6/13/06 Edition

June Box Set Mania!
Warner's Outstanding JOHN WAYNE-JOHN FORD COLLECTION Reviewed
Plus: Comprehensive TV ON DVD Round-Up from WILD WILD WEST to MEDIUM

Summer time usually means a slight drop-off in major DVD releases, but you wouldn’t notice that from the amount of superb box-sets we’ve been receiving at our Aisle Seat offices of late.

In addition to a handful of TV on DVD packages (reviewed below), this week major kudos go out to Warner Home Video for yet another outstanding vintage release: The JOHN WAYNE-JOHN FORD FILM COLLECTION, which comprises eight films and is enhanced by new supplemental content, thereby making it an essential purchase for fans of both Ford and The Duke.

Clearly the most exciting new developments here are the Special Edition debuts of THE SEARCHERS (****, 1956, 119 mins.) and a dated but seminal film in the western genre, STAGECOACH (***, 1939, 96 mins.).

Fans have been waiting for the deluxe edition of “The Searchers” for years and the results are nothing short of spectacular: Warner’s two-disc “Ultimate Edition” set includes a breathtaking new 16:9 transfer that trumps the old DVD release in every way, shape and form (particularly if you have a set large enough to gauge the benefits of its high-definition remastering). The 2.0 mono mix is robust and similar to the previous release -- well-presenting Max Steiner’s memorable score -- and new supplements include an informative commentary track from filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich and a dynamite, 30-minute “An Appreciation” featurette with directors Martin Scorsese, John Milius (who produced Paul Schrader's reworking of the film's premise for his “Hardcore”), and Curtis Hanson, all of whom discuss the picture’s legacy as a film classic. In addition, the 1998 “A Turning of the Earth” documentary from Nick Redman and various Warner Bros. “Behind The Scenes” TV segments (hosted by Gig Young) have been reprieved from previous releases.

The enhanced transfer is more than enough to recommend this set, which comes packaged in the “Collection” box set (in the “Ultimate Edition” version) as well as two stand-alone releases: a two-disc Anniversary edition and the “Ultimate” package, which exclusively includes a reprinting of the Dell comic and reproductions of 1956 studio correspondence and stills. Either way you go, this is an obvious “must” purchase for aficionados of this all-time masterpiece.

Meanwhile, the “Stagecoach” special edition also includes a new transfer (still in ragged condition for the most part) plus fresh extras highlighted by Ford biographer Scott Eyman’s commentary; the superb PBS American Masters documentary “John Ford/John Wayne: The Filmmaker & The Legend”; a new documentary “Stagecoach: A Story of Redemption”; and a radio adaptation with Randolph Scott and Wayne’s on-screen leading lady, Claire Trevor.

Three other films in the Collection box-set are lighter on supplements: Ford’s 1948 western favorite FORD APACHE (***½, 128 mins.) offers the featurette “Monument Valley: John Ford Country”; the spectacular 1949 SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (****, 103 mins.) includes vintage Ford home movies; while “Serenity At Sea: John Ford And The Araner” is the lone extra on the 1940 Ford melodrama THE LONG VOYAGE HOME (***, 105 mins.).

The three remaining pictures in the set only offer trailers: the 1945 WWII tale THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (***½, 135 mins.) stars Wayne, Robert Montgomery and Donna Reed; the western variant on the Three Wise Men tale, 3 GODFATHERS (***, 1948, 106 mins.,); and finally the exciting THE WINGS OF EAGLES (***, 1957 110 mins.), which offers a 16:9 (1.85) transfer and is the only other film (outside of “The Searchers”) in the group shot in a non-standard (1.33) aspect ratio.

Though “3 Godfathers,” “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” and “They Were Expendable” were previously available, this outstanding package gives you two new Special Editions and the DVD debuts of several others (“The Long Voyage Home,” “The Wings of Eagles” and “Fort Apache”), all for a price tag under $60 in many outlets.

Needless to say -- for the eight films contained in this set -- that price is an absolute bargain for one of the year’s top DVD purchases to date. Unquestionably recommended!

