9/22/09 Edition
Pre-Halloween Treats
Newest Seasonal Offerings on DVD & Blu-Ray
Plus: Massive TV on DVD Round-Up

One of the many beneficiaries of high-definition video has been the travel genre. From episodes of Rudy Maxa’s terrific “Smart Travels” series to several compilations from the Discovery Channel’s “Sunrise Earth,” consumers seeking gorgeous landscapes and travelogues for their Blu-Ray players have had an abundance to choose from during the format’s relatively short lifespan.

Acorn Media has recently issued two of the finest I’ve seen: VISIONS OF BRITAIN & IRELAND  and VISIONS OF ITALY each contain well over four hours of sumptuous, spectacular aerial footage of both locales, presented in glorious 1080i, and packed with sights that you’d be fortunate to watch actually being there on your own private helicopter tour.

"Britain and Ireland" offers four separate “Visions” programs: England (sporting footage of Dover, Hadrian’s Wall, Big Ben, Stonehenge, Bath, Cheddar Gorge, Liverpool, and more), Scotland (Edinburgh, St. Andrews, Dundee, Loch Ness, Inverness, Isle of Mull, and Glasgow among others), Ireland (Galway, Giant’s Causeway, Belfast, Glendalough, Blarney Castle, the Burren, Dublin), and Wales (Chepstow, Tintern Abbey, Cardiff, Swansea, Carew Castle, Pembroke, and St. David’s).

“Visions of Italy,” meanwhile, also offers a quartet of “Visions” programs: Northern Style (glorious shots of The Alps, Lake Como, Portofino, Pisa, Siena, Florence, and Venice), Southern Style (Naples, Pompeii, Sorrento, the Amalfi Coast, Calabria, and Rome), Sicily (Cefalú, Términi Imerese, Palermo, Marsala, Siracusa, and Catania), and “The Great Cities” (Rome, Saint Peter’s Square, the Coliseum, Florence, Naples, Capri, and others).

Some of these specials have been screened on various PBS stations, though it’d be easy to confuse them with the “Over...” series of older aerial specials that were filmed around the globe. The “Visions” programs boast superior (and newer) high-def photography, and the mix of background music and infrequent narration makes for a wonderful, highly recommended ride that’s easily some of the most enjoyable material I’ve seen on BD this year.

Happy Horrors!

This year’s bumper crop of horror-themed Blu-Rays and DVDs includes several catalog favorites making the leap to high-definition for the first time. Here’s Part 1 of our annual Aisle Seat Halloween round-up!
CHILD’S PLAY Blu-Ray (**½, 87 mins., 1988, R; MGM/Fox): Before writer Don Mancini took over the Chucky series with the brilliantly subversive “Bride of Chucky” and its disastrous follow-up “Seed of Chucky,” the killer doll was first launched on the big-screen in “Fright Night” director Tom Holland’s 1988 box-office hit.

The original “Child’s Play” has actually held up fairly well at that, with young Alex Vincent and mom Catherine Hicks stalked by Vincent’s Cabbage Patch-like little doll, who’s been possessed by the spirit of a dead serial killer (Brad Dourif). Unlike the later Chucky films Holland mixes ample horror with humor and comes away with an entertaining brew, somewhat let down by a bland Joe Renzetti score that’s a product of its time and likewise vanilla supporting performances.

Perhaps because producer David Kirschner took the series over to Universal following the movie’s release, MGM has never shown a lot of interest in “Child’s Play” over the years. In fact, last year’s 20th anniversary DVD contained the first widescreen presentation of the movie ever on video -- serving as a blueprint for this HD reprise of that edition.

MGM’s new AVC-encoded Blu-Ray image is excellent and is backed by a fresh DTS Master Audio soundtrack, with numerous extras (culled from its 2008 DVD) including two different commentary tracks: one with effects master Kevin Yagher, Alex Vincent and Catherine Hicks, and another with Don Mancini and David Kirschner. (Oddly, Tom Holland doesn’t participate in any of the extras). Mancini and Kirschner’s talk is of the most interest, discussing the 20+ minutes that were cut (none of which are contained on this release) as well as the -- get ready -- upcoming remake, which Mancini is writing and is supposed to bring “the series home” to its horror roots. There’s also another scene-specific commentary with Dourif, in-character as Chucky, participating in some amusing improvisations with Mancini.

A three-part documentary, “Evil Comes in Small Packages,” includes interviews with Mancini, Kirschner, Hicks, Vincent, co-star Chris Sarandon, Kevin Yagher (who’s married to Hicks) and Brad Dourif. This is a nice overview of the film’s production, and is complimented by a five-minute video of Hicks, Vincent and Sarandon at a horror convention, as well as a vintage featurette, the original trailer, and an additional look at Yagher’s design of the Chucky doll.

