12/6/05 Edition

Aisle Seat December Madness

Andy Reviews New CRITERION titles, FAMILY GUY, and more!
plus: MR. & MRS. SMITH, and the Latest from SONY & DISNEY

Resurrected, back from the dead, reborn, revitalized...all of those terms applied to the long-awaited return of Seth MacFarlane’s hilarious “Family Guy” to the airwaves last spring.

After several tumultuous seasons on the air (split between Fox and UPN), “Family Guy” became one of the great DVD success stories of all-time. Having found the audience on video that it never gathered during its initial broadcast run, Fox opted to re-start production on the ribald cartoon, depositing the series into a comfortable weekly time-slot where it’s been able to muster the sorts of solid ratings that eluded it in its first life.

When “Family Guy” returned last May, viewers were immediately thrust right back into the misadventures of the Griffin family as if no time had elapsed at all. Generally speaking, though, the 2005 incarnation of “Family Guy” starts off a bit on the slow side: this set of 13 episodes  -- now available from Fox as FAMILY GUY: VOLUME 3 (2005, 292 mins.) -- that aired last Spring and early this Fall are a bit hit-or-miss compared to the show’s usual standards, though there are certainly some choice moments along the way.

One of my favorites from this set is “Don’t Make Me Over,” which puts the seldom-utilized, cast-off daughter of the Griffins -- Meg -- into the spotlight after she’s cornered for a make-over in the mall. Now reborn as a slutty, Britney/Christina-esque singer, the episode reaches a fever pitch of hilarity once Meg is tapped to host Saturday Night Live, meeting up with Jimmy Fallon along the way (the end sequence mimicking the end of any SNL episode had me on the floor).

Other favorites here include “Petarded,” in which Peter is diagnosed as being mentally challenged; “The Cleveland-Loretta Quagmire,” in which Cleveland finds out his wife is cheating with playboy bachelor Quagmire, climaxing with a hysterical reprisal of the final scene from “Rocky III”; and “Perfect Castaway,” where Peter ends up shipwrecked and returns home...to find out that family dog Brian has married Lois!

I often get a lot of comments about “Family Guy” that alternate between people who don’t think the series is particularly funny, and others who find it to be consistently uproarious. I think a lot of the show’s appeal depends on your age group: the references to obscure pop trivia (whether it’s “Superman II” or an old commercial jingle) are likely to be lost on older viewers of a different generation. The stories, meanwhile, make little attempt to actually be serious in any degree: as a result, there’s none of the occasional pretentiousness that works its way into “The Simpsons.”

For this critic, at least, “Family Guy” is one of the most entertaining and laugh-inducing series I’ve ever seen, even though half of the episodes in this third volume would be classified as “average” given the standards of the series. The later shows here, though, do show a return to form, and each one of the “new” fall season episodes -- which began airing in November -- has been absolutely stellar (and there’s my pitch for Volume 4, which should be out sometime next summer).

Fox’s three-disc DVD box set offers a number of special features, including “Score!,” which interviews composer Walter Murphy and examines the music of “Family Guy”; “World Domination,” profiling the show’s success during its hiatus from the airwaves, and return from the broadcast spectrum graveyard; Deleted Scene animatics; multi-angle storyboards; numerous commentary tracks; and full-screen transfers with 5.1 Dolby Digital audio superior to the previous 2.0 mixes on past “Family Guy” DVD releases.

Also newly available from Fox is the fifth and final DVD box set of GARFIELD AND FRIENDS (1993-94, 550 mins.), which includes the last batch of sixth season shows and all of its seventh season on the CBS airwaves.

The three-disc set includes episodes 97-121 of the amiable series, which adapted both of Jim Davis’ comic strip confections: “Garfield” and “U.S. Acres.” Airing on CBS Saturday mornings from 1988 to 1995, this weekly continuation of the award-winning “Garfield” prime time specials reunited most of the talent behind those shows, including producers Phil Roman and Lee Mendelson, composers Desiree Goyette and Ed Bogas, and vocal talent Lorenzo Music and Thom Huge.

Transfers in Fox’s box set look a bit grainy but, overall, are the best of the five volumes previously produced in the series: the colors are strong and the animation faithful to Davis’s strips, while the Dolby Digital mono soundtracks are likewise acceptable. Recommended to all Garfield fans, who can at last complete their collection of “Garfield & Friends” sets just in time for Christmas!

