5/31/05 Edition

End of May DVD Parade

Andy Reviews the JAWS 30th Anniversary DVD!
Plus: STAR TREK INSURRECTION, Fox & Disney Titles, and More!

Whenever a new Special Edition DVD is released, fans of that respective film will rush out to purchase it, often crossing their fingers that its contents will be worthy of their time and money.

Sometimes the studios get it right with their re-packaging and claims of new and improved supplements. Sometimes they fail completely. And every once in a while the results fall somewhere in between.

Universal’s new 30th Anniversary edition of JAWS (**** Film, **½ Presentation, 124 mins., 1975, PG; Available June 14th) should have been a case where the studio knocked the ball out of the park. After all, the new double-disc DVD contains Laurent Bouzereau’s outstanding 1995 laserdisc documentary in its unexpurgated two-hour length, plus the film’s Oscar-winning mono soundtrack for the first time on DVD. It also contains all the outtakes and deleted scenes from the laserdisc, some of which were left off Universal’s original DVD package.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that the studio got it right on those fronts, the new 30th Anniversary DVD is far from definitive since the set -- inexplicably -- fails to include so much as ONE trailer of any kind! Try as I might, I couldn’t uncover so much as one of the movie’s memorable teasers or full-length trailers on the DVD...a shocking occurrence to say the least since the trailers are arguably half the fun of the “Jaws” supplements from both its laserdisc box set and initial DVD release.

Instead, the menus have been recycled from the previous DVD and the additions from the “Signature Collection” laserdisc box have been seemingly half-heartedly reprieved. The “Jaws Archives,” for example, are comprised of direct screen captures from the laserdisc, some of which look downright blurry. Ditto for the deleted scenes, which appear to be filtered and possibly likewise ported straight off the LD. Fans will be happy to hear that the mono soundtrack is included, but be warned it’s compressed and has little of the dynamic range from the laser edition, thereby negating some of its effectiveness.

So, then, where does that leave us? As a “Jaws” fan, it means you’re going to have to own multiple copies of the title, because the 30th Anniversary set does include two new offerings of interest: a terrific, albeit short, vintage “From The Set” segment culled from British TV, and a nice 60-page “Photo Journal” that gives the package a bit of gloss.

The “From The Set” segment includes candid footage of the production’s first few days on-location in Martha’s Vineyard, interviewing Steven Spielberg among others. Meanwhile, there’s priceless footage of Carl Gottlieb falling overboard and into the icy, early May waters of the Atlantic -- all for the abandoned first attempt Spielberg made at showing the discovery of Ben Gardner’s boat. It’s a nice bonus for fans, and it’s a shame it doesn’t go on longer than it does.

That segment aside, however, this Anniversary set is otherwise a rehash of materials that have been previously available elsewhere. The lack of trailers means you’ll need to own the original DVD (which otherwise has identical picture and sound to the 30th Anniversary DVD) or the old laserdisc box, which aside from side breaks offers a more satisfying, comprehensive selection of supplements.

Perhaps for the 35th Anniversary we’ll truly get the Definitive “Jaws” fans have been waiting for...

A more satisfying package is on-hand in Paramount’s DVD edition of STAR TREK: INSURRECTION (** Film, *** Presentation, 103 mins., 1998, PG; available June 7th), a disappointingly mild adventure that ranks as my least favorite of the “Next Generation” films.

In Michael Piller’s script, Captain Picard and company protect a race of peace-loving, non-technological types enriched by a fountain-of-youth generated by their native planet's outer rings, and under attack from both Federation fiend and alien foe (think “Lost Horizon” crossed with “TNG” and you get the picture). Naturally, it wouldn't be much of an adventure unless someone had to spoil the party, and here the villainy is supplied by F.Murray Abraham and his band of ugly nasties who must have gotten their flesh-expanding skin treatments from the same doctor who worked on Katharine Helmond in “Brazil.” Subplots this time out include Picard's romance with a lovely member of the planet's non-combative people (Donna Murphy), Riker's romance with Troi (though there isn't much of it), Federation admiral Anthony Zerbe's questionable relocating of indigenous cultures for his own good (the movie's political food for thought), and several other plot strands that will evaporate from memory right after the movie is over.

