Aisle Seat Holiday Buyer's Guide, Part II
Reviews of SERPICO, THE DUELLISTS Special Edition, K-19,
and more for your last-second shopping pleasure!
By Andy Dursin
Last week we ran a review of the BACK TO THE FUTURE TRILOGY on
DVD that did not include some comments I made to amend my reviews of the
Widescreen transfers on Part II and III.
Basically, after reading about reports of mis-framing on both BACK TO
THE FUTURE PART II and III, I did an A/B comparison of the transfers on
all three films, synching up the Widescreen DVDs with the Letterboxed Laserdiscs
MCA released a decade ago.
While all three films were matted to 1.85, the reports turned out to
be true: both BACK TO THE FUTURE PART II and III are BADLY mis-framed,
cropping out information at the top of the frame and on the edges at various
points throughout the two sequels. Yes, it may look right at 1.85, but
when I looked at the laserdisc, there's no question the DVD is a mess --
details are being left out and the framing looks like the work of a theater
projectionist who was asleep at the switch.
Universal has issued a statement about the situation and released a
phone number you can call with any questions (888-703-0010). The bottom
line, though, is that the studio WILL be pressing replacement copies that
you'll be able to mail in this February.
And now, if you have need some last-minute shopping ideas, here's the
Second Part of our annual DVD Buyer's Guide -- just get out to the store,
I'll be back in early January with reviews of THE TWO TOWERS (my quick
verdict: better than its predecessor, though the Helm's Deep battle went
on too long and Howard Shore's overstated score wore out its welcome with
me) and others, but in the meantime, here are the last Aisle Seat reviews
of 2002. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org as always and have a Merry Christmas
New Release Mania
AUSTIN POWERS IN GOLDMEMBER. New Line Home Video. 2002, 95 minutes,
THE NUTSHELL: Everyone's favorite swingin' '60s spy is back in
this third go-around for the hit series. This time, Mike Myers' spy tries
to reconcile his relationship with his dad (Michael Caine), while Dr. Evil's
latest attempt to take over the world involves a skin-eating Dutch madman
named Goldmember. The latter requires Austin to high tail it to the '70s,
where he teams up with the very Pam Grier-like Foxy Cleopatra (the extremely
easy-on-the-eyes Beyonce Knowles of Destiny's Child).
ANDY'S ANALYSIS: As much as I enjoyed the original film, I found
"The Spy Who Shagged Me" to be a lame, tired retread. While the energy
in GOLDMEMBER also seems to lag at times, the good news is that there are
enough laughs here to warrant a recommendation. Recycled jokes are kept
at a minimum (particularly considering the second film), and there's one
gem of a gag involving Austin and Mini-Me (Verne Troyer) trying to elude
a doctor on Dr. Evil's submarine that's absolutely hysterical. Knowles
is a pleasant addition to the cast and everyone seems to be having a good
time as usual (there are a handful of fun cameos as well). Also a plus
are two great musical numbers: one in the movie, and the other in the deleted
scenes section. The latter involves a nice salute to Caine as the cast
sings an Austin-altered rendition of "Alfie (What's It All About)," with
George S. Clinton providing an especially nice arrangement.
DVD GOODS: Speaking of that, when was the last time you saw something
in the deleted scenes section worth watching? A plethora of extra scenes
here -- fully edited and likely cut from the movie just before its release
-- include some spirited gags that are actually worth taking a gander at.
Other extras are not quite as extensive as other New Line "Infinifilm"
DVDs we've seen in the past, but are still pretty decent. You have a handful
of mini-documentaries, commentary from Myers and director Jay Roach, a
segment on the visual effects, several music videos (including one by Britney
Spears and Myers' group Ming Tea), the trailer, and DVD-ROM content including
a voice-over workshop.
Visually, the 2.35 transfer is exceptionally colorful and crisp, while
the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is strong.
ANDY'S ANALYSIS: Sure, in comparison with the first film, not
every gag is quite as fresh or energetic in GOLDMEMBER, but the bottom
line is that this is a major improvement on the lethargic second installment.
If you're a fan of the original, give it a shot. Now for the cliched recommendation
line: groovy, baby, yeah!
