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Memorial Day Madness!


An Aisle Seat Entry
by Andy Dursin

Last week marked a major event for both HD-DVD and Blu Ray formats; the former seeing the release of the complete "Matrix" series, while the latter boasted a trio of high-profile discs that Blu Ray backers hope will prove to be those essential "format sellers."

There seems to be little doubt that PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL and its sequel, DEAD MAN'S CHEST, on Blu Ray will help the fledgling format sell at least a couple of copies.

Since we've reviewed both films in detail previously, be sure to check out our past Aisle Seat reviews for an analysis of each installment in Disney's hugely successful series.

On the Blu Ray side, Disney has served up just a marvelous presentation for each picture: the crystal clear 1080p (VC-1 encoded) transfers look immaculate at every turn, from the bright seascapes to the darker interior sequences of both movies, where the added detail of high definition serves to duplicate the theatrical experience at home in a way that standard-definition DVD simply couldn't do. I hate to sound like an advertising campaign for these formats, but suffice to say that both "Pirates" movies look smashing on Blu Ray, offering dynamic, uncompressed 5.1 PCM soundtracks as well on the audio side.

Each Blu Ray set is also a double-disc edition sporting all the extras from the standard-definition Special Edition sets (including commentaries and the bonus "Lost Disc") on a secondary disc. This allows for maximum bit-rates on the film transfers themselves, with the only extras on the respective first discs being a pair of Blu Ray-exclusive interactive features: "Curse of the Black Pearl" sports a slew of mini-documentaries offering some basic pirate lore, while "Dead Man's Chest" includes an interactive game sporting supporting cast members from the series in what's essentially a more skillfully-executed variation on your typical DVD mini-game. That said, it's still fun for what it is (at least for one go-around), and hopefully the sign of more elaborate interactive functions to come once the kinks in Blu Ray Java get ironed out.

Overall, I couldn't be more pleased with the technical presentation of both "Pirates" films in HD thanks to Blu Ray. Certainly the promise inherent in both Blu Ray and HD-DVD is confirmed here with a visual and aural presentation that far surpasses the standard-definition versions of both films. After sitting through these Blu Ray beauties, it'll be tough to go back to standard DVD for most sea-faring viewers out there.

Mel Gibson's APOCALYPTO, which we reviewed two weeks ago in our last Aisle Seat column, has also been issued on Blu Ray through Buena Vista.

This is yet another disc that surpasses its standard definition counterpart, if for no other reason than Gibson and cinematographer Dean Semler shot the film with HD cameras in the first place. Subsequently, it's perhaps unsurprising that the Blu Ray transfer (another VC-1 encoded presentation) seems more colorful and vibrant than the movie itself appeared during my screening of a digitally projected print in theaters last December.

The jungle seems greener, the hues and contrasts are better handled in the Blu Ray disc than Buena Vista's standard DVD, and the uncompressed 5.1 PCM sound is filled with appropriate atmosphere that further propels you into Gibson's haunting evocation of a Mayan civilization long since past.

The Blu Ray DVD also retains the slim extras from the standard DVD edition (commentary and a brief, throwaway deleted scene) though disappointingly doesn't include the theatrical trailer, which as I've mentioned previously includes bits from sequences that didn't make it into the final cut.

Coming soon on Blu Ray, meanwhile, is CRUEL INTENTIONS (**1/2, 97 mins., 1998, R; Sony), Roger Kumble's trashy teen variation on "Dangerous Liaisons" that's certainly a product of junk moviemaking, but hey, there are worse ways to kill off 100 minutes than to watch Sarah Michelle Gellar play a scheming vixen out to ruin an innocent girl's virtue through the advances of her playboy stepbrother.

Ryan Phillippe is the bait for the trap, which is set for Iowa schoolgirl Reese Witherspoon as soon as she moves into Gellar's circle of rich New York City teen socialites. Naturally, Phillippe starts exhibiting feelings for the attractive and innocent young girl, which causes major turmoil in his vicious little world and the possibility that he'll lose his bet to bed Gellar too. Oh, the problems of teen life in the late '90s!

With his cunning and profane dialogue, Kumble is a better screenwriter than he is a director, since "Cruel Intentions" is a murky looking film whose central dramatic focus -- that of Phillippe and Witherspoon's relationship -- is given surprisingly minimal screen time. That central flaw will force most audiences into enjoying the simple pleasures of teens fooling around and spouting out better-than-average R-rated dialogue, which this picture provides in spades.