New From Criterion

Shifting gears, Criterion’s recent slate of releases include a handful of remastered Criterion titles, one of which improves upon its previous, superb laserdisc edition.

THE TALES OF HOFFMANN is Powell and Pressburger’s visually stunning (and loose) 1951 adaptation of the unfinished Offenbach opera, here remastered in a newly restored high definition transfer. “Hoffmann” is not a film for every taste, but there’s no denying how impressive the visuals, colors, and striking production design of the film are: from Martin Scorsese all the way to George A. Romero, the dream-like movie had a lasting impact on countless future filmmakers, with a maturity few pictures possessed for its time.

Criterion’s DVD offers the new transfer and a mono soundtrack remastered from the best possible surviving elements. Extras include the same commentary from Scorsese and historian Bruce Eder that was included on Criterion’s warmly-received laserdisc from a decade ago, along with a rare collection of production designer Hein Heckroth’s sketches and paintings.

There’s also the only surviving extract from a rare German adaptation of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” which Michael Powell shot in 1956. The video is rough, and the half-hour production was sliced in half decades ago, but it’s nevertheless a treat for fans of the director just the same. The original trailer, an essay from critic Ian Christie, a superb new interview with Romero, and a gallery of production and publicity photos rounds out the disc.

Akira Kurosawa’s RAN is also part of the Collection’s new releases. This 1985 epic -- one of Kurosawa’s final films -- places Shakespeare’s “King Lear” in the context of feudal Japan, and particular, a crazed warlord who witnesses the dismantling of his empire piece by piece.

“Ran” has been issued on DVD several times in the format’s history, but no presentation has proved to be satisfying to cinephiles. Criterion’s new DVD looks and sounds superior to any previous release, having been imported from a French Le Studio Canal source; offers new English subtitles, and is accompanied by an enlightening commentary from Japanese film scholar Stephen Prince.

Supplements on the set’s second disc are likewise exemplary, highlighted by Chris Marker’s “A.K.” This 74-minute film shot during the production of “Ran” includes lengthy footage of Kurosawa and his crew at work on the picture, while a more traditional retrospective is included in an extract from a “Toho Masterworks” special, “Akira Kurosawa: It’s Wonderful To Create.” This behind-the-scenes segment offers a more recent look back on the production of “Ran,” while a 35-minute video piece reconstructs the story through Kurosawa’s paintings and sketches

A video interview with actor Tatsuya Nakadai and a 28-page booklet (offering comments from critic Michael Wilmington and interviews with Kurosawa and Toru Takemitsu) round out a satisfying package all around.

New this week from Criterion are a pair of French “New Wave” efforts that critics and viewers alike have embraced worldwide: 1960's SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER from director Francois Truffaut, and Rene Clement’s unusual 1952 picture FORBIDDEN GAMES.

Truffaut’s engaging, thoroughly entertaining work is a playful homage to the gangster genre, starring the expressive Charles Aznavour as an average piano player thrust into the underworld, and the shenanigans that ensue. Funny, perceptive, and one of Truffaut’s most engaging films, “Shoot The Piano Player” is a souffle of entertainment that Criterion has beautifully preserved on DVD.

The Collection’s new double-disc set offers a restored high-definition transfer supervised by cinematographer Raoul Coutard; commentary by scholars Peter Brunette and Annette Insdorf; new subtitles; the theatrical trailer; recent video interviews with Aznavour, Coutard, and co-star Marie Dubois; an interview with the seldom-seen Suzanne Schiffman, who worked with Truffaut on numerous films; a beautiful audio essay, “The Music of Georges Delerue,” which pays tribute to one of film music’s most beloved composers; a screen test with Dubois; two documentary extracts featuring the director discussing the movie and its source novel; and, to round it off, a 28-page booklet highlighted by a Truffaut interview, as well as comments from critic Kent Jones.

Clement’s 1952 “Forbidden Games” (Jeux Interdits) has nothing to do with sex (like one might anticipate from hearing the title, however). It’s a beautifully understated film about a young girl (Brigitte Fossey) in WWII France who loses her parents and dog in an air raid. Carrying her dead pet in her arms, she soon meets a peasant boy (Georges Poujouly), and the two attempt to built a pet cemetery by stealing crosses from a nearby church, all the while the horror of war continues behind them.

