9/18/07 Edition -- The AISLE SEAT BLOG Is Now Online!

10th Anniversary Edition!
The New Season Kicks Off With Pre-Halloween Treats
Plus: Latest Blu Ray Titles, MASADA, Superman & More!

Ten years!

Incredibly it has virtually been a decade since the Aisle Seat’s first regular column premiered in early October, 1997, and goodness what a difference 10 years can make. As we move ahead here with another season (our 11th!) of entertainment reviews and analysis, I’d like to thank my loyal readers who submit comments and suggestions (as well as the occasional “what in the world are you smoking?” email!), as well as all the fantastic PR people and studios who have proven invaluable in their assistance. I couldn’t do this without all of you, so my thanks to everyone who has participated in the formation and continued success of The Aisle Seat. It’s been a blast and I look forward to more good times, reviews and analysis as we move into our second decade (gasp!) of coverage.

One note about our rating system, which I haven't mentioned in a while and probably should for newcomers: theatrical films are mostly rated on a *-to-**** star basis, and this week, I'm starting a new color-code system that will specially mark titles (usually a handful each week) as being strongly recommended. Titles highlighted in GREEN are intended to be representative of the latter, and that's not to imply that everything listed in BLUE isn't worth a purchase -- it's just that I'd like to designate the titles I feel most strongly about, and the green color-coding is meant to be an easier way for someone to scan through each column and find the titles I'm most strongly recommending..

In the meantime, last week was a huge one for fans of sci-fi/fantasy on DVD.

For starters, Universal issued their eagerly anticipated second anthology of genre favorites with THE CLASSIC SCI-FI ULTIMATE COLLECTION VOLUME 2, a three-disc set comprised of “Dr. Cyclops,” “The Land Unknown,” “The Deadly Mantis,” “Cult of the Cobra,” and “The Leech Woman.” Regrettably, this superb package is only available at Best Buy retail locations, and unlike its predecessor, isn’t even available on the chain’s website. Fans are urged to track it down, and soon, as the first volume (likewise limited to Best Buy locations) went out of print quickly and currently commands top dollar on the secondary market. (Universal has a similar five-film anthology, THE CLASSIC HORROR ARCHIVE, due out on October 2nd, which again will be limited to Best Buy stores).

The best news of all was the return of MGM’s beloved Midnite Movies series of sci-fi/horror favorites, which had gone on hiatus for several years while the studio’s DVD distribution was controlled by Sony. Now that MGM has partnered with Fox for distribution of their back catalog, the series is back in a big way, with Fox joining in the fun with their own Midnite Movies releases.

Regrettably, only two of the new arrivals were available for review, but fans are still urged to check out the new Midnite Movies Double Features, which include the following: “The Beast/Bat People,” “The Phantom From 10,000 Leagues/The Beast With A Million Eyes,”“Return of Dracula/The Vampire,” and “Yongary, Monster From The Deep/Konga,” all from MGM; and the Fox sets, which feature “Blueprint For Murder/Man In The Attic,” “Chosen Survivors/Earth Dies Screaming,” “Devils Of Darkness/Witchcraft,” “Gorilla At Large/Mystery At Monster Island,” “House On Skull Mountain/Mephisto Waltz,” and “Tales From The Crypt/Vault Of Horror.”

Newly available as a standalone entry in the Midnite Movies series is Burt I. Gordon’s hilarious adaptation of THE FOOD OF THE GODS (**½, 1976, 88 mins., PG; MGM/Fox), making its DVD debut in a splendid presentation courtesy of Fox and MGM. Gordon’s opus makes for a terrific companion piece to his 1977 follow-up “Empire of the Ants” (already available on a still in-print Midnite Movies release), with Marjoe Gortner, Pamela Franklin, and Belinda Balaski as three of the poor souls who hole up in a Northwestern cabin while giant rats and roosters (you heard right!) wreck havoc.

The 16:9 (1.85) transfer is certainly pleasing, preserving all of the goofy shenanigans, while the mono sound is also fine. It might’ve been nice to see the original trailer, but alas, but it’s not on-hand here.

The other individual Midnite Movies release -- and the one of the most significance for horror fans -- is the long-awaited, restored version of WITCHFINDER GENERAL (***, 1968, 87 mins., Not Rated; MGM/Fox), aka “The Conqueror Worm” and previously only available in the U.S. in a cut version that played up the film’s loose connection with Edgar Allan Poe and star Vincent Price’s past association with American-International’s Poe series. Adding insult to injury was the hideous synthesizer score added to U.S. video releases, basically ruining the original intentions of director Michael Reeves.