Aside from filling the roles of the good-looking leads with the requisite physical attributes, neither Witherspoon nor Phillippe makes much of an impression, leaving Gellar to steal the show as an Anti-Buffy villain controlling her own little universe (ironically, though, the film only catapulted Witherspoon into another star stratosphere). Selma Blair also acquits herself nicely as a gawky, idiotic girl who comes under Gellar's influence, and Tara Reid, Christine Baranski and Swoosie Kurtz lend memorable support.

If you were looking for a thoughtful or even mildly serious retelling of "Les Liaisons Dangereuses," this isn't it, but for anyone seeking an entertaining guilty pleasure with attractive young performers, "Cruel Intentions" provides enough of one to warrant a viewing if you are so inclined.

Sony's Blu Ray DVD -- available June 12th -- offers a splendid new HD transfer that enhances the movie as well as can be expected, given the picture's modest budget and visual trappings. The uncompressed 5.1 PCM sound is fine, and extras ported over from the previous Special Edition DVD include commentary from Kumble, deleted scenes, a Making Of featurette and music videos.

New on HD-DVD

If anyone thought catalog films wouldn't benefit from high definition mastering in the same way than "modern" films would, Warner has released several movies so far on HD-DVD and Blu Ray that prove otherwise.

In fact, Warner's sparkling new HD transfer of THE ROAD WARRIOR (****, 94 mins., 1982, R) is one of the most breathtaking high-definition transfers you'll find of a catalog title on either HD-DVD or Blu Ray to date.

Working from the original negative, this new, digitally restored version of "Mad Max 2" -- aka the movie that shot Mel Gibson into international stardom and launched the career of director George Miller along with him -- is nothing short of spectacular. Dean Semler's rugged, atmospheric cinematography is enhanced by the greater clarity of HD, with eye-popping colors and detailed textures on-hand at every turn.

"The Road Warrior" has always been one of my favorite films as well. Its simplistic story, lack of unnecessary dialogue, emphasis on the pursuit and energy of its chase sequences, and the brilliant editing and choreography of those set-pieces makes it an all-time classic, a movie that stands alone from its bookending pictures as a spectacular piece of filmmaking.

Warner's HD-DVD edition (also available in Blu Ray) includes the picture's newly remastered HD transfer plus a potent 5.1 Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack. Extras include a pair of exclusive-to- HD goodies: a new commentary track with George Miller and Dean Semler, along with a brief introduction from Leonard Maltin that at least puts the movie into the context of its other series films (the solid, though not spectacular, 1979 "Mad Max," as well as its bloated, bigger-budgeted 1985 follow-up "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome," which, as I found out recently, doesn't hold up to repeat viewing at all).

It's a magnificent high-definition remastering that alone might be worth the purchase of an HD- DVD player for "Mad Max" fans.

BATTLE OF THE BULGE (***, 169 mins., 1965; Warner): All-star spectacle, chronicling a pivotal battle of WWII, is a hugely entertaining, if at times dated, piece of Hollywood craftsmanship.

Following D-day, American colonel Henry Fonda believes the Germans are about to make one final, major offensive assault. His superiors (including Robert Ryan) don't believe him, but sure enough, the ranking German placed in charge of the plan (Robert Shaw, channeling his "From Russia With Love" villainy into a larger part) is intent on seeing it carried out during a cold German winter.

Packed with side plots, special effects (some marvelous; others hilariously inept), an outstanding score by Benjamin Frankel (in spite of a ragged performance), colorful characters (including Telly Savalas, Charles Bronson and James MacArthur as well), "Battle of the Bulge" does show its age at times: the rear projection shots are thoroughly dated, and the movie's script many times relies on stock Hollywood characterizations and cliches.

That said, the movie is still splendidly entertaining. The performances all work, a credit to director Ken Annakin, who knew how to put a personal stamp on oversized, over-stuffed multi-national productions. Especially noteworthy is the performance of "The Longest Day"'s Hans Christian Blech as one of the German military leaders, who becomes gradually stunned by Shaw's unflinching desire to move ahead with the plan at any cost possible.

One of the problems for "Battle of the Bulge" is that its wide, Ultra Panavision cinematography and Cinerama presentation were intended to be viewed in theaters. Poorly framed, pan-and-scan transfers robbed the film of its grandiose attributes, as did a myriad of cuts that reduced its running time down to 140 minutes over the years (the movie was fully restored in 2005 for its previous, standard-definition DVD release by Warner).