Jonathan Frakes' direction is competent but the movie never grabs the viewer and gels. It takes too long to get going, and along the way there are an abundance of extraneous scenes and "cute" sequences that never pay off (from the Gilbert & Sullivan shuttle chase to a young native boy's fascination with Data and Worf's onsetting "puberty"). The film feels sluggish and the lack of a thoroughly reprehensible villain is felt right from the start; so much for a movie with a poster slogan that once proclaimed "On December 11, Meet the New Face of Evil!" Abraham is adequate but Piller's script is more TV-like than cinematic, so don't be expecting any "Wrath of Khan" here.

That said, “Insurrection” still makes for passable entertainment, but this time it's mainly for fans only. Jerry Goldsmith's score is pleasant and in some ways ranks as his finest for the later Trek films, but it’s the story that’s the problem -- and in hindsight, seems to have marked the beginning of the end for the TNG cast and the Trek cinematic franchise as we know it.

Tellingly, there’s no audio commentary in Paramount’s latest 2-disc “Collector’s Edition” DVD, a first for the double-disc Trek DVD packages. Denise and Michael Okuda’s typically interesting “text commentary” is the only supplement to be found on the first disc, along with a nice 2.35 transfer of the film and superb 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks. Perhaps director Frakes, producer Rick Berman and writer Piller simply don’t have much to say about the picture, but the lack of a talent commentary is surprising given that there’s been one on every previous Trek Collector’s DVD.

Paramount, though, has compensated by including a robust assortment of supplements on Disc 2, including a handful of deleted scenes. Introduced by co-producer Peter Lauritson (at least he’ll talk about it), the sequences include a longer kiss between Patrick Stewart and Donna Murphy, plus test footage of F. Murray Abraham’s original fate in the film.

These sequences aren’t listed on the DVD packaging but are there sure enough, along with a wide assortment of behind-the-scenes featurettes, grouped into categories entitled “Production” (seven featurettes), “Creating the Illusion” (three featurettes), “The Star Trek Universe” (a segment on Michael Westmore’s extraterrestrial make-up and “Star Trek’s Beautiful Women”), “Archives” (storyboards and stills gallery), and “Advertising” (the original trailer and teaser, plus a promotional featurette).

It’s another must-have package for Trek fans, bringing the Collector’s Edition DVDs all the way up to the most recent (and poorly received) Trek film, “Star Trek: Nemesis.” Though that DVD included a good array of special features, you have to wonder if we won’t see a 2-disc Collector’s Edition of the final Trek feature film (for the moment at least) in the near future.

Fox Round-Up: “All-Access” Special Editions and More

Fox this week revisits three recent box-office hits on DVD. Each film has been given the double-disc treatment and contains all the supplements that accompanied the respective films in their various international DVD editions over the last few months (basically reinforcing the notion that if a DVD is bare-bones in its initial release, just wait a few months).

Top of the list is I, ROBOT (***, 114 mins., 2004; PG-13), the moderately entertaining Will Smith blockbuster from last year.

Loosely based on Isaac Asimov's classic novel, "Dark City" and "The Crow" auteur Alex Proyas' film is a fast-paced, sometimes clever, and generally satisfying production. Smith gives a nicely dialed-down performance, which helps to compensate for Bridget Moynahan's latest D.O.A. female lead (is there some reason why filmmakers continually cast the uncharismatic Moynahan in these parts? Wasn't her invisibility in "The Sum Of All Fears" enough?).

The Digital Domain special effects, along with Patrick Tatopoulis' production design, help create a future world that, for once, isn't just another "Blade Runner" knock-off, while the motion-capture of Alan Tudyk's performance (as “Sunny” the robot) is downright brilliant. "Sunny" truly feels like a main character in the movie, and the use of an actual actor to perform the role (even if it's digitized afterwards) gives the actors a sense of interaction with the character which later translates to the viewer at home. The robot doesn't feel stiff, nor do the characters' interaction with him -- like Gollum, it's another technological triumph in a movie that doesn’t offer anything particularly noteworthy on the narrative front.