It was a long time in coming, but MGM/Fox’s new edition preserves Reeves’ director’s cut, which includes the rousing orchestral score by Paul Ferris and his preferred edit of the movie, which some fans may lament is missing some of the topless nudity seen in European prints. That said, this is easily the finest version of the movie you’ll see on DVD anywhere, thanks to a razor-sharp new 16:9 (1.85) transfer with clear mono sound. The restored presentation of the movie is simply outstanding, and superb extras include commentary with producer Philip Waddilove and actor Ian Ogilvy, plus a featurette on the making of the film.

Price fanatics may also want to check out the new VINCENT PRICE: MGM LEGENDS COLLECTION box-set, which includes “Witchfinder General” as well as a number of previously released Midnite Movies favorites: “Tales of Terror,” “Twice Told Tales,” “The Abominable Dr. Phibes,” “Dr. Phibes Rises Again,” “Theater of Blood,” and “Madhouse,” plus a bonus disc featuring nearly 70 minutes of featurettes on its iconic star. All movies are presented in their prior widescreen renditions (either 16:9 or 4:3 letterbox) with the same supplements as their earlier DVD releases.

If the amount of new Midnite Movies wasn’t enough, Fox has also issued a number of other sci-fi/horror titles in plenty of time for Halloween, including a number of anticipated Special Editions:

THE BURNING (***, 91 mins., 1981, R; MGM/Fox): Outrageously good early ‘80s slasher from “creator”/producer Harvey Weinstein (yes, the future Miramax founder) follows a group of kids who accidentally set fire to a camp caretaker...who, in turn, promptly returns to those summer camping grounds to exact his revenge on the same counselors, including Jason Alexander, Holly Hunter, Fisher Stevens, and Brian Backer (“Fast Times at Ridgemont High”). Excellent make-up effects from Tom Savini lend an able hand to this “Meatballs” meets “Friday the 13th” styled affair, offering the requisite gore but a more appealing tone than most of its genre counterparts of the period. MGM/Fox’s new DVD includes a terrific 16:9 (1.85) transfer with mono sound, plus the trailer, an interview with Savini, and commentary from director Tony Maylam and British writer Alan Jones. Recommended!

SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK (**½, 1991, 98 mins., R; MGM/Fox): TV-movie adaptation of the Stephen King story from writers Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal (whose name is spelled incorrectly on the back cover) premiered on CBS in April of 1991 to solid enough ratings. Tim Matheson stars as a school teacher who returns to his Midwestern home town along with his wife (Brooke Adams) and son, only to find himself being haunted by the spirits of a gang that caused the death of his older brother decades before. Director Tom McLoughlin’s movie is effective in its evocation of small-town life and its development of Matheson’s demons, offering a few mild scares and a nice, understated score from Terry Plumeri along the way. MGM’s new DVD is oddly framed at 2.35 (16:9) widescreen, which seemed to be a major error until I compared it to the full-screen television version: surprisingly enough, information is added to both the left and right edges of the frame, while the top and bottom are cropped out. This would indicate the movie was likely shot in Super 35 (it apparently played theatrically overseas), and while I would’ve preferred the full 1.85 aspect ratio to be unmasked, this is still a “valid” presentation of the movie and its most satisfying DVD release to date.

SCARECROWS (**½, 1988, 83 mins., R; MGM/Fox): Low-key, effective, late ‘80s horror outing from writer-director-producer William Wesley follows a group of criminals who hijack a plane heading to Mexico and run afoul of some supernatural shenanigans once they land in the countryside. “Scarecrows” is no great shakes, but the movie’s leisurely pace and moody atmosphere make it a far more satisfying concoction than most late ‘80s direct-to-tape movies go, and MGM’s new 16:9 (1.85) transfer and stereo soundtrack are both top-notch.

THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD: Collector’s Edition (**, 1985, 91 mins., R; MGM/Fox): Special Edition presentation of writer-director Dan O’Bannon’s 1985 half-spoof of the Romero classic offers a number of special features: two commentaries, three featurettes, retrospective interviews and more. Both the 16:9 (1.85) transfer and 2.0 stereo soundtrack are perfectly acceptable, but the movie is still best left for fans: despite a few laughs and the presence of veterans Clu Gulager and James Karen, the movie feels dated, and the light mood turns sour with an unsatisfying “serious” ending (which the cast even laments in their commentary). Not nearly as much fun as it sounds.

