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Aisle Seat DVD Holiday Buyer's Guide, Part Two: Vintage Goods!

From THE ODD COUPLE to G.I. JOE and THE CONVERSATION, 11 more new DVDs prime for holiday giving this season!

By Andy Dursin

Yesterday we focused on recent big-screen flicks newly released on DVD, and today we look at recent DVDs for films ranging from '80s favorites to classics from the '60s and '70s. Just as the format has caught on with consumers, there are even more viewing options out there than ever before (still, where's STAR WARS? INDIANA JONES? Call George Lucas, folks, that's all I can say. On the flip side, at least CLOSE ENCOUNTERS should be out by next year at this time).

Remember to send in your comments to me at dursina@att.net and we'll catch you next time. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, everyone!


PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES. Paramount, $29.98.

MOVIE RATING: ***1/2 of four.

WHAT IT IS: One of John Hughes's best films, this teaming of John Candy and Steve Martin (both tremendous) was a lukewarm box-office performer back in December '87, where it was out-grossed by the saccharine, cuddly "Three Men and a Baby." 13 years later, "Planes, Trains" is the movie audiences keep coming back to -- a spirited holiday travel comedy with a heartwarming ending. It's a shame Hughes abandoned making movies for audiences outside of the 13-and-under crowd, since this picture (one of his few R-rated efforts -- albeit only for one well-remembered, profanity-laced Martin tirade), remains a perennial favorite and a perfect picture for holiday consumption.

TRANSFER AND SOUND: Paramount's DVD marks the first time that the movie has been screened in its original 1.85 aspect ratio at home. The transfer otherwise is merely OK, with some grain evident throughout the movie. The 5.1 Dolby Digital remixed soundtrack fares much better, featuring an eclectic mix of songs and Ira Newborn score.

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Unfortunately, none. Not even a trailer. The unavailability of Hughes was the reason for the lack of supplements, according to online reports.

GIFT POTENTIAL: High. The movie has rightly become a near-classic and is constantly shown on the tube, and the DVD is the best-looking presentation of the movie at home to date. It'd be nice to see a full-blown Special Edition someday, but this will suffice in the meantime.


SHE'S HAVING A BABY. Paramount, $29.98.

MOVIE RATING: *** of four.

WHAT IT IS: Pretty much the last "adult" comedy John Hughes attempted, this 1988 comedic-drama features Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth McGovern as a pair of Chicago yuppies trying to find success in business and domestic bliss -- the very essence of the American dream as defined in the late '80s. Alec Baldwin gets a lot of mileage out of his supporting role as one of Bacon's obnoxious friends while Hughes intertwines autobiographical elements with outlandish comedy in an uneven but generally satisfying movie that sat on the shelf for a while before Paramount released it (I recall seeing trailers for the movie with "Ferris Bueller" in 1986 even though the movie wasn't released until spring, 1988!).

TRANSFER AND SOUND: Paramount's DVD presents a strong, colorful 1.85 transfer which is an improvement on the remastered letterboxed laserdisc release from a few years ago. The 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is quite vibrant given the kind of film this is.

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: A theatrical trailer is included, although it's not the effective, no-dialogue one initially rolled out several years before the movie's eventual release.

GIFT POTENTIAL: The movie's bouncy soundtrack remains in circulation, so I assume the movie still has a decent following. Certainly the performances are engaging and the movie entertaining enough, even though you'd wish Hughes would have settled on a consistent tone at certain points.


THE ODD COUPLE. Paramount, $29.98.

MOVIE RATING: ****.

WHAT IT IS: The original 1967 comedy classic, with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau in their unforgettable roles as Felix Unger and Oscar Madison, the two mismatched roommates who spar in Neil Simon's funniest play. The movie version, directed by Gene Saks and scored memorably by Neal Hefti, is a laugh-riot, and demands to be seen in its original widescreen, Panavision aspect ratio -- or not at all.

