Aisle Seat Re-Issue Round-Up

Andy Weighs In On New DVDs of DAS BOOT, ROBOCOP and More!

Plus: MONSTER, PAYCHECK, and The June DVD Calendar

By Andy Dursin

Since DVDs have exploded as a mass-consumer phenomenon, one development that's also sprung up has been the continual re-packaging of previously-released discs in "Special Edition"/"Extended Cut"/"Director's Version" hyped variants. Many times, these sets will be released to coincide with a new sequel coming out, and in such cases, the "fresh" special features turn out to be nothing more than promotional filler for the studio's new film. On the other hand, studios sometimes DO get their acts together and re-issue titles with truly "special" supplements and features that preceding discs missed out on.

In glancing over the DVD review candidates for this week's Aisle Seat, I noticed a handful of new re-issues that have crossed my desk. For this "Re-Issue Round-Up," I immediately decided to get right to the main question: are these discs worth an upgrade?

Miramax Collector's Editions

I was already a big fan of James Mangold's superbly-written and wonderfully acted COP LAND (***1/2, 116 mins., R, 1997), and Miramax's new "Collector's Series" DVD improves immeasurably both on the film's original theatrical version and its preceding video release.

For the new DVD, Mangold re-edited his film, adding some 11 minutes of footage that Miramax had forced him to cut, most of which is comprised of scenes between small-town sheriff Sylvester Stallone and the witness (Michael Rappaport) he's trying to protect. The director's intention was always to make a mythic, modern "urban western," and the footage that Mangold has reinstated goes a long way in justifying his claims. The performances from Stallone to Ray Liotta, Harvey Keitel, Robert DeNiro, and Robert Patrick were always outstanding across the board, but somehow they shine that much brighter now that Mangold's original vision has been released uncompromised.

Miramax's DVD not only includes the Director's Cut of the film, but also additional deleted scenes, an excellent commentary track with Mangold, producer Cathy Konrad, Stallone, and Patrick, plus storyboards. The DVD's 1.85 transfer has been enhanced for 16:9 TVs (the earlier DVD was non-anamorphic) and the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is also superb. Highly recommended!

Also coming out next week from Miramax are "Collector's Series" DVD re-issues of Danny Boyle's TRANSPOTTING (***, 94 mins., 1996, R), plus David O. Russell's somewhat over-praised FLIRTING WITH DISASTER (**1/2, 93 mins., 1996, R).

Naturally, "Trainspotting" will be the title that most cinephiles will want to check out, since Miramax has rectified the basically bare-bones previous DVD they released by adding two discs chock full of exclusive supplements. These include a "Making Of" and retrospective on the film's production, interviews with all the principal production personnel, commentary and deleted scenes, trailers, and both 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks with a 16:9 enhanced (1.85) widescreen transfer.

Russell's "Flirting With Disaster," meanwhile, does have some hilarious moments and a fantastic cast, but this tale of a nebbish (Ben Stiller) who seeks out his biological parents is a bumpy and sometimes uneven ride. Miramax's new DVD isn't nearly as supplemental-jammed as "Trainspotting" and "Cop Land," offering only deleted scenes, bloopers, and the movie's original featurette. The 1.85 transfer is colorful and the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound likewise agreeable.

MGM Special Editions

It's been a long journey for the Unrated Version of "Robocop" to become widely available on DVD in the United States again. While Criterion did offer a DVD of Paul Verhoeven's "Director's Cut" several years ago, that edition has been out of print for some time, remaining a prized possession for fans -- at least until MGM's new ROBOCOP TRILOGY box-set streets next week.

Nearly identical to the international Special Edition package MGM has already released in many territories, the original "Robocop" (***, 1987, 103 mins.) sports only the Unrated "Director's Cut" in a new 16:9 enhanced transfer. The picture quality is still a bit soft (it seems there will never be a pristine-looking presentation of the movie), but it's likely better than the preceding Criterion and Image discs, and does offer the uncut version of the film, which makes the early board room scene a bit more graphic -- but also funnier at the same time.

Special features exclusive to the DVD include four deleted scenes, a "Making Of" featurette and vintage on-set featurette, commentary from Verhoeven, producer Jon Davison and writer Edward Neumeier, storyboards, trailers, and TV spots.

