It’s been a phenomenal last few days for DVD lovers!
Last week saw the announcement of hugely anticipated new titles that
buffs will be clamoring for over the next few months on DVD and its
associated high-definition formats: remastered editions of several
Stanley Kubrick classics, a new edition of Steven Spielberg’s
“Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” the first release of
the restored “Star Trek: The Original Series,” a deluxe
presentation of Francis Ford Coppola’s “Bram Stoker’s
Dracula,” and best of all, a comprehensive new “Blade
Runner” box-set that will be issued in a handful of variants.
While the promise of remastered Kubrick is enough to draw the attention
of even the most casual cinephile (“2001,” “A
Clockwork Orange,” “The Shining,” “Full Metal
Jacket” and “Eyes Wide Shut” will be offered on
double-disc DVD, HD-DVD and Blu Ray, all in widescreen and with ample
extras; “Barry Lyndon” and “Lolita” will be
available on re-issued, standard DVDs only), the
announcement of “Close Encounters” is major news since it
marks the first time all three versions of the 1977 sci-fi classic will
be available on one DVD. It’s also huge for HD lovers, as
Sony’s Blu Ray disc will mark the first time a Steven Spielberg
masterwork has been available in high-definition.
While all of those releases are exciting, none surpass the buzz
surrounding Warner’s eagerly-anticipated “Blade
Scott Free producer Charles Lauzirika has produced some of the DVD
format’s finest releases (including Universal’s restored
“Legend”), and it’s not an exaggeration to write that
“Blade Runner” promises to be the most comprehensive,
extras-packed release one individual film has perhaps EVER received in
home video history.
Here’s a brief rundown of the various versions for fans:
-The two-disc “Final
Cut” ($14.99 currently at Amazon and other venues)
Ridley Scott’s new edit of the film plus a comprehensive
documentary, commentaries and other goodies.
-The four-disc “Collector’s
those two discs, plus the original 1982 theatrical edition, its
International Edition variant (included in the beloved Criterion
laserdisc releases), and the 1992 “Director’s Cut”
release on a third platter. The fourth disc includes nearly 45 minutes
of additional, never-before-glimpsed deleted scenes and more extras.
-The five-disc “Ultimate
Collector’s Edition” ($54.95 pre-order price)
includes all of the above, plus an exclusive fifth disc sporting the
much-discussed, original Workprint version of the film, which offered
alternate music and editorial changes different from all other
versions. This limited, numbered set also comes packaged in a replica
of Deckard’s briefcase, complete with a letter from Ridley Scott,
an origami Unicorn, stills, a miniature police spinner, and other
and Blu Ray
fans, your ship has also
come in. The five-disc “Collector’s Edition”
can be pre-ordered for a mere $27.99 on HD-DVD
, making it easily the best
bargain of the high-definition formats to date (all variant cuts of the
film are supposed to be in HD), while the Limited
” briefcase box is $69.99 at Amazon on
, or better yet, $63 shipped at the official
Warner Bros. Store
(use code WBWEL for 20% off).
Looks like “Blade Runner” fans will be dreaming about more
than electric sheep for months prior to this set’s December 18th
Aisle Seat Picks of the
(***, 2007, 115 mins., R; Warner):
Frank Miller’s graphic novel -- depicting the final stand of King
Leonidas and his 300 Spartans -- makes for a rousing, straightforward
action piece, vividly realized by director Zack Snyder in a striking,
CGI-rendered visual realm that does full justice to Miller’s
original design. Sure, it’s mostly all flash and style, but
it’s hard to deny the effectiveness of the storytelling, which
apes other genre narratives but manages to entertain in its own unique
visceral manner at every turn (think “Braveheart” and
“Gladiator” mixed with more fantastic, outlandish visuals).