EYE SEE YOU [aka D-TOX]. Columbia TriStar Home
Video. 1999, 96 mins., R.
THE NUTSHELL: The long-unreleased Sylvester Stallone thriller
(completed in 1999) has finally found a release on home video after being
sold off by its studio (Universal) and re-named under one of its numerous
Stallone plays a FBI agent investigating a serial killer who preys on
cops. After his friends are wiped out -- along with sexy fiancee Dina Meyer
(she's gone after 15 minutes, sad to say) -- Sly takes in a daily dose
of the drink to the point where ex-boss Charles S. Dutton decides to send
him to a remote, wintry rehab center to clean up his act. There, Stallone
finds a motley assortment of alcoholic law enforcement officers, including
Robert Patrick, Robert Prosky, Sean Patrick Flannery, and Geoffrey Wright,
not to mention facility employees Kris Kristofferson and the ever-underrated
Polly Walker. They bicker and quibble to no end, and soon begin to be picked
off by -- you guessed it -- the same killer Stallone has been pursuing
ANDY'S ANALYSIS: EYE SEE YOU is more or less routine most of
the way, from its claustrophobic wintry confines, down to paper-thin characterizations
and dramatic developments. Most of the fine cast is wasted (like Tom Berenger
as a facility handyman), and the pacing is much too frantic, with large
gaps in the plot presumably explained by an overabundance of post-production
Still, the surprisingly watchable film is the kind of B-movie that makes
for guilty pleasure cinema all the way. Director Jim Gillespie (fresh off
"I Know What You Did Last Summer" at the time of filming) has basically
made "I Know What You Did Before I Started Drinking And You Killed My Fiancee."
It's essentially a slasher movie with a terrific cast, but somehow the
movie remains oddly watchable in spite of its glaring flaws.
Part of it is due to the splendid visual presentation: Dean Semler's
scope cinematography is excellent and John Powell's terrific score (which
sadly will never be released, one would have to assume) lend an able assist
to Stallone and company, who look a bit bewildered as to what kind of film
was being made here. There are times when the movie is aiming for horrific
shocks, other moments when it takes an Agatha Christie mystery- like spin,
and caps it all off with a climax sporting a rousing one-on-one showdown
between Stallone and the killer that delivers the goods (a little late,
but better than never).
DVD GOODS: The picture was shot in 1999 and sat on the shelf
at Universal for several years. Late in 2000 the movie began appearing
in various foreign territories, and now Columbia TriStar has released the
film for the first time in North America, exclusively on video.
Aside from the different title and addition of the "DEJ Productions"
logo (which is plastered over all references to Universal except for the
end credits), this is an identical presentation to the D-TOX the rest of
the world received.
The movie runs 96 minutes and is presented in a comfortably framed 2.35
scope print that looks very clean. Curiously, though, the DVD defaults
to a horribly cropped pan-and- scan transfer, and on both of my machines,
requires you to go into the "Set Up" menu to select the Widescreen version!
On the audio side, the 5.1 sound is bass-heavy and certainly acceptable.
For extras, a full slate of deleted scenes (the same ones found on the
international DVD releases) are included, as well as the original theatrical
trailer (again with DEJ Productions' logo substituted for Universal's).
An exclusive to Columbia's U.S. disc are the addition of nearly 30 minutes
of cast interviews shot during the production. They're fluffy, promotional
sound-bytes with nine members of the cast (basically everyone except Stallone),
each running three minutes. Still, it's a nice bonus to have on the domestic
LAST-MINUTE GIFT POTENTIAL: Die-hard Stallone fans will probably
enjoy this one, which has received a solid DVD release courtesy of Columbia
TriStar. Despite its obvious shortcomings, this is far from the worst turkey
of 1999, and a good deal more entertaining than several films I paid to
see in theaters since then. As an efficient B thriller, EYE SEE YOU is
worth a look.
K-19: THE WIDOWMAKER. Paramount Home Video. 2002,
137 mins., PG-13.