Thanks to high definition, though, we can now get a real sense of the picture's positive attributes. Warner's HD-DVD of "Battle of the Bulge" offers a gorgeous transfer with stunning colors and sharp detail at every turn. Aside from Shaw's briefing from German brass early in the film, the restored transfer (captured directly from the negative) is blemish-free, one of the best catalog titles I've yet seen in either HD-DVD or Blu Ray, and at times on par with some of the more recent films released in the format as well. The shots of German tanks over-running the countryside, soldiers marching and guns blazing, seem like they might have been filmed yesterday, enhancing the drama and making the film even more watchable than it has ever been before.

Frankel's magnificent score packs a pretty potent punch in the disc's Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack, while a new extra is exclusive to the HD-DVD release: commentary from director Annakin and James MacArthur, which will certainly be of interest for fans. Three other extras have been carried over from the previous DVD release, including the trailer and two vintage black-and-white featurettes, totaling nearly 20 minutes, that chronicle the production.

"Battle of the Bulge" may be cliched and even, at times, lightweight considering its brethren in the WWII film genre, but it's still an entertaining, all-star Hollywood epic, enhanced immeasurably by the clarity of its new HD-DVD transfer. Highly recommended for fans!

THE FOUNTAIN (*1/2, 97 mins., 2006, PG-13; Warner): Not since Steven Soderbergh's "Solaris" has a director missed the mark so completely in attempting to film an existential, quasi- religious science fiction drama.

The "autueur" this time is Darren Aronofsky, who paints poor Hugh Jackman and his own real-life wife Rachel Weisz into the corner of his own mind-bending, incomprehensible story, following Jackman as three different characters in a trio of different timelines: Spain in the 1500s, the present-day, and a future where Jackman is bald, wearing pajamas, and floating around in a bubble. Each seems to be searching for the answer to death, which is one thing this seemingly- endless film provides to the viewer for over an hour and a half. It's good-looking (considering the budget) and as well-performed as can be expected given the circumstances, but "The Fountain" is a mess that only gets worse as it moves along, culminating with the 16th century Jackman turning into a large mass of vegetation in arguably the picture's most unfortunate moment.

Warner's HD-DVD edition looks good, though the picture doesn't always display crisp detail (perhaps a result of its digital photography) and those vivid elements that mark the best films in HD. The 5.1 Dolby Digital Plus sound is fine, featuring a hard-working score from Clint Mansell, and extras include numerous featurettes plus a few HD-exclusive supplements, most notably an interview of Jackman (conducted by Weisz) where the actor attempts to describe how he felt when he read the script for the first time. He calls one stretch of Aronofsky's story "hazy," which is certainly just one of several descriptions one could apply to "The Fountain."

Coming Soon on HD-DVD

BLACK CHRISTMAS (*1/2, 2006, Unrated, 93 mins.; Genius): Unrelentingly awful slasher film, written-directed by "Final Destination" auteur and "X-Files" vet Glen Morgan (with partner James Wong producing) is about two punch lines shy of (unintentionally) being the latest "Scary Movie" spoof.

A tepid remake of Bob Clark's well-regarded '70s thriller (one of the prototypes for the modern slasher film), "Black Christmas" finds a group of New England sorority sisters being stalked by a crazed mental institution escapee and his sister -- also, coincidentally, his daughter -- on a cold, snowy holiday eve.

Aside from enjoying the seasonal, vivid cinematography and eye candy provided by leads Lacey Chabert, Michelle Trachtenberg, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Katie Cassidy, "Black Christmas" is so outrageously bad -- bordering on the comedic, in fact -- that with a little more editing from Dimension's Harvey and Bob Weinstein (who cut the film substantially for its U.S. release) this could've been a satire du jour on the slasher genre. As it stands, this is an awesomely disgusting and thoroughly un-scary teen programmer with a relentlessly ironic collection of yuletide songs that lose their novelty value in about 60 seconds. Aside from a fine underscore by Shirley Walker (who passed away prior to the film being released; the end titles include an on-screen dedication to her), avoid this misguided box-office bomb at all costs.

Genius' HD-DVD presentation of the Unrated "Black Christmas" does, at least, look stellar: the 2.35 transfer is just about perfect, while Dolby Digital True HD and Dolby Digital Plus sound are on-hand on the audio side. Three alternate endings and various deleted scenes (some of which were contained in overseas versions) are also included along with two Making Of featurettes.

HARSH TIMES (**1/2, 2005, 116 mins., R; Genius): Well-performed drama starring Christian Bale as a former Gulf War soldier torn apart by what he witnessed, and the descent into psychosis he endures once he returns to Los Angeles, forms the basis of the unrelentingly grim "Harsh Times."