The Blu-Ray is rounded out by a copy of the DVD edition.

THE HANNIBAL LECTER COLLECTION (MGM/Fox): Fans of Michael Mann’s superb 1986 adaptation of Thomas Harris’ “Red Dragon” -- MANHUNTER (***½, 120 mins., R) -- will definitely want to check out MGM and Fox’s three-disc Blu-Ray anthology of Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter movies.

While by no means complete (the set lacks both Brett Ratner’s inferior “Red Dragon” remake and the abysmal prequel “Hannibal Rising”), MGM’s offering includes a brand-new, gorgeous transfer of “Manhunter,” presented in its original theatrical version as well. The AVC encoded presentation is just divine, capturing Mann and cinematographer Dante Spinotti’s visuals perfectly (Spinotti, oddly enough, later shot “Red Dragon” as well), while the disc’s DTS Master Audio sound is also satisfying given its two-channel stereo origins. Don’t be expecting any extras here -- no surprise since Anchor Bay issued the prior, long-out-of-print Director’s Cut DVD -- but fans of the movie (and its superior theatrical edit) ought to be thrilled by this no-frills HD release of the picture.

Also contained in the set are the same Blu-Ray edition of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (***½, 118 mins., 1991, R) that MGM released earlier this year (full review here), as well as the BD debut of Ridley Scott’s godawful, just-for-the-money venture HANNIBAL (*½, 131 mins., 2001, R), the ill-conceived sequel to “Lambs” that’s offered here in its original theatrical edit (in an MPEG-2 transfer with DTS Master Audio sound) with no supplements whatsoever. Given the movie, though, that’s no great loss.

Viewers should note that, for now, there’s no word on a standalone release for either “Manhunter” or “Hannibal.”

MISERY Blu-Ray (***½, 107 mins., 1990, R; MGM/Fox): Fine Blu-Ray edition of Rob Reiner’s terrific 1990 Stephen King adaptation boasts an Oscar-winning performance from Kathy Bates as a crazed “fan” who takes crippled bestselling author James Caan’s recovery after a car accident under her wing. MGM/Fox’s Blu-Ray disc includes a terrific AVC-encoded transfer with DTS Master Audio sound, deftly preserving Barry Sonnenfeld’s original cinematography with heightened clarity and detail. The movie’s 2007 DVD edition is also included, which is a nice bonus as it contains all the extras the BD disc otherwise lacks: commentary from Rob Reiner, another talk with William Goldman, three featurettes on the production of the movie (including a profile of composer Marc Shaiman), and several other featurettes about celebrity stalkers and anti-stalking laws.

WRONG TURN Blu-Ray (*, 2003, 80 mins., R; Fox): Dreadful, dumbed-down "Deliverance" knock-off has a group of idiot twentysomethings running into a group of deformed, inbred monsters in the hills of West Virginia. Stan Winston co-produced this sorry exercise in "horror," wasting the efforts of its young cast (Eliza Dushku, Desmond Harrington, Jeremy Sisto), who look like they're out of a new Gap ad, ready to play the requisite lambs-for-the-slaughter in director Rob Schmidt's film. Unfortunately, there's nothing remotely scary or interesting about this by-the-numbers exercise, which boasts a few violently gory scenes, but nothing interesting at all from either a filmmaking or characterization standpoint. Even Elia Cmiral's score comes off as shoddy.

Fox's AVC-encoded BD transfer looks great (as do female leads Dushku and Emmanuelle Cirqui), while the DTS Master Audio is more than passable. Special features include commentary from Harrington, Dusku and the director; three brief deleted scenes (one of which is an assembly of dailies for one of the death sequences); brief featurettes on Dushku and Stan Winston; and a poster concept gallery. Good for a few laughs, maybe, but little more.

Fox is also rolling out the movie’s 2007 direct-to-video sequel WRONG TURN 2: DEAD END (*, 93 mins., Not Rated) on Blu-Ray this month. Offering more (less?) of the same, this routine sequel boasts a script by “Smallville” scribes Turi Meyer and Al Septien, both of whom should’ve known better. Oddly, while the original “Wrong Turn” is a 25gb BD title, “Wrong Turn 2" gets a 50gb dual-layer platter, with DTS Master Audio sound, the studio’s usual AVC encoded transfer, and extras including three featurettes and two commentary tracks.