A strong religious message compliments Clement’s anti-war themes in this poignant, effective film, which deservedly copped the 1952 Foreign Language Oscar. The performances of both children are sublime and the movie is as uplifting as it is heartbreaking. Unquestionably recommended.

Criterion’s single-disc DVD edition includes a new high-defition transfer; a collection of recent and older archival interviews with Clement and Fossey; an alternate opening and ending to the picture; the original trailer; an optional English-dubbed soundtrack (which should be avoided at all costs); newly translated English subtitles; and an essay from scholar Peter Matthews.

New Brad Pitt on Disc

A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT (***, 123 mins., 1992, PG; Sony): “Deluxe Edition” re-issue of Robert Redford’s serene 1992 drama offers up a solid 16:9 transfer and 2.0 Dolby Surround soundtrack. Alas, new special features are here nowhere to be found, so anyone hopeful that we’ll one day hear Elmer Bernstein’s rejected score (or at least fragments of it) will be disappointed in the disc’s lack of supplements. A 32-page scrapbook offers up cast bios and pictures from Redford’s film, along with interviews and remembrances of working on the picture. Speaking of which, “A River Runs Through It” remains a leisurely, well-crafted tale based on Norman MacLean’s book, with nice performances from Brad Pitt, Tom Skerritt, Emily Lloyd, and Craig Sheffer, here top-billed in what was the apex of his career. Mark Isham’s replacement score is also calm and unobtrusive, and Philippe Rousselot’s cinematography beautiful to behold.

LEGENDS OF THE FALL (**, 1994, 132 mins., R; Sony): Edward Zwick’s beautifully mounted soap opera is a silly story augmented by a superb cast and superior production values. This tale of a family’s rise and fall in turn of the century Montana offers Brad Pitt, Aidan Quinn, and Henry Thomas as the sons of a retired cavalry colonel (Anthony Hopkins), with Julia Ormond at the center of their affections. John Toll’s marvelous cinematography rightly copped an Oscar, James Horner’s sweeping score swells with emotion, but there’s something hollow about the film’s story (Susan Shilliday and Bill Wittliff adapted Jim Harrison’s novella) that makes this a cornball epic that gets more outlandish as it progresses, culminating in a head-scratching, unintentionally humorous final fade-out. Sony’s “Deluxe Edition” DVD includes a reprisal of their previous Special Edition DVD, with commentary from Zwick and Pitt, optional isolated score highlights, deleted scenes, featurettes, a scenic 16:9 transfer and a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack. As with “A River Runs Through It,” Sony has packaged the disc with a scrapbook comprised of full-color photos and a brief synopsis of Harrison’s works. For under $15 in most outlets, this is a recommended release for fans of the movie.

MR. & MRS. SMITH (**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 DVD isn’t a Special Edition per se but still offers several deleted scenes; a commentary track with Liman, Kinberg and others; a featurette, “Making a Scene,” plus trailers, a razor-sharp 2.35 transfer and 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital sound. It ought to take for a sufficient rental until the more elaborate 2-disc release follows at some point down the road.

New From Paramount

THE ESCAPE ARTIST (**, 1982). 93 mins., PG, Paramount. DVD FEATURES: Commentary from director Caleb Deschanel, Production Manager Barrie Osborne, and Advisor Ricky Jay; 16:9 Widescreen, 5.1 and 2.0 Dolby Digital sound.

Georges Delerue’s beautiful score and Stephen Burum’s superb cinematography are the chief pleasures to be found in director Caleb Deschanel’s otherwise disappointing 1982 coming of age drama.

Produced by Francis Ford Coppola, this barely-released film was a troubled production, with a clumsy script (credited to Melissa Mathison and Stephen Zito, who adapted David Wagoner’s novel) that can’t quite figure out what it’s trying to do or say.

Griffin O’Neal plays a precocious young man attempting to follow in his father’s footsteps as an escape artist extraordinaire. O’Neal joins his aunt and uncle (played by Gabriel Dell and Joan Hackett) in their magic act but soon runs afoul of the obnoxious son (Raul Julia) of the town’s equally unhinged mayor (“Desiderio” Arnaz, in his last screen performance). Turns out that O’Neal has not only stolen Julia’s wallet but also opened a huge can of worms by getting involved with Julia and Arnaz’s schemes, forcing our young hero to use all his resources to literally escape from the predicament.

