9/29/09 Edition
Boldly Going on Blu-Ray
STAR TREK Season 2 in High Definition
J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” won’t be hitting video store shelves until the middle of November, but Trekkies have an abundance of titles, newly issued on DVD and Blu-Ray, to tide them over until then.

In addition to new DVD editions of the original movies and a Blu-Ray box-set of the “Next Generation” films (none of which, regrettably, were made available for review), CBS’ Blu-Ray edition of STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES Season 2 (1967-68, apprx. 22 hours) offers seven additional platters of classic Kirk and Spock adventures, all presented in gorgeous remastered HD transfers.

This collection of "TOS" second season episodes includes fan favorites like "Amok Time," "The Doomsday Machine," "Mirror, Mirror" (need I say more?), "I, Mudd," the immortal "Journey to Babel," "The Trouble With Tribbles," and "The Gamesters of Triskellion." There are also some clunkers here ("A Piece of the Action," "Patterns of Force"), but even in its least successful moments, Gene Roddenberry's creation manages to entertain with colorful plots and William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelly leading the way.

As with the Season 1 remastered “Star Trek” Blu-Ray release from last spring, viewers are here given the option of watching the episodes either in their original broadcast form or with the remastered, enhanced special effects that were added for the series’ most recent syndicated broadcasts. On the audio front, both remixed DTS Master Audio stereo sound or a mono soundtrack comprise the language offerings.

In addition to the gorgeously detailed and colorful transfers, CBS has done a superb job offering some exclusive extras here -- most significantly turning the set’s fourth disc into a veritable “Tribbles” Special Edition with the inclusion of the classic “Star Trek: Animated Series” episode “More Tribbles, More Trouble” (with David Gerrold commentary) and the terrific “Deep Space Nine” retro-throwback show “Trials and Tribble-ations.” Both shows look good, though only the animated episode appears to be true HD (the DS9 episode appears to be standard-def; I’m not even aware that DS9 was filmed in any kind of high-definition format so perhaps that’s the best we can get).

They join a full host of other extras, mostly carried over (with the exception of a 10-minute segment on the Blu-Ray remastering) from prior DVD releases. The latter include featurettes "To Boldly Go -- Season Two," a 20-minute account of the show's second year; "Life Beyond Trek: Leonard Nimoy," an 11-minute interview with the star focusing on his love of photography; "Kirk, Spock & Bones: Star Trek's Great Trio," a seven-minute piece about the show's heroes, with comments from William Shatner and series writers including D.C. Fontana; "Designing the Final Frontier" (22 mins.) profiles production designer Matt Jefferies' contributions to the program; "Star Trek's Divine Diva" (13 mins.) devotes time to the ample talents of Nichelle Nichols, while "Writer's Notebook" (8 mins.) looks at D.C. Fontana's involvement in the Trek legacy. Two other featurettes look at the DS9 “Tribbles” episode and “Starfleet Access” picture-in-picture content is available on the “Trouble With Tribbles” and “Amok Time” episodes.

More of Billy Blackburn’s home movies, preview trailers and four “Mobile Blu-To-Go” downloadable vignettes round out another must-have purchase for Trek aficionados.

Our other Aisle Seat “Pick of the Week” this week is A&E’s HAUNTED HISTORIES COLLECTION Megaset, a sprawling, 20 DVD collection of some of the creepier programming A&E and the History Channel have offered over the years.

Included here (many of these have been previously released) are the original, Harry Smith-hosted “The Haunted History of Halloween” (a perennial, must-view documentary recounting the day’s origins), “Hauntings, “Poltergeists,” “Salem Witch Trials,” “Vampire Secrets,” “Haunted Houses,” More Haunted Houses: Tortured Souls and Restless Spirits,” “Zombies, “ ”Voodoo Rituals,” “In Search of the Real Frankenstein,” “Bloodlines: The Dracula Family Tree,” “Exorcism: Driving Out the Devil,” “Witch Hunt,” “Exorcising the Devil,” “Voodoo Secrets,” “Haunted Tombstone,” “Haunted Washington, D.C.,” “Haunted Savannah,” “Haunted Hawaii” and “Haunted Chicago.”

With over 18 hours of content, this is a terrific set for horror buffs looking for something (partially) educational to compliment their Halloween viewing parties, and with an ample array of content, there’s something here for everyone, and at an affordable ($80 MSRP) price tag to boot.

Also New This Week

PAUL NEWMAN: THE TRIBUTE COLLECTION DVD (Fox): Impressively packaged, affordable package from Fox compiles 13 titles from the late star’s tenure at MGM, UA and Fox.

