The Inaugural Aisle Seat Y2K DVD Round-Up
Plus: Isolated Score News and The Truth about SUPERGIRL
By Andy Dursin
It may only be the end of January but we have already have been flooded
with handfuls of new DVD releases at our official Aisle Seat offices.
First, a bit of news before we dive into the review pile. Columbia TriStar
has announced isolated score tracks on their upcoming Collector's Edition
DVD releases of THE MESSENGER: THE STORY OF JOAN OF ARC and the Winona
Ryder-Susan Sarandon version of LITTLE WOMEN. Both will be 5.1 Dolby Digital
score-only tracks, and will compliment supplement-laden deluxe packages.
While both pictures will contain deleted scenes and commentary tracks,
THE MESSENGER will also run 10 minutes longer than its U.S. release version.
Both discs will be available in mid-April and retail for $24.98. (Columbia
has been including more score-only tracks than any other major studio thanks
to their recent DVD "Special Edition" packages, which have also
included JUMANJI, JAKOB THE LIAR, and the upcoming RANDOM HEARTS. Hopefully
this trend will continue throughout the year!)
Anchor Bay has also announced more details about their upcoming release
of SUPERGIRL, which will be issued in two different flavors: your $29.98
standard-release and $44.95 2-DVD limited edition set (just like their
terrific packages of HALLOWEEN and ARMY OF DARKNESS last year).
The $44.95 version will not only contain a THX-remastered, letterboxed,
Dolby Digital remixed edition of the European 125-minute version (supplanted
by a 105-minute version in North America), but also--get this--a 140-minute,
never-before-seen version cut from the original negative! The disc will
also contain the "Making of Supergirl" special, TV spots, trailers,
and other goodies. Needless to say, it looks like Anchor Bay listened to
consumers and are putting the best-possible Special Edition possible, so
mark May 7th on your calendars for the day this highly-awaited DVD hits
Recent DVD Releases
In the heyday of the laserdisc format, the Criterion Collection name
was synonymous with great transfers, extensive supplements, audio commentaries,
and other goodies. Unlike today, major studios could have basically cared
less about releasing anything other a straight movie-only disc (one was
lucky to even have letterboxing for a while!), so it was up to Criterion
for many years to provide viewers with a presentation that truly lived
up to the capabilities of the medium.
The company set a standard for which studios later began living up to
on laserdisc, and which they have all but taken full advantage of on DVD.
Criterion-worthy DVDs are now released every week or so, which is why it's
not surprising that we haven't heard much out of Criterion/Voyager in the
last few years.
I am, however, proud to report that the company is back to their old
tricks with the new Deluxe Edition of RUSHMORE ($39.95, ***1/2 movie, ***1/2
presentation), the quickly, eccentric 1997 comedy from director Wes Anderson
that grows on you after repeat viewings, and which greatly benefits from
its Criterion Collection presentation on DVD.
The movie, which I found to be a bit off-putting at first glance (many
of the movie's themes doesn't come across until you see where the story
ultimately ends up), is offbeat and charming in its own way, and unlike
a lot of pictures made in the '90s (particularly teen movies!), makes great
use of Panavision cinematography, eclectic editing and a soundtrack comprised
of British "Invasion" rock and quirky Mark Mothersbaugh score.
It's wildly cinematic and while some of the devices Anderson uses to convey
his story (co-written with Owen Wilson) can initially distract one's attention,
they enrich the film on subsequent viewing.
In fact, RUSHMORE makes a fascinating companion piece with one of last
year's best teen comedies, Alexander Payne's ELECTION: both films examine
high school life, the pains of growing up, overachievers, sexuality, and
how adulthood contrasts to youth, but the two pictures end in completely
divergent fashions. ELECTION tells us some people never mature and paints
a bleaker portrait of its characters, while RUSHMORE--in its own quietly
poignant conclusion--tells us otherwise, for both grown-ups and those about
The Criterion Collection DVD is a must for anyone who enjoyed the film,
for it includes plenty of supplemental goodies: an entire "Charlie
Rose Show" interview with Anderson and Murray, who comment separately
on the picture; an audio commentary by Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson,
and Anderson, along with interesting, albeit slightly repetitive, documentary
footage shot by his brother, Eric Chase Anderson; cast audition footage,
trailers, storyboards, and even brief, funny bumpers shot for last year's
MTV Movie Awards, with the "Max Fischer" players spoofing OUT
OF SIGHT, ARMAGEDDON, and THE TRUMAN SHOW.