At the heart of “300" is Gerald Butler’s powerhouse
performance as Leonidas, who opts to make a valiant, if suicidal, stand
against an invading Persian army in Thermopylae as they come ashore in
ancient Greece. The enemy is lead by Persian king Xerxes, whose
black-clad warriors and beasts of burden far outnumber the
hard-fighting Spartans, but Leonidas and his clan battle until the
bitter end, becoming the stuff of legend in the process.
With its evocative visual design, “300" is clearly similar to
what Miller and director Robert Rodriguez attempted in “Sin
City” -- create a living, breathing cinematic adaptation of the
author’s work. While the visual design of “Sin City”
was spellbinding, the outlandishness of the material and questionable
lapses in taste made its cinematic rendering less than satisfying (if
not outright offensive) -- a problem “300" doesn’t have
since this film is basic blood ‘n guts, thundering action
sequences and stylish choreography that doesn’t beg to be taken
overly seriously as drama. We know we’re watching a fantasy
rendering of the Battle of Thermopylae, but the heightened visuals and
design make for a thrilling action spectacle. It may have all the
substance of a comic book but it’s great fun to watch, especially
Speaking of high-definition, Warner’s HD-DVD transfer is a
marvel, capturing every nuance of “300"’s visuals in a
spectacular VC-1 encoded transfer. The Dolby TrueHD and 5.1 Dolby
sound enhances the movie’s raucous sound design (even if Tyler
Bates’ score isn’t nearly as memorable as the film), while
HD-DVD exclusive extras include a fascinating “Picture in
Picture” production footage option, showing you the movie before
its computer-generated animation was implemented, and in-synch with the
completed film. Complimented by commentary from Snyder and others, this
feature isn’t offered on the Blu Ray version, and should make the
HD-DVD the version of choice for home theater enthusiasts.
Other extras include three brief deleted scenes, a “Fact or
Fiction” featurette and additional Making Of segments, including
short “webisodes” that ran online. A preliminary reel, used
to sell the film to Warner Bros., is also on-hand, putting the perfect
cap on a stellar HD-DVD that’s unquestionably one of the
format’s top discs to date.
PATHFINDER: Unrated Edition (**½,
2007, 107 mins., Unrated; Fox):
It’s not “300" -- nor is it even “The 13th
Warrior” -- but this box-office flop from April makes for a solid
rental, at least, for action fans.
“Pathfinder” (weirdly dubbed “The Legend of the Ghost
Warrior” on its actual release -- a subtitle dropped from the
DVD) is a simple-minded action epic from director Marcus Nispel and
writer Laeta Kalogridis (loosely based on a 1987 Norwegian film of the
same name), following a young Viking boy who improbably grows up to be
a part of a Native American tribe. Even as an adult (played by Karl
Urban), “Pathfinder” is an outsider among his peers, but
the tribe turns to him for help once a clan of invading Norsemen --
lead by Clancy Brown -- arrives and wipes out most of their members.
Even though the film is nothing but a series of action sequences with
basically non-existent character development, “Pathfinder”
is reasonably entertaining for the comic-book vehicle that it is.
Nispel’s set-pieces are sufficiently executed through a
combination of stylish editing and herky-jerky camera work that
might’ve been utilized to cover for the film’s modest
budget. Regardless, for a hot summer night’s rental, you could
certainly do worse, especially for genre fans.
Fox’s Unrated DVD edition runs some eight minutes longer than the
theatrical cut and includes commentary from Nispel, deleted scenes, the
trailer, a marketing trailer, and Making Of
featurettes. The 16:9 (2.35) transfer is fine, accentuating the
intentionally grainy, desaturated look of the cinematography, while the
5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital sound offers a Jonathan Elias score that
comes off as repetitive in the final cut (it plays far more effectively
on the soundtrack album).
(***, 1990, 96 mins., R; Universal):
Sam Raimi’s first studio film is an entertaining comic-book
hybrid of “Batman” and “Phantom of the Opera,”
as light as a feather but bursting with cinematic energy.
