6/17/08 Edition -- The AISLE SEAT BLOG Is Also Live

The '60s BAT Hits Blu-Ray
West's BATMAN Swings In High Definition!
Once upon a time -- back when comic book movies weren’t self-important, brooding and darkly serious ventures -- super-heroes were often served on the silver screen with a knowing wink and a smile, sometimes in borderline self-parodies that presumed its audiences had seen every trick in the book and could appreciate its sense of humor.

These days nearly every super-hero has something to complain about: the great responsibility they have with their powers, the dark inner-turmoil their souls go through with the duality of their alter-egos, and of course, the incessant worry they harbor concerning their girlfriends. It’s nearly enough that one wonders why they ever bother to fly around and save humanity!

For this reason Fox’s upcoming Blu Ray (and DVD) edition of BATMAN: THE MOVIE (***, 90 mins., 1967) comes as a genuine breath of fresh air.

This feature-length spin-off of the massively popular, iconic ‘60s TV series with Adam West and Burt Ward so memorably filling the roles of Batman & Robin may be -- because of endless rights issues -- the only official release we ever see in high-def of the 20th Century Fox show…something that would be a shame because as bad-mouthed as the series typically is among the modern comic book crowd, it’s an ingeniously scripted, humorous and energetic series that, in its own way, remains one of the most beloved comic-to-film adaptations in the history of the medium.

The movie -- produced at the conclusion of the series’ first season -- is basically a more colorful (if that’s even possible), “bigger and better” episode of the series, featuring all four super-villains (Cesar Romero’s Joker, Burgess Meredith’s Penguin, Frank Gorshin’s Riddler and Lee Meriwether, filling in for Julie Newmar, as Catwoman) doing battle with our kindhearted heroes. As always, a number of set-pieces (including a memorably zany sequence with Batman trying to dispose of a bomb) mix with the usual POW! fight sequences and comedic moments in a breezy, almost effortlessly entertaining feature that’s lost little of its charm over the years.

Certainly seeing “Batman” in high-definition via Fox’s upcoming Blu Ray disc is enough to whet one’s appetite for a full release of the original series: the AVC encoded transfer captures the film’s colorful visual pallet with unparalleled quality, while the DTS Master Audio sound likewise does justice to Nelson Riddle’s memorably jazzy underscore.

Fox has also packed the disc with all kinds of terrific extras, from commentaries by West and Ward as well as another track with writer Lorenzo Semple, Jr., to Making Of featurettes that touch upon not just the production of the movie but the legacy of the series itself. Filled with interviews from the cast to director Leslie H. Martinson, Semple and all sorts of current comic book artists (including Alex Ross among others) who were influenced by the series, this is a loving tribute to a show that’s still beloved by a whole generation of fans -- just not younger viewers who generally fail to see the humor in this rendition of Bob Kane’s characters. A full DTS Master Audio track of Riddle’s score is also isolated and available during the film, along with a trivia track, two trailers, and a featurette from an earlier DVD release of the picture.

Timed to coincide with the release of Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” sequel, Fox has gone the extra mile here in releasing a truly special “Batman” for aficionados of the ‘60s show. While one hopes that all parties involved with the original series will come to some kind of agreement over releasing it on DVD (and hopefully Blu-Ray also), this spectacular disc ought to suffice for all Bat-fanatics in the meantime. Highly recommended! (available July 1st)

Also New On Blu-Ray

MEN IN BLACK (**½, 98 mins., 1997, PG-13; Sony): As big a hit as “MIB” was back in the summer of ‘97, I distinctly recall being underwhelmed when I first saw it: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, and big-eyed aliens should have equaled the '90s version of “Ghostbusters” for “The X-Files” generation. Unfortunately, director Barry Sonnenfeld's movie -- while a huge blockbuster success -- is a watered-down comedy with some good ideas and a few laughs, but also a complete absence of character development and dramatic tension. Sure, Will's interrogation sequence is memorably amusing, and the film coasts along on the chemistry between its stars, but one gets the sense a better film could’ve been produced from the material...a feeling further hammered home by the total incompetence of its troubled 2002 sequel.

Unlike last year’s “Spider-Man” BD disc, Sony has gone to great lengths with “Men in Black” and ensured that this Blu-Ray edition wasn’t just a weakly-translated DVD port: the AVC encoded transfer is smashing, the Dolby TrueHD audio is top-notch, and new extras include a BD-Live trivia game (for those with access to that function), an alien subtitle track, and another interactive game involving Frank the Pug that’s accessible for all BD owners. A solid array of extras from prior DVD editions include technical and “telestrator” commentaries, extended and deleted scenes, documentary materials, music videos, trailers and the proverbial “whole lot more.”

