8/12/08 Edition -- The AISLE SEAT BLOG Is Also Live

August Assault Edition
Huge BLU-RAY spectacular
Plus: LONESOME DOVE returns

One of the singular greatest achievements in television history, Simon Wincer’s 1989 adaptation of Larry McMurtry’s LONESOME DOVE (RHI/Genius Products) hits Blu-Ray for the first time  in a beautifully mounted -- yet sadly flawed -- new high-def presentation.

Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones are each brilliant as Texas Rangers Gus McRae and Woodrow Call, who endure a series of hardships as they move a heard of cattle from Texas to Montana. One of the finest casts ever assembled for a television production backs them up: Anjelica Huston, Diane Lane, Robert Urich, Danny Glover, Frederic Forrest, Ricky Schroeder, D.B. Sweeney, Steve Buscemi, and Chris Cooper all appear in supporting turns, while technical credits are equally adept. From Basil Poledouris’ eloquent, moving score -- one of his finest -- to Doug Milsome’s phenomenal cinematography, “Lonesome Dove” has production values superior to many feature westerns, but also benefits from a story that unfolds beautifully over the course of its four parts, allowing for character development and a sense of emotion that packs a wallop in its concluding moments. The script, adapted by Bill Wittliff from McMurtry’s book, offers an ending that’s as moving as anything you’ll likely to see.

“Lonesome Dove” was originally broadcast on CBS in the winter of 1989 to universal acclaim and massively high ratings that exceeded all expectations. While a succession of sequels and prequels have followed over the years -- from the “unofficial” 1993 mini-series “Return to Lonesome Dove” to last year’s disappointing “Comanche Moon,” also directed by Wincer -- none compare with the human drama, adventure and performances of the original.

Genius Products’ Blu-Ray edition of “Lonesome Dove” crops the mini-series’ original 4:3 full-screen aspect ratio for 16:9, and regrettably, it’s a huge mistake. From a compositional standpoint the original blocking of the production is thrown off balance -- at one point Tommy Lee Jones’ horse can’t even be seen in close-up! -- with picture area being cut primarily from the bottom of the frame. Little new information is added to the sides, while a bit more is cut from the top. It all results in an image that’s been compromised from its intended presentation, seemingly for the sake of placating HDTV owners who want their televisions filled with picture content -- much in the same way that widescreen movies, ironically, used to be panned-and-scanned for 4:3 full-screen ratios in the days of standard-definition sets. (Wincer does state that the show was screened for critics on a theater screen, and that this negative allowed them to present the series in 16:9, yet it still doesn’t tell us that the intended aspect ratio was anything other than 4:3. More over, why didn’t they just include the full picture area that was shot without having to crop out any section of the picture?).

It’s a massive disappointment because, otherwise, the image is crisp and clear, superior to any regular version of “Lonesome Dove” I’ve seen before, while the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack gently re-channels the original mono broadcast for stereo. It’s not a dynamic mix but it’s still an improvement on the limited fidelity of the original soundtrack (CBS originally broadcast the series in fake stereo as memory serves). Extras are mainly recycled from prior video editions, including a Making Of and separate cast and crew interviews, though there’s a recent 15 minute discussion with Wincer also on-hand.

Despite the decent amount of extras and superb technical presentation, the framing obscures an otherwise superb package.

Also New on Blu-Ray

Last time we covered the forthcoming standard DVD edition of TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES (Warner, 2008, 394 mins.), a briskly-paced, surprisingly good series that doesn’t so much tie in with the later “Terminator” sequels as it offers an “alternate universe” premise where Sarah Connor (Lena Headey) is alive and well and still trying to protect son John (Thomas Dekker) from another round of future assassins. This time out the duo are helped in their fight by a future Terminator who resembles a sexy young high school student, and is played quite effectively by Summer Glau (from the “Firefly” movie “Serenity”).

Packed with action and story lines that effectively work in various aspects of the “Terminator” mythos, Josh Friedman’s series steers clear of teasing the forthcoming “Terminator-Salvation” sequel (which will offer Christian Bale as John Connor) by having Sarah and John time travel as part of the show’s premise. This enables them to forget that “Terminator 3" happened and offers an “alternative” time line where the show can exist on its own terms.

For a weekly TV series, this Fox offering is top-notch with strong production values, good performances, a dash of humor and teen romance all added to the mix.