Neeson plays a research scientist who is horribly disfigured after a
local gangster (Larry Drake) destroys his laboratory while searching
for documents that would be incriminating for his shady land-developer
boss (Colin Friels). Neeson is presumed dead but, thanks to the miracle
of modern science, becomes an anonymous test subject for a hospital
that keeps him alive -- giving him the ability to avoid feeling pain
while experiencing stronger emotions. After escaping from the operating
table, Neeson’s scientist finds that his synthetic skin allows
him to recreate his prior appearance as well as take on the forms of
his enemies, provided he only stays in the sunlight for 99 minutes
while “Darkman” exacts his revenge.
As much of a homage to the Universal monster movies of the ‘30s
and ‘40s as it was influenced by the comic book films of its time
(“Batman,” “Dick Tracy”), the gothic
“Darkman” was a surprise sleeper hit in the summer of 1990
(produced for $16 million, it grossed more than twice that amount
domestically), and established Raimi -- best known for his “Evil
Dead” films -- as a player on the studio circuit. The screenplay
(credited to Raimi, Ivan Raimi, Chuck Pfarrer, Daniel Goldin and Joshua
Goldin) is a pastiche of the comic book and horror genres, and in
another director’s hands could’ve been just a
standard-issue revenge picture. Thanks to Raimi, though,
“Darkman” is bursting with visual pizzaz, pulsating
montages, humor, and over-the-top melodramatic moments, punctuated by a
terrific -- and appropriately bombastic -- Danny Elfman score
that’s among the best of his genre works of the period. He also
receives strong support from Neeson and Frances McDormand (as his
lawyer-lady love), who give the proceeding a touch of class in roles
atypical for both performers. (There are also cameos from Jenny Agutter
to John Landis and a particularly fitting one for a certain Raimi
favorite as well at the very end).
Universal’s HD-DVD edition of “Darkman” is solid,
filled with strong colors and excellent detail. The occasional splotch
of dirt shows up here and there in the print, but for a 17-year-old
film produced on a modest budget to begin with, the HD-DVD’s
transfer is highly satisfying, the best “Darkman” could
likely ever appear outside of a theater. Even better is the
disc’s robust Dolby Digital TrueHD soundtrack, giving
Elfman’s score an ideal stage to show off its pulsating,
memorable passages (fans should note that orchestator Jonathan Sheffer
does receive an “Additional Music” credit during the final
“Darkman” may be derivative and silly, but it delivers as
much entertainment in its own way -- and quite possibly more -- for its
modest budget than Raimi’s bloated “Spider-Man 3" did for a
price tag of $258 million. Sometimes bigger really isn’t better.
Also New From Universal on HD-DVD
SEA OF LOVE:
HD-DVD (***, 1989, 112 mins., R; Universal):
suspense-thriller in the post-“Fatal Attraction” mold stars
Al Pacino as a NYC cop investigating a series of murders while dating a
sexually aggressive woman (Ellen Barkin) who may be a suspect. Richard
Price’s original script is effectively handled by director Harold
Becker, who allows Pacino and Barkin to generate some believable
chemistry together. Once you’ve seen it, there isn’t a
whole lot of repeat viewing potential in “Sea of Love,” but
Pacino fans and suspense buffs will enjoy Universal’s HD-DVD
edition nevertheless, which preserves the picture in high-definition
and 5.1 Dolby Digital Plus sound. Extras (ported over from the last
standard-definition release) include commentary with Becker, a Making
Of featurette, the trailer, and some deleted scenes, though curiously
not the sequences featuring Lorraine Bracco as Pacino’s ex-wife,
which were restored to certain TV broadcasts of the picture.
(**½, 2007, 121 mins., R; Universal)
SHAUN OF THE
DEAD (***, 2004, 100 mins., R; Universal):
Edgar Wright and his star/co-writer Simon Pegg’s two
international comedy hits reach HD-DVD this week in a pair of
new high-definition transfers.
