Aisle Seat February DVD Round-Up
by Andy Dursin
Now that February is here, many folks will be wondering what to do with
themselves. Football season is over, spring training is still several weeks
away, and while the TV season is entering into sweeps territory, you may
be looking beyond the typical network fare and wondering -- what else is
For some, there isn't a better time of the year than now for getting
caught up on video viewing, and taking the time to watch some of those
DVDs that have been filling up your shelves, but have yet to actually get
around to watch.
Naturally, the studios know this, and have been releasing titles at
a rapid-fire clip since the beginning of January. At our Aisle Seat offices,
we've been pouring through the goods to select the choicest of the elite,
and have found an assortment of new releases worth your attention -- from
GLORY to C.H.U.D, for young and old alike, there hasn't been a better time
to be a Laserphile, as our monthly round-up of new titles clearly attests!
The rise in popularity of Collector's Editions has become one of the
happier surprises of DVD. When the format first broke onto the scene, some
wondered if DVD would take advantage of its potential for including goodies
like extra scenes, documentaries, and commentary tracks since laserdisc
-- while typically rich in supplemental features -- never caught on in
the mainstream. Such questions have been answered in the last few years
with studios embracing multiple releases of the same film, and going the
extra mile with two-disc editions of popular favorites.
Disney has tried this approach several times now in the last year with
movie-only and deluxe editions of "Tarzan," "A Bug's Life," and the respective
box sets of "Fantasia" and "Toy Story." Now comes another fabulous package
for DINOSAUR (*** movie, ***1/2 presentation, $39.98 for 2-disc
Collector's Edition), last summer's solid box-office performer that broke
special effects ground with its combination of CGI, live action, and a
wide variety of FX processes telling a feature-length tale of survival
among the large beasts nearing the end of their time on Earth.
The reviews were only lukewarm on this ambitious project, and from seeing
the final product for the first time on DVD it isn't difficult to see why:
with a story that cobbles together elements from "Tarzan," "The Lion King,"
other Disney projects and non-Mouse fare like "The Land Before Time," there
isn't much originality or imagination in the "been there, done that" screenplay.
There are other times when the movie feels as if it's being stretched out
to meet its 82-minute running time (with several minutes of end credits),
and when Disney Animation President Thomas Schumacher says the movie "didn't
come to us as a story we had to tell, it came to us as a concept we wanted
to try," you can easily feel the movie's goals being set in the purely
That said, kids aren't likely to mind (or notice) the similarities between
this and other Disney projects, while adults will be able to savor the
eye candy on-display throughout the picture: this is one gorgeous production,
beautifully assembled and lavishly produced with several memorable, standalone
sequences (most notably when a meteor strikes the Earth, sending the dinosaurs
on their way to a promised valley). The movie barely touches upon its themes
of extinction (though an alternate ending better addresses this than the
final cut), but as the filmmakers point out in a commentary track, there
are theories that dinosaurs lived for up to 100,000 years after "the big
one" touched down, so you can calm the fears of your young ones that they're
all marching off to die at the end (though they perhaps might even know
that since it's hard to see a living dino these days).
Disney's 2-DVD set includes a wealth of wonderful supplements: the first
disc includes a stellar video and audio presentation of the movie, with
a crisp 1.85 transfer and wonderfully active DTS and Dolby Digital audio
tracks. Two commentaries are present on this disc, along with a supplement
called "Film Facts Fossil Dig," which enables you to access behind-the-scenes
material relevant to specific sequences in the movie. Accessible during
the film or as a standalone supplement, there are deleted sequences here
(including that alternate ending), plus storyboards and other extras. The
second disc includes even more bonus materials, tracing -- in chronological
order -- the development of the project through fascinating presentation
reels, other deleted scenes (different than those contained on the first
disc), featurettes and interviews with the filmmakers. There's even a brief,
three-minute segment featuring James Newton Howard conducting his score,
working with Lebo M and speaking about his music.
All in all, kids are sure to enjoy the movie, and as along as you aren't
expecting "Walking With Dinosaurs," the movie's special effects work should
have adults appreciating the production as well.
