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4th of July Celebration
CHARIOTS OF FIRE, 39 STEPS and More Reviewed
Plus: DELIVERANCE, Buena Vista Catalog Titles and MIRROR MIRROR

Few movies stay with you the way that DELIVERANCE does. John Boorman’s taut, exciting, disturbing 1972 outdoor-adventure yarn – adapted from James Dickey’s book by the author in collaboration with Boorman – has remained in the public consciousness ever since its original release, occasionally as the punchline for any variety of “redneck nightmare” jokes. The film itself, though, remains an all-time classic, and has been enhanced in high-def by a new 40th Anniversary Blu-Ray package from Warner Home Video.

Dickey’s straightforward account of four well-to-do suburbanites (Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight, Ronny Cox and Ned Beatty) who embark on a camping trip along the “Cahulawassee River” in North Georgia keeps you on the edge from its opening moments and never lets up. The early uneasiness in the celebrated “Dueling Banjos” sequence is quickly followed by a succession of harrowing events that pit the protagonists against mother nature and a group of “country folk” who probably scared countless individuals from venturing off state highways for years to come. Impressively shot in scope by Vilmos Zsigmond, “Deliverance” has been ripped off countless times over the years, but it’s a testament to Boorman’s direction, the conviction of the performances and its cumulative impact that it’s lost little of its punch – and hasn’t dated much at all. The forthcoming flood of the surrounding valley in which the story takes place – representing a rural piece of time and place about to washed over by the modern world – gives the picture a fascinating subtext as well, not to mention a haunting atmosphere that’s as beguiling as it is shocking.

Warner previously released “Deliverance” on Blu-Ray back in 2007, in a VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer that’s as satisfying as the source material will likely ever allow. The new 40th Anniversary Digibook edition uses what appears to be the same transfer, but with more robust DTS MA 5.1 audio in place of the earlier disc’s 5.1 Dolby Digital track. The disc is also highlighted by a new 30-minute retrospective, “The Cast Looks Back,” with Cox, Reynolds, Voight and Beatty offering their recollections on the picture’s production in a recently-taped featurette that fans of the film should be thrilled with. The cast discusses working on location and notes part of the film’s effectiveness was through Boorman’s decision to shoot the film in sequence (a rarity with most movies). Other extras include the previous documentary from its earlier Special Edition DVD, a vintage 10-minute promotional featurette, the trailer, and Boorman’s commentary, all of it housed in a glossy, hardbound book-styled package. One of my favorite films of the ‘70s, “Deliverance” once again comes recommended as an essential purchase. (****, 109 mins., 1972, R)

Due out next week from Warner – also in a new Digibook package – is the Oscar winning CHARIOTS OF FIRE (***½, 124 mins., 1981, PG), Hugh Hudson’s 1981 Best Picture winner that chronicles the Gold medal winning members of the 1924 British Olympic team: devout Christian missionary Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) and Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross), a working-class Jew who finds himself fighting bigotry and class discrimination while at Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge. Abrahams’ fight to make the British track team, turning the heads of his academic deans (cameos from John Gielgud and Lindsay Anderson), is contrasted with Liddell’s passionate devotion to his faith and his God-given talent on the track.

“Chariots of Fire” is an especially wonderful film to rediscover with the London games just a few weeks away. A pet project of producer David Puttnam, the movie boasts superb performances from Cross and Charleson, a game supporting cast (Ian Holm is particularly noteworthy as the Turkish coach who works with Abrahams; Alice Krige also makes an impression as Abrahams’ love interest), and outstanding cinematography by David Watkin. The memorable footage of the British track team running along the beach, to the strains of Vangelis’ chart-topping instrumental theme, comprises some of the most indelible imagery of any sports-oriented picture. Colin Welland’s incisive, nicely nuanced screenplay makes for a great period drama and a marvelous character study, showing two very different men working for a common goal in distinctly different ways.

One of the things I did notice while watching the film for the first time in many years was that Vangelis’ score does seem, at times, out of sorts with the picture itself. Yes, the main theme from the film is an unquestioned classic – but the sparse use of the score makes its occasional presence a distraction when all-synthesized electronic music suddenly appears in the midst of a stately 1920s drama. One moment in particular (when several newspaper headlines flash on-screen) is particularly poor and laughably handled. It’s still an effective score, yet one that likely would’ve worked better had portions of it been orchestrated – as it is, it’s the one aspect of the film that stamps it as a product of the time.

