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Aisle Seat DVD Election Day Special: Part One

From M:I2 to X-MEN and THE PERFECT STORM, a round-up of summer blockbusters due out on DVD!

By Andy Dursin

In light of this week's pending elections locally and around the country, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to take a look at a handful of highly-anticipated upcoming DVD titles, many of them for this past summer's big box-office hits.

We've talked about how the studios seem to have been positioning their big "fourth quarter" releases early this year, pinching your wallet this month as opposed to their usual scheme of saving everything until December. As evidenced by the reviews below, the latter scenario is definitely not the case this year, so which titles are best suited for your consumer vote? Let's take an up-close and personal look at what most folks will be watching at home this month and which are worth your hard-earned dollars....


X-MEN. Studio/Price/Availability: Fox, $29.98, November 21st.

CANDIDATE BREAKDOWN: Bryan Singer's big box-office hit finally brought a full-blown Marvel Comic to life on the big-screen, as a band of good mutants (Patrick Stewart's Professor Xavier, Hugh Jackman's Wolverine, Anna Paquin's Rogue, Halle Berry's Storm, Famke Jenssen's Jean Grey and James Marsden's Cyclops) take on a band of evil ones (with Ian McKellan's Magneto leading the way) in a future not too far removed from our own. The movie is stylishly helmed by Singer but let down by a weak score by Michael Kamen and some uneven pacing -- the result of the movie having been cut down from a much longer original cut. Unfortunately, Fox's generally enjoyable DVD only partially compensates for those flaws, leading one to suspect another, more elaborate DVD might be on the horizon one day. Still, the movie is fun and once you get over the picture's lack of character development and other problems (including Berry's stiff performance and a lack of humor in the script), there's plenty of eye-popping fun to be had here, and comic-book fans should savor the presentation on disc.

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: First, the bad news: there's no commentary track and the deleted scenes are nowhere near as generous as you might have thought. The DVD does allow you to access the cut scenes separately or in tandem with the running feature, though there's more of a delay than usual as your player jumps to them in order to run the scenes in the context of the final cut. Trailers, costume design stills, an entertaining Fox TV special (featuring original footage with Bruce Davison's senator character that didn't make a whole lot of sense in the finished film), and snippets from Singer's interview on the Charlie Rose show round out a good presentation that's just a bit less definitive than I hoped for.

TRANSFER AND SOUND: As with his preceding two pictures ("Usual Suspects" and "Apt Pupil"), the director shot X-MEN in anamorphic widescreen, making the 2.35 Panavision transfer on Fox's DVD essential to the entertainment. A master of widescreen composition, Singer's movie demands to be seen letterboxed or not at all. Unsurprisingly, the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack does not disappoint, either.

WHY IT DESERVES YOUR VOTE: Because there aren't many other movies like it out there, and the film's success ensures a sequel that could certainly well outperform its predecessor -- provided Singer gets more running time, a higher budget, and a different composer to handle the soundtrack. I was slightly disappointed with this picture at first view and remain lukewarm on a lot of it, though there's nothing that terrible in it that a few cosmetic touches could have fixed. Still, this is the kind of movie that makes for a great DVD --just don't be surprised if we see a more definitive version pop up sometime down the road.


THE PERFECT STORM. Studio/Price/Availability: Warner, $24.98, November 17th.

CANDIDATE BREAKDOWN: George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg lead a doomed fishing expedition to the Outer Banks while one of the largest storms in recorded history wrecks havoc off the New England coast. The summer's second highest-grossing flick ($181 million) boasts incredible special effects and sure, the plot is a bit on the cliched side and the dialogue is trite ("I know where to find the fish!"), but the movie's glossy production and super set-pieces are worth a look if nothing else.

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Three featurettes include the fairly informative HBO "First Look" special and a six-minute look at the movie's scoring sessions with James Horner, who talks about his score with director Wolfgang Petersen looking on. No less than three commentary tracks include separate discussions with Wolfgang Petersen, the technical crew, and even "Perfect Storm" author Sebastian Junger, whose words about the real-life tragedy of the Andrea Gail and the heroic rescues at sea carry more dramatic weight than the movie itself. Storyboard and conceptual art galleries are also included, along with a photo montage set to the strains of John Mellencamp's end-credits ballad "Yours Forever."

TRANSFER AND SOUND: Excellent 2.35 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack will indeed be a solid test for your home theater system. James Horner's score, while overbearing at times, does all it can to give the movie some dramatic punch and it works.

WHY IT DESERVES YOUR VOTE: The movie may be a water-logged epic, but Warner's DVD is super, boasting plenty of mouth-watering supplements. There's little resonance to the story, but as a more "serious" version of "Twister," the movie works and the DVD presentation will knock your socks off.


MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE 2. Studio/Price/Availability: Paramount, $29.98, available Tuesday.