"Training Day" scribe David Ayer wrote and directed this uniformly well-performed, dark character study, co-starring Freddy Rodriguez and the always-lovely Eva Longoria in a small role. The film may be a bit predictable as Bale's fuse slowly begins to tick away, but this is still a fascinating film with an excellent performance by Bale (who also executive-produced).

Genius' HD-DVD edition contains a strong transfer plus Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus soundtracks. Extras include commentary from Ayer, deleted scenes, and an HD-exclusive Making Of segment.

Also New on Blu Ray

DIRTY DANCING (***1/2, 1987, 105 mins., PG-13, Lionsgate): '80s staple is back on DVD again, just in time to celebrate its 20th Anniversary.

What's new to both the standard and Blu Ray editions are an improved transfer, which on the Blu Ray high definition side improves the clarity of the image substantially. That being said, there are still some aliasing artifacts on-hand infrequently, and the image seems overly smooth at times, as if too much noise reduction was applied to the print.

That disappointment aside, this is still the best I've seen "Dirty Dancing" appear in any video format, while Dolby Digital 5.1 and uncompressed 6.1 PCM sound round out the audio options on the Blu Ray presentation. (The standard DVD also benefits from the remastering, as it appears much better balanced than any previous "regular flavored" DVD release).

There are also plenty of supplements here, including a few new additions: a tribute to Jerry Orbach; deleted, extended and alternate scenes; cast audition footage; a pop-up trivia track; two commentaries (one from writer Eleanor Bergstein, another with various crew members); comments from Patrick Swayze; vintage music videos; outtakes; and a look at the "Dirty Dancing" musical which is coming to Toronto later this year following a successful, still on-going engagement in London. (Curiously, both sets are missing the kitschy "Dirty Dancing In Concert" special, which was included on past Special Edition DVD releases).

For fans, there really aren't enough new extras here to justify another purchase on those grounds alone, though Blu Ray owners may want to consider upgrading to the HD transfer, even with some of its visual imperfections.

Upcoming From Criterion

Claude Berri's THE TWO OF US (***1/2, 1967, 87 mins.) comes to DVD on June 12th in a superlative new edition from the Criterion Collection.

Berri's debut film follows a young Jewish boy (Alain Cohen) in German-occupied Paris who's sent to the country to live with an older Catholic couple -- a staunch, anti-Semetic grandfather/farmer (Michel Simon), to be precise -- who form a bond with the boy without knowing his true identity.

A simple and yet profoundly moving film, "The Two of Us" has been restored by Criterion in a highly satisfying new DVD. Interviews with Berri and Cohen, the director's Oscar-winning 1962 short "Le Poulet," a 1975 French talk show excerpt that discusses Berri's own remembrances of his WWII travails, the trailer, a restored B&W transfer (in 16:9, 1.66 widescreen), and extensive booklet notes round out a wonderful package being issued just in time for Father's Day.

New From Fox
Of all the studios mining gems from their back catalogs, Fox deserves the most kudos for their essential, supplemental-packed "Cinema Classics Collection" titles, which have only increased in quality and quantity this year.

At the top of the list for most movie buffs in their newest upcoming batch is undoubtedly THE SAND PEBBLES (***, 183 and 196 mins., 1966, PG-13), Robert Wise's epic starring Steve McQueen (never better), Richard Attenborough, Richard Crenna and Candice Bergen in a story -- set in 1926 China -- that drew close parallels to the U.S.' then-recent involvement in Vietnam but offers numerous pleasures (McQueen's performance, its wide scope lensing and, of course, Jerry Goldsmith's score) to counteract its somewhat clunky pacing and uneven script.

Fox's new double-disc edition of "The Sand Pebbles" is absolutely spectacular: the movie's Roadshow presentation (running 196 minutes) has been preserved on DVD for the first time, and offers 13 more minutes of footage than the theatrical release edit (183 minutes), which is offered here on a separate disc. The 16:9 (2.35 roadshow; 2.20 theatrical) transfers look good considering their age (the roadshow print does appear somewhat faded when compared to the theatrical version), while both 5.1 and 4.0 Dolby Digital soundtracks are included, offering a robust presentation of Goldsmith's haunting, supremely memorable score. Fans have waited patiently for an essential presentation of "The Sand Pebbles" lost Roadshow version, and it's paid off with a great DVD on all fronts here.