Warner’s Digibook Blu-Ray edition of “Chariots of Fire” is spectacular. The AVC encoded 1080p transfer is how every catalog film ought to be treated on Blu-Ray: brilliantly detailed with pitch-perfect contrasts and colors. The DTS MA audio is a lot more subtle as you’d imagine, and ample extras are also included: previously-released documentaries on the making of the film are on-hand plus newer featurettes on the 1924 Paris games, profiles of Puttnam and Hudson, deleted scenes, screen tests, the trailer, and a bonus sampler from Vangelis’ soundtrack album (which features a great deal of music not in the film and vice versa).

New From Criterion

It’s going to be an expensive fall for Blu-Ray enthusiasts based on the litany of titles coming out: Fox’s Bond box-set, Universal’s recently announced “Universal Monsters” set, and a pricey assortment of Alfred Hitchcock titles will all be vying for consumer dollars come September.

In the meantime, Criterion stakes its claim to high-def Hitch with their Blu-Ray release of THE 39 STEPS (***½, 86 mins.), the 1935 British production that laid the groundwork for many a suspense-thriller – including the director’s own “North By Northwest” – for years to come.

Robert Donat stars as a Canadian living in England who gets wrapped up in an espionage plot involving a female spy who’s promptly killed in Donat’s flat. With little information to go on, other than the name of a small Scottish village the agent provided (along with a warning to avoid anyone with half their pinky finger missing), Donat sets off on a furious pursuit to clear his name and avoid the authorities who want him for murder. En route he meets a female traveler (Madeleine Carroll) who takes her time warming up to Donat and his fanciful story...

Despite its age, “The 39 Steps” is an exciting thriller that also functions as a prototype for the “wrong man” genre that Hitchcock would dabble in numerous times throughout his career. Donat and Carroll generate ample chemistry with one another, and the film mixes humor with edge-of-your-seat suspense in a manner that would soon become a hallmark of the director.

Criterion’s Blu-Ray includes a 1080p transfer from a fine grain master positive. While the image boasts more detail than I’ve seen from any prior DVD release, there are still certain sections – likely just due to the age of the elements – that appear a bit soft. Extras include Marian Keane’s 1999 commentary on the film; a 2000 Carlton UK documentary on Hitchock’s pre-war films; 40 minutes of British broadcaster Mike Scott’s 1966 interview with the director; the complete, hour-long 1937 Lux Radio Theatre adaptation with Robert Montgomery and Ida Lupino; a “visual essay” from author Leonard Leff; audio excerpts from Francois Truffaut’s 1962 interviews with Hitchcock, and original production design drawings. Highly recommended!

Also new from Criterion this month is Hiroshi Inagaki’s THE SAMURAI TRILOGY, comprised of three classics starring Toshiro Mifune as a fictional version of 17th century Japanese swordsman Musashi Miyamoto: 1954's MUSASHI MIYAMOTO, 1955's DUEL AT ICHIJOJI TEMPLE, and the concluding installment in the trilogy, 1956's DUEL AT GANRYU ISLAND.

Hugely popular in their native country and likewise celebrated in the U.S., Inagaki’s films helped open the door for numerous Japanese imports to follow, and Criterion’s double-disc Blu-Ray edition does not disappoint either, with each film looking healthy and satisfying in 1080p 1.33 color transfers. Insightful, though somewhat slight, extras include interviews with historian William Scott Wilson about the real Miyamoto; trailers; newly remastered English subtitles; and booklet notes from Wilson and historian Stephen Prince.

Also New on Blu-Ray

MIRROR, MIRROR Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy (**, 106 mins., 2012, PG; Fox): All dressed up with nowhere to go, this first of two 2012 “Snow White” movies is more kid-friendly than “Snow White & The Huntsman” but only half as entertaining.

Julia Roberts essays the wicked Queen in this adaptation from director Tarsem Singh (“The Cell,” “The Fall,” “Immortals”), complete with opulent costumes from Eiko Ishioka and splashes of color that make for demo-worthy, high-def eye candy. Lily Collins is the fair Snow White, whom the Queen banishes from her kingdom and is sent to death – fortunately for Snow, her henchman (Nathan Lane) isn’t so bad and frees her, and she’s promptly taken in by a group of dwarves (real little people as opposed to “Huntsman”’s CGI’d character actors) while trying to figure out a way to revive the decaying kingdom. Meanwhile, the Queen puts a spell on this version’s resident Prince (Armie Hammer), causing him to fall head over heels in love with her.