MAD MONSTER PARTY DVD (***, 95 mins., 1967; Lionsgate): New Special Edition of the Rankin/Bass feature favorite -- a stop-motion fantasy with monsters, music by Maury Laws, and celebrity voices to spare (Boris Karloff, Phyllis Diller) -- offers several exclusive featurettes, from a look at the film’s music score to a pair of Making Of retrospective segments. The original trailer is also on-hand in a Lionsgate disc that includes a 1.33 full-screen transfer and mono sound. Anchor Bay’s out-of-print earlier DVD, by comparison, included a deluxe (and quite excellent) booklet with full-color photos and text, but none of this disc’s extras save for its own storyboard gallery and the trailer. Worth the upgrade for fans.

AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON: Full Moon Edition Blu-Ray (***, 98 mins., 1981, R, Universal): John Landis’ wild ‘n wacky, cult favorite 1981 horror hit arrives on Blu-Ray in a presentation that offers a new documentary and interview with make-up guru Rick Baker, but also -- a bit disappointingly -- the same high-definition transfer as its 2007 HD-DVD edition.

Not that the latter is entirely bad news, since the picture is still superior to any standard-definition DVD previously issued of the movie. The film’s soft and grainy spots still look well, softish and a bit dirty, but the colors and clarity of the image (especially during the London sequences) still shine through despite its shortcomings. One wonders, though, if the film isn’t in need of major restorative work, despite the director’s stated preference for transfers that aren’t afraid to show off the dirt and grime of its filmic source. The remixed DTS Master Audio soundtrack, meanwhile, is limited in its fidelity by the age of its elements, but it’s pleasing at times whenever the sound takes advantage of directional effects, or the bouncy array of genre-themed tunes that pop up (along with Elmer Bernstein’s sparse score) on the soundtrack.

Extras are on-hand and offer an enhancement on past editions. While all the supplements from its prior Special Edition DVD/HD-DVD packages are back here (commentary, Landis interview, outtakes, the prior “Making Of” and other featurettes), a new documentary entitled “Beware the Moon” offers a feature-length recounting of the picture’s inception and production, from Landis’ original script through casting, filming and its extensive special effects work. With a full slate of new cast and crew interviews this is something that will be quite satisfying for fans, while “I Walked With a Werewolf” includes a recent talk with Rick Baker. Highly recommended for Blu-Ray owners and “American Werewolf” die-hards, even if they owned prior editions of the picture.

Also New On Blu-Ray

WOLVERINE Blu-Ray (**½, 107 mins., 2009, PG-13; Fox): Guilty-pleasure prequel to the “X-Men” movies gives Hugh Jackman another chance to essay fan-favorite mutant Wolverine, whose back history is given a thorough examination in this silly but nevertheless entertaining comic-book adventure.

Gavin Hood’s movie, scripted by David Benioff and Skip Woods, doesn’t have the level of ambition or artistry as its “X-Men” predecessors, yet there’s still a compelling aspect to this recounting of Wolverine’s past, from his youth in 19th century Canada to his fractured relationship with Sabretooth -- who, in the form of Liev Schrieber, gives some juice to our hero’s antagonistic, and equally super-powered, kin. Action and a few laughs (mainly provided by Ryan Reynolds’ snarky Deadpool) also pepper “Wolverine,” which ultimately gets bogged down in a plot that’s both silly and a bit convoluted. Yet, you don’t watch “Wolverine” for its intricate narrative -- this is a comic-book film that’s, admittedly, not nearly as satisfying as its predecessors, but at the same time, with Jackson’s superb performance once again leading the way, it’s not nearly as bad as its pre-release internet fan trashing would indicate.

Fox’s Blu-Ray disc offers a reference-caliber AVC-encoded transfer with DTS Master Audio sound featuring a by-the-numbers score by Harry Gregson-Williams. Extras include a pair of commentary tracks (one from the director, another with producers Lauren Shuler Donner and Ralph Winter), deleted and alternate scenes, a host of Making Of and interactive featurettes, and a digital copy for portable media players.

IRON MONKEY Blu-Ray (**½, 85 mins., 1993, PG-13; Buena Vista)
HERO Blu-Ray and DVD (**½, 99 mins., 2003, PG-13; Buena Vista)
 ZATOICHI: THE BLIND SWORDSMAN Blu-Ray (***, 116 mins., 2003, R; Buena Vista)
THE LEGEND OF DRUNKEN MASTER Blu-Ray (***, 102 mins., 1994, R; Buena Vista)

Four martial arts adventures hit Blu-Ray this month from Buena Vista in satisfying 1080p AVC-encoded transfers and DTS HD audio tracks, with the Special Edition branded bow of one of the films -- the 2003 Jet Li vehicle “Hero” -- being issued on DVD as well.

