Seat Labor Day Edition! The Original GOJIRA, SUPERNATURAL and
SURFACE on DVD Plus: DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES Season 2,
Animation Wrap and More
Last season’s crop of sci-fi /fantasy TV series mostly failed
right out of the gate, with three of the more major disappointments
having already hit DVD (“Threshold,”
“Invasion,” and the particularly misguided reworking of
“The Night Stalker”).
Two of the series that met with more modest success, meanwhile, are
also now arriving on disc: NBC’s Spielberg-ian fantasy SURFACE (15
episodes, 10 hrs., 2005-06, Universal), which ran for a full
season with decent ratings, and the WB (now CW) series SUPERNATURAL (22
Episodes, aprx. 16 hours, 2005-06, Warner), which was the only
show of the five to survive to a sophomore season.
I had screened the pilot of “Surface,”
back when it was called “Fathom,” while on vacation at
Universal Studios Florida in May of 2005. The show was well-mounted
with solid production values, above-par special effects, and a
fast-evolving story line, and met with decent enough ratings,
especially among family viewers (the budget and advertising
demographic-challenged audience likely conspired to prematurely end the
series, in spite of those modestly successful ratings).
No doubt that “Surface” is a blatant rehash of Spielberg
blockbusters, most especially “E.T,.” “Close
Encounters” and “Jaws,” with its storyline of sea
monsters that mysteriously appear along global coastlines. Scientist
Lake Bell (who looks great in a bikini) and Roy Neary-esque Jay R.
Ferguson (completely obnoxious) ultimately trace the serpents’
origins to a government conspiracy, while a North Carolina teen finds
an orphaned monster, dubs him “Nim,” and secretly raises it
as his own.
I will say this for “Surface”: unlike the
methodically-paced “Invasion,” this series moves along at a
rapid-fire clip, with new characters and subplots being constantly
introduced and sometimes even resolved -- in the same episode! The
show’s almost complete lack of originality is partially off-set
by its execution and entertainment value, particularly for younger
viewers who (gasp!) may never have seen the films that it
rip-offs...or, to be politically correct, was “inspired by.”
“Surface” is a show that my cousin and his 10-year-old son
watched from start to end, and my guess is that it will have a devoted
cult following in time -- particularly now that Universal has issued
the series on DVD in a superb, four-disc box-set.
Containing all 15 episodes of the series in razor-sharp 16:9 transfers
and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, this is a solid DVD effort from Universal.
Extras are limited to various deleted scenes and a promo-flavored F/X
featurette, but the it’s the open-ended finale to the series that
may leave some viewers disappointed (perhaps the Sci-Fi Channel will
come to the rescue and finish the story line in a TV movie?).
“Supernatural,”meanwhile, is a tremendously
entertaining ride that ultimately proved to be the best of the five
genre shows from the 05-06 season.
Extremely well-mounted with top-quality production values across the
board, “Supernatural” follows the adventures of two
brothers (“Gilmore Girls” vet Jared Padalecki and
“Smallville” alumnus Jensen Ackles) fighting the
otherworldly while simultaneously tracking down their father
cross-country, who mysteriously disappeared while combating the evil
that claimed the life of their mother.
Co-produced by McG, Robert Singer and series creator Eric Kripke,
“Supernatural” started off heavy on the self-contained
episodes that rehash (however effectively) all sorts of cinematic
monsters -- especially restless evil spirits from beyond the grave.
Alas, you can only recycle “The Ring” so many times, and
midway through the year “Supernatural” began to enhance the
principal mythology behind their dad’s disappearance and -- in so
doing -- improve the series beyond the one-episode-and-out structure it
carries through its initial batch of shows. Don’t get me wrong:
even in its first group of episodes “Supernatural” is good
fun, but if you stick with it, the program settles into its own groove,
ending on a high note thanks to the terrific finale
Warner’s six-disc DVD box set of “Supernatural”
offers the series’ 22 first-season episodes in excellent 16:9
transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks. Since my local cable
carrier’s WB affiliate looks like a distant UHF channel
you’d try and tune in during the late ‘70s, these DVD
transfers are immeasurably better than how I watched the series last
season (thankfully I’m on the HDTV bandwagon now, so that
shouldn’t be an issue for Season 2!).