Extras are on-hand in abundance. An isolated score track also includes comments from Nick Redman, Jon Burlingame, and veteran screenwriter/movie buff/historian Lem Dobbs, who rightly regard Goldsmith's score as one of his all-time finest. An older audio commentary (from the previous Special Edition DVD) featuring Robert Wise, Candice Bergen, Richard Crenna and Mako is also on-hand, plus an introduction to the Roadshow version with Wise and Richard Zanuck.

Six featurettes comprise a new "Making Of" while a slew of vintage materials (advertising reels, radio documentaries, TV spots, trailers) and additional "side bars" (a featurette remembering McQueen among those) round out just a wonderful DVD all around, an obvious must-have for all "Sand Pebbles" fans.

Goldsmith buffs will also want to seek out Fox's upcoming "Cinema Classics" presentation of VON RYAN'S EXPRESS (***, 117 mins., 1965), which also boasts an isolated score track with additional comments again from Nick Redman, Jon Burlingame, and Lem Dobbs.

This two-disc package for the memorable Frank Sinatra-Trevor Howard 1965 WWII thriller also boasts a number of featurettes, including a casual overview of Goldsmith's career, sporting new interviews with daughter Carrie Goldsmith plus Redman and Burlingame, all discussing the composer's legacy and some of his staple works in the Fox canon ("The Omen," "Alien," "The Blue Max," etc.). It's a fitting tribute geared towards the casual movie-goer, though at a little over 10 minutes, Goldsmith fans will likely be left craving more memories of their beloved maestro.

Another segment, "The Music of 'Von Ryan's Express,'" includes a montage of sequences set to Goldsmith's score, while additional featurettes profile the production for fans. The 16:9 (2.35) transfer is exemplary while 2.0 stereo and mono mixes round out the audio presentation.

The third new "Cinema Classics" release is a double-disc set of the 1949 classic WWII film TWELVE O'CLOCK HIGH (***1/2, 132 mins.) starring Gregory Peck, which surfaces here with commentary from Redman, Burlingame, and fellow historian Rudy Behlmer; four featurettes chronicling the production; a still gallery and interactive pressbook. The full-screen, black-and- white transfer is top-notch and 2.0 stereo and mono soundtracks round out the audio side.

On June 5th, Fox will be adding several sci-fi/fantasy library titles to the "Cinema Classics" line.

FANTASTIC VOYAGE (***1/2, 1966, 100 mins.) and VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (***, 1961, 105 mins.) were previously released together as a twin-bill Double Feature that fetched (up until recently) a decent sum on the secondary market.

Now in their own "Cinema Classics" packages, both movies have been treated to impressive new 16:9 transfers and numerous special features.

"Fantastic Voyage" is graced by Jeff Bond's inaugural DVD commentary (kudos to you, Jeff!) as well as an isolated score track featuring Leonard Rosenman's score with comments from Bond, Nick Redman and Jon Burlingame. The latter basically functions as a secondary commentary track, since the group talks about the film's background, reputation and legacy as one of the '60s' biggest genre films, and then switches completely to Rosenman's score (which sounds sensational in full stereo) at the 37-minute mark.

A visual effects featurette, storyboards, still galleries and the trailer complete the disc, presented in a new 16:9 transfer (2.35) with 2.0 Dolby Surround stereo.

"Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea," meanwhile, offers a similarly improved 16:9 (2.35) transfer with 4.0 and 2.0 Dolby audio options, as well as commentary from author Tim Colliver; a "Science Fiction: Fantasy to Reality" documentary, playing along the lines of this edition's Gore- ian "Global Warming Edition" tag; an interview with Barbara Eden; production art and numerous still galleries; and a reproduction of the exhibitor's campaign manual.

Also new to DVD, meanwhile, is THE NEPTUNE FACTOR (*1/2, 1973, 98 mins.), a film which I never recall coming across on TV on video growing up.

You can't blame Fox for trying to bury this early '70s disaster over the years, since it's hard to believe this submarine fantasy (starring Ben Gazzara, Ernest Borgnine, Yvette Mimieux, and Walter Pidgeon) is separated from the release of George Lucas' "Star Wars" by only four years. In terms of story, editing, and special effects, this would-be Irwin Allen spectacle (produced by Sandy Howard) seems like it's decades apart.

The movie may be silly, dated juvenile comic book shenanigans (with utterly laughable effects -- "look, it's a goldfish aquarium with bath tub toys!"), but Fox's DVD is relevant for another reason: the disc includes both Lalo Schifrin's original score as well as the unreleased, rejected score by William McCauley (portions of which ended up in the film), which is available in dynamic stereo on a secondary audio channel.