“Iron Monkey,” Woo-ping Yuen's 1993 kung-fu opus, is a favorite among genre fans for its pseudo-"Robin Hood," comical action, even though it took Quentin Tarantino and Dimension Films nearly a decade to import it domestically. For martial arts die-hards, “Iron Monkey” offers fresh choreography, plenty of laughs and great stunts, though for outsiders, a little of this tends to go a long way. Fortunately, Dimension didn't completely re-think the original version of the film for American audiences, making a few reported minor trims here and there, and adding an okay score by James L. Venable (at least the film was treated better than so many of Jackie Chan's hacked-and-slashed U.S. releases in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s).

Dimension's Blu-Ray disc offers a good-not-great AVC encoded transfer of “Iron Monkey” plus dubbed English (DTS HD) and Cantonese (Dolby Digital 5.1) language tracks -- however, don't be fooled into thinking the latter is the original soundtrack, since Venable's score is included on both versions. Interviews with star Donnie Yen and Tarantino are included for extras.

“Hero” starred Jet Li in Zhang Yimou's artistically potent and beautifully scored (Tan Dan with violin solos by Itzhak Perlman) martial arts adventure, which became a box-office hit in the summer of 2003 after sitting for nearly a year on the Miramax shelf.

Despite gorgeous cinematography and an impressive sound design, however, "Hero" is a bit of a disappointment, with an overabundance of talk and a somewhat uninvolving story line (as concocted by Yimou with Li Feng and Wang Bin). Genre aficionados who ate up "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" will likely be impressed, but others should proceed with hesitation.

Miramax's new Special Edition of “Hero” arrives on both DVD and Blu-Ray. The former includes a sterling 2.35 widescreen transfer with multiple audio tracks, including 5.1 Dolby Digital English and 2.0 Chinese with optional subtitles, while the Blu-Ray looks gorgeous, and is complimented by DTS HD (English) and Chinese audio (5.1 Dolby Digital) tracks as well. Extras on both platforms include one new featurette, “Close-Up of a Fight Scene,” plus carry-overs from the original DVD, including an earlier conversation between Jet Li and Quentin Tarantino, which is pretty much a pat-yourself-on-the-back affair, storyboards and the featurette "Hero Defined.”

Also new from Buena Vista is another satisfying Blu-Ray edition of “Zatoichi, The Blind Swordsman,” director Takeshi Kitano’s 2003 take on the classic Japanese story with stylized violence, memorable fight sequences and Beat Takeshi in the title role; and Jackie Chan’s 1994 sequel to “Drunken Master,” which was edited down (and re-scored by Michael Wandmacher) for a 2000 Miramax theatrical release.

“Zatoichi” was previously available on DVD in a double-feature with “Sonatine,” and Buena Vista’s Blu-Ray here offers the movie in a superior HD presentation with a solid AVC encoded transfer, English DTS HD and Japanese 5.1 Dolby Digital audio, plus a behind-the-scenes special with additional cast and crew interviews.

“Drunken Master,” meanwhile, isn’t treated nearly as well: only the U.S. version of the picture is available here (with English DTS HD audio and one bonus interview with Chan), making it the only title of the quartet not to offer its original native dialogue.

GHOSTS OF GIRLFRIENDS PAST Blu-Ray (**½, 100 mins., 2009, PG-13; New Line): Likeable enough -- though utterly predictable -- romantic comedy with Matthew McConaughey essaying another one of his swinging playboys, who improbably meets up with a succession of ghosts who take him down memory lane in this not-bad reworking of Dickens’ holiday perennial. Mark Waters’ efficient genre piece offers McConaughey one of his better efforts of late (though that’s faint praise considering “Fool’s Gold” and “Surfer Dude”), with Jennifer Garner as the girl who gives our protagonist a shot at true love, Breckin Meyer as his younger brother, Lacey Chabert as his fiancee, and Michael Douglas as McConaughey’s father. No great shakes, but it’s moderately entertaining, with New Line’s Blu-Ray disc offering additional scenes (via BD Live) and three Making Of featurettes (in HD), plus a glossy VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer and Dolby TrueHD audio. A digital copy for portable media players is also on-hand.

OBSERVE AND REPORT Blu-Ray (*½, 87 mins., 2009, R; Warner): Kevin James as mall cop Paul Blart? $146 million in box-office. Seth Rogen as mall cop Ronnie Barnhardt? $24 million. That’s not the only difference between the unlikely family  behemoth “Paul Blart” and the raunchy, R-rated “Observe and Report,” which sports Rogen as another caustic leading man who finds himself courting cosmetic-counter girl Anna Faris (again playing a blonde ditz), dealing with police officer Ray Liotta, and generally being so hapless in his mundane job that he can’t see a crime being committed right in front of him. Jody Hill’s oddball comedy has a few laughs but also a mean, seedy underside (with graphic violence and one inexplicable “love scene” between Rogen and Faris) that ultimately leaves you with a bad taste in the mouth. Warner brings “Observe and Report” to Blu-Ray this week in a serviceable presentation, offering a VC-1 encoded transfer, Dolby TrueHD audio, and okay supplements (commentary, additional scenes, gag reel, Making Of materials and faux “recruitment video”), along with a digital copy for portable media players.

