5/2/06 Edition

Aisle Seat May Day Edition!
POSEIDON and TOWERING INFERNO Special Editions Arrive
Plus: THE NEW WORLD, AEON FLUX, Fox May titles & More

Isn’t it great when a studio decides to produce a truly Special Edition DVD of a catalog title and knocks the ball out of the park?

That’s the good news for movie buffs next week when Fox releases double-disc editions of Irwin Allen’s disaster classics THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (***, 1972, 117 mins., PG) and THE TOWERING INFERNO (***, 1974, 164 mins., PG).

Neither movie needs much of an introduction for most viewers: 1972's “The Poseidon Adventure” remains arguably the finest work of Allen’s cinematic career, with an exciting script by Stirling Silliphant, just the right mix of performers (mostly established Hollywood vets with the exception of then-rising star Gene Hackman), superb effects for their time and an intense, effective score by John Williams. Director Ronald Neame was able to balance the effects and story with well-drawn characters, resulting in a movie that works dramatically in addition to the sheer size of its spectacle.

Thanks to massive box-office receipts and critical acclaim, Allen had a much more elaborate budget at his disposal for the 1974 Fox/Warner team-up “The Towering Inferno,” which added bigger stars (Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Faye Dunaway) to a larger ensemble cast, ups the effects and stunts, and straddles the line between camp and high drama throughout. In many ways “The Towering Inferno” is closer to Allen’s later disasters (figuratively and literally) like “The Swarm,” with a few unintended laughs and over-the-top performances making for a film that’s a movie lover’s delight (as my friend Trevor Willsmer told me years ago, where else could you see O.J. burn?), but not quite an edge-of-your-seat blockbuster where you really care about who lives and who dies. It’s not nearly as effective as “The Poseidon Adventure” but almost equally entertaining, albeit for different reasons than its predecessor.

Each film had previously been issued on DVD years back in non-anamorphic transfers that were passable for their time but only marginal enhancements on their laserdisc editions. Both movies have been treated here to new 16:9 transfers that blow the doors off the original DVDs, with freshly remastered soundtracks to boot. Finally we can hear “The Poseidon Adventure” in 2.0 stereo for the first time on DVD (only the laserdisc included a remixed stereo soundtrack), while “The Towering Inferno” offers a more robust 4.0 Dolby Surround mix.

Supplements abound on the two discs, which are splendidly packaged in slipcovers that utilize the original poster art of each picture.

“The Poseidon Adventure” offers two commentary tracks (one from director Ronald Neame; another with stars Pamela Sue Martin, Stella Stevens and Carol Lynley); nine new featurettes (totaling about 45 minutes) with cast and crew interviews conducted in the last year or two, including a profile of “The Morning After” with comments from composer Al Kasha and singer Maureen McGovern; the AMC “Backstory” look at the movie; the original, 10-minute featurette; an American Cinematographer article and multiple still galleries; storyboards; trailers; and lobby cards (which weren’t included in my copy but hopefully will be in yours!).

“The Towering Inferno” sports a solid commentary from historian F.X. Feeney, plus scene-specific comments from present-day stunt and F/X coordinators Mike Vezina and Branko Racki; nine additional featurettes on the production (note the Stirling Silliphant profile is repeated from “The Poseidon Adventure” extras); several vintage Making Of featurettes and a particularly fascinating NATO presentation reel, with Allen boasting about his upcoming projects (including “Beyond the Poseidon Adventure” for a 1976 release date [it would later be produced at Warner Bros. several years later] and unproduced gems like “The Circus”); a 1977 interview with Allen; trailers; a handful of still galleries with publicity photos and promotional artwork; storyboards; and the AMC “Backstory” episode on “The Towering Inferno.”

Best of all are the 30 extended and/or deleted scenes from the film that were added to the NBC network broadcast airings. Unlike several ‘70s disaster movies where footage was shot for television to pad the running time (“Two Minute Warning” comes immediately to mind), these mostly-short extensions to various scenes and brief deleted outtakes were excised from the theatrical version, which still clocks in at a lengthy 164 minutes. The deleted scenes are presented in somewhat blurry full-screen from the best surviving elements (which weren’t in good enough condition to present the entire TV cut proper), with bookending footage from the theatrical version presented in black-and-white to set each outtake in context.

