7/7/09 Edition
Diving Back Into THE DEEP
Peter Benchley's '77 Hit Arrives on Blu-Ray

Off the massive success of "Jaws," studios eagerly anticipated new novels from author Peter Benchley, hoping to create another box-office behemoth in the process.

Benchley's follow-up to "Jaws," "The Deep," surfaced in 1976 and was promptly gobbled up by Peter Guber's Casablanca FilmWorks label. Under the direction of Peter Yates, the movie version of "The Deep" -- scripted by Benchley and Tracy Keenan Wynn -- follows a young couple (Jacqueline Bisset and Nick Nolte) who stumble upon the sunken wreck of a WWII cargo ship while scuba-diving off the coast of Bermuda. In particular, they find a gold medallion as well as a vile of morphine the latter from the WWII wreck, but the former from something else altogether. The duo enlist the help of local treasure hunter Romer Treece (Robert Shaw) to investigate their findings, but run afoul of a drug kingpin (Lou Gossett, Jr.) who wants the morphine for himself, and will do anything -- including terrorizing Bisset and Nolte to get it.

THE DEEP (***, 124 mins., 1977, PG; Sony) is certainly a gorgeous looking movie: from the sumptuous location shooting and wide Panavision lensing by Christopher Challis to John Barry's romantic, dreamy score, this is the kind of picture that basically loses most of its appeal when viewed outside its theatrical dimensions. The story and characters are mostly half-baked, but it's fun to watch Shaw at work in another Benchley adaptation (happily he doesn't suffer the same fate as Quint!), while Bisset was never lovelier than here and Eli Wallach is amusing in a supporting role as the sole survivor from the Goliath, the doomed WWII vessel. Yet it's really the movie's underwater photography (supervised by veterans Al Giddings and "Blue Water, White Death"'s Stan Waterman among others) and Barry's score that make the film as casually entertaining as it is.

While not the box-office smash that its makers intended, the picture was nevertheless a big hit upon initial release, ranking 7th on the ‘77 box-office charts, and establishing Bisset's wet T-shirt sequences as some of the era's more indelible imagery if nothing else.

The film's reputation over the years hasn't been helped by most of its video releases: a letterboxed laserdisc was only released as a limited Pioneer Special Edition in 1991, while a promised 3-hour cut of the movie was announced for laser but canceled in 1995. Sony did offer an early 16:9 DVD of "The Deep," but withdrew that release as well, replacing it with a lousy pan-and-scan only disc that's long been a bargain bin staple.

All of that makes this week's Blu-Ray release of "The Deep" so satisfying: with a brilliant new AVC encoded transfer, the movie's visuals have been restored to a level unseen since its initial theatrical release, heightening the film's pleasures at every turn. The early Dolby Stereo soundtrack is also surprisingly effective in the disc's Dolby TrueHD mix, particularly when Barry's disco-rendition of the main theme plays over the closing credits.

Likewise satisfying is that Sony has gone the extra mile and included several extras that ought to be highly appealing for aficionados of the film. Roughly half of the excised sequences that were restored to NBC's two-night, expanded 1980 broadcast of the film are on-hand here, and in full 1080p to boot. These bits include the original prologue to the film (showing the sinking of the Goliath) and added character sequences as well. There's also a terrific 1977 TV special, "The Making of ‘The Deep'," that even opens with the old "A CBS Special Presentation" logo! Narrated by Robert Shaw, this is the kind of old-fashioned fluff filler they just don't make anymore, mixing ample (and awful-looking) film clips with vintage, archival on-set footage.

While I still would have preferred to see the full three-hour cut of "The Deep" surface at long last (that the added sequences all look terrific in 1080p only makes you more disappointed they didn't restore the whole thing), this is nevertheless one of the better catalog Blu-Rays I've seen this year, and comes strongly recommended for content-starved BD owners.