Warner’s Blu-Ray box set -- available on August 19th -- improves upon the regular DVD and includes the complete (albeit fairly short) first season (just nine episodes) of “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” in excellent VC-1 encoded transfers and standard 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks. The transfers are crisp and play off the series’ visuals, which are clearly above average for network TV. Extras are similar to the regular DVD edition and include three commentaries, a three-part documentary on the series’ production (here in high-definition), both a broadcast version and extended cut of the seventh episode “The Demon Hand,” cast audition tapes, deleted scenes, a gag reel and more.

THE COUNTERFEITERS: Blu-Ray (***, 95 mins., 2008, R; Sony): Excellent German film, based on a true story, follows Salomon Sorowitsch (Karl Markovichs), interred in a concentration camp during WWII, as he makes a deal with his German captors: help the army produce fake bank notes in exchange for a taste of freedom, or suffer the immediate consequences. Technically polished, engrossing and well acted, “The Counterfeiters” is a fine film that makes for a sterling Blu-Ray disc: Sony’s AVC-encoded transfer is sensational, while Dolby TrueHD audio backs up the film’s somewhat modest sound design. An excellent array of extras include commentary with director Stefan Ruzowitzky, deleted scenes, a Making Of, Q&A and interviews, and more. Recommended!

REDBELT: Blu-Ray (**½, 99 mins., 2008, R; Sony): David Mamet shifts gears a bit with this truly strange tale of a Jiu-Jitsu instructor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who spurns participating in “Mixed Martial Arts” tournaments out of respect for the art itself. Things change, though, once his cop buddy ends up damaging his studio in a shoot-out and Ejiofor has to fight in the ring -- leading to an underworld of promoters and movie stars who come into, and soon complicate, his life. “Redbelt” offers a weird cast of Mamet regulars (Joe Mantegna, wife Rebecca Pidgeon) plus “stars” like Tim Allen, and truthfully it’s a bit of a mess: though more “cinematic” than some of Mamet’s other filmmaking forays, the story is hard to believe and tries, unsuccessfully, to offer “something for everyone” in terms of mixing Mamet’s portrayal of characters on the edge with a more conventional “sports” sort of Hollywood film. Sony’s Blu-Ray edition does sport a nifty AVC-encoded transfer with Dolby TrueHD audio and numerous extras, including commentary with David Mamet and co-star Randy Couture, Behind the Scenes segments and BD-Live enabled features.

SMART PEOPLE: DVD and Blu-Ray (**½, 95 mins., 2008, R; Miramax): A washed-up college professor (Dennis Quaid) falls for a former student (Sarah Jessica Parker) in this amiable 2008 indie comedy. Thomas Haden Church is amusing as Quaid’s brother and Ellen Page is appealing in a pre-“Juno” turn as Quaid’s tart daughter -- it’s still fairly predictable (and the male leads sport some ungainly looking facial hair), but the Mark Jude Poirier script, under the direction of Noam Murro, allows the performers to colorfully embody their roles, resulting in a drama-edy mixing laughs with requisite “dramatic” moments. Buena Vista’s DVD includes a fine 16:9 (2.35) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital audio plus deleted scenes, commentary from the writer and director, bloopers/outtakes, and interviews with the cast. The Blu-Ray edition is unsurprisingly superior, containing the same supplemental package with an excellent AVC transfer and uncompressed PCM 5.1 sound.

NIXON: DVD and Blu-Ray (**, 213 mins., 1995, R; Buena Vista): Oliver Stone’s overblown, overlong, dramatically inert portrayal of Richard Nixon hits DVD and Blu-Ray in a new “Election Year” edition. A box-office bomb upon its original 1995 release, Stone’s all-star epic is repetitious in nature, offering a lead performance by Anthony Hopkins that’s as good as can be expected given the rambling nature of the Stone-Stephen J. Rivele-Christopher Wilkinson script; Joan Allen, meanwhile, was at the beginning of her long run of playing brittle, repressed, unhappy characters (to continue in “Pleasantville” and countless other films) in her starch performance as wife Pat. Even John Williams’ score is a disappointment, highlighted by one thunderous cue (heard in the trailers) but little else of note. Buena Vista’s new DVD and Blu-Ray editions include deleted scenes with Stone introductions; a Charlie Rose interview with the director; two different commentaries by Stone; the original trailer; and a new “Beyond Nixon” documentary by Sean Stone that’s predictably leftist in ideology and includes interviews with Gore Vidal among others.

