4/28/09 Edition
Mutants, Monsters & TREK
STAR TREK Season 1 Hits blu-ray
Plus: X-MEN in high-def and more!

In case you just got back from Mars, the upcoming “Star Trek” movie opens next week and has been receiving rave reviews from critics, so it’s no surprise that Paramount has opted to take advantage of the situation by issuing the complete first season of the original series on Blu-Ray for the first time. The result is a dynamic presentation that improves upon the studio’s HD-DVD edition from late 2007, making for a set that’s worth every bit of its price tag for Trek aficionados.

Working here from the recent high-definition remasters Paramount has been broadcasting in syndication, this seven-disc set includes both the original and newly remastered Trek episodes in full HD, sporting enhanced 5.1 DTS Master Audio tracks and spiffier transfers with cleaned up and improved effects shots from Denise and Michael Okuda and Dave Rossi. Each disc houses 4-5 episodes from the first season, and gives the viewer the opportunity to toggle between the original broadcast versions and the newly re-done editions by pressing the “angle” button on your remote control, while fans can also select the original mono audio track on a second audio channel. 

The ability to watch the original broadcast versions – themselves remastered in HD – gives the Blu-Ray box a major leg up on the HD-DVD set, which only offered the “new” versions with standard-def DVD encodes on each disc’s corresponding side. While I certainly appreciate the care that went into producing the new special effects, I still prefer watching the original versions if given the opportunity, which Paramount has wisely afforded to all Trekkies here.

Extras are basically reprieved from the HD-DVD edition, highlighted by five on-screen visual commentaries (dubbed “Starfleet Access”) with interviews explaining the legacy of the various shows and sporting ample bits of trivia. It’s a cool feature for any HD enthusiast and is offered on the episodes “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” “The Menagerie” (Parts 1 and 2), “Balance of Terror,” “Space Seed,” and “Errand of Mercy” (oddly, the HD-DVD “Starfleet Access” for “The Galileo Seven” has been excised from the Blu-Ray). During “Starfleet Access,” optional on-screen visual prompts appear on the right hand side of the 16:9 frame (off-set from the picture, which is of course presented in its original 4:3 aspect ratio), enabling you to watch the supplemental interviews as well as assorted still-frame extras on specific environments and characters.

Additional extras include “Billy Blackburn’s Treasure Chest” -- an interview with the frequent Trek bit-part actor, who shares 8MM footage of his days on the set -- plus a featurette on the series’ restoration, both presented in HD.

What's more, Paramount has also included all the additional extras from the previous Season 1 DVD releases (with the exception of text commentaries by Michael and Denise Okuda, which have been omitted here). Broken up onto the discs are "The Birth of a Timeless Legacy," which examines the original, unused "Cage" pilot and how it was reworked by Roddenberry into the standard "Trek" we all know and love; "To Boldly Go," examining first season episodes like "City on the Edge of Forever" and "The Squire of Gothos"; "Reflections on Spock," with Leonard Nimoy comments; "Sci-Fi Visionaries," sporting interviews with series veterans D.C. Fontana, Robert Justman, and John D.F. Black; “Romance in the 23rd Century”; and "Life Beyond Trek: William Shatner," with Bill showing us around the ranch and his love of horses. All of the original preview teasers are also included for the respective episodes.

Now, those of you who previously bought all 40 individual DVDs of the original series – or, for that matter, the previous 2004 Season 1 box-set, or the HD-DVD edition – might well be asking whether they should upgrade to this new HD version.

If you’re new to the Blu-Ray format (or are planning on joining the fray shortly), and are a die-hard Trekkie, I would have to say yes. The new AVC-encoded, 1080p HD transfers aren’t a night-and-day difference with their previously-released, remastered standard-definition counterparts (which look quite good on their own terms), but they do appear just slightly more colorful and sharper. Overall, Paramount did an exceptional job remastering the shows as best they could, and the results speak for themselves. The DTS Master Audio soundtracks are terrific, and one can choose to watch the original broadcast versions with the enhanced 5.1 audio tracks as well.