Sony has another vintage ‘70s title headed to Blu-Ray this month: Alan Parker's powerful, acclaimed 1978 thriller MIDNIGHT EXPRESS (***, 121 mins., R; Sony), the true story of young American tourist Billy Hayes' nightmarish experience in a Turkish prison after he's found guilty of trying to smuggle hashish back home. Well-acted by Brad Davis (as Hayes), John Hurt, Randy Quaid, and Paul Smith, memorably scored by Giorgio Moroder (who took home the Oscar), and suspenseful at every turn, "Midnight Express" boasts a superb Oliver Stone script that keeps you hooked from start until the film's triumphant finish, in spite of some liberties that were apparently taken with the actual story that inspired it.

Sony's "Midnight Express" Blu-Ray comes in the form of a hard-bound "Digibook" with glossy photos and extensive booklet notes from Alan Parker himself. Parker isn't afraid to divulge all kinds of fascinating backstage stories, from how he initially wanted Vangelis to score the movie, going so far as to temp the entire film around Vangelis' music, until the Casablanca FilmWorks production outfit "politely" asked him for a seemingly more commercial alternative (as Parker notes, Vangelis' recording career took off quite nicely, particularly after "Chariots of Fire" won its Oscars in 1981).

The disc also boasts a commentary from Parker, a Making Of featurette, three new retrospective segments, and a photo gallery. Visually the AVC-encoded 1080p transfer is satisfying enough, while the Dolby TrueHD audio track does a fine job rendering Moroder's moody electronic sounds (the original mono mix is also on-hand here).

Upcoming Horrors

THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT DVD and Blu-Ray (**½, 102 mins., 2009, PG-13/Unrated; Lionsgate): Surprise box-office hit from this past spring arrives on both DVD and Blu-Ray next week from Lionsgate.

This supposedly based-on-true-events tale is a decently constructed effort on the part of director Peter Cornwell, who initially attempts to tell a classically constructed ghost story...at least at the outset, where a family moves to the Connecticut suburbs to get treatment for their son's cancer, only to run afoul of spirits and other supernatural forces who conspire to possess the same teenager (Kyle Gallner). Unfortunately things go downhill once we find out the who and the why behind the haunting, with an overly graphic, completely unnecessary display of gore along the way.

Despite its unpleasantness (though what else can you expect from a Lionsgate genre release these days?), the early-going of "The Haunting in Connecticut" is sufficiently creepy, the performances uniformly fine (from Gallner to Virginia Madsen as the mother and Elias Koteas as a cancer-stricken priest) and comes recommended for fright fanatics in spite of its shortcomings.

Lionsgate's Blu-Ray offers both the PG-13 rated and Unrated versions of the film in fine AVC encoded transfers, backed by DTS Master Audio soundtracks, while an array of supplements includes a profile of the "real" haunting, commentary, a Making Of featurette, deleted scenes, the trailer and other extras, along with a digital copy for your portable media players.

THE UNBORN Blu-Ray (*½, 89 mins., 2009, PG-13/Unrated; Universal): Laughably bad horror outing from writer-director David S. Goyer, making his second directorial stumble after the okay teen thriller "The Invisible."

Odette Yustman plays a young woman haunted by the spirit of her dead, unborn twin brother, who has taken up residence in the body of a young neighbor -- but that's not all. Yustman's grandmother, a Holocaust survivor (Jane Alexander, from the How Low Have We Sunk Dept. Part 1), spins a yarn that she battled the same demonic presence back in Auschwitz, with Nazi genetic experimentation to blame! Good thing rabbi Gary Oldman (How Low Have We Sunk Dept. Part 2) is on-hand to help Yustman battle a non-creepy succession of creatures including a dog with a spinning head and the little kid with freaky pupils.

Director Goyer spices "The Unborn" with a bevy of special effects, but the movie is so stilted and ridiculous -- even for this genre -- it's impossible to keep a straight face through it all. Idris Elba and James Remar likewise pop up, as does Carla Gugino, who had the good sense not to take a major credit on this one. Perhaps they all owed Goyer a favor?

Universal's Blu-Ray edition of "The Unborn" does offer a crisp, terrific AVC encoded transfer with DTS Master Audio sound. Minimal extras include deleted scenes in HD and both unrated and PG-13 theatrical versions of the film itself.

