Aisle Seat Mid-July Madness

New DVD Reviews Including HIGHLANDER 2, THUNDERBIRDS Special Edition Plus: AMAZING STORIES to hit DVD!
By Andy Dursin

Over the last year we've seen an incredible number of TV shows, both old and new, debut on DVD. Undoubtedly due to the hot sales, a slew of vintage titles are making their way to disc this fall from Universal -- so many, in fact, that you may have to watch your summer-time entertainment spending if you want to keep up with them all.


The latter two are particularly intriguing to me, having grown up on Gil Gerard's "Buck Rogers" and watched every moment of "Amazing Stories" through its intriguing, albeit uneven, two seasons on the NBC airwaves. Speaking of the latter, Steven Spielberg's anthology series ought to make for a terrific DVD set, since the show's high production values and music scores were exceedingly good for television, and not everyone had the benefit of big-screen, stereo TVs back in the mid '80s.

If Universal's KNIGHT RIDER set is any indication, the respective box sets will be worth every penny for fans. The Glen Larson-created show starring KITT (voiced by William Daniels), the "intelligent car," and some guy named David Hasselhoff, was a success during its initial run and has remained a cult favorite since its original NBC broadcast. Universal's DVD box set offers all 21 first season episodes of the series in excellent full-screen transfers, plus a bonus disc of new featurettes, commentary on the pilot episode by Hasselhoff and Glen Larson, plus the lamentable 1991 TV movie "Knight Rider 2000," which was supposed to serve as a platform for a new series starring Susan Norman.

"Knight Rider" streets on August 3rd, and in the meantime, several other tele-series are making their debuts on DVD in the next couple of weeks.

Despite mixed reviews, Fox's "Garfield: The Movie" became a bona-fide box-office hit this summer, grossing over $70 million domestically. Jim Davis's feline creation first arrived on disc just a few weeks ago with the three-episode DVD anthology "Garfield as Himself," and now he's back in the 1st Season box-set of the CBS Saturday morning cartoon GARFIELD AND FRIENDS.

The series launched on TV in the fall of 1988, each episode offering a pair of "Garfield" stories with an adaptation of Davis's now-defunct strip "U.S. Acres" sandwiched in between.

Though the animation isn't quite as detailed as Garfield's earlier specials, it sports the same design as the preceding shows (as well as the voice of Lorenzo Music) and gently amusing comedic stories, many based directly on Davis' strips.

Fox's three-disc "Garfield and Friends" DVD is out next week and offers the series' first 24 episodes, all in colorful but noticeably fuzzy transfers (I assume a partial result of the show's uneven animation). The mono sound is fine and the packaging similar to other Fox series on DVD, with three slim-line cases housing the DVDs, all contained in a colorful cardboard exterior.

Also new from Fox is the first season of Chris Carter's MILLENNIUM, the moody and creepy series that starred Lance Henriksen as Frank Black, an ex-FBI agent and serial killer profiler now working for "The Millennium Group" as it tries to stop evil of all kinds from taking over the world.

"Millennium" always came across as a bit too dark and dreary for my tastes, but the constant brooding tone and Henriksen's superb performance did win the series its share of fans -- not enough to support a lengthy run on the air, but certainly enough to sustain a cult following and the release of the show's first season on DVD.

The six-disc DVD box set, out this week, offers excellent full-screen transfers and crisp Dolby Surround soundtracks, plus commentary by Carter on the pilot, director David Nutter on "Gehenna," a full documentary ("Order in Chaos") on the making of Season one, plus TV spots.

Finally, MGM has recently released a four-disc DVD box set of the popular Showtime series DEAD LIKE ME.

More than just a variation on HBO's "Six Feet Under," this agreeably offbeat show follows the adventures of Ellen Muth's George -- a would-be temp who ends up becoming a grim reaper after she's improbably killed by a falling toilet seat from the Mir Space Station! Her tenure in the after-life results in run-ins with fellow reapers (including Jasmine Guy, Rebecca Gayhart, and boss Mandy Patinkin) and stories that run the gamut from comedic to bittersweet, the latter involving the family that George has left behind.
MGM's DVD set includes all 14 episodes from the show's first season, plus 30 minutes of deleted scenes, commentary tracks, and a featurette on the score. The latter includes comments from both composer Stewart Copeland and executive producer John Masius, while the widescreen transfers look splendid and the soundtracks suitably jumpy in 5.1 Dolby Digital.

Aisle Seat DVD Picks of the Week

HIGHLANDER 2 (**, 1990, Available July 27). 109 mins., R, Lions Gate. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: New enhanced cut of the film featuring all-new digital effects, fully re-mixed 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks; Documentaries on the Making of "Highlander 2"; Featurette on Stewart Copeland's score; Additional Featurettes; Cannes Promo Reel; Deleted Scenes; Trailers; 2.35 Widescreen.