SO I MARRIED AN AXE MURDERER (**, 93 mins., 1993, PG-13; Sony): Coming off the massive success of “Wayne’s World,” Mike Myers tried to bridge his penchant for manic comedy with more of a leading man vibe in this wildly uneven 1993 farce. Myers plays a Bay Area beatnik who falls for butcher Nancy Travis, only to have his family (Mom Brenda Fricker and brother Anthony LaPaglia) worry about whether or not she’s a serial killer. Thomas Schlamme’s direction aims for a slow-building farcical tone, but Robbie Fox’s script is uneven and the movie takes a few wacky comedic detours that tend to go against the grain of the picture’s rather plain narrative. Myers, meanwhile, wisely moved back to more colorful characters like Austin Powers instead of attempting to play it straight again as he did here. Sony’s Blu-Ray disc boasts a nice 1080p transfer and Dolby TrueHD audio, but this is one of the all-time weakest “Special” Editions you’ll ever see -- despite carrying a “Special Edition” tag on the front cover, there’s literally not one extra of any kind to be found here!

THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL (**½, 115 mins., 2008, PG-13; Sony): Well-acted but underwhelming period costumer focuses on the Boleyn sisters -- the ill-fated Anne (Natalie Portman) and Mary (Scarlet Johansson) -- and their efforts to advance their family’s station with King Henry VIII (Eric Bana). Justin Chadwick directed and Peter Morgan scripted this adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s book, which boasts solid work from Johansson and especially Portman, but the movie lacks the conviction of prior adaptations of the period (it’s no “A Man For All Seasons” or “Anne of the Thousand Days”), while the majority of its technical assets -- including Kieran McGuigan’s cinematography and score by Paul Cantellon -- come off as nondescript at best. Certainly entertaining in spite of its deficiencies, Sony’s Blu-Ray edition of “The Other Boleyn Girl” boasts a flawless AVC-encoded transfer with Dolby TrueHD audio and a number of extras, including several Making Of featurettes, a number of deleted scenes (several of which would’ve helped smooth over the film’s rushed second half), and a Blu-Ray exclusive picture-in-graphics track.

BROKEN TRAIL (***, 184 mins., 2006, Not Rated; Sony): Superb, richly textured western from producer-director Walter Hill boasts outstanding turns from Robert Duvall and Thomas Haden Church as an estranged uncle and nephew who come to the rescue of five abused Chinese girls who had been sold into slavery in late 1800s Oregon. A bit leisurely paced but layered with fine performances, predictably scenic cinematography, and an atmospheric score by Van Dyke Parks and David Mansfield, “Broken Trail” broke records for its cable outlet (AMC) and garnered several Emmy awards en route to becoming one of the finest westerns we’ve seen this side of the memorable Duvall-Kevin Costner effort “Open Range.” Sony’s Blu-Ray release sports an excellent AVC-encoded transfer (1.78 widescreen) with Dolby TrueHD audio and one standard-issue Making Of featurette.

THE BUCKET LIST (**, 97 mins., 2007, PG-13; Warner): Superficial buddy-movie comedy from director Rob Reiner is chock full of “feel good” sentiments and would-be comedic shenanigans as a pair of cancer ward roomies (Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman) attempt to live life to the brim before they kick the proverbial bucket (hence the title). Some phony digital effects follow Jack and Morgan on their tour around the world, a fact that pretty much sums up the ersatz melodrama at the core of “The Bucket List”: anyone who’s had a friend or relative or has experienced cancer first-hand is likely to find this Justin Zackham script unrealistic at best and downright offensive at worst. Warner’s Blu-Ray disc sports a clean VC-1 encoded transfer, a plain Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix and a number of extras, including several Making Of featurettes and a BD-exclusive trivia track.

FOOL’S GOLD (**, 112 mins., 2008, PG-13; Warner): Romantic adventure re-teams Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson from their box-office hit “How To Lose a Guy In 10 Days,” but there’s not much cinematic gold plundered in this ramshackle effort from director Andy Tennant, who’s directed far better films (“Ever After,” “Anna and the King”) than this one. Working from a disjointed script credited to John Claflin, Daniel Zelman and Tennant, “Fool’s Gold” finds bickering divorced couple McConaughey and Hudson searching for gold in the Caribbean; Donald Sutherland looks like he must have enjoyed the weather in support of this good-looking (courtesy of sunny Don Burgess cinematography) but unsatisfying tale that’s never as charming, romantic, or entertaining as it ought to be. What’s worse, the film turns into an action-filled affair in the final half-hour, adding further insult to injury for a movie that never settles on a consistent tone. Warner’s Blu-Ray disc does boast a nice VC-1 encoded transfer but a surprisingly basic 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack and minimal extras including a Making Of featurette and gag reel.