THE NUTSHELL: Harrison Ford plays a Russian sub commander in
this tale loosely based on a real incident. The crew of the sub K-19 has
to contend with a leaking nuclear reactor -- and the possibility of leading
the world to the brink of war -- during the Cold War era. Ford essays the
ever-dour Captain Alexei Vostrikov, while Liam Neeson is on- hand to handle
the combative captain and try to keep the situation from getting out of
ANDY'S ANALYSIS: Like a lot of director Kathryn Bigelow's films,
K-19 looks great, sounds great, but something is seriously wrong in the
screenplay department. Credited to writer Christopher Kyle, K-19 plays
like every cliché-ridden submarine movie you've ever seen, which
shouldn't, admittedly, come as a great surprise because of the confines
(literally and figuratively) of the genre. That being said, the movie also
features one of Harrison Ford's weakest performances, with the actor looking
out of his element in a basically unlikeable role. After "What Lies Beneath,"
one might have guessed that Ford would go back to playing more heroic characters,
but he doesn't come off nearly as well as Neeson in this "we'll never know
how close we really came*" edge-of-the-apocalypse submarine thriller.
Visually, Jeff Cronenweth's widescreen cinematography is quite vivid,
and Klaus Badelt's by-the-numbers score appropriately bombastic, but K-19
just doesn't work in or out of the water, with its tacked-on courtroom
melodramatics seeming awfully hollow.
DVD GOODS: As you might anticipate, Paramount's 2.35 DVD looks
excellent and sounds even better. This is one of those "showcase" 5.1 soundtracks
you could use to show off your home theater audio system, with constant
use of the surround channels and bass-heavy effects filling the air.
Supplements are also quite good. Bigelow and Cronenweth provide a better-than-average
commentary track, while a likewise decent "Making Of" special is included,
along with three featurettes on the construction of the sub replica. K-19
was co-produced by National Geographic and the film's attention to detail
(at least in its submarine construction) is highlighted by the special
features, which are rounded out by the theatrical trailer.
GIFT POTENTIAL: History buffs may find K-19 to be particularly
fascinating, but dramatically the picture is a disappointment. On the other
hand, Paramount's presentation is splendid on the visual, audio, and supplementary
side, which makes this one recommended for history aficionados and Ford
THE EMPEROR'S NEW CLOTHES. Paramount Home Video.
2002, 106 mins., PG.
THE NUTSHELL: Ian Holm plays a dual role in this adaptation of
Simon Leys' novel "The Death Of Napoleon." Not only does Holm essay the
exiled emperor (something he also did in 1981's "Time Bandits"), but also
a common man named Eugene Lenormand -- an individual Napoleon seeks to
switch identities with so can he retake the French throne. The identity
swap occurs but the intended results don't quite materialize, with Eugene
living the good life on the island of St. Helena, while Napoleon finds
love when he returns to Paris as one of its regular inhabitants.
ANDY'S ANALYSIS: Holm is a delight in this Paramount Classics
release, which received widespread acclaim but only scant theatrical distribution.
It's unfortunate the movie didn't find more of an audience in theaters
than it did, because THE EMPEROR'S NEW CLOTHES is a funny and poignant
comedy of identity switching -- with a historical bent that screenwriters
Kevin Molony, Alan Taylor (who also directed), and Herbie Wave exploit
to great effect. This is a wonderfully performed piece that definitely
deserves a look on video.
DVD GOODS: Paramount's 1.85 transfer looks good. EMPEROR'S NEW
CLOTHES was a co-production with England's Film Four and the movie wasn't
shot on a huge budget, but still looks reasonably authentic and atmospheric.
Rachel Portman's restrained score is just what you would expect from
one of the composer's works, and the 5.1 soundtrack is gentle and involving.
No Special Features have been included on the disc.
GIFT POTENTIAL: Chances are that few of your friends heard (much
less saw) this little-seen sleeper. Despite a lack of supplements, Paramount's
DVD looks good and THE EMPEROR'S NEW CLOTHES is highly recommended.