Tarsem’s visual flair makes “Mirror, Mirror” watchable to a degree, but the script is so devoid of wit or imagination that I quickly became bored by the whole enterprise. Writers Mark Klein and Jason Keller don’t have a lot of impressive credits to their respective resumes and the dialogue in the film is lifeless – the plot, meanwhile, feels stretched out to a bloated 106 minutes, offering no surprises of any kind. What’s more, I expected more from the art direction than the handful of sets Tarsem gives us here – that the same director who brought us memorable visual pieces like “The Cell” falls back on the same two or three sets over and over here (I particularly grew tired of the ‘forest’ soundstage) makes you wonder that, in the rush to get the film out to theaters first, the production itself was scaled back from what it should’ve been. Even Alan Menken’s overly bombastic score strains to give the material the magical lift it needs – functioning mostly like underscore for a manic cartoon. The cast, meanwhile, tries their hardest in a film that simply falls flat.

Fox’s Blu-Ray does look smashing, the 1080p transfer beautifully reproducing the wide color pallet and Ishioka’s designs. DTS MA sound, a DVD copy, digital copy and several extras (deleted scenes, Making Of content) round out the combo package.

BLADE 2 Blu-Ray (**, 117 mins., 2002, R; New Line/Warner): "More gore, less filling" is the term I'd use to sum up this disappointing, repellent sequel to the surprisingly good sleeper hit of 1999, which arrives on Blu-Ray this month for the first time domestically alongside the other two series entries. Despite my reservations about the film, however, the Blu-Ray is nearly worth it for its robust assortment of extras.

First, the movie: Wesley Snipes is back here as the half-vampire, half-human Marvel super-hero, summoned to help out a group of vampires being attacked by a plague of nosferatu-like creatures that prey on the undead as well as the living. David S. Goyer's script offers up the usual fights and kung-fu moves for Wesley, but director Guillermo Tel Toro is far more interested in bloodletting and plenty of disgusting special effects than his predecessor (Stephen Norrington) was. These vampire-offspring not only want to drink your blood, but their mouths open up into a foul, tentacle-laden critter a la John Carpenter's "The Thing" as they rip your guts out.

Kris Kristofferson re-appears as Blade's faithful pal Whistler, but while Snipes is game as always, the movie sadly lacks the presence of bad-guy Deacon Frost, who served up a grand menace to Blade thanks to Stephen Dorff's performance in the original. He's mentioned in passing here, but the sequel's substitute -- a cast-off son of a vampire king wanting to exact revenge on his old man -- is weak, and a would-be romance between Blade and the head vamp's daughter (the fetching but emotionless Lenor Vanela) comes off as half-baked at best. A cool battle with ninja-vamps at the beginning is, alas, only a tease for the rather tedious shenanigans that follow.

Where the original “Blade” was a cool comic-book come to life -- colorfully filling up a widescreen frame not employed here -- “Blade 2" is more of a claustrophobic, subterranean horror movie like Del Toro's "Mimic," with the director's urine-yellow cinematography washing out the first film's more contemporary look. More over, the director dwells on gore and blood to the point where I kept looking at my watch, waiting for this one to end.

Now for some good news: New Line's Blu-Ray is packed with supplements from its prior DVD, including great commentaries and copious extras that may well be worth the purchase for genre fans even if, like me, you didn't care for the film. Del Toro and producer Peter Frankfurt engage in one commentary track that's unusually candid and interesting, touching upon Del Toro's direction and the production in Prague. Snipes and Goyer are teamed for the other commentary, with the two discussing the sequel's conception and road to the screen, along with other anecdotes that place it far above the usual self-congratulatory commentary track.

There are also all kinds of interactive documentaries and supplements; the meat of the disc is "Production Workshop," which includes five individual "chapters" (The Blood Pact, Sequence Breakdowns, Visual Effects, Notebook, and Art Gallery) spanning the production of “Blade II.” The Blood Pact portion itself runs some 83 minutes, starting from the sequel's origin all the way through direction, production design, creature and visual FX, choreography, costumes, and -- yes -- even the score. Some 25 minutes worth of Deleted Scenes are also included (several fully scored), though Del Toro rightfully describes them as "crap" and you can easily see why they were axed.

