8/8/06 Edition

Revisiting An APOCALYPSE
Paramount's New "Dossier" Collects (Nearly) All of Coppola's Epic
Plus: Fox Wrap Up with Vintage Classics, and a Criterion Rohmer Retrospective

If you bypassed Paramount’s prior DVD releases of APOCALYPSE NOW (***½, 1979, R) -- Francis Ford Coppola’s troubled yet intermittently brilliant, surreal war film -- in the hopes that a Special Edition would follow one day, your patience has been rewarded with an essential, two-disc “Dossier Edition” available this week that’s highlighted by a wealth of outstanding extras...and just a couple of caveats.

First for the good news: Coppola and disc producer Kim Aubrey offer both the 153-minute, 1979 theatrical cut of “Apocalypse Now” -- as well as its 202-minute, 2001 “Redux” re-issue -- here in one convenient package for fans. The director also contributes a superb commentary that’s shared between the two versions, with the “Redux” track obviously taking a pause to discuss the specific reinstated sequences whenever they appear in the latter cut (there’s also an optional marker that appears on-screen whenever added footage is shown)..

Though Coppola says he prefers some of the more outlandish portions of the “Redux” cut, he also understands why many viewers prefer to gravitate towards his more focused -- and for me at least more powerful -- shorter theatrical version. Either way you go, though, you’ll be treated to a somewhat meandering but visually intense and unique motion picture odyssey that remains -- in spite of its flaws -- a supremely memorable epic, a defining example of “auteurism” on a grand scale that may never be matched again in the cinema.

Visually, both cuts look outstanding and have reportedly been encoded at higher DVD bit-rates than their preceding releases since the film is spread out over two platters, dividing the structure of Coppola’s movie into two defining “Acts.” As with all prior DVD and laserdisc releases, the Technovision frame is matted at approximately 2:1, though Aubrey and Coppola have included an on-screen text “FAQ” that explains why the director and master cinematographer Vittorio Storaro prefer to matte the film at 2:1 for home viewing. The 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack remains a thundering, supremely effective mix of sounds, from various atmospheric effects to an eclectic soundtrack punctuated by the occasional vocal appearance of Jim Morrison.

For extras, Aubrey has assembled a fascinating array of extras that make up in information and content what they may lack in running time.

The first disc offers Marlon Brando’s complete recitation of T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men,” laid over a behind-the-scenes montage, plus a bizarre, creepy three-minute excised sequence, “Monkey Sampan.” Those who thought the “Redux” version restored most of the prominent footage that Coppola left on the cutting room floor might be stunned by an additional 26 minutes of deleted scenes shown here for the first time, highlighted by 12 sequences offering more Brando, Dennis Hopper and Scott Glenn (these are taken from the legendary, 5-hour [!] early workprint assembly of the film).

A section of extras called “A/V Club Featurettes” include an in-depth text article by synthesizer guru Bob Moog reprinted from the January, 1980 issue of “Contemporary Keyboard Magazine.” This fascinating and technical article goes into detail about the work of the various artists (including Shirley Walker) who worked at great length (and expense!) to “modernize” the compositions of Coppola’s father -- Carmine Coppola -- for the soundtrack. There’s a mention of Isao Tomita’s influence on the design of the score, as well as the work of David Shire, whose work was quickly dismissed by Coppola. This isn’t the only extra on the soundtrack (more on that in a moment), but it’s a must-read for film score fanatics and a most welcome inclusion on the DVD.

A six-minute featurette on “The Birth of 5.1 Sound” looks at the groundbreaking collaboration between Coppola and Dolby Labs for the film’s sound design, while a four-minute demo of the opening “Ghost Helicopter Flyover” and Aubrey’s text “FAQ” (which also answers questions about the ending of the movie and how it was shot among other oft-repeated queries) rounds out the first platter’s bonus features.