Columbia has also gone the Special Edition route for a
2-disc edition of GLORY (**** movie, *** presentation, $29.98),
which has been previously available as a similarly-priced movie only edition.
The 1.85 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital track are no different than
the earlier DVD, so where this package gains its distinction is through
its supplements: like Columbia's release of "Ghostbusters," an "interactive"
commentary is included, meaning either director Edward Zwick or stars Morgan
Freeman and Matthew Broderick appear on-screen in a little window during
the movie to discuss working on the picture. It's a highly effective way
of producing a video commentary, though purists may equally appreciate
Zwick's own, traditional audio commentary that is also available on the
The second DVD features even more supplements, including a standard
full-frame presentation of the movie, plus "The True Story of Glory Continues,"
a documentary produced several years ago and narrated by Morgan Freeman,
along with a "Voices of Glory" featurette, the movie's original promotional
featurette, theatrical trailers, and cast & crew bios.
There are also a pair of deleted scenes, but judging from uncredited
Jane Alexander's name being so prominently placed in the original trailer
(with her name highlighted in a box), it seems likely that there were other
sequences relegated to the cutting room floor that were not included on
As far as the movie goes, GLORY remains one of my favorite films of
the '80s. The performances and stortytelling are all first-rate, while
Freddie Francis's remarkable, Oscar-winning cinematography and James Horner's
haunting score (still one of his all-time bests) enhance the historical
drama at every turn. More moving than "Gettysburg" and far more stylized
visually, GLORY belongs on every Laserphile's shelf, and with the added
supplements, gets its definitive-to-date presentation through Columbia's
new deluxe DVD (and is priced the same as the single-disc edition, no less).
Straight to the Small Screen
It isn't often that movies with big stars fail to surface in major theatrical
release, but such was the case with UNDER SUSPICION (**, $24.98),
a 1999 remake of the French "Garde a Vue" with stars Gene Hackman and Morgan
Freeman acting out a four-character interrogation drama. Set in Puerto
Rico, Gino plays a tax attorney questioned by chief Freeman for the murder
of several young teenage girls during the holiday season. Meanwhile, detective
Thomas Jane tries desperately to pin Hackman down for the deaths of the
teens while Gino's young wife, Monica Bellucci, sits idly by.
Director Stephen Hopkins, fresh off "Lost in Space," couldn't secure
a domestic release for this European- funded thriller, but it's pretty
easy to see why there were no takers. The movie is over-directed to a tee,
obscuring the intimate nature of the drama, while Hackman's performance
is often showy to the point of making this 110-minute affair torturous
to sit through. The BT music score tries for a Zimmer-like wallpaper effect,
but ultimately rams home how wrong the entire filmmaking approach was here.
Still, there are times when it's fun to see two old, seasoned pros working
together, and "Under Suspicion" rates as a fairly intriguing curiosity
item all told. Columbia's DVD looks solid in its 1.85 transfer and includes
both 2-channel and 5.1 Dolby mixes, though the latter's dialogue is often
difficult to hear at times. A featurette and trailer are included, as is
a surprisingly frank audio commentary with Hopkins and Freeman engagingly
discussing the picture's production and highlighting the movie's themes.
(And it's a good thing Freeman seems as confused as I was at the end of
the picture, since I thought I missed something along the way).
Anchor Bay Goodies
The independent label with the most is back again this month with more
scintillating, eclectic fare, spotlighting several titles culled from the
ranks of New World Pictures.
If you recall, the mid '80s were a high time for New World, which tried
luring some big stars into the fold with movies like BLACK MOON RISING
(**1/2, $24.98), a 1985 thriller that tries desperately hard to be "Blue
Thunder" on the road.
Tommy Lee Jones -- back before anybody really knew Tommy Lee Jones --
gets his name over the credits for his role as a thief who unwittingly
hooks up with aerospace designers Richard Jaeckel (in the midst of his
mid-'80s resurgence) and William "My Name is Larry..." Sanderson, on the
road to L.A. to close a deal for their sleek, top-secret new automobile
design. After being stolen by another thief (Linda Hamilton, fresh off
"Terminator"), Tommy Lee tries to get the car back from the clutches of
villainous Robert Vaughn, even as government tough-man Bubba Smith breathes
down his neck.