A full compliment of trailers, TV spots, storyboards, and numerous other extras are on-hand, plus a 1080p AVC encoded transfer and DTS MA soundtrack as impressive as the rather drab looking picture allows.

New From Universal

BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy (**, 1989, 145 mins., R; Universal): Oliver Stone’s overwrought biopic of Vietnam vet Ron Kovic, his injury in combat and difficult adjustment after returning home from the war, has two strong components going for it: John Williams’ powerful, memorable score, and Robert Richardson’s evocative cinematography. The latter adapts extremely well to the HD format, with Universal’s 1080p transfer only showing the limitations of the source material here and there. Williams’ music, meanwhile, packs a potent presence in the disc’s DTS MA soundtrack, both essentially reprises of Universal’s older HD-DVD edition.

“Born on the Fourth of July” remains one of Stone’s best-looking but heavy-handed films, with Tom Cruise giving it his all as Kovic, and an interesting array of supporting faces (Willem Dafoe, Kyra Sedgwick, Tom Sizemore, Lili Taylor and others) attempting to balance the melodramatic, often over-the-top elements of Stone and Kovic’s script. It’s ultimately a losing battle, but the film’s positive attributes make it worth at least a viewing.

Universal’s Blu-Ray includes several extras brought over from prior releases, including NBC News archival material on the film, commentary with Stone, and two “100 years of Universal” featurettes on the ‘80s and the studio’s Oscar winners. A DVD and digital copy round out the combo disc.       

AMERICAN REUNION Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy (**½, 113/114 mins., 2012, R/Unrated; Universal): Belated, amiable enough reunion of the “American Pie” cast brings back Jason Biggs, Seann William Scott (who produced along with Biggs), Alyson Hannigan, Chris Klein, Mena Suvari and the gang for another sex-oriented comedy centering around their high school reunion. “Harold and Kumar”’s Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg bring their own brand of bodily-fluid jokes along for this unnecessary but likeable sequel that’s likely to satisfy its target audience. Universal’s Blu-Ray includes both the R rated theatrical version and an Unrated version of “American Reunion” plus deleted scenes, a gag reel, commentary, featurettes, BD exclusive extended scenes and alternate takes (plus other BD-only featurettes), a DVD and Ultraviolet/standard digital copies.

Buena Vista Blu-Ray Catalog Titles

EVITA Blu-Ray (***½, 135 mins., 1996, PG-13; Buena Vista): Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s worldwide musical smash finally became a terrific film – arguably the best movie-musical of the last two decades – under the guidance of director Alan Parker, who ably visualizes the life and times of Eva Paron, who’s capably portrayed here by Madonna. As the narrator, Antonio Banderas is magnetic, and Lloyd Webber’s phenomenal score is splendidly adapted and arranged by supervisor David Caddick. Never domestically released on DVD in 16:9, Buena Vista’s 1080p Blu-Ray presentation is exceptionally good, doing justice to Darius Khondji’s cinematography, and is backed by equally outstanding DTS MA 5.1 audio. Extras include a Making Of, Madonna’s “You Must Love Me” video, and the teaser.

NEWSIES Blu-Ray (**½, 121 mins., 1992, PG; Disney): Superb Blu-Ray edition of a live-action musical that not even the magical touch of composer Alan Menken could turn into a box-office success – though one that’s been newly resurrected as a hit Broadway musical (with writer Harvey Fierstein having reworked major portions of the story). In spite of its shortcomings, this energetically-directed film is still worth viewing for genre fans, most notably because of Menken's often underrated score, which features a handful of excellent songs ("Carrying the Banner," "Santa Fe") written with lyricist Jack Feldman.

The problem with the movie isn't the music, but rather the stilted plot -- based on actual events -- that chronicles the plight of underage turn-of-the-century newspaper carriers and their eventual strike against newspaper owners Joseph Pulitzer (a tired Robert Duvall) and William Randolph Hearst. Christian Bale gives a charismatic performance as the head "Newsie" while Bill Pullman is on-hand to lend able support (a role apparently switched to a female love interest in the Broadway show), though every sequence involving showgirl Ann-Margret drags the movie down to the point where you can easily understand why the picture flopped with kids.

Disney’s Blu-Ray reprises the extras from its 2002 DVD edition, offering a revealing audio commentary with the filmmakers and featurettes shot during the movie's production that are predictably heavy on the promotional side. The DTS MA soundtrack and 1080p transfer are both on the more satisfying end of Buena Vista’s new catalog releases.

