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
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
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
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
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
and we'll catch you then!