HANNAH MONTANA & MILEY CYRUS: Best of Both Worlds 3-D (82 mins., 2008, G; Disney): I have to come clean: I absolutely, positively have no interest whatsoever in the whole “Hannah Montana” phenomenon. That’s not to say that I don’t understand the appeal -- it seems every generation has some kind of pop-music teen phenomenon, whether it’s Donny Osmond crooning about puppy love or Menudo gyrating to the strains of bad ‘80s synths. Clearly, something about Miley Cyrus and her Disney Channel alter-ego speak to the masses of “tweens” who flock to her concerts, buy her albums, watch her show and turned this pretty vanilla concert movie into a box-office smash ($65 million in domestic dollars). Disney’s Blu-Ray edition boasts a great-looking HD transfer of the “Best of Both Worlds” movie in both standard 2-D and 3-D, complete with a pair of small glasses. Obviously this is not the same 3-D you might’ve seen in theaters, with the movie being offered in the “old school” red-and-blue format that’s more of a novelty than anything else, but fans will likely be happy it’s on-hand. Additional songs and a “Backstage Personal Tour” round out the disc, which ought to please all young fans of Miley, Hannah, and the Jonas Brothers, who co-headline the concert.

New from Universal on Blu-Ray   

In their second month of Blu-Ray releases, Universal brings us U-571 (***½, 117 mins., 2000, PG-13), which hits Blu-Ray at the end of the month in a somewhat differently configured edition than its HD-DVD counterpart.

A movie that quietly made $80 million (and possibly more if the studio had supported the picture's advertising more during its theatrical run), director Jonathan Mostow's second feature is an improbable but highly entertaining WWII submarine thriller -- not a true story (as Europeans told everyone in a public outcry upon its 2000 release), but a composite of several different incidents that are used to create a rousing, old-fashioned patriotic programmer.

Mostow's first feature -- the Kurt Russell thriller "Breakdown" -- had plenty of thrills and prevented a close examination of its illogical plot holes by moving so quickly that viewers didn't think about the gaps in the script until they were driving home. This directorial trait serves him equally well in "U-571," a fast-paced, energetic action picture that plunges the viewer deep into combat and never lets up. The modest special effects, atmospheric cinematography, and adequate performances all help create a visceral sense of realism, even if the disappearance of several characters will leave you wondering about their absence when the movie is over.

Universal's Blu-Ray disc is an absolute winner when it comes to its sound design. The DTS-Master Audio mix is outstanding, much like its prior digital counterparts: the discreet rear channels are employed right from the get-go and the movie's intricate layering of sound will make this, hands down, one of the top demo discs to show off your home theater system. The VC-1 encoded transfer is likewise superb, capturing the movie's gritty cinematography without an abundance of grain or haze.

Offered on a 25gb disc, the “U-571" Blu-Ray includes Mostow’s commentary track but splits up the Making Of featurettes from the prior DVD/HD-DVD editions into separate “U-Control” interactive vignettes.

END OF DAYS: Blu-Ray (**, 123 mins., 1999, R, Universal): The “Governator” struck out at the box-office with this “End of the 20th Century” supernatural thriller, which has become somewhat of a guilty pleasure among fans for its outlandish action and unintentional humor. Schwarzenegger’s turn as a security guard who uncovers a plot that involves Robin Tunney bearing Satan’s child was a troubled production all the way, with director Peter Hyams coming in at the last minute to replace original helmer Marcus Nispel. The resulting film has solid special effects and loads of unintended yucks, including Arnold battling plump British character actress Miriam Margoyles (in the Billie Whitlaw “Omen” role!) and then trying to blow apart Gabriel Byrne’s Satan with a rocket launcher in the NYC subway. Somehow, this mess is now even more appealing in high-definition, where Universal’s 1080p-capable transfer is absolutely smashing: “End of Days” is one dark movie, and if anything, the Blu-Ray confirms that Hyams’ films may be due for a re-assessment now that there’s a format that can fully translate the filmmaker’s penchant for dim cinematography. Regrettably, outside of Hyams’ commentary track, all the extras from the prior DVD/HD-DVD editions have been dumped from this 25gb BD platter, which includes the same VC-1 encoded transfer from the HD-DVD and DTS Master Audio sound (in place of the HD-DVD’s Dolby TrueHD soundtrack).

