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Aisle Seat May Sweeps-Travaganza!

The James Bond Collection Vol. 2 Plus The Insider and Butch Cassidy on DVD

By Andy Dursin

Ridley Scott's GLADIATOR continues to rack up quite a body count at the U.S. box-office, with every other film in current release failing to make much of an impact (Bill Paxton has even been making the talk-show rounds blasting Universal for failing to support the far more exciting U-571, which opened well but has performed only moderately well since its first weekend). This week we get Disney's DINOSAUR, which looks like a visual triumph, but unfortunately will likely appeal only to the small-fry with its cliche-ridden plot and childish dialogue, two elements all too prevalent in the film's long theatrical trailer, which made the movie look like THE LION KING and TARZAN with CGI dinosaurs. I've heard James Newton Howard's equally unoriginal score, which is certainly listenable on its own merits but has far too many passages culled from various other influences thrown into mix (right down to vocalizations arranged by Lebo M!) to be fully enjoyable.

Word on the street is that MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2 will prove to be equally disappointing, despite the presence of director John Woo behind the lens. Sometimes actors who produce manage to bungle everything, which leads us right into...


Quick Weekend Wrap-Up

BATTLEFIELD EARTH (No Stars): John Travolta, attired in dreadlocks and acting like the Squire of Gothos, gives an appropriately over-the-top performance in this wretched, godawful, virtually unwatchable adaptation of L.Ron Hubbard's sci-fi novel, depicting the futuristic plight of humans shackled by a group of ugly-looking aliens who have taken over the planet. If you thought DUNE was terrible, thought HOWARD THE DUCK was a bomb of extraordinary magnitude, trust me... you haven't seen anything until this mega- size flop.

Saying this movie is every bit as bad as its reputation would have you believe is almost being kind. The script, performances, cinematography and direction are so literally skewered that it must be seen to be believed (and can someone explain why almost EVERY shot is tilted at an angle?). However, if you do feel the urge to check it out, do yourself (and us) a favor and be a good movie-going Samaritan: buy a ticket for a movie that deserves the cash, show up early for BATTLEFIELD: EARTH, and watch the first 25 minutes of this mess. It'll be just about all you will be able to take, and not supporting this movie will do all of us the favor of hoping Travolta will keep his producing prowess to himself the next time (heaven forbid there is one!) around. (PG-13)

SCREWED (*1/2): Despite all the kudos that screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski received from critics over the years for their work on ED WOOD, THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLINT, and MAN ON THE MOON, there are two films on their resumes that have constantly haunted their filmmaking successes: namely, those bastions of not-quite-masterful comic timing known as PROBLEM CHILD and PROBLEM CHILD 2.

Making their directorial debut with a movie aptly titled SCREWED, this bomb is more comparable to their infamous debut work than their critically acclaimed but little-seen biographical studies: a Christmas- themed "comedy" dumped into theaters in mid-May without the benefit of critic screenings, starring Norm MacDonald as a harried butler who decides to kidnap himself (among other schemes) to milk money out of cranky old maid/millionairess Elaine Stritch. 85 minutes (with slow-rolling end credits) later, there's hardly a laugh in the house, despite a game attempt by MacDonald, Dave Chappelle, and Danny DeVito as a mortician, in a role that must have been a favor to Alexander and Karaszewski, who wrote DeVito's production of MAN ON THE MOON last year.

There's one funny gag involving a dead midget, but aside from that, SCREWED may have done just that to Alexander and Karaszewski's comedic careers. After all, three strikes and you're out, right? (PG-13)


DVD: JAMES BOND HAS RETURNED!

James Bond has turned out to be a hot property on DVD, with MGM's initial box-set of Special Edition releases being a bestseller in the last quarter of 1999.

Now, to coincide with the home video debut of the latest 007 entry, THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH, MGM has released a five-DVD box-set this week of more vintage 007 efforts that Bondphiles should predictably go bonkers over. Retailing for $149.98, the set includes Special Editions of DR.NO, MOONRAKER, and THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (which had each been available in basically movie-only versions before), along with the DVD bows of THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN and ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE.

As with before, John Cork of the Ian Fleming Foundation was the principal figure behind the supplements assembled for each of the Special Editions. While not enriched with tons of supplemental info (they don't quite compare with the lavish CAV laserdisc sets MGM/UA released for GOLDFINGER and THUNDERBALL), each DVD should be prove essential for fans and interesting for non-fans alike: audio commentaries have been compiled for each film, and 40-minute documentaries produced specifically for the new releases are also thrown into the mix, along with trailers and other goodies (several contain brief promotional featurettes). The transfers are all 16:9 enhanced as well, though some of the sources used appear to be in less-than-pristine condition. The good news is that there seems to have been a conscious decision by Cork to match the commentary discussion with the context of the on-screen sequence it accompanies -- no easy task since, while the interviews appear to have been newly conducted, the participants each recorded their chats separately (with some exceptions). For the most part, it works, although I could have done without the editorializing Cork tends to thrown in (perhaps at the request of the studio), which keeps most genuinely critical comments at a comfortable distance. On the whole, however, the chats function as a treasure trove of trivia, something that should make the DVDs indispensable for fans. Let's take a closer look at the respective pictures and the supplements contained therein:

DR.NO (****) needs little introduction to even casual Bond fans, it being the original Eon Productions 007 effort, and starring a gruff, tough Sean Connery in the first of his seven Bond outings. There are goofy elements in the 1962 picture, but the sheer fact that so much of it holds up makes DR.NO an enduring classic: Bond's introductory dialogue, Ursula Andress's memorable appearance walking out of the ocean, Joseph Wiseman's villain, and Jack Lord's Felix Liter all helped to establish a spy series that's still alive and prospering years later, financially if nothing else. Terence Young's no-nonsense direction concentrates on character and suspense, and the picture's almost gadget-free script is far more mature than most of the Bond efforts that followed. Obviously, some of the standbys (like the more outlandish devices) the series would become known for aren't present here (John Barry's "orchestration" of Monty Norman's theme is a stark contrast to the rest of the rather nondescript score, and Maurice Binder's offbeat title sequence didn't hint at the shapely female silhouettes that followed), but it's still a superb picture on its own terms. The MGM DVD here offers the same, somewhat grainy but basically colorful 1.66:1 transfer than the original DVD release contained, along with a weak mono soundtrack. Supplements on this issue include a 42-minute documentary featuring interviews with Monty Norman (who talks about "his score" and how great Barry's "arrangement" was of his Bond theme), John Barry, Terence Young and Ursula Andress among others, plus a 20-minute featurette on Young's career as well. The audio commentary is a bit more inconsistent than some of the others in this set, changing speakers in an effort to match the most interesting comments with the action on-screen, but has its points of interest.

ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE (****), the 1969 Bond adventure that followed Connery's then- swan song YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (which should be included in the next Bond DVD box-set), is regarded as one of the best 007 efforts of them all, and it's still evident as to why the picture works: the story is concise, the drama is genuine, the gadgets and effects are kept to a minimum, the casting is some of the most effective the series had to offer (kudos mainly to Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas), and the action sequences brilliantly and evocatively handled by former editor Peter Hunt, who made his series finale a big bang indeed. In his only 007 performance, George Lazenby is stilted at times but more than acceptable for the majority of the drama, and perhaps the producers did make a mistake by not allowing the Aussie to grow into the role in future installments; as the filmmakers discuss in the documentary (including former UA honcho David Picker), Lazenby took the fall for the movie's subpar box-office performance, even if the producers themselves didn't know how to market their new 007. Regardless, OHMSS works in every facet, from Barry's score to the breathtaking locales, making this DVD a bit of a disappointment since the 2.35 transfer is assembled from the exact same elements as MGM/UA's letterboxed laserdisc from a decade ago. There is dirt and white speckles all during the pre-credits sequence, so even though the color and contrasts are superior on DVD, the print appears to be identical to the one used for the LD and has the same imperfections that transfer had. The mono soundtrack is also a bit ragged, but at least the supplements here are basically the most interesting of the lot: the documentary offers pointed interviews with Hunt and Lazenby among others (Diana Rigg is notably absent), and the commentary track contains interesting comments about the immense preparation the filmmakers went through on location to get the film's most effective sequences to work (including dropping a cameraman on a harness below a helicopter to capture long shots in the ski chase). It seems that Hunt recorded a full-length commentary track and the DVD producers edited out some of his discussion to accommodate other speakers, leading one to ask why they simply couldn't have included more than one commentary discussion on the release.

1974's THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (**1/2) has never been my favorite Bond movie. The second Roger Moore outing, shot shortly after the superior (albeit more dated) LIVE AND LET DIE, this effort was the last of co-producer Harry Saltzman, but despite some exotic locations, most of this Guy Hamilton-directed installment falls flat: the plot is drawn out, the pacing is slow, and even John Barry's score is a bit of a letdown (to say nothing about Lulu's theme song!). The 1.85 transfer is generally colorful although it seems as if the source material that comprised the last MGM/UA laserdisc release was utilized once again here. On the audio end, the 2.0 Dolby Surround mix is fairly pedestrian but superior to the mono soundtracks. Once again, what appears to have been a full-length commentary track with Guy Hamilton has been cut up to accommodate other tidbits from various speakers, which will either prove to be helpful or distracting to trivia-obsessed 007 addicts. The documentary, at least, fares better and includes interviews with Moore, Britt Ekland, Maud Adams, and Christopher Lee, whose performance remains the movie's most distinguished asset. Radio spots, promotional ads, trailers and a brief look at the Bond stuntmen round out the package.