MESSENGERS 2: THE SCARECROW DVD (94 mins., 2009, R; Sony): Made-for-video prequel to the moderately successful Ghost House Pictures-produced "Messengers" takes us back to a quaint North Dakota farm where owner John Rollins (Norman Reedus) tries to change his family's fortunes by placing a scarecrow in the fields to overlook his crops. Unfortunately for him, things go south once the Scarecrow is taken over by an eerie force surrounding his property and all kinds of shenanigans ensue.

This is a watchable but still pedestrian small-screen follow-up, competently helmed by Martin Barnewitz and written by genre vet Todd Farmer ("Jason X," this year's "My Bloody Valentine 3-D"). While Joe LoDuca contributes a solid score and the performances are adequate, it's the material that's awfully familiar here.

Sony's DVD will be available on July 21st and includes a fine 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound and commentary from Barnewitz and Farmer.

"REC" DVD (**½, 78 mins., 2007, R; Sony): Before it was remade as the inferior "Quarantine," filmmaker Jaume Balaguero collaborated with co-writer Paco Plaza for this short but effective slice of Spanish terror.

The plot is similar to its subsequent U.S. remake, with a TV reporter (Manuel Velasco) called to the scene of an emergency while producing a documentary on firefighters. There the group finds more than they bargained for with zombified apartment building residents and all kinds of chaos going on. Well-directed but somewhat undernourished dramatically (it runs under 80 minutes with credits), "Rec" is still worth a view, particularly now that Sony has brought it stateside with an official North American release.

The DVD offers a 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks in either Spanish (English subtitled) or English (dubbed), with one Making Of featurette comprising the supplemental side.

HORSEMEN DVD (**, 90 mins., 2009, R; Lionsgate): Michael Bay co-produced this unreleased thriller starring Dennis Quaid as a detective investigating a series of murders connected both to himself and his wife's death. Ziyi Zhang and Peter Stormare appear in woefully under-written (and brief) supporting roles in this good-looking but disappointing, humorless attempt to replicate the thrills of "Seven," right down to the murders being committed in a bizarre, riutalistic manner -- here, in the vein of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Jan A.P.

Kaczmarek adds a solid score as well, but with all the talent involved and the film bypassing a theatrical release altogether, it's unsurprising that the finished product is a mess on several levels. Lionsgate's good-looking DVD of "Horsemen" includes a commentary from director Jonas Akerlund, deleted scenes, a 16:9 (1.78) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Also New on Blu-Ray

SPACEBALLS Blu-Ray (**½, 96 mins., 1987, PG; MGM/Fox): I've never been overly fond of Mel Brooks' 1987 "Star Wars" spoof, which seemed to come years after the fact and boasts  far more misfired gags than infrequent moments of inspiration. In fact, Ernie Fosselius' 1978 short "Hardware Wars" is five times funnier in 15-minute duration than Brooks is here in an at-times labored 96 minutes.

That being said, "Spaceballs" is at least cheerful and offers a terrific John Morris score, which helps you gloss over its painfully unfunny characters (like John Candy's Chewbecca-inspired "man dog" Barf and Joan Rivers' take on C3PO) and the lesser moments of Brooks' script, which he co-wrote with Thomas Meehan and Ronny Graham. (I'll give them credit for John Hurt's cameo, however, which WAS hilarious).

 MGM's "Spaceballs" Blu-Ray offers all the extras from its prior two-disc Special Edition DVD, including commentary from Brooks and several featurettes, plus photo galleries and original trailers (which list John Candy and Rick Moranis as "guest stars"). The BD's AVC encoded transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack are both highly satisfying.