Also included in the package are no-frills editions of the embarrassing 1990 sequel "Robocop 2" (*, 1990, 118 mins., R) and the uninspired 1991 follow-up "Robocop 3" (**, 1991, 105 mins., PG-13), which sat on the Orion shelves for a couple of years before being released to negligible box-office returns in the fall of '93. The latter boasts Jill Hennessy in an early lead role and Robert John Burke in Peter Weller's metallic footsteps. Thankfully, as tedious as Fred Dekker's PG-13 rated film is, it's not nearly as much of a disaster as Irvin Kershner's franchise-killing first sequel, which indulges in sadistic violence and bad taste in a way that makes Verhoeven's original seem tame by comparison.

Extras are limited to trailers on the two sequels, while the 16:9 transfers are both decent, and the 5.1 soundtracks likewise potent. No matter what audio format you hear it in, though, Leonard Rosenman's score from "Robocop 2" is still an abomination!

MGM has also issued new double-disc editions for classic UA films THE GREAT ESCAPE (****, 172 mins., 1963) and THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (***1/2, 182 mins., 1966, PG-13).

The latter is the more impressive of the duo: Sergio Leone's quintessential "spaghetti western" has been released on video yet again, but this time in a fully restored presentation, adding some 17 minutes of previously deleted scenes. In addition to an outstanding commentary track from Time critic Richard Schickel, the DVD also sports liner notes from Roger Ebert, several small lobby card reproductions, a featurette on Ennio Morricone's classic score with the esteemed Jon Burlingame (in addition to two other, fairly brief featurettes), and trailers. Other deleted scenes (culled from surviving elements including script excerpts and still photos) round out a disc that looks great in 2.35 widescreen and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, making for an easy recommend for all Clint Eastwood and Leone fans.

John Sturges' classic WWII POW film has also been newly issued in a solid Special Edition boasting several new supplements. In addition to a commentary track culled from interviews with Sturges and other key "Great Escape" personnel members, MGM has included an on-screen trivia track relaying all kinds of production anecdotes. The documentary-heavy second disc offers five interesting featurettes, plus British TV documentaries "'The Great Escape: The Untold Story'" and "The Real Virgil Hilts: A Man Called Jones." A photo gallery and trailer round out the disc, which includes a mono soundtrack and 16:9 enhanced transfer that doesn't seem to be all that different from MGM's previous DVD.

Universal Special Editions

FIELD OF DREAMS (***1/2, 106 mins., 1989, PG-13; Universal, available June 8): 15th Anniversary Edition of the 1989 Kevin Costner baseball fantasy offers a newly remastered widescreen transfer with 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks.

Even more impressively, this two-disc Universal set includes several excellent new features. Some 20 minutes of never-before-seen deleted scenes are included with introductions from director Phil Alden Robinson (among them is an outtake of Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones watching batting practice at Fenway Park). A new documentary on the making of the film covers all the requisite behind-the-scenes bases, while a recently-filmed "Roundtable" discussion offers Costner, Johnny Bench and Brett Saberhagen discussing their love of the game.

The set's second disc sports a superb Bravo "Making Of" special, baseball trivia, and a segment on the "real" "Field of Dreams." Commentary with Robinson and D.P. John Lindley rounds out a terrific package that should be a must for all fans of the film.

PITCH BLACK (**1/2, 112 mins., 2000, Unrated; Universal): David Twohy has had an eclectic filmmaking career to date, having directed several excellent genre films ("The Arrival," "Grand Tour," "Below") that were all but passed over at the box-office. The one film Twohy makes that does become a cult hit -- 1999's "Pitch Black" -- turns out, ironically, to be one of his least interesting films, though it's still an entertaining enough way to kill off a couple of hours.

This "monster in the dark" creature feature certainly didn't seem like the start of a franchise at the time of its original release, but Vin Diesel's popularity lead Twohy and Universal to revisit the property as a springboard for a new movie starring his lead character. The result -- the bigger-budgeted, PG-13 rated action epic "The Chronicles of Riddick" -- opens June 11th, and to coincide with the release of the film, "Pitch Black" has been re-issued in new packaging to better promote Diesel's tough-guy anti-hero.

The result is a disc heavy on promotional features, from a Cole Hauser-hosted look at his "Pitch Black" character and Riddick's history, to a "Making Of" for Universal's new made-for-video animated "Riddick" tie-in (let's hope it's better than "Van Helsing: The London Assignment"). There's also a brief intro from director Twohy, plus two commentary tracks carried over from the previous DVD.

If you've never seen "Pitch Black" before, this is a solid DVD with an excellent transfer and reference-caliber DTS sound. However, if the movie already resides in your collection, there's no reason to "double dip" here, as the new supplements are basically advertisements for Diesel's new venture.