More extras can be found on the second disc, including a 15-minute featurette on “The Music of Apocalypse Now,” sporting new interviews with Shirley Walker, Walter Murch and others, discussing the approach Coppola took with the music and incorporating some marvelous archival footage of the composers butting heads over its direction! This is precisely the type of insightful featurette you’d expect to find on a Zoetrope DVD, and while Shire’s rejected music isn’t mentioned here, it’s nevertheless a compelling segment that answers many questions behind the strange, yet effective, music and effects Coppola utilized for the film.

Additional featurettes examine the editing of the film (18 mins.) with comments from Coppola and Murch about why certain scenes (i.e. the French plantation sequence) were dropped for the theatrical cut; a 15-minute look at the sound design; a brief, four-minute “Then and Now” segment on the film’s reception at Cannes in ‘79 and ‘01; another four-minute “PBR Streetgang” featurette with 2001 interviews with the movie’s stars; and a four-minute look at Storaro’s cinematography and the specific elements that needed to be used to make the colors sing in the picture’s 2001 “Redux” release.

All of these extras are top-notch across the board, incorporating a wealth of interviews culled from new discussions, archival footage, and the work of Coppola’s wife, Eleanor, who shot miles of amazing behind-the-scenes material during the production...footage that was in turn used for the marvelous 1991 documentary “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse.”

That brings us to this set’s one glaring omission: the absence of “Hearts of Darkness,” which reportedly (according to DVDTalk.com) was due to dangling legal issues. Not only that, but this DVD set basically glosses over a history of the movie’s hugely troubled shoot altogether -- presumably because nothing could compare to the all-encompassing “Hearts of Darkness” in the first place. Knowing this, here’s hoping those issues get ironed out down the road and Paramount can bring the documentary to DVD -- something you’d imagine may well happen since there’s no attempt here at recreating those anecdotes or interviews at all.

The other omission is less significant but still may bug die-hard fans: the lack of theatrical trailers and advertising materials, plus the “Camp Destruction” credit roll that accompanied some theatrical prints in ‘79. The prior “Apocalypse Now” theatrical cut DVD included both of those (and the “Redux” DVD offered its re-issue trailer), but none of them are present here.

Despite those drawbacks, there’s nevertheless more than enough substantive extras on-hand to make this affordable ($15 in many outlets) set one of the top DVDs of 2006. Coppola’s commentary and the examination of the score and editing alone are enough to recommend the package to scholars and casual viewers alike. Enthusiastically recommended!

Also New From Paramount

THRESHOLD: The Complete Series (2005, 12 Episodes, over 9 hours., Paramount, available August 22): It sounded like it couldn’t miss: David S. Goyer, Brannon Braga, Peter Hyams and others producing a sci-fi network series with a top-notch, ensemble cast (Carla Gugino, Brent Spiner, Charles S. Dutton). Sadly, like many of last fall’s failed genre shows (“Invasion,” “Surface,” “Night Stalker”), this expensive CBS series wasn’t long for this world -- in fact it was the first of the group to meet with cancellation, with only 8 of its 12 episodes appearing on broadcast TV. Paramount’s four-disc DVD set offers a quartet of unaired episodes, but discouragingly, the flaws of “Threshold” were apparent right from the start: uninteresting, recycled plots about an extraterrestrial invasion and unappealing execution set in after the moderately successful pilot, giving viewers little incentive to return to the series week after week. Ratings fell quickly and “Threshold” will end up as just a footnote among the credits of its collective cast and crew, though die-hard sci-fi fans may still want to give the program a shot. Paramount’s excellent DVD set offers superior 16:9 transfers with a four-part Making Of featurette; a look at the visual effects and “fractal” science; deleted scenes and select commentary tracks. The 5.1 soundtracks are also strong, as are the performances -- it’s the central story line that doomed “Threshold” almost as quickly as it began.