THERE WILL BE BLOOD (**½, 158 mins., 2007, R; Paramount): Pretentious, self-indulgent film from Paul Thomas Anderson did manage to garner a Best Actor Oscar for its star, Daniel Day-Lewis, though the film itself offers few pleasures beyond the actor’s flamboyant lead performance.

Loosely adapting Upton Sinclair’s book “Oil!,” Anderson’s dark take on the “American Dream” is set in 1898 and finds Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview, a conniving oil man who buys a California property after being tipped off by one of the owner’s sons. His twin brother (both roles are played by Paul Dano), an aspiring preacher, forces Plainview’s hand and raises the rate on his purchase, leading to both successes and personal tragedies, including his “adopted” son H.W. being injured in an accident and a man claiming to be his brother (Kevin J. O’Connor) appearing out of nowhere.

Robert Elswit’s cinematography is grand and Anderson does manage to capture the look and feel of an epic throughout “There Will Be Blood.” That said, the film is unbearably slow-moving and one-dimensional; it doesn’t take long before you realize Anderson is telling us that a) greedy entrepreneurs are evil, b) bad parenting is a sin, and c) men of the cloth seeking their own fame are likewise to be avoided. These themes are hammered home over and over with little dramatic development, making the film essentially 158 minutes of “The Daniel Day-Lewis Show.” And, make no mistake, the actor has a grand time here chewing up the scenery in an overpowering performance that finally reaches its apex in the now oft-quoted “Milkshake” sequence that concludes the film. It’s not exactly satisfying from a serious dramatic angle, but it certainly is entertaining, and one can see viewers hitting the “skip” button on their remotes just to watch the last 10 minutes.

Paramount’s Blu-Ray release proves to be a major upgrade on their original DVD edition: the VC-1 encoded transfer is basically flawless and the Dolby TrueHD audio exceptional though the one-note score by Jonny Greenwood becomes a thorn in the picture’s side as the film progresses, drawing attention to itself without adding any extra layers to the drama.

Supplements (mostly in high-definition) include “The Story of Petroleum,” a silent film scored by Greenwood, and exactly 31 minutes of extras, including a 15 minute montage of pictures and vintage films used as research, underscored by Greenwood’s music; the teaser and original trailer; and some deleted segments from the picture, including an outtake dubbed “Dailies Gone Wild.”

STEP INTO LIQUID (***, 87 mins., 2002, PG-13; Lionsgate): Bruce Brown defined the surfing film with his breakthrough documentary “The Endless Summer” back in the 1960s. After returning for the superb 1994 sequel, Brown passed the baton to his son Dana with the release of 2002’s excellent “Step Into Liquid.”

This great-looking, casual examination of the sport and what draws its participants -- both amateur and professional alike -- into its fold basically reprises the formula of the elder Brown’s works: show a variety of folks surfing in a myriad of venues both expected (Hawaii) and unconventional (the coast of Ireland), saving some of the most impressive footage for the end. The laid back, accessible narrative is likewise unsurprising but it’s the surfing footage that really delivers the goods, and on that end “Step Into Liquid” offers a breathtaking ride for surfers and non-fans alike.

Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray edition enhances the latter to a highly satisfying degree, with a top-notch AVC encoded transfer and DTS Master Audio leading the way. Extras ported over from past DVD editions include commentary, deleted sequences, Making Of content and other goodies. Highly recommended, especially now that we’re just about ready to tackle the waves ourselves!

THE EYE: Blu-Ray (**, 97 mins., 2008, PG-13; Lionsgate): Watchable but unremarkable adaptation of yet another Asian horror film here stars Jessica Alba as a blind concert musician who improbably obtains the gift of sight -- but at a price, as spooky shadows that would taunt Jason, Grant and the rest of the “Ghost Hunters” team soon appear only in Alba’s line of vision. David Moreau and Xavier Palud -- French filmmakers best known for the thriller “Them” -- helmed this slick but not very compelling Americanization of the Pang Brothers’ Hong Kong effort of the same name, with Alba doing an okay job in the lead and Parker Posey and Alessandro Nivola offering relatively thankless support. It’s mildly entertaining and certainly nothing special, but at least it’s not any worse than, say, “The Grudge 2.” Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray edition of “The Eye” looks just about flawless, with an effective (though not overpowering) 7.1 DTS-MA audio track complimenting the aural design. Extras include four Making Of featurettes, deleted scenes and the trailer, plus a bonus second disc containing a downloadable digital copy for portable media players.