MIAMI VICE: Blu-Ray (**½, 2006, 140 mins., Unrated; Universal): Michael Mann’s odd updating of his groundbreaking ‘80s TV series shares almost nothing in common with its predecessor outside of its title, creator, and lead character names. Crockett and Tubbs are here embodied by Colin Farrell (continuing his streak of box-office poison) and Jamie Foxx, respectively, who get wrapped up in Miami drug trafficking during their investigation of two federal agent killings. Good-looking cinematography is off-set somewhat by a meandering script that’s never as compelling as it ought to be; still, “Miami Vice” is watchable enough, particularly on Blu-Ray where Universal’s Unrated transfer is an appreciable upgrade on the standard-definition version. Presented on a dual-layer 50gb platter, “Miami Vice” is packed with extras on Blu-Ray, including U-Control functions and multiple featurettes, Mann’s commentary, a razor-sharp HD transfer and DTS Master Audio sound (the HD-DVD edition featured all of those but with Dolby Digital Plus sound).

Fox Blu-Ray & DVD Releases

DUDE, WHERE'S MY CAR? (***, 83 mins., 2001, PG-13; Fox): Nobody is ever going to expect this surprising 2001 box-office hit to appear on the AFI roster of the greatest comedies of all-time, but even I have to admit that Fox's brainless, energetic teen effort is amusing and sometimes quite funny. If nothing else, “Dude...” did for the year 2000 what "Bill & Ted" did for idiotic youth pictures in the late '80s and if appreciated on that level, offers enough pleasures for comedy fans.

Ashton Kutcher and Seann William Scott star as a pair of spaced-out party guys who can't remember last Saturday night. A search for their car ends up taking the duo on a quest that includes run-ins with bombshell Kristy Swanson (who you might have thought was too old for this genre a decade ago!), lovely sisters Jennifer Garner and Marla Sokoloff, and a religious zealot (former "Talk Soup" host Hal Sparks) whose outer-space worship suit consists entirely of bubble wrap!

At 83 minutes, “Dude” never wears out its welcome and includes plenty of moronic gags that hit the mark more often than not. Philip Stark's script and Danny Leiner's direction will not remind anyone of Tati, Chaplin, or Mel Brooks (on a good day), but suffice to say that if you're in the mood for a ridiculous teen comedy, the picture is a perfect fit.

Sadly, Fox’s Blu-Ray release must have been produced some time ago, as it’s a bare-bones 25gb disc with only the original trailer as an extra (the original DVD contained commentary, deleted scenes and other extras). The MPEG-2 transfer is fine and the DTS-MA soundtrack is likewise acceptable but dude, where are the supplements?

WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS: DVD & Blu-Ray (**, 101 mins., 2008, PG-13; Fox): Not-bad, if predictable, romantic comedy finds Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz as a couple of Vegas party goers who wake up to find themselves married with no knowledge of what happened; things get complicated once Kutcher wins a jackpot with Diaz’s coin, resulting in an array of shenanigans and the possibility that the duo might fall in love along the way. This lightweight romp opened the same weekend as the expensive Warner-Wachowski Brothers effort “Speed Racer,” but managed to ultimately outgross its far costlier competitor nearly by a 2:1 margin when all was said and done. “What Happens in Vegas” isn’t any great shakes but it’s cute enough for what it is, with Rob Corodry, Treat Williams and Dennis Miller offering some comedic support to the two leads. Both Fox’s 2-disc DVD and Blu-Ray edition include an extended cut of the film (by about two minutes) plus a digital copy of the picture on a separate disc for portable media players; commentary from director Tom Vaughan; deleted and extended scenes; a gag reel; and numerous Making Of featurettes. The DVD’s 16:9 (2.35) transfer is top-notch, as is the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, while the Blu-Ray disc contains an even sharper AVC-encoded transfer with DTS Master Audio “lossless” sound.

PRISON BREAK: DVD & Blu-Ray (568 mins., 2007-08; Fox): It looked like Fox’s previously high-rated Monday night prime time series had hit a wall once Wentworth Miller, Dominic Purcell and Co. escaped from the walls at Fox River, only to become imprisoned at an even-grimier facility in Panama. After a problematic second season, fans generally feel that “Prison Break” got back on track in Year 3, even though the show was impacted severely by the writer’s strike, producing only 13 episodes (that were apparently rushed) in the process. That said, fans of the series will enjoy Fox’s matching DVD and Blu-Ray editions: the standard DVD including an excellent 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital audio, while the Blu-Ray disc offers impressive, if a bit grainy, AVC-encoded transfers with superior DTS-Master Audio sound. Extras include an hour of special features comprised of four behind-the-scenes featurettes.

