Aisle Seat Independence Day Edition
Milius epic, BIG WEDNESDAY, Arrives on DVD
Plus: BUFFY SEASON 2, ORANGE COUNTY, and Harryhausen
By Andy Dursin
Ray Harryhausen fans have found Columbia's Harryhausen Collection DVDs
to be more or less satisfying on the whole. Sure, the studio reprises the
exact same supplements on each disc, and the varying aspect ratios have
been the basis for controversy, but generally, the studio has shown a respect
for these vintage sci-fi fantasies that few others would in Hollywood.
That doesn't mean some Harryhausen efforts haven't been neglected along
the way: many are still waiting for MYSTERIOUS ISLAND and EARTH
VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS among others to hit DVD. The good news is that
these pictures ARE coming out on DVD -- the bad news is that they're part
of three lavish (and expensive) Japanese box-sets that each include a limited-edition
Box set 1 contains the three Sinbad films (already available in the
U.S.) with a figurine of Cyclops from "Seventh Voyage of Sinbad." Box set
2 contains a figurine of the Ymir from "20 Million Miles To Earth," along
with the films "Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers" (unavailable in the U.S.),
"20 Million Miles" and "Jason and the Argonauts" (both available domestically).
Box set 3 may be of the most interest to fans, since it contains the unreleased-on-DVD
films "Mysterious Island" and "It Came From Beneath The Sea," a figurine
of Kali from "7th Voyage Of Sinbad," and the already-available "First Men
In The Moon" and "Three Worlds of Gulliver."
All the figures (crafted by artist Ryu Oyama) are exclusive to the box-sets,
and the individual titles aren't going to be sold separately. While the
price tag on the titles is high ($129 U.S.), each box set is limited to
5,000 copies and will surely be of interest to die-hard Harryhausen fans.
For more information or to place an order, I highly recommend CD Japan's
which offers standard prices but superior shipping and service. No word
on whether or not Columbia will be releasing the currently-unavailable
Harryhausen titles on DVD in the near future.
New On DVD
BIG WEDNESDAY (***1/2, 119 mins., 1978, PG; Warner, $19.98; Available
July 7): In "Skywalking," Dale Pollock's biography of George Lucas, a joke
is made of the fact that Lucas swapped "points" with friend and fellow
filmmaker John Milius prior to "Star Wars" being released. In exchange
for a point on "Star Wars," Milius gave Lucas a point on his big surfing
epic, BIG WEDNESDAY. As Lucas pointed out, it wasn't a fair exchange, especially
after Milius' 1978 film bombed at the box-office!
Rarely screened on television, my first viewing of BIG WEDNESDAY was
on laserdisc in the early '90s. Due to the film's reputation and relative
obscurity, I wasn't expecting much, but much to my surprise, I loved Milius'
larger-than-life tale of three surfer friends (Gary Busey, Jan-Michael
Vincent, and William Katt) who grow up between the turbulent years of 1962-1974.
Along the way, the trio grow apart, attempt to dodge Vietnam, try to find
love (some more successfully than others), but still share a common love
for the wind and waves that the ocean provides.
The movie is chock full of Milius trademarks -- lots of offbeat humor,
excessive yet hysterical sequences (specifically a raucous party sequence
early on), and pseudo- mythic narration -- all of it set to one of Basil
Poledouris' most outstanding scores. The performances of all three leads
are appealing and the film handles its "passage-of-time" formula better
than you might expect, splitting the film into four separate acts set during
the 12-year period.
The personal aspect of the story is balanced with outstanding surfing
cinematography by Greg MacGillivray, culminating in a sensational climax
that's worth the price of the disc alone. Bruce Surtees' Panavision cinematography,
meanwhile, captures all of the action, perfectly reflecting Milius' sprawling
vision in widescreen.
Warner's DVD of BIG WEDNESDAY -- due out next week -- offers a colorful
and blemish-free 2.35 transfer, enhanced for 16:9 televisions. This is
a superior presentation than the laserdisc, and the 2.0 Dolby Stereo soundtrack
is certainly more satisfying than most two-channel DVD tracks you'll listen
For special features, the original trailer (no wonder the movie bombed!)
and a new commentary track from Milius are included. While Milius typically
has a lot to say in general, he's surprisingly restrained here and long
gaps of silence follow throughout the film. In fact, at the end of the
movie, he admits he didn't have much to offer because the film is so personal,
he couldn't find the words to comment on it. Clearly, though, he's proud
of the picture despite its initially poor reception, and Warner's excellent
DVD will provide a new arena for BIG WEDNESDAY to gain a long-overdue following.