EASY VIRTUE Blu-Ray (**½, 96 mins., 2009, PG-13; Sony): The Ealing Studios brand name returns in this broadly performed, if uneven, adaptation of Noel Coward’s “Easy Virtue.” Giving a competent performance in spite of the fact that she’s miscast, Jessica Biel plays the American wife of younger British playboy Ben Barnes, who brings his new love home from the other side of the pond to meet his stuffy upper-crust family, including spiteful mom Kristin Scott Thomas and aloof father Colin Firth. Writers Stephan Elliott (who also directed) and Sheridan Jobbins try valiantly here to recapture the witty repartee of titles that made Ealing famous decades ago, but their script doesn’t always work and Biel -- who is supposed to be playing a much older woman than her actual age -- seems a bit out of sorts with the cast surrounding her. Sony’s Blu-Ray edition of “Easy Virtue” looks quite nice with its AVC encoded 1080p transfer (showing off the cinematography by Martin Kenzie) and also sports a Dolby TrueHD soundtrack with a pleasant score by Marius De Vries. Extras include deleted scenes, a blooper reel, commentary from Elliott and Jobbins, and NY Premiere footage.

AWAY WE GO Blu-Ray (**½, 98 mins., 2009, R; Universal): Well-received Sam Mendes chronicle of a thirtysomething couple (John Krasinski from “The Office,” former SNL player Maya Rudolph), pregnant with child and searching for a community in which to raise their baby comes off as a bit pretentious. Krasinski and Rudolph have good chemistry together but the script by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida offers transparent commentaries on the meaning of family and modern relationships -- it’s all entertaining and well-acted, but a little self-absorbed at the same time. Universal’s Blu-Ray edition of “Away We Go” hits stores next week and offers a colorful, well-balanced AVC encoded transfer with DTS Master Audio sound and a few supplements, including commentary with Mendes, Eggers and Vida and two Making of featurettes.

SCOOBY-DOO! The Mystery Begins Blu-Ray (82 mins., 2009, PG; Warner): Surprisingly entertaining (yes, I can’t believe I just typed that either) live-action prequel to the Sarah Michelle Gellar-Freddie Prinze Jr. movies is a lot more charming and less bathroom-humor oriented than its big-screen brethren as it chronicles Shaggy and Scooby’s first get-together and how the Mystery Machine eventually came to be. There’s also a definite John Hughes-ian vibe to the first meeting between Shaggy, Fred, Daphne and Velma, with veteran director Brian Levant coaxing amiable performances out of his young cast, while David Newman even contributes a nice score as well. Nobody is going to mistake “The Mystery Begins” as a cinematic classic but it’s breezy and enjoyable for what it is. Warner’s Blu-Ray edition of ths Cartoon Network original movie includes a pleasing VC-1 encoded transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital audio, pop-up trivia, interactive games, a gag reel and more.

TV on DVD Round-Up

FAME: Seasons 1 and 2 DVD (1982-83, 1829 minutes, MGM/Fox). SEASON LOWDOWN: Alan Parker’s acclaimed 1980 movie was cleaned up a bit for the small screen and functioned perfectly as a long-running drama the whole family could enjoy. This chronicle of a group of students (Lee Curreri, Erica Gimpel, Carlo Imperato, Valerie Lansburg, Gene Anthony Ray, P.R. Paul, and Lori Singer) at the New York City School of the Arts is filled with uplifting stories, exciting musical numbers, and strong character development. Best of all are Debbie Allen as their dynamic dance instructor and Albert Hague as the sage Mr. Shorofsky, who lend an able hand to the aspirations of their young charges. This amiable series remains entertaining and good fun for all ages (a nice switch from its R-rated predecessor), with engaging performances and accessible plots. DVD RUNDOWN: MGM’s second DVD go-round for the series (an earlier 2005 DVD issued during MGM’s brief distribution deal with Sony included only the 16-episode first season) includes fine full-screen transfers and mono soundtracks. One retrospective featurette is included. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: Issued to coincide with the September 25th release of the much-discussed remake, this is a splendid release from MGM and Fox for one of the more fondly-remembered series of the ‘80s.

