Late Summer DVD Bash!
From Sturges To Universal's Legacy
DVDs, a Round-Up of Upcoming Must-Haves!
Plus: T.J. HOOKER, SAHARA,
STITCH 2 and More!
As I wrote last week, September is shaping up to be an especially
huge month for DVD releases. Whether you’re an aficionado of
classic cinema or recent movies new to disc, there’s something
for everyone on the horizon as August winds up.
On September 6th, Universal
issues the first three installments in their new “Legacy
Series” DVDs. Housed in sleek cardboard packages, laserphiles are
urged to check out each of these important two-disc releases, even if
some of the supplemental material is somewhat light on two of them.
Top of the list is the Legacy edition of TO KILL A
MOCKINGBIRD (****, 129 mins.), Robert Mulligan’s
celebrated 1962 cinematic adaptation of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer
Needless to say, the movie itself needs little introduction. Gregory
Peck’s Oscar-winning, marvelous performance as crusading attorney
Atticus Finch grounds this memorable, all-time classic film, which
manages to capture Lee’s prose (courtesy of Horton Foote’s
script) and still become a living, breathing film all its own.
Peck’s performance, the remarkable work of young Mary Badham as
his feisty daughter Scout (who narrates the film as a remembrance of
her childhood), the haunting cinematography of Russell Harlan, and the
spellbinding, gorgeous score by Elmer Bernstein all culminate in one of
the cinema’s greatest achievements.
Universal’s new DVD edition is an improvement on their earlier,
superb 1998 release. The 1.85 print has been newly mastered for 16:9
televisions, and the black-and-white transfer looks even better than it
did seven years ago. On the audio side, Universal has a slew of
soundtrack options on-hand: both the original mono mix and new, 5.1 DTS
and Dolby Digital stereo tracks, which add a fresh dimension to
Bernstein’s original score. The dialogue, though, sometimes seems
a bit “airy” on the 5.1 tracks, so most viewers may prefer
to stick to the original mono for that very reason.
While the original ‘98 DVD was sold as a “Collector’s
Edition,” the Legacy Series edition is a considerable upgrade,
highlighted by Barbara Kopple’s feature-length documentary
“A Conversation With Gregory Peck.” This 1999 look at
Peck’s travels across the globe during his one-man tour (engaging
in Q&A sessions with audiences) is a revealing portrait of an actor
and a family man, as distinguished and classy off-screen as he was on
it. Filled with numerous insights into Peck’s life, this is a
truly special feature that’s a perfect compliment to Charles
Kiselyak’s “Fearful Symmetry,” a compelling,
flavorful examination of the impact of “To Kill a
Mockingbird,” wisely reprised from the original DVD.
Other special features include a 1999 Today Show interview with Mary
Badham; Peck’s Oscar acceptance speech; a segment from
Peck’s AFI Lifetime Achievement award; lobby cards with a note
from Harper Lee; the original trailer and Mulligan and Pakula’s
1998 commentary track.
There are so many DVDs out there now that it can be difficult to choose
which ones to rent or buy. Here, though, there’s no debate:
“To Kill a Mockingbird” is such an outstanding film that it
belongs in every movie fan’s library, and Universal’s new
Legacy edition is rich with special features that enhance its standing
as an all-time classic. Unquestionably recommended!
The other Legacy Series discs lack as much supplemental content, though
their respective presentations are likewise appreciable upgrades on
their previous DVD editions.
George Roy Hill’s 1973 Oscar winner, THE STING (****, 129
mins., PG), is also back on DVD, this time with 16:9
enhancement, DTS and Dolby Digital stereo tracks, and a new documentary
recounting the development and success of David S. Ward’s
original story on the silver screen.
New interviews with Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Charles
Durning, the late Ray Walston, David S. Ward and Marvin Hamlisch
highlight the hour-long documentary from Charles Kiselyak, which is
split into three separate segments (“The Perfect Script,”
“Making a Masterpiece,” and “The Legacy”).
Especially interesting is how Ward initially balked at director
Hill’s suggestion of using Scott Joplin’s ragtime music on
the soundtrack. When he worried that the film’s 1920s setting was
too late for ragtime, Hill told Ward that about five people in the
audience would even notice, much less care. There are also comments by
Redford about why he wanted Hill to direct the film (instead of Ward,
who Redford felt was too inexperienced at the time), the movie’s
development and widespread acclaim (and massive box-office receipts)
after it was released.
The documentary is housed on the second platter along with the
theatrical trailer, making for the second, must-have Universal Legacy
release for another bona-fide cinema classic.