The fan-favorite “Shaun” is the more satisfying of the duo,
using dry British wit and Wright and Pegg’s wry observations to
skewer the worn-out zombie genre, while “Hot Fuzz” is a bit
more scattershot in its depiction of a top cop (Pegg) assigned to a
quiet suburban town to keep the peace. A slow start and a bloated
running time keep “Hot Fuzz” from really taking off, though
it’s possible its localized humor didn’t import as well as
Universal’s HD-DVD transfers look positively pristine for both
movies. 5.1 Dolby Digital Plus sound is also on-hand to compliment the
splendid visuals, while a bounty of extras are present for both movies:
uncensored commentaries, a number of deleted scenes, and Making Of
featurettes make these unquestionably recommended for fans of either
New on Blu Ray Disc
Blu Ray Disc (***, 40 mins., 2006, G; Disney):
Imax documentary is one of the best of its kind I've seen recently --
an exploration of the Red Planet with some actual (if embellished)
footage from NASA rovers which transmitted incredible visuals back
home, combined with sequences demonstrating how scientists and
engineers made the rovers work.
Topped with Paul Newman narration and music from Philip Glass, this
40-minute short is an enthralling viewing experience that Disney has
brought to Blu Ray in an acceptable high-definition transfer with 5.1
PCM/Dolby Digital sound and two extras: a vintage 1957 Disney special,
"Mars and Beyond," along with a Making Of segment offering interviews
with NASA team members and students from the "Imagine Mars" program.
There are times when the HD image displays the limitations of some of
the source material, but for science buffs this documentary is well
worth a look.
DREAM IS ALIVE: Blu Ray Disc (1990-1985, 44 and 37 mins., Warner):
vintage, excellent Imax NASA documentaries receive a spiffy
high-definition presentation courtesy of Warner Home Video.
1990's “Blue Planet” is here combined with 1985's
“The Dream Is Alive,” offering outstanding photography from
deep space and a casual overview of the NASA program when it was going
through better days (in lieu of this year’s recent scandals,
it’s refreshing to sit through these older, but no less relevant,
documentaries about the importance of our space exploration).
Warner’s Blu Ray discs (the title is also available on HD-DVD)
include newly minted 1.78, VC-1 encoded transfers as well as Dolby
TrueHD 5.1 audio.
Well worth a purchase for space buffs and HD enthusiasts!
New This Week from Buena Vista
(**½, 2007, 100 mins., PG-13; Touchstone):
box-office smash ($168 million and still going) hits DVD this week in a
solid Special Edition from Buena Vista.
Sort of like a motorcycle-riding variant on “City
Slickers,” “Wild Hogs” offers Tim Allen, John
Travolta, Martin Lawrence and William H. Macy as four middle-aged guys
who hit the road, seeking to find something more than their average
day-to-day suburban lives afford. Marisa Tomei and Jill Hennessy (a
nice combination there if I do say so myself) are two of the lovely
ladies the group meets along the way, along with crazy cop John C.
McGinley and Ray Liotta as the head of a real biker gang.
“Wild Hogs” isn’t especially gut-busting and the
credits of its filmmakers illustrates why (director Walt Becker helmed
the mediocre “Van Wilder”), but the chemistry of the stars
is such that the movie connected with audiences in a big
way...apparently, some folks are starved for comedies (how else to
explain “Knocked Up”’s similar $150 million gross)
and the pickings have been slim. (One other conspiracy theory is that
teens bought tickets for “Wild Hogs” in order to sneak into
“300"...a phenomena last believed to have occurred when
“Bean” took in a healthy sum at the same time
“Starship Troopers” was released).
Either way, Buena Vista’s DVD sports a nifty 16:9 (2.35) transfer
with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound; commentary; deleted scenes; outtakes; an
alternate ending; and two Making Of featurettes.