Aisle Seat DVD Picks of the Week

DAS BOOT: The Original Uncut Version (***1/2, 1981). 293 mins., Not Rated, Columbia TriStar. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 English and German language tracks with English and French subtitles; "Director's Cut" featurette.

Wolfgang Petersen's definitive WWII submarine film -- detailing the harrowing exploits of a German U-Boat and its crew during the war -- seems to have been re-issued in the U.S. more than any other foreign film. Over the years, we've seen the U.S. theatrical cut released, then an extended "Director's Cut" version, and now the "Original Uncut Version."

More than simply a marketing ploy, however, this latest Columbia TriStar DVD offers -- for the first time in North America -- the original German television version, which runs over an hour longer than the "Director's Cut" and presents the entire epic that Petersen conceived for small-screen exhibition. There are nuances and additional character development present in the reinstated footage that further enhance what's already a masterwork of suspense, meaning "Das Boot" fans should absolutely check it out.

Columbia's DVD offers little in the way of special features (just a brief featurette produced for the premiere of the "Director's Cut"), but does, at least, offer German and English dialogue tracks. While the original German dialogue can be heard with English subtitles, the English dubbing isn't bad and offers a perfectly adequate viewing experience if you'd rather not read subs. The 1.85 transfer (16:9 enhanced) and 5.1 sound seem to be on a par with the preceding "Director's Cut" DVD release.

MONSTER (***1/2, 2003). 109 mins., R, Columbia TriStar. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Making Of featurette, Film Scoring featurette, trailer; 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital, Spanish subtitles.

Charlize Theron deservedly copped a Best Actress Oscar for her superlative performance as real-life serial killer Aileeen Wuornos, who was executed in 2002 for the murder of seven men she allegedly was paid to have sex with.

Patty Jenkins's incisive, remarkable movie manages to walk the fine line of being overly compassionate towards the tormented Wuornos, and documenting the cold- blooded murders she later claimed were all in self-defense. Theron's performance anchors the film and allows the viewer to get into the mind of Wuornos, who -- at the start of Jenkins's film -- has already decided to end her difficult life before meeting young lesbian Selby Wall (Christina Ricci) at a gay bar. Filled with the hope of a new beginning, Wuornos decides to give up her life as a street hooker and find a legitimate job in Daytona, Florida, only to find rejection and her abusive history coming back to haunt her.

Jenkins's script enables you to understand Wuronos's painful history and what ultimately drives her over the edge into committing a series of murders, while at the same time never condones her actions. Her descent into madness makes for an increasingly unsettling yet riveting viewing experience, and the performances of Theron and Ricci are totally convincing.

Columbia TriStar's DVD includes an excellent half-hour featurette, documenting the making of the movie with actual news clips of Wuornos's trial. Theron, Jenkins, and Ricci all offer their comments on the creation of the film in the documentary, which is a lot more interesting and honest than most promotional "Making Of" featurettes. Also noteworthy is a superb featurette on the creation of the film's soundtrack by BT, showing the musician at work. BT notes that he designed his score specifically for 5.1 surround, and his discussion of working with Jenkins is given a more detailed account in this 15-minute featurette than most DVDs sporting soundtrack-related content.

Columbia's DVD offers an excellent 5.1 DTS soundtrack (warmer and more full- blooded than the standard Dolby Digital 5.1 track), along with a solid 1.85 transfer. While I can see a more elaborate Special Edition of "Monster" surfacing down the road, this is a satisfying DVD for an unflinching and fascinating film. If you're looking for more information on Wuornos, Columbia TriStar has released a documentary, "Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer," which is also released today and offers over an hour of videotaped conversations with real Wuornos.

Also New on Disc

PAYCHECK (**1/2, 2003). 118 mins., PG-13, Paramount. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by John Woo; screenwriter commentary; two Making Of featurettes; deleted scenes including alternate ending; 2.35 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 5.1, English subtitles.

Agreeable albeit lightweight futuristic thriller stars Ben Affleck as an engineer who works for a shady corporation overseen by Aaron Eckhart. The projects Affleck works on are so top secret that the company "wipes" his memory clean when he's completed his job. The result is big paychecks and a slew of recorded Red Sox games for Ben to catch up on -- at least until the newest project he's completed finds him being wanted by the FBI and targeted for assassination by the same folks who hired him.