Where the transfers really shine is when you compare them to the very first DVD versions, or the “old” Trek you grew up watching on TV. The episodes have been meticulously cleaned up, removing dirt, scratches and other issues with outstanding results.

Despite the price tag (somewhere around $70-$80 in most outlets), there’s ample content and a highly satisfying presentation here of the restored “Star Trek” to please Blu-Ray enthusiasts. Highly recommended!

Also due out shortly on DVD from Paramount are a pair of bargain-priced, single-disc Trek compilations for the uninitiated: THE BEST OF STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, which sports both parts of “The Best of Both Worlds,” “Yesterday’s Enterprise” and “The Measure of a Man”; and THE BEST OF STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES, offering “The City on the Edge of Forever,” “The Trouble With Tribbles,” “Balance of Terror” and “Amok Time.”

Also New and Recently Released

X-MEN TRILOGY: Blu-Ray (Fox)
X-MEN: Volume 1 and 2 (1992-94, 368 and 391 mins.; Buena Vista)
WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN: Heroes Reborn Trilogy (68 mins., 2008; Lionsgate)

Hugh Jackman’s “Wolverine” prequel is due out later this week, which naturally has lead to several new “X-Men” related releases on Blu-Ray and DVD. 

Fox’s high-def X-MEN TRILOGY is the most notable of the group, sporting the first-ever Blu-Ray releases of X-MEN and X2: X-MEN UNITED, as well as the debut of the two-disc X-MEN: THE LAST STAND, all in one convenient package along with digital copy discs for portable media players.

Bryan Singer’s original X-MEN (**½, 104 mins., 2000, PG-13) started off the trilogy and remains an entertaining, brisk adaptation in spite of some glaring flaws.

Singer may have been an unusual choice to helm “X-Men” but the long-awaited, modestly budgeted big-screen movie of the famous Marvel comic satisfied its legion of fans who grew up reading the exploits of Professor Xavier, Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm, and the motley assortment of mutants battling the forces of evil in a future not too far removed from our own.

For everyone else, “X-Men” remains a bit of a detached experience -- and it's never as compelling or fun as you'd like it to be. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan are perfect as Professor X and Magneto, but while Hugh Jackman gives a strong performance as Wolverine and I enjoyed Anna Paquin's Rogue, too many of the other supporting turns are lifeless -- from Famke Jenssen's Jean Grey to an awful turn by Halle Berry as Storm.

The plot -- a mishmash of origin stories and the creation of a device built by Magneto that could wipe out our world leaders -- never fully engages the viewer, outside of providing an arena for the Marvel heroes to come to life in several well-choreographed fight sequences. Those individual moments are fine and entertaining for fans, but there's just something hollow about the rest of “X-Men” that prevents it from being a classic (like the prior DVD, there’s an expanded viewing option on the Blu-Ray which adds a few brief deleted scenes, but it’s far from the full-blown “Director’s Cut” fans hope we’ll see one day).

Singer's movie also wasn’t done any favors by some shoddy, rushed production tweaking, including a so-so array of special effects and a lousy soundtrack. If music scores could kill movies, perhaps Michael Kamen's disappointing outing put the final dagger into “X-Men” (I called Kamen’s score “atrocious noise” nine years ago -- upon reflection of where film music has gone since the year 2000, it’s not nearly that bad, but it still doesn’t provide the picture with the needed dramatic support it requires).

The movie still managed to effortlessly rake in millions despite its shortcomings, and Singer delivered the goods with the bigger and better (if oddly titled) X2: X-MEN UNITED (***, 134 mins., 2003, PG-13), which finds our favorite Marvel mutants combating a villainous military man (Brian Cox) intent on starting a war between humans and those who are "different."