THE PINK PANTHER 2 Blu-Ray (*½, 89 mins., 2009, PG; MGM/Fox): As a sign of how lazy this sequel to Steve Martin's inexplicably successful remake of "The Pink Panther" is, the producers couldn't even stretch their minds to come up with a more thrilling title than..."The Pink Panther 2." It's all the evidence you need to know that this depressing sequel is yet another misfire, squandering talent from Martin and Jean Reno to Alfred Molina and Andy Garcia, in a pedestrian caper comedy that's unlikely to satisfy anyone except undemanding seven-year-olds. Lily Tomlin, meanwhile, puts in a worthless cameo that will only remind adults of her earlier, acclaimed ‘80s teaming with Martin ("All of Me"), while Kevin Kline had the good sense to bypass returning to essay Chief Inspector Dreyfuss, leaving John Cleese to sleepwalk through the role -- and not even attempt a French accent! MGM's Blu-Ray disc offers as satisfying a package as can be expected, with a superb AVC encoded transfer, DTS Master Audio soundtrack, bonus disc of 27 Pink Panther classic cartoon shorts (in standard def) and a digital copy for portable media players all on tap.

12 ROUNDS Blu-Ray (**, 108 mins., 2009, PG-13/Unrated; Fox): Renny Harlin might've lost the Midas touch long ago, but he's back in at least watchable form in this box-office flop starring former wrestling star John Cena, essaying a New Orleans cop who has to solve 12 puzzles from a nefarious criminal in order to save his girlfriend. Nothing too exciting or fresh here, but it's a decent action fest that looks good in HD, with Fox's Blu-Ray disc offering a fine AVC encoded transfer typical for the studio along with DTS Master Audio sound, an unrated version of the movie, two alternate endings, commentaries from Harlin, Cena and writer Daniel Kunka, several featurettes including a look at Trevor Rabin's score, and a digital copy for portable media players.

BURN NOTICE Season 2 Blu-Ray (684 mins., 2008-09; Fox): Jeffrey Donovan is back as ex-CIA op Michael Westen in this top-rated cable series, which just premiered its third season on USA to strong ratings. Fox's Season 2 BD edition of "Burn Notice" offers 16 episodes all in razor-sharp AVC encoded 1080p (1.78) transfers with DTS Master Audio soundtracks, commentaries, deleted scenes, a featurette with series creator Matt Nix, a gag reel and other goodies.

STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI Blu-Ray (*½, 97 mins., 2009, PG-13/Unrated; Fox): Once in a while you come across one of those deliriously ridiculous cinematic misfires that you know you can't in good conscience recommend, yet have a hard time turning off. Such is the case with this bizarre spin-off of sorts from the "Street Fighter" video game, which last appeared on-screen in the forgettable (but slightly entertaining) 1994 Van Damme vehicle of the same name. "The Legend of Chun-Li" gives "Smallville"'s Lana Lang, Kristin Kreuk, an odd vehicle to launch her big-screen career, with the actress essaying a piano prodigy who becomes a kung-fu master in order to avenge her father's death.

Andrzej Bartkowiak's career as a director ("Romeo Must Die," "Doom") has been a lot less distinguished than his former work as a cinematographer ("Terms of Endearment," "Prizzi's Honor," "Speed"), and the Justin Marks script for this "Street Fighter" is completely absurd. Yet the movie isn't without its charms, both intended and unintentional, with Kreuk doing some karate chops and Chris Klein proving to be unbelievably bonkers as an Interpol agent. It's not good cinema, but bad movie lovers are likely to get their fill of entertainment with this one nevertheless. Fox's Blu-Ray disc looks terrific with its AVC encoded transfer, two different cuts of the movie (PG-13 and unrated), commentary, deleted scenes, a trivia track, numerous featurettes, a digital copy disc for portable media players, and the full-length animated movie "Street Fighter Round One: Fight!" also included for good-measure.

AIR FORCE ONE Blu-Ray (***, 124 mins., 1997, R; Sony): Harrison Ford doesn't exactly do anything in this 1997 box-office hit that we haven't seen before, but as an entry into the ‘90s "Die Hard"/"Cliffhanger" action genre, this piece of entertaining fluff works well enough.