The soundtracks, meanwhile, are sufficiently boisterous with both a
well-selected batch of rock tracks and original scores provided by
Christopher Lennertz among others (unlike some other WB series, the
songs actually fit the action more often than not).
Extras aren’t overly abundant but will be appreciated by fans:
two fun featurettes, a gag reel, still gallery, episode deleted scenes,
and two commentary tracks round out a release that’s highly
recommended for genre fans who might have missed the steady improvement
“Supernatural” displayed last season. Check it out! The Original Gojira
Finally Arrives in the U.S.
It’s taken decades -- far too long for most Toho fanatics -- but
on September 5th Classic Media (distributed by Sony/BMG) will release
the long-awaited, original Japanese version of GODZILLA,
formally entitled GOJIRA, for
the very first time in North America.
The hardbound packaged, DVD double-disc set offers both the 98-minute
original version of Ishiro Honda’s 1954 monster masterwork with
English subtitles, as well as its faster-paced, pulpier American
King of the Monsters,” which was released in 1956 with
much footage excised and newly-shot inserts with Raymond Burr (as U.S.
reporter Steve Martin) inserted to give the movie local appeal.
Kaiju fans have raved for years about the Japanese version of
“Gojira,” which moves at a slower clip but favors character
development and a more somber tone -- with explicit commentary about
the horrors of the Atomic Bomb and more overt parallels to Hiroshima --
than the U.S. print. In fact, it’s fascinating to see how
thoughtful this groundbreaking movie actually is (in its original
version), particularly when the dozens and dozens of Toho films that
followed offered so little in the way of intellectual attributes.
The American version comes off as clumsy by comparison (and some of
Burr’s reactions seem odd, to say the least) but its quicker pace
-- accentuating the ‘50s monster craze of its time -- remains a
positive aspect of director/editor Terry Morse’s U.S. version.
The socio-political commentary is toned down, but it’s still
there to a degree, particularly in relation to the B-movie thrills that
so many of its sci-fi counterparts boasted at the time.
Classic Media’s transfers originate from the healthiest surviving
elements of both versions, though there are a substantial amount of
scratches and dirt on-hand in each -- particularly so during
“Gojira.” The full-screen framing is satisfying and the
mono sound as effective as can be given the limitations of the source
Supplements are on-hand as well, with commentaries on both versions
provided by Godzilla experts Steve Ryfle (who also contributes
extensive liner notes) and Ed Godziszewski. Godziszewski also narrates
a pair of superb featurettes on the film’s story development and
the history of the famous Godzilla suit, with ample vintage photographs
and production stills displayed throughout.
Trailers for both versions complete a terrific, low-priced package
that’s an obvious must-have for all Godzilla aficionados.
Here’s hoping more “proper” Toho restorations are to
come in the months ahead! Out This Week
MONEY (**½, 88 mins., R, 2006, Sony): Excellent
performances from a fine ensemble cast (Jennifer Aniston, Catherine
Keener, Frances McDormand and Joan Cusack) help this sometimes
insightful, occasionally pretentious character study from
writer-director Nicole Holofcener.
The filmmaker’s tale of four friends balancing mostly-fading
relationships has several funny and heartbreaking moments, but
principally fails to provide a compelling story line at its core. The
result is a film worth seeing for its performances but is unbalanced
and frustrating as a finished product.
Sony’s DVD includes both 16:9 (2.35) and full-screen transfers
with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound; commentary with Holofcener and producer
Anthony Bregman; and multiple featurettes looking at the production,
its Sundance screening and opening night in L.A. New From Universal
(***, 129 mins., R, 2006, Universal): Highly entertaining
heist-thriller from director Spike Lee offers a dose of its
filmmaker’s social commentary but sticks mainly to suspense and
well-defined character development. Denzel Washington is a NYC cop
assigned to investigate a bank robbery being carried off by Clive Owen,
yet little else is what it seems in Russell Gewitz’s cluttered
but intriguing script, which also sports Jodie Foster as a mysterious
administrator, Christopher Plummer as the bank branch’s CEO, and
Willem Dafoe and Chiwetel Ejiofor as cops assisting Washington.