Last among the Legacy sets is a new two-disc edition of Michael
DEER HUNTER (***, 182 mins., 1978, R), another Oscar-winner
that, over time, has become somewhat less significant in terms of its
place in Hollywood history. The latter is due to the sheer amount of
Vietnam-themed films released in the decades since Cimino’s
highly-regarded -- though at times painfully overlong -- film was
While Studio Canal’s Region 2 DVD offers a commentary from Cimino
himself and several featurettes, Universal’s Legacy Edition --
disappointingly -- offers only a new commentary from Vilmos Zsigmond
and film journalist Bob Fisher, along with about 12 minutes of deleted
scenes culled from a workprint. There are no documentary featurettes or
interviews to be found here, which ranks as a major letdown given that
the European DVD offers plenty in the way of supplements. Certainly the
second disc -- which only includes the deleted outtakes and trailers --
had plenty of room for more content.
Where Universal’s new DVD has a distinct advantage on its
brethren is in its new 2.35 transfer, which shows a bit of
edge-enhancement here and there but otherwise is clean and appreciably
remastered (and superior to any previous DVD edition of the film). The
5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is potent, though the lack of a DTS track
comes as a notable omission.
New Special Editions
Paramount is also getting into the act on September 6th with three new
catalog titles of interest.
Amy Heckerling’s delightful 1995 teen comedy CLUELESS
(***½, 97 mins., PG-13) is just as bubbly and colorful as
it was a decade ago (can it be that long?).
Alicia Silverstone’s star-making performance is just one of the
numerous pleasures to be found in Heckerling’s casual application
of Jane Austen’s “Emma” to the Beverly Hills high
school scene circa 1995. The movie’s often hilarious script and
energetic tone is infectious, and superb supporting performances from
Paul Rudd, Brittany Murphy, Donald Faison, Wallace Shawn, Jeremy Sisto
and Dan Hedaya make for a movie that’s just as much fun now as it
was back then.
Paramount’s “Whatever! Edition” serves up a brand-new
16:9 transfer that’s sunnier and more satisfying than the
original DVD, plus a rollicking 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack.
I’ve always enjoyed David Kitay’s unreleased score for
“Clueless,” which thankfully gives the movie a
“timeless” feel that off-sets its copious modern rock songs
-- the only elements that truly date the movie.
New supplements are on-hand as well: a multi-part featurette includes
new interviews with the cast and crew, basically everyone EXCEPT
Silverstone. Even Brittany Murphy shows up, and she’s busier than
Alicia these days, so what gives?
Outside of that minor disappointment, this is otherwise an engaging
look back on the movie’s creation (Heckerling originally
developed the project as a TV series, which it ironically became AFTER
the film was released), sporting all sorts of interviews and fun
anecdotes. Basically, it shows that Heckerling knew exactly what she
wanted with “Clueless,” and the result is clearly (along
with “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”) her most satisfying
film (and as a developed story, it might just be better as well).
Two vintage films also hit DVD for the first time on September 6th from
Paramount: the little-seen musical western RED GARTERS (***,
1954, 90 mins.) and Preston Sturges’ classic THE MIRACLE OF
MORGAN’S CREEK (***½, 1944, 98 mins.).
Sturges’ film needs less of an introduction than “Red
Garters”; this manic 1944 war comedy was years ahead of its time,
following the misadventures of saucy Betty Hutton, who wakes up after a
dance with local soldiers to find out she’s married -- and
subsequently pregnant! Fortunately for Hutton, all-around good guy
Eddie Bracken is there to offer some support in this crazy, often
uproarious Sturges farce, which is unanimously regarded as one of his
Paramount’s first-ever DVD of this comedy classic offers an
excellent full-screen transfer that’s as fresh as you’ll
ever see this 1944 favorite, and the studio has even included two new
featurettes. “Preston Sturges and the Miracle of Morgan’s
Creek” and “Censorship: Morgan’s Creek Vs. The
Production Code” offer interviews with Sturges’ widow,
Sandy, plus the late Eddie Bracken and several journalists, reflecting
on the film’s production and its run-ins with the Hayes
Commission at the time.
“Red Garters” is basically a forgotten film that’s
nevertheless a must-view for musical fans. This surreal 1954 musical
isn’t exactly “Seven Brides For Seven Brothers,” but
it’s a fun, irrelevant western spoof, starring Rosemary Clooney
as a saloon gal and Jack Carson as her main squeeze.