WITLESS PROTECTION: Blu-Ray and DVD (*½, 97 mins., 2008, PG-13; Lionsgate): Patently stupid comedy stars Larry the Cable Guy as a small town cop who gets wrapped up with FBI agents and their star witness -- a Chicago socialite (Ivana Milicevic) -- who’s about to testify in a high-profile corruption case. I’m not exactly the target demographic for Mr. Cable Guy’s humor, but I assume fans of the comedian will get some sort of amusement out of the slapstick antics, which somehow managed to lure Yaphet Kotto, Peter Stormare, and Joe Mantegna along for the ride. Lionsgate has released “Witless” (an apt title indeed) on both DVD and Blu-Ray, the latter boasting a perfect 1080p transfer with 7.1 DTS Master Audio and a load of featurettes, deleted scenes, Making Of materials and other goodies. The standard DVD’s 16:9 (1.85) transfer is just fine as well and 5.1 Dolby Digital audio will suffice for viewers who have yet to make the leap to high-definition.

Criterion New Releases

Anthony Mann’s THE FURIES stars Barbara Stanwyck as the daughter of New Mexico ranch owner Walter Huston, at odds with her father over her choice of men and the future of their family’s ranch; Judith Anderson is the woman whom Huston marries, setting off a succession of events that culminates in one of the western genre’s darkest stories seen at that point in time.

Victor Milner’s Oscar-winning cinematography and a classic score by Franz Waxman drive this 1950 Mann production, a moody blend of western, film noir and domestic drama with superb performances, atmospheric visuals and a story that’s remarkably mature for its era -- even if it seems a bit heavy-handed at times.

Criterion’s spectacular DVD edition includes a newly restored transfer and a commentary from historian Jim Kitses, plus a 1967 television interview with Mann, a 1931 on-camera interview with Walter Huston (“The Furies” was his final film), a video interview with Mann’s daughter Nina, behind-the-scenes photos and the trailer. Packed with the single-disc set is a printing of Niven Busch’s original novel as well as essays and a 1957 Cahiers du Cinema interview with the director.

Also new from Criterion is Claude Sautet’s CLASSE TOUS RISQUES, a tough 1960 French film noir starring Lino Ventura as a fugitive gangland chief who returns to Paris even with a bounty hanging over his head.

Criterion’s DVD offers excerpts from a 2003 documentary on Sautet; an interview with writer Jose Giovanni, who co-adapted his novel with Sautet and Pascal Jardin for the screen; an archival interview with Lino Ventura; French and U.S. trailers; a restored transfer in 1.66 widescreen; and a booklet featuring interviews by filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier among others.

Finally this month Criterion is issuing a Special Edition of Milco Manchevski’s powerful and acclaimed BEFORE THE RAIN (113 mins., 1994), a portrait of life in the war-torn Balkans during the 1990s, cross-cutting between three separate characters as it portrays the futility of war in a haunting elegy to the modern human condition.

Criterion’s DVD edition includes a new, director-approved transfer in 1.78 widescreen; commentary from Manchevski and film scholar Annette Insdorf; an interview with Rade Serbedzija, who stars as a war photographer in the film; a short 1993 documentary on the film’s production; on-set footage, trailers, still galleries, soundtrack clips, music videos and other extras that compliment a marvelous disc all around.