While director John Woo brings his usual stylistic touches to this adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story, "Paycheck" is only a modest sci-fi effort (shot in Canada) with some fisticuffs but few large-scale action scenes. Those anticipating another "Face/Off" may be disappointed, but on the other hand, "Paycheck" is a definite step-up from Woo's last outing, the tortuous "Windtalkers." Picking up the slack from the small-scale action are engaging lead performances by Affleck (nicely dialed down here a few notches) and Uma Thurman as the girl he falls for but can't remember. Paul Giamatti, Joe Morton, and the always imposing Colm Feore add strong support, as does a superlative score by John Powell that simultaneously manages to be action-packed and melodic, thanks to a nifty mix of orchestra and synth percussion.

"Paycheck" will not go down as an especially memorable outing for the cast or the director, but it's a harmless, entertaining enough adventure that will likely play better on video than it did in theaters.

Paramount's DVD serves up a crisp, excellent 2.35 transfer that looks colorful and constantly well-composed. The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound design is as bass-heavy and elaborate as you'd anticipate from the subject matter, and there are a few nice extras on the disc. Several deleted scenes are included with an interesting alternate ending among them, plus separate commentary tracks by Woo and writer Dean Georgaris. The two Making Of featurettes are mostly promotional filler, and bonus trailers include "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow."

CLUB DREAD (*1/2, 2004).104 mins., R; Fox. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Two commentary tracks, Widescreen (2.35) and Full-Screen versions, 5.1 Dolby Digital English, Spanish and French 2.0 Dolby Surround, English and Spanish subtitles.

Maybe I'm missing something, but what exactly is the deal with the comedy troupe Broken Lizard? Their initial movie offering, "Super Troopers," was an overlong and underwhelming affair, and their second film -- last winter's box-office flop "Club Dread" -- is just as dreary and lacking in laughs.

This would-be spoof of slasher films is downright pathetic at times, with the Broken Lizard guys joined here by a slumming Bill Paxton (who must have liked the check and the location) and Brittany Daniel, who provides sufficient eye candy and, at least, doesn't get knocked off early by a killer stalking a Club Med-like tropical resort. The story is thin (as you might anticipate), but the comedy simply isn't potent enough to carry the film through its 104-minute running time. After seeing how poorly "Club Dread" faired both with critics and audiences, I'm guessing I'm not alone in my befuddlement as to the would-be popularity of this ensemble.

Fox's DVD offers a good-looking 2.35 widescreen transfer plus a decent full- screen version on the disc's flip side. The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is fine (sporting an intentionally over-the-top score by Nathan Barr), and extras are limited to a pair of commentary tracks by Broken Lizard members.

Capsule Clips

CITY OF GOD (***1/2, 130 mins., 2002, R; Buena Vista/Miramax, available June 8): Searing art-house smash chronicles three decades of life in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. This eye-popping, involving film was written by Braulio Mantovani and expertly directed by Fernando Meirelles. While "City of God" demands your full attention, it's a gripping, unflinching account of gang violence, rampant crime and poverty, as seen (more or less) through the eyes of three characters, one of whom is ultimately able to break free of his surroundings. Miramax's DVD offers a superlative 1.85 widescreen transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Extras feature the documentary "News From a Personal War."

MY BABY'S DADDY (*1/2, 86 mins., 2004, PG-13; Buena Vista): Crass, unfunny comedy features Eddie Griffin, Anthony Anderson and "Sopranos" star Michael Imperioli as three friends who end up impregnating their respective girlfriends at exactly the same time. Racial stereotypes, predictable chaos, and loads of misfired gags ensue in Cheryl Dunye's film, which Griffin co-wrote with three other credited screenwriters. Buena Vista's DVD, out this week, offers deleted scenes, a gag reel, and a fluffy "Behind the Scenes" special. The 1.85 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack are both fine.

WIZARDS (**, 81 mins., 1977, PG; Fox): Ralph Bakshi's animation began to noticeably drop off (thanks to decreased budgets), which is especially evident in this so-so 1977 fantasy. Undoubtedly issued to coincide with last week's roll out of "Return of the King," "Wizards" has a cult following, and if you're part of it, Fox's DVD ought to be a must- see: the disc includes a new 1.85 transfer with commentary from Bakshi himself, who's often more colorful than the film itself.

Aisle Seat June DVD Calendar

June 1st
Cocoon The Return
How I Got Into College
Punky Brewster: Season 1
Starship Troopers 2 (direct to video sequel)
Summer School

June 8th
City of God
Day of the Locust
Robocop Trilogy
SCTV Volume One

June 15th
50 First Dates

June 22nd
Bad Santa
Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights

June 29th
Garfield as Himself
Perfect Score
Secret Window
Spider-Man: The Complete '67 Series

NEXT WEEK: Paramount Catalog Titles, your comments and more! 


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