Memorial Day Mania!
PIRATES, MAD MAX, APOCALYPTO and More HD Goodies
Plus: SAND PEBBLES, ROOTS, BATTLE OF THE BULGE & More
Last week marked a major event for both HD-DVD and Blu Ray formats; the
former seeing the release of the complete “Matrix” series,
while the latter boasted a trio of high-profile discs that Blu Ray
backers hope will prove to be those essential “format
There seems to be little doubt that PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL
and its sequel, DEAD MAN’S CHEST,
on Blu Ray will help the fledgling format sell at least a couple of copies.
Since we’ve reviewed both films in detail previously, be sure to
check out our past Aisle Seat reviews for an analysis of each
installment in Disney’s hugely successful series.
On the Blu Ray side, Disney has served up just a marvelous presentation
for each picture: the crystal clear 1080p (VC-1 encoded) transfers look
immaculate at every turn, from the bright seascapes to the darker
interior sequences of both movies, where the added detail of high
definition serves to duplicate the theatrical experience at home in a
way that standard-definition DVD simply couldn’t do. I hate to
sound like an advertising campaign for these formats, but suffice to
say that both “Pirates” movies look smashing on Blu Ray,
offering dynamic, uncompressed 5.1 PCM soundtracks as well on the audio
Each Blu Ray set is also a double-disc edition sporting all the extras
from the standard-definition Special Edition sets (including
commentaries and the bonus “Lost Disc”) on a secondary
disc. This allows for maximum bit-rates on the film transfers
themselves, with the only extras on the respective first discs being a
pair of Blu Ray-exclusive interactive features: “Curse of the
Black Pearl” sports a slew of mini-documentaries offering some
basic pirate lore, while “Dead Man’s Chest” includes
an interactive game sporting supporting cast members from the series in
what’s essentially a more skillfully-executed variation on your
typical DVD mini-game. That said, it’s still fun for what it is
(at least for one go-around), and hopefully the sign of more elaborate
interactive functions to come once the kinks in Blu Ray Java get ironed
I couldn’t be more pleased with the technical presentation of
both “Pirates” films in HD thanks to Blu Ray. Certainly the
promise inherent in both Blu Ray and HD-DVD is confirmed here with a
visual and aural presentation that far surpasses the
standard-definition versions of both films. After sitting through these
Blu Ray beauties, it’ll be tough to go back to standard DVD for
most sea-faring viewers out there.
Mel Gibson’s APOCALYPTO
, which we reviewed two weeks ago in our last Aisle Seat column, has also been issued on Blu Ray through Buena Vista.
This is yet another disc that surpasses its standard definition
counterpart, if for no other reason than Gibson and cinematographer
Dean Semler shot the film with HD cameras in the first place.
Subsequently, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the Blu Ray transfer
(another VC-1 encoded presentation) seems more colorful and vibrant
than the movie itself appeared during my screening of a digitally
projected print in theaters last December.
The jungle seems greener, the hues and contrasts are better handled in
the Blu Ray disc than Buena Vista’s standard DVD, and the
uncompressed 5.1 PCM sound is filled with appropriate atmosphere that
further propels you into Gibson’s haunting evocation of a Mayan
civilization long since past.
The Blu Ray DVD also retains the slim extras from the standard DVD
edition (commentary and a brief, throwaway deleted scene) though
disappointingly doesn’t include the theatrical trailer, which as
I’ve mentioned previously includes bits from sequences that
didn’t make it into the final cut.
Coming soon on Blu Ray, meanwhile, is CRUEL INTENTIONS (**½, 97 mins., 1998, R; Sony),
Roger Kumble's trashy teen variation on “Dangerous
Liaisons” that’s certainly a product of junk moviemaking,
but hey, there are worse ways to kill off 100 minutes than to watch
Sarah Michelle Gellar play a scheming vixen out to ruin an innocent
girl's virtue through the advances of her playboy stepbrother.
Ryan Phillippe is the bait for the trap, which is set for Iowa
schoolgirl Reese Witherspoon as soon as she moves into Gellar's circle
of rich New York City teen socialites. Naturally, Phillippe starts
exhibiting feelings for the attractive and innocent young girl, which
causes major turmoil in his vicious little world and the possibility
that he'll lose his bet to bed Gellar too. Oh, the problems of teen
life in the late '90s!