STREET KINGS: DVD & Blu-Ray (**, 109 mins., 2008, R; Fox): James Ellroy concocted this original story about a corrupt L.A. cop (Keanu Reeves) who becomes wrapped up, and implicated, in the murder of a fellow officer. Originally written back in the ‘90s as a sort-of commentary on the O.J. Simpson trial, Ellroy’s script was worked on by Kurt Wimmer and Jamie Moss en route to its eventual release as a box-office disappointment last spring. David Ayer’s film offers Reeves in a decent performance and Forest Whitaker as his difficult boss, but also an oddball supporting cast, from Hugh Laurie to a particularly miscast Jay Mohr and Cedric “No Longer the Entertainer” Kyles in a rare “serious” turn. The story is a bit of a mess but it’s the “twist” ending that really puts a damper on the picture, which still, up until the end, ought to please undemanding action fans on DVD (with its fine 16:9 transfer and 5.1 sound) and Blu-Ray (superb AVC encoded transfer and DTS Master Audio sound). Copious extras on both platforms include commentary from Ayer, an HBO First Look special, deleted scenes, trailers, alternate takes, Making Of featurettes and more.

NIM’S ISLAND: Blu-Ray (**½, 96 mins., 2008, PG; Fox): Cute if forgettable family film from the Walden Media stable adapts Wendy Orr’s children’s book, starring Abigail Breslin as a resourceful kid who lives on a beautiful tropical island with her scientist dad (Gerald Butler). After her father is lost at sea and tourists begin infesting their paradise, Breslin emails her favorite author (Jodie Foster), a recluse who nevertheless helps Nim save the island and her dad. Colorful settings and characters help make this Mark Levin-Jennifer Flackett directed effort fun for kids, though the story is basic and ultimately neither Foster nor Butler get much to do. Fox’s Blu-Ray disc is a winner, though, sporting a spectacular AVC encoded transfer that captures all the warm colors of Stuart Dryburgh’s cinematography. The DTS Master Audio soundtrack is robust, featuring a serviceable Patrick Doyle score, while copious extras include deleted scenes, commentaries, numerous featurettes, a trivia track and a pair of interactive games.

New From Paramount & CBS

SOUTH PARK Season 11 (2007, 308 mins., Paramount): Absolutely hilarious season for Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s long-running series boasts a number of all-time classics, including the three-part “Imaginationland” epic, the season-ending “The List,” the hilarious “Da Vinci Code” spoof in “Fantastic Easter Special,” a “24" satire in “The Snuke,” the all-out insanity of “Lice Capades,” and the memorable “Night of the Living Homeless.”

While I’ve always watched “South Park” infrequently over the years, the series recently has become even more topical and outrageous than ever before -- and also funnier as a result with new supporting characters and situations. If you haven’t seen the show in a while Season 11 is the perfect place to start, offering a fairly well balanced group of episodes that hit the mark more often than not.

Paramount’s Season 11 box-set includes “mini commentaries”, full-screen episodes, 2.0 Dolby Digital soundtracks and uncensored episodes.

KENNY VS. SPENNY: Season One (220 mins., 2007-08; Paramount): Trey Parker and Matt Stone are two of the executive producers of “Kenny Vs. Spenny,” a Comedy Central series about a pair of idiots who basically try and out-do one another in all sorts of rowdy gags. A little of this show goes a long way, but fans are urged to check out Paramount’s DVD box set, which includes the complete, uncensored first season in full-screen transfers. Extras include over 30 minutes of extras, from deleted scenes and commentary to a never-before-seen bonus competition.

AFFINITY (90 mins., 2008, Paramount): British/Canadian/US co-produced TV movie with Anna Madeley as a socialite who develops a relationship with a medium (Zoe Tapper) being incarcerated for a failed seance, and who might possibly hold supernatural powers. This stately costume drama with a lesbian twist unfolds at a leisurely pace but the performances are excellent. Paramount’s DVD includes a bonus scene and over 30-minutes of interviews, including an interview with Sarah Waters, who penned the original novel on which “Affinity” was based.

