Memorial Day Madness!
PIRATES, MAD MAX, APOCALYPTO and More HD Goodies
Plus: SAND PEBBLES, ROOTS, BATTLE OF THE BULGE &
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
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
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
"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
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"
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
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
"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
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"
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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, www.andyfilm.com,
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