THE COLOR OF MONEY Blu-Ray (***, 119 mins., 1986, R; Buena Vista): Taut, compelling Martin Scorsese-directed sequel to “The Hustler” brings back Paul Newman as Fast Eddie Felson, who finds a young protege in charismatic, but hot-headed, Tom Cruise. Richard Price’s fine script and excellent work from Newman, Cruise and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio make for a gritty film that’s been, unfortunately, ill-served by Buena Vista’s Blu-Ray: the 1080p transfer looks to have been derived from an older master, offering a general softness, artifacting and DNR on top of it. The DTS MA sound fares better, but no extras are included in this disappointing ‘25th Anniversary’ release.

Cruise fans are sure to feel better about COCKTAIL (**, 104 mins., 1988, R), a silly soap-opera fantasy with Cruise as a cocky bartender who flees the Big Apple for Jamaica in a slick Roger Donaldson film that nevertheless drummed up sizable box-office during the summer of ‘88 (and it does have Elisabeth Shue on-hand, which counts for something!). Buena Vista’s 1080p transfer is much more satisfying than “The Color of Money,” boasting vivid colors and an appreciable amount of detail. The DTS MA soundtrack includes a bouncy collection of pop tunes – the horrific Beach Boys smash “Kokomo” among them.

UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN Blu-Ray (**½, 113 mins., 2003, PG-13; Buena Vista): Despite a sappy script, Diane Lane gives a wonderful performance as Frances Mayes, a California writer whose husband leaves her and their idyllic life behind. A friend decides to give Frances a nice present – ten days in Tuscany – which ultimately changes her life.

I can tell you that I never read the book by Mayes that formed the basis for Audrey Wells' film, but my mother and her friends -- who did read it -- cried foul at the changes to the original story that were made by the filmmakers. Mayes' original non-fiction account of her travels to Italy were as much about the cuisine as anything else, though somewhere in there the filmmakers found a tale of female independence that needed to be told. (Mayes, the author, is apparently married in real life).

So, in come the standard Lifetime Movie of the Week romantic aspects (her relationship with a local guy played by Italian star Raoul Bova for one), which ultimately detract from the otherwise solid production – principally, lush settings superbly served up by cinematographer Geoffrey Simpson. Christophe Beck also contributes a pleasant, heartfelt score, but it's Lane that keeps the movie on-track. She's good enough to keep you watching despite the overly melodramatic aspects of the story – it's just unfortunate that the story needed to be "sapped down" for the common movie-going public. Touchstone’s Blu-Ray here includes an attractive 1080p transfer, DTS MA soundtrack, deleted scenes, a Making Of, and commentary with Audrey Wells.

STEP UP Blu-Ray (**, 103 mins., PG-13; Touchstone): Unlikely box-office sleeper hit from Summer ‘06 is a fairly hackneyed tale of a teen from the wrong side of the tracks (Channing Tatum) who improbably becomes the partner for a pampered, beautiful young dancer (Jenna Dwan) after doing community service at her performing arts school. Ridiculous and predictable, “Step Up” nevertheless captivated teen audiences, who, in turn, helped launch a series of these films that continues this summer with Part 4 (in 3-D). Buena Vista’s Blu-Ray is chock full of extras, including deleted scenes, bloopers, a Making Of, nearly a half-dozen music videos, and commentary with the stars and director Anne Fletcher. The 1080p transfer and DTS MA soundtrack are both excellent.

THE HORSE WHISPERER Blu-Ray (**½, 169 mins., 1998, PG-13; Touchstone): Sincerely acted but flaccid, overlong adaptation of Nicholas Evans’ bestselling book stars director Robert Redford as a rancher with a magical touch with animals, who helps nurse a young girl (Scarlett Johansson) and her horse back to health after an auto accident injuries them both. Kristin Scott Thomas co-stars as Johansson’s mother, who naturally falls for Redford, in this slow-going drama with beautiful cinematography from Robert Richardson and a terrific supporting cast (Sam Neill, Dianne Weist, Chris Cooper) – but a dramatic drive that just seems to be missing. Touchstone’s Blu-Ray includes a fine 1080p transfer and DTS MA soundtrack, along with extras carried over from the old DVD (three featurettes and a music video). Thomas Newman’s score is fine, but one wonders if John Barry’s original score wouldn’t have given the film more emotion than its sometimes overly placid demeanor projects.