In addition to the packaging, presentation, and extras, Fox has done the consumer one more favor by making the price-tag a quite affordable $15-and-under for each -- thereby making these Special Editions two of 2006's finest catalog releases to date. So bring the popcorn, turn up the sound, and be prepared for some star-studded disaster spectacles as only Irwin Allen could make ‘em!

Coming Next Week

Terrence Malick’s THE NEW WORLD (***, 135 mins., PG-13; New Line) is a gorgeous film, a sumptuous visual experience that transports the viewer back to early 17th century Jamestown, where English settlers make first contact with local “Naturals” -- a landmark moment in American history that also includes the fortuitous meeting between Captain John Smith (Colin Farrell) and Pocahontas (Q’Orianka Kilcher).

Like Malick’s last film, “The Thin Red Line,” “The New World” is leisurely-paced, preferring internal monologues by various characters to spoken dialogue, relying heavily on mood, atmosphere, and sound. Thankfully for Malick he has achieved another spectacular looking film, with Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography brilliantly capturing the natural essence of Virginia and making one feel as if you’ve taken the first steps into this “new world” along with the settlers.

The film, though, feels awfully disjointed, not unsurprising since Malick’s original cut clocked in at over three hours and the initial "Oscar screenings" of “The New World” ran 150 minutes. The director then trimmed another 15 minutes for its eventual U.S. theatrical release, and it’s this version which New Line has included in their single-disc DVD, out next week.

The first half-hour feels particularly choppy, and then much of the film meanders for long stretches at a time...with no real story propelling it forward. Whether or not Malick’s original version had more story and more character interaction, we may never know (producer Sarah Green mentioned that the three hour-plus version would eventually land on DVD, but it’s not in this package), making this version of “The New World” worthwhile for its aesthetic values alone, with little from a performance or story angle being especially compelling (though newcomer Kilcher does make an impressive debut as the wide-eyed, physically striking Algonquian princess).

Another detriment to the theatrical release version is Malick’s potpourri of a soundtrack, which largely excised one of James Horner’s finest original scores in favor of classical compositions. While some of the latter pieces (like Wagner’s “Das Rheingold” prelude) work better than others (Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23, which feels particularly inappropriate and makes one feel detached from the love story), Horner’s moving, lovely original music would have given the film another, warmer dimension that fails to come across in Malick’s released print.

In spite of its shortcomings, “The New World” is still a film that’s well worth experiencing on DVD. New Line’s 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack are both outstanding, and an interesting, hour-long documentary gives a healthy dose of behind-the-scenes footage, with little of the fluffy “P.R. spin” we usually experience in “Making Of” featurettes.

If nothing else “The New World” makes for an ideal rental -- save the purchase for Horner’s original score CD, and the possibility of Malick’s longer cut making its way to DVD in the hopefully-near future...with Horner’s music restored within it. (Note: Viewers with multi-region players should note that upcoming, overseas DVDs might contain the 150-minute version of “The New World,” since that slightly-longer cut played theatrically in Europe. Malick’s truly long cut, however, was never screened for the public).

New From Paramount

AEON FLUX (**½, 2005). 92 mins., PG-13, Paramount. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Featurettes; Commentaries; Trailers; 16:9 (2.35) and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Every now and then you come across a movie that’s flawed to the point where you can’t recommend it in good conscience, yet there’s something there that draws you in and keeps you watching in spite of its flaws.

Maybe it’s the presence of Charlize Theron alone (and I admit it won’t be the first time that’s happened to me), but for whatever reason, I found the troubled and expensive live-action adaptation of MTV’s pseudo-anime series “Aeon Flux” to be a genuinely interesting film that’s certainly more worthwhile than its poor box-office results would lead one to believe.

Director Karyn Kusama has fashioned an offbeat and particularly eye-popping visual spectacle with “Aeon Flux” -- an array of colors, strange costumes, and equally diverse characters populate this tale of a future Earth where humans live in a sterile, enclosed environment, hundreds of years after a disease wipes out nearly the entire population. Theron plays the title heroine -- a rebel recruited by a faction that opposes the near-Orwellian government that controls the city. Aeon never questions their motives but eventually has to once she meets her intended target (Martin Csokas), who may not be the villain her rebel group’s leader (Frances McDormand, Theron’s recent “North Country” co-star) believes that he is.