MY NAME IS EARL Season 4 Blu-Ray (520 mins., 2008-09, Fox). SEASON LOWDOWN: Just about to enter syndication, this amiable, non-studio audience “filmed sitcom” ended its fourth and final season this past year with some 27 episodes of down-home humor anchored by Jason Lee’s performance as the title character. Unfortunately for “Earl” fans, the series bit the dust on NBC’s now-abbreviated prime-time schedule (thanks Jay Leno!), a victim of declining ratings. Fox tried shopping the show to other networks but ultimately decided to call it quits. DVD RUNDOWN: Fox’s first “Earl” Blu-Ray release is superb, offering the studio’s usual selection of AVC encoded 1080p transfers and DTS Master Audio soundtracks. A fair amount of extra features include deleted scenes, a gag reel, “Earl’s Fan Mail” featurette and other small goodies. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: “Earl” had its detractors, and I can’t say I was overly fond of its sense of humor, but much like “30 Rock” and “The Office,” the series helped usher in a new era of prime-time comedies shot outside the confines of the studio. Fans will appreciate the Blu-Ray release, which Fox issued last week alongside a standard DVD edition.

IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA Season 4 DVD (277 mins., 2008, Fox). SEASON LOWDOWN: This ribald and raunchy F/X series continues to garner a modest fan base, following the antics of a group of friends at Paddy’s Pub in Philly. Not being a regular watcher of the series, I can only tell you that this fourth-season DVD box-set offers another collection of off-the-wall episodes with the gang at Paddy’s, including the musical finale “The Nightman Cometh.” DVD RUNDOWN: Shot in 1.33 full-screen, “Always Sunny...” looks and sounds like a typical cable comedy show, with Fox’s box-set also including 2.0 stereo soundtracks, featurettes, a blooper reel and other behind-the-scenes goodies. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: Admirers of this offbeat and sometimes off-color series will find much to enjoy with this Season 4 DVD edition courtesy of Fox.

GHOST WHISPERER Season 4 DVD (17 hours, 2008-09, CBS). SEASON LOWDOWN: After unceremoniously dumping co-star Aisha Tyler, “Ghost Whisperer” finally hit the creative wall in Season 4 after three formulaic but entertaining enough seasons on CBS. Missteps in the fourth season include the bizarre offing/resurrection of star Jennifer Love Hewitt’s TV husband David Conrad, as well as Jamie Kennedy returning as the obnoxious Eli. The stories were mostly greeted with indifference by series fans, though the ratings continue to be potent on Friday nights. DVD RUNDOWN: CBS’ Season 4 box-set of “Ghost Whisperer” falls right in line with the studio’s prior DVD editions, with terrific 16:9 transfers and 5.1 soundtracks, plus a number of featurettes with cast and crew interviews, including a nice conversation with veteran TV composer Mark Snow. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: “Ghost Whisperer” is one of those series that I certainly don’t make a point out of watching on a regular basis, but if there’s nothing else on and I happen to come across it, there are certainly worse ways to kill off an hour on TV these days. Hewitt is appealing and the show settled into a comfortable formula years back, but it’s not a stretch to say Season 4 is easily its weakest, with some uneven plot lines and an unsatisfying arc for Conrad’s character.

CSI MIAMI Season 7 DVD (18 hours, 2008-09, CBS). SEASON LOWDOWN: David Caruso is back as this first spin-off in CBS’ venerable prime-time franchise marks its seventh (has it been that long?) season on the airwaves. This time out the gang attempts to track down the culprit who shot Horatio while working on a variety of other cases from a family being targeted to a mob boss breaking out of prison. Sunny locales and the usual CSI formula dominate all 25 episodes of “CSI: Miami”’s seventh season. DVD RUNDOWN: While “CSI” has hit Blu-Ray over its past two seasons, the Miami variant remains on DVD in another fine release from CBS, with 16:9 transfers, 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks and a typical array of extras (two cast/crew commentaries, Making Of featurettes) rounding out the supplemental side. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: CSI lovers know who they are and it doesn’t matter if it’s Vegas, the Big Apple or Miami -- they’ll be certain to enjoy this seventh season of Caruso’s Floridian escapades.

FRIDAY THE 13th The Final Season DVD (15 hours, 1989-90, CBS). SEASON LOWDOWN: The third and final season of the syndicated anthology series (which had nothing to do with the Jason movies outside of its title) is generally looked upon as being inferior to its predecessors, mainly because star John LeMay departed the show early on in the year. That said there’s still a good mix of horrific episodes on-hand in the final year of “Friday the 13th,” with 19 episodes rounding out the series. DVD RUNDOWN: Good, not great, full-screen transfers and stereo soundtracks comprise a decent presentation from CBS, along with episodic promos. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: Late ‘80s syndicated TV shows don’t look overly impressive when upscaled to the high resolutions we have on our television sets these days, but despite its dated aspects, fans of the “Friday the 13th” series will be happy with this final DVD release from CBS.