BUFFY, THE VAMPIRE SLAYER Season 2 Box Set (Fox,
$69.98): This past season was the weakest for the long-running series starring
Sarah Michelle Gellar and company. Still, seven seasons before seams begin
to show is a good run for any TV series, much less one that was based on
a mediocre big-screen film that tanked at the box-office!
BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER's second season (1997-98) marked its first
full year on the air, and in some ways, it represents the series as a whole
at its best. Season 2 introduced Spike (James Marsters) and Drusilla (Juliet
Landau) as principal villains; played up the romance between Buffy and
Angel (David Boreanaz); offered the return of fellow slayer Kendra (who
should have been retained on the program); and kept the perfect balance
of horror and humor that drew lauds from critics and garnered viewers in
Among some of the specific highlights involved in the second season:
John Ritter's memorable guest appearance as Ted, Buffy's mom's new romantic
beau, who's harboring just a little robotic secret; Giles' tragic relationship
with Miss Calendar; the arrival of Oz (Seth Green) and his blossoming relationship
with Willow; and how Angel's one moment of pure happiness soon causes havoc
for the rest of the cast.
Fox's six-disc box-set of Season 2 includes brief interviews with series
creator/producer-writer Joss Whedon and features commentary tracks on several
individual episodes. Whedon himself contributes an interesting chat during
"Innocence" while another series veteran -- director David Greenwalt --
handles a similar discussion on the otherwise forgettable episode "Reptile
Boy." Writer Marti Noxon, meanwhile, gives her own two cents on the two-part
episode "What's My Line?" A handful of TV spots and storyboard/still galleries
are also included, but most fans will find the package's three featurettes
to be the most revealing. One 15-minute segment gives the viewer a tour
of the set, while another half-hour special looks at the various villains
and beasties Buffy has battled over the years. The supplemental section
is rounded out by a 15-minute look at the make-up effects.
For transfers, the picture on Season 2 varies from flawless to grainy
-- much the same way the Season 1 box set did. However, I would once again
conclude that this was not a problem with the DVD mastering but rather
the shows themselves, which were not produced on an extraordinary budget
and sometimes show evidence of that.
If you're new to the BUFFY universe, Season 2 is quite simply the show
at its best. While the program certainly started off impressively in its
inaugural, mid-season run, Whedon and Co. hit their stride with their first
full season in late 1997. For Buffy fans, it's also evidence of how energetic
and excellent the program once was -- offering a freshness and optimism
the show is reportedly trying to recapture for this upcoming season.
ORANGE COUNTY (***, 82 mins., 2002, PG-13; Paramount,
$29.98): High school senior Colin Hanks wants so badly to get into Stanford
and become a writer that he doesn't let an admissions snafu stand in his
way. With stoner brother Jack Back and girlfriend Schuyler Fisk alongside,
Hanks drives from his home in Orange County to Stanford in an attempt to
convince the admissions office -- including dean Harold Ramis -- that he
deserves another chance.
Mike White's ribald teen comedy sounds awfully routine from its premise,
but this Jake Kasdan-directed romp is surprisingly fresh and funny from
beginning to end. Hanks' quest to break out of his California town and
find a mysterious author and Stanford professor (an unbilled Kevin Kline)
who influenced his own writing offers an amusing comic journey filled with
memorable supporting parts: Catherine O'Hara and John Lithgow as the teen's
goofy, divorced parents; Lily Tomlin as an obnoxious high school counselor;
Chevy Chase as the principal; and Black in a hysterical role as the pothead,
older sibling whom Hanks takes care of.
White's script offers wry comic observations about high school, college
admissions offices, inter-family relationships, and teen movies in general,
while Kasdan handles the whole affair in a brisk (82 minutes!) fashion
that doesn't overstay its welcome. The entire cast is amiable and ORANGE
COUNTY is a terrific little comedy well worth a look on video.
Paramount's DVD offers a top-notch technical presentation (1.85 transfer,
5.1 Dolby Digital sound) and an excellent commentary track from White and
Kasdan (who sounds exactly like his well-known director father). Four brief
deleted scenes are included, culled from a workprint, while the original
trailer and some 15 "interstitials" (TV and film spots) round out a nice
package for a movie you might have passed on in theaters.