At 92 minutes, “Aeon Flux” moves breathlessly but the Phil Hay-Matt Manfredi script is a bit on the lightweight side, never developing the characters enough that you become fully wrapped up in the dramatic weight of Aeon’s adventure. Theron looks smashing and proves she can carry an action vehicle, but ultimately she’s let down by supporting characters who aren’t that interesting, with McDormand and Pete Postelthwaite’s appearances essentially serving as cameo roles.

Where “Aeon Flux” clicks is in the unique visual world it establishes. This is an energetic and well-directed film that dares to be different than the standard-issue genre film we usually see: there are no dark, “Blade Runner”-esque environments on display here. Andrew McAlpine’s production design and Stuart Dryburgh’s cinematography harken back to the days of “Logan’s Run,” at least in an aesthetic sense, and on those grounds I can recommend “Aeon Flux” as being a flawed but intriguing genre film with some effective visuals and ideas. It doesn’t entirely work but it’s anything but the turkey some viewers claimed it was upon its brief theatrical release last Thanksgiving.

Paramount’s excellent DVD serves up a smashing 16:9 transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound; Graeme Revell’s original score was one of several reportedly written for the movie, and it’s effective though far from memorable. Supplements include commentaries from writers Hay and Manfredi, along with another track involving producer Gale Anne Hurd and Theron (more sporadic in nature, unsurprisingly). Featurettes and the original trailer round out the release.

New From Genius Products/The Weinstein Company

HOODWINKED (***, 81 mins., 2005, G; Genius): Cute CGI-animated take on the Little Red Riding Hood story puts a manic, Warner Bros.-esque comedic spin on the tale. The results from directors Cory Edwards, Tony Leech and Todd Edwards is a fun, short film for kids that won’t insult the intelligence of most adults, since the humor is fast-paced and often hits the mark. Unfortunately some of Todd Edwards’ original songs were cut in half (why, Weinsteins, why? The movie is only 81 minutes long!), though you can at least sample their unexpurgated versions in the deleted scenes. In addition to the latter, Genius Products’ DVD also includes a music video, the trailer, a featurette, and commentary from the filmmakers. The 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound are each quite satisfying.

WOLF CREEK (**, 2004, 104 mins., R; Genius): Though based on a reportedly true story, this Aussie horror import comes across as a standard variation on “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” with a group of youngsters running afoul of a seemingly friendly bushman (John Jarratt) who’s actually a psycho....and it takes almost 40 minutes of running time before you figure that out! “Wolf Creek” is gory enough (especially in the unrated version Genius has released here) to satisfy hard-core horror buffs, but the story is awfully familiar and Greg McLean’s straightforward direction fails to enliven the action. Genius’ DVD offers commentary with McLean, producer Matt Hearn, and stars Cassandra Magrath and Kestie Morassi; a Making Of documentary; one deleted scene; the original trailer; a 16:9 (1.78) widescreen transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.


EVERYTHING YOU WANT (93 mins., 2005). Buena Vista. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Interviews, deleted/extended scenes; 1.33 Full-Screen, 2.0 Dolby Digital surround.

OK I admit it: Shiri Appleby is one of Hollywood’s most appealing young actresses, though so far -- outside of starring in the cult favorite series “Roswell” -- her talents have basically been squandered. For every unmemorable supporting turn in studio fare like “Swimfan” or “The Battle of Shaker Heights,” Appleby has recently appeared in a pair of fluffy made-for-cable romantic comedies. One of the latter -- last summer’s “Pizza My Heart” -- was engaging and quite a lot of fun; the other, “Everything You Want,” is a bizarre and somewhat disappointing effort that channels, of all things, the forgettable Phoebe Cates-Rik Myall teaming of “Drop Dead Fred.”

Here, Appleby plays a college art student with a boyfriend (Orlando Seale) who’s actually a product of her over-active imagination...problems predictably ensue when a real guy (Nick Zano) begins to win her affection.

Incredibly, this relatively charmless romantic comedy was based on a stage play by Natalie Prado, and adapted somewhat awkwardly by Steven A. Lee and Kevin Lawrence King. Ryan Little’s direction does the best it can with the material, but Zano’s character is nearly as obnoxious as Appleby’s literal-dream guy, and there’s not a whole lot of chemistry between any of the three leads.