FROM BEYOND: Unrated Director’s Cut (***, 1986, 86 mins., NR; MGM/Fox): Stuart Gordon’s grizzly and demented take on H.P. Lovecraft’s book was a fan-favorite successor to the director’s acclaimed “Re-Animator,” reuniting most of that film’s crew and several cast members as well. “From Beyond” admirers ought to be delighted by MGM’s fine new DVD restoration, offering extra gore culled from the cutting room floor, a free-wheeling commentary with Gordon and cast members, an interview with composer Richard Band, and several featurettes on the making of the film. The 16:9 (1.85) transfer is exceptional, as is the 2.0 Dolby Surround sound.

THE LOST WORLD (**, 1960, 96 mins.; Fox): Irwin Allen’s silly Saturday Matinee take on the Arthur Conan Doyle book offers Claude Rains as the brilliant professor who takes an expedition down to the Amazon where dinosaurs still live and roam free (actually they’re more like lizards with phony appendages!). Jill St. John, Michael Rennie and David “Al” Hedison co-star in this so-so fantasy, obviously inspired by the success of “Around the World in 80 Days” but produced on a much smaller budget. There are times when this “Lost World” resembles a TV show with its production values, making it best left for Allen and Cinemascope fanatics, who will at least appreciate the superb 16:9 (2.35) transfer with 4.0 Dolby Digital sound. Extras include a vintage featurette, trailer, comic book, and Fox Movietone newsreel, along with the original 1925 Wallace Beery-Lewis Stone silent version on a separate platter.

THE ROGER CORMAN COLLECTION (8 Films; MGM/Fox): Box-set release bundles eight previously released Midnite Movies favorites from director Roger Corman, including “The Premature Burial,” “X-The Man with the X-Ray Eyes,” “Bloody Mama,” “A Bucket of Blood,” “Gas-s-s-s!”, “The Trip,” “The Young Racers,” and “The Wild Angels.” Transfers, soundtracks, and supplements are all identical to previous DVD incarnations.

Aisle Seat Pick of the Week

MASADA (1981, 383 mins., Koch Entertainment): Kudos to Universal for licensing this rousing, well-acted and supremely memorable 1981 mini-series, which has at last arrived on DVD.

Based on Ernest K. Gann’s novel “The Antagonists,” “Masada” follows the first-century, A.D. efforts of Eleazar ben Yair (Peter Strauss), the Jewish zealot who stages a historic uprising of his people against the Roman Empire and its commander Flavius Silva (Peter O’Toole) in a compound set in the mountains of Masada. Barbara Carrera, Nigel Davenport, Anthony Quayle, and David Warner co-star in this bittersweet reminder of what the television mini-series once was, with action, spectacle and human drama deftly combined in the teleplay by Joel Oliansky, ably directed by veteran Boris Sagal.

Shot on location in Israel, “Masada” is riveting entertainment, capped by a sensational Jerry Goldsmith score (with an assist from Morton Stevens) that most of us are patiently waiting for a re-issue of (hint hint). Koch’s no-frills, double-disc DVD set preserves the complete mini-series as it originally aired (with separate credits for each of the “parts”), with the material looking healthy, if a little bit worn from time to time. The mono sound is also okay, as good as early ‘80s television fidelity permits. Highly recommended!

Also New on DVD

STARGATE ATLANTIS: Season 3 (2006-07, 871 mins., MGM/Fox): Season three for the popular Sci-Fi Channel series (a spin-off of the long-running “Stargate” series) finds a new fleet of Wraith ships heading to attack Earth. MGM/Fox’s five-disc DVD box-set preserves the complete third season in excellent 16:9 (1.78) transfers with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, plus commentary on selected episodes, featurettes, photo galleries and more. “Stargate” fans may also want to check out star David Hewlett in his indie comedy “A Dog’s Breakfast,” which MGM will release next week on DVD in a superb 16:9 (1.78) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, plus commentary, deleted scenes, and featurettes.