June TV on DVD Round-Up

Action, Adventure & Animation

NUMBERS: Season 1 (CBS/Paramount). WHEN DID IT AIR: Fridays, CBS. NUMBER OF EPISODES: 13. DVD FEATURES: Featurettes; Audition Reels; Commentaries; Bloopers; 16:9 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. THE SERIES: Rob Morrow plays an FBI agent who uses his brilliant younger brother David Krumholtz’s mathematical skills to solve crimes; Judd Hirsch is their father and Sabrina Lloyd Morrow’s sidekick (Lloyd, however, was replaced in the series’ second season by Diane Farr) in this slick-looking and successful mystery series, now a staple in CBS’ Friday night line-up. Produced by Ridley and Tony Scott, “Numbers” is a good deal more compelling than “Cold Case” with the interplay between Morrow and Krumholtz making each episode entertaining, in spite of the predictability of some of the plots. THE DVD: Paramount has released the complete first season (13 episodes since the show debuted as a mid-season replacement) of “Numbers” in a superb four-disc set offering 16:9 transfers, 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks, and numerous extras including five commentary tracks by the cast and crew; a look at the unaired pilot; making of featurettes; and a blooper reel. ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: I hadn’t seen a whole lot of “Numbers” before checking out Paramount’s box set, but this a sturdy, well-cast and highly watchable series that doesn’t demand the commitment that “Lost” and “24" do. You can pop in the disc, sample an episode, and move on at your leisure with “Numbers,” which ranks as one of TV’s more entertaining series on the air today.

NIGHT STALKER: Complete Series (Buena Vista). WHEN DID IT AIR: Thursdays, ABC, for not very long. NUMBER OF EPISODES: 10 (only six of which were broadcast). DVD FEATURES: Deleted Scenes; Commentary; 16:9 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. THE SERIES: A misguided attempt at updating the old “Kolchak” with Darren McGavin, this ABC series was the first casualty of last fall’s ultimately failed crop of genre shows (only “Invasion” and “Surface” lasted a whole year; “Night Stalker” and “Threshold” were axed within weeks of their premieres; and only “Supernatural” will be heading into a sophomore frame). Substituting McGavin’s lovable, gruff newspaperman in favor of a brooding, younger lead (Stuart Townsend) was one mistake -- an even larger gaff was in producer Frank Spotnitz’s decision to adhere to deadly-serious supernatural story lines that often play out like “X-Files” and “CSI” left-overs. Well-produced but disappointing, not even the presence of the sexy Gabrielle Union could save “Night Stalker” from a quit exit. THE DVD: Buena Vista’s two-disc set is an excellent package if you happened to like the series. Four unaired episodes are included; the 16:9 transfers and 5.1 soundtracks are superb; commentaries and deleted scenes are also offered along with DVD-ROM scripts of episodes that were never produced. ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: Perhaps if this series wasn’t called “Night Stalker” and Townsend wasn’t playing a character named Kolchak, I might have been more accepting of what Spotnitz and the new “Night Stalker” team were trying to do here...but even then, the recycled story lines and general pretentiousness of the show still would have been an issue. A disappointment, in spite of a very nice presentation from Buena Vista on DVD.

WALKER, TEXAS RANGER: Season One (CBS/Paramount). WHERE DID IT AIR: CBS. NUMBER OF EPISODES: 26. DVD FEATURES: Full-screen transfers; 2.0 Dolby Digital sound. THE SERIES: Does any series need an introduction less than Chuck Norris’ karate-chopping hero? “Walker, Texas Ranger” blossomed from a modestly-rated CBS weekly series into a worldwide phenomenon over the course of its eight-year run, not unlike David Hasselhoff’s “Baywatch” franchise (and did anyone else notice The Hoff crying his eyes out at Taylor Hicks’ “American Idol” win a few weeks back? Touched my heart, no doubt). Season one of the show’s first season (1993-94) on the CBS airwaves offers Chuck as Walker, Clarence Gilyard, Jr. as his partner Jimmy Travette, Sheree J. Wilson as the Assistant District Attorney who tries to temper Walker’s brand of justice, and Noble Willingham as pal C.D. Parker. THE DVD: Paramount’s seven-disc set offers reasonably satisfying full-screen transfers and 2.0 Dolby Digital soundtracks, but sadly no extras to speak of. ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: I can’t say that I was a big fan of “Walker,” but there are millions around the world who are. Paramount’s no-frills set kicks off what could be the start of a handful of season sets to follow (though the final season is already available), provided this set sells well enough to warrant it. Recommended for fans, despite its straightforward and bare-bones presentation.