STAR TREK: KLINGON Fan Collective (1967-2001, 686 mins., Paramount): The latest fan-friendly “Collective” DVD compilation includes Klingon-centric episodes “Broken Bow” (Enterprise), “Errand of Mercy” and “The Trouble With Tribbles” (The Original Series), “A Matter of Honor,” “Sins of the Father,” and “Redemption” Parts I and II (The Next Generation), “The Way of the Warrior,” “The Sword of Kahless” and “Trials and Tribble-ations” (Deep Space Nine), and “Barge of the Dead” (Voyager). Thankfully, supplements are more in abundance this time out, with Michael and Denise Okuda text commentaries offered on “Broken Bow,” both “Tribbles” episodes, “Sins of the Father,” and “The Sword of Kahless,” plus an audio commentary with Rick Berman and Brannon Braga on “Broken Bow.” The full-screen transfers (except for the “Enterprise” episode, which is in 16:9 widescreen) are top-notch, as are the 5.1 and 2.0 Dolby Digital soundtracks. As with the previous “Fan Collective” sets, the goal here is to provide an overview of a specific Trek sub-genre for viewers who don’t have enough cash to own each series comprehensively on DVD, and the “Klingon” set does as good a job as any spotlighting some of the franchise’s favorite characters.

New From the Criterion Collection

It’s miraculous that 86-year-old Eric Rohmer continues to direct his own films, with Criterion’s upcoming DVD retrospective of his SIX MORAL TALES appearing next week as a tribute to one of France’s defining “New Wave” filmmakers.

Rohmer’s “Six Moral Tales” were produced in a 10-year span -- between 1962 and ‘72 -- and highlighted the director’s penchant for character studies set against distinct seasonal backdrops.

Included in Criterion’s superb collection are “The Bakery Girl of Monceau” (1962, 23 mins.); “Suzanne’s Career” (1963, 55 mins.); “My Night at Maud’s” (1969, 111 mins.); “La Collectionneuse” (1967, 87 mins.); “Claire’s Knee” (1970, 106 mins.); and “Love in the Afternoon” (1972, 98 mins.).

Supplements include brand-new digital transfers supervised by Rohmer himself; a video conversation between Rohmer and filmmaker Barbet Schroeder; archival interviews with Rohmer, actors Jean-Claude Brialy, Beatrice Romand, Laurence de Monaghan, and Jean-Louis Trintignant, plus critic Jean Douchet and producer Pierre Cottrell; six Rohmer shorts produced between 1951 and 1999; “On Pascal,” a 1965 educational TV series episode Rohmer directed; a video afterword with Rohmer and writer Neil LaBute; trailers; new subtitle translations; and a gorgeous booklet collecting Rohmer’s original stories and Cahiers du cinema articles plus new essays from a handful of critics.

Highly recommended for all French cinema aficionados with a wealth of outstanding supplements enriching the groundbreaking content Rohmer infused in his work.

Fox August Wrap Up: Vintage Box Sets and More!

JAYNE MANSFIELD COLLECTION (Fox): Three starring vehicles for the late Jayne Mansfield hit DVD with supplements and remastered transfers. Viewer favorites “The Girl Can’t Help It,” “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?,” and “The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw” were released between 1956 and ‘58 and offer the blonde star at her best, in full Cinemascope as well. Now a part of Fox’s outstanding “Cinema Classics Collection” line of vintage DVDs, each film looks superb in their new 16:9 transfers and the set also contains a few supplements, including commentaries by historians Toby Miller (“The Girl Can’t Help It”) and Dana Polan (“Rock Hunter”), the A&E documentary “Jayne Mansfield: Blonde Ambition,” and trailers. Recommended strongly for all Golden Age aficionados!

THE CLARK CABLE COLLECTION, Volume One (Fox, available August 15th): More Golden Age classics from Fox, collecting three vintage Clark Gable efforts: the Jack London adaptation “Call of the Wild”; the Susan Hayward teaming in “Soldier of Fortune”; and the Cinemascope western “The Tall Men.” The former discs sport audio commentaries from historians Darwin Porter (“Call of the Wild”) and Danforth Prince (“Soldier of Fortune”), plus full-screen transfers, photo galleries and stereo and mono sound. “The Tall Men,” meanwhile, looks smashing in 16:9 widescreen and sports stereo and mono sound as well as a photo gallery.