Authentic atmosphere, superb performances, and a satisfying ending
culminate in a solid piece of filmmaking, which ultimately became
Lee’s biggest box-office hit earlier this year. Universal’s
DVD includes commentary with Lee, over 25 minutes of deleted scenes,
and two featurettes -- one examining Washington’s collaboration
with Lee and another going behind-the-scenes of the production. The
16:9 (2.35) transfer is superb and the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound highly
effective, even if Terence Blanchard’s musical score sometimes
overstates its presence. THE WIZARD
(**, 100 mins., PG, 1989, Universal): Now you’re playing
with power...err, sort of. This wacked-out Junior Version of
“Rain Man” -- infused with ample doses of Nintendo video
gaming, which was huge at the time – hasn’t weathered the
years too well. Fred Savage (at the height of “Wonder
Years” stardom) plays a kid who springs his emotionally unstable
young brother (Luke Edwards) out of a home and subsequently heads to
L.A. En route, Fred discovers that his sibling is a video game master,
and while dodging a private eye, his dad (Beau Bridges) and older
brother (Christian Slater, whom my wife asked “how exactly did he
get stuck in this?”), Savage hightails it to a national Nintendo
contest where the riches are bountiful indeed. “The Wizard”
yields some minor laughs but this box-office disappointment from
‘89 is by-the-numbers, even for the juvenile entertainment
it’s supposed to offer -- other than Bridges hamming it up while
attempting to play Zelda, there’s not a whole lot of magic
on-hand here. Universal’s DVD does offer a crystal clear 16:9
transfer (1.85) with 2.0 Dolby Digital surround, containing an okay
score by J. Peter Robinson and, unsurprisingly, a healthy dose of rock
tracks. No extras are included on this bargain-priced release, which
fans of the movie (yes, they’re out there!) still ought to savor.
(**½, 88 mins., R, 1998, Universal): Sam Rockwell and
Steve Zahn play a pair of hapless, would-be burglars mistaken for the
real thing by Providence, RI mobsters (including Paul Giamatti, Harvey
Fierstein and Michael Lerner). Shot in Staten Island and New Jersey,
“Safe Men” has a few laughs but is awfully choppy -- not
unexpected given that this 1998 indie film was the first effort from
writer-director John Hamburg, who has since given the world
“Along Came Polly” and co-written “Meet the
Fockers.” Universal’s DVD marks the first release of the
film on disc, and the studio has presented a superlative package with
commentary from Hamburg, Rockwell, and Zahn, plus deleted scenes and
Hamburg’s short film “Tick.” The 16:9 (1.85) transfer
is likely the sharpest this moderately-budgeted production will ever
appear, while the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is just fine, sporting an
able score from Theodore Shapiro. New From Disney
HOUSEWIVES, Season 2 (2005-06, 1036 mins., 24 episodes, Buena Vista):
The sophomore jinx unfortunately cursed ABC’s Emmy-winning black
comedy when it returned for its second year.
The ladies (Teri Hatcher, Marcia Cross, Felicity Huffman, Eva Longoria,
and Nicolette Sheridan) on Wisteria Lane are back, having solved the
murder of narrator Mary Alice (Brenda Strong), but now are faced with a
new puzzle on their hands: a mysterious new neighbor played by Alfre
Unfortunately, it didn’t take long before viewers realized
Woodard’s poorly-defined character and weak story line
weren’t a compelling substitute for the first season, leaving the
rest of “Desperate”’s second year to be a pale
imitation of the various romantic, comedic, and deliciously dark
elements that defined its debut year. (For what it’s worth,
creator Marc Cherry is promising a return to the magic of the first
season for the program’s upcoming third season debut).