X2 has generally been held in high esteem by fans as one of the best comic book movies, and it’s a quite entertaining ride that crams an awful lot of characters and plots into its 133 minute running time. Hugh Jackman's Wolverine, Halle Berry's Storm and Famke Jenssen's Jean Grey are given most of the spotlight in this go-round, reluctantly joining forces for a brief time with the evil Magneto (Ian McKellen again, looking as if he's having a great time) as they try to advert a battle with humankind. Meanwhile, Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart, with not a whole lot to do here) is kidnapped by Cox for equally nefarious purposes, and we're introduced to Nightcrawler, a blue-toned good guy perfectly played by Alan Cumming in a role that offers a nice contrast to the other members of the team.

It takes a while for X2 to get going, but once it does, the movie provides rousing comic book entertainment. Jackman is again terrific as the tough-as-nails Wolverine, anchoring the movie with enough star charisma to hold the various storylines together. The action scenes are crisply edited (kudos to John Ottman) and choreographed, and the film is remarkably well balanced for a story that tries to juggle an awful lot of narrative threads in the air throughout.

If there's a downside, however, it's in the script's almost incessant set-up for future sequels and occasional pretentiousness. Furthermore, the ending is an almost blatant steal from “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn,” right down to a main character's narration and swelling orchestral music from Ottman.

Singer departed the series for the ill-fated “Superman Returns,” leading director Brett Ratner to jump onboard X-MEN: THE LAST STAND (***, 104 mins., 2006, PG-13). 

Die-hard comic book aficionados disliked Ratner’s more colorful, action-oriented approach right from the get-go, and basically castigated “The Last Stand” even in the weeks and months leading up to its release. In spite of their endless trashing of the film on the web, “X-Men III” managed to be wildly successful at the box-office, outgrossing both of its predecessors in the process.

Ratner’s movie, much like the first “X-Men,” isn’t without its faults, as it seeks to tie up the loose ends of X2 and moves at a breakneck pace as it chronicles Jean Grey’s resurrection as the Phoenix. Yes, the Simon Kinberg-Zak Penn script deviates substantially from the original comic storyline, yet the picture works quite well on its own terms, with vivid cinematography by Dante Spinotti that’s warmer and more evocative than the darker hues provided by Singer and Newton Thomas Sigel on the preceding efforts. “The Last Stand” may not be the greatest comic book film ever produced, but it’s certainly far better than its reputation among certain viewers would lead you to believe, and is capped by a particularly satisfying John Powell score.

Fox’s Blu-Ray platters of all three films offer spectacular AVC encoded transfers and potent DTS Master Audio soundtracks. These are the kinds of high-tech Hollywood fantasies that benefit immeasurably from the Blu-Ray experience, and Fox hasn’t disappointed here – the first two movies look flawless, and since “X-Men: The Last Stand” was previously available in a no-frills Blu-Ray, the transfer and soundtrack here are identical to that platter’s marvelous HD presentation. 

Extras are in abundance, having been reprieved from prior DVD editions. These include goodies from both the first movie’s initial DVD and “X-Men 1.5" releases, with commentary, deleted/extended scenes, animatics, a five-part documentary, trailers and TV spots, and a Charlie Rose interview (for “X-Men”); two different commentaries, deleted scenes, featurettes, trailers and other bonuses on “X2"; and two commentaries, deleted scenes, numerous featurettes and trailers on “X-Men: The Last Stand.”

“X-Men” fans also have cause for celebration through Buena Vista’s release of the early ‘90s X-MEN animated cartoon, which aired Saturday mornings on Fox. This well-received, fairly faithful and well-drawn adaptation has been long desired by fans, who should enjoy Buena Vista’s two separate DVD volume releases, which roughly contain half of the episodes from the series’ five-year run. The two-disc “Volume 1" offers the initial 16 episodes from the series, including the multi-part “Night of the Sentinels,” “Days of Future Past,” and “Till Death Do Us Part” episodes. “Volume 2,” also presented on two discs, includes the two-part “Time Fugitives,” “Reunion,” and “Out of the Past” shows, as well as the marvelous five-part “The Phoenix Saga” arc, which arguably is better presented here than in the big-screen “X-Men” films.