THE VENTURE BROS.: Season One (Warner Home Video). WHEN DID IT AIR: Cartoon Network. NUMBER OF EPISODES: 13. DVD FEATURES: Pilot Episode; Christmas Bonus Episode; Commentaries; Deleted Scenes. THE SERIES: Spoof of Hanna-Barbera “Johnny Quest” styled cartoons ranks as one of the more amusing series on the Cartoon Network airwaves. THE DVD: Warner’s two-disc set is filled to the brim with a pair of bonus episodes (including the pilot), numerous commentaries and deleted scenes. The full-screen transfers and 2.0 Dolby Surround soundtracks are both well-handled. ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: Ribald and highly amusing for animation fans, “The Venture Bros.” is worth a look.

Vintage Shows

THE WILD WILD WEST: Complete Season One (CBS/Paramount). Aisle Seat Pick of the Week. WHERE DID IT AIR: CBS. NUMBER OF EPISODES: 28. DVD FEATURES: Full-screen transfers; Dolby Digital mono sound; Original Alternate Opening; Robert Conrad Introductions; Network Promos; Theme Scoring Sessions; Audio Interviews.

THE SERIES: One of the more beloved ‘60s series comes to DVD in a presentation from Paramount that matches Image’s outstanding “Twilight Zone” sets in terms of supplemental materials. The show itself remains great fun, with Robert Conrad’s James T. West and Ross Martin’s Artemus Gordon working from marching orders given directly from President Grant (Roy Engel), traveling the U.S.A. as Old West versions of 007. Tongue in cheek humor, action, and colorful performances made the series a fan-favorite during its four-year run on the CBS airwaves.

THE DVD: Where to begin? Paramount’s value-added, seven-disc set offers just about everything one could have hoped for. Audio intros and commentary from Robert Conrad (which introduce the episodes and various supplements)...the long-lost original opening...additional audio interviews with writers, effects artists and others...bloopers...a 1978 “Every Day” interview with Conrad and Martin...an Eveready battery commercial...and to top it off, a 10-minute, archival audio interview with composer Richard Markowitz PLUS some eight minutes of session audio featuring Markowitz at the recording stage, conducting the main theme in dynamic stereo!

In the interview (recorded at an unspecified date since the composer passed away in 1994), Markowitz mentions that Dimitri Tiomkin and Paul Francis Webster were contracted by CBS to write a theme song, but came up with a slow-paced, traditional ballad that didn’t work -- nor did multiple arrangements that sequently tried to modernize what the duo wrote. The talk is fascinating, especially when the composer discusses how CBS paid off Tiomkin not to use his music (at nearly ten times the cost of what Markowitz later wrote!) and the trepidation he encountered from studio suits about hiring an unknown to score the series...and the lack of credit he initially received on-screen.

Additional photo galleries and promos make for a sensational DVD all around, topped by good-looking B&W transfers and mono sound.

ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: For fans of vintage TV this set is as good as it gets. Top-rate transfers and outstanding supplements make this a shining example of how every TV series ought to be treated on DVD. Unquestionably recommended!

THE TIME TUNNEL: Volume 2 (Fox). WHERE DID IT AIR: Fridays, ABC. NUMBER OF EPISODES: 15. DVD FEATURES: Interviews; 2002 Unaired TV Pilot; 1976 “Time Travelers” TV Movie; Still Gallery. THE SERIES: Fox’s final release from the Irwin Allen ‘60s series concludes with the later 15 episodes from the series’ first (and only) season. THE DVD: Another excellent package from Fox, this “Time Tunnel” set -- like its predecessor -- includes interviews with Whit Bissell, James Darren, Lee Meriwether, and Robert Colbert. Even more intriguing are two, later versions that attempted to bring the series back: Allen’s own 1976 TV-movie “The Time Travelers” offered a variant on the premise but failed to make it to a weekly series, while a busted 2002 Fox pilot updated the original characters. Both prove to be compelling extras in another strong four-disc set from Fox, with excellent full-screen transfers and mono soundtracks comprising another polished technical presentation. ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: Irwin Allen fans should love the transfers and the bonus goodies will make this a must-purchase for “Time Tunnel” aficionados.