GOSFORD PARK (****, 138 mins., 2001, R; Universal,
$26.98): I'm not the world's biggest Robert Altman fan, but it's hard to
argue that GOSFORD PARK wasn't one of his best films -- or certainly one
of the finest films of 2001.
Equal parts "Upstairs, Downstairs" and an Agatha Christie murder-mystery,
this fascinating film is a beautifully acted and exquisitely-written period
piece with marvelously drawn characters and sumptuous performances. Chief
among the film's pleasures is watching the outstanding cast at work (particularly
Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith, Alan Bates, Ryan Philippe, Emily Watson, and
Derek Jacobi among many others),and soaking up the film's gorgeous visuals.
The sets by Stephen Altman, Andrew Dunn cinematography, and Patrick Doyle
score all combine to create a detailed and glossy recreation of a time
and place that one can revisit over and over on DVD.
Universal's DVD presentation is as polished as the film itself. The
2.35 transfer is flawless, perfectly rendering the stylized look of Dunn
and Altman's visual eye. The 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is also excellent,
while special features include Altman's commentary, another track with
Oscar-winning screenwriter Julian Fellowes, a handful of interesting deleted
scenes, a Making Of featurette, a segment on the film's authenticity, and
a revealing Q&A session with the filmmakers and cast.
Like the film, it's a classy presentation of a delectable film that
only improves on repeat viewing.
SPY GAME (***, 127 mins., 2001, R; Universal, $26.98):
Brad Pitt is an American agent who's about to be executed in China; Robert
Redford is his CIA operative-mentor who has to get him out in Tony Scott's
entertaining thriller that only met with modest success at the box-office
SPY GAME offers both star chemistry and a tense plot, well-executed
by Scott from the Michael Frost Beckner-David Arata script. True, the movie
has some predictable, formulaic script elements (like an in-house CIA conspiracy
to see Pitt get knocked off, and Redford's impending retirement), but more
often than not, Scott sustains a suspenseful tone from beginning to end.
The Dan Mindel cinematography is gritty while Harry Gregson-Williams' Zimmer-ish
score functions well within the confines of the film. For the supporting
cast, Catherine McCormack makes a modest impression as the token female
lead, but it's Pitt and Redford's show all the way, and the two keep you
watching through the story's twists and turns.
Universal's DVD is clearly one of the year's best discs when it comes
to supplementary material. An interactive feature dubbed "Clandestine OPS"
is available during the film, allowing you to gain access to featurettes
and other behind-the-scenes anecdotes when prompted by an on-screen icon.
Deleted scenes (including an alternate ending) are also present, along
with commentary tracks from both Scott and the producing team, storyboards,
trailers, and other extras.
Available in both full-frame and widescreen formats, make sure you choose
the 2.35 widescreen version to avoid constant panning-and-scanning; the
5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks are both superb.
BLACK KNIGHT (**1/2, 95 mins., 2001, PG-13; Fox,
$27.98): Martin Lawrence goes Medieval -- with mixed results -- in last
fall's box-office under-achiever that nevertheless receives a passing grade
due to a decent quotient of laughs. As a maintenance worker who improbably
warps into the dark ages, Lawrence provides the standard contemporary gags
in contrast to the straight-laced, 14th century English world he ends up
in. As a part of a surprisingly strong supporting cast, Tom Wilkinson ("The
Patriot," "In The Bedroom") somehow manages to maintain his composure,
offering solid support to the oh-so-predictable proceedings.
Gil Junger ("Ten Things I Hate About You") directed this typical fish-out-of-
water tale, which visually and otherwise resembles what would have happened
if "Army Of Darkness" starred Lawrence instead of Bruce Campbell, and lacked
any visual effects. The result is a somewhat uninspired romp that still
gets by on Lawrence's charisma, as well as a full recreation of the period
by production designer Leslie Dilley, who somehow constructed all of the
sets in North Carolina!
Fox's DVD is a solid Special Edition, offering 2.35 widescreen and a
5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack (Randy Edelman's OK score comes off as something
of a disappointment). Extra features include separate commentary tracks
by Junger and Lawrence, a slew of deleted scenes, trailers, multiple featurettes
(including a look at Paula Abdul's choreography), outtakes, storyboards,
BEHIND ENEMY LINES (*1/2, 107 mins., 2001, PG-13;
Fox, $27.98): Rah-rah patriotic tale of a fighter pilot (Owen Wilson) shot
down over Bosnia during a routine reconnaissance mission became a modest
box-office hit last Thanksgiving, even though it offers some of the most
obnoxious direction and poor special effects to grace a big-studio release
in recent memory.
