DVD Holiday Buyer's Guide Part II
A Round-Up of 22 New Releases!
An Aisle Seat Special
By Andy Dursin
I received a good deal of positive feedback from last
week's DVD Holiday Buyer's Guide, so without further ado -- and due
to space requirements -- we're going to take this final installment even
faster and more furious this time out, going studio by studio, with a look
at their most recent DVD offerings (some of them ideal for holiday yuletide
giving, of course!).
In my next "Laserphile" column for the print FSM, we'll be
taking an extensive look at Buena Vista's recent animated DVD releases,
though it can easily be said that any of their long-awaited new digital
packages will make perfect gifts this holiday season -- their relatively
high price tag notwithstanding.
While THE LITTLE MERMAID (***1/2, $39.98), HERCULES (***, $39.98) and
MULAN (***, $39.98) offer robust animation and engaging storylines (although
I'm not certain that either HERCULES or MULAN will be joining LITTLE MERMAID
as a genuine "classic" in the years to come), the cream of the
crop is undoubtedly the Collector's Edition of A BUG'S LIFE (***1/2 movie,
**** presentation, $49.98) which boasts one of the most gorgeous, flawless
transfers you'll ever find, along with a superior collection of supplements.
The movie, which marked another technical achievement for Pixar and
director John Lasseter, is slightly more simplistic than their TOY STORY
pictures and is geared a bit more towards young children, but the movie
nevertheless has a bounty of visual riches that are spectacular to behold.
Film score fans will appreciate the isolated music track of Randy Newman's
score (in 2.0 Dolby Stereo), while sound effects enthusiasts will certainly
find the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound FX track to be worthy of interest. A production
team commentary has also been included, but most of the goodies are found
on the Supplemental DVD, which contains a flurry of outstanding extras,
from all the pre-production material and storyboards you'd ever want to
glance at, to test footage and abandoned concepts, touching upon all aspects
of the movie's production inbetween. (A nicely laid out chapter scheme
covers everything from the various stages of production -- a section which
utilizes the multi-angle feature of your DVD player -- to the sound effects
and promotion of the picture).
A BUG'S LIFE was shot in digital Cinemascope, and while a re-composed
1.33:1 TV version was produced specifically for video, a chapter on the
video formatting shows that while certain scenes were "re- framed
for TV" (moving characters closer together, for example), others were
simply panned-and-scanned and cropped in the traditional full-frame approach.
Although you can see both this reformatted full-frame version and the original
widescreen dimensions on the stunning DVD, the letterboxed version certainly
looks more comfortably framed and often contains additional peripheral
Turning away from animation and back to live action -- though only in
a technical sense -- is INSPECTOR GADGET (**, $29.98), the special effects
filled adaptation of the cartoon character that a lot of folks from my
generation gravitated towards back in the '80s.
Matthew Broderick has the thankless task of playing a hapless security
guard who is turned into a cyber- police officer by scientist Joely Fisher,
complete with all kinds of gadgets and goodies up his sleeve (and in his
body, of course). Inspector Gadget is, in fact, created just in time to
stop the nefarious "Claw" (Rupert Everett, who at least looks
as if he's having a good time) from trying to take over the world and ruin
everyone's good time by inventing an "Evil Gadget" twin Broderick
that likes to set fire to elderly men's beards.
It's only in this latter aspect where viewers over the age of 12 will
find material to laugh at, since the helter- skelter movie is paced at
a rapid fire clip closely resembling a movie trailer (the film runs 78
minutes, and that INCLUDES almost ten minutes of credits!). Still, nostalgic
twentysomethings and teens could find this to be somewhat engaging fluff,
and undemanding young kids (with short attention spans) should also find
it to be fairly amusing with the constant barrage of FX keeping them interested.
(And yes, John Debney's appropriately cartoonish score includes incessant
use of the old TV cartoon theme!).
Two releases from the Miramax/Dimension "Collector's Series"
have also been released; they being last year's enjoyable Oscar-winning
romantic comedy SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (***1/2 movie, ***1/2 presentation,
$39.98) and the horror opus HALLOWEEN: H20 (** movie, ** presentation,
$39.98) with Jamie Lee Curtis.