RANSOM Blu-Ray (**½, 121 mins., 1996, R; Touchstone): Passable if underwhelming Ron Howard-directed vehicle for star Mel Gibson generated solid returns back in the fall of ‘96, though fans of the picture may be let down by Buena Vista’s Blu-Ray release.

Shortly after the film finished its theatrical run, Howard added footage to the movie for its laserdisc version. That cut of the movie ran over 140 minutes, and featured a number of additional sequences that added depth to the characterizations. Not only does the Blu-Ray not contain the longer version of the movie, but only some five minutes of those excised scenes are included in the disc's supplemental features (this in spite of the disc’s claim that there are "extensive deleted scenes"). It's a let down that fans may find to be partially off-set by a solid commentary track with Howard talking about the film, a behind-the-scenes special sporting interviews with the cast and crew, another, more promotional featurette, and one theatrical trailer.

The better news is that the disc’s 1080p AVC encoded transfer is, at least, far better than the old, non-anamorphic DVD version, and the DTS MA sound is nicely mixed, featuring an appropriately by-the-numbers James Horner score.

PHENOMENON Blu-Ray (**, 123 mins., 1996, PG-13; Touchstone): Saccharinely sweet variation on “Charly” stars John Travolta – then in the midst of his ‘90s career resurgence – as a small-town auto mechanic who gets smacked by lightning and turns into a genius overnight – all to a mixed reaction from his friends and neighbors. Gerald DiPego wrote this “feel good” fantasy directed by Jon Turteltaub (who’s since scaled greater box-office heights with the “National Treasure” series among other Disney features) but this phony fantasy has never been a favorite of mine. Touchstone’s Blu-Ray boasts a decent 1080p transfer and DTS MA 5.1 soundtrack, but no extras.

SISTER ACT/SISTER ACT 2 Blu-Ray/DVD (***/**, 100/106 mins., 1992/1993, PG; Touchstone): Whoopi Goldberg struts her way through both the 1992 smash hit “Sister Act” and its feeble follow-up in this dual-movie Blu-Ray release, offering both films in 1080p AVC encoded transfers with DTS MA 5.1 audio and slim extras carried over from their prior DVD releases (one featurette and a music video). Both films are contained on a single 50GB BD platter with DVDs of each film also included in the combo pack.

HOME ON THE RANGE Blu-Ray/DVD (**½, 76 mins., G, 2004; Disney): Cute Disney feature boasts several terrific songs by Alan Menken, but unfortunately not enough of them -- or a developed story line -- to make “Home on the Range” anything more than lightly entertaining.

This 2004 western parody focuses on a collection of crazy barnyard animals (three cows, a pumped-up stallion, and some wacky chicks) who attempt to save their dairy farm home from a group of shady, scheming outlaws. The animation is colorful and intentionally comedic, and the Menken-Glenn Slater songs are tuneful and superb. Alas, "Home on the Range" doesn't have enough of a script to support its threadbare running time (72 minutes minus credits), and the Blu-Ray’s supplements -- which include a deleted prologue with a set of narrators and an unused song -- point to a film that should have spent more time in development before being made. One could have imagined this being a full-blown Disney western-musical with additional songs and characters (something the opening prologue hints at), and on that level, "Home on the Range" comes as a missed opportunity. The picture still provides a fun jaunt for family audiences, but it's quickly forgotten once the credits roll.

Disney's Blu-Ray is heavy on the family-geared bonus features (music video, games and activities), with one animated bonus short ("A Dairy Tale: The Three Little Pigs) and several deleted scenes in workprint/storyboarded form. The AVC encoded 1080p transfer and 5.1 DTS MA soundtrack are both excellent, and a DVD is also included within.

TREASURE PLANET Blu-Ray/DVD (**½, 95 mins., 2002, PG; Disney): Disney's ill-conceived futuristic variation on "Treasure Island" was a box-office flop for the studio in November 2001, though it isn't totally devoid of entertainment. Sure, adults and anyone familiar with Robert Louis Stevenson's classic story may have a tough time digesting this updating of the tale to a galaxy where pirate ships still float around the skies as if they're on the sea, and young Jim Hawkins is a skyboarding brat who seems more like Tony Hawk than a Saturday Matinee hero. Still, if you can make it through the rocky first half-hour, “Treasure Planet” isn't all bad, with a good score by James Newton Howard and the arrival of B.E.N. the robot (voiced by Martin Short) providing sufficient entertainment in the later stages. Disney's Blu-Ray includes a strong 1080p AVC encoded transfer, DTS MA soundtrack, commentary from John Musker and Ron Clements (the filmmakers of the early Menken-Ashman musicals who struggled to find a consistent rhythm with this picture), plus an extended ending and alternate prologue, assorted extras for kids, and a music video for one of John Rzeznik's two upbeat rock tracks. A DVD is also bundled inside.

