jason Lee) before he's killed in a hit and run. Soon after, Smith is fired from his job, his credit cards are gone, his wife doesn't believe him, and a group of government meanies -- led by senator Jon Voight -- want Smith erased from the system, and keep tabs on the innocent man by means of an elaborate network of surveillance equipment, from simple bugs to satellite imagery. Before long, Smith hooks up with underground investigator Gene Hackman to try and turn the tables on his pursuers.

Tony Scott’s 1998 box-office hit has remastered for high-definition Blu Ray DVDs and the 1080p transfer here is crisp and satisfying, with only a little grain seen here and there; on the audio side, the uncompressed 5.1 Dolby Digital sound packs a potent punch. Extras include deleted scenes, a Making Of featurette, and the original trailer.

BLU-RAY Review: GOAL! THE DREAM BEGINS (**1/2, 2005, 118 mins., PG-13, Buena Vista): The first of a trilogy (!), “Goal!” focuses on the journey of one Santiago Munez (the amiable Kuno Becker), a young Mexican immigrant living in Los Angeles who follows his dream of becoming a soccer star to the U.K. There, his mentor (the terrific Stephen Dillane) garners Santiago the chance at playing for England’s premier team, Newcastle United, with the typical trials and tribulations following as Santiago overcomes adversity en route to gaining time on the field.

Danny Cannon directed this American-funded Touchstone release, which was supposed to kick start soccer on the silver screen at the same time the World Cup launched on TV earlier this year. Unfortunately, “Goal!” wasn’t widely distributed and grossed only a paltry $4 million in its domestic play dates, though it fared somewhat better overseas (though even there, not enough to quite make back its $30 million budget -- making it a good thing for its creators that “Goal! 3" is already filming!).

Buena Vista’s Blu Ray DVD sports a new HD transfer that’s a modest improvement on the standard-definition version, while an uncompressed 5.1 soundtrack compliments the audio portion. Special features have been stripped down from the standard release edition, with one Making Of featurette and commentary being the surviving extras from the previous release.

ROBIN HOOD: Most Wanted Edition (***, 1973, 83 mins., G, Buena Vista): New edition of Disney’s modestly entertaining, early ‘70s animated take on the legendary hero is a huge improvement on the previous DVD. A new, 16:9 (1.75) transfer is a big step up from Disney’s out-of-print, full-screen release, while a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack likewise enhances the audio presentation. Special features are limited to several interactive games for kids, one bonus short (“Ye Olden Days”), and a storyboarded alternate ending, but Disney fans ought to be delighted regardless with the improved transfer and soundtrack.

GRAND THEFT AUTO: “Tricked Out Edition” (Roger Corman/Buena Vista)

Two more releases from the Roger Corman vaults are new from Buena Vista this month.

The “Back to Back Jack” DVD edition of the Allied Artists release “The Crybaby Killer” and Corman’s own classic “Little Shop of Horrors” includes a digitally remastered transfer on the former and new introductions from Corman on both pictures. Fans, however, take note: the inclusion of “Little Shop” is definitely the lower portion of the double bill here, since it’s only included in its computer-colorized version, though “Crybaby Killer” appears reasonably fresh in its full-screen transfer (though I admit to never having seen the movie before).

One of Corman’s several collaborations with Ron Howard is also back on DVD, and for the first time in a Special Edition.

The Howard family affair “Grand Theft Auto” (Ron directed and co-wrote with his father, Rance, while “Mrs. C” Marion Ross is also on-hand in the cast) is here dusted off with a newly remastered, full-screen transfer; 5.1 Dolby Digital sound; and a particularly engaging commentary with Howard and Corman. A behind-the-scenes featurette, trailer, and another Corman intro round out a terrific deluxe package for Howard’s directorial debut.

New This Week From Fox

ROCKY: 2-Disc Special Edition (****, 1976, 120 mins., PG; MGM/Fox)

Sylvester Stallone’s latest comeback takes off a few days before Christmas with the release of “Rocky Balboa,” the sixth and final (?) installment in Sly’s chronicle of Philly’s ultimate underdog, who attempts a comeback some 30 years after first battling Apollo Creed.

Folks are mainly laughing off this latest sequel (just as they did 16 years ago when “Rocky V” was released), but frankly I wouldn’t mind another dose of adrenaline-pumping montages set to the strains of Bill Conti’s inspiring music -- especially after watching most of the junk we’ve seen in 2006.

To coincide with the new movie, MGM and Fox have issued a brand-new, double-disc Collector’s Edition of “Rocky,” mixing elements from previous releases of the film with extensive, all-new supplements and documentary materials.

Stallone’s audio commentary is the big new premiere in this release, with the star discussing his original script for the ‘76 Chartoff-Winkler-UA Oscar winner and its subsequent production. Also new to the 2006 release is a secondary commentary with legendary boxing trainer Lou Duva and commentator Bert Sugar, which is amusing and compliments additional interviews with the duo. An older group commentary with John G. Avildsen, Carl Weathers and Burt Young is also on-hand, as are a full slate of trailers and TV spots.

The second platter was supposed to include deleted scenes, but sadly I couldn’t find any on the disc and, since there’s no mention of them on the packaging (only in press and advertising materials has this feature been listed), I’m guessing they might have been pulled from the set at the last minute.

Despite that disappointment, there are still plenty of terrific supplements to go around: the feature-length “In The Ring” documentary includes extensive interviews with all the major participants, while additional featurettes include a 10-minute conversation with Bill Conti, discussing his Oscar-winning, classic score (some of these features are new, others are reprieved from prior DVD editions, including a video commentary by Stallone and a tribute to Burgess Meredith).

Particularly amusing among the set’s new extras is a 17-minute excerpt from the Dinah Shore program, with the hostess interviewing Stallone, shortly after the movie’s ‘76 release.

Visually, the 16:9 transfer is even stronger than MGM’s previous, remastered DVD, and while the set lacks the DTS mix from that 2004 release, the 5.1 Dolby Digital mix here seems to have originated from similar elements as it packs just as potent a punch (the original mono track is also included). It’s all rounded out by a brief look at “Rocky Balboa,” with a free ticket coupon inside the package to sweeten the pot.

Stallone fans may not be thrilled that “Rocky” is going yet another round on DVD, but this is easily the finest assembly of supplements and the most satisfying presentation the movie has had to date on video.

Fox is releasing the Special Edition separately or as part of a re-issued “Rocky Anthology” box set which -- fans take note -- includes identical versions of “Rocky” II-V, in packaging likewise similar to MGM’s last release of the series on DVD two years ago.
NEXT TIME: CHRISTMAS EVIL slays on DVD and a full Criterion round-up! Until then, 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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