The latter was originally announced as containing director commentary
and a plethora of extras (including DTS audio), but arrived in stores only
containing a trailer and a documentary feature -- and that's it for your
$40. The transfer on this one is excellent, as is the case with most Buena
Vista titles, and the Dolby Digital soundtrack is crisp and pungent, but
if it's supplemental you crave, it unfortunately disappeared from the DVD,
much in the same way that the Shape himself mysteriously vanishes into
SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, meanwhile, comes up aces in its Collector's Edition
release. Available in Europe for some time now, the deluxe-packaged DVD
offers not one but two enjoyable audio commentaries, a 22-minute promotional
documentary, television spots, 10 minutes worth of deleted scenes, a trailer,
and both a pleasant Dolby Digital track and a superlative 2.35:1 widescreen
transfer to round it off. Image had previously released this title on LD
($39.98) in a two-disc edition, but both that release and the earlier DVD
Buena Vista issued ($29.98) lacked the special features of this package
-- which is, all told, one of the more engaging supplemental releases for
an amiable movie that fully deserves the special treatment.
20th Century Fox has been releasing more DVDs than even I can keep up
with, so let's do a quick run-through of their fourth-quarter releases.
Aside from the families of the cast and crew, few went to see RAVENOUS
(*** movie, ***1/2 presentation, $34.98) last Spring. Badly advertised
as some kind of terrible black comedy about cannibalism set in the 1850s,
Fox would have been wiser to sell this decidedly tongue-in-cheek horror
comedy as a straight genre piece, which probably would have gotten a few
more teens into the theater. Nevertheless, this definite curio offers scenic
locales (shot in Slovakia doubling for California), a solid cast (Robert
Carlyle, Guy Pierce, Jeffrey Jones), an intriguing script that meshes historical
satire with ghoulish horror, and direction from Antonia Bird that somehow
fuses all of these disparate elements together. The cannibal angle is treated
like vampirism (giving the film a semi-traditional genre structure), but
both the sometimes over-the-top performances and the wildly eclectic music
score by Michael Nyman and Damon Albarn (one of those scores that makes
no sense on its own but works perfectly in the film) manage to stay on
the engaging side of the offbeat.
Just as appetizing as the movie is a full slate of DVD extras, from
a pair of audio commentaries (the one by writer Ted Griffin and Jones pointedly
discusses the movie's tumultuous shoot, which found the first director
canned and the whole production shut down for several weeks!) to an extensive
array of deleted scenes. One of those movies that was D.O.A. in its theatrical
run, RAVENOUS is definitely worth a look for genre fans and one of the
more pleasant surprises on DVD this past year.
The remainder of the recent Fox slate contains basic, movie-only releases
with theatrical trailers: ENTRAPMENT (**1/2, $34.98) is an engaging, junk-food
moviemaking concoction with Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones in a
May-December romance that still generates three times as much heat as Pierce
Brosnan and Rene Russo's hook-up in the similarly-themed but less inviting
THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR. Transfer and sound are both fine, and Christopher
Young's score is also a definite improvement over Bill Conti's disaster
on THOMAS CROWN. Fox has also released RISING SUN (**, $34.98) as a companion
Connery vehicle, and both the 1.85:1 transfer and Dolby Digital audio surpass
the picture's earlier THX laserdisc release by a wide margin. Alas, the
movie -- a stilted adaptation by Philip Kaufman (THE RIGHT STUFF) of Michael
Crichton's novel -- is a mixed bag, altering Crichton's political commentary
and throwing in some uncertain kung fu riffs with Wesley Snipes right at
NEVER BEEN KISSED (**1/2, $34.98) offers Drew Barrymore trying hard
-- at times too hard -- to carry a lightweight teen comedy that gets its
only mileage out of Drew's lead performance and a good supporting cast.
Transfer on this Super 35 movie also looks excellent and the soundtrack
includes an OK score by David Newman that fits the movie nicely. PUSHING
TIN (**1/2, $34.98) is an engaging but uneven comedy-drama from Mike Newell
(FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL) and "Cheers" writers Glen and Les
Charles with John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton as air traffic controllers
whose lives -- and wives (Cate Blanchett, Angelina Jolie) -- become entangled
in comedic and dramatic predicaments. Nicely filmed and well-written, the
picture goes on too long at 135 minutes, but offers solid performances
and enough good dialogue to make it worth a look. Also shot in Super 35
(meaning the DVD is framed at 2.35:1 and does include extra peripheral
information), the transfer is crisp and the Dolby Surround track features
an atmospheric score by Anne Dudley, coming off her somewhat undeserved
Oscar win for THE FULL MONTY.
