4/18/06 Edition

Sony's BLUE THUNDER Special Edition Arrives!

Several catalog titles have been refurbished with new features on DVD, and while all of them are reasonably priced, the question inherent in “Special Edition” re-issues is always whether the supplemental content and/or new transfer and soundtrack is enough to justify a re-purchase.

In the case of two new Sony offerings, the answer is yes.

John Badham’s BLUE THUNDER (***, 109 mins., 1983, R) has not weathered the years as well as his other, more popular thriller from the same year (“WarGames”). The compromised Dan O’Bannon-Don Jakoby script -- heavily altered, according to O’Bannon, by studio suits in pre-production -- has its share of stock supporting characters and a cartoonish bad guy (Malcolm McDowell’s Colonel Cochrane, a studio-mandated creation), and a relatively basic plot about a Vietnam vet-turned L.A. cop (Roy Scheider) assigned to test out a top-secret, high-tech helicopter. Once Scheider’s Frank Murphy finds out about “The Government”’s true plan for Blue Thunder, war breaks out above Los Angeles with Murphy taking on Cochrane in a winner-take-all aerial battle.

“Blue Thunder” was a movie I loved as a kid (at least in its edited-for-television ABC broadcast, since I was understandably restricted from seeing the uncut version in third grade), with the exciting helicopter sequences carrying a strong visceral intensity. Looking back on the movie today, it’s still fun, but more effective from a nostalgic, early ‘80s genre perspective than the psychological character thriller angle that O’Bannon and Jakoby initially intended. Columbia wouldn’t produce their original script, settling instead for an entertaining, if forgettable, “popcorn movie” with expert widescreen cinematography by John A. Alonzo and a great score by Arthur B. Rubinstein.

Sony’s new Special Edition DVD offers a 45-minute documentary, “Ride With The Angels: Making Blue Thunder,” sporting new comments from Badham, Scheider, O’Bannon and others involved with the picture. This is a well-rounded and engaging look back at the movie’s production with copious test footage and behind-the-scenes F/X shots included for good measure. A look at the production of the helicopter, a vintage 1983 promo featurette, storyboards, the original trailer, and a new, mostly engaging commentary track with Badham, editor Frank Morriss and motion control supervisor Hoyt Yeatman rounds out an excellent supplemental package. Visually, the movie is now 16:9 enhanced (the previous DVD was non-anamorphic) with a good but not great 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, sounding like a product of early ‘80s Dolby Stereo (in other words, there’s little work for your subwoofer here).

Sony has also scored with their new Deluxe Edition of MOONSTRUCK (****, 102 mins., 1987, PG), director Norman Jewison’s charming and endlessly repeatable romantic comedy that won Cher a deserved Oscar for her role as an Italian Brooklyn widow who falls for the brother (Nicolas Cage) of her new fiancee (Danny Aiello). Vincent Gardenia and Olympia Dukakis are equally superb in this rich, hilarious and winning film that also copped Oscars for Dukakis (Supporting Actress) and John Patrick Shanley (Original Script), with nominations extended to Gardenia, Jewison, and the film itself for Best Picture.

MGM’s previous DVD did offer a commentary track with Jewison, Cher, and Shanley, but sadly was presented in full-screen only. Sony’s Deluxe Edition does the movie proper justice by including a fresh 16:9 transfer, a reprisal of the previous commentary and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, while adding three new featurettes. “At the Heart of an Italian Family” is a fun, 25-minute retrospective on the picture’s release offering new interviews with Jewison, Shanley, Aiello, and Dukakis (Cher and Cage appear in old EPK footage), while “Music of Moonstruck” profiles the film’s memorable use of “ethnic” Italian tunes, Puccini, and the work of composer/arranger Dick Hyman. Another featurette, shot expressly for the DVD, includes host Mark DeCarlo traveling into the heart of New York City’s finest Italian eateries, with a pair of bonus recipe cards included in the DVD package for good measure. A sumptuous DVD in more ways than one!

Available next week from New Line is the “Totally Awesome Edition” of Adam Sandler’s most satisfying feature, THE WEDDING SINGER (***, 1998, 100 mins.), which extends the 1998 comedy by three minutes (hence the “Unrated” tag on the back cover) but, more importantly, boasts a new 16:9 enhanced transfer, easily trumping the old DVD’s non-anamorphic (and by today’s standards ancient) transfer.

Tim Herilhy’s script does the best job of any Sandler vehicle in terms of juggling the comedian’s manic persona with a genuinely sweet story, where Sandler’s wedding crooner Robbie Hart falls for a bride-to-be (Drew Barrymore) about to question her pending nuptials. Barrymore resurrected her career with a winning performance playing off Sandler here, the film maintains a light touch with some uproarious moments throughout, and unsurprisingly has become something of a cult classic since its initial release...perhaps bumping “The Beastmaster” out of its previous pedestal as the most-shown theatrical film on basic cable TV today.