What makes “Red Garters” stand out isn’t its plot or
its nice (albeit forgettable) songs by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans:
director George Marshall shot the movie on bare-bones sets with
cardboard backdrops, all bathed in warm primary colors. Even more stagy
than, say, “Lil Abner,” the movie looks and feels like
nothing else you’ve ever seen, which had to have been one reason
for its indifferent public reception at the time. To add insult to
injury, Michael Fessier’s script apparently went over the heads
of some viewers as well (necessitating a text crawl before the film,
explicitly stating that the movie is a spoof!).
A pleasant enough romp, “Red Garters” is good,
old-fashioned fun, and Paramount’s DVD presents this
seldom-screened film in an excellent full-screen transfer that does
justice to the strong Technicolor cues of Arthur E. Arling’s
cinematography. The mono sound also holds up nicely.
New TV on DVD
The Fox network has had a tough time over the years
finding success with one-hour dramatic series.
Only in the last few years has Fox successfully cultivated a show to
feed off the blockbuster success of “American Idol”: first
with the highly entertaining Kiefer Sutherland thriller
“24,” then again last year with HOUSE, M.D. (2005,
Part “Quincy,” part “C.S.I.” with a dash of
“E.R.” thrown in for good measure, “House” is
an engaging, energetic program that recycles portions from other shows
and serves up a predictable yet satisfying blend of doctor-drama, soap
opera and detective series. Hugh Laurie is terrific as the title
character: the typically gruff, irascible veteran M.D. who leads a team
of more idealistic young doctors in investigating some of the more
baffling medical cases that end up at their hospital.
The interplay between Laurie and his younger cast, including Jennifer
Morrison, Omar Epps and Jesse Spencer is typical of the medical
mumbo-jumbo you see on “E.R.,” but with the personalities
of the cast cranked up a bit. Robert Sean Leonard is also on-hand as
one of Laurie’s colleagues, while Lisa Edelstein does as well as
she can in the relatively thankless role of House’s hospital
Co-produced by Bryan Singer, “House”’s scripts can,
admittedly, often be ludicrous. A patient will enter House’s
care, and House and his team will -- as the formula goes -- mostly fail
to properly diagnose the problem. Only after entering into other
possibilities (and seemingly every problem in the book) will the truth
It’s a pattern that nevertheless makes for entertaining
television, mainly because the performances make the stories -- as
outlandish as they can be -- compelling to watch. In many ways
“House” is very much like its lead protagonist: tired and
worn, yet with enough style to cover over its lack of substance.
Universal’s three-disc box set contains all 22 first-season
episodes of HOUSE in excellent 1.78 widescreen transfers with one major
problem: they’re NOT enhanced for 16:9 televisions. It’s a
strange, disappointing choice that may cause this to be a dealbreaker
for some viewers. The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, meanwhile, is superb,
making for a decent but (at least for 16:9 TV owners) moderately
disappointing presentation of the series’ first season.
Aficionados of William Shatner are urged to run -- much like its often
sprinting hero -- to Sony’s Complete First and Second Seasons of T.J. HOOKER
(1982-83, 1338 mins.; Sony), which includes 27 episodes from
the series’ First and Second seasons on the ABC airwaves.
Launched as a TV-movie with different cast members (including David
“Al” Hedison and Richard “Poltergeist” Lawson),
this amiable, comic-book cop show was a lot more “ChiPS”
than “Hill Street Blues.”
While the latter earned critical kudos for its
comparatively honest depiction of life in the precinct, “T.J.
Hooker” is nothing but an unabashed ‘80s prime-time slice
of escapism. Shatner is at his best as the title hero: a recently
divorced, dedicated-to-the-job detective who breaks in a new partner
(Adrien Zmed) on the mean streets of L.A.
Hooker isn’t, of course, your by-the-book cop -- he’s your
typical break-the-rules ‘80s TV hero, who will stop at nothing to
take down local scum, whether it’s a pair of hoodlums in the
pilot, or a bible-touting, mentally impaired nutcase in the
series’ second episode.
“T.J. Hooker” has some great chase sequences (Shatner looks
surprisingly spry here), including the indelible moment in the second
episode when T.J. leaps off a ledge, onto a school bus being
commandeered by a psycho holding both a TV reporter and a group of nuns
hostage. It’s over-the-top but damn good stuff just the same!
While you’ve just got to love some of Bill’s dramatic
gestures and pauses, he’s also surprisingly good as T.J. The show
works in a strong human element between T.J.’s relationship with
his young daughters (one of whom is played by Nicole Eggert) and his
marriage to his job, which takes its toll on his home life. There are
even numerous references to Vietnam and other wars, and how combat can
influence both battle-scarred cops like Hooker and Romano, his new
partner (played by the overly charismatic Adrian Zmed).