Our friends at Image launched the "Mario Bava Collection"
a few weeks ago with the first domestic release of the Uncut, Unedited
original version of BARON BLOOD (*** movie, ***1/2 presentation, $24.98),
Bava's 1972 Euro-horror classic.
Video Watchdog's estimable Tim Lucas lent a helping hand to the project,
authoring the DVD liner notes which will give viewers unfamiliar with Bava
a good introduction into the world of this Italian horror- meister.
Now, I myself am not the biggest aficionado of Bava or Italian horror,
but if you are, this release is as close to a must-purchase as you'll find:
eight minutes of material previously excised from U.S. prints have been
restored to the movie domestically for the first time, and most notably
for film music fans, Stelvio Cipriani's popish-jazz score has been reinstated
to the film (American prints contained an apparently more orchestral, "spooky"
score by Les Baxter). A complete biography of Bava, director and cast filmographies,
poster and still galleries, and a theatrical trailer round out a great
title for fans of the filmmaker.
I received quite a bit of feedback about THE IRON GIANT from my review
last week, but due to the interest of time we'll save some of those reader
comments until next week.
Recent back-catalog re-issues (first-time on DVD) from Warner include
MEATBALLS (***, $24.98), the 1979 Ivan Reitman comedy with Bill Murray
parading around the campgrounds and cliches found in many a kids' outdoor
comedy. You have the inevitable climactic race where the nerdy kid has
to prove himself, not to mention the usual shenanigans involving the nearby
girls' camp, and romantic predicaments of the counselors themselves. That
being said, MEATBALLS is still the seminal camp movie, with its semi- raunchy
humor (you'd never see a PG rated kids comedy now with as much adult material
as this), fun mix of goofy Elmer Bernstein score and songs (written almost
entirely by Elmer and Norman Gimbel), and steady stream of laughs making
for a good time for one and all. HBO's DVD features a 1.85:1 matted transfer,
the theatrical trailer, and both the original mono soundtrack and a reprocessed-for-stereo
mix (though admittedly I couldn't detect much difference between the two).
THE SEA WOLVES (***, $19.98) is another film from the late '70s/early
'80s period that comes recommended: an enjoyable, leisurely paced WWII
comic-adventure with Gregory Peck, Roger Moore, and David Niven as veterans
drafted into spying on German merchant vessels off an India colony in 1943.
Roy Budd's score is as old-fashioned as the movie itself, scripted by Reginald
Rose and efficiently directed by action vet Andrew V.McLaglen. The 1.85:1
transfer of this Lorimar release looks very crisp and the Dolby Stereo
sound has a bit more activity than to be expected in a film from this period.
Finally, we jump ahead to the 1986 Warner Bros./Producers Sales Organization
release of THE CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR (**, $19.98), which remains a favorite
for fans of shapely Daryl Hannah, who uses her athletic frame to good use
as blonde cave-girl Ayla in this monotonous adaptation of Jean M.Auel's
bestselling novel. A chronicle of warring Cro-Magnon tribes (Daryl representing
the more attractive and advanced form of evolution as opposed to the grunting,
filthy Neanderthals played by Pamela Reed and James Remar), CLAN's virtues
rest in Daryl's good looks and the sweeping widescreen cinematography of
future auteur Jan DeBont, which fortunately comes letterboxed in Warner's
new DVD (there's also a cropped version for those who desire larger close-ups
of Daryl's white teeth and future CHARLES IN CHARGE/BAYWATCH babe Nicole
Eggert as a juvenile Hannah). The transfer is definitely on the soft and
grainy side, but it's easily the best the movie has looked on video, and
the Dolby Stereo track sounds adequate, sporting one of Alan Silvestri's
earlier (and weaker) film scores.
Anchor Bay's holiday releases and back to the movies with ANNA
AND THE KING and plenty of your comments. Don't forget I can be R.S.V.P.'d
at firstname.lastname@example.org and until then
we'll see you next week! 'Nuff said.