With his cunning and profane dialogue, Kumble is a better screenwriter
than he is a director, since ”Cruel Intentions” is a murky
looking film whose central dramatic focus -- that of Phillippe and
Witherspoon's relationship -- is given surprisingly minimal screen
time. That central flaw will force most audiences into enjoying the
simple pleasures of teens fooling around and spouting out
better-than-average R-rated dialogue, which this picture provides in
Aside from filling the roles of the good-looking leads with the
requisite physical attributes, neither Witherspoon nor Phillippe makes
much of an impression, leaving Gellar to steal the show as an
Anti-Buffy villain controlling her own little universe (ironically,
though, the film only catapulted Witherspoon into another star
stratosphere). Selma Blair also acquits herself nicely as a gawky,
idiotic girl who comes under Gellar's influence, and Tara Reid,
Christine Baranski and Swoosie Kurtz lend memorable support.
If you were looking for a thoughtful or even mildly serious retelling
of "Les Liaisons Dangereuses," this isn't it, but for anyone seeking an
entertaining guilty pleasure with attractive young performers,
”Cruel Intentions” provides enough of one to warrant a
viewing if you are so inclined.
Sony’s Blu Ray DVD -- available June 12th -- offers a splendid
new HD transfer that enhances the movie as well as can be expected,
given the picture’s modest budget and visual trappings. The
uncompressed 5.1 PCM sound is fine, and extras ported over from the
previous Special Edition DVD include commentary from Kumble, deleted
scenes, a Making Of featurette and music videos.
New on HD-DVD
If anyone thought catalog films wouldn’t benefit from high
definition mastering in the same way than “modern” films
would, Warner has released several movies so far on HD-DVD and Blu Ray
that prove otherwise.
In fact, Warner’s sparkling new HD transfer of THE ROAD WARRIOR (****, 94 mins., 1982, R)
is one of the most breathtaking high-definition transfers you’ll
find of a catalog title on either HD-DVD or Blu Ray to date.
Working from the original negative, this new, digitally restored
version of “Mad Max 2" -- aka the movie that shot Mel Gibson into
international stardom and launched the career of director George Miller
along with him -- is nothing short of spectacular. Dean Semler’s
rugged, atmospheric cinematography is enhanced by the greater clarity
of HD, with eye-popping colors and detailed textures on-hand at every
“The Road Warrior” has always been one of my favorite films
as well. Its simplistic story, lack of unnecessary dialogue, emphasis
on the pursuit and energy of its chase sequences, and the brilliant
editing and choreography of those set-pieces makes it an all-time
classic, a movie that stands alone from its bookending pictures as a
spectacular piece of filmmaking.
Warner’s HD-DVD edition (also available in Blu Ray) includes the
picture’s newly remastered HD transfer plus a potent 5.1 Dolby
Digital Plus soundtrack. Extras include a pair of exclusive-to-HD
goodies: a new commentary track with George Miller and Dean Semler,
along with a brief introduction from Leonard Maltin that at least puts
the movie into the context of its other series films (the solid, though
not spectacular, 1979 “Mad Max,” as well as its bloated,
bigger-budgeted 1985 follow-up “Mad Max Beyond
Thunderdome,” which, as I found out recently, doesn’t hold
up to repeat viewing at all).
It’s a magnificent high-definition remastering that alone might
be worth the purchase of an HD-DVD player for “Mad Max”
BATTLE OF THE BULGE (***, 169 mins., 1965; Warner):
All-star spectacle, chronicling a pivotal battle of WWII, is a hugely
entertaining, if at times dated, piece of Hollywood craftsmanship.
Following D-day, American colonel Henry Fonda believes the Germans are
about to make one final, major offensive assault. His superiors
(including Robert Ryan) don’t believe him, but sure enough, the
ranking German placed in charge of the plan (Robert Shaw, channeling
his “From Russia With Love” villainy into a larger part) is
intent on seeing it carried out during a cold German winter.
Packed with side plots, special effects (some marvelous; others
hilariously inept), an outstanding score by Benjamin Frankel (in spite
of a ragged performance), colorful characters (including Telly Savalas,
Charles Bronson and James MacArthur as well), “Battle of the
Bulge” does show its age at times: the rear projection shots are
thoroughly dated, and the movie’s script many times relies on
stock Hollywood characterizations and cliches.
That said, the movie is still splendidly entertaining. The performances
all work, a credit to director Ken Annakin, who knew how to put a
personal stamp on oversized, over-stuffed multi-national productions.
Especially noteworthy is the performance of “The Longest
Day”’s Hans Christian Blech as one of the German military
leaders, who becomes gradually stunned by Shaw’s unflinching
desire to move ahead with the plan at any cost possible.
One of the problems for “Battle of the Bulge” is that its
wide, Ultra Panavision cinematography and Cinerama presentation were
intended to be viewed in theaters. Poorly framed, pan-and-scan
transfers robbed the film of its grandiose attributes, as did a myriad
of cuts that reduced its running time down to 140 minutes over the
years (the movie was fully restored in 2005 for its previous,
standard-definition DVD release by Warner).