ELVIRA’S MOVIE MACABRE (3 Volumes, Shout! Factory): Elvira’s original series hits DVD for the first time, offering the voluptuous horror hostess’ amusing asides and sketches that would run during often mundane horror films. Shout’s series of three Double Feature discs partner “Blue Sunshine” with “Monstroid”; “Maneater of Hydra” with “The House That Screamed”; and “Gamera, Super Monster” with “They Came From Beyond Space.” The DVDs also offer the option of seeing the films unedited without Elvira, but what would the point of that be?

TWO WEEKS (2006, 99 mins., R; MGM/Fox): TV-movie esque dysfunctional family drama finds a group of siblings (including Tom Cavanagh, Ben Chaplin and Julianne Nicholson) returning to their mother’s (Sally Field) side once they learn she’s terminally ill. Steve Stockman’s sincerely produced film hits DVD in a fine a/v presentation offering both widescreen (1.85, 16:9) and full-screen options, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, commentary, deleted scenes, and other extras.

New On Blu Ray

UNDERWORLD: Unrated Cut - Blu Ray (**½, .2003, 123 mins., NR; Sony): Ridiculous, humorless, yet stylish genre potpourri crosses "Highlander" with "The Crow," adds in a dash of vampire and werewolf action, and does a poor job developing characters for a movie that runs a full two hours.

All that being said, though, the central story in Len Wiseman's hit 2003 film is an intriguing one: in a nondescript, towering city, a centuries-old war is being waged by aristocratic vampires and street-savvy "Lycans," whom the legions of the undead want to extinguish from the world as we know it. Humans rarely interact with either species, which is why vampire huntress Kate Beckinsale finds it odd that one of the last Lycan mobs is targeting a human hospital internist (Scott Speedman).

Screenwriter Danny McBride weaves a compelling story of an ages-old conflict between warring supernatural forces, yet one wishes that the relationships between the protagonists -- especially the "forbidden bond" between Beckinsale and Speedman -- had been elaborated upon. The society the vampires have established for themselves is intriguing as well (particularly in its contrast with the Lycan world), yet the movie frustratingly never indulges us in anything more than what feels like an outline of a full- blooded story.

Still, the visuals and action keep you watching, while Wiseman's obvious fetish for Beckinsale in leather (he married her following production) results in a sleek female action hero who returned in the fairly satisfying follow-up “Underworld: Evolution.”

Columbia TriStar's new Blu Ray edition of “Underworld” is basically a high-definition reprise of the studio’s earlier “Extended Cut” double-disc DVD set. It offers an alternate version of the film (not a "Director's Cut" according to Wiseman) that boasts over 20 minutes of restored and/or re-cut footage (the running time is 13 minutes longer than the theatrical cut). Generally, this cut does improve on the original version, thanks to added character bits and scene extensions, all helping to make the film flow more smoothly overall. The disc includes a newer commentary track with Wiseman, Beckinsale, and Speedman (the latter for a few minutes, at least). Discarding the original DVD's commentaries, this new track is unfortunately a bit too jokey at times for its own good, but there's enough information here to please fans.

Other Blu Ray extras include a 47-minute cable documentary, "Fang Vs. Fiction," which attempts to chronicle the origins of the vampire and werewolf myths and how they've been modernized on the big-screen; a reel of outtake bloopers; plus visual effects and production design featurettes. Carried over from the very first DVD release are "The Making of 'Underworld'" and other featurettes on the creature effects, stunts, sound design, storyboards and a music video.

Where the disc obviously shines is in its visual presentation. This “Underworld” boasts a marvelous HD 1080p transfer (MPEG-4/AVC encoded) that packs a wallop; each and every frame boasts perfectly-pitched black levels and details that were lost on previous standard-definition versions. Though “Underworld” certainly isn’t a movie to test out the full spectrum of colors on your HDTV, this is a razor-sharp transfer that does not disappoint. Sony rounds out the release with its customary, superb uncompressed 5.1 PCM soundtrack, as well as an additional 5.1 track for standard Dolby Digital users.

This is easily the finest presentation of the movie on video to date, and well worth it for Blu Ray owners and “Underworld” fans.

THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS: Extended Cut - Blu-Ray (**½, 96 mins., 1997, Unrated; Sony): Chow Yun-Fat's introduction to American cinema isn't anything but a formula retread of his superior Hong Kong thrillers, but “The Replacement Killers” is nevertheless an entertaining actioner that doesn't wear out its welcome, and is here resurrected by Sony in a new Blu Ray release sporting a nifty 1080p HD transfer (MPEG-4/AVC encoded) with uncompressed 5.1 PCM sound. For supplements, the disc loses some of its standard-definition extras (including deleted scenes and commentary), but does boast an HBO Making Of special and another featurette examining Yun-Fat’s first foray into Hollywood studio filmmaking. The film is also presented in its longer (by eight minutes) “Extended” version, and while watching the movie again in HD, I felt the same as I did during my initial viewing of the picture nearly a decade ago: it's still disappointing that the movie wasn't anything out of the ordinary, particularly considering the fine supporting cast that was assembled here (Mira Sorvino, Michael Rooker, Jurgen Prochnow), but as an OK time-killer, “The Replacement Killers” is still worth a view for action fans.

A FEW GOOD MEN: Blu Ray (***, 1992, 138 mins., R; Sony): Rob Reiner’s brief run as an A-list director reached its apex with the release of this 1992 court-room drama, adapted by Aaron Sorkin from his play. Famously quotable dialogue is mixed in with some gaping plot holes and none-too-subtle political commentary (par for the course with Sorkin’s work), but at its heart “A Few Good Men” is sturdy, old-fashioned Hollywood moviemaking, following crusading Navy attorney Tom Cruise as he investigates a marine’s murder and (memorably) questions his scenery-chewing commanding officer (Jack Nicholson) in the process. Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, Kiefer Sutherland, J.T. Walsh, Kevin Pollak, Noah Wylie, and Cuba Gooding, Jr. are part of the familiar ensemble cast in this polished entertainment, well-shot in scope by Robert Richardson and offering a compelling, if flawed, story that’s just a little too bombastic at times for its own good (that concluding “The End” title card irritates me every time). Sony’s Blu Ray release looks outstanding with its MPEG-2 encoded transfer and offers 5.1 uncompressed PCM sound plus commentary from Reiner and two documentaries featuring the director, writer and cast members.

MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA: Blu Ray (**, 2005, 145 mins., PG-13; Sony): Steven Spielberg-produced adaptation of Arthur Golden’s bestseller makes for a lush, sumptuously photographed soap opera, packed with cliches and a languid pace. The performances (from Ziyi Zhang, Ken Watanabe, Michelle Yoeh, Gong Li and others) are top-notch, but these “Memoirs” are best left appreciated by readers familiar with the material, who can overlook the story’s sappy, predictable, and inherently melodramatic elements. Sony’s Blu Ray release, at least, is a keeper: the 1080p (MPEG-4/AVC encoded) transfer captures all of Dion Beebe’s marvelous photography, while the uncompressed 5.1 PCM sound does justice to John Williams’ atmospheric score. Ample extras include two commentaries, numerous Making Of featurettes and copious interviews -- making this a real nice package from Sony here. Despite my dislike for the film, “Geisha” still comes highly recommended for fans.

BLACK BOOK: Blu Ray (***½, 146 mins., 2006, R; Sony): A return to form for director Paul Verhoeven, who likewise returned to his native Holland to helm this supremely entertaining WWII thriller about a Jewish singer (Carice Van Houten) who joins the Dutch resistance. Her assignment: infiltrate Gestapo headquarters, which she does after changing her appearance -- only to fall for a handsome Nazi captain (Sebastian Koch) in the process! Thrills, sex, history, and ample atmosphere make this a wild and always interesting ride, and easily Verhoeven’s most satisfying effort in quite some time. Sony’s Blu Ray disc (available September 25th) boasts a marvelous HD transfer, vividly doing justice to Karl Walter Lindenlaub’s finely-hued cinematography, while the uncompressed PCM sound offers a fine score by Anne Dudley. Extras include a commentary from the director (who co-wrote the picture with Gerard Soeteman) and a basic Making Of featurette. Obviously worth checking out on both Blu Ray and standard DVD next week!

=September Titles from Paramount

Paramount’s September offerings include a number of TV on DVD titles as well as a pair of Special Edition re-issues.

The major new release in the batch is NEXT (**½, 2007, 96 mins., PG-13; Paramount), a spring-time box-office flop that’s actually a lot more watchable than you might’ve thought.

Nicolas Cage shows more signs of life here than he did in “Ghost Rider,” anyway, playing Cris Johnson: a floundering Vegas magician with the ability to see into the future...two minutes ahead, at least, and only in relation to his own well-being. Government agent Julianne Moore attempts to recruit his “talents” for the benefit of tracking down a terrorist plot to bomb L.A. (I guess Jack Bauer wasn’t available), but Cage’s reluctance is only accentuated after he meets pretty, down-on-her luck Jessica Biel, fleeing a bad relationship with her ex.