If there's a problem in "I, Robot" (other than Moynahan), it's the movie's conventional finale. Despite some of the clever dialogue and interplay in the Jeff Vintar-Akiva Goldsman script, the picture ultimately turns into just another chase/shoot 'em up, with slow-motion gun battles and an army of robots looking suspiciously like the clones from Episode II. It's competently handled, but ultimately detracts from the film as a whole.

A bit less enjoyable on the second go-round, “I, Robot” fans ought to still enjoy Fox’s new DVD, which is chock full of supplements, including three commentaries that describe in good detail the production of the picture.

One track includes Proyas and writer Akiva Goldsman (carried over from the original DVD release); the second commentary offers production designer Patrick Tatopoulos, editor Richard Learoyd and members of the FX team; while the third track, which ought to be of chief interest for film score fans, boasts Marco Beltrami discussing his score. Beltrami does a fine job detailing his work on the movie, while his score is isolated -- often with his comments -- in the backdrop.

The inclusion of DTS audio (also offered on the previous DVD) adds to the overall enjoyment of the film proper, which is presented in 2.35 widescreen on Disc 1, while Disc 2 offers an abundance of featurettes, grouped into a “4-hour multi-faceted movie exploration” into the production of the film. Basically, this well-executed set-up allows you to watch every supplement on the DVD in roughly chronological order, complete with bridging behind-the-scenes footage and the option to go where you want when the menu prompts appear. The featurettes are heavy into the movie’s digital effects, which should come as no surprise since so much of the picture was filmed against a green screen. An alternate ending is also on-hand, along with a couple of brief deleted scenes and a look at where actual robotics is at in today’s society.

Also out this week is a new Special Edition for Roland Emmerich’s unabashedly silly, and somewhat pretentious, sci-fi disaster epic THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW (**½, 123 mins., 2004, PG-13).

Great special effects are the saving grace of Emmerich’s opus, which poses the question of what would happen if global warming reached catastrophic levels. The answer is: dumb dialogue, splendid visuals, thin characterizations, and over $180 million in domestic box-office.

"The Day After Tomorrow" is competent disaster filmmaking, make no mistake: the scenes of New York City frozen over, ships parked in the metropolitan streets, and tidal waves crashing into the Statue of Liberty are impressive in scope. If only the premise by Emmerich and Jeffrey Nachmanoff made more sense (it's nearly as believable as watching one of those '50s monster movies with scientists talking jibberish), with some outrageous scenes forcing stars Dennis Quaid (as an intrepid NOAA climatologist) and Jake Gyllenhaal (as his son, stranded in NYC) to look as serious as possible in an effort to make the picture at least partially believable. It's not, but as dumb-fun summer blockbusters go, "Day After Tomorrow" is a notch below "Twister" on the entertainment scale, and certainly makes for a recommended DVD view -- at least for genre enthusiasts.

Fox’s original DVD wasn’t as bereft of supplements as “I, Robot,” but there’s naturally a lot more on-hand here. Instead of two deleted scenes you get 10 of them (with optional commentary); a new commentary track (by Nachmanoff and other members of the production team) in addition to Emmerich’s director commentary (reprieved here); a new documentary, “Two Kings and a Scribe: A Filmmaking Conversation”; the fluffy “junk science” documentary “The Force of Destiny: The Science and Politics of Climate Change”; another five pre and post-production featurettes; trailers, audio demos, storyboards and concept art galleries; plus the movie in 2.35 widescreen with 5.1 DTS (new to this release) and Dolby Digital sound.

Last but not least among Fox’s new “All Access” Special Editions is a deluxe edition of MAN ON FIRE (*, 2004, 145 mins., R), a typically over-directed Tony Scott mess that was first brought to the screen (to equally disastrous results) in a 1987 film with Scott Glenn, Brooke Adams, Danny Aiello, and Joe Pesci.

Denzel Washington plays an ex-mercenary hired by parents Marc Anthony and Radha Mitchell to watch over their precocious little girl (Dakota Fanning) in Mexico City after a rash of kidnappings plagues the region. Despite Washington's best efforts, Fanning is taken by a group of thugs tied to Anthony's prior dealings, and Denzel quickly turns Rambo in a one-man assault at getting her back.