CANDIDATE BREAKDOWN: The highest-grossing movie of 2000 so far is a stylishly-made but interminable spy saga with Tom Cruise and his hair flopping in the wind Down Under while rogue agent Dougray Scott holds a chemical agent in his grasp that could possibly unleash a reign of terror on the world as we know it. Tom -- along with cute femme fatale Thandie Newton and an especially helpful dove that appears out of a smoke machine near the end of the movie -- does his best to thwart Scott's dastardly plans, but it takes almost 90 minutes for the movie to develop any kind of action, and it's all recycled material out of the John Woo playbook when the climax finally kicks into gear. Throw in an awful score by Hans Zimmer (almost as bad as Michael Kamen's "X-Men") and you have a surprisingly dull but good-looking sequel that fails to match its not-quite-as-disappointing predecessor on almost every level.

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Paramount has done a good job incorporating a number of extra features into the mix here, including a commentary track from director Woo (whose English is more comprehensible than you might think), featurettes on the stunts and the film's production, a Metallica music video, an alternate main title sequence (closer in appearance to the original film, albeit with Zimmer's pumped-up rock arrangement), and a parody bit from the MTV Movie Awards with Cruise and Ben Stiller. DVD-ROM features include additional information on the film's locations and can be accessed by both PC and Mac users (thanks, Paramount!).

TRANSFER AND SOUND: As you might expect, they're both superlative. The 2.35 Panavision transfer is colorful and clear, while the Dolby Digital 5.1 track is peppered with sound effects and directional activity.

WHY IT DESERVES YOUR VOTE: Well, it still is and will likely remain the top-performing box-office hit of 2000, and even though I haven't run into anyone that's really, really liked it, you could do worse than to soak up the sights and sounds of the Australian summer with M:I2. Of course, if you're on the other side of the fence here, you can also appreciate the ponderous narrative of Robert Towne's script, how Zimmer's score is positively, mind-numbingly muddled and/or inappropriate throughout (almost to a Bill Conti "Thomas Crown" kind of degree), and laugh at how the filmmakers use the same gimmicks over and over again. It's guilty-pleasure entertainment, but far from the much-improved sequel you hoped M: I2 would have been.


THE PATRIOT. Studio/Price/Availability: Columbia TriStar, $29.98, available now.

CANDIDATE BREAKDOWN: Mel Gibson does the Revolutionary War in this underrated action-adventure from former sci-fi filmmaking guys Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin. Criticized by some for its violence (it's a war picture!) and the inevitable comparisons with "Braveheart," the movie is wonderfully performed and boasts both spectacular cinematography by Caleb Deschanel and a marvelous score by John Williams. Gibson's tortured family man is one of the actor's finest roles, making it lamentable that the media sent out the perception that the movie was a flop -- even though this nearly-three hour historical picture grossed over $100 million, far more than "Braveheart" domestically and a first for a genre that's known only for its well- documented failures (see "Revolution"). For me, it's easily one of the best movies of the year to date.

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: A solid commentary track from Emmerich and Devlin leads the way through a handful of excellent supplements, including featurettes on the visual effects, historical background, and -- best of all -- costume design, including a trip to the Smithsonian in Washington. Theatrical trailers, production notes, and a handful of deleted scenes (which include optional commentary from the filmmakers) are also on tap.

TRANSFER AND SOUND: As usual with Columbia, the transfer and sound are both exemplary. The 2.35 transfer is razor-sharp, colorful, and vivid, doing full justice to Deschanel's cinematography. The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is also elaborate, though a planned isolated score track of John Williams's music didn't happen.

WHY IT DESERVES YOUR VOTE: Regardless of what some might have told you, I loved this mix of history and action, and Columbia's DVD does nothing but enhance the entertainment. Highly recommended.


TITAN A.E. Studio/Price/Availability: Fox, $29.98, Tuesday.

CANDIDATE BREAKDOWN: The movie that sunk the Fox Animation Studios, there's plenty of rich visuals on-hand in this expensive ($75-million) sci-fi fantasy epic that should provide sufficient interest for teens and animation fans. As advertised on "Phantom Menace" prints, this poorly-written but great-looking animated feature chronicles life in outer- space for a band of humans in 3028, after Earth has been blown up by some "Abyss"/"Dark Crystal"-like looking extraterrestrials. The race is quickly on to find an abandoned ship that has the power to create another Earth, hidden deep in the galaxy (think the Genesis project). Sure, the plot is cobbled together from various other sources too numerous to mention, and the incessant pop songs don't do any favors for Graeme Revell's score, but the work of Fox animators, led by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman (who helmed the excellent "Anastasia") is formidable and the movie is fun for genre fans and older kids. It's just too bad someone couldn't have re-done the movie's really, really tepid script (credited to Ben Edlund, John August, and "Buffy" creator Joss Whedon).

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Despite the movie's weak box-office performance (barely outperforming "Battlefield: Earth"), Fox has nevertheless rolled out a terrific disc chock-full of goodies. The commentary track from Bluth and Goldman is unusually candid and fascinating, taking into full account the movie's flaws and financial failure, and diving into the specifics concerning the animation and visual effects. Deleted scenes (basically extensions and/or alterations of sequences present in the final cut in some form), a Fox Kids special, trailers, TV spots, and a still gallery round out the extras.