Gary Goldman, Jonathan Hensleigh and Paul Bernbaum are credited with writing this adaptation of a Philip K. Dick short story, which Lee Tamahori directs in his usual straightforward manner.

“Next” is actually a fairly weak action picture, with so-so special effects and a scenario that feels like “24" leftovers, but the character interplay is interesting enough: Cage’s powers are amusingly shown at the film’s beginning where he first meets Biel, and the young actress actually gives the film’s best performance as the heroine (by comparison, Moore seems to be going through the motions in a thankless, check-cashing role).

Cage and Biel keep you watching, and while the film is ultimately not long enough (just 90 minutes with credits) to develop its main premise satisfactorily, it’s nevertheless a watchable effort that’s worth a rental at least.

Paramount’s DVD offers a strong 16:9 (2.35) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, but the better presentation is obviously on-hand in the HD-DVD incarnation, offering an excellent AVC/MPEG-4 transfer with 5.1 Dolby TrueHD sound. Extras available across both platforms (though in high-definition on the HD-DVD side) include a group of standard-issue, mostly-promotional flavored featurettes.

Two Paramount Special Editions are also on-tap this month, and all I can say is that Tony Manero is STILL, indeed, the man. Just watching John Travolta strut his stuff again as the Brooklyn dance king in John Badham's seminal '70s classic SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (***, 1977, 118 mins., R; Paramount) is enough to make you get off your couch and groove to the classic Bee Gees soundtrack one more time.

This slick, stylish, and memorable Robert Stigwood production was scripted by Norman Wexler from a New Yorker story about blue-collar Brooklyn residents who would take to the dance floors at their neighborhood discos each weekend.

Travolta's superstar-making performance as Tony -- an ordinary young guy trying to break out of his drab daytime existence and make something of himself after dark -- formed the heart of the 1977 film, a slice-of-life drama with melodramatic and tragic passages, highly memorable lines, a few laughs, and a dash of romance sprinkled into the mix. Add in the chart-topping soundtrack, featuring "Stayin' Alive," "More Than A Woman," and "How Deep Is Your Love," and you had a smash hit that seemingly defined the fashion, dance, and mood of the moment.

Some 30 years later, disco may still be dead but “Saturday Night Fever” is very much alive. If the film's then-contemporary look is dated, its story of small-time dreamers trying to make something of themselves -- and break beyond their barriers -- is just as timely now as it was then. Travolta's sensational, oft-quotable performance anchors the movie brilliantly -- as director John Badham mentions in his commentary track, Tony is in virtually every scene and it's a testament to Travolta's charisma that “Saturday Night Fever” holds itself together despite a wide-ranging and at times inconsistent tone.

Paramount’s new 30th Anniversary DVD edition is an odd blend of new features, old features ported over from the previous DVD, and a few omissions.

Notably absent from the new DVD are the deleted scenes from the older Special Edition, which means fans will have to hang onto that earlier release to access them. Badham’s commentary has been retained, while a new documentary (“Catching the Fever”) represents the disc’s most significant addition, offering a retrospective look back at the production, while the new 16:9 (1.85) transfer and 5.1 sound do seem to be an upgrade on the prior disc. Fans should note a planned HD-DVD release was postponed for the time being.

Also receiving a new Anniversary release is FLASHDANCE (**½, 94 mins., 1983, R; Paramount), a silly box-office smash from ‘83. Its simple rags-to-riches tale of an 18-year-old (Jennifer Beals) who welds by day and dances at night -- so she can make it as a legitimate ballet dancer -- is basically "Cinderella in Pittsburgh," complete with a knight in shining armor (Michael Nouri), who here happens to be the boss of the construction company she works at.

All you have to do is take a look at the individuals who made "Flashdance" to know what the movie is all about. It was directed by Adrian Lyne, produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, co-written by Joe Eszterhas, and scored by Giorgio Moroder (with "Sylvestor" Levay receiving credit for arranging and conducting Moroder's compositions). The soundtrack features plenty of classic '80s songs (including the Oscar-winning Irene Cara title track) and offers slick and satisfying entertainment so long as you aren't looking for much of a story.