The transfer, naturally, is terrific, framed in the 2.35:1 format (the
only way to appreciate this film is seeing it letterboxed), and the Dolby
Digital soundtrack is potent, though both features are also available on
Disney's standard-release version.
Criterion hasn't made much noise in recent years, but from the perfectly
designed menu screens, package art (it even includes a map of the Rushmore
campus), and accompanying materials, hopefully RUSHMORE will mark the beginning
of a new era in Criterion releases produced expressly for the DVD format.
Speaking of Special Editions, Image has released an elaborate and jam-packed
DVD celebrating 50 years of Bob Clampett's BEANY & CECIL (**** presentation,
$29.98), two enduring children's characters that Clampett created for a
live-action puppet TV show in the '50s and later developed into some truly
wacky animated 'toons in the '60s.
Truth be told, I did not grow up on BEANY & CECIL, not even its
reruns (if memory serves me right, they weren't around when I was growing
up. Our local Southern New England airwaves in the late '70s/early '80s
was filled with every Hanna-Barbera cartoon, early anime like "Star
Blazers," plus the late '60s "Spider-Man," as likely Lukas
If you are under 30, chances are good that this is your first exposure
to Clampett's work, and Image's wonderful DVD does a superb job conveying
to first-time viewers the imagination, humor, and pioneering work that
Clampett turned out in animation and, particularly, the early days of B&W
The DVD, produced by Image's Greg Carson in conjunction with Clampett's
son Robert, includes portions representative of all of Clampett's output,
from episodes of the television program to the animated segments produced
in the early '60s. Sections detailing Clampett's animated work for various
studios in the '30s and '40s are included, along with audio commentary
segments (culled from old Clampett interviews and new ones with artists
like Stan Freberg, who supplied some of the voices), production artwork
and concepts, and even material for a '70s production named "Three-Dimensional
Man" that never materialized. Along with these extras are conceptual
work and test footage from an early attempt at collaborating with Edgar
Rice Burroughs ("Mars"), stop footage sequences, a clip from
a 1961 Edgar Bergen Show, promotional films and merchandise.
What I particularly enjoyed with this DVD is that the producers obviously
had fondness for this material, and were able to apply their enthusiasm
in producing a disc that will not just appeal to fans and nostalgic baby-boomers
who grew up on it, but also animation aficionados and anyone interested
in learning about Clampett and his creations. It's both a great primer
and fully satisfying for fans, and one of the best supplemental discs I've
seen on DVD in the last year.
Swinging from cartoon craziness to comic-book styled, old-fashioned
adventure, Touchstone has unleashed a movie-only edition of THE 13TH WARRIOR
(***, $29.98), the long-delayed, re-edited, re-shot adaptation of Michael
Chrichton's "Eaters of the Dead."
After being on the shelf for over a year, the movie finally materialized
minus any substantive character development, an abbreviated 103 minute
running time, a new score by Jerry Goldsmith (replacing Graeme Revell's
"edgier" original work), and yet... the final cut still works.
Crichton took over in the editing room for director John McTiernan and
hacked away at subplots, but there's a decent chance most of the performances
(particularly by a confused Antonio Banderas) didn't work in the first
place and the film could only function on the level that Crichton re-cut
the movie: as a rousing, heroic adventure picture, complete with a bold,
bombastic score by Goldsmith.