Buena Vista’s full-screen transfers and stereo soundtracks are fine, and given the studio’s penchant for deleting some of their past Marvel DVDs (such as the ‘60s Spider-Man cartoon compilation), fans would be wise to pick these up asap. Hopefully the remaining episodes will follow later this year, when “Wolverine” hits the small-screen.

Also newly released on DVD, this time from Lionsgate, is the all-new cartoon “Wolverine and the X-Men,” presented on disc in its three-part “Heroes Return Trilogy” arc. This 70-minute compilation of this agreeable (and also fairly well-received) new cartoon’s inaugural episodes includes fine 16:9 (1.78) transfers, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound and numerous extras, including commentary tracks with the show’s creators, character profiles, Making Of segments and more.

New on Blu-Ray

THE WRESTLER: Blu-Ray (**½, 109 mins., 2008, R; Fox): Mickey Rourke’s performance as Randy “The Ram” Robinson rightly earned the actor major accolades and an Oscar nomination earlier this year.

Darren Aronofsky’s film, meanwhile, is not quite as praise-worthy: a competent yet fairly routine, gritty “slice of life” story about a former wrestler, down on his luck -- suffering from numerous health ailments and saddled with a broken relationship with his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) -- who tries to take one last shot at glory in a re-staging of his most famous match. Rourke, Wood, and Marisa Tomei are all uniformly fine, but there’s just something obvious about Robert Siegel’s script that Aronofsky’s hand-held “shaky cam” approach never overcomes. See it for the performances more than the story.

Given the film’s intentionally gritty look, it’s no surprise that “The Wrestler” doesn’t make for the kind of movie that really cries out for the benefits of HD. Fox’s BD includes an AVC encoded transfer with DTS Master Audio sound, and yet the movie’s use of handheld camera and digital video, often in low light, makes for an intentionally soft, grainy appearance. Extras are sparse, including two featurettes with real-life wrestlers discussing the film, a music video of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Wrestler,” and a digital copy for portable media players.

Also newly released from Fox is NOTORIOUS (**½, 123/129 mins., 2008, R; Fox), a biography of the NYC rapper/MC whose life, cut tragically short by a still unsolved murder, is forever part of the hip-hop music legacy.

George Tillman Jr. directed this authorized account of Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.”’s life and times, with a superb cast including Angela Bassett, Derek Luke (playing the film’s executive producer, Sean Combs), Anthony Mackie and Jamal Woolard as the adult “B.I.G.” Danny Elfman’s dramatic underscore, utilized whenever one of B.I.G.’s original tracks aren’t being piped in, is an asset to the film, which will appeal to fans in spite of its traditional “bio pic” structure.

Fox’s Blu-Ray disc is dynamic, offering the theatrical and unrated versions of the film (the latter extending the running time by six minutes), plus loads of extras from commentaries to ample Making Of featurettes, concert footage, deleted scenes, and a digital copy for portable media players. The AVC encoded transfer is exceptional and boisterous DTS Master Audio sound compliments the active surround design.

THE UNINVITED (**, 87 mins., 2009, PG-13; Dreamworks): American remake of a Korean thriller follows grieving teenager Emily Browning after her mother dies in a tragic fire. Recently released from a psychiatric facility, Browning returns home to her bestselling writer father (David Strathairn), sister (Arielle Kebbel), and their dad’s new love (Elizabeth Banks), who used to care for their sick mom and whom Browning believes might have something to do with her death.

This good-looking Dreamworks production, nicely scored by Christopher Young and directed by “The Guard Brothers,” tips its hand too early and none too subtly suggests that there’s more to the story than its lead character is letting on. Without divulging the film’s “twist” ending, seasoned viewers will likely become aware of what’s happening long before the characters do, making “The Uninvited” yet another contemporary thriller where the twists -- and not so much the characters or the dramatic development of the story -- determine its entertainment value. Once you’ve figured it out, there’s little else here of interest.