MR.MOTO COLLECTION, Volume One (Fox): Four of the eight 1930s Mr. Moto mysteries make their DVD debuts in Fox’s eagerly-awaited, fully restored box-set. Similar to the studio’s superb package of vintage “Charlie Chan” vehicles in June, Fox has carefully restored the four pictures (“Think Fast, Mr. Moto”; “Thank You, Mr. Moto”; “Mr. Moto Takes a Chance” and “Mysterious Mr. Moto”) and included a fresh batch of new, retrospective featurettes on the series, including profiles of star Peter Lorre, series director Norman Foster, producer Sol Wurtzel and stuntman Harvey Parry. It’s a nifty package ideal for all Golden Age fans, with the four films contained on their own separate platters with film-specific packaging (as of now the movies are not available separately).

FRAT BOY COLLECTION (Fox, aprx. $19): Three-disc box set offers a trio of Fox’s studio comedies, including PORKY’S, BACHELOR PARTY, and PCU. The latter certainly fails to hold its own against the raunchy ‘80s laughs of Bob Clark’s original “Porky’s” and the overlong Tom Hanks comedy “Bachelor Party” (which hasn’t stood the test of time nearly as well), but at least the price is right, with Amazon offering the anthology at $17.

DAMON WAYANS: THE LAST STAND (1990, 56 mins., Unrated; Fox): Fresh off “In Living Color,” Damon Wayans headed out on his own and top-lined this 1990 concert video which Fox has captured on disc. The no-frills DVD offers a full-screen presentation of Wayans’ concert with 2.0 stereo sound.

BROKEN SAINTS: The Animated Comic Epic (2001-03, 720 mins., Unrated; Fox): Writer/director Brooke Burgess’ computer-animated, online comic graphic novel goes into national release with Fox’s four-disc Special Edition DVD, offering the entire 24-episode saga with a new 5.1 Dolby Digital sound mix, as well as its original, voice-less 2.0 stereo soundtrack. Extras are ample, with the specific artists and creators voicing commentaries over all the episodes; trailers and production featurettes; a panel discussion; media press interviews from all sorts of outlets; Comic Con footage; a Sundance Festival featurette; a look at the soundtrack; DVD-ROM features; easter eggs; and more. “Broken Saints” may not be for every taste but if you find it appealing, the DVD is packed with as many extras as any release in 2006.

REMINGTON STEELE: Seasons Four and Five (1985-87, 27 Episodes, 1360 mins.; Fox, available August 15): NBC’s romantic mystery series ran just long enough to prevent star Pierce Brosnan from becoming 007 (at least for a time, anyway), and Fox’s final assortment of “Remington Steele” episodes collects the ultimate 27 shows from the series’ fourth and fifth seasons, respectively (fans should note that the fifth season is really a group of three “mini-series,” or double-length episodes, that ran in 1987, nearly a year after the fourth season concluded). Fox’s five-disc set offers the finale to “Remington Steele” in excellent full-screen transfers with mono soundtracks, plus select episode commentaries by co-creator Michael Gleason and a retrospective featurette as well. A definite must-have for “Steele” fans!

THE GIRLS NEXT DOOR: Season One (2006, 225 mins., Unrated; Fox): Hugh Hefner and three of his Playboy Mansion residents (Holly Madison, Bridget Marquardt and Kendra Wilkinson) take you behind the scenes along the hallowed grounds in this E! Channel reality series. Fox’s box-set offers the first season’s 15 episodes with unrated footage “too hot for TV!” and ample special features including commentary by the girls; 29 deleted scenes (nearly an hour’s worth); an unaired pilot presentation; a photo gallery and more.