 Director Wolfgang Petersen does a commendable job not getting involved with traditional Hollywood political sentiment in this comic-book action thriller, as terrorist Gary Oldman (an often sympathetic bad guy) takes over A.F.O. in order to get an imprisoned Russian military general ("Das Boot"'s Jurgen Prochnow in an unbilled role) out from behind bars. The set-pieces aren't overly spectacular or original (the film's concluding piece is right out of "Cliffhanger" in fact), but as a formulaic programmer, you could do a lot worse. With Wendy Crewson as the first lady, William H.Macy as a military officer, Dean Stockwell as the Chief of Staff, Glenn Close (unbilled) as the Vice President, and a bevy of computer-generated effects adding to the formula. Jerry Goldsmith also chips in a solid enough score that's far from his best,  but is at least superior to the somewhat underwhelming action scores he was writing around the same period ("Executive Decision," "US Marshals," "Chain Reaction," etc).

 Sony's Blu-Ray of "Air Force One" includes a satisfying AVC encoded transfer with Dolby TrueHD audio and Petersen's original commentary track from the prior DVD.

SHARK WEEK: THE GREAT BITES COLLECTION Blu-Ray (2008, aprx. 6 hours; Image): The Discovery Channel's annual all-shark extravaganza is about to kick off its latest rendition next month. In the meantime, why not gear up for another round of Great White mania with this first Blu-Ray edition of prior "Shark Week" specials. This single-disc offering from Discovery and Image includes relatively recent documentaries "Surviving Sharks" (with "Survivorman"'s Les Stroud), "How Not to Become Shark Bait," "Mysteries of the Shark Coast," "Mythbusters: Shark Special 2," "Day of the Shark," "Dirty Jobs: Greenland Shark Quest," plus "bonus" shows "Shark Attack Files IV: Summer of the Shark," "Dirty Jobs: Jobs That Bite," and "Dirty Jobs: Jobs That Bite...Harder." The 1080i transfers and DTS Master Audio tracks are all fine, making for a solid anthology of recent "Shark Week" shows. Hopefully the label will look into the possibility of releasing some of the superior, older "Shark Week" documentaries in HD in the near future.

THE EDGE OF LOVE Blu-Ray (**½, 111 mins., 2008, R; Image): Director John Maybury's period romantic drama about two women (Sienna Miller, Keira Knightley) whose lives intersect with charismatic poet Dylan Thomas (Matthew Rhys) while Knightley's husband (Cillian Murphy) is off fighting in WWII failed to find a major distributor on this side of the Atlantic. Despite mixed reviews overseas, "The Edge of Love" is quite watchable with fine cinematography from Jonathon Freeman and original Angelo Badalamenti score, and Image's Blu-Ray disc captures it all with a fine HD transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack. Extras include a commentary with Maybury and Rhys, plus outtakes, a Making Of featurette, and the original trailer.

KICKBOXER Blu-Ray (**, 97 mins., 1989, R; Lionsgate): Early Van Damme vehicle pits JCVD as the brother of a kickboxing champion who vows revenge after his sibling is paralyzed in a ruthless Thailand competition. Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray edition of this formulaic yet competent actioner is light on extras (actually, it has none whatsoever!) but does offer a fine 1080p transfer with DTS Master Audio sound.

New From Criterion

Al Reinert's 1989 chronicle of the Apollo missions, FOR ALL MANKIND (***½, 80 mins., 1989), has been re-issued by the Criterion Collection this month in a gorgeous new DVD edition, just in time for the 40th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 flight -- the first manned lunar mission.

Beautifully restored and transferred in HD (and presented in its original full-screen 1.33 aspect ratio and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound), "For All Mankind" offers gorgeous NASA documentary footage and Brian Eno's superb, evocative soundtrack, making it an essential chronicle of the Apollo missions and one of the finest films of its kind ever made.

Criterion's new DVD offers commentary featuring Reinert and Apollo 17 commander Eugene Cernan; a brand-new documentary offering interviews with Reinert, Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean, and numerous NASA archive specialists, who discuss the creation of the film; on-screen interviews with 15 other Apollo astronauts; a new video program on Bean's artwork; NASA archival audio highlights and liftoff footage; optional on-screen identifications of astroanuts and mission control specialists during the picture; and a booklet sporting essays from critic Terrence Rafferty and Reinert.