Co-scripted by John Carpenter, BLACK MOON RISING is cheesy '80s action
all the way, playing at times like a soft, R-rated version of "The A-Team."
Lalo Schifrin's score is suspiciously "WarGames"-like, while Haley Corkliss'
direction moves from one scene to the next with all the panache of an NBC
Night at the Movies extravaganza.
Nevertheless, I have to admit -- I kind of enjoyed the movie, and its
easy-going charm (afforded by a likable cast) makes it more palatable than
it has any right to be. Anchor Bay's DVD features both the original trailer,
plus a surprisingly fun 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack (the subwoofer really
kicks into gear when the Black Moon reaches mach-ten).
Another New World classic, C.H.U.D. (*1/2 movie, *** presentation,
$24.98), has also found its way to DVD, and for entertainment value, this
may be one of my picks for top DVD of the month.
A hilarious piece of horror trash with slumming stars John Heard and
Daniel Stern (prior to their collaboration on the box-office phenomenon
that was "Home Alone" years later), C.H.U.D. also features John Goodman
and Kim "Brazil" Griest in a touching tale of Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground
Dwellers having lunch, dinner, and breakfast at the expense of unsuspecting
The movie is a howl but even more entertaining is the commentary track
with Heard AND Stern -- plus the director and screenwriter -- producing
a high quotient of laughs at the expense of their own movie. At one point,
they even start making fun of the no-name composer! ("I never even met
him," says director Douglas Cheek). It's as close to MST3K as you can get
without seeing Joel and the robots actually up there on the screen, and
the movie is best appreciated with the commentary track selected.
Meanwhile, the 1.85 transfer and Dolby Digital soundtrack are both as
fine as any mid '80s low-budget horror movie can be rendered on DVD.
Keeping in line with more mid-'80s fare, we next come to GIRLS JUST
WANT TO HAVE FUN (**, $24.98), a movie that retains a certain amount
of interest now that stars Sarah Jessica Parker, Helen Hunt and Shannen
Doherty have all since gone onto varying degrees of fame and fortune.
A brainless slice of pop '80s nostalgia, Parker, Hunt and Doherty play
three teens who want desperately to get on an afterschool dance program
to show off their hot moves which had already become dated by the time
the Cannon Group's immortal "Breakin'" hit screens several months later.
Directed by Alan Metter (who hit his peak with "Back to School" a year
later and then a career nadir with "Police Academy: Mission to Moscow"
in the early '90s) and produced by Chuck Russell (who since has directed
"Eraser" and "The Mask"), GIRLS... is silly, stupid, and will appeal strictly
to fans of the three actresses, but there's likely more than enough interest
on the part of '80s nostalgia hounds to make this an entertaining trip
for that audience (don't look at me!).
The 1.85 transfer is solid (there's also a full-frame transfer available),
the 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is workable, and a theatrical trailer is also
Anchor Bay is slated to follow these epics with additional New World
titles over the next several months, including the godawful JAKE SPEED
("Raiders" on Prozac), the Grace Jones vamp comedy VAMP, and other assorted
entertainments. While these pictures will almost certainly appeal to specialty
audiences in their genres, it's gratifying to see movies that once populated
my now-defunct video store's shelves being reissued on DVD, and in superior
transfers and soundtracks as well. Cool!
The label has also been continuing their relationship with Miramax,
releasing little-seen dramas including the so-so 1990 Diane Keaton/Carol
Kane sibling drama THE LEMON SISTERS (**, $24.98) and the low- key
1988 Lou Diamond Phillips drama DAKOTA (**, $24.98), two movies
that sat on the shelf before being released several years after the fact.
Both movies feature solid 1.85 transfers and contain basic Dolby Pro-Logic
tracks ("Dakota" in mono, "Lemon Sisters" in 2.0 stereo).