Supernatural & Sci-Fi

MEDIUM: Season One (CBS/Paramount). WHEN DID IT AIR: Mondays, NBC. NUMBER OF EPISODES: 16. DVD FEATURES: 16:9 transfers, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound; Extended Pilot; Cast and Crew commentaries; Deleted Scenes; Making Of featurettes. THE SERIES: Glenn Gordon Caron seldom produces uninteresting series, and this off-beat and satisfying mix of police procedural, supernatural thriller, and domestic family-drama is another nifty show from the “Moonlighting” creator (and his first to air since the sadly short-lived “Now and Again”). Patricia Arquette is superb as the on-screen embodiment of real medium Allison DuBois, who works with the police department to solve crimes at the same time she tends to her kids and patient husband Jake Weber. Not every episode plays out as you might expect, with humor, horror, and real-life family drama issues mixing in, to varying degrees, in most stories, making for an unpredictable and compelling program. THE DVD: Paramount’s five-disc DVD set is excellent, offering an extended version of the pilot (as well as its original broadcast version); various cast and crew commentaries plus deleted scenes on select episodes; Making Of featurettes, a gag reel, a look at the actual DuBois, TV spots, and terrific 16:9 transfers with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: More viewers might be watching Jennifer Love Hewitt communicate with spirits on the entertaining (if totally routine) “Ghost Whisperer,” but “Medium” is a more challenging and rewarding series along similar lines, with a capable, strong cast, often offbeat story lines, and a dynamite presentation on DVD courtesy of Paramount, which seems to have raised its game (in terms of TV on DVD releases) substantially since utilizing the CBS logo on their TV-related packages. Highly recommended!

STAR TREK FAN COLLECTIVE: Q (CBS/Paramount). DVD FEATURES: 12 Episodes; Full-Screen transfers; 5.1 Dolby Digital sound; Text commentaries. THE COMPILATION: The latest assortment of Star Trek theme compilations (aimed at those who can’t afford to own the run of individual season box-sets) sports 12 episodes featuring everyone’s favorite recurring Guest Star -- John de Lancie’s Q. The shows run the gamut from “Next Generation” offerings (“Encounter at Farpoint,” “Hide and Q,” “Q Whom,” “Deja Q,” “Qpid,” “True Q,” “Tapestry,” and “All Good Things...”) to “Voyager” (“Death Wish,” “The Q and the Grey,” and “Q2") and “Deep Space Nine” (“Q-Less”). THE DVD: Full-screen transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks are all solid across the board, while new extras include three commentary tracks from Denise and Michael Okuda (on the episodes “Deja Q,” “Q-Less,” and “Death Wish”). ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: Though several episodes have been included in previous “Fan Collective” sets, of all the compilations Paramount has released thus far, the “Q” set may be the one Trekkies have the least to complain about. Q is a dynamic character in the Trek universe and collecting his episodes in one set for budget-conscious Star Trek fans is a wise move by Paramount, making it a recommended purchase if you’re among the target audience for this release.


CHEERS: Season Eight (Paramount). WHEN DID IT AIR: Thursdays, NBC. NUMBER OF EPISODES: 26. DVD FEATURES: Full-screen transfers, 2.0 Dolby Surround. THE SERIES: Not much more can be said about the longevity of NBC’s classic Thursday night sitcom “Cheers,” which netted many a viewer while I grew up in the ‘80s. Season eight of the show (1989-90) again demonstrates the program’s amazing ability to tap into its superior array of strong supporting characters, with millionaire Robin Colcord (Roger Rees) sweeping Kirstie Alley’s Rebecca Chambers away from Sam Malone (Ted Danson), thereby comprising the central running plot. Most episodes, though, give Woody, Carla, Cliff, Norm, and Frasier plenty to do, with the sparring between Kelsey Grammer’s Frasier and Bebe Neuwirth’s Lilith frequently of top amusement. THE DVD: As with their previous “Cheers” sets extras are on the light side, but at least Paramount’s main presentation is excellent. The full-screen transfers and 2.0 Dolby Surround soundtracks are all perfect and the episodes again culled from their original, unexpurgated broadcast runs. ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: Another must-have set for “Cheers” fans. Recommended!