Like “Hammett” and “One From The Heart,” “The Escape Artist” was one of the last gasps of Coppola’s Zoetrope Studio, and indeed -- like those other works -- was a movie plagued with difficulties. The film’s narrative is disjointed as it is, and was in part re-cut before release: the result is a movie that rambles on and on, focusing more on Julia’s scenery-chewing performance (Teri Garr is billed third in a worthless role as Julia’s floozy) than on the rites-of-passage our young hero has to undertake.

Ultimately, “The Escape Artist” is a noble failure with top-notch production qualities and an eclectic cast that remains a curio offering little (outside of its score and photography) in the way of entertainment, especially for the family audience it was intended for (and so much for the “full of fun” tag line it was initially released with!).

Paramount’s DVD presentation IS satisfying, however, featuring a candid commentary from Deschanel, production manager Barrie M. Osborne and technical advisor Ricky Jay. Deschanel in particular is quite honest about the film’s failure and how the script should have been further developed prior to filming. Paramount’s 16:9 transfer of this 1982 Orion release is exquisite and the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound does an excellent job reproducing Delerue’s moving score, which Percepto has just released on CD.

JACKASS: The Box Set (2000-02, 370 mins.; Paramount): MTV’s popular series returns to DVD in this terrific box set release from Paramount, incorporating all previously released content with an additional five hours of material (new to DVD) and a 48-page booklet offering full color photos, episode synopsis and more. Fans of Steve-O, Johnny Knoxville, Bam Margera and the rest of the “Jackass” gang ought to eat up the entertainment, which includes such memorable television moments as “Urban Kayaking,” “The Squid Suit,” and the classic “Human Slingshot.” A little of this goes a long way, but Paramount’s box set enables you to engage in as much (or as little) “Jackass” as you can take in one sitting, and there’s plenty here to go around.

New From Sony

RAY HARRYHAUSEN GIFT SET (Sony, aprx. $35): Three-disc packaging of Sony’s previously released DVDs of 1955's “It Came From Beneath The Sea,” 1956's “Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers,” and 1957's “20 Million Miles to Earth,” bound with a collectible scrapbook with production stills and background info (similar to the Brad Pitt DVDs listed above). The transfers look just as satisfying as they did previously, though Sony’s 5-disc “Fantastic Films of Ray Harryhausen” sets offers all three of these films plus “First Men On The Moon” and “Mysterious Island” for less than what this new “Gift Set” retails for -- collectible scrapbook and packaging excepted.

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN: Complete Season One (1998, 447 mins., Sony): Short-lived but warmly-received CBS western series put stars Michael Biehn, Ron Perlman, and Eric Close into the saddle previously occupied by the likes of Yul Brynner and others before them. The result was an entertaining, well-mounted production here brought to DVD for the first time courtesy of Sony/MGM. Unlike the recent “Dark Shadows: Revival Series” botch, this two-disc set makes amends for its predecessor: the full-screen transfers are just fine, as are the 2.0 Dolby Surround soundtracks. Included are all nine episodes (including the pilot) from the show’s first 1998 season, which offer somewhat standard-issue western plots but with well-crafted characters and equally satisfying performances to match. Recommended.

GREEN ACRES: Complete Season Three (1967-68, 761 mins., Sony): Several decades ago, it wasn’t uncommon for sitcoms to be stretched out to some 30 new episodes per-season, which is the case with the third year of the well-remembered slice of ‘60s TV known as “Green Acres.” Obviously this silly but intermittently inspired sitcom starring Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor needs little introduction to most viewers: though the show is outlandish and cartoonish at times, it also sports some occasional self-parody that makes it a lot smarter than you might anticipate...especially when compared to other shows like “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Sony’s four-disc set offers the 30 third season episodes from the long-running (1965-1971) CBS series, all in solid color transfers with mono soundtracks. Fans should eat ‘em up!

Buena Vista Round-Up

SKY HIGH (***, 100 mins., 2005, PG; Disney): Cute, colorful super-hero spoof -- sort of like an “X-Men” for kids -- stars Michael Angarano as the young son of heroes Kelly Preston and Kurt Russell. Angarano’s skills, though, aren’t what they ought to be, and he enrolls at a school for heroes basically as the odd man out among his peers. Director Mike Mitchell’s coming-of-age fantasy is fast-paced and offers plenty of laughs and teen romance to compliment its amiable performances. Michael Giacchino’s fun score and Shelly Johnson’s scope cinematography add to the fun, which is preserved splendidly on DVD by Disney: the single-disc release offers an alternate opening sequence, bloopers, two Making Of featurettes, and a music video by Bowling For Soup. The 2.35 transfer is perfect and the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound likewise satisfying. Recommended!

THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD (**½, 113 mins., 2005; Buena Vista): Made-for-TV film produced by Oprah Winfrey, adapted from the novel by Zora Neale Hurston. Halle Berry stars as a woman in the 1920s who enters into a pair of loveless marriages before discovering true romance with a younger man. Suzan-Lori Parks, Misan Sagay, and Bobby Smith, Jr. adapted Hurston’s novel for this ABC production, which many readers complained lacked the grittiness and authenticity of the novel. Having not read the book, I can’t confirm those comments, but it’s true this 113-minute film functions merely as an OK small-screen soap opera, coasting along mainly on the charms of Berry’s central performance. Buena Vista’s DVD offers only a plain, full-screen presentation of the film with a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack. Production values should be no surprise given that Oprah bankrolled the filming, with a Terence Blanchard score and superb cinematography (for television) by Checco Varese.

EMPIRE: The Complete Series (2005, 257 mins.; Buena Vista): Not to be confused with HBO’s acclaimed “Rome,” ABC tried their own hand at a small-screen Roman Empire series with “Empire,” a lengthy mini-series that aired to marginal ratings last summer. Santiago Cabrera plays Octavius, who takes control of the Roman Empire only to find that he’s being hunted by assassins wanting to eradicate anyone in his slain uncle Julius Caesar’s bloodline. Shot in Italy with a mostly European cast, “Empire” is a glossy, entertaining though not particularly remarkable series with a full-blooded score by Richard Marvin and adequate production values. Nowhere near as textured or satisfying as “Rome,” the show also sports an innumerable amount of historical blunders, so stay far away if you’re sensitive to any kind of accuracy in the storytelling department. Buena Vista’s DVD set offers some deleted scenes (reworked into the episodes), two Making Of featurettes, pleasing 1.78 widescreen transfers (enhanced for 16:9 TVs) and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks.

PROJECT RUNWAY: The Complete First Season (2005, 509 mins.; Buena Vista): Emmy-nominated for Best Reality Series, Heidi Klum and a group of super-models attempt to turn a group of would-be fashion designers into the next Vera Wang. I’m going to admit this up front: believe it or not, I never heard of “Project Runway” before, but I have (due to watching “Veronica Mars”) seen clips of a competing show, “America’s Top Model,” which airs on UPN. Just from having flipped through this series, “Project Runway” is clearly a better-produced, more “real” reality series. Thus, if you’re into the fashion scene, this series offers an intriguing glimpse of what it takes to make it in the industry. Buena Vista’s two-disc box set offers the complete first season with full-screen transfers, 2.0 Dolby Digital soundtracks, some deleted scenes (dubbed “Seams”), and an update on where the various designer-hopefuls who didn’t make it are at.

TWO HANDS (1999, 90 mins., R; Miramax/Buena Vista): Aussie import stars Heath Ledger as a regular young guy who finds himself on the run from a ruthless gangster (Bryan Brown) in this entertaining 1999 import. Ledger is good, as is Rose Byrne (“Troy”) as the fetching young lass he meets while trying to elude Brown, who’s out looking for his stolen loot. Written and directed by Gregor Jordan, Miramax’s DVD includes a 1.85 widescreen transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

FOUR MINUTES (2005, 90 mins., PG; ESPN/Buena Vista): The best effort yet from ESPN’s arm of dramatic features, this adaptation of Frank Deford’s article “Hillary and Bannister” was also scripted by the author. Jamie Maclachlan plays Roger Bannister, who became the first to run a mile in under four minutes. Solid production values, an excellent performance by Christopher Plummer, a satisfying score by John Frizzell and capable direction from Charles Breeson make for a highly satisfying film. Buena Vista’s DVD, out this week, includes deleted scenes, outtakes, an enhanced trivia track, a behind the scenes featurette, footage of Bannister’s 1954 record-breaking feat, and interviews with Bannister and Chris Chataway. The 16:9 enhanced transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound are both excellent.