After debuting as a mid-season replacement in the spring of ‘82,
the series mixed it up a bit in its second season on CBS. Heather
Locklear joined the show as cop Stacey Sheridan, while former
“Moondoogie” James Darren was added to the cast as her
partner in the fall of ‘82. The series ultimately fell into a
formulaic TV pattern, but it’s still highly entertaining for both
its good AND dated elements, and what more can you say about Mark
Snow’s theme song, which is used incessantly throughout each and
every episode? Also, Leonard Nimoy joins The Shat on the memorable
episode “Vengeance Is Mine,” essaying a fellow cop who
wants payback after his daughter is raped.
Sony’s six-disc box-set again shows why the studio is one of the
best in the business at presenting TV series on DVD. Though the
rarely-seen, 90-minute pilot seems to have been battered over the years
(showing some discoloration and graininess in the print), the regular
episodes look crisp and colorful. Some 24 vintage TV promos are
included on the sixth disc, making for a must-have release for all
New on DVD
STITCH 2 (***, 2005). 68 mins., G, Disney. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES:
“Origin of Stitch” short; Music Video; Experiment Profiler
game; 1.78 Widescreen, 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital sound.
Easily the best of Disney’s numerous made-for-video
sequels, “Lilo & Stitch 2" admirably carries on the engaging,
heartwarming story begun in the box-office smash of 2002.
This time out, little Lilo prepares to enter Hawaii’s local hula
contest while sister Nani tries to juggle taking care of her young
sibling and extraterrestrial pals Jumba and Gantu. Meanwhile, our furry
blue pal Stitch is enjoying himself all the while, at least until his
crazy, manic “alien” side begins to rear its crazy
shenanigans once again -- threatening to turn Lilo’s life upside
down at the worst possible time.
With beautiful animation recalling the appealing, colorful hues of the
original film, “Lilo & Stitch 2" is a definite cut-above the
usual made-for-the-small-screen Disney production. More elaborate and
entertaining than “Stitch: The Movie!” (which served as
little more than a primer for ABC’s Saturday morning “Lilo
& Stitch” cartoon), this thoughtful sequel offers several
heartwarming lessons for kids and an appealing story that will prove
highly satisfying for all fans of its predecessor.
Most of the original voice talent was brought back, from
“Stitch” vocalist Chris Sanders to Tia Carrere, David Ogden
Stiers and Jason Scott Lee. Curiously, there’s no notice on the
packaging that the currently in-demand Dakota Fanning took over the
vocal chores for Lilo from Daveigh Chase, yet there’s no
mistaking Fanning’s work here (if anything she’s even
better than her predecessor).
The soundtrack is also a lot of fun, with Joel McNeely’s lovely
underscore working hand-in-hand with a vibrant assortment of Hawaiian
tunes and Elvis Presley classics.
Disney’s DVD offers an appropriately warm 1.78 widescreen
transfer. The 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks are just fine, and
extras are limited to an interactive game for kids, a five-minute short
showing “The Origin of Stitch,” and a music video of the
wonderful “Hawaiian Rollercoaster Ride,” albeit in a
teeny-bopper pop rendition by the group Jump5.
Though not as charming and entertaining on the whole as its
predecessor, “Lilo & Stitch 2" is nevertheless quality family
entertainment that proves small-screen fare can be beautifully animated
and highly effective -- provided, of course, that it’s been done
with great care. Happily, that’s the case here, and all Stitch
fans are urged to check it out. Aloha!
(*½, 2005). 123 mins., PG-13, Paramount. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES:
Two commentary tracks; Deleted Scenes; Three Featurettes; 2.35
Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
Best-selling author Clive Cussler hasn’t exactly had a strong
track record when it comes to the big screen. His novel “Raise
The Titanic” was a terrific read, but the movie remains one of
the all-time notorious box-office flops (though the film itself
isn’t as bad as its reputation would lead you to believe. John
Barry’s beautiful score and excellent miniature effects are two
of the 1980 film’s positive assets).
Over 20 years later, Cussler -- obviously snake bit by
the failure of “Titanic” – opted to try bringing his
hero, Dirk Pitt, to the silver screen again and sold the rights to his
Independently produced and distributed through Paramount, this
expensive adventure epic stars Matthew McConaughey as Pitt, Penelope
Cruz as a World Heath Organization doctor investing a plague, and Steve
Zahn and William H. Macy (in the role of Admiral Sandecker, played by
Jason Robards in “Raise The Titanic”) as two members of
Dirk’s supporting cast. The crew run into an insane dictator and
a plot for world domination in North Africa, and only Dirk’s
skills in deep-sea salvage and all-around athletic prowess can prevent
an impending catastrophe from occurring.