TRANSFER AND SOUND: Good news all around with this disc. The 2.35 transfer correctly frames the movie's anamorphic frame (the film is damaged heavily in its pan-and-scan TV prints) and presents a dark but balanced and crisp new transfer superior to even the earlier letterbox laser package. What's more, Paramount has presented both a "restored" mono soundtrack and a surprisingly good 5.1 Dolby Digital stereo remix, which adds a bit of ambiance and presents the movie's score in stereo. Unlike a lot of "remastered" Dolby Digital tracks, this one works quite well.

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: A theatrical trailer is included.

GIFT POTENTIAL: Extremely high. One of the all-time top cinematic comedies has been given a wonderful presentation on DVD, and for audiences of all ages, it's a must-own. Watching it again simply reminded me just how funny it is, and how amazing Lemmon and Matthau were on-screen together in their prime.


AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN. Paramount, $29.98.

MOVIE RATING: ***.

WHAT IT IS: One of the many box-office hits from the memorable cinematic summer of '82, Taylor Hackford's unabashedly melodramatic, entertaining look at a lost young man (Richard Gere) who finds himself in the military and love with a local girl (Debra Winger) in the process won Oscars for Lou Gossett, Jr.'s terrific performance as a drill sergeant and the soft-rock ballad "Up Where We Belong" (still played on lite FM stations everywhere to this day). Jack Nitzsche's score, Winger's performance, the screenplay and editing were all Oscar-nominated. As a movie, it's no classic, but in terms of star power and on-screen chemistry, Winger and Gere made for a memorable screen duo in a movie that endures as one of the top romances in '80s cinema.

TRANSFER AND SOUND: The sometimes grainy, remastered 1.85 transfer is quite good, surpassing the earlier Pioneer letterboxed laserdisc release. The mono soundtrack is effective but could have used the stereophonic oomph that Paramount brought to their 5.1 stereo remixes on titles like "Odd Couple," "Airplane," and "The Conversation." Perhaps the director, ultimately, wanted to leave his project as is.

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Hackford gives an informative discussion on the commentary track, and talks frankly about the production of the picture and working with the honchos then in place at Paramount (including Michael Eisner). Why is it that the best commentary tracks come from directors talking about their movies some time after the fact, and not immediately after a film's release? A theatrical trailer is also thrown in the mix.

GIFT POTENTIAL: As a date movie and an entertaining, star-powered romantic drama from the early '80s, "Officer and a Gentleman" is a good bet. The disc isn't loaded with extras but the commentary is solid and the transfer efficient enough. Now, sing with me -- "love lift us up where we belong!..."


THE CONVERSATION. Paramount, $29.98.

MOVIE RATING: ***1/2.

WHAT IT IS: Considered by many critics to be one of the finest films of the 1970s, this is a picture that shows a director (in this case, Francis Ford Coppola) and a star working at their peak. Coppola's study of a surveillance expert who gets involved in what may be a murder was both a commentary on Watergate and a chronicle of man's struggle with technology and privacy. The result is a thriller that's technically adept and always disturbing, well- directed by Coppola (inbetween filming of his two "Godfather" classics) and with a great performance by Gene Hackman as the protagonist. The movie may be slightly overrated, but even if you're not so high on the story, early performances by the likes of Harrison Ford, Cindy Williams, and Frederic Forrest make it essential viewing.

TRANSFER AND SOUND: Two big thumbs-up here for the excellent 1.85 widescreen transfer and superb 5.1 Dolby Digital remastered soundtrack. David Shire's score never sounded so good.

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: It's good to see Coppola continuing his involvement in the DVD medium, following the fine work Zoetrope did on "Tucker" a few weeks ago. Here, Paramount's DVD includes separate commentary tracks from Coppola and editor Walter Murch, both of which will give film students hours of information to chew on. A featurette showing Coppola at work, shot during the film's production, is fascinating, as is the movie's theatrical trailer. A solid package all around.

GIFT POTENTIAL: For fans of Coppola, Hackman, or a movie which many feel to be one of the very best of its decade, the DVD is hard to pass up. The supplements make it even more attractive for others who aren't so hot on the film itself.