On DVD, I confess that I enjoyed this movie even more than I did in
theaters for a number of reasons. First, the gaps in the narrative are
easier to overlook, and more significantly, some of the pitch-black action
sequences as photographed by Peter Menzies, Jr. are more comprehensible
on the small screen. Touchstone's DVD certainly adds to the entertainment
with its terrific 2.35:1 transfer (there is a bit of "slow down"
in the reel changes, as if a frame or two is missing for some reason--perhaps
evidence of how much the movie was re-cut), and the Dolby Digital soundtrack
is pulse-pounding and supremely effective.
Flaws and all, THE 13TH WARRIOR nevertheless makes for great home video,
and the DVD is a perfect rendering of the elaborate production, despite
its lack of special features (only a theatrical trailer, copyrighted 1998
and with Revell's name still on the credits, is included).
Disney has also released a movie that is close to the hearts of Elisabeth
Shue fans everywhere, and that picture is obviously ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING
(***, $29.98), here released in a matted 1.85:1 letterboxed format for
the very first time.
One of filmmaker Chris Columbus's most unpretentious (and therefore
most engaging) films, Columbus's directorial debut was a must-view mainly
because of Shue's charismatic lead performance as a flustered babysitter
who ventures into the big city and endures a succession of AFTER HOURS-like
comic nightmares. While Columbus, who got his chops writing for Spielberg
(the underrated YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES, the still-grating THE GOONIES),
didn't write the picture, he did show enough flair behind the lens to establish
a foundation as a filmmaker with this effort. (Unfortunately, he parlayed
his success here and on HOME ALONE into maudlin, mind-numbing tripe like
STEPMOM, MRS.DOUBTFIRE, and NINE MONTHS in the '90s).
Surprisingly rated PG-13 (for one memorable use of a certain four-letter
word), this often funny comedy managed to be a big box-office hit back
in 1987, where it became a classic for any poor teenage guy who developed
a crush on its star (I confess! I'm guilty!). Years later, it's one of
the best films of its kind from the late '80s, and Touchstone's DVD looks
and sounds better than any previous video incarnation did. Sure, the transfer
is a bit grainy, but the matting helps and the Dolby Surround sound has
more than its share of directional effects (and a relatively early Michael
No extras here, but the sheer fact that Disney released this late '80s
teen staple on DVD is reason enough for some of us to celebrate.
Another '80s classic has been re-issued on DVD as a Collector's Edition,
the immortal Patrick Swayze- Jennifer Grey (with the cuter, older nose)
team-up DIRTY DANCING (*** movie and presentation, $24.98).
One of the most profitable films made during the decade (its budget
of $5.2 million was followed by an international gross exceeding $170 million),
this Vestron release became a genuine craze in its day, thanks to a pair
of soundtracks that each cracked the Top Ten charts, and a touring stage
show that had folks around the country going nutty for the film's mix of
Motown standards and '80s power-rock (via Bill Medley and Eric Carmen hits).
Removed from the phenomena of the day, this little sleeper remains precisely
that: a formulaic but highly enjoyable romantic drama that, through its
appealing performances and energetic soundtrack, transcends its melodramatic
roots. Swayze, as a bad-boy dancer at a Catskills resort during the early
'60s, and Grey, as the Jewish Princess who falls for him, generate enormous
chemistry together, while Jerry Orbach gives a superb performance as Grey's
Artisan previously released the movie on DVD in both full-frame and
matted formats, and while the new "Collector's Edition" DVD contains
only the 1.85:1 matted transfer (that looks a bit grainy, especially near
the beginning), it also offers a nice collection of supplements that the
original release lacked. Writer Eleanor Bergstein, who based the movie
somewhat on her own experiences, gives an interesting but at times too-chatty
commentary track, reflecting on the work of late director Emile Ardolino
and the location filming (in North Carolina and Virginia, subbing for New
York). Music videos, trailers, several interesting featurettes and additional
promotional material are also included, but the biggest extra is the entire
"Dirty Dancing: Live in Concert" 1988 special, an 88-minute program
featuring dancers re-creating the movie's choreography while singers from
Eric Carmen to Bill Medley trot out on-stage to perform their chart- topping
hits. (Yes, the movie was THAT much of a hot item at the time).