Paramount's new DVD supplants the earlier, extras-free release by offering what appears to be a newer 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, two trailers, and another retrospective documentary newly produced for the DVD (a six-track music CD includes a sampler of the soundtrack and is also bundled with the disc). As with “Saturday Night Fever,” an HD-DVD release is likely to follow some time in the future, even though its original release date was postponed.

Other new releases from the studio this month include:

BABEL: 2-Disc Collector’s Edition (***, 143 mins., 2006, R; Paramount): Ambitious film from director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and writer Guillermo Arriaga follows the accidental shooting of an American tourist (Cate Blanchett) while on vacation with her new husband (Brad Pitt) in Morocco, though “Babel” nearly defies a standard plot description: Inarritu’s movie intersects three other stories, spanning different cultures and continents, with this main thread in the same time frame. It’s a sprawling picture reminiscent of other films about modern social mores and the communication boundaries that bind, and can break, all of us (think “Crash” or “Traffic”), and certainly makes for an interesting view -- albeit a long, sometimes tedious one with an unrelentingly grim tone. Paramount’s new 2-disc Collector’s Edition includes the same presentation of the film on its first platter as the prior DVD, with the addition of “Common Ground: Under Construction Notes,” a feature-length documentary, on the second disc from director Inarritu. Seeing that it’s the only major supplement here, I can only recommend this new disc for hard-core Inarritu fanatics.

GHOST WHISPERER: Season 2 (2006-07, 16 hrs., Paramount): Second season of the fairly popular CBS Friday night series continues the adventures of clairvoyant Melinda Gordon (Jennifer Love Hewitt), who here adapts to life with a new associate (Camryn Manheim, a less than satisfying substitute for the departed Aisha Tyler) and the potential of an “Evil” Ghost Whisperer invading her quaint rural town. Paramount’s box-set offers all 22 second-season episodes of the series in satisfying 1.85 (16:9) transfers with 5.1 sound and a whole group of special features fans are sure to enjoy.

NUMBERS: Season 3 (2006-07, 17 hrs., Paramount): The successful Ridley Scott-produced crime drama returns to DVD this month in a six disc set preserving all 24 episodes of “Numbers”’ third season. Special features include selected commentaries, bloopers, and Making Of featurettes, along with 1.85 (16:9) transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

THE UNTOUCHABLES: Season 1, Volume 2 (1960, 12 hrs., Paramount): Four-disc set includes the latter 14 episodes from “The Untouchables”’ first season. One bonus feature is also on-hand: a vintage “Lucy Show” episode, “Lucy the Gun Moll.”

STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO: Season 1, Volume 2 (1973, 11 hrs., Paramount): Second-half of the first season of the Quinn Martin crime drama offers the remaining 13 episodes from Season One on four discs. Transfers and soundtracks are fine across the board.

CRIMINAL MINDS: Season 2 (2006-07, 17 hrs., Paramount): Mandy Patinkin may be leaving but “Criminal Minds” fans can relish his final season on the successful CBS crime drama, hitting DVD in a couple of weeks. Paramount’s six-disc DVD set contains all 23 episodes from the sophomore season of “Criminal Minds” in top-notch 16:9 (1.85) transfers with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, featurettes, a gag reel, and deleted scenes. (Available Oct. 2nd)

THE SARAH SILVERMAN PROGRAM: Season One (2007, 132 mins., Paramount): Hit-or-miss affair from the caustic and occasionally hilarious comic, who stars in this ribald Comedy Central series. Extras include commentary, musical performances and karaoke materials (!), with the various, short episodes presented in full-screen and 2.0 Dolby Stereo sound. (Available Oct. 2nd)

New Super-Adventures

It seldom gets the attention it deserves, but SMALLVILLE very quietly continues to roll along, with the show’s seventh season set to debut on the CW network shortly.

In the interim, fans can catch up on one of the series’ most satisfying years with Warner’s six-disc assemblage of the show’s Sixth Season (2006-07, 917 mins.), available on DVD this week.

This time Clark (Tom Welling) finds himself joining up with the Green Arrow (the appealing Justin Hartley) and the Justice League while combating the ever-vile Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum), who’s set to marry Kent’s one-time squeeze Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk). Meanwhile, Lois Lane (the ever-fetching Erica Durance) starts working at the Daily Planet, where cousin Chloe (Allison Mack) finds romance with a young Jimmy Olsen (Aaron Ashmore).