Finally, we come to MANIAC (**, $24.98), the feel-good slasher
movie that became a staple on video over the years. A fairly well-done
"Halloween"/"Friday the 13th" knockoff from some independent filmmakers
who shot the movie on Long Island, "Maniac" will be of interest to die-hard
horror buffs, who may recall its popular release on Thorn EMI Video in
the early '80s. The 1.85 transfer is acceptable, the mono soundtrack is
fine, and there are some insightful liner notes to round out the package
(along with a reproduction of the movie's one-sheet poster, with the film's
theatrical distributor and then-copyright holder noticeably erased with
Fox goes DTS
If your home theater set-up has both Dolby Digital and DTS capability,
you may have noticed that DVDs featuring DTS simply sound a little better:
louder, more stereophonic in nature, and with just a little more appreciable
depth than the standard Dolby 5.1 track.
However, since DTS takes up more space on a DVD than does Dolby Digital
(there's a price to pay for the extra quality), most studios neglect DTS
and opt simply for the traditional Dolby mix.
Fortunately, this has started to change somewhat, with labels like Dreamworks
and Universal featuring both DTS and Dolby soundtracks. Now, Fox has entered
into the picture with new editions of films like PREDATOR (***1/2)
and THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS (****, $29.98 each), both reissued
with DTS 5.1 soundtracks noticeably crisper than their preceding DVD issues.
Not only is the audio improved, but so is the video in both of these
cases: "Predator" and "Mohicans" here make their respective debuts in enhanced
16:9 widescreen transfers, and for those with high-end video systems, you're
going to see a major difference. Even on standard, larger monitors "Mohicans"
seems more fluid in its appearance with better contrast levels than the
original, non-anamorphic DVD release.
Fox is clearly aiming these new "Enhanced Widescreen DTS" DVDs at home
theater-philes who are going to be able to take advantage of top-of-the-line
performance. If you don't have DTS capability or a monitor large enough
to benefit from the advantages of the enhanced transfer, you're not going
to be selecting these packages in the first place. On the other hand, if
you have a mid-to-high range system and want to exploit it to its potential,
both are worth the investment.
Image Cult Goods
Image continues to mine the vaults of cult movies both beloved and forgotten,
but who can really forget GOLD OF THE AMAZON WOMEN ($24.98), the
late '70s Bo Svenson made-for-TV staple that continues to be shown seemingly
every other week on the SuperStation, or HYSTERICAL ($24.98), the
lame-brained 1982 horror spoof with the Hudson Brothers that certain elementary
school kids enjoyed on a rental home from the video store back in the mid
AMAZON WOMEN may feature elaborate production art with scantily clad
femmes, but don't let the artwork fool you: this is small-screen fare all
the way, with Svenson as a Doc Savage-type who stumbles across an ancient
civilization of Amazons. Donald Pleasence is along for the ride as a goon
looking to steal their lost Gold, which all culminates in some incredibly
campy moments courtesy of director Mark L. Lester.
In regards to the latter, the Hudson Brothers never struck the big time
the way that other siblings like the Farrellys have in the last few decades,
but the mostly-unfunny HYSTERICAL still manages to raise a few small smiles
in the wake of recent cinematic sibling fare like the Farrellys' "Me Myself
& Irene" and the Wayan Bros.' "Scary Movie." The Hudsons star as a
pair of brothers (now there's a stretch!) who investigate the death of
a lighthouse keeper (Richard Kiel) in Hellview, Oregon who has since been
restored to life by Julie Newmar. The cast also includes Kennan Wynn, Charlie
Callas, Bud Curt, and Murray Hamilton, and if that doesn't say enough about
how wacked this movie is, I don't know what else could.
Both discs feature decent full-frame transfers and mono soundtracks,
with HYSTERICAL featuring a theatrical trailer as well. For nostalgia buffs,
both come recommended!
NEXT TIME...MGM DVDs, BLESS THE CHILD, and Paramount's
Football triple-header! As always, send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
and we'll catch you next time. Excelsior!