Wilson is fine as the hot-shot veteran who ends up being rescued by
his combative superior officer (Gene Hackman), but the movie is pedestrian
in every conceivable aspect, right down to miniature special effects that
look like they might have been at home in a Godzilla movie back in the
'60s. Hackman's presence, meanwhile, reminded me of a similarly-themed
military rescue film he starred in -- the enjoyable Vietnam picture "Bat
21" with Danny Glover -- which is, in every way, a superior film than BEHIND
Much of the problem here can be attributed to the film's awkward visual
style: director John Moore utilizes herky-jerky camera movement and self-conscious
editing rhythms to the point of distraction, in an obvious effort to disguise
the film's extremely modest budget. It all adds up to a piece of forgettable,
uninspired action filmmaking that will only entertain the most die-hard
fan of TOP GUN-like military thrills.
Fox's DVD looks great (2.35 widescreen) and sounds even better (5.1
DTS/Dolby Digital), and offers some solid special features: commentary
tracks, deleted scenes (including alternative opening and closing titles),
extended sequences, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and trailers.
JIMMY NEUTRON: BOY GENIUS (**1/2, 82 mins., 2001, G; Paramount,
$19.98): Nickelodeon movies are being cranked out at an alarming rate,
though to date, only a few of them have proven to be watchable for viewers
over the age of six. Fortunately, this well-drawn, computer-generated feature
is a charming sci-fi fantasy for kids, with enough technical razzle-dazzle
and in-jokes to satisfy adults as well.
Jimmy Neutron IS the strapping boy genius whose crazy inventions come
in handy when a pair of nefarious aliens (voiced by Patrick Stewart and
Martin Short) decide to crash planet Earth and abduct all adults for use
as sacrifices. While this initially sits well with the parent-free kids,
Jimmy ultimately decides to lead a youth uprising against the extraterrestrial
oppressors, resulting in space battles and the creation of more nutty gadgets
-- like the use of carnival apparatus as spaceships!
John A. Davis and Steve Oedekerk co-wrote, produced, and directed this
affair, which should be a big hit with kids on video (the movie raked in
$80 million in theaters last winter, too). The film's writing isn't on
the level of recent successes like "Shrek" or "Lilo and Stitch," but it's
inoffensive and occasionally inspired, and certainly will captivate the
imaginations of young viewers.
Paramount's DVD offers both 1.85 widescreen and full-frame transfers
(something other studios should take a look at when releasing "children's"
films!), along with an active 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, containing
a mostly routine score by John Debney. Promotional spots, music videos,
trailers, and a fluffy "Making Of" featurette round out the package, along
with DVD-ROM games aimed specifically at children.
MAX KEEBLE'S BIG MOVE (**, 86 mins., 2002, PG;
Disney, $19.98): Wacky live- action Disney shenanigans reminded me of the
forgettable non-animated programmers I watched growing up that didn't star
Herbie the Love Bug (i.e. "The North Avenue Irregulars," "The Boatniks,"
The Jonathan Bernstein-Mark Blackwell-James Greer-David Watts script
actually offers a fairly fresh premise: pushed-around seventh grader Max
(Alex D. Linz) gets word from his folks that he's moving out of state and
into a new school district. Now free to live his school life without consequence,
Max spends what he believes will be his final days by righting numerous
wrongs, wreaking havoc and taking back his class from tyrannical bullies.
Unfortunately for him, however, his family's move is kiboshed and you can
guess what happens when it turns out that Max's stay at school is just
a little permanent than first imagined.
The story is fun but the execution by director Tim Hill accentuates
the least interesting elements of the picture (i.e. slapstick gags), relegating
this to kids-only status. Still, most (undemanding) younger viewers should
have a good time with it, and Disney's DVD offers a THX-approved full-frame
transfer, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, and several special features -- including
audio commentary, deleted scenes, and a bunch of kid- friendly interactive
NEXT WEEK: A look at FIRESTARTER 2, HART'S WAR,
and more! Send all emails to firstname.lastname@example.org
and have a great 4th of July for those in the U.S.A. Excelsior!