THE BOUNTY. MGM, $19.98.

MOVIE RATING: ***1/2.

WHAT IT IS: The lavish and beautifully shot 1984 Dino DeLaurentiis adaptation of the "Mutiny on the Bounty" tale, here adapted from a novel by Richard Hough ("Captain Bligh and Mister Christian") that offered an alternative take on the material. As scripted by David Lean collaborator Robert Bolt, "The Bounty" was initially conceived as a two-picture Lean project, to star Christopher Reeve and Anthony Hopkins. After that production fell through (as well as a proposed TV mini-series), DeLaurentiis and Orion Pictures teamed to make this feature effort with Mel Gibson replacing Reeve and Hopkins in the Bligh role he was originally proposed for. The ensuing movie, directed by Roger Donaldson and scored by Vangelis, is highly entertaining and gorgeous to watch, featuring a great supporting cast of Edward Fox, Laurence Olivier, and early roles filled by Liam Neeson and Daniel Day-Lewis.

TRANSFER AND SOUND: MGM's new 2.35 transfer is marvelous, colorful and clear. The 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is pungent and heavy on the bass.

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Theatrical trailer.

GIFT POTENTIAL: Lovely cinematography, widescreen images, top-notch performances and a classic adventure story make this remastered MGM release highly recommended.


ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. MGM, $19.98.

MOVIE RATING: **.

WHAT IT IS: A great idea, an evocative poster, and a fun lead performance lost in a ponderous and gloomy John Carpenter sci-fi opus. Granted, time seems to have done wonders to many movie-goers' memories in regards to this picture, which has never been a favorite of critics but is best-remembered for Kurt Russell's Clint Eastwood-like anti-hero, Snake Plissken, and a cool concept (Manhattan Island is turned into a maximum security prison in the late '90s). Unfortunately, Carpenter's movie is incredibly slow and badly written (by Carpenter and Nick Castle), filled with unlikeable characters and limp sets. Even a larger budget on the belated 1996 sequel, "Escape From L.A.," couldn't do any favors for Carpenter's inability to mine humor out of this doomsday futuristic scenario.

TRANSFER AND SOUND: The 2.35 transfer is excellent, superior to New Line/Image's earlier letterboxed LD release. (A worthless pan-and-scan transfer is found on side B). The 2.0 Dolby Surround track is fine, nicely rendering the movie's basic stereo soundtrack.

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Unfortunately, there's nothing here aside from the trailer. The LD release featured a great commentary track from Russell and Carpenter, along with a featurette that showed clips from the movie's bank robbery prologue sequence, which was cut completely out of the final print. That LD drew criticism since it didn't show the sequence in its entirety, but it's obviously preferable to the extras-free DVD we have here.

GIFT POTENTIAL: If you're a fan of "Escape From New York," the improved transfer and affordable price should be enough to bring you to snag the DVD. Hopefully a supplemental version will follow someday.


CLASS. MGM, $19.98.

MOVIE RATING: **1/2.

WHAT IT IS: Even though many viewers remember the John Hughes teen comedies of the mid '80s, few folks view this 1983 teen-sex romp as a precursor to the superior Molly Ringwald films that followed. An odd mix of a "Graduate" rip-off with "Animal House" like boarding school shenanigans, this Orion movie from now-forgotten director Lewis John Carlino boosted the careers of then-budding youngsters Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy and John Cusack. It's a messy ride at times, but there are sporadic laughs to be found in the Jim Kouf-David Greenwalt script, along with a pleasant Elmer Bernstein score and a great deal of appeal provided by the presence of later stars in their first big-screen roles.

TRANSFER AND SOUND: The source material doesn't seem to be in the best shape, but the transfers (both 1.85 and full-frame) are acceptable. The mono sound is fine, too.

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: A theatrical trailer, featuring an annoying female voice-over (in the style of the early '80s, "Porky's"-like leering sex farce genre), is thrown into the mix.

