2/28/06 Edition

Another Disney masterwork!
LADY AND THE TRAMP receives the deluxe treatment!
Plus: the latest asian horror and fox catalog titles

Just a short column this week as I recover from both a bad cold and the trauma of sitting through NBC’s hideous coverage of the Torino (Turin?) Winter Olympics.

Disney’s latest limited-time-only “Platinum Edition” celebrates one of the studio’s all-time classics: LADY AND THE TRAMP (****, 76 mins., 1955). I could write for page upon page about how I grew up with the film, how it has been one of my lifelong favorite animated movies, and particularly how well the movie has stood the test of time -- suffice to say, most of you have seen it, or are aware of “Lady and the Tramp,” and there’s not much I can add that hasn’t already been stated about the picture. It’s a classic and deserves a place in any reputable DVD library.

The latter sentiment particularly holds true now that Disney has given their 1955 viewer favorite a thorough DVD remastering. The studio previously issued “Lady” in a no-frills, single-disc DVD back in the relatively early days of the format, offering the movie’s full Cinemascope aspect ratio but nothing in the way of extras.

Disney’s “Platinum” release sports s a restored picture and remixed soundtrack, with the 2.55 transfer ranking as nothing short of breathtaking, and at the very least a major upgrade on both the previous DVD and laserdisc issues. A full-screen, pan-and-scan version does its best to keep up with the action, but with “Lady” being the first animated feature to be filmed in the anamorphic Cinemascope process, it goes without saying that the original aspect ratio is essential to fully appreciate the efforts of the Disney animators. As with many of their previous animated DVDs, Disney has included a newly remixed 5.1 “Enhanced Home Theater Mix,” which is quite satisfying and has more of a presence than the “traditional” 3.0 Dolby Stereo mix (also included here), which is acceptable but demonstrates the limitations of a mid ‘50s stereophonic recording.

The set’s second disc houses the DVD’s supplements, which aren’t as exhaustive as those found on the “Platinum” editions of, for example, “Snow White” and “Beauty and the Beast,” but nevertheless will appeal greatly to fans. “Lady’s Pedigree: The Making of ‘Lady and the Tramp’” offers a basic, interesting overview of the movie, its conception as being one of Walt’s pet (no pun intended) projects, the work of composer Oliver Wallace and songwriters Peggy Lee and Sonny Burke, and lasting legacy as part of the Disney canon. The documentary is split into several segments and totals just under an hour, while more vintage footage is on-hand in generous excerpts from Walt’s original Disneyland TV series. Additional deleted scenes, galleries and storyboards from an aborted 1943 version of “Lady and the Tramp” give Disney die-hards a fascinating look at other concepts and abandoned scenes, while former music producer-turned-crooner Steve Tyrell mugs his way through a fairly embarrassing music video performance of “Bella Notte” (shot to coincide with the release of his Disney album, unsurprisingly). Additional interactive and DVD-ROM games aimed primarily at the little ones rounds out this colorful, splendid package that obviously warrants a “Highly Recommended!” tag for all animation and Disney aficionados.

New From Tartan

If “The Ring” and its innumerable variants/remakes/sequels/rip-offs have made you fatigued from sights of female spectral spirits with long-dark hair haunting the world of the living, then you might want to check out Su-chang Kong’s Korean import R-POINT (**½, 2004, 107 mins., R; Tartan Video).

This 2004 release is billed by Tartan as Korea’s highest-grossing horror flick of its year, and it’s not difficult to see why: this is a stylish and occasionally spooky film -- set in 1972 Vietnam -- about a South Korean battalion that hears a distress signal from a patrol that went missing months before. A squadron is sent to investigate, and promptly hears creepy voices, witnesses ghostly soldiers and other mysterious goings-on in the steamy jungles they search.

“R-Point” is a movie that translates easily to the West: its scenes of comradery between the soldiers, somewhat unhinged protagonist, and commentary on the hollowness and sorrow of war will instantly make a viewer recall countless American war films like “Platoon,” obviously here with a supernatural twist. The picture works best in its first hour, establishing the story and deftly utilizing both the sound design (effectively rendered in Tartan’s pungent 5.1 DTS soundtrack) and Hyung-Jing Suk’s cinematography to set an engagingly uncomfortable mood.

Regrettably, the movie’s final third and pay-off are a major disappointment, marked by a confusing, bloody climax and muddled story line. It seems as if the filmmakers knew exactly what kind of movie they wanted to make with “R-Point” but couldn’t come up with a compelling or satisfying plot. Mostly style and little substance, “R-Point” is an intriguing but ultimately unsatisfying horror effort that Asian fans may want to check out regardless due to its effective build up.

Tartan Video’s DVD offers an excellent 16:9 transfer with highly effective 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks in its native language, with optional English and Spanish subtitles. Extras include a full subtitled commentary, and about 40 minutes of “Making Of” featurettes that inexplicably lack English subtitles. Trailers for other Tartan releases and “R-Point” complete the disc.

New From Fox

LOVE ME TENDER (***, 1956, 89 mins., Fox): Elvis made his movie debut in this Civil War-era western.
As brother to Richard Egan (off fighting the war for the Confederacy), Elvis marries Egan’s girl Debra Paget after believing he’s dead, only to find out Egan is still very much alive, and returning home with a Union Army payroll that he and the other “Reno” brothers (James Drury and William Campbell) have stolen in the hopes of handing it over to the South. Any movie where Elvis and “The Squire of Gothos” play siblings is worth a view, and this well-crafted Cinemascope production is a vehicle atypical of Elvis’ later fluff outings, with The King performing a pair of songs only somewhat obtrusively thrust into the story. Fox’s 50th Anniversary DVD offers a robust 2.35 widescreen transfer with 2.0 Dolby Digital surround and a superb commentary from Elvis historian Jerry Schilling. Three new featurettes examine the movie’s production while a photo gallery rounds out the dual-layer release.

THE GOSPEL ROAD (**½, 1973, 83 mins., G, Fox): The release of “Walk The Line” on DVD (which will hopefully be covered here next week) was unquestionably the reason for Fox to dust off this rarely-screened Johnny Cash pet project from the early ‘70s: a telling of the Christ story with Cash serving as narrator and providing music alongside wife June Carter Cash and Kris Kristofferson. Shot on location and funded by Cash, this well-intentioned but odd and not especially cinematic tale offers a blond Jesus (director Robert Elfstrom) and a fairly forgettable assortment of songs. Nevertheless, Cash fans will want to check out Fox’s first-ever DVD edition of the “The Gospel Road,” in a good-looking 16:9 transfer with 2.0 Dolby Stereo sound, a still gallery and radio spots.

THE VISITATION (103 mins., 2005, PG-13; Namesake/Fox): Edward Furlong, Martin Donovan, Kelly Lynch and Randy Travis headline this modest adaptation of Frank Peretti’s bestseller -- a religious-themed thriller about a stranger with healing powers who turns out to be a false prophet. Independently-produced, Peretti’s cautionary tale doesn’t wear its Christian overtones on its sleeve, but its effectiveness is curtailed by mediocre production values and routine direction. Fox’s DVD offers both 1.78 (16:9 enhanced) and full-screen transfers with 5.1 Dolby digital sound.

NEXT TIME: Criterions for early March, WALK THE LINE and more! Don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards, direct any emails to the link above and we'll catch you then. Cheers everyone!

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