HARPER’S ISLAND: The Complete Series DVD (541 mins., 2009, CBS). SEASON LOWDOWN: Interesting attempt at a self-contained, single-season “whoduneit?” that wasn’t done any favors by its network’s schizophrenic scheduling. In “Harper’s Island,” Christopher Gorham and Katie Cassidy play a couple who invite their friends to the happy coastal island for their wedding -- an island where a killer, some seven years before, had slaughtered six victims. Each episode plays itself out with one of the guests being offed, leading to a potent resolution. DVD RUNDOWN: Excellent 16:9 transfers and 5.1 soundtracks adorn Paramount’s DVD box set, though viewers ought to stay away from the spoiler-heavy bonus features until they’ve watched the entire series. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: Slickly produced with excellent production values, this melding of an old-fashioned, Agatha Christie-like mystery with flashier visuals and gorier murders makes for a surprisingly entertaining good time. Recommended, especially for thriller fans.

TRANSFORMERS: Season 2, Vol. 1 DVD (Shout!). SEASON LOWDOWN: The original Marvel Productions animated series starring Hasbro’s shape-shifting robots, Shout! Factory brings us the first 28 episodes from “Transformers”’ second season, including fan-favorite episodes “Dinobot Island,” “Enter the Nightbird,” “The Master Builders” and “The God Gambit.” If any of those sound familiar to you, you’ve come to the right place! DVD RUNDOWN: “Transformers” was initially released on DVD by Rhino some years ago, with Shout!’s newer DVDs offering an upgrade in transfer and sound. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: This four-disc set offers a nostalgic trip down memory lane for fans, thanks to Shout!’s superior presentation and packaging. Recommended for the little ones and/or those who were little ones back in the ‘80s.

CASTLE Season 1 DVD (430 mins., 2009, ABC/Disney). SEASON LOWDOWN: An old-fashioned mystery/crime drama from creator Andrew Marlowe, “Castle” enables “Firefly” star Nathan Fillion to fashion another memorable TV leading man. This time out Fillion plays Rick Castle, a bestselling novelist called in by the NYPD to track down a murderer who’s using his books as an inspiration for the killings; Stana Katic essays the detective who assists Castle and ultimately proves to be the inspiration for his new novel. It’s formulaic but well-performed and entertaining. DVD RUNDOWN: ABC’s Season 1 edition of “Castle” arrives on DVD in fine 16:9 (1.78) transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks, and with ample extras, including Making Of featurettes, commentaries, and a particularly engaging conversation with “Castle” guest star Stephen J. Cannell, the veteran TV mogul whose shows seem to have been an inspiration for this series. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: An easy-going throwback to the kinds of prime-time crime dramas they just don’t make anymore, “Castle” is low-key and a lot of fun. Recommended!

LIFE ON MARS Complete Series DVD (731 mins., 2008-09, Buena Vista). SEASON LOWDOWN: Jason O’Mara plays present-day detective Sam Tyler -- who improbably finds himself in early ‘70s New York City after being injured in an accident -- in this American remake of the acclaimed British TV series. With a superb cast (Harvey Keitel, Michael Imperioli, Gretchen Mol) and first-class production values, hopes were high that ABC’s “Life on Mars” would become a big hit and companion piece to another of the network’s genre-bending series, “Lost.” Alas, audiences weren’t interested, although the ending is at least a bit refreshing (and is quite different than its more narcissistic British counterpart). DVD RUNDOWN: Buena Vista brings the complete “Life on Mars” to DVD next week in an excellent package sporting 16:9 (1.78) transfers, 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks, deleted scenes, commentaries, and several featurettes that take you behind the scenes. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: Fans of the British “Life on Mars” aren’t likely to find this Americanization satisfying, but the cast is top-notch and I found the episodes I sampled watchable enough. Worth a rental.

UGLY BETTY Season 3 DVD (1032 mins., 2008-09, ABC/Disney). SEASON LOWDOWN: Once the darling on ABC’s prime-time schedule “Ugly Betty” fell on hard times this past season, suffering declines in both viewers and its formerly high critical rep. Fans of the series will still be interested in following America Ferrara’s heroine through another year at “Mode” magazine, but the series’ self-indulgent qualities apparently were enhanced several notches in season three, so newcomers beware. DVD RUNDOWN: ABC offers another quality release with the third season of “Ugly Betty.” Sunny 16:9 transfers and potent 5.1 soundtracks are complimented by deleted scenes, commentaries, a “pop up video commentary,” webisodes and Making Of featurettes. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: A little of this series tends to go a long way, and from all accounts “Ugly Betty” might be on a short leash this upcoming season. Fans will no doubt appreciate Buena Vista’s fine DVD box-set, but the series was a lot more consistent in its first couple of seasons.