New Buena Vista Family Finds

GARGOYLES: Season 2, Volume 1 (1995-96, 595 mins.,; Disney): Popular, well-scripted, cult favorite animated series returns to DVD. This three-disc set includes the initial 26 episodes from “Gargoyles”’ second season, including the superb “The Mirror” and the four-part “City in Stone.” The writing from Greg Weisman and a talented creative team is so far above most animated “kids’ series” that there’s really no comparison between this and most small-screen animated fare. Disney’s DVD release includes solid full-screen transfers, Dolby Digital surround sound, new interviews with the cast and crew and even select commentaries on a handful of episodes.

POWER RANGERS S.P.D., Volume 4: Boom (106 mins., Buena Vista)
POWER RANGERS S.P.D. Volume 5: Zapped (105 mins., Buena Vista): More colorful craziness for kids as the Power Rangers suit up in two new DVD compilations. “Boom” offers six full-length episodes: “Boom,” “Recognition,” “Samurai,” “Dismissed,” and “Perspective,” plus a bonus, unaired episode entitled “Wormhole.” A couple of interactive features for the little ones compliment the full-screen transfers and 2.0 Dolby Surround soundtracks. “Zapped” includes the same “Wormhole” episode, plus five episodes of its own: the two-part “Messenger” and “Reflection” episodes, as well as “Zapped.” More “Virtual Simulators” and “Power Rangers Want You” segments round out the full-screen transfers and Dolby Surround tracks.

THAT’S SO RAVEN: Raven’s House Party (100 mins., Buena Vista): Five-full length episodes (“Opportunity Shocks,” “Double Vision,” “Too Much Pressure,” “The Four Acres,” and “Vision Impossible”) and an unaired show comprise this new compilation of the popular Disney Channel series. Disney’s DVD also offers a trivia game, bloopers and outtakes, with a full-screen transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

THE PROUD FAMILY MOVIE (91 mins., Buena Vista): Feature-length expansion of the popular Saturday morning Disney series is contemporary in nature to say the least, with copious hiphop (“15 cent” is the rapper of choice) jokes and other colorful adventures aimed at the young set. Disney’s DVD offers an alternate ending, a colorful full-screen transfer, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, an interactive Driver’s Ed. Game, and animated shorts from the show itself.

Alien Vs. Predator Redux

Paul W.S. Anderson will never be mistaken for a true auteur. His filmography is littered with good-looking, albeit brainless, genre flicks like "Resident Evil" and "Soldier," with the occasional bomb like "Event Horizon" sprinkled into the mix.

Still, Anderson knows how to construct a stylish looking genre flick, and his B-movie expertise made him ideal for ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (**½, 2004, 108 mins., PG-13; Fox), the long-in-development franchise team-up that grossed over $80 million last year, despite negative reviews from critics. That latter aspect is unsurprising, however, since a lot of reviewers would be predisposed to finding the movie silly and pointless to begin with.

Granted, Anderson's film isn’t “Alien” or “Aliens,” but after two tepid "Alien" sequels that each nearly ended that series -- not to mention a disappointing sequel that put a near-permanent hold on the "Predator" franchise -- the dumb comic-book action of "Alien Vs. Predator" comes as a somewhat refreshing surprise.

Early in the film, one of the "Wolf Man" films is seen playing on a background TV. It's a telling reference, since "Alien Vs. Predator" is not a film with much on its mind other than providing its audience with an entertainment that couples two well-established monster franchises. In its own way, it's not all that different from "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man" or any of the later Universal Monster team-ups from the mid '40s. It's a modern-day B-movie that knows what it is and provides a reasonably entertaining time for viewers who can approach it from the mind set that the material requires. (Now, if only Anderson had known when to quit and not tossed in that last groaner of a final shot!).

Fox’s new, two-disc DVD Special Edition offers a slightly extended “Unrated Cut” running eight minutes longer than the theatrical version. None of the changes are particularly Earth-shattering in terms of significantly altering the movie, so anyone anticipating a far bloodier or more coherent film are going to be disappointed.

More significant are the disc’s supplements, which port over the 2-disc Special Edition extras that Fox released last year in numerous overseas territories. This includes a second disc’s worth of featurettes that take you through the production (“The Beginning,” “ADI Workshop,” Production Documentary, numerous other featurettes), including a look at the project’s genesis as a comic book. There’s also a Todd MacFarlane interview, trailers, the original HBO featurette, and more: what’s missing are the separated deleted scenes, which have here been integrated back into the movie. Other extras included on the first Fox DVD (including a pair of commentaries) have been reprised as well.

The 2.35 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital/DTS soundtracks are right on par with the previous DVD.

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