You'd think someone might have learned from the original "Man On Fire" and not bothered producing another rendition of its source, but director Tony Scott and writer Brian Helgeland apparently thought their film would have improved upon its predecessor. After a watchable, if overlong, first hour, though, the 2004 "Man On Fire" becomes an utter disaster, totally wasting the talents of its cast in an ugly, endless vigilante saga that's the most self-indulgent yet of Scott's works. No matter what scene you're watching, Scott cuts away to another shot, inserts a special effect, throws subtitles on the screen (even when the characters are speaking English!), zooms in, zooms out, or cuts to something else altogether. The result is a mind-numbingly restless and unpleasant film that made moderate box-office bucks solely on Washington's reputation.

Though Fox's initial DVD was light on supplements, the new disc offers plenty in the way of bonus features. The sole extras from the original DVD -- a pair of commentaries featuring Tony Scott, Dakota Fanning, and Helgeland -- are back, while the second disc hosts a plethora of supplements, including the documentary “Vengeance is Mine,” an alternate ending with commentary from the director, 14 deleted scenes, a multi-angle sequence examination, a still photo gallery and a full range of trailers and TV spots.

Also new from Fox is the two-disc edition of Bill Condon’s interesting bio-pic KINSEY (***, 118 mins., R, 2004).

This intriguing, sometimes overwrought, look at the methodology of University of Indiana researcher Dr. Alfred Kinsey (Liam Neeson) as he broke taboos in his groundbreaking, controversial study of human sexuality offers a host of superb performances. Neeson is excellent in a difficult role as a man who ultimately learns that sex and love are two totally different animals, while Laura Linney is equally strong as his sometimes-supportive, sometimes-depressed wife, who watches while her husband engages in questionable “field research” while he augments his study. John Lithgow (as Neeson’s father), Chris O’Donnell, Timothy Hutton, Tim Curry (as one of Kinsey’s colleagues) and Oliver Platt round out the cast in a movie that looks great (kudos to cinematographer Frederick Elmes) and sports an effective, sensitive score by Carter Burwell.

Naturally, the subject matter is not going to appeal to all audiences, but for curious viewers “Kinsey” is a well-performed film that ultimately says as much about the human condition and Kinsey’s own flaws as it does his work in the field.

Fox has two versions of “Kinsey” on DVD, including a two-disc Special Edition offering commentary from Bill Condon that’s heavy into the scene-to-scene production of the film. An excellent “Making Of” documentary is also on-hand, along with deleted scenes and even an interactive “Sex Questionnaire” prepared by the actual Kinsey Institute. The 2.35 transfer is fine and the 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital sound likewise superlative for this kind of movie.

Last but not least we come to the engaging small-screen sequel THE SANDLOT 2 (***, 97 mins., 2005, PG), a film that boasts more than your typical made-for-video offering has going for it.

For starters, original writer-director David Mickey Evans is back behind the lens here, directing this familiar yet still heartfelt family film about a group of rag-tag kids who play ball in the local sandlot. Set a decade after the original, “Sandlot 2" is at times more of a remake than a follow-up, yet young viewers won’t care one bit and the production values are high: Laura Karpman (“Taken”) contributes a fine score and David Pelletier’s cinematography is a notch above the norm for direct-to-video productions. More over, the cast is engaging, from the juvenile actors to James Earl Jones, who reprises his role as Mr. Mertle. Good, solid entertainment for all ages.

Fox’s DVD serves up a home run of a presentation as well (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?), including commentary from Evans, a fun featurette looking back at the cast of the original “Sandlot,” a behind the scenes featurette, and a collection of interviews with former MLB players, remembering their days on the playground field. The 1.78 widescreen (full-screen is also available on the same disc) transfer is fine, as is the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Capsule Round-Up: New From Disney & More

POOH’S HEFFALUMP MOVIE (***, G, 68 mins., 2005, Disney): Appealing Winnie the Pooh feature introduces Lumpy the Heffalump in a short but sweet film aimed squarely at younger viewers, though adults ought to enjoy the family fun as well. Two demerits, however, to Carly Simon for her overly maudlin soundtrack -- needlessly depressing given the circumstances. Disney’s DVD offers a splendid 1.78 widescreen transfer plus bonus features for the little ones.