It's fascinating to be able to flip from Schifrin's score (also isolated, albeit in mono with FX) to McCauley's, with the big surprise being that McCauley's comparatively romantic and thematically rich score tends to be more pleasant to listen to. Schifrin must have been under marching orders to make the film more suspenseful with cues that are often ominous (especially in the early going) while McCauley's tracks generally play out with more of a sense of wonder (in fact, I wouldn't mind a CD coupling the two scores together). Either way, neither make the "special" effects any more convincing, but they do give relevance to a movie that's pretty much an ancient relic of sci-fi filmmaking otherwise.

Visually, the transfer [16:9, 2.35] is top-notch and 2.0 stereo and mono soundtracks are offered on the audio side.

In addition to Fox's six "Cinema Classics" titles, studio has yet another batch of vintage titles also ready to go, many being offered for the first time on DVD:

THE HUSTLER (****, 1961, 135 mins.) and THE VERDICT (***1/2, 1982, 129 mins., R) have both been issued on disc before, but make their debuts in 2-disc sets with new special features on June 5th.

"The Hustler" offers three new featurettes on the production of the 1961 classic, while "trick shot analysis" and more how-to pool tips, additional featurettes, and commentary from Paul Newman and critic Richard Schickel among others is included along with a new 16:9 (2.35) transfer and a 2.0 stereo/mono soundtrack.

Sidney Lumet's "The Verdict," meanwhile, includes commentary with Lumet and Paul Newman, three Making Of featurettes (on Newman, Lumet, and the film, respectively), photo galleries and more. The new 16:9 (1.85) transfer and 2.0 stereo and mono soundtracks are all superb.

Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood fans will have reason to rejoice when the restored SERGIO LEONE ANTHOLOGY -- in the works for some time and available outside the U.S. now for years -- finally makes its debut from Fox and MGM on June 5th.

Offering "A Fistful of Dollars," "For a Few Dollars More," "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly" and "Duck You Sucker" (aka "A Fistful of Dynamite") all in new 16:9 transfers, this eight-disc box-set is identical to the 2-disc Special Editions MGM has already released elsewhere around the world for these four respective films, including new documentaries, commentaries from Richard Schickel and Sir Christopher Frayling, deleted scenes, and liner notes.

Needless to say this set is a must-own for all western enthusiasts, who will be able to soak up these long-overdue new DVD presentations at last next week.

HELL AND HIGH WATER (***, 1954, 103 mins.) is Samuel Fuller's taut, Atomic-era submarine thriller with Richard Widmark and Bella Darvi in a viewer favorite that has, at last, made it to DVD. Fox's disc includes a fresh 16:9 (2.55) transfer and 4.0 Dolby Stereo soundtrack, plus a few extras including an A&E Biography special on Widmark, an interactive pressbook gallery, the original trailer, and additional stills.

Jimmy Stewart's performance as a Union soldier who opts to negotiate a peace treaty with an Apache chief (Jeff Chandler) is one of the highlights of the 1950 Fox western BROKEN ARROW (***, 93 mins.), which has also been newly issued on DVD. This short but effective western offers generous amounts of action plus a satisfying romance between Stewart and Debra Paget, not to mention colorful cinematography. Fox's DVD edition includes a full-screen transfer, mono and stereo soundtracks, a pair of vintage Movietone news reels, an interactive pressbook gallery, and the original trailer.

Three more "Marquee Musicals" are also new on DVD, highlighted by a 2-disc presentation of CAN-CAN (**1/2, 142 mins., 1960, Fox), the all-star adaptation of Cole Porter's musical starring Frank Sinatra, Shirley MacLaine, Louis Jourdan and Maurice Chevalier.

The presentation is highlighted by Fox's restored 16:9 (2.20) transfer, which looks excellent (in spite of some occasional problems with the source material) and includes a boisterous 5.0 Dolby Digital soundtrack on the audio end. Extras include the new Making Of "A Leg Up," two additional featurettes centering on Abe Burrows and Cole Porter, respectively, a restoration comparison, the original trailer, still galleries (including a reproduction of the souvenir program and another interactive pressbook), plus a full isolated score track.

Also new is the highly entertaining campus musical PIGSKIN PARADE (***, 1936, 93 mins.), which stars Jack Haley as the new coach at Texas State University, slated to play powerhouse Yale (this is 1936 we're talking about!) in a football tussle that requires the school to find some new recruits on the field.