Also new from Criterion this month are a pair of mid ‘60s works from Jean-Luc Godard:

1966's MADE IN U.S.A. (85 mins.) offers Anna Karina in one of Godard's most eclectic works of the period, beautifully restored here in 16:9 (2.35) with interviews with Karina and co-star Laszlo Szabo; a video piece from Godard biographers Richard Brody and Colin McCabe on the film's political and personal elements; a visual essay "cataloging the multiple pop-culture references in the film"; trailers; new subtitles; and an essay from J. Hoberman.

 2 OR 3 THINGS I KNOW ABOUT HER (87 mins.) followed in 1967 and stars Marina Vlady as a Parisian housewife who lives a double-life as a hooker in order to make extra money. Another study of the era's political and socio-economic culture with Godard injecting his own point of view throughout, "2 or 3 Things I Know About Her" offers another dreamy 16:9 (2.35) widescreen transfer with commentary from film scholar Adrian Martin; archival television interviews with Vlady and Godard; a new conversation with one of Godard's friends from the ‘60s; another visual essay "cataloging the multiple references in the film"; the trailer; new subtitle translations; and an essay from critic Amy Taubin, as well as the original letter that formed the basis for the picture.

New TV on DVD

Even if the upcoming "G.I. Joe" movie is a total misfire (and it's entirely possible give the unintentional yucks served up by its theatrical trailers), at least we can be thankful that its very existence has enabled Shout! Factory to package a brand-new Special Edition of the original G.I. JOE ANIMATED SERIES (1983-84, 8 hours), which hits stores next week.

Similar to Shout!'s recent DVD of the "Transformers"' first season, this deluxe release sports the entire first season of the Marvel Productions-Hasbro cartoon in new transfers, spread across a four-disc set.

The original "Knowing Is Half The Battle" public service announcements are on-hand here, along with an interview with writer Ron Friedman, archival Hasbro toy commercials, a printable script for the episode "Jungle Trap," and the original 1963 Hasbro Toy Fair Presentation reel of "G.I. Joe."

Fans should note that Shout! is also offering a deluxe, limited "footlocker" package of the entire series with a 60-page book and exclusive extras that's available for pre-sale direct from www.gijoecollectorsset.com (cost is $145, and will also be available from retailers like Amazon later on this year).

Another big release due out from A&E/NewVideo is the deluxe Mega-Set of AGATHA CHRISTIE: POIROT & MARPLE, boasting 21 entries of the David Suchet and Joan Hickson Christie adaptations.

On the Poirot side are "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd," "Lord Edgware Dies," "Murder in Mesopotamia," "Evil Under the Sun," "Death on the Nile," "Sad Cypress," "The Hollow," "Five Little Pigs," "The Mystery of the Blue Train," "Taken at the Flood," "After the Funeral," and "Cards on the Table." From the Marple stable come "A Caribbean Mystery," "The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side," "Sleeping Murder," "4:50 From Paddington," "The Moving Finger," "At Bertram's Hotel," "Murder at the Vicarage," "Nemesis," and "They Do It With Mirrors."

All of these productions have been released on DVD before, but the amount of material packed on these 17 discs is quite appealing for the price, while the transfers and soundtracks are all superior to the first DVDs I recall seeing of several of these shows. Extras, meanwhile, include bios of Christie and the stars, plus a complete index of all Poirot and Marple mysteries.

MAD MEN, Season 2 DVD & Blu-Ray (611 mins., 2008; Lionsgate): Matthew Weiner's acclaimed AMC series is finally ready to start Season 3, so viewers who missed out on "Mad Men"'s uneven but still undeniably compelling and brilliantly performed Season 2 now get the chance to see it in gorgeous 1080p transfers courtesy of Lionsgate's Blu-Ray edition.

The BD multi-disc set is chock full of extras, from cast and crew commentaries on all 13 episodes, to a look at the birth of theb‘60s "Independent Woman" in a multi-part featurette, plus a music sampler and an interactive time capsule of important ‘60s events. Lionsgate's standard DVD offers limited edition packaging with 16:9 (1.78) transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks, plus the same extras.