Thanks to high definition, though, we can now get a real sense of the
picture’s positive attributes. Warner’s HD-DVD of
“Battle of the Bulge” offers a gorgeous transfer with
stunning colors and sharp detail at every turn. Aside from Shaw’s
briefing from German brass early in the film, the restored transfer
(captured directly from the negative) is blemish-free, one of the best
catalog titles I’ve yet seen in either HD-DVD or Blu Ray, and at
times on par with some of the more recent films released in the format
as well. The shots of German tanks over-running the countryside,
soldiers marching and guns blazing, seem like they might have been
filmed yesterday, enhancing the drama and making the film even more
watchable than it has ever been before.
Frankel’s magnificent score packs a pretty potent punch in the
disc’s Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack, while a new extra is
exclusive to the HD-DVD release: commentary from director Annakin and
James MacArthur, which will certainly be of interest for fans. Three
other extras have been carried over from the previous DVD release,
including the trailer and two vintage black-and-white featurettes,
totaling nearly 20 minutes, that chronicle the production.
“Battle of the Bulge” may be cliched and even, at times,
lightweight considering its brethren in the WWII film genre, but
it’s still an entertaining, all-star Hollywood epic, enhanced
immeasurably by the clarity of its new HD-DVD transfer. Highly
recommended for fans!
THE FOUNTAIN (*½, 97 mins., 2006, PG-13; Warner):
since Steven Soderbergh’s “Solaris” has a director
missed the mark so completely in attempting to film an existential,
quasi-religious science fiction drama.
The “autueur” this time is Darren Aronofsky, who paints
poor Hugh Jackman and his real-life wife Rachel Weisz into the corner
of his own mind-bending, incomprehensible story, following Jackman as
three different characters in a trio of different timelines: Spain in
the 1500s, the present-day, and a future where Jackman is bald, wearing
pajamas, and floating around in a bubble. Each seems to be searching
for the answer to death, which is one thing this seemingly-endless film
provides to the viewer for over an hour and a half. It’s
good-looking (considering the budget) and as well-performed as can be
expected given the circumstances, but “The Fountain” is a
mess that only gets worse as it moves along, culminating with the 16th
century Jackman turning into a large mass of vegetation in arguably the
picture’s most unfortunate moment.
Warner’s HD-DVD edition looks good, though the picture
doesn’t always display crisp detail (perhaps a result of its
digital photography) and those vivid elements that mark the best films
in HD. The 5.1 Dolby Digital Plus sound is fine, featuring a
hard-working score from Clint Mansell, and extras include numerous
featurettes plus a few HD-exclusive supplements, most notably an
interview of Jackman (conducted by Weisz) where the actor attempts to
describe how he felt when he read the script for the first time. He
calls one stretch of Aronofsky’s story “hazy,” which
is certainly just one of several descriptions one could apply to
Coming Soon on HD-DVD
BLACK CHRISTMAS (*½, 2006, Unrated, 93 mins.; Genius):
awful slasher film, written-directed by “Final Destination”
auteur and “X-Files” vet Glen Morgan (with partner James
Wong producing) is about two punch lines shy of (unintentionally) being
the latest “Scary Movie” spoof.
A tepid remake of Bob Clark’s well-regarded ‘70s thriller
(one of the prototypes for the modern slasher film), “Black
Christmas” finds a group of New England sorority sisters being
stalked by a crazed mental institution escapee and his sister -- also,
coincidentally, his daughter – on a cold, snowy holiday eve.
Aside from enjoying the seasonal, vivid cinematography and eye candy
provided by leads Lacey Chabert, Michelle Trachtenberg, Mary Elizabeth
Winstead and Katie Cassidy, “Black Christmas” is so
outrageously bad -- bordering on the comedic, in fact -- that with a
little more editing from Dimension’s Harvey and Bob Weinstein
(who cut the film substantially for its U.S. release) this
could’ve been a satire du jour on the slasher genre. As it
stands, this is an awesomely disgusting and thoroughly un-scary teen
programmer with a relentlessly ironic collection of yuletide songs that
lose their novelty value in about 60 seconds. Aside from a fine
underscore by Shirley Walker (who passed away prior to the film being
released; the end titles include an on-screen dedication to her), avoid
this misguided box-office bomb at all costs.
Genius’ HD-DVD presentation of the Unrated “Black
Christmas” does, at least, look stellar: the 2.35 transfer is
just about perfect, while Dolby Digital True HD and Dolby Digital Plus
sound are on-hand on the audio side. Three alternate endings and
various deleted scenes (some of which were contained in overseas
versions) are also included along with two Making Of featurettes.