(**½, 99 mins., 2006, R; Miramax):
Long-time, acclaimed screenwriter Scott Frank made his directorial
debut with this well-reviewed (though little-distributed) heist tale
that gives former “Third Rock” star Joseph Gordon-Levitt
one of his first “adult” roles. Gordon-Levitt plays a
one-time aspiring hockey player whose career is cut short in an
accident, leading him to take a job at a bank....where a former friend
comes calling, wanting him to aid in a robbery of his new employer.
Well-acted and directed, “The Lookout” is tense and
involving, but Frank’s story ultimately unravels with a few holes
that, in the end, make little sense (I won’t go into spoilers
here but not all the elements ultimately click); nevertheless,
Gordon-Levitt’s understated performance is worth seeing, as is
“The Lookout” on balance. Miramax’s DVD includes
commentary with Frank and cinematographer Alar Kivilo plus two Making
Of featurettes; the 16:9 (2.40) and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks are
both excellent, the latter offering a fine score by James Newton Howard.
Vol. 2 (612 mins., Disney):
Second volume of cartoons from the popular early ‘90s Disney
animated series offers over 600 minutes of looney fun on three discs.
Covering roughly the middle group of episodes from the series,
“Darkwing” fans ought to be highly satisfied by the
full-screen transfers and 2.0 Dolby Stereo sound in Disney’s
THE TICK Vs.
Season 2 (255 mins., Disney):
Although this two-disc doesn’t contain Episode 15 (it’s
even mentioned on the outer packaging), “Tick” devotees
should be happy with this sophomore season of the Fox Network
“Tick” Saturday morning animated series. With humor aimed
at the older set as well as kids, series fans should be thrilled with
these four-plus hours of fun in standard full-screen transfers and 2.0
Dolby Stereo sound.
Coming From Criterion
David Mamet’s taut, tense psychological drama HOUSE OF GAMES (***,
1987, 102 mins., R; Criterion)
is regarded by some as one of the finest films of the late 1980s,
making it an ideal candidate for inclusion in the Criterion Collection.
film follows a successful psychiatrist (Lindsay Crouse) who enters into
another world when she opts to help out a patient who owes money to a
con man (Joe Mantegna). While Mantegna agrees to wipe her
patient’s slate clean, he also asks Crouse to help HIM out --
namely, watch the signs of his competitors after he gets up from the
table while playing cards.
Mamet’s incisive dialogue is played to a hilt by Mantegna and
Crouse, with the writer making his directorial debut at the helm of
this 1987 Orion Pictures release. While the story ends up on the
predictable side and Mamet’s direction is a little dry,
“House of Games” is nevertheless a riveting view, one which
Criterion has brought to DVD in a new Special Edition.
Commentary from Mamet and co-star/consultant Ricky Jay offers loads of
insight into the production of the film, while new interviews with
Crouse and Mantegna are also on-hand. A short documentary produced
during the filming is also included, along with storyboards, the
trailer, and a new transfer supervised by cinematographer Juan Ruiz
Also coming shortly from Criterion is a new edition of Luis
THE MILKY WAY (1969, 101 mins., Criterion),
filmmaker’s 1969 meditation on Catholicism, surrealism, and human
nature in general.
Criterion’s DVD includes a new high-definition derived transfer
plus a video introduction from writer Jean-Claude Carriere, an
interview with critic Ian Christie, a documentary on Bunuel featuring
many friends and colleagues, improved subtitles and the original
trailer. A fine compliment to Lionsgate’s new Bunuel release
Finally Criterion has a 2-disc Special Edition upcoming for CRIA CUERVOS (1976, 109 mins., Criterion ),
Carlos Saura's 1976 film starring Ana Torrent and Geraldine Chaplin,
examining the effects of Fascism on a middle-class Spanish family.
In addition to a new digitial transfer, Criterion's set sports a
documentary on the life of Saura, new interviews with Chaplin and
Torrent, and a booklet sporting an essay from critic Paul Julian Smith.