THE GIRLS NEXT DOOR Season 5 DVD (2008-09, 390 mins.; Fox): It's the end of an era for this E! "reality series," following the adventures of Playmates Holly, Bridget and Kendra with the occasional appearance by old man "Hef," in this fifth and seemingly final season of "The Girls Next Door." Fox's DVD includes every episode of the series' fifth season (16 altogether) minus the show's finale, with full-screen transfers, stereo soundtracks, commentaries and deleted scenes all on-hand.

REBA Season 6 DVD (2006-07, 269 mins.; Fox): Reba McEntire's long-running WB/CW series came to a close in 2007 with its sixth and final season. Fox's DVD box-set sports the show's final 13 episodes in full-screen transfers and with 2.0 Dolby Stereo soundtracks.

THE STATE: Complete Series (1993-95, 514 mins.; MTV/Paramount): Fans have been clamoring for years to get their hands on an official release of this at-times hilarious MTV sketch comedy series, and now Paramount has delivered the goods with a tremendous box-set compiling the entire three-season run (1993-95) of "The State."

Kevin Allison, Michael Ian Black, Robert Ben Garant, Todd Holobek, Michael Patrick Jann, Kerri Kenney, Thomas Lennon, Joe Lo Truglio, Ken Marino, Michael Showalter and David Wain comprised the cast of "The State," which garnered a good amount of fans, but not enough viewers for the show to last beyond its two-year run on MTV (most reviews, meanwhile, were mixed, if not downright dismissive). Obviously personal taste dictates how funny you'll find these alternately silly or incisive bits to be, but for the most part, I found "The State" to be more consistently amusing, at least, than anything I've seen from Saturday Night Live, MadTV, or any other related shows in recent years, with a talented cast and frequently strong writing.

Paramount's DVD is worth the wait for "State" fans. In addition to the series' entire run, the DVD includes commentaries, interviews, and a bonus disc offering 90 minutes of unaired sketches, the pilot episode, some hilarious promos from the show's broadcast, outtakes and more. While there have obviously been some substantial musical alterations (discussed up front in the booklet notes), this set comes highly recommended!

RENO 911! Season 6 DVD (330 mins., 2009; Comedy Central/Paramount): More antics with the ensemble cast of "Reno 911!" comprise this sixth season of the Comedy Central series, which Paramount is bringing to DVD this month in uncensored form. The studio's Season 6 DVD set includes extended outtakes and commentararies, plus widescreen transfers and stereo soundtracks.

LEVERAGE: Season 1 (2008-09, 584 mins.; Paramount): Timothy Hutton plays an ex-insurance investigator turned high-tech "Mission: Impossible" like spy as he leads a team of con artists, ex-cons and computer geeks in seeking justice against corporate and governmental injustices. Season 1 of this TNT series, which garnered solid ratings during its initial broadcasts last year, hits DVD in a fine package from Paramount, offering all 13 episodes in widescreen transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks, plus extras including behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes and more.

VAN WILDER FRESHMAN YEAR DVD (100 mins., 2009, Unrated; Paramount): Who knew that Ryan Reynolds' "Van Wilder" would spawn an unlikely series of sequels – first in the form of Kal Penn's disastrous spin-off "The Rise of Taj" and now this ridiculous (of course) "prequel" with Jonathan Bennett as a young Van, trying to sexually liberate Coolidge College's chastity-vowing females. Paramount's DVD is packed with extras, including a commentary with director Harv Glazer and cast members, bloopers, featurettes and other extras. The disc boasts a 16:9 (1.78) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound as well.

FIVE FINGERS DVD (98 mins., 2006, R; Lionsgate): Ryan Phillippe plays a Dutch pianist (!) attacked by terrorists in Morocco in this barely-screened flop from co-star and producer Laurence Fishburne. Lionsgate's DVD includes a trivia track and Making Of featurette, plus a 16:9 (1.78) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack.

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