Included in the set are the collector’s editions of “The Hustler,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “The Towering Inferno” and “The Verdict,” as well as “The Long, Hot Summer, “Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys!,” “From the Terrace,” “Exodus,” “Hemingway’s Adventures of a Young Man,” “What a Way to Go,” “Hombre,” “Buffalo Bill and the Indians,” and “Quintet.” (Check the Aisle Seat archive search page for individual reviews).

All are offered in their prior, most recent DVD incarnations, but the big draw here (in addition to the films themselves, naturally) is the package, which includes a 136-page, softbound book housing glossy photos, a tribute to each picture, and quotes from Newman.

Particularly for the price, this set comes highly recommended.

THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE Blu-Ray (**½, 78 mins., 2009, R; Magnolia): One of filmmaker Steven Soderbergh’s more offbeat efforts, “The Girlfriend Experience” is a almost-“cinema verite” chronicle of a Manhattan prostitute (played, in an unconventional casting decision, by porn star Sasha Grey), her live-in boyfriend (Chris Santos) and the events leading up to last year’s Presidential election, with the movie’s portrait of a woman offering more than just physical contact to her clients being tied in with an ailing economy and the pursuit of materialism.

This HDNet co-production (which, I believe, aired on Mark Cuban’s cable channel before being screened in limited theatrical release) is interesting and to the point, yet most of the picture hinges on Grey’s performance. Critics called Grey everything from a revelation to a massive hindrance to the picture’s effectiveness; personally, I found her one-note delivery to be fairly grating, yet perhaps that’s exactly what Soderbergh wanted. Either way, it’s an interesting, if not altogether effective, work which Magnolia has brought to Blu-Ray in a superb 1080p presentation with commentary from Soderbergh and Grey, an HDNet Making Of, and an alternate unrated version also housed on the disc.

DARK COUNTRY DVD (**, 88 mins., 2009, R; Sony): Thomas Jane directed and stars in this odd supernatural thriller about a couple (Jane, Lauren German) who come across a car crash survivor in the Las Vegas desert and attempt to save him. Unfortunately, things go downhill once the man turns on them, leading to a bizarre, “Twilight Zone”-esque ending.

Written by Tab Murphy (whose eclectic credits include the underrated “Last of the Dogmen” and Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”), “Dark Country” makes more sense once you realize it was shot as a 3-D theatrical vehicle -- something that explains the special effects that come bouncing at the screen and the straightforward story, which unfortunately leads to a fairly unsatisfying ending. Jane, though, at least makes a mostly assured debut behind the camera here, and “Dark Country” is a watchable enough genre timekiller if nothing else.

Sony’s DVD, out October 6th, includes commentary with Jane, Murphy and producer Patrick Aiello, plus a Making Of featurette, a fine 16:9 (1.85) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.   

THE NEW YORK RIPPER Blu-Ray (93 mins., 1982, Not Rated; Blue Underground): Lucio Fulci’s graphic and unsettling (if not downright exploitive) 1982 film comes to Blu-Ray this month in another of Blue Underground’s superb HD presentations.

This account of a NYC serial killer who brutally (and I mean brutally) slashes his way through a series of beautiful women boasts stylish 2.35 scope cinematography, which has been captured splendidly in Blue Underground’s BD edition. In a departure for the label, only DTS Master Audio is on-hand for the 7.1 sound mix (most prior Blue Underground releases contained both Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master sound), in addition to the movie’s original mono mix. Extras contain an interview with actress Zora Kerova and a look at the movie’s NY locations in 1982 and now, along with the theatrical trailer.

For Italian horror fans “The New York Ripper” is worth a look but everyone else should steer clear.

THE HILLS Season 5, Volume 1 DVD (177 mins., 2009; MTV/Paramount): Lauren Conrad may have left “The Hills” but fans of the MTV reality series will always have the miracle of home video to look back on Conrad’s exploits. This first compilation of episodes from “The Hills”’ fifth season bids adieu to Conrad, and offers more scandalous (or not) story lines with Heidi, Stephanie, Spencer and the crew. MTV’s box-set offers widescreen transfers, 2.0 stereo soundtracks, deleted scenes, interviews, photo shoot footage, featurettes, and all the fifth-season episodes leading up to the series’ fall premiere on MTV this Tuesday.

DALLAS COWBOYS CHEERLEADERS: POWER SQUAD BOD! DVD (Three volumes, 36-70 mins. each, 2009; CMT/Paramount): Looking for a different workout video to replace your Billy Blanks routines? Paramount has one possible answer with a trio of exercise videos offering something for everyone: “Hard Body Boot Camp” (with low impact and high impact programs), “Calorie Blasting Dance” and “Body Slimming Yoga,” each of which tackle a different genre in the fitness department.

NEXT TIME: Afterdark Horrorfest '09, SNOW WHITE, THE PROPOSAL and more! 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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