WHAT THE BLEEP DO WE KNOW: Down The Rabbit Hole Edition (2004, 152 mins., Not Rated; Fox): The indie-circuit documentary hit (currently the fifth highest-grossing documentary ever, with receipts over $10 million) receives a lavish, three-disc Special Edition from Fox. This expanded version of the odd, intriguing film with Marlee Matlin -- which dissects the connection between science and spiritualism -- also includes new interviews with scientists, mystics, physicians, and journalists, plus offers an interactive function where you can uncover more information about what you’re seeing when an icon pops up on the screen. Absorbing and quite entertaining stuff, and well worth a look.

WATER (***, 2006, 117 mins., PG-13; Fox, available August 29): Controversial film from Indian filmmaker Deepa Mehta follows an eight-year-old Indian girl, widowed following her arranged marriage, subsequently banished to a home where other Hindu widows reside. Political pressure forced Mehta to move production of “Water” out of India and into Sri Lanka, where the film was produced and ultimately embraced by international critics last year. Fox’s DVD includes commentary from Mehta and two behind-the-scenes featurettes that touch upon the production of the film and the problems Mehta faced in getting it made. The 16:9 (2.35) transfer and 5.1 Hindi soundtrack are both superb, with optional English and Spanish subtitles offered.

STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE: Berry Fairy Tales (2006, 44 mins.; Fox, available August 22): It’s interesting how the toy-franchises that were around when some of us were kids make a reappearance just around the time that said generation begins having children of their own (“Care Bears,” soon “The Transformers” in a movie of their own, etc.). Such is the case with “Strawberry Shortcake,” which is back after a lengthy hiatus in time for a new generation of young girls to enjoy. Fox’s latest DVD release offers 44 minutes of DIC-animated goodness, specifically two colorful fairy tale adventures for kids. A bonus music video rounds out the release.

Coming Next Week

SCARY MOVIE 4 (**, 91 mins., Unrated; Dimension/Genius Products): Saying this is the best of the four entries in the “Scary Movie” series may be faint praise, but at least there are a few laughs scattered about last spring’s latest installment, which chalked up some $90 million in domestic box-office.

For the second consecutive outing, “Airplane!” vet David Zucker takes the helm, with old pals Jim Abrahams and Pat Proft co-authoring the script for yet another string of film parodies. Some (“War of the Worlds,” “The Village”) hit the mark more than others (“The Grudge”), with a few amusing celebrity cameos sprinkled throughout and co-starring roles provided for Craig Bierko and Bill Pullman, here joining returning leads Anna Faris and Regina Hall. The best bits: Chris Elliott ribbing the Adrien Brody role in “The Village” and an almost shot-for-shot re-enactment of the opening of Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds,” with Bierko in Tom Cruise’s shoes (there’s also an amusing parody of Cruise’s unhinged Oprah interview that closes the movie, with Mad TV alumnus Debra Wilson reprising her dead-on imitation of Winfrey).

The problem with the movie is the same as its predecessors: unlike the better Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker comedies, there’s no attempt whatsoever at creating a coherent story line, so what you end up watching are a stream of self-contained movie parodies, like “SNL” or “Mad TV” skits, and some of them are pretty desperate (and sadly, nearly all of Leslie Nielsen’s scenes are painfully unfunny). That said, at least it’s more consistent than its predecessors and might be worth a chuckle or two if you’ve seen all the films they’re referencing.

Dimension’s DVD offers an additional 15 deleted and extended scenes; commentary from Zucker and others; Making Of featurettes; bloopers; a fine 16:9 (1.85) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

Warner Box Animation and More!

Coming in the next couple of weeks from Warner Home Video are five new animated DVD releases, including a pair of Hanna-Barbera “Classic Collection” sets ideal for nostalgic viewers.