Also New From Lionsgate

SOPHIA LOREN: 4-Film Collection (Lionsgate): Vinyl-packaged box-set from Lionsgate culls together four of the international star’s vehicles, issued on DVD here in the U.S. for the first time. Included in the release are Loren and Anthony Quinn in the 1954 Dino DeLaurentiis-Carlo Ponti production “Atilla”; Loren and Marcello Mastroianni in Vittorio De Sica’s 1970 drama “I Grasoli (Sunflower),” featuring a fine Henry Mancini score; the 1962 costume drama “Madame Sans-Gene,” co-starring Robert Hossein; and the 1954 Italian musical extravaganza “Carosello Napoletano,” with Loren providing a guest appearance. All films are offered in Italian with optional English subtitles (portions of “Sunflower” are in English) and 16:9 widescreen transfers.
CATHERINE DENEUVE: 5-Film Collection (Lionsgate):Another vinyl-packaged box offers five Catherine Deneuve efforts, all debuting to the best of my knowledge here on DVD for the first time: “Manon 70" is a 1968 Jean Auriel drama co-starring Sami Frey and Robert Webber; Deneuve takes a comical turn in the 1975 Jean Paul Rappeneau film “Le Sauvage,” playing opposite Yves Montand; Andre Techine’s 1981 drama “Hotel Des Ameriques”; Robin Davis’ 1982 effort “Le Choc,” featuring Alain Delon; and the expensive 1984 box-office disappointment “Fort Saganne,” with Deneuve, Gerard Depardieu, and a superb score by Philippe Sarde. All movies are in 16:9 widescreen and "Fort Saganne" is indeed presented in its 183 min. version, not a cut print as billed on the back cover (thanks to reader
Thom Tierney for the correction).

HIGH NOON: 2-Disc Collector’s Edition (***½, 85 mins., 1952; Lionsgate): Fred Winnemann’s classic western has been issued on disc several times, but never in such a comprehensive package as Lionsgate’s new double-disc set. Highlighted by a 50-minute documentary on the production, a commentary track with Maria Cooper-Janis, Jonathan Foreman, Tim Zinnemann and the late John Ritter (providing thoughts about his father, Tex, who performs Dimitri Tiomkin’s classic theme), plus a Tex Ritter Museum featurette, a clip of Ritter performing “Do Not Foresake Me, Oh My Darlin’” on the “Jimmy Dean” TV show, a radio broadcast, and two older Making Of segments. The restored 4:3 full-screen transfer is crisp and both restored (mono) and enhanced (stereo) Dolby Digital soundtracks compliment the audio package.

THE DEAD ZONE: Season 6 (2007, 546 mins., Lionsgate): Final season of the popular USA network cable-TV series, a spin-off of sorts from the Stephen King novel, hits DVD courtesy of Lionsgate with its complete Final Season. Bonus features include four commentaries and two Making Of featurettes, widescreen transfers and Dolby Digital sound.

New from Buena Vista

HOME IMPROVEMENT: The Final Season (28 Episodes, 1998-99, Buena Vista): Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor and his family said sayonara after eight seasons on ABC, leaving behind its legacy as one of the more durable family sitcoms of all-time. Buena Vista’s box-set of “Home Improvement”’s final year boasts the same high-quality presentation as the series’ prior DVD editions, including uncut full-screen transfers, Dolby Stereo soundtracks, and extras including a series retrospective and a blooper reel.

ARMY WIVES: Season 1 (522 mins., 2007, Buena Vista): We Network (home of the ever-popular reality series “Bridezillas”) dramatic series garnered strong ratings last year, as it followed several military couples with the accent on homefront drama. A superb cast including Catherine Bell and Kim Delaney make the melodramatic goings-on a bit more compelling than you might ordinarily anticipate, though the show is best left for soap fans needing a DVD fix. Buena Vista’s DVD edition of “Army Wives”’ first season includes satisfying 16:9 (1.78) widescreen transfers with Dolby Digital audio and extras including a viewer email Q&A session, a deleted story line, commentaries, discarded scenes, bloopers and more.

TRANSFORMERS ANIMATED: Transform and Roll Out (67 mins., 2002, Paramount): Single-disc DVD of the latest animated incarnation of the Hasbro toys -- produced to coincide with last summer’s Michael Bay-directed blockbuster -- hits DVD from Paramount. The stories and presentation seem a bit more anime and simplistic than the beloved ‘80s cartoon, but young viewers may be captivated just the same by the futuristic action, set in 22nd century Detroit. (Speaking of which, Hasbro has recently re-acquired the rights to the original “Transformers” and “G.I. Joe” cartoons of decades ago, and undoubtedly will be issuing them on DVD in the near future since both franchises will be featured on the big screen in 2009).

New From Warner

POPEYE THE SAILOR, Volume 2, 1938-1940 (218  mins., Warner)
POPEYE & FRIENDS, Volume 1 (1978, Warner): Golden Age animation buffs will rejoice over this second DVD volume of Fleischer Studios-produced “Popeye” cartoons, newly available from Warner.