New From Lionsgate
BARDOT: 5 Film Collection (Lionsgate):
Lionsgate’s three-disc set offers five newly restored Brigitte
Bardot French comedies, all of which are being released on DVD for the
first time in the U.S. Included in the collection are “Naughty
Girl,” Love on a Pillow,” “The Vixen,”
“Come Dance With Me” and “Two Weeks in
all in widescreen format (either 2.35 or 1.66)
capped by a new featurette, “Larger than Life: Brigitte Bardot
and the Mythology of the Sex Symbol,” offering comments from Hugh
Hefner and various film scholars about Bardot’s legacy.
The Director’s Series (Lionsgate)
Double-disc set from Lionsgate presents two Luis Bunuel classics, being
released for the first time in the United States: “Gran
is a melodrama boasting a commentary from
Philip Kemp, while “The Young
” (notable for being one
of only two films Bunuel shot in English) sports a discussion from film
scholars Peter Evans and Isabel Santaolalla. “Gran Casino”
is presented in its original full-screen format while “The Young
One” is offered in 16:9 widescreen, with both black-and-white
features appearing in appreciably good shape.
WAITING: Blu Ray Disc (**½, 2005, 94 mins., Unrated; Lionsgate):
funny, raunchy comedy about a waitstaff at an Applebees-like chain
restaurant, their boredom with work and relationships with one another.
Lionsgate's Blu Ray disc looks nifty in 1080p high-definition, offering
uncompressed 7.1 PCM audio, 5.1 Dolby digital, video and cast
commentaries, deleted scenes, outtakes, alternate takes, the trailer
and more. "Waiting" may be just another wacky youth comedy in the end,
but the film has its moments, and the cast (including Ryan Reynolds,
Anna Faris, Justin Long and former "Freaks and Geeks" star John Francis
Daley) is appealing enough to make it work.
MALICIOUS (*½, 92 mins., 1995, R; Republic/Lionsgate):
Ringwald bared all in this tepid 1995 thriller as a woman who stalks a
college athlete (Patrick McGaw) after the duo have an affair.
Standard-issue action best recommended for Ringwald fanatics, presented
in a mediocre full-screen transfer with 2.0 Dolby Surround audio.
FILES, Season One (2007, 530 mins., Lionsgate):
Entertaining Sci-Fi Channel series stars Paul Blackthorne as Harry
Dresden, Chicago’s resident wizard detective, who investigates
all sorts of crimes related to the supernatural. Lionsgate’s
three-disc set includes the series’ first season in excellent
16:9 (1.78) transfers with 5.1 sound, deleted scenes, select
commentaries, and a Making Of featurette.
SAVED BY THE
BELL: Two Movie Collection (1992-94, Lionsgate):
long-running NBC Saturday morning sitcom wrapped up its original-cast
story lines in a pair of primetime TV films: 1992's “Hawaiian
Style” and the 1994 finale, “Wedding in Las Vegas,”
both of which star the entire original cast (Mark-Paul Gosslaar, Mario
Lopez, Dustin Diamond, Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, Elizabeth Berkley, Lark
Voorhees and Dennis Haskins as Mr. Belding), plus several other cast
members who starred in the short-lived, prime-time spin-off “The
College Years.” Full-screen transfers and Dolby 2.0 soundtracks
make this duo well worth a pick up for “Bell” fanatics.
I PITY THE
FOOL: Season 1 (2006, 126 mins., Lionsgate):
upbeat TV Land reality series puts Mr. T in a series of “fish out
of water” scenarios as he motivates a group of folks into doing
chores as mundane as helping around the house. While “I Pity the
Fool” is certainly amusing at face value (seeing Mr. T get
involved in daily activities is infinitely amusing), the series is also
worthwhile for younger viewers, since it doesn’t pander to its
viewers and ridicule its participants the way most
“reality” programs do. It’s good, clean fun which
Lionsgate has released on DVD in a 1.85 transfer with 2.0 Dolby Stereo
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