THE AMERICAN MALL (100 mins., 2008, Paramount): The producers of “High School Musical” brought us this MTV-broadcast original movie, a basic rip-off of its predecessor with Nina Dobrev as a teen whose mom owns a mall music store. She falls for the janitor who’s also (get this!) an aspiring musician, but the mall’s owners -- including their snobbish daughter (Autumn Reeser) -- decide that it might be time to shut down the “mom & pop” store Dobrey runs. Paramount’s DVD includes a 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, commentaries, deleted scenes, extended performances, music videos and other extras.

WAYSIDE SCHOOL: Season One (346 mins., 2008): Nelvana-produced animated series, based on Louis Sachar’s books, follows the trials and tribulations of students at a grammar school built 30 stories high. Paramount’s DVD includes the series’ first season with a bonus small paperback book of Sachar’s “Sideways Stories from Wayside School.”

TRANSFORMED ANIMATED: Season One (286 mins., 2007-08; Paramount): More animated action from the most recent incarnation of the Hasbro toy/movie heroes offers its first season in full-screen transfers, 2.0 Dolby Digital soundtracks and with a “Photo Gallery” sneak peek of the show’s upcoming second season.

DEXTER: Season 2 (11 hours, 2007; Paramount): Showtime-produced series recently gained more fans through its first-season episodes being aired (in edited form) on CBS. Paramount’s Season 2 box-set sports the complete second season of the oddball series about a serial killer (who’s the good guy) in 16:9 transfers with bonus episodes of other Showtime series including “The Tudors,” “Brotherhood” and “Californication.”

SON OF RAMBOW (**½, 95 mins., 2008, PG-13; Paramount): Cute, if superficial, British comedy about a pair of precocious young boys who team up to produce their own version of “Rambo II” during one long hot summer. Writer-director Garth Jennings’ period-set film has an awful lot of heart and plenty of laughs, but his script is simplistic and the picture ultimately lacks that “certain something” that could have made it into a genuine sleeper. As it is, “Son of Rambow” is still worth seeing, with Paramount’s DVD including commentary from the director, producer Nick Goldsmith and cast; Garth Jennings’ short movie “Aron”; a Making Of featurette; a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

I LOVE THE ‘80S DVDs (Paramount): Specially-packaged DVD editions of various ‘80s classics in the Paramount vault, including “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Footloose,” “Pretty in Pink,” “Top Gun,” And “Some Kind of Wonderful.” Low-priced and each packed with an ‘80s music sampler CD comprised of tracks from a-ha, INXS and others, though the discs are mostly older versions minus special features (“Ferris Bueller” includes John Hughes’ commentary, which was left off the subsequent DVD).

JOHN OLIVER: TERRIFYING TIMES (56 mins., 2008; Paramount): British comic John Oliver offers a mostly ‘80s retrospective in this hour-long, uncut stand-up special. Paramount’s DVD includes clips from Oliver’s appearances on “The Daily Show” plus a behind-the-scenes special on the concert’s taping, a 4:3 widescreen transfer and 2.0 Dolby Digital sound.

THE LOVE BOAT, Season 1 Vol. 2 (1978, 11 hours; CBS/Paramount): The final 12 episodes of “The Love Boat”’s first season hit DVD in another satisfying package from CBS and Paramount.

Episodes in this group include appearances by Kathy Bates, Bob Crane, Robert Hayes, Don Adams, Melanie Mayron, Stella Stevens, Adrienne Barbeau, Harold Gould, Karen Valentine, Stephanie Zimbalist, Scatman Crothers, Vicki Lawrence, Maureen McCormick, Frankie Avalon, Patty Duke Astin, Robert Urich, Harry Morgan, Leslie Nielsen, Michele Lee, Paul Williams, Annette Funicello, Jessica Walter, Gary Collins, Pat Morita, Eve Plumb, Antonio Fargas and John Schuck among others, in shows that aired between January and May of 1978.

Even better is that Paramount has included the third of the three “Love Boat” pilot movies that had been produced prior to the series’ proper run: “The New Love Boat” (aka “Love Boat III”) was the pilot that finally launched the series, introducing Gavin MacLeod as Captain Stubbing and the entire supporting cast in a standard two-hour framework that succeeded where its predecessors (which included different captains and supporting players) failed. The tone is decidedly more serious in nature than the series that followed, making it fascinating to see the program’s original genesis here. (Future “Love Boat” DVDs are slated to contain the first two pilot movies, which were even odder and MacLeod-less).

Paramount’s transfers and soundtracks are fine across the board.