Though a bit less substantial in content than its predecessor (the two-disc set houses just three-and-a-half hours of shorts), these fully restored cartoons present some of the Fleischer Studios’ finest work, rich in design and entertainment for buffs. A few color shorts have been meticulously cleaned up and appear more vibrant here than they have in any prior, inferior public domain package, though the majority of these one-reelers are in peachy black-and-white. Extras abound, including numerous commentaries from animators and historians like Jerry Beck, while the retrospective documentary “Out of the Inkwell: The Fleischer Story” touches upon the historical legacy of these shorts.

Issued alongside the vintage “Popeye” is a single-disc “Popeye and Friends” compilation DVD from Warner. This disc offers eight shorts from the 1978 Hanna-Barbera series, which some viewers might recall from their Saturday morning childhoods. As you might expect, there’s a major comedown in quality across the board here from the Fleischer cartoons, but kids and die-hard “Popeye” fans might enjoy it just the same, and certainly the price ($15 and under in most outlets) is attractive enough.

DVD Capsules

MY MOM’S NEW BOYFRIEND (**, 97 mins., 2007, PG-13; Sony): Not nearly as bad as one might anticipate given its direct-to-vid status, this latest Meg Ryan misfire is at least a watchable affair.

Writer-director George Gallo -- who wrote “Midnight Run” and directed one of my favorite films of the early ‘90s, “29th Street” -- has at least concocted the right elements for a light romantic-comedy caper: Colin Hanks plays a young FBI agent whose constant worries about his single mom (Ryan) cross into his professional life once she starts dating a dashing Antonio Banderas, who’s not coincidentally on the FBI’s wanted list for pulling off a succession of art thefts.

Selma Blair offers some support to Gallo’s original script, and Banderas and Hanks are both game, but Ryan has sadly passed the point of sexiness with her literally plastic appearance, and there are too many coincidences in the story for all the elements to really gel. It’s a nice try at recapturing the magic for its cast and director, but little in “My Mom’s New Boyfriend” clicks.

Sony’s DVD includes both widescreen (2.40:1) and full-screen transfers plus 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, deleted scenes and a Making Of featurette.

SWORD IN THE STONE: 45th Anniversary Edition (**½, 79 mins., 1963, G; Disney): One of the least satisfying Disney animated efforts, this 1963 adaptation of T.H. White’s King Arthur tales is a silly and not especially inspired effort from the studio. Relying on slapstick gags instead of real magic and hampered by animation that’s far from Disney’s best, “The Sword in the Stone” has never been a favorite of mine -- nor is it among most hard-core devotees of the studio -- yet it’s certainly watchable and good fun for young children, who won’t mind the picture’s drawbacks and may enjoy its lightweight tone. Disney’s new 45th Anniversary DVD predictably isn’t heavy on extras (just a 2001 featurette on the Shermans is included along with movie shorts and a new interactive game that tries to sell the movie like a precursor to “Harry Potter”), but does boast an acceptable full-screen (1.33) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound that seems on-par with its prior DVD release.

THE JUNGLE BOOK 2 (72 mins., 2003, G; Disney): One of several needless Disney direct-to-video sequels to their animated classics, the generic “Jungle Book 2" is being newly re-issued on DVD after being discontinued for some time. This new DVD includes fresh interactive games plus deleted scenes and music videos, a 16:9 (1.66) widescreen transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack. Not bad for young kids but not recommended for adults, who are better off sticking to the original, which this sequel mostly rehashes.

EARLY EDITION: The Complete First Season (1996-97, 18 hrs., CBS/Paramount): One of the more critically acclaimed ‘90s series that never found a big audience, the fan-favorite “Early Edition” at last hits DVD from CBS and Paramount Home Video.

Kyle Chandler plays a Chicago stockbroker who ends up with the uncanny ability to forecast the future – by way of receiving the Chicago Sun-Times a day early. In addition to reading Roger Ebert’s reviews a day in advance, Chandler uses the opportunity to do good and try to change the lives of whoever he can in a positive manner.

Well-acted, written and directed, “Early Edition” is the best of the “family friendly” CBS shows of the last 10-15 years -- not as gooey as “Touched By An Angel” and yet smarter and more consistent than “Joan of Arcadia.” The show is suitable for all viewers yet doesn’t pander to its audience, capturing just the right amount of fantastical whimsy and drama in nearly every one of its first-season episodes.

Paramount’s DVD includes fine full-screen transfers and 2.0 stereo soundtracks, plus episode promos. Hopefully future seasons will include supplements and thoughts from the series’ creators.

NEXT TIME: More DVD, Blu-Ray and theatrical reviews! Until then, don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards, check out the Aisle Seat Blog, and direct any emails to our email address.  Cheers everyone!

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