JOEY: Season One (Warner Home Video). WHEN DID IT AIR: Thursdays, NBC. NUMBER OF EPISODES: 24. DVD FEATURES: Full-screen transfers, 2.0 Dolby Surround. THE SERIES: This desperate spin-off of “Friends” tried to launch Matt LeBlanc’s Joey Tribbiani into his own sitcom, with Joey heading to Hollywood to try and make it in show business. All kinds of production woes (re-casting, shifting behind-the-camera personnel) followed “Joey,” but NBC committed to two full seasons of the series in the hopes it would eventually land on its feet. Sadly, despite more changes in its second year, “Joey” ended up as just another failed spin-off in the annals of TV. THE DVD: Warner’s four-disc set includes solid full-screen transfers with 2.0 Dolby Stereo sound. ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: A disappointment all around, “Joey”’s release on DVD almost feels like it was a contractual occurrence, since few turned out to watch the series after its debut. Pass.

DHARMA & GREG: Season One (Fox). WHERE DID IT AIR: ABC. NUMBER OF EPISODES: 23. DVD FEATURES: Full-screen transfers, 2.0 Dolby Surround; Commentaries, Featurettes. THE SERIES: Jenna Elfman’s new-agey Dharma Finkelstein falls for arch-conservative attorney Greg Montgomery (Thomas Gibson) in the first season of the long-running (1997-2002) ABC sitcom. THE DVD: Fox’s three-disc DVD set is filled with commentaries; a Making Of featurette; an interactive game; and co-creator Chuck Lorre’s amusing “Post-Show Vanity Card” remarks. Full-screen transfers and 2.0 surround round out the package. ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: If you’re a “Dharma & Greg” fan (and there were a lot of them during the show’s early seasons), Fox has done you justice with a superb presentation and quality extras on DVD.

MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW: Season 4 (Fox). WHERE DID IT AIR: CBS. NUMBER OF EPISODES: 24. DVD FEATURES: Full-screen transfers; Dolby Digital mono. THE SERIES: More classic episodes from one of TV’s all-time classic sitcoms, Fox’s latest three-disc set compiles the 24 episodes from the fourth (1972-73) season of MTM Show. THE DVD: Just like their previous DVD editions, Fox’s three-disc set contains a no-frills presentation with full-screen transfers in excellent condition (and in their original broadcast length versions as well). ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: There’s not a whole lot that needs to be said. “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” helped set standards for network sitcoms, and now -- as the format is on life support on the major networks -- it’s as relevant, fresh and funny as ever.

HOME IMPROVEMENT: Season Four (Buena Vista). WHERE DID IT AIR: ABC. NUMBER OF EPISODES: 26. DVD FEATURES: Full-screen transfers, 2.0 Dolby Surround; Bloopers. THE SERIES: Tim Allen is at it again in this fourth season of the long-running ABC sitcom. The series by this point was in peak form and guest stars this time included Dave Chappelle, Lucy Liu, and Michelle Williams as one of the Taylor kids’ squeezes! THE DVD: Buena Vista’s four-disc set includes all 26 episodes in unedited, solid full-screen transfers and Dolby Surround soundtracks. Extras, though, are again on the light side with only a new blooper reel included. ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: You know who you are...you may not think you’re a “Home Improvement” addict but so many people tuned into the series (especially in its early and middle years) that it’s doubtful more than a few of them won’t want to check out another solid DVD compilation from Buena Vista. Recommended for said aficionados (even of the closet variety!).

Nighttime Drama

NYPD BLUE: Season 4 (Fox). WHERE DID IT AIR: ABC. NUMBER OF EPISODES: 22. DVD FEATURES: Full-Screen Transfers; 2.0 Dolby Surround; Selected Commentaries; Making Of featurettes. THE SERIES: More prime entertainment from the heyday of Steven Bochco and David Milch’s acclaimed cop series, with Jimmy Smits and Kim Delaney’s characters taking their relationship to a whole other level and Dennis Franz’s Sipowicz trying to move on after the death of his son. THE DVD: Fox continues their release of the series with standard, satisfying full-screen transfers, 2.0 Dolby Surround stereo, and a sprinkling of extras, including selected commentaries and two featurettes, “Through the Lens: The Look of Blue” and “In With the New.” ANDY’S BOTTOM LINE: If you’re a “Blue” fan this latest box set comes strongly recommended.

NEXT TIME: UNDERWORLD EVOLUTION and More! 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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