New From Criterion

Following up “the Red Shoes,” the great British auteurs Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger went back to produce a small-scale, character-driven drama, the kind that marked the early portions of their collaborations together.

The resulting picture, THE SMALL BACK ROOM (107 mins., 1949), isn’t regarded as one of their best works, but it’s still highly entertaining and engrossing. In this adaptation of Nigel Balchin’s novel, David Farrar plays a scientist and bomb-disposal expert in 1943 England who’s recruited by the army to examine a top-secret German weapon, one which poses a threat to the men, women and especially children of the United Kingdom.

As much about Farrar’s personal demons (his drinking, artificial foot, and relationship with girlfriend Kathleen Byron), “The Small Back Room” is a highly recommended title for all fans of Powell and Pressburger, with Criterion’s forthcoming DVD offering a customary superb new transfer (full-screen black-and-white), commentary from film historian Charles Barr, a video interview with cinematographer Chris Challis, and excerpts from Michael Powell’s audio tape dictations for his autobiography.

Meanwhile, one of the more sought-after, discontinued Criterion titles will be re-issued in a brand new Special Edition later this month.

The film itself is also one of the more controversial titles in the Criterion catalog: SALO, OR THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM, the 1976 film from Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini that adapts the Marquis de Sade’s tome to 1944 Mussolini-regime Italy.

To put it lightly, “Salo” isn’t for every taste -- or, to be more precise, most tastes -- but those cinephiles who can appreciate what Pasolini is trying to do here (i.e. offer a commentary on society, sexual depravity and other torturous acts) will certainly appreciate Criterion’s new double-disc edition.

A restored 16:9 (1.85) transfer is on-hand with an optional English dubbed soundtrack, plus the trailer; “Salo Yesterday and Today,” a 33-minute documentary on the production; a 23-minute documentary, “Fade to Black,” on the film’s reputation and legacy, offering interviews with Bernardo Bertolucci among others; “The End of Salo,” a 40-minute production history; plus interviews with production designer Dante Ferretti and an extensive booklet with interviews and commentary. The disc also includes optional English subs and a mono soundtrack.

For those who feel that “Salo” is a classic, definitely check it out. All others proceed with caution, though there’s no denying the outstanding package Criterion has assembled here.

New Titles From Acorn Media

THE 2007 NEWPORT MUSIC FESTIVAL: Connoisseur’s Collection (Aprx. 15 hours; Acorn): One of the more wonderful times of year for those of us who live in southern New England is the annual Newport Music Festival, which arrives in the middle of July and offers several memorable weeks of classical music, performed by a huge array of international talents, primarily in the gorgeous mansions of Newport.

The music is sublime, the settings wonderful, and the tickets hugely inexpensive considering the quality of the event involved. It’s just a tremendous festival that lures tourists and music connoissuers from the region and all over the world.

If you can’t make the Festival, Acorn’s lavish 10-disc DVD box-set of last year’s program offers both highlights and full concerts. A broad variety of concerts include works by Chopin, Schubert, Liszt, Bach and others, with performers like festival favorite John Bayless (piano), the Colorado Quartet, pianists John Lenehan and newcomer Adam Golka, Craig Sheppard and many others.

Bonus performances from other concerts, superb 16:9 transfers and 5.1 soundtracks, plus commentaries by Festival director Dr. Mark Malkovich make this a spectacular release for festival fans and classical music lovers alike. Highly recommended!

ALFRESCO: Complete Series (13 episodes, 315 mins., Acorn): Granada’s ensemble comedy series helped to launch the careers of Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie and Robbie Coltrane. Hitting DVD later this month from Acorn Media, this irreverent British sketch series is a hit-or-miss affair, but it’s fascinating to see these performers working fearlessly in a well-worn genre that had been pioneered by Monty Python years before. Acorn’s DVD includes the complete Series 1 and 2 from “Alfresco” in acceptable full-screen transfers, with bonuses including a three-part “pilot” episode that launched the show.

ROBBIE COLTRANE’S INCREDIBLE BRITAIN (137 mins., 2008; Acorn): Enjoyable “reality” series finds the affable British actor/comedian traveling through the backroads of Britain, meeting with a succession of real people doing some appropriately incredible things (a “wing-walker” on planes, guys who play rugby with a beer keg, etc.). Laid-back and amusing, “Robbie Coltrane’s Incredible Britain” is just as engaging as you’d anticipate it being, with Coltrane good-natured throughout. Acorn’s DVD includes 16:9 transfers, a bio of Coltrane, and a “fun facts” map.