Judy Garland, Betty Grable, Patsy Kelly, Stuart Erwin, Johnny Downs and Dixie Dunbar topline this fun '30s romp, preserved on DVD by Fox with no less than three new featurettes: a remembrance from Lorna Loft on her mother Garland, an examination of the picture's cast, and a look at Darryl F. Zanuck. The full-screen transfer and 2.0 stereo and mono sound are both just fine, especially for a film that's now over 70 years old.

Finally there's the 1951 Danny Kaye Technicolor romp ON THE RIVIERA (1951, 90 mins.), which comes packed with three new featurettes (profiling the film, Kaye, and choreographer Jack Cole, respectively), the trailer, a colorful full-screen transfer and 2.0 stereo and mono soundtracks.

Stephen Boyd and Pamela Franklin give superb performances in the under-rated 1964 Cinemascope thriller THE THIRD SECRET (***, 103 mins., Fox), an absorbing, London-set mystery -- directed by British veteran Charles Crichton and shot by Douglas Slocombe -- that makes its debut on DVD from Fox shortly.

Excellent supporting performances from Jack Hawkins, Richard Attenborough and Diane Cilento make this murder-mystery a top-notch affair that genre fans should enjoy on DVD, where Fox has preserved it in full widescreen. Extras include the trailer, a still gallery, and another interactive pressbook reproduction.

Fans should note that the film offered a supporting role for Patricia Neal that was cut entirely out of the picture, as well as sports the first credited screen role for Judi Dench.

Coming from Fox on June 5th, meanwhile, is the new "Extra Frills Edition" of Aussie drag queen favorite THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT (1994, 103 mins., R; MGM/Fox), starring Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving, and Guy Pearce as a trio who cause a little trouble in the Outback after leaving their Sydney confines.

MGM's new DVD edition includes commentary from director Stephan Elliott, never-before-seen deleted scenes, outtakes, a still gallery, the original trailer, new Making Of featurettes and the proverbial "more." The 16:9 transfer (2.35) is excellent and the sound top-notch, offered exclusively in 5.1 DTS.

Last, but certainly not least, from Fox and MGM is a new, double-disc set of THE SECRET OF NIMH (***, 82 mins., 1982, G), Don Bluth's enchanting adaptation of the Robert C. O'Brien children's book "Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH," beautifully animated and capped by a magical score by Jerry Goldsmith.

What's new to this "Family Fun Edition" is the movie's first 16:9 transfer in the U.S. (a full- screen edition is also available in the package), plus an informative commentary with Bluth and directing animator Gary Goldman. Despite the presence here of a second disc, the set isn't jammed with extras -- just one "Secrets Behind The Secret" featurette is included on the second disc, along with five original interactive games for kids -- but the remastered, widescreen presentation (with 2.0 Dolby Surround audio) ought to be more than enough reason for any fan of the film to pick up the new edition when it streets on June 5th.

On the TV on DVD end, Fox will have all '80s nostalgia freaks in a tizzy when the Glen A. Larson-Lee Majors team-up THE FALL GUY (1981-82, 1109 mins.) comes to DVD at long last next week.

This fan-favorite show will be released in no less than three different packages: as a complete Season 1 box-set offering all 22 episodes in solid full-screen transfers and mono soundtracks, or in a pair of Vol. 1 and 2 sets splitting up those episodes.

Either way you go, the transfers are just what you'd expect and extras include two featurettes remembering the production and its memorable (though not my favorite) TV theme song "The Unknown Stuntman."

Two more recent series from David E. Kelley are also due out from Fox: THE PRACTICE: Volume 1 (1997, 584 mins.) features the first 13 episodes from Kelley's ABC law drama, offering full-screen transfers plus 2.0 stereo soundtracks and one featurette, while PICKET FENCES (1992-93, 1055 mins.) offers the complete first season (22 episodes) from the CBS drama, also in full-screen and 2.0 stereo soundtracks and with a new Making Of featurette. Both "The Practice" and "Picket Fences" are due out on June 19th.

More TV on DVD

CHIPS: Complete Season 1 (1977-78, 1056 mins., Warner): The theme song may not have the punch that Alan Silvestri would bring just a year later, and the formula may have been in its infancy, but darn it, that doesn't mean Season 1 of "Chips" isn't a lot of fun. Finally, fans of this late '70s/'80s TV favorite can rejoice: Warner's first DVD foray for this long-running NBC staple is a smashing success -- a six-disc box-set preserving all 22 season one episodes ('77-'78) of the police action-adventure series, which launched the careers of stars Larry Wilcox and Erik Estrada, who's on-hand here in a featurette profiling his upbringing as well as episode reminiscences and "trivia tips." The transfers look remarkably fresh and the audio tracks feature the energetic, fast- moving soundtracks that would become further refined once composers like Silvestri and Bruce Broughton became more involved in Season 2. It goes without saying this comes highly recommended for all "Chips" fans!