Buena Vista’s DVD includes a full-screen transfer that seems a bit cramped at times; judging from the featurette contained on the disc, it seems that the movie was shot in 16:9 and cropped slightly for the disc’s transfer. A group of deleted and extended scenes are also on-hand, leading one to believe this comedy might have initially been shot for theaters before being bought up by Disney’s ABC Family network.

SHADOWS IN THE SUN (94 mins., 2005, Buena Vista): Another independent film gobbled up by the ABC Family channel, writer-director Brad Mirman’s “Shadows In The Sun” was definitely an indie production (originally titled “The Shadow Dancer”) that ended up debuting domestically on the small screen. Joshua Jackson (“Dawson’s Creek”) plays a young literary agent sent to Italy to track down elusive author Harvey Keitel; Claire Forlani plays his feisty daughter with Giancarlo Giannini as a priest and John Rhys-Davies as Jackson’s boss. Lovely Italian locations and engaging performances sell the feather-weight script, which seems to have been edited for DVD (there are even fade-outs for commercial breaks). If nothing else the 1.33 full-screen transfer seems particularly cramped at times -- something confirmed by clips in the behind-the-scenes featurette measuring at 2.35! Additional cast and crew interviews round out the presentation. In spite of the spotty DVD presentation, “Shadows and Sun” is a diverting piece of fluff, pleasantly filmed and performed, so you could do worse if you’re looking for a “rom-com” date flick.

Fox TV on DVD: May Box Sets & More

THE BIG VALLEY: Complete Season 1 (1965-66, 30 Episodes, 1532 mins., Fox, available May 16th): One of TV’s more popular ‘60s westerns finally hits DVD in a no-frills but solid package from Fox. This five-disc set compiles all 30 first-season episodes of “The Big Valley” -- one of the decade’s more well-remembered westerns with Barbara Stanwyck, Linda Evans, Peter Breck and Lee Majors among others -- in good-looking, healthy full-screen transfers with mono sound. “The Big Valley” didn’t last as long as some of its genre counterparts (only through the end of the ‘69 season), but it’s a show its fans recall fondly, and those viewers ought to be thrilled with Fox’s DVD box set.

HILL STREET BLUES: Season 2 (1981-82, 18 Episodes, 850 mins.; Fox, available May 16th): The second season for Steven Bochco’s classic series (and its first full season) continues the myriad of stories in and around the Hill Street station house, with Fox’s three-disc set including the series’ sophomore slate of 18 shows in full-screen transfers with mono soundtracks. Extras include a gag reel; two commentary tracks on the episodes “The World According To Freedom” (by stars Charles Haid, Bruce Weitz, and Dennis Dugan) and “Freedom’s Last Stand” (by writers Jeffrey Lewis and Robert Crais); and four featurettes (“The ‘Hill Street Blues’ Story”; “Belker Unleashed”; “Confessions of Captain Freedom”; and “A Cowboy on the Hill”). Another solid, recommended release for “Hill Street” fans.

M*A*S*H: Complete Season 10 (1981-82, 21 Episodes, 543 mins.; Fox, available May 23rd)
KING OF THE HILL: Complete Season 6 (2000-01, 21 Episodes, 494 mins.; Fox)
Fox has nearly completed their run of “M*A*S*H” box sets, offering the highly enjoyable 10th season of the classic series on DVD in a three-disc set with unedited, full-screen transfers and mono soundtracks -- with no extras -- on May 23rd.
Meanwhile, this week Fox offers the complete 6th season of Mike Judge and Greg Daniels’ “King of the Hill” animated comedy in a three-disc set including all 21 episodes from the long-running (and still under-the-radar) Fox network series.

CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN 2 (**½, 94 mins., 2005, PG; Fox; available May 23rd): Surprisingly watchable (considering its predecessor) sequel to the Steve Martin modernization of the Gilbreth family tale puts Martin, Bonnie Hunt, and the gang out on vacation, where Steve’s Tom Baker runs into a rival clan led by Eugene Levy (who snagged second billing here, leading me to believe Levy’s pay day has completely rolled in after a lifetime of hard work!). Predictable laughs and shenanigans ensue, though the cast seems to be having a good time and kids ought to enjoy it; it’s forgettable but fun for what it is. Fox’s DVD includes commentary from director Adam Shankman, full-screen and widescreen transfers (1.85, 16:9) with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound and a few featurettes primarily aimed at kids.

NEXT TIME: The latest from Sony! 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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