TRANSFER AND SOUND: The 2.35 transfer is outstanding, and because the movie was shot in CinemaScope (as was "Anastasia"), you simply can't watch the movie without it being letterboxed (as the horrible pan-and-scan VHS screener we received fully attests). Despite the fact that there are lots of terrific soundtracks out there, the DTS 5.1 and Dolby Digital tracks are absolutely powerhouse, with the DTS track especially boasting deep bass and enough activity that your neighbors will think a spaceship is indeed taking off inside your home!

WHY IT DESERVES YOUR VOTE: Animation fans will love the movie's look and kids should enjoy the one-dimensional comic-book plot. Think of it as a cooler-looking "Starchaser: Legend of Orin" for today's youth with far more impressive animation and you get the drift.


BIG MOMMA'S HOUSE. Studio/Price/Availability: Fox, $29.98, November 28th.

CANDIDATE BREAKDOWN: One of the year's most profitable movies, this Martin Lawrence comedy provided plenty of ample yucks for audiences starving for comedy. A "Klumps"-like tale of an FBI agent who has to go undercover as a large Southern grandmother in order to pursue ex-flame Nia Long, who just might have the goods on stolen loot and the whereabouts of an escaped federal prisoner along the way. Of course, the plot is just fodder for Lawrence to do his shtick, but it is pretty funny -- enough so that you can comprehend why this modestly-budgeted Fox comedy from director Raja Gosnell ("Never Been Kissed," "Home Alone 3") grossed over $115 million.

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Plenty of 'em, and pretty entertaining ones at that. Deleted scenes, bloopers, outtakes, commentary, a documentary on the film's production (including a look at the movie's impressive make-up effects), and a pair of music videos round out a solid package all around.

TRANSFER AND SOUND: A THX-approved 1.85 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack are both more than sufficient for a movie that isn't going to test the limits of your home-theater set-up, but it works just fine given the kind of engaging fluff BIG MOMMA happens to be.

WHY IT DESERVES YOUR VOTE: Because the movie is generally funny, and you're going to have to take a break from the amount of loud, blaring sound-effects heavy fare listed above. Plus, there aren't that many comedies out there worth writing home about, and unlike the disgusting "Scary Movie" and "Me, Myself & Irene," BIG MOMMA knows how to deliver some fun PG-13 rated laughs without going all the way down to the lowest common denominator.


FINAL DESTINATION. Studio/Price/Availability: New Line, $24.98, available now.

CANDIDATE BREAKDOWN: One of the spring's sleeper hits (over $50 million), this highly effective supernatural thriller chronicles what happens to a group of hapless teenagers when death comes knocking at their door. "X-Files" veterans James Wong and Glen Morgan have fashioned a stylish and often devilishly funny horror effort that only paints itself into a corner at the very end -- but more on that later. Where "Final Destination" clicks is in its script (credited to Wong, Morgan, and Jeffrey Reddick), which is not so much a rehash of today's brainless "Scream" clones but a movie that tries to head into Val Lewton-like territory with an unseen antagonist that adds as much mystery as horror to the story. Of course, the movie's various, elaborately-staged death sequences are more shlock than subtle, Lewton-esque thrills, but it's all fun, at least until the story runs out of gas at the end.

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: New Line's "Platinum Series" has always been one of the best on home video at taking full advantage of the capability of DVD, and this release also does not disappoint. Commentary from Wong, Morgan and other filmmakers is included along with an actor commentary track (featuring Devon Sawa, Kerr Smith and others), and -- best of all for FSM readers -- an isolated score track of Shirley Walker's enjoyably bombastic music with commentary from Walker herself when the soundtrack isn't running. Add in a pair of documentaries, the original trailer, and a comprehensive look at the movie's original ending (which was actually worse than the refilmed climax!) add immeasurably to the disc's value and entertainment.

TRANSFER AND SOUND: A razor-sharp 1.85 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack are on a par with other New Line releases, meaning they're pretty much as good as you can get.

WHY IT DESERVES YOUR VOTE: One of the great things about this DVD is how it chronicles the often-turbulent post-production process, where studio audiences gather to vote on a movie's ending and have the power to change the direction of a film. While often times this works against the principles of filmmaking, sometimes it helps a picture to sharpen its focus -- and in the case of "Final Destination," it works to a degree. The original ending is a gigantic stretch and while the refilmed climax isn't a huge improvement, at least it isn't a radical shift in tone and approach. The movie is good fun and certainly a cut above the usual chiller shenanigans we've been seeing of late at the multiplex. Hopefully this film's inevitable sequel won't be that much of a step down.


TOMORROW: Overlooked gems, reissues, remasters, and new DVDs for some of your old favorites, including AIRPLANE! Don't forget to send me your comments at dursina@att.net and we'll catch you then!


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