Producers Al Gough and Miles Millar have fashioned one of the most entertaining “Smallville” seasons to date, with interesting subplots and the growing tension between Clark and Lex reaching its apex late in the year. The cast remains winning as always, and the addition of Hartley’s Green Arrow gives the show much-needed energy in its early stages. As I’ve written in the past, detractors will always have their complaints, but this revisionist take on the Man of Steel remains the most satisfying, post-Christopher Reeve incarnation of Superman I’ve seen.

Warner’s six-disc DVD set offers excellent 16:9 (1.85) transfers with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound and number of extras, unaired scenes and more. The HD-DVD version is due out this week as well and promises similar supplements and high-definition transfers.

Also new from Warner this week is the eagerly-awaited original animated movie SUPERMAN: DOOMSDAY (75 mins., 2007, PG-13; Warner), produced and co-directed by Bruce Timm (veteran of the acclaimed “Superman” and “Batman” animated series) and written by Timm with associate Duane Capizzi.

An adaptation of the popular DC graphic novel “The Death of Superman” (and something we would’ve partially seen in the aborted Tim Burton-Nicolas Cage “Superman” project of the late ‘90s), “Superman: Doomsday” comes billed as the first PG-13 animated Supes adventure, as well as a highly anticipated project for Superman fans.

The result, sadly, is a watchable yet disappointing effort, especially considering the participation of Timm. With most of the voices re-cast from the original “Superman” animated series (Anne Heche as Lois Lane? Adam Baldwin as Superman?), the 75-minute feature doesn’t feel instantly familiar (even though its visual design is quite similar), and while it’s more “graphic” than the norm, it still feels watered-down from its source material...like a weird hybrid of Timm’s prior series and a more mature, “adult” comic book tale.

As such, “Superman: Doomsday” is likely to disappoint hard-core Superman fans expecting a more developed adaptation of the “Death of Superman” graphic novel, while simultaneously alienating younger viewers with its PG-13 tag and stronger comic book violence.

Warner’s DVD presentation is excellent at least. The 16:9 (1.78) transfer is colorful while over 70 minutes of supplements include a documentary (“Requiem and Rebirth”) on the storyline, commentary from Timm, Capizzi, and other production staff, and other goodies. Mildly recommended in spite of its flaws, though I’d advise fans to dial down their expectations before firing up the DVD player.

Also Newly Released on DVD

BROTHERS AND SISTERS: Complete First Season (2006-07, Six Discs; Buena Vista): ABC Sunday night soap opera did well in its first season, charting the lives and loves of the Walker family and their various offspring (including Sally Field, Calista Flockhart, Rachel Griffiths and Patricia Wettig). The cast is terrific and “Brothers and Sisters” fans are sure to enjoy this six-disc compilation of the series’ freshman season, presented in excellent 16:9 (1.85) transfers with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound and a number of extras: bloopers, deleted scenes, commentaries, several featurettes and a “bonus” episode. Recommended for fans, or anyone who got into the show late in its first season and needs to catch up.

GRIFFIN & PHOENIX (2006, 102 mins., PG-13; MGM/Fox): Tearjerking romantic-drama with Amanda Peet and Dermot Mulroney as a pair of lovers hiding a common pair of secrets. Ed Stone’s watchable drama is a remake of a 1976 made-for-TV film with Peter Falk and Jill Clayburgh, and even utilizes John Hill’s original script. Fox’s DVD includes a 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

AWAY FROM HER (2006, 110 mins., PG-13; Lionsgate): Moving drama written and directed by actress Sarah Polley stars Julie Christie as a devoted wife who gradually succumbs to memory loss; Gordon Pinsent is her loving husband in this low-key, well-made and sincerely performed tale. Lionsgate’s DVD includes a commentary from Julie Christie, deleted scenes (with optional commentary from Polley), a 16:9 (1.78) widescreen transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

ALLIGATOR (***, 90 mins., 1980; Lionsgate): Top-notch creature feature with a smart script by John Sayles and a fine performance from Robert Forster finally hits DVD in the U.S. after having been available overseas in an Anchor Bay special edition. Lionsgate’s domestic disc offers the same commentary with Forster and director Lewis Teague found on the Anchor Bay disc, plus a new interview with Sayles. The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound and 16:9 (1.85) transfer are both excellent.

NEXT TIME:THE LAST STARFIGHTER in HD, Ken Burns' THE WAR, and More! Until then, don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards, check out the new Aisle Seat Blog, and direct any emails to the link above. Cheers everyone!

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