DVD Capsules

MISS CONCEPTION (**½, 94 mins., 2007, R; First Look Studios): Quite watchable British comedy stars Heather Graham -- forced accent in tow -- as a 33-year old who wants to have kids so badly she breaks up with her boyfriend and looks to alternative methods (from sperm donors to one-night stands) in order to make it happen. Eric Styles’ film doesn’t sound hilarious but it’s still fairly well-executed considering its direct-to-vid import status, with First Look’s DVD including a 16:9 transfer, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, and one behind-the-scenes featurette included.

FRANK (***, 90 mins., 2007, PG; First Look Studios): Appealing family film stars Jon Gries and Cynthia Watros (Libby on “Lost”) as parents with a dispirited teenage daughter and young son who encounter a loveable, but trouble-making, pooch with a heart of gold while on vacation. Writer Robin Bradford and director Douglas Cheney have fashioned a completely predictable yet entertaining movie for kids and adults that knows the standard formula for movies like this, but tries to mix things up with strong characterizations. It’s a pleasant surprise that First Look has brought to DVD in a satisfying presentation with a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Worth it for dog lovers and family audiences.

6 FILMS TO KEEP YOU AWAKE (456 mins., 2008; Lionsgate): Six indie horror films hit DVD in a double-disc package from Lionsgate, offering “Blame,” “Spectre,” “A Real Friend,” “A Christmas Tale,” “The Baby’s Room” and “To Let.” Making Of featurettes, 16:9 transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks are spread across this Lionsgate box-set edition.       

SUNSET TAN: Season One (250 mins., 2007; Lionsgate): E! Entertainment Television’s reality series follows the girls and guys of Sunset Tan as they look to bronze a broad group of clients from regular residents of 90210 to the occasional celebrity. It’s typical reality TV but fans will enjoy Lionsgate’s DVD box set, which offers 4:3 full-screen transfers, 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo soundtracks, deleted scenes, bonus interviews and a “Oily Girls’ Guide” featurette for do-it-yourself enthusiasts.

MULAN/MULAN II (88 and 79 mins., G, Disney): Double-feature packaging of the original “Mulan” 2-disc DVD set with its decent made-for-video sequel makes for an appealing release for families who haven’t owned them already. The original “Mulan” offers a 16:9 (1.66) transfer with deleted scenes, music videos and other Making Of content, while “Mulan II” includes another fine 16:9 (1.78) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, deleted scenes and several behind-the-scenes featurettes.

UFO HUNTERS: Season One (10 hours, 2008; A&E/New Video): The success of “Ghost Hunters” undoubtedly spurred on the creation of this A&E reality series, following a group of UFO experts who set out to prove or disprove a variety of cases across the fruited plain. Alas, “UFO Hunters” isn’t nearly as much fun as watching Jay and Grant pursue phantoms, EVPs and other ghosts, with a predictably wacky “team” who take soil samples and interview eyewitnesses about what they might have seen. It’s unsatisfying and quite tedious, even for UFO devotees. A&E’s box-set includes the complete first season of the series (13 episodes) in okay transfers and 2.0 Dolby Digital soundtracks with additional scenes also on-hand.

FAT ALBERT - THE HALLOWEEN SPECIAL (1978, 68 mins., Genius Products): Fat and the Gang are back on DVD in another edition of their prime-time network TV special, here coupled on DVD by Classic Media and Genius Products with two additional episodes (“The Prankster, “The Jinx”) from Bill Cosby’s immortal animated series.

THE BIG BANG THEORY Season 1 (2007-08, 355 mins., Warner): Popular CBS prime-time series hits DVD in a complete first season box-set from Warner. Johnny Galecki and Jim Parsons play a couple of science nerds whose relationship with a beautiful new neighbor (Kaley Cuoco) turns their regimented world upside down. From what I’ve sampled of the show “The Big Bang Theory” isn’t any great shakes but the series proved to be a solid addition to CBS’ Monday night line-up, and fans of the series will appreciate Warner’s fine DVD box-set, including 16:9 (1.78) transfers, 2.0 Dolby Digital soundtracks and one Making Of featurette.

NEXT TIME: More news and notes! 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!

Get Firefox!

Copyright 1997-2008 All Reviews, Site and Design by Andre Dursin