CLASSIC CARTOON FAVORITES, Vol.5-7 (aprx. 60 minutes each, Disney), 2005 compilations: Disney’s latest installments in their budget-priced cartoon compilations tackle a variety of subjects. Volume 5, “Extreme Sports Fun,” offers what the title implies: eight vintage Disney shorts pertaining to outdoor activities, including “How To Play Football” and “Goofy Gymnastics.” Vol. 6, “Extreme Music Fun,” sports another eight shorts with a tuneful theme, including “Mickey’s Grand Opera” and “Farmyard Symphony.” Finally, Vol. 7, “Extreme Adventure Fun,” offers a more scattered assortment of shorts, including “Mickey’s Trailer,” “Hello Aloha” and “Old Sequoia.” The transfers are generally satisfactory, but since the discs are geared towards kids, any complaints about the condition of the prints is moot (many of these shorts have already been released in Disney’s limited-edition Treasures tins, so only die-hard collectors need to check these out).

GET A CLUE (2002, 83 mins., G; Disney): Cute Disney Channel TV-film stars Lindsay Lohan -- post-“Parent Trap” (see below) but pre-“Mean Girls” -- as a high school reporter whose teacher mysteriously disappears. Sort of a “Nancy Drew” meets “Clueless,” this lighthearted, entertaining piece of fluff ought to please kids of all ages. Disney’s DVD even includes an alternate ending plus a satisfying full-screen transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

THE PARENT TRAP: SPECIAL DOUBLE TROUBLE EDITION (***, 1998, 128 mins., PG; Disney): Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer’s engaging 1998 remake of the old Hayley Mills chestnut remains the first and best film of its young star Lindsay Lohan. Disney’s new DVD is affordable enough (around $15) and boasts a new 16:9 transfer plus supplements (commentary, a deleted scene, making of featurettes) carried over from the LaserDisc release. Recommended!

THE LAST SHOT (***, 93 mins., R, Disney): Little-seen but entertaining effort from writer-director Jeff Nathanson, based loosely on a real incident about a film director (Matthew Broderick) who’s recruited by an FBI agent posing as a producer (Alec Baldwin) to shoot an opus geared not to reap rewards at the box-office but rather to take down the Providence, R.I. mob. Appealing performances by the terrific ensemble cast (Toni Collette, Calista Flockhart, Ray Liotta, Tony Shalhoub among them) and some big laughs make this sleeper well worth a look. DVD special features include commentary with Nathanson and Broderick, deleted scenes, featurettes, a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

THE MACHINIST (**½, 101 mins., R, 2004; Paramount; available June 7th): Weird is just the first word that pops into your mind when describing Brad Anderson’s offbeat thriller. Christian Bale -- who literally didn’t eat for weeks to prepare himself for the role (and believe me, it shows!) -- essays a tortured soul who can’t seem to remember his recent past and what Big Event turned his life into a living hell. Obviously made to capitalize on the success of “Memento,” this mind-bending thriller might have worked better as a short film (or even an episode of The Twilight Zone), but despite solid work from Bale, this Spanish-produced mystery doesn’t quite work. Paramount’s DVD, out next week, includes commentary from Anderson, deleted scenes, and an interesting look at how the independent film was produced.

GARFIELD FANTASIES (1988-89, 120 mins., Fox): The latest compilation of Garfield’s CBS network TV specials includes the wacky “Garfield’s Babes and Bullets,” with Jim Davis’ feline paying homage to film noir; “Garfield’s Feline Fantasies,” a series of vignettes; and the ambitious “Garfield: His 9 Lives,” an hour-long special with different animation styles that’s particularly interesting and a cut above the norm. Transfers and sound are OK, making this another top-notch title for Garfield fans and animation aficionados.

NEXT TIME: Back with more reviews, comments and more!
Don't forget to drop in and debate EPISODE III (or the new Varese CD Club releases) on the Message Boards, direct any emails to the link above and we'll catch you then. Cheers!