New Line’s DVD also includes a new DTS soundtrack that nicely compliments the remastered 16:9 picture. Supplements, though, are on the sparse side, with a promo of the -- would you believe it? -- upcoming Broadway musical (opening at the end of this month!) being the most substantial element on a low-priced DVD that’s nevertheless well worth a purchase for “Wedding Singer” fans.

New This Week on DVD

FINAL FANTASY VII: ADVENT CHILDREN (**½, 2005). 101 mins., PG-13, Sony. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Making Of featurette; Venice Film Festival Footage; Deleted Scenes; Trailers; 16:9 (1.85) Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital English and Japanese dialogue (subtitled).

Incredibly detailed, lifelike CGI animation is the prime motivation to check out this feature-film conclusion to the popular “Final Fantasy VII” video game franchise.

If you’ve never played a “Final Fantasy” game, however, you might be lost trying to follow the narrative, which picks up following the events of the game (re-capped in a jumbled prologue plus some 30 minutes of cut scenes from the game itself in the DVD’s supplement), as reluctant hero Cloud returns to save the world from a new plague, running into old friends and enemies in the process.

The story is sure to captivate players and fans (the target audience for this production), but even newcomers can at least appreciate the visuals. Director Tetsuya Nomura’s character models vividly come to life in “Advent Children,” which uses amazing, “photo-realistic” backdrops with impressively articulated protagonists. You won’t mistake them for human beings, but they’re a substantial step up from the rendered characters in Square Enix’s previous, financially disappointing stand-alone theatrical feature “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within,” while Nobuo Uematsu’s lovely score adds a further, elegant touch.

Sony’s excellent 2-disc Special Edition contains the movie in a gorgeous 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound in both Japanese (with English subtitles translated directly from the Japanese dialogue) and a well-done English dubbed mix featuring voices provided by Mena Suvari, Rachael Leigh Cook and others. The “Reminiscence of Final Fantasy VII Story Digest” offers some 30 odd minutes of “cut scenes” from the game, recapping the franchise’s story to the point of “Advent Children”’s beginning, while a full second disc of extras includes a shorter edit of the movie produced for the Venice Film Festival, a subtitled “Making Of,” numerous deleted scenes, copious trailers, and ads for future “FFVII” game off-shoots.

Also New On DVD

MRS. HENDERSON PRESENTS (**½, 103 mins., 2005, R, Weinstein Company/Genius Products): Enjoyable performances from Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins makes this somewhat disappointing Stephen Frears comedy-drama mildly entertaining. Dench plays a widow in WWII-torn England who teams up with showman Hoskins to re-open a theater and stir morale among the troops...by having some lovely ladies disrobe during their performances. Dench received an Oscar nomination for her role, and the teaming of her and Hoskins proves to be great fun here. Sadly, the film is somewhat choppy and ultimately feels under-developed, with the picture finishing up at the 90 minute mark without a great deal of fanfare. Ultimately, “Mrs. Henderson Presents” is an ambitious mix of drama, comedy, and musical that doesn’t quite come off, though the palpable chemistry between Dench and Hoskins is worth a view. Genius Products’ DVD includes a commentary track from Frears, a Making Of featurette and the theatrical trailer. On the presentation side, the disc sports a soft-looking 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, the latter offering an original score and song arrangements by George Fenton.

FUN WITH DICK AND JANE (**½, 91 mins., 2005, PG-13; Sony): Jim Carrey’s confident performance single-handedly carries this feather-weight updating of the ‘70s Jane Fonda-George Segal comedy. As a businessman who goes to extremes with his wife (Tea Leoni) to preserve their comfortable suburban lifestyle, Carrey is both hilarious and sympathetic and manages to make this abbreviated, reportedly-troubled production worth catching. Sony’s well-rounded DVD offers a handful of deleted scenes, commentary by director Dean Parisot and writers Judd Apatow and Nicholas Stoller, amusing outtakes, a gag reel, a strong 16:9 (2.35) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

ANDRE THE BUTCHER (**, 87 mins., 2005, Unrated, ThinkFilm): If you can look beyond the fact that this ridiculous and intentionally off-the-cuff horror effort looks like someone’s home movie (it was shot on digital video), you might get a few chuckles out of “Andre the Butcher.” A group of cheerleaders run afoul of the backwoods predator after being held hostage by a pair of convicts on the lam. Murder, mayhem, and cheap gore ensue, though at least there’s a definite playfulness in director Philip Cruz’s low-low-budget effort that might make it worth a rental for hard-core horror fans looking for a laugh or two. ThinkFilm’s DVD includes commentary by Cruz, one deleted scene, a 4:3 widescreen transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

NEXT TIME: EVENT HORIZON: The Special Edition ("We don't need eyes where we're going!!"). 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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