HARSH TIMES (**½, 2005, 116 mins., R; Genius):
drama starring Christian Bale as a former Gulf War soldier torn apart
by what he witnessed, and the descent into psychosis he endures once he
returns to Los Angeles, forms the basis of the unrelentingly grim
“Training Day” scribe David Ayer wrote and directed this
uniformly well-performed, dark character study, co-starring Freddy
Rodriguez and the always-lovely Eva Longoria in a small role. The film
may be a bit predictable as Bale’s fuse slowly begins to tick
away, but this is still a fascinating film with an excellent
performance by Bale (who also executive-produced).
Genius’ HD-DVD edition contains a strong transfer plus Dolby
TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus soundtracks. Extras include commentary
from Ayer, deleted scenes, and an HD-exclusive Making Of segment.
Also New on Blu Ray
DIRTY DANCING (***½, 1987, 105 mins., PG-13, Lionsgate):
‘80s staple is back on DVD again, just in time to celebrate its 20th Anniversary.
What’s new to both the standard and Blu Ray editions are an
improved transfer, which on the Blu Ray high definition side improves
the clarity of the image substantially. That being said, there are
still some aliasing artifacts on-hand infrequently, and the image seems
overly smooth at times, as if too much noise reduction was applied to
That disappointment aside, this is still the best I’ve seen
“Dirty Dancing” appear in any video format, while Dolby
Digital 5.1 and uncompressed 6.1 PCM sound round out the audio options
on the Blu Ray presentation. (The standard DVD also benefits from the
remastering, as it appears much better balanced than any previous
“regular flavored” DVD release).
There are also plenty of supplements here, including a few new
additions: a tribute to Jerry Orbach; deleted, extended and alternate
scenes; cast audition footage; a pop-up trivia track; two commentaries
(one from writer Eleanor Bergstein, another with various crew members);
comments from Patrick Swayze; vintage music videos; outtakes; and a
look at the “Dirty Dancing” musical which is coming to
Toronto later this year following a successful, still on-going
engagement in London. (Curiously, both sets are missing the kitschy
“Dirty Dancing In Concert” special, which was included on
past Special Edition DVD releases).
For fans, there really aren’t enough new extras here to justify
another purchase on those grounds alone, though Blu Ray owners may want
to consider upgrading to the HD transfer, even with some of its visual
Upcoming From Criterion
Claude Berri’s THE TWO OF US (***½, 1967, 87 mins.)
comes to DVD on June 12th in a superlative new edition from the Criterion Collection.
Berri’s debut film follows a young Jewish boy (Alain Cohen) in
German-occupied Paris who’s sent to the country to live with an
older Catholic couple -- a staunch, anti-Semetic grandfather/farmer
(Michel Simon), to be precise -- who form a bond with the boy without
knowing his true identity.
A simple and yet profoundly moving film, “The Two of Us”
has been restored by Criterion in a highly satisfying new DVD.
Interviews with Berri and Cohen, the director’s Oscar-winning
1962 short “Le Poulet,” a 1975 French talk show excerpt
that discusses Berri’s own remembrances of his WWII travails, the
trailer, a restored B&W transfer (in 16:9, 1.66 widescreen), and
extensive booklet notes round out a wonderful package being issued just
in time for Father’s Day.
New From Fox
all the studios mining gems from their back catalogs, Fox deserves the
most kudos for their essential, supplemental-packed “Cinema
Classics Collection” titles, which have only increased in quality
and quantity this year.
At the top of the list for most movie buffs in their newest upcoming batch is undoubtedly THE SAND PEBBLES (***, 183 and 196 mins., 1966, PG-13),
Robert Wise’s epic starring Steve McQueen (never better), Richard
Attenborough, Richard Crenna and Candice Bergen in a story -- set in
1926 China -- that drew close parallels to the U.S.’ then-recent
involvement in Vietnam but offers numerous pleasures (McQueen’s
performance, its wide scope lensing and, of course, Jerry
Goldsmith’s score) to counteract its somewhat clunky pacing and
Fox’s new double-disc edition of “The Sand Pebbles”
is absolutely spectacular: the movie’s Roadshow presentation
(running 196 minutes) has been preserved on DVD for the first time, and
offers 13 more minutes of footage than the theatrical release edit (183
minutes), which is offered here on a separate disc. The 16:9 (2.35
roadshow; 2.20 theatrical) transfers look good considering their age
(the roadshow print does appear somewhat faded when compared to the
theatrical version), while both
5.1 and 4.0 Dolby Digital soundtracks are included, offering a robust
presentation of Goldsmith’s haunting, supremely memorable score.