GIFT POTENTIAL: If you're a fan of any of the stars, or a teen movie buff looking for an effort that's turned into a veritable "lost" genre pic, "Class" is worth a view.


WALL STREET. Fox, $29.98.

MOVIE RATING: ***.

WHAT IT IS: Oliver Stone's morality play is best viewed now as a showcase for Michael Douglas' Oscar-winning, powerhouse performance as Wall Street mogul Gordon Gekko, who tutors young broker Charlie Sheen in the ways of '80s greed and power. Scripted by Stone and Stanley Weiser, "Wall Street" is an at-times slow-moving drama bogged down by a surplus of supporting characters (some of whom, like Sean Young and even third-billed Daryl Hannah, may have been left on the cutting room floor), but stays on course whenever Douglas takes the fore in a scenary- chewing but highly entertaining performance that remains one of his best.

TRANSFER AND SOUND: The 1.85 transfer is excellent and the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack are both on a par with the best of Fox's prolific DVD output from this past year.

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: An excellent and informative commentary track from Stone is included, along with a full range of TV spots and theatrical trailers.

GIFT POTENTIAL: Douglas's performance remains the key to "Wall Street"'s longevity, even if the movie's melodramatic points are hammered home over and over by Stone. The disc looks and sounds great, and boasts a fine assortment of supplements that will enrich the presentation for viewers. Strongly recommended.


TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE and G.I. JOE: THE MOVIE. Rhino, $24.98 each.

WHAT THEY ARE: Aaah, growing up in the '80s. For those of us fortunate enough to do so, we were treated by a handful of afternoon cartoons that often resembled toy commercials as much as they did actual animated entertainment. Marvel Productions teamed with Sunbow Ltd. to produce a pair of those highly successful cartoons based on the hottest Habro toys of the period: G.I. Joe, which rocked in its '80s incarnation with a motley crew of members (like Snake Eyes, Duke, and Sgt. Slaughter!), and the Transformers, big robots with the possibility to change into other cool vehicles. The success of both properties on the small-screen lead to the creation of a pair of big-screen "movies," though only TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE received a theatrical release (through Dino DeLaurentiis' DEG Studios). The 1986 effort boasted voices by the likes of Eric Idle, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Stack, Judd Nelson, and Orson Welles, along with a hugely popular score by Vince DiCola that's still a hot commodity on the bootleg market. If you were into Transformers at all, you'll love the look and feel of this PG-rated effort, here presented in its uncut glory. On the other hand, G.I. JOE: THE MOVIE is a curious, feature-length 1987 effort that actually throws the spotlight on a group of newer characters that were created near the end of that particular show's cycle. The anime-like creatures (Cobra Commander is turned into an actual snake!) feel at odds with the show's previous, blood n'guts American action, and the story is bogged down in concluding loose ends established by what I assume was the end of the actual TV cartoon's run. Still, it's fun, especially if you were into G.I. Joe at the time of this feature's creation (1987), and the DVD includes one great assortment of extras for all fans (read on).

TRANSFER AND SOUND: Both DVDs feature good full-frame transfers and overpowering, but effective, 5.1 reprocessed Dolby Digital soundtracks.

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Vince DiCola fans take note -- the TRANSFORMERS DVD includes a new 10-minute interview with the composer touching upon his score, career, new projects and compositional techniques. G.I. JOE, meanwhile, features some 25 (!) Public Service Announcements that ran at the end of each episode of the TV show -- it's this "Joe" that I remember from my youth, and the DVD will serve as a larger piece of nostalgia for this feature, more than the actual movie. Great fun! TRANSFORMERS also features storyboards, while G.I. JOE throws in some TV commercials from the toy's late '60s run.

GIFT POTENTIAL: If you grew up with either G.I. Joe or Transformers toys in your home, Rhino's DVDs would make a perfect present for any thiry/twentysomething on your Christmas list.


...And with a Happy Ho Ho Ho to you, I want to wish you all a happy, healthy and wonderful Holiday season. We'll see you on the other side in 2001! Cheers everyone.


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