Dreamworks’ DVD sports a fine 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Slim extras include a few deleted scenes, a very brief (and not very interesting) alternate ending, and one Making Of featurette. The Blu-Ray edition looks even better detailed with a pleasing 1080p transfer and Dolby TrueHD audio, plus the same three featurettes from the DVD, this time presented in high-def.

FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (****, 102 mins., PG-13, 1986): John Hughes’ classic teen comedy hits Blu-Ray next week in a highly satisfying HD reprise of the movie’s 20th Anniversary DVD from 2006.

The film itself obviously requires little introduction: Hughes’ seminal 1986 film offers Matthew Broderick in one of his quintessential roles as a high schooler who decides to take a day to enjoy the sights and sounds of Chicago, pair up with girlfriend Mia Sara, help his best friend (Alan Ruck) fight his disconnected parents, all the while avoiding his school principal (the marvelous Jeffrey Jones) and obnoxious sister (Jennifer Grey), each in hot pursuit. Hughes’ film has endlessly quotable lines, hilarious moments, and sensational sequences from start ‘til end.

Paramount’s original DVD contained a sporadic commentary from Hughes (which was excised from the 2006 Special Edition as well as this new Blu-Ray package), but nothing in the way of Making Of material.

The Blu-Ray “Bueller...Bueller...” edition rectifies that by adding four excellent featurettes which essentially comprise an hour-long documentary: “Getting the Class Together,” “The Making of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Who Is Ferris Bueller?” and “The World According To Ben Stein” offer fresh interviews with Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck, Jeffrey Jones, Jennifer Grey, Ben Stein, producer Tom Jacobson, co-star Edie McClurg and other supporting players, with vintage interviews of John Hughes and Mia Sara interspersed throughout.

These featurettes offer a delightful retrospective on the production of the movie and the often improvisational nature of Hughes’ style. Consequently, it’s refreshing (and deservedly so) to see as much attention here given to the “bit parts” that made “Ferris Bueller” a classic, from McClurg and Ben Stein to Richard Edson and Kristy Swanson, as opposed to stars like Broderick, Ruck and Jones.

Everyone discusses how quickly the film went into production, how fast Hughes worked on the script, and how willing the director was to let his cast take chances -- all of which paid off splendidly with a movie that remains a viewer favorite, now some two decades after its initial release (was I just out of 5th grade that long ago? Yikes!).

The Blu-Ray also offers “The Lost Tapes,” a series of videotaped 1986 interviews with the stars mostly in-character, in addition to taped footage of the dining room sequence -- noteworthy here because it contains dialogue which didn’t make it into the final cut. A photo gallery rounds out the disc, which sports a superb 1080p transfer in the film’s original Super 35 2.35 aspect ratio, as well as an active Dolby TrueHD soundtrack.

“Ferris Bueller” is one of a handful of fine John Hughes films that remain as current today as they were when initially released. Isn’t it a shame that we no longer see movies about adolescents made with not just the humor but the sincerity and energy that Hughes brought to “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (***, 1977, 118 mins., R; Paramount): Tony Manero is STILL, indeed, the man. Just watching John Travolta strut his stuff again as the Brooklyn dance king in John Badham's seminal '70s classic  is enough to make you get off your couch and groove to the classic Bee Gees soundtrack one more time.

This slick, stylish, and memorable Robert Stigwood production was scripted by Norman Wexler from a New Yorker story about blue-collar Brooklyn residents who would take to the dance floors at their neighborhood discos each weekend.

Travolta's superstar-making performance as Tony -- an ordinary young guy trying to break out of his drab daytime existence and make something of himself after dark -- formed the heart of the 1977 film, a slice-of-life drama with melodramatic and tragic passages, highly memorable lines, a few laughs, and a dash of romance sprinkled into the mix. Add in the chart-topping soundtrack, featuring "Stayin' Alive," "More Than A Woman," and "How Deep Is Your Love," and you had a smash hit that seemingly defined the fashion, dance, and mood of the moment.