Buena Vista’s terrific box-set presentation of “Desperate
Housewives”’ second season offers sterling 16:9 (1.78)
widescreen transfers with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, deleted scenes,
numerous behind-the-scenes featurettes, and more goodies for series
BROTHER BEAR 2
(**½, 2006, 71 mins., G, Disney): I wasn’t crazy
about the original “Brother Bear” but this direct-to-video
sequel ought to provide sufficient entertainment for kids. Solid
animation (especially considering its small-screen pedigree) and a
couple of catchy Melissa Etheridge songs provide the backing for the
continuing adventures of little cub Koda and big bro Kenai, the former
human-turned-bear, who faces a predicament when girlfriend Nita comes
looking for him. Disney’s typically strong DVD transfer (1.78,
16:9) and robust soundtracks (5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital) bolster an
excellent package that’s complimented by a behind-the-scenes
music featurette and interactive games for children. Recommended for
One (1990, 27 Episodes, 617 mins., Disney) DARKWING DUCK:
Volume One (1991, 27 Episodes, 613 mins., Disney)
Two of the more popular early ‘90s Disney TV cartoons receive
splendid box-set presentations that ought to please kids and hard-core
fans of the programs all too used to receiving single-disc DVD episode
“Talespin” offers several “Jungle Book”
characters including Baloo (as a cargo pilot) and Shere Khan, a villain
once again in this fun, frothy confection. “Darkwing Duck,”
meanwhile, sports a Disney spin on the blooming super-hero genre of the
late ‘80s, with Drake Mallard as a crimefighting foul assisted by
sidekick Launchpad McQuack.
Both shows look just fine in their original full-screen formats and are
presented in their proper chronological order, with
“Talespin” offering the four-part pilot and the initial 23
episodes from the series, and “Darkwing Duck” an ample
amount of episodes. Excellent work by Disney providing fans with TV Box
Sets worthy of these two respective shows. Recommended!
EINSTEINS: MISSION CELEBRATION (2006, 72 mins., G, Disney):
June, Leo, Quincy and Annie race aboard Rocket in this travelogue where
the “Little Einsteins” visit real-world locations to
provide youngsters with a basic sense of the Earth’s scope.
Enjoyable, colorful fun for kids who have graduated from Disney’s
best-selling line of “Young Einstein” videos, with the
studio’s DVD including over an hour of entertainment with one
episode (“The Birthday Machine”) making its premiere on
disc. An interactive game rounds out the release.
THE TICK Vs.
Season One (252 mins., 12 Episodes, Buena Vista): The acclaimed
and fan-favorite animated rendition of “The Tick” hits DVD
with all but one of its first-season episodes intact (that missing
episode, “The Tick Vs. The Mole Men,” is regarded by most
fans to be the worst of the series). Regardless of the reasoning behind
that decision, this two-disc Buena Vista set remains a must-purchase
for animation fans, since the short-lived Saturday morning cartoon
series is ribald, manic and just as entertaining for adults as it is
for kids. The full-screen transfers and 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo
soundtracks are fine. Recommended! More New Animation on
COMPLETE SERIES SPACE
SENTINELS & FREEDOM FORCE: THE COMPLETE SERIES (1976-81, BCI, aprx.
300 mins each)
A pair of vintage Filmation series receive the deluxe treatment in two
more outstanding DVD box sets from BCI Eclipse’s Ink & Paint
Sentinels” and “Freedom
Force” were produced during the heyday of Lou Scheimer and
Norm Prescott’s animation factory, airing at various points on
Saturday morning network TV through the mid ‘70s and early
‘80s (“Space Sentinels” as its own series, and
“Freedom Force” as bridging segments for more popular
heroes like Tarzan and Batman).
The latter CBS series offers an animated rendition of Isis (who earlier
starred in a fondly-remembered early ‘70s live-action Filmation
series) plus Sinbad, Super Samurai and Hercules as they battle for
truth, justice, and intergalactic peace; the former NBC show focuses on
a trio of immortals (including Hercules, Astraea, and Mercury) likewise
sharing the same values. Both series lacked the enduring popularity of
some of Filmation’s other properties, so BCI has bundled the
complete output of both programs in this two-disc edition.
BCI’s set offers fresh full-screen transfers and Dolby Digital
soundtracks, plus a strong selection of extras including a terrific,
30-minute history of Filmation; additional Filmation personnel
interviews; DVD-ROM scripts; an early presentation reel and even test
footage for a proposed-live action “Young Sentinels” series
with Evan Kim performing kung fu moves a short time before
“Kentucky Fried Movie”!
Star Trek’s Marc Scott
Zicree, meanwhile, was among the staff writers of “Blackstar,”
which ran for 13 episodes but remains more of a fan favorite. Produced
in 1981, “Blackstar” charts the adventures of astronaut
John Blackstar, sucked through a black hole and into a distant star
system where the small “Trobbits” require his assistance to
combat the evil Overlord.