Fans have waited patiently for an essential presentation of “The
Sand Pebbles” lost Roadshow version, and it’s paid off with
a great DVD on all fronts here.
Extras are on-hand in abundance. An isolated score track also includes
comments from Nick Redman, Jon Burlingame, and veteran
screenwriter/movie buff/historian Lem Dobbs, who rightly regard
Goldsmith’s score as one of his all-time finest. An older audio
commentary (from the previous Special Edition DVD) featuring Robert
Wise, Candice Bergen, Richard Crenna and Mako is also on-hand, plus an
introduction to the Roadshow version with Wise and Richard Zanuck.
Six featurettes comprise a new “Making Of” while a slew of
vintage materials (advertising reels, radio documentaries, TV spots,
trailers) and additional “side bars” (a featurette
remembering McQueen among those) round out just a wonderful DVD all
around, an obvious must-have for all “Sand Pebbles” fans.
Goldsmith buffs will also want to seek out Fox’s upcoming “Cinema Classics” presentation of VON RYAN’S EXPRESS (***, 117 mins., 1965),
which also boasts an isolated score track with additional comments again from Nick Redman, Jon Burlingame, and Lem Dobbs.
This two-disc package for the memorable Frank Sinatra-Trevor Howard
1965 WWII thriller also boasts a number of featurettes, including a
casual overview of Goldsmith’s career, sporting new interviews
with daughter Carrie Goldsmith plus Redman and Burlingame, all
discussing the composer’s legacy and some of his staple works in
the Fox canon (“The Omen,” “Alien,” “The
Blue Max,” etc.). It’s a fitting tribute geared towards the
casual movie-goer, though at a little over 10 minutes, Goldsmith fans
will likely be left craving more memories of their beloved maestro.
Another segment, “The Music of ‘Von Ryan’s
Express,’” includes a montage of sequences set to
Goldsmith’s score, while additional featurettes profile the
production for fans. The 16:9 (2.35) transfer is exemplary while 2.0
stereo and mono mixes round out the audio presentation.
The third new “Cinema Classics” release is a double-disc set of the 1949 classic WWII film TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH (***½, 132 mins.)
Gregory Peck, which surfaces here with commentary from Redman,
Burlingame, and fellow historian Rudy Behlmer; four featurettes
chronicling the production; a still gallery and interactive pressbook.
The full-screen, black-and-white transfer is top-notch and 2.0 stereo
and mono soundtracks round out the audio side.
On June 5th, Fox will be adding several sci-fi/fantasy library titles to the “Cinema Classics” line.
FANTASTIC VOYAGE (***½, 1966, 100 mins.)
and VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (***, 1961, 105 mins.)
were previously released together as a twin-bill Double Feature that
fetched (up until recently) a decent sum on the secondary market.
Now in their own “Cinema Classics” packages, both movies
have been treated to impressive new 16:9 transfers and numerous special
“Fantastic Voyage” is graced by Jeff Bond’s inaugural
DVD commentary (kudos to you, Jeff!) as well as an isolated score track
featuring Leonard Rosenman’s score with comments from Bond, Nick
Redman and Jon Burlingame. The latter basically functions as a
secondary commentary track, since the group talks about the
film’s background, reputation and legacy as one of the
‘60s’ biggest genre films, and then switches completely to
Rosenman’s score (which sounds sensational in full stereo) at the
A visual effects featurette, storyboards, still galleries and the
trailer complete the disc, presented in a new 16:9 transfer (2.35) with
2.0 Dolby Surround stereo.
“Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,” meanwhile, offers a
similarly improved 16:9 (2.35) transfer with 4.0 and 2.0 Dolby audio
options, as well as commentary from author Tim Colliver; a
“Science Fiction: Fantasy to Reality” documentary, playing
along the lines of this edition’s Gore-ian “Global Warming
Edition” tag; an interview with Barbara Eden; production art and
numerous still galleries; and a reproduction of the exhibitor’s
Also new to DVD, meanwhile, is THE NEPTUNE FACTOR (*½, 1973, 98 mins.)
, a film which I never even recall coming across on TV on video growing up.
You can’t blame Fox for trying to bury this early ‘70s
disaster over the years, since it’s hard to believe this
submarine fantasy (starring Ben Gazzara, Ernest Borgnine, Yvette
Mimieux, and Walter Pidgeon) is separated from the release of George
Lucas’ “Star Wars” by only four years. In terms of
story, editing, and special effects, this would-be Irwin Allen
spectacle (produced by Sandy Howard) seems like it’s decades
The movie may be silly, dated juvenile comic book shenanigans (with
utterly laughable effects -- “look, it’s a goldfish
aquarium with bath tub toys!”), but Fox’s DVD is relevant
for another reason: the disc includes both Lalo Schifrin’s
original score as well as the unreleased, rejected score by William
McCauley (portions of which ended up in the film), which is available
in dynamic stereo on a secondary audio channel.