Some 30 years later, disco may still be dead but “Saturday Night Fever” is very much alive. If the film's then-contemporary look is dated, its story of small-time dreamers trying to make something of themselves -- and break beyond their barriers -- is just as timely now as it was then. Travolta's sensational, oft-quotable performance anchors the movie brilliantly -- as director John Badham mentions in his commentary track, Tony is in virtually every scene and it's a testament to Travolta's charisma that “Saturday Night Fever” holds itself together despite a wide-ranging and at times inconsistent tone.

Paramount’s Blu-Ray edition includes a good-looking 1080p high-def transfer with Dolby TrueHD audio, though the movie does look its age at certain points.

While the 30th Anniversary DVD edition was an odd blend of new features, old features ported over from the previous DVD, and a few omissions, the Blu-Ray happily includes everything from both prior standard-def packages: commentary from Badham, deleted scenes, an extensive Making Of documentary and numerous other featurettes.

Paramount has also lined up a Blu-Ray edition of Travolta’s 1978 smash GREASE (***, 110 mins., 1978, PG; Paramount), which sports a crisp, top-notch 1080p transfer of the retro musical blockbuster, along with a tuneful Dolby TrueHD soundtrack.

Extras are reprieved from the 2006 “Rockin’ Rydell Edition” DVD, including some 11 deleted/extended/alternate scenes; John Travolta/Olivia Newton-John sound bites from both the original 1977 press junket, as well as the 2002 25th Anniversary launch party, are also on-hand, along with numerous other featurettes, but for many fans the most revealing of the extras will be the commentary track with director Randal Kleiser and choreographer Patricia Birch. The two not just reminisce about the film but indulge in some tasty anecdotes, making this HD release highly recommended for all “Grease” fanatics with Blu-Ray players.

THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR (**½, 100 mins., 1999, R; Sony): This 1999 Roland Emmerich box-office flop was one of several “virtual/alternate reality” thrillers from the late ‘90s (think “Dark City,” “The Matrix,” or even “Johnny Neumonic”). Josef Rusnak’s movie works better as a mystery-thriller than a futuristic sci-fi affair, with Craig Bierko as a technician sent into a virtual recreation of 1937 L.A. to find out what happened to colleague Armin Mueller-Stahl. The lovely Gretchen Mol provides eye candy in this so-so affair, which pales in comparison to its genre brethren of the era, but works adequately enough on its own terms, and benefits from a fine score by Harald Kloser. Alas, Sony’s AVC encoded HD transfer on Blu-Ray is a disappointment, appearing soft and without the kind of added detail one anticipates from HD (it was likely culled from an old, existing master). The more potent Dolby TrueHD audio at least fares better, while extras include a commentary and music video.

UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN (*, 83 mins., 1999, R; Sony): Limp sequel to the Van Damme-Lundgren sci-fi action vehicle brings back Van Dammage solo as he seeks to track down another Universal Soldier trainee (Michael Jai White) who’s gone rogue. Barely 80 minutes in length and feeling padded even at that duration, this box-office underachiever from late summer ‘99 feels like the kind of direct-to-video fare that its star would soon become all too familiar with. Sony’s Blu-Ray disc does boast a nice AVC encoded transfer with Dolby TrueHD audio and three featurettes.

Also on DVD

A PLUMM SUMMER (***, 101 mins., 2009, PG; Paramount): Winning family film, set in Montana in the late ‘60s (and supposedly based on true events), about a TV puppet that’s abducted, held for ransom, and the efforts of two brothers and their new neighbor to track down “Froggy Doo.” Caroline Zelder’s easy-going and enjoyable comedy sports a fine cast (William Baldwin, Henry Winkler, Peter Scolari, and narration from Jeff Daniels) and an appealing story line that ought to engage young viewers. It’s a well-meaning film that doesn’t feel pretentious or overly saccharine, and it’s been nicely brought to DVD courtesy of Paramount. Speaking of that, Paramount’s disc includes a lovely 16:9 transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, commentary from Zelder and writer/producer Frank Antonelli, a gag reel, deleted scenes, the trailer, a music video and red carpet footage.