The outlandish, ridiculous, but no-less-enjoyable late '70s Roger Moore efforts have also been bulked up for their Special Edition DVD premieres: THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (***) and MOONRAKER (***) both include the same transfers that were made for the THX-approved DVD releases from a couple of years back -- colorful, crisp, and perfectly framed at 2.35. The 5.1 Dolby Digital mixes are terrific in both instances. SPY, sporting the dated Marvin Hamlisch score (still featuring one of the very best title songs in the series, however), is great location-hopping fun, with Curt Jurgens supplying the villainy and Barbara Bach as the girl of the moment. The SPY extras include a commentary track with Lewis Gilbert, Ken Adam, and Christopher Wood, which thankfully sounds as if much of it was recorded with the participants together in the same room, resulting in a more cohesive discussion in the process. The documentary is again thorough and more trailers, radio spots, TV ads, and a brief Ken Adam featurette have also been included. Some die-hard Bond fans' least favorite film, MOONRAKER, is strictly comic-book fluff, but it IS great fun, and is paced slightly better than its predecessor. John Barry's score is also a big asset to this one, with Michael Lonsdale as Drax and Lois Chiles as Holly Goodhead (need I say more?) rounding out the cast in a Bond film filled with even more gorgeous women than usual. As is the case with SPY, the commentary is much more interesting than the other DVDs in this set, including comments from screenwriter Christopher Wood, Ken Adam, and director Lewis Gilbert (they even reflect on why Barry's theme song didn't do anything on the worldwide music charts). The 42-minute documentary contains all the trivia you need to know while trailers, a featurette on the special effects designers, and a still-gallery round out the package.

Surprisingly, the next-best 007 commentary tracks can be heard on THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (**), last Fall's bloated Bond-extravaganza, with Pierce Brosnan relegated to second-tier status in a methodically-paced and plot-heavy effort with the sexy Sophie Marceau and tanktop-attired Denise Richards (in a performance even worse than expected) compensating for several clumsy action scenes and lack of character development. The good news is that the commentary track including David Arnold and longtime Bond production designer Peter Lamont is surprisingly candid since it makes some critical comments about the film (like how the boat chase, originally placed after the front titles, became part of the pre-credits teaser once test audiences saw and hated the rough cut) in addition to divulging a lot of behind- the-scenes info that's often more interesting than the movie itself. Director Michael Apted also has a scene- specific commentary track included on the DVD, making up for the promotional "documentary" hosted by former Entertainment Tonight correspondent Leanza Cornett (running 15 minutes) plus a "multi angle" video storyboard feature (similar to the one on the Special Edition of TOMORROW NEVER DIES). You also get a truly bizarre music video for the film's bland theme song performed by Garbage. Visually, the DVD is immense, sporting a flawless 2.35 transfer and a fantastic, enveloping 5.1 Dolby Digital mix.

THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH is sold separately from the box-set, but a removable piece of cardboard is included so it can fit in the oversize slip case. For fans, the set is easily worth the price for the documentary features, with the overall presentation overcoming the limitations of several transfers and quibbles with the commentary tracks I had.

Fox's BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID ($24.98) will be rolling out on DVD this week as well, and fans of this 1969 Newman-Redford pairing will not be disappointed with the new release: the THX, enhanced 2.35 transfer looks gorgeous with deeply saturated colors and little grain. The 2.0 mono soundtrack is OK, but it's the look of the movie and Conrad Hall's cinematography that really benefit from the presentation here. In terms of supplements, there's an interesting audio commentary with George Roy Hill, lyricist Hal David (who worked with composer Burt Bacharach in fashioning "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head"), Robert Crawford, and Conrad Hall, along with a 45-minute documentary featuring interviews with the cast and crew reflecting on their experiences. The movie, which earned Oscars for score, song, cinematography, and script (William Goldman), remains fresh and inviting, the product of superior filmmaking on every technical level, breathing fresh air into the genre and remaining a classic of its time.

Finally, Buena Vista's DVD of Michael Mann's phenomenal THE INSIDER ($29.98) is worth a look for anyone who missed one of last year's best films. Russell Crowe and Al Pacino give remarkable performances in a movie that manages to touch upon a wealth of issues involving the media and the law, never once turning into a heavy-handed Hollywood "message" picture like so other films of its comparable kind. The DVD looks terrific in the enhanced 2.35 transfer, the only format that does justice to Mann's trademark use of widescreen cinematography. Lisa Gerrard and Pieter Bourke's score adds texture to the drama, and the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is effectively rendered. Supplements here are limited to a production featurette (with audio interviews with Pacino and Crowe), along with a theatrical trailer, but at 158 minutes, the DVD has more than enough entertainment to offer. For a closer discussion of the movie, check out my original review here. Highly recommended.


NEXT WEEK: Readers on GLADIATOR, plus THE GREEN MILE comes to DVD. Remember to send all emails to dursina@att.net and we'll see you then! Excelsior!


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