THE BIG BANG THEORY Season 1 Blu-Ray/DVD/Ultraviolet (2007-08, 355 mins., Warner)
THE BIG BANG THEORY Season 2 Blu-Ray/DVD/Ultraviolet (2008-09, 481 mins., Warner): The initial two seasons of the hugely popular CBS prime-time series hit Blu-Ray for the first time in new combo packs on July 10th.

This top-rated sitcom – one of the best “old school” multi-camera shows of its type on the air now – stars Johnny Galecki and Emmy winner Jim Parsons as a pair of brainy science nerds whose relationship with a beautiful new neighbor (Kaley Cuoco) turns their regimented world upside down. Plenty of guest stars from “Star Trek” and other genre projects work their way into this genial show, which seems to generate high viewership whether it’s in new network episodes or in syndication.

Warner’s two Blu-Ray/DVD sets offer 1080p (1.78) transfers and 5.1 DTS MA soundtracks. Seeing as the shows are shot in high-def, these are appreciable enhancements over their DVD editions, with extras having been carried over from each previous release: Season 1 contains the featurette “Quantum Mechanics of The Big Bang Theory” plus a gag reel, while Season 2 profiles UCLA professor/physicist David Saltzberg’s relationship to the show, the featurette “Testing the Infinite Hilarity Hypothesis in Relation to The Big Bang Theory,” and a gag reel. Ultraviolet streaming is also included as a part of both releases.

Quick Takes               

BLACK LIMOUSINE DVD (101 mins., 2012, R; Anchor Bay): David Arquette plays a former “hotshot Hollywood composer” turned limousine driver (!) in Carl Colpaert’s indie that follows movie-score Dave’s descent into hell after he meets an unstable actress (Bijou Phillips) with as many problems as he has. Anchor Bay’s DVD of this Cineville production – which generated some buzz on the festival circuit – includes a 16:9 (2.40) transfer and 5.1 soundtrack.

CHERRY BOMB Blu-Ray (82 mins., 2011, Not Rated; Well Go USA): Julin Jean is a former dancer who decides to strike out against the men who assaulted her in this nasty revenge film from director Kyle Day that’s an intentional throwback to early ‘80s action flicks (not to mention “Death Wish” styled shenanigans). Alas, if only “Cherry Bomb” was as much fun, since too much of the film feels like posturing. Well Go USA’s Blu-Ray boasts deleted scenes, outtakes, an alternate ending, the trailer, commentary from Day, plus a 1080p transfer and DTS MA 5.1 soundtrack. Not to be confused with the 2009 “Cherrybomb” starring “Harry Potter”’s Rupert Grint.

THE HUNTER Blu-Ray (102 mins., 2011, R; Magnolia): Slow-moving but capably acted tale of a lone mercenary (Willem Dafoe) sent into the wilds of Tasmania in order to track a tiger thought to be extinct. En route, he meets a mother (Frances O’Connor) of a young boy whose father has gone missing, and grows to trust them while trying to track down the elusive animal in a strange film from director Daniel Nettheim and writer Alice Addison, adapting Julia Leigh’s novel. If you thought “The Grey” was on the strange side, that’s nothing compared to “The Hunter,” which doesn’t come together but remains watchable through one of Dafoe’s superior performances. Magnolia’s Blu-Ray boasts a Making Of; deleted scenes; commentary from the director and producer Vincent Sheehan; the trailer; a 1080p transfer and 5.1 DTS MA soundtrack.

Also new from Magnolia is GOD BLESS AMERICA (105 mins., 2012, R), Bobcat Goldthwait’s insane comedy-thriller with Joel Murray as a divorced father who can’t stand his family – or pretty much anyone – and decides, after losing his job and possibly facing a terminal illness, to go on a mass killing spree. Alongside a young teen who likewise believes in his cause (Tara Lynne Barr), Murray opts to wipe out celebrities who he can’t stand – including a dose of reality “stars” – in a caustic black comedy that might appeal to viewers who enjoyed Goldthwait’s previous “World’s Greatest Dad.” Magnolia’s Blu-Ray is packed with extras including deleted scenes, outtakes, interviews, commentary, a music video, featurettes, the trailer, a 1080p transfer and DTS MA soundtrack.