GALAXY QUEST (***, 101 mins., 1999, PG; Dreamworks/Paramount): Take a bit of “The Last Starfighter,” mix with generous doses of “Star Trek” satire, add a game cast, and you have all the makings for a light, often very funny sci-fi comedy.

Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, and Tony Shalhoub bring a deft comic touch to this engaging comedy, which managed to please sci-fi fans, Trekkies, young kids, and genre aficionados upon its release ten years ago. Industrial Light & Magic's effects are superior to their later Trek offerings and although David Newman's by-the-numbers score doesn't offer any surprises, “Galaxy Quest” is terrific fun, and far more entertaining than, say, Mel Brooks’ “Spaceballs.”

Dreamworks and Paramount’s 10th Anniversary DVD of “Galaxy Quest” offers some supplements from its original DVD as well as several all-new extras, including a retrospective documentary. The 16:9 (2.35) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack are both terrific, but here’s hoping a Blu-Ray release is in the pipeline.

ENCHANTED APRIL (***, 93 mins., 1992, PG; Miramax/Buena Vista): Mike Newell’s acclaimed, low-key 1992 film has, surprisingly, never been released domestically on DVD. That’s been rectified by Buena Vista’s new release, offering a sunny 16:9 (1.85) transfer of this BBC films production, starring Miranda Richardson and Josie Lawrence as Englishwomen who travel to the Italian Riviera to get away from it all. Richard Rodney Bennett scored this charming British import, presented here on DVD with commentary from Newell and producer Ann Scott. Well worth checking out.

OCTOBER ROAD: Season 2 (2008, 552 mins., Buena Vista): Second and final season of the critically-lambasted but marginally successful small-town ABC drama about a young author who pens a book about his youth and returns home to face his friends and family. “October Road” had a similar premise to Kevin Williamson’s short-lived WB series “Glory Days” and met with comparatively lukewarm results. That said, fans should enjoy this three-disc set from Buena Vista offering the series’ final 13 episodes in fine 16:9 (1.78) transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks. Extras include bloopers, a behind-the-scenes tour, and a featurette reflecting on the series’ end.

SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK: EARTH (2009, 45 mins., Buena Vista): The first full-length collection of “Schoolhouse Rock” shorts produced since the hey day of the Saturday morning ABC staple makes for an agreeable new Buena Vista DVD. This hour-long compilation of 11 new shorts is focused on the Earth and the environment, and mixes its well-intended messages about conservation and power-saving principles with social content and just a bit of P.C. propaganda -- making for a bit more preaching than “Schoolhouse Rock” is known for. Kids won’t notice the difference, though the songs aren’t nearly as catchy as their predecessors from the ‘70s and ‘80s either, despite having been produced by most of the same creative talent. Colorful 16:9 (1.78) transfers and 5.1 audio adorn the no-frills DVD package.

UFO HUNTERS: Season 2 (10 hours, 2008; A&E/NewVideo): History Channel series returns to DVD in a 13 episode collection offering the series’ complete Season 2. This time out, the crew’s investigations take them around the globe to Europe in addition to a litany of supposed UFO sightings in North America. History Channel’s DVD box-set offers additional, never-before-seen footage plus stereo soundtracks and widescreen transfers.

AMERICAN DAD: Volume 4 (305 mins., 2007-08; Fox): I’m a big fan of Seth MacFarlane’s “Family Guy” but my love doesn’t extend to this still on-going Fox Sunday night companion series, which follows an obnoxious CIA agent around various adventures – with a family clan nearly as dysfunctional as the Griffins in tow for good measure. That said, fans of the series will enjoy this 14-episode compilation of “American Dad” episodes, presented in full-screen and with 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks, plus extras including commentaries on all episodes, deleted scenes, and Making Of featurettes.

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