Both MAGILLA GORILLA and HONG KONG PHOOEY (both available August 15) offer the complete series of both Hanna-Barbera Saturday Morning cartoons in remastered transfers and several fun special features to boot.

Though he didn’t have the lasting impact of Yogi Bear, “Magilla Gorilla” first aired in the mid ‘60s and the DVD set offers all 23 episodes from the beloved (if short-lived) series, which also sports stories featuring Ricochet Rabbit, Deputy Droop-a-long, and Puss and Mushmouse. Warner’s set also includes rare archival footage of composer Hoyt Curtin with Bill Hanna at the piano, introduced by animator Jerry Eisenberg; an interactive interview gallery with voice artist Allan Melvin, Eisenberg and animation history guru Jerry Beck; and an archival TV special, “Here Comes a Star,” which offers an introduction to Magilla.

“Hong Kong Phooey,” meanwhile, was more of a cash-in on the kung-fu fad of the ‘70s than a durable cartoon creation, but it’s still decent Hanna-Barbera fun, with Warner’s set containing the entire 31 episode output of the program in a double-disc set. Warner has also included commentary on three episodes, a nifty retrospective documentary “The Phoo-Nomenon,” and a storyboard for “The Batty Bank Gang.”

Of a decidedly more modern era is XIAOLIN SHOWDOWN: Season One (2003, 274 mins., now available), a colorful Cartoon Network series done in pseudo-anime style with an emphasis on karate-chopping action and a diverse set of lead characters. Warner’s two-disc set features all 13 episodes from the series’ first season in fine full-screen transfers and 2.0 Dolby Digital soundtracks. Certainly different than the Hanna-Barbera series but just as bombastic in its own way, and recommended for the young audience it’s intended for.

Last but not least this week are two of the Cartoon Network’s more mature “Adult Swim” offerings, SEALAB 2021: Season 4 (2005, 187 mins) and THE BRAK SHOW: Volume 2 (2000-04, 154 mins.). Both of these irreverent shows poke fun at the conventions of classic ‘70s ‘toons and sitcoms, with “The Brak Show” riffing the latter genre and “Sealab” going so far as to be “set” in 1973 itself.

The problem with both “Sealab” and “The Brak Show” in terms of a DVD collection is that a little of these shows tend to go a long way. Both productions were screened originally in 15-minute blocks on the Cartoon Network, so the lack of cohesive “plots” per se and manic comedy could be crammed into one quick sitting...which would then satisfy most viewers until the next airing.

Here, with over 2 hours of programming on each set, Warner has given fans their money’s worth in these two-disc packages, yet newcomers ought to take their time sampling the fun...since over-exposure could send you quickly into a seizure! (Especially with “Brak”).

Also New on DVD

LOVE COMES TO THE EXECUTIONER (2006, 90 mins., R, Velocity, available August 15): Wacky black comedy with Jonathan Tucker as a recent college grad who becomes an executioner at a local prison, where his estranged bro (Jeremy Renner) is on death’s row. The duo ultimately spar over Renner’s ex-girlfriend (Ginnifer Goodwin) while Renner tries to prevent both from the chair. Kyle W. Bergesen’s film is a manic affair that fans of dark comedies might enjoy, and the quirky Goodwin is a possible breakout star in the waiting. Thinkfilm/Velocity’s DVD offers outtakes, cast interviews, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound and a full-screen transfer.

LAND OF THE BLIND (2006, 101 mins., R, Bauer Martinez, available August 15): An excellent cast (Ralph Fiennes, Donald Sutherland, Tom Hollander, Lara Flynn Boyle) stars in this pretentious, muddled political thriller from writer-director Robert Edwards. The Bauer Martinez DVD release offers a behind-the-scenes featurette, original trailer, 16:9 widescreen transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

NEXT TIME: Robin Williams tunes up his RV, plus POSEIDON, SILENT HILL and VERONICA MARS Season 2! Don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards, direct any emails to the link above and we'll catch you then. Cheers everyone!

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