ROOTS: 30th Anniversary Edition (1977, 573 mins., Warner): David Wolper's massive, all-star network TV adaptation of Alex Haley's best-seller remains well-intentioned, entertaining, and somewhat of a dated '70s TV product, mixing sincere, earnest lead performances from the likes of LeVar Burton and John Amos (as the younger and elder Kunta Kinte, respectively) with a litany of talent who would have been equally at home on an episode of "The Love Boat" (Gary Collins, Chuck Connors, Sandy Duncan, Lorne Greene, Robert Reed, John Shuck, etc.). It makes for an honorable, though not entirely successful, mini-series which Warner's has brought to DVD in a superb four-disc box-set packed with extras. Included is a new documentary recounting the production along with commentary tracks featuring LeVar Burton, David Wolper, Ed Asner, casting director Lynn Stalmaster and others. An excellent package for one of TV's milestones.

DEADWOOD: Complete Season 3 (2007, 720 mins., HBO): Third and final season for HBO's raunchy western series comes to DVD on June 12th in a six-disc box-set offering the concluding 12 episodes from the acclaimed, if slow-moving, program. HBO's DVD also includes a historical featurette, "Deadwood Matures," plus four audio commentaries, photos and more. The 16:9 transfers and 5.1 soundtracks are all excellent, making this an obvious must-have purchase for fans.

FAIL SAFE (2000, 84 mins., Warner): Director Stephen Frears and an all-star cast (George Clooney, Don Cheadle, James Cromwell, Richard Dreyfuss, Brian Dennehy, Noah Wylie, Harvey Keitel, Sam Elliott) tried their hands at a live -- yes, live -- TV performance of "Fail Safe" back in 2000 for CBS. Sadly, outside of the presence of that superb ensemble cast, this stilted production was a total misfire, and whatever interest the show garnered because of its live-performance novelty, it loses on DVD, where it's even more limp and awkward than it was the first time around. Warner's disc includes a 16:9 transfer and mono soundtrack.

New Dragon Dynasty DVDs

The Weinstein Company's latest "Dragon Dynasty" DVDs include another pair of top-notch Special Editions for all martial arts fans.

SHANGHAI EXPRESS (1993, 96 mins.) offers Sammo Hung (who also directed) and Cynthia Rothrock in a period western pre-"Shanghai Knights," with Weinstein's DVD including deleted scenes, a new interview with Hung, an interview with co-star Yuen Biao, a fetaurette on Rothrock, commentary from Asian cinema authority Bey Logan, a new 16:9 transfer and 5.1 audio in both Cantonese and English.

Rothrock is also on-hand in ABOVE THE LAW (1993, 96 mins.), a modern day action thriller from director Cory Yuen that Dragon has also preserved on DVD with rarely-screened alternate endings; interviews with Rockrock and Yuen Biao; commentary from Logan; and a featurette with co-star and kickboxing champ Peter Cunningham.

Highly recommended for all martial arts enthusiasts!

Also New on DVD

TOM AND JERRY TALES, Vol. 2 (87 mins., Warner): 12 short episodes from the current "Tom & Jerry" animated series come to DVD from Warner in a single-disc set. Decent fun for kids but a far cry, obviously, from the classic T&J shorts.

ALONE IN THE DARK (81 mins., 2006, 81 mins., IFC/Genius): Colin Hanks plays a stalker who targets attractive Ana Claudia Talancon in this short but reasonably creepy IFC indie. The Genius DVD includes an alternate ending, deleted scenes, commentary and real "Stalker Facts," plus a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 sound.

FAMILY LAW [Derecho de Familia] (2006, 100 mins., IFC/Genius): Imported comedy from Argentina lands on DVD in an English subtitled presentation (4:3 widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound) with deleted scenes and a Making Of featurette.

NEXT TIME: More HD Madness with GHOST RIDER, BIG LEBOWSKI and More! Until then, don't forget to check out my site,, to discuss the latest films on our Message Board, and check out our new Aisle Seat Blog. I can also be reached via email there. Until then, cheers everyone!

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