SOUND OF NOISE DVD (102 mins., 2010, R; Magnolia): Wacky Swedish import about a police officer who hates his musical heritage but has to embrace it in order to tackle a group of criminals trashing the city while performing their own ‘musical apocalypse.’ Magnolia brings “Sound of Noise” to DVD in a 16:9 (2.35) transfer with 5.1 audio in Swedish (with English subs) and extras including behind the scenes content.

WAREHOUSE 13 Season 3 DVD (aprx. 9 hours, 2011; Universal): Pete, Myka, Claudia and Artie are joined by a former Jimmy Olsen – “Smallville”’s Aaron Ashmore – as they take on a ruthless new enemy in this third season of the Syfy Channel series. Universal’s DVD set includes deleted scenes, a gag reel, episode commentaries, interviews with guest stars including Lindsey Wagner and Kate Mulgrew, a 10-part animated series, and a bonus holiday episode, “Secret Santa,” among other extras. 16:9 (1.78) transfers and 5.1 soundtracks are also on tap.

BEING FLYNN Blu-Ray (102 mins., 2011, R; Universal): Paul Dano stars in Paul Weitz’s latest film about a writer who takes a job at a homeless shelter – where he comes across his father (Robert DeNiro), whom he hasn’t seen in 18 years, taking a bed. It’s been so long since we’ve seen DeNiro in “serious” roles that weren’t just check-cashing enterprises that it takes time to warm up to the star, but he’s good in this so-so character drama adapted from Nick Flynn’s book, one that fails to capture its source material’s time and place by having its Boston setting shot entirely in New York. Universal’s Blu-Ray of the little-seen “Being Flynn” includes a 1080p transfer, DTS MA soundtracka nd one Making Of featurette.

Upcoming From E One

Julio wakes up with an apparent one-night stand from another galaxy in the Spanish-made EXTRATERRESTRIAL (95 mins., 2011), a comedy from writer-director Nacho Vigalondo presented here in Spanish with English subs and a 16:9 transfer (2.35) with 5.1 Dolby Digital audio. Extras include a Making Of, the director’s short films, and an international poster gallery...10-year-old boy genius Henry James Herman (Jason Spevack) goes looking for his biological father – to wacky results – in Dennis Lee’s JESUS HENRY CHRIST (95 mins., 2011, PG-13), co-starring Toni Collette and Michael Sheen. E One’s DVD includes interviews with Sheen, Collette, Spevack, Lee, and co-star Samantha Weinstein. The 16:9 (2.40) transfer and 5.1 soundtrack are both fine...Season 4 of SANCTUARY (585 mins., 2011) arrives on Blu-Ray on July 17th. This Syfy Channel series generated a fair amount of fans, most of whom were disappointed with this final go-round for the recently canceled series, finding Dr. Helen Magnus (Amanda Tapping) still on the hunt for Adam Worth in Victorian era England. In addition to 1080p transfers and 5.1 DTS MA soundtracks, the four-disc BD set includes “Sanctuary”’s final 13 episodes along with numerous extras, including an “Amanda Cam,” multiple featurettes, commentary on select episodes, deleted scenes, bloopers and outtakes...The growing popularity of MMA – even in the ‘heartland’ – is profiled in FIGHTVILLE (85 mins., 2011), a documentary of two fighters scrapping their way up the ladder in Lafayette, Louisiana. “Fightville” hits Blu-Ray this month in a 1080p transfer with deleted scenes, behind the scenes content and the trailer.

New From History/A&E

In Season 2 of IRT DEADLIEST ROADS (aprx 10 hours, 2011), drivers Lisa, Hugh and Rick take on the Andes mountains of South America, skirting 1000 foot cliffs and dangerous weather in order to get their cargo delivered on time. History’s 4-disc DVD set includes bonus footage...Also hitting DVD shortly is Volume Three of STORAGE WARS (aprx. 6 hours, 2011), boasting 16 episodes from the colorful A&E reality series that profiles fast-talking auctioneers Dan and Laura Dotson. Additional bonus footage is on-hand in this two disc set, which also includes 16:9 transfers and stereo soundtracks.

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