X-MEN Volumes 3 and 4 DVD (322 and 345 mins., Buena Vista). SEASON BREAKDOWN: Marvel fans have more reason to rejoice with Buena Vista’s third and fourth volumes of DVDs culled from the ‘90s Fox Kids “X-Men” animated series -- generally regarded as one of the finest adaptations of a Marvel Comic, and which culls many of its story lines from its printed origins. Included in these latest volumes of episodes from the series (encompassing episodes 34-62) are the multi-part “Dark Phoenix” arc and the four-part “Beyond Good and Evil.” DVD RUNDOWN: Each being no-frills double-disc sets, Volume 3 and 4 each include superb full-screen transfers and 2.0 Dolby soundtracks. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: X-Men fanatics are sure to be thrilled with another pair of excellent Buena Vista DVD releases. Hopefully a fifth volume will pop up on the horizon concluding the Fox Kids series on DVD in the near future.

GIGANTOR: The Collection Volume 2 DVD (650 mins., E1 Entertainment). SEASON BREAKDOWN: The original black-and-white Japanese cartoon classic -- one of the first to achieve breakthrough success in the U.S. -- receives a superb “Volume 2" release from E1 Entertainment. E1's multi-disc DVD set offers the final 26 episodes from the series, digitally transferred from the original 16mm film, in crisp and glorious B&W, and with plenty of extras as well. DVD RUNDOWN: A first-class set from E1, the DVD transfers and soundtracks (in English) look and sound just fine, while a full gallery of extras includes commentary from producer-writer Fred Ladd; a featurette on creator Mitsuteru Yokoyama, issues 7-12 from the original comic book series (on DVD-Rom), a publicity photo gallery, and a collectible booklet. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: Anime fans and nostalgic viewers are sure to be pleased by this exceptional anthology from E1 which completes the original series’ American broadcasts on DVD.

SHELLEY DUVALL’S TALL TALES & LEGENDS DVD (aprx. 8 hours, E1). SEASON BREAKDOWN: After finding critical and commercial success with her “Fairytale Theater” series for Showtime, creator-producer Shelley Duvall returned with this amiable assortment of folk tales, all produced in live-action with celebrity casts and aimed at youngsters. This three-disc set from E1 contains the complete series, including Ed Begley Jr. In “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”; Steve Guttenberg, Rebecca DeMornay and Martin Mull in “Pecos Bill”; Elliott Gould as “Casey at the Bat,” with Bob Uecker and Howard Cosell also on tap; Duvall herself in “Darlin Clementine”; “Johnny Appleseed” with Martin Short, Molly Ringwald and Rob Reiner; Michael York as “Ponce de Leon”; Danny Glover as “John Henry”; Mac Davis in “Davy Crockett”; and Jamie Lee Curtis and Brian Dennehy in “Annie Oakley.” DVD RUNDOWN: Previously available in a larger and more expensive box-set, E1's new DVD release is pleasantly packaged with fine transfers and stereo soundtracks. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: If you enjoyed “Fairytale Theater” this is a perfect compliment to Duvall’s prior series. Well worth a look.

In Brief

TRUMBO DVD (95 mins., 2009, PG-13; Magnolia): Terrific documentary -- an adaptation of Christopher Trumbo’s play about his father and directed by Peter Askin, who also helmed the project on stage -- works in archival footage of the legendary blacklisted screenwriter along with Nathan Lane essaying Dalton Trumbo and a host of others (Joan Allen, Brian Dennehy, Michael Douglas, Paul Giamatti, Josh Lucas, Liam Neeson, David Strathairn and Donald Sutherland) reading letters the writer composed throughout his esteemed career. Must viewing for cinephiles, “Trumbo” hits DVD in a fine presentation from Magnolia, including a photo gallery and pair of additional recitations of Trumbo’s letters, plus a 16:9 (1.78) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital audio.

SILENT LIGHT DVD (136 mins., 2008, Not Rated; Palisades Tartan): Extremely slow-moving but great-looking film from writer-director Carlos Reygadas profiles a man from a Mennonite community in northern Mexico who has an affair with another woman. Vivid cinematography makes this mood piece effective, but this is one of those movies viewers are either going to go along with and soak up the atmosphere, or be put off by its introspective tone and lack of dramatic tension. Either way, “Silent Light” is an “interesting” film, and Palisades Tartan has brought the picture to DVD in a superb 16:9 (2.35) transfer with DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound plus several extras: deleted scenes, Making Of featurettes, film notes and an interview with Cornelio Wall.

NEXT TIME: A Harvest of October Discs! Until then, don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards and direct any emails to our email address. Cheers everyone!

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