Yes, it's yet another Special Edition of the troubled 1990 sequel, but this time the DVD finally does justice (as best it can) to the cult favorite. This new HIGHLANDER 2 dumps both "The Quickening" and "Renegade Version" from its subtitle, and adds a plethora of new digital effects that actually do improve the movie's alternately effective and shoddy visual design (the latter partially due to the original shoot having run out of funds).

What's more, an extensive second disc of supplements includes a terrific documentary recounting the movie's turbulent shoot in Argentina and subsequent editorial re-cutting, plus a hysterically funny unused ending and an insightful conversation with composer Stewart Copeland. Copeland notes how using Los Angeles session players may be technically proficient but often pales in comparison to the emotion that can be garnered from using a full cohesive orchestra (like the Seattle Symphony, which was utilized for "Highlander 2") that's used to playing as a group.

The fully remixed 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital sound is superb, and the 2.35 transfer leagues ahead of the previous DVD, which was plagued by grain and severe edge enhancement. "Quickening" die-hards may want to note, however, that this new release does NOT include the previous package's audio commentary and booklet notes.

THUNDERBIRDS: INTERNATIONAL RESCUE EDITION (MGM, Available July 20): Colorful, beautifully packaged set of the two Gerry Anderson feature films offers magnets, do-it-yourself paper model kits, sterling transfers of both "Thunderbirds Are Go" and "Thunderbird 6," plus DTS and Dolby Digital stereo sound (exclusive to this release) and fun supplements. Some of the latter include commentaries from Sylvia Anderson and director David Lane, three separate featurettes on each disc, trailers, and 16:9 enhanced widescreen transfers. Forget about the upcoming remake (more a bastardization it would seem, based on its trailers) and stick to this package instead.

Capsule Round-Up: Also New This Week

OUT OF REACH (**, 86 mins., 2004, R; Columbia TriStar, available July 20): You gotta love those Steven Seagal vehicles produced in Poland! The latest made-for-video Seagal epic is a lot more watchable than his last outing ("The Foreigner"), sporting some unintended yucks as our man Steve takes down an international trafficking network after a young foster girl he's involved with is abducted and sold into the ring. All you need to know is that the opening scene with Seagal narrating a letter he's writing to his young charge is actually dubbed over by what sounds like someone IMITATING Seagal! Columbia's DVD offers an excellent anamorphic 1.85 transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Worth it for Seagal die-hards (all others have been warned!).

THE HUMAN STAIN (**, 2003, 106 mins., Miramax/Buena Vista): Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman try their hardest to overcome their miscasting in Robert Benton's slow-moving, disjointed adaptation of Philip Roth's novel. As a college professor harboring a deep, dark secret, Hopkins is pretty much all wrong, and the languid pacing and odd narrative shifts fail to pay off. Chalk it up as an ambitious but flawed piece, scripted for the screen by Nicholas Meyer. Miramax's DVD offers a strong aesthetic package (1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound), but little in the way of supplements (a typical "Behind the Scenes" special and "A Tribute to Cinematographer Jean Yves Escoffier").

PEOPLE I KNOW (**, 2002, 100 mins., R, Miramax/Buena Vista): Al Pacino plays a press agent who ends up in a situation involving clients Ryan O'Neal and Tea Leoni he wishes he never became entwined with, in this little-seen 2002 character study. Just making its debut on DVD, Dan Algrant's film is well-acted across the board (Kim Basinger co-stars), but it's real slow-going in places and ultimately pointless. Miramax's DVD includes deleted scenes, commentary from Algrant, and an excellent 1.85 transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE DRAMA QUEEN (**1/2, 90 mins., PG, Disney): Colorful but bubble-headed tween comedy stars Lindsay Lohan in a role that must have originally been drawn up for Hilary Duff prior to her break-up with Disney. Lohan plays a girl who moves with her family to the big city, where she struggles to fit in. Sure, it sounds like "Mean Girls," but the comparison pretty much ends there (and isn't leading man Adam Garcia way too old for his role?). This is a pleasant enough family film but completely forgettable on most levels. Disney's DVD includes one deleted scene, a music video, Behind the Scenes featurette, commentary from the cast and crew, 5.1 sound, plus both 1.85 Widescreen and full-screen transfers.

NEXT TIME: Andy's Summer Soundtrack Wrap-Up (for those counting at home, I believe this is the third time I've promised this; and I promise again it WILL happen!), plus more reviews!


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