“Blackstar” keenly presaged “Conan” and
Filmation’s later “He-Man” with its sword-and-sorcery
fantasy premise, and offers ample amounts of action bolstered by fairly
good animation. The infectious musical scores back a show that’s
robustly entertaining for youngsters and enhanced on DVD with even more
supplemental content from BCI.
Nearly 50 minutes of interviews with assorted Filmation personnel; the
same 30-minute documentary on Filmation’s history; a pair of
episode commentaries; image galleries and DVD-ROM goodies (including
all 13 scripts and five full storyboarded episodes) comprise a
marvelous package that’s ideal for kids and all nostalgic
Here’s hoping BCI continues to mine the Filmation vaults in the
months to come -- if licensing issues can be worked out, it’d be
wonderful to see the studio’s original “Superman”
adaptation on DVD in the near future!
TOM AND JERRY:
SHIVER ME WHISKERS (71 mins., 2006, G, Warner): After a bit of
a hiatus, Tom and Jerry are back in this made-for-video feature,
released just in time to ride the wave of “Pirate”-mania.
Here, Tom is a lowly deckmate for nefarious pirate Captain Red when he
improbably stumbles upon a treasure map in a bottle; Jerry soon pops up
as the stowaway mouse (conveniently packaged in the same bottle!) who
helps him outwit the bad guys and battle a giant octopus en route to
the buried goods. Warner’s DVD offers adequate, full-screen
animation and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, but the story is barely enough
to sustain the program’s 71 minutes and is a step below
Disney’s direct-to-video features. Still, young children may
enjoy it, with a bonus ending and Making Of featurette also included on
the disc. New From Echo Bridge
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (2006, 176 mins., Echo Bridge,
available September 5th): Surprisingly high-rated Hallmark
mini-series production won’t evoke favorable comparisons to the
DeMille-Heston classic, but this ABC televised “event” is
watchable enough for what it is. Dougray Scott brings appropriate
conviction to his Moses, while able support comes through a strong
supporting cast (“Lost”’s Naveen Andrews, Mia
Maestro, Richard O’Brien, Paul Rhys, Claire Bloom, and Omar
Sharif) and Randy Edelman’s excellent score. Echo Bridge’s
DVD offers the complete, 176-minute mini-series in 16:9 widescreen and
5.1 Dolby Digital surround; extras include a standard-issue Making Of
THERE’S A WILL (2006, 84 mins., Echo Bridge, available September
5th): Amusing Hallmark TV-film with Frank Whaley as a
downtrodden con artist who decides to take care of his sick grandmother
(Marion Ross) so he can collect an easy inheritance and pay off a debt.
Whaley and Ross are both a lot of fun in this feel-good small-screen
comedy directed by former actor John Putch (“Jaws 3-D"), and I
confess it’s always nice to see former “90210" supporting
vet Christine Elise on-screen again. Echo Bridge’s DVD
presentation offers 16:9 widescreen and 2.0 Dolby Surround stereo.
(2006, 86 mins., Marvista/Echo Bridge, available September 29th):
Jeff Fahey and ex-Baywatch babe Erika Eleniak (who still looks great
even with a few additional pounds) top-line this TV-movie variant on
“The Day After Tomorrow,” with Earth facing serious
catastrophe when another Ice Age blasts our way in 24 hours.
Marvista’s DVD offers a fine widescreen transfer with Dolby
Digital sound, but the budgetary limitations of the production are
THE HITMAN (2006, 88 mins., Marvista/Echo Bridge): Canadian
tele-film directed by Melanie Mayron offers Judd Hirsch as a
grandfather who resorts to hiring a timid hitman (Danny Aiello) in
order to rub out his obnoxious son-in-law (Gil Bellows), who’s
threatening to end his grandparental visits. Mercedes Ruehl co-stars in
this amiable enough comedy, with old pros Aiello and Hirsch carrying
off their stereotyped, but occasionally amusing, roles with appropriate
aplomb. Marvista’s DVD looks and sounds just fine. IN TWO WEEKS: The Aisle Seat's 9th Season Premiere!Until then, on't
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