It's a nice bonus on a disc that fans of the movie will want to own,
and judging from the picture's continued popularity (not to mention the
soundtrack itself, which you still can't get away from on Adult Contemporary
radio formats!), there are likely a lot of them out there.
Moving back into more recent territory, MGM has released one of last
summer's surprise hits, the stoic, sleek remake of THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR
(**, $24.98) on DVD.
I didn't quite go for the romantic sparks (not) ignited by Peirce Brosnan
and Rene Russo, but a lot of audiences did, escalating the gross of this
rare MGM hit into the $70 million domestic range. Also to give credit where
it's due, director John McTiernan's remake of the overrated 1968 Steve
McQueen-Faye Dunaway thriller doesn't make the same mistakes as its predecessor
did (turning Crown into less of an icy cold '60s "anti-hero"
and more up Brosnan's alley as a suave, sophisticated Bond-like protagonist),
though it suffers from its own ailments--mainly a meandering narrative,
lack of action, and a terrible score by Bill Conti that becomes more tolerable
on second viewing only because you accept just how inept it is.
MGM's DVD looks great, but only in its 2.35:1 widescreen transfer. Try
watching the Pan-and-Scan version on the other side and you'll soon remember
what it was like to watch anamorphic movies back in the days before letterboxing
(my favorite moment comes at the very beginning when Brosnan is seated,
eating a sandwich, and looking at a painting on a far wall that goes completely
unseen on the cropped version!).
The Dolby Digital soundtrack is effective, theatrical trailers are included
for both the original '68 version and this remake, and there's also Director
Commentary, where McTiernan delivers a generally plodding chat on the supplemental
side (filled with long pauses and obvious statements about the movie's
Anchor Bay, meanwhile, has released a handful of various items from
the obscure to the acclaimed and forgotten. From that wild and wacky time
of the '70s come a collection of interesting releases, spotlighted by a
pair of Special Editions.
Paul Schrader's BLUE COLLAR (***, $24.98), a powerful 1978 drama about
a corrupt union and the plight of the working man, boasts strong performances
from Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, and Yaphet Kotto. Director Paul Schrader
made a film whose bleak messages remain potent today, and gives a commentary
track that dives head-on into the picture's turbulent production (where
Pryor was out-of- control and the three leads refused to talk to each other).
Lighter and more enjoyable is Anthony Harvey's splendid 1971 adaptation
of James Goldman's play THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS (***, $24.98), with George
C.Scott as a retired Judge who thinks he's Sherlock Holmes. Joanne Woodward
is terrific as his Dr.Watson and the movie--a reunion of the creative team
behind THE LION IN WINTER (including composer John Barry)--is a lot of
fun. Anchor Bay's DVD includes commentary from Harvey and film preservationist
Richard A.Harris, and contains the expanded 98-minute version not seen
in theaters (principally restoring an early role by F.Murray Abraham).
Other Anchor Bay new releases worth taking a look at include the wonderful
1962 Disney family picture BIG RED (***, $24.98), with Walter Pidgeon training
an Irish setter who bonds with a young boy; the engaging 1971 John Cassavetes
comic-drama MINNIE AND MOSKOWITZ (***, $24.98), featuring commentary from
stars Gena Rowlands and Seymour Cassel; and rounding off their new releases,
a pair of dated '60s items, the Lesbian drama THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE
(**, $29.98) from director Robert Aldrich (with a serviceable score by
Gerald Fried), and the totally-"mod" romantic comedy SMASHING
TIME (*1/2, $24.98), which looks to be the kind of movie that Austin Powers
would have grooved to back in the late '60s (it even features Michael York!).
On the above, all titles feature 1.85:1 transfers and look excellent,
along with workable mono soundtracks and recreations of the movie's one-sheet
posters on the respective DVD inlay cards. (BLUE COLLAR, THEY MIGHT BE
GIANTS, and MINNIE also contain trailers and featurettes).
NEXT WEEK: Back with your comments and additional DVD reviews,
movie news--you know, the usual! Don't forget to send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.