It’s fascinating to be able to flip from Schifrin’s score
(also isolated, albeit in mono with FX) to McCauley’s, with the
big surprise being that McCauley’s comparatively romantic and
thematically rich score tends to be more pleasant to listen to.
Schifrin must have been under marching orders to make the film more
suspenseful with cues that are often ominous (especially in the early
going) while McCauley’s tracks generally play out with more of a
sense of wonder (in fact, I wouldn’t mind a CD coupling the two
scores together). Either way, neither make the “special”
effects any more convincing, but they do give relevance to a movie
that’s pretty much an ancient relic of sci-fi filmmaking
Visually, the transfer [16:9, 2.35] is top-notch and 2.0 stereo and mono soundtracks are offered on the audio side.
In addition to Fox’s six “Cinema Classics” titles,
studio has yet another batch of vintage titles also ready to go, many
being offered for the first time on DVD:
THE HUSTLER (****, 1961, 135 mins.)
and THE VERDICT (***½, 1982, 129 mins., R)
have both been issued on disc before, but make their debuts in 2-disc sets with new special features on June 5th.
“The Hustler” offers three new featurettes on the
production of the 1961 classic, while “trick shot analysis”
and more how-to pool tips, additional featurettes, and commentary from
Paul Newman and critic Richard Schickel among others is included along
with a new 16:9 (2.35) transfer and a 2.0 stereo/mono soundtrack.
Sidney Lumet’s “The Verdict,” meanwhile, includes
commentary with Lumet and Paul Newman, three Making Of featurettes (on
Newman, Lumet, and the film, respectively), photo galleries and more.
The new 16:9 (1.85) transfer and 2.0 stereo and mono soundtracks are
Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood fans will have reason to rejoice when the restored SERGIO LEONE ANTHOLOGY
-- in the works for some time and available outside the U.S. now for
years -- finally makes its debut from Fox and MGM on June 5th.
Offering “A Fistful of Dollars,” “For a Few Dollars
More,” “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” and
“Duck You Sucker” (aka “A Fistful of Dynamite”)
all in new 16:9 transfers, this eight-disc box-set is identical to the
2-disc Special Editions MGM has already released elsewhere around the
world for these four respective films, including new documentaries,
commentaries from Richard Schickel and Sir Christopher Frayling,
deleted scenes, and liner notes.
Needless to say this set is a must-own for all western enthusiasts, who
will be able to soak up these long-overdue new DVD presentations at
last next week.
HELL AND HIGH WATER (***, 1954, 103 mins.)
is Samuel Fuller’s taut, Atomic-era submarine thriller with
Richard Widmark and Bella Darvi in a viewer favorite that has, at last,
made it to DVD. Fox’s disc includes a fresh 16:9 (2.55) transfer
and 4.0 Dolby Stereo soundtrack, plus a few extras including an A&E
Biography special on Widmark, an interactive pressbook gallery, the
original trailer, and additional stills.
Jimmy Stewart’s performance as a Union soldier who opts to
negotiate a peace treaty with an Apache chief (Jeff Chandler) is one of
the highlights of the 1950 Fox western BROKEN ARROW (***, 93 mins.),
which has also been newly issued on DVD. This short but effective
western offers generous amounts of action plus a satisfying romance
between Stewart and Debra Paget, not to mention colorful
cinematography. Fox’s DVD edition includes a full-screen
transfer, mono and stereo soundtracks, a pair of vintage Movietone news
reels, an interactive pressbook gallery, and the original trailer.
Three more “Marquee Musicals” are also new on DVD, highlighted by a 2-disc presentation of CAN-CAN (**½, 142 mins., 1960, Fox)
the all-star adaptation of Cole Porter’s musical starring Frank
Sinatra, Shirley MacLaine, Louis Jourdan and Maurice Chevalier.
The presentation is highlighted by Fox's restored 16:9 (2.20) transfer,
which looks excellent (in spite of some occasional problems with the
source material) and includes a boisterous 5.0 Dolby
Digital soundtrack on the audio end. Extras include the new Making Of
“A Leg Up,” two additional featurettes centering on Abe
Burrows and Cole Porter, respectively, a restoration comparison, the
original trailer, still galleries (including a reproduction of the
souvenir program and another interactive pressbook), plus a full
isolated score track.