With four credited screenwriters, it’s pretty clear that
“Sahara” had a bumpy ride through production, and the
finished film does little to reverse the disparaging comments Cussler
himself made about the movie prior to its release.
Saddled with a sluggish pace and a sloppy script that’s never
involving, “Sahara” is pretty much a dud right from the
word “go.” Director Breck Eisner is unsuccessful at
bringing the thinly-drawn script together, with the performances
failing to elevate the clunky plot. Chief among the problems is Steve
Zahn as Dirk’s sidekick -- he’s nearly as unfunny as Kevin
O’Connor’s would-be comic relief in “The
Mummy,” though Zahn’s material here may be even more
desperate. McConaughey and Cruz, meanwhile, attempt to drum up some
sparks, but it’s a losing battle in a lifeless movie that seems
utterly interminable at the two-hour mark.
Paramount’s DVD does offer a great-looking 2.35 transfer with 5.1
Dolby Digital sound. The latter offers a satisfying score by Clint
Mansell whenever it’s able to contribute -- more often, though,
the filmmakers favor a blaring, obnoxious assortment of “classic
rock” tracks that grate on the nerves nearly as much as the film
itself. Extras include three featurettes, a handful of deleted scenes,
and two commentary tracks: one with McConaughey, the other with Eisner.
(**½, 2004). 106 mins., R, Sony. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES:
Commentary; Two Alternate Endings and Deleted Scenes; Featurette;
Q&A With Daniel Craig and Matthew Vaughn; 2.40 Widescreen, 5.1
Dolby Digital sound.
British gangster import offers an impressive performance from star
Daniel Craig (still rumored to be a leading contender for 007) and
ample visual style from director Matthew Vaughn.
Craig plays a savvy drug dealer asked to do one last score from his
employer, but finds out his task (moving a million doses of Ecstasy) is
more than he bargained for once its real owner finds out Craig’s
stash is his stolen goods.
Vaughn, a co-producer on “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking
Barrels,” made his directorial debut with “Layer
Cake,” which does have all the predictable trappings of the
genre: wisecracking thieves, ample doses of violence, and a wild story.
What saves it from being just another gangster flick is the
movie’s style and Craig’s performance, which gives the film
a sardonic, sarcastic touch.
Sony’s Special Edition DVD offers a crisp 2.40 transfer with 5.1
Dolby Digital sound, sporting a musical score by Lisa Gerrard and Ilan
Eshkeri. Special features are also in abundance, with comments from
Vaughn and writer J.J. Connolly (who adapted his novel for the screen),
two alternate endings (reportedly shot at the insistence of the
studio), numerous deleted scenes, a Making Of featurette and a Q&A
interview with Vaughn and Craig. Well worth a rental for fans of the
Buena Vista Capsules
BLOOD (2002, 95 mins., R; Dimension): Modestly budgeted thriller
made when star Michael T. Weiss was all the rage on “The
Pretender.” Weiss plays a cop who tries to help out fellow
detective Peter Coyote, framed for the murder of his wife and her
lover. Cute Maureen Flannigan is a bit of a lightweight here as the
femme fatale (and Coyote’s daughter) who might be to blame. John
Terlesky’s film arrives on DVD on September 6th with a 16:9
transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
190 mins., PG-13; Miramax): American/Canadian TV mini-series
stars Natasha Richardson as Ruth Gerber, an American writer who
valiantly escorts 1,000 Jews from concentration camps in Europe to a
settlement in upstate New York. Strong performances from Richardson,
Colm Feore, Henry Czerny, Sheila McCarthy, William L. Petersen, Hal
Holbrook, and Anne Bancroft help this somewhat pedestrian treatment of
a remarkable true story. Miramax’s DVD offers the full three-hour
mini-series with 16:9 widescreen and 2.0 Dolby Stereo sound.
BURNING (1990, 76 mins., R; Miramax): No, this definitely
isn’t “Is Paris Burning?” with Kirk Douglas. This
1990 documentary exposes New York City’s Drag Queen scene, and
finally arrives on DVD for all aficionados of Jennie Livingston’s
film. Miramax’s DVD includes a commentary by Livingston and
never-before-seen outtakes, in addition to a standard full-screen
transfer and Dolby Digital mono sound.
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