Also new is the highly entertaining campus musical PIGSKIN PARADE (***, 1936, 93 mins.),
which stars Jack Haley as the new coach at Texas State University,
slated to play powerhouse Yale (this is 1936 we’re talking
about!) in a football tussle that requires the school to find some new
recruits on the field.
Garland, Betty Grable, Patsy Kelly, Stuart Erwin, Johnny Downs and
Dixie Dunbar topline this fun ‘30s romp, preserved on DVD by Fox
with no less than three new featurettes: a remembrance from Lorna Loft
on her mother Garland, an examination of the picture’s cast, and
a look at Darryl F. Zanuck. The full-screen transfer and 2.0 stereo and
mono sound are both just fine, especially for a film that’s now
over 70 years old.
Finally there’s the 1951 Danny Kaye Technicolor romp ON THE RIVIERA (1951, 90 mins.),
which comes packed with three new featurettes (profiling the film,
Kaye, and choreographer Jack Cole, respectively), the trailer, a
colorful full-screen transfer and 2.0 stereo and mono soundtracks.
Stephen Boyd and Pamela Franklin give superb performances in the under-rated 1964 Cinemascope thriller THE THIRD SECRET (***, 103 mins., Fox),
an absorbing, London-set mystery -- directed by British veteran Charles
Crichton and shot by Douglas Slocombe -- that makes its debut on DVD
from Fox shortly.
Excellent supporting performances from Jack Hawkins, Richard
Attenborough and Diane Cilento make this murder-mystery a top-notch
affair that genre fans should enjoy on DVD, where Fox has preserved it
in full widescreen. Extras include the trailer, a still gallery, and
another interactive pressbook reproduction.
Fans should note that the film offered a supporting role for Patricia
Neal that was cut entirely out of the picture, as well as sports the
first credited screen role for Judi Dench.
Coming from Fox on June 5th, meanwhile, is the new “Extra Frills Edition” of Aussie drag queen favorite PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT (1994, 103 mins., R; MGM/Fox),
starring Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving, and Guy Pearce as a trio who
cause a little trouble in the Outback after leaving their Sydney
MGM’s new DVD edition includes commentary from director Stephan
Elliott, never-before-seen deleted scenes, outtakes, a still gallery,
the original trailer, new Making Of featurettes and the proverbial
“more.” The 16:9 transfer (2.35) is excellent and the sound
top-notch, offered exclusively in 5.1 DTS.
Last, but certainly not least, from Fox and MGM is a new, double-disc set of THE SECRET OF NIMH (***, 82 mins., 1982, G),
Don Bluth’s enchanting adaptation of the Robert C. O’Brien
children’s book “Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH,”
beautifully animated and capped by a magical score by Jerry Goldsmith.
What’s new to this “Family Fun Edition” is the
movie’s first 16:9 transfer in the U.S. (a full-screen edition is
also available in the package), plus an informative commentary with
Bluth and directing animator Gary Goldman. Despite the presence here of
a second disc, the set isn’t jammed with extras -- just one,
“Secrets Behind The Secret” featurette is included on the
second disc, along with five original interactive games for kids
– but the remastered presentations of the widescreen version
(with 2.0 Dolby
Surround audio) as well as its full-screen version (which actually
offers more animation on the top and bottom of the frame that's cropped
out in the 16:9 formatting) ought to be more than enough reason for any
fan of the
film to pick up the new edition when it streets on June 19th.
On the TV on DVD end, Fox will have all ‘80s nostalgia freaks in a tizzy when the Glen A. Larson-Lee Majors team-up THE FALL GUY (1981-82, 1109 mins.)
comes to DVD at long last.
This fan-favorite show will be released in no less than three different
packages: as a complete Season 1 box-set offering all 22 episodes in
solid full-screen transfers and mono soundtracks, or in a pair of Vol.
1 and 2 sets splitting up those episodes.
Either way you go, the transfers are just what you’d expect and
extras include two featurettes remembering the production and its
memorable (though not my favorite) TV theme song “The Unknown
Two more recent series from David E. Kelley are also due out from Fox: THE PRACTICE: Volume 1 (1997, 584 mins.)
features the first 13 episodes from Kelley’s ABC law drama,
offering full-screen transfers plus 2.0 stereo soundtracks and one
featurette, while PICKET FENCES (1992-93, 1055 mins.)
offers the complete first season (22 episodes) from the CBS drama, also
in full-screen and 2.0 stereo soundtracks and with a new Making Of
featurette. Both “The Practice” and “Picket
Fences” are due out on June 19th.
More TV on DVD
CHIPS: Complete Season 1 (1977-78, 1056 mins., Warner):
The theme song may not have the punch that Alan Silvestri would bring
just a year later, and the formula may have been in its infancy, but
darn it, that doesn’t mean Season 1 of “Chips”
isn’t a lot of fun. Finally, fans of this late
‘70s/’80s TV favorite can rejoice: Warner’s first DVD
foray for this long-running NBC staple is a smashing success -- a
six-disc box-set preserving all 22 season one episodes
(‘77-‘78) of the police action-adventure series, which
launched the careers of stars Larry Wilcox and Erik Estrada,
who’s on-hand here in a featurette profiling his upbringing as
well as episode reminiscences and “trivia tips.” The
transfers look remarkably fresh and the audio tracks feature the
energetic, fast-moving soundtracks that would become further refined
once composers like Silvestri and Bruce Broughton became more involved
in Season 2. It goes without saying this comes highly recommended for
all “Chips” fans!
ROOTS: 30th Anniversary Edition (1977, 573 mins., Warner):
David Wolper’s massive, all-star network TV adaptation of Alex
Haley’s best-seller remains well-intentioned, entertaining, and
somewhat of a dated ‘70s TV product, mixing sincere, earnest lead
performances from the likes of LeVar Burton and John Amos (as the
younger and elder Kunta Kinte, respectively) with a litany of talent
who would have been equally at home on an episode of “The Love
Boat” (Gary Collins, Chuck Connors, Sandy Duncan, Lorne Greene,
Robert Reed, John Shuck, etc.). It makes for an honorable, though not
entirely successful, mini-series which Warner’s has brought to
DVD in a superb four-disc box-set packed with extras. Included is a new
documentary recounting the production along with commentary tracks
featuring LeVar Burton, David Wolper, Ed Asner, casting director Lynn
Stalmaster and others. An excellent package for one of TV’s
DEADWOOD: Complete Season 3 (2007, 720 mins., HBO):
Third and final season for HBO’s raunchy western series comes to
DVD on June 12th in a six-disc box-set offering the concluding 12
episodes from the acclaimed, if slow-moving, program. HBO’s DVD
also includes a historical featurette, “Deadwood Matures,”
plus four audio commentaries, photos and more. The 16:9 transfers and
5.1 soundtracks are all excellent, making this an obvious must-have
purchase for fans.
FAIL SAFE (2000, 84 mins., Warner):
Director Stephen Frears and an all-star cast (George Clooney, Don
Cheadle, James Cromwell, Richard Dreyfuss, Brian Dennehy, Noah Wylie,
Harvey Keitel, Sam Elliott) tried their hands at a live -- yes, live --
TV performance of “Fail Safe” back in 2000 for CBS. Sadly,
outside of the presence of that superb ensemble cast, this stilted
production was a total misfire, and whatever interest the show garnered
because of its live-performance novelty, it loses on DVD, where
it’s even more limp and awkward than it was the first time
around. Warner’s disc includes a 16:9 transfer and mono
New Dragon Dynasty DVDs
The Weinstein Company’s latest “Dragon Dynasty” DVDs
include another pair of top-notch Special Editions for all martial arts
SHANGHAI EXPRESS (1993, 96 mins.)
offers Sammo Hung (who also directed) and Cynthia Rothrock in a period
western pre-“Shanghai Knights,” with Weinstein’s DVD
including deleted scenes, a new interview with Hung, an interview with
co-star Yuen Biao, a fetaurette on Rothrock, commentary from Asian
cinema authority Bey Logan, a new 16:9 transfer and 5.1 audio in both
Cantonese and English.
Rothrock is also on-hand in ABOVE THE LAW (1993, 96 mins.),
a modern day action thriller from director Cory Yuen that Dragon has
also preserved on DVD with rarely-screened alternate endings;
interviews with Rockrock and Yuen Biao; commentary from Logan; and a
featurette with co-star and kickboxing champ Peter Cunningham.
Highly recommended for all martial arts enthusiasts!
Also New on DVD
TOM AND JERRY TALES, Vol. 2 (87 mins., Warner):
12 short episodes from the current “Tom & Jerry”
animated series come to DVD from Warner in a single-disc set. Decent
fun for kids but a far cry, obviously, from the classic T&J shorts.
ALONE IN THE DARK (81 mins., 2006, 81 mins., IFC/Genius):
Colin Hanks plays a stalker who targets attractive Ana Claudia Talancon
in this short but reasonably creepy IFC indie. The Genius DVD includes
an alternate ending, deleted scenes, commentary and real “Stalker
Facts,” plus a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 sound.
FAMILY LAW [Derecho de Familia] (2006, 100 mins., IFC/Genius):
Spanish comedy lands on DVD in an English subtitled presentation
(4:3 widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound) with deleted scenes and a
Making Of featurette.
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