HAPPY ACCIDENTS. MGM Home Entertainment. 110 minutes,
THE NUTSHELL: Marisa Tomei plays a neurotic NYC gal whose latest
relationship involves a guy (Vincent D'Onofrio) who says he's a time traveler
from the year 2470. If you've previously seen D'Onofrio in movies before,
you know he may not be kidding -- in fact, he's pretty convincing when
describing why he's come back in time to save Tomei from a life of mundane
blandness. Tomei's shrink (Holland Taylor) tries to decipher the relationship
while her mother (Tovah Feldshuh) attempts to encourage whatever positive
aspects her daughter can extract from the relationship.
ANDY'S ANALYSIS: Writer-director Brad Anderson's previous credits
include the sweet Boston love story "Next Stop Wonderland," a little movie
that Miramax paid a bundle for and barely recouped their investment on.
Since then Anderson has been hibernating, re-materializing only briefly
with the little-seen thriller "Session 9" with David Caruso last year.
In HAPPY ACCIDENTS, he reprises some of the quirky characters and relationships
that "Next Stop Wonderland" contained, and the result is an amiable piece
of fluff. Tomei (always one of my favorites, so I admit I was suckered
in pretty early here) and D'Onofrio manage to be charming and colorful
without turning grating and annoying; the supporting work of Feldshuh and
Taylor is also stand-out, as is Anthony Michael Hall in a hilarious cameo.
No great shakes, but a good independent romantic comedy nevertheless.
DVD GOODS: MGM's DVD offers both 1.85 and full-frame transfers,
along with a standard Dolby Surround soundtrack. Given the movie's modest
budget, this is as good a presentation of the film as one could reasonably
On the extras side, Anderson and D'Onofrio contribute an interesting
commentary track while the theatrical trailer rounds out the package.
GIFT POTENTIAL: If you're looking for a "date movie" kind of
title for your wife or girlfriend, HAPPY ACCIDENTS is a spicy love story
with some solid laughs and engaging performances. If you can get past the
R-rated profanity, this is a charming, inoffensive little film well worth
SPIRIT: STALLION OF THE CIMARRON. Dreamworks. 83
minutes, 2002, G.
THE NUTSHELL: The life and times of a wild mustang, narrated
by Matt Damon with songs by Bryan Adams. Spirit is a stallion (of the Cimarron!)
who comes in contact with a Lakota brave and an evil U.S. cavalry colonel
who wants to tame Spirit's wild nature.
ANDY'S ANALYSIS: Young kids will likely enjoy SPIRIT, a movie
written by John Fusco ("Young Guns") that takes the interesting path of
not having the horses actually talk. After sitting through countless cute
Disney films, this is a refreshing change of pace, though in place of talking
critters is banal "feel good" narration that sometimes comes off like Jack
Handy's latest batch of "Deep Thoughts." And, say whatever you will of
past Bryan Adams movie songs, but his soundtrack for SPIRIT is thoroughly
forgettable -- ditto for Hans Zimmer's competent but uninspired score.
As far as the animation goes, SPIRIT looks good in widescreen (more on
that in a minute), but its mix of hand-drawn and CGI styles results in
an uneven looking film.
All in all, the predictable and politically correct/liberal-slanted
story (the white men bad, the American Indians noble and righteous) will
provide passable entertainment mainly for young viewers. Adults are advised
to check out "Ice Age" or "Lilo & Stitch" instead.
DVD GOODS: Dreamworks' DVD features all kinds of excellent supplementary
features, but first things first: make sure you buy the Widescreen version.
Shot in an anamorphic 2.35 widescreen process, SPIRIT makes great use of
the wide frame and is pretty much worthless in pan-and-scan. The 5.1 DTS
soundtrack is terrific, featuring a vast soundscape and use of bass.
Now, that being said, the DVD is otherwise filled with some great extras.
There's a decent filmmaker audio commentary track, a featurette on the
music (sporting interviews with Zimmer and Adams), several segments on
the animation process, storyboards, and more.
The meat of the disc is found, for a change, in its DVD-ROM content.
There's a "Mini- Avid" feature that enables you to assemble your own short
movie, incorporating music and sound effects from "Spirit" and combining
them with your own narration and photos. Very neat, though be warned you
have to do some downloading off the net and have a powerful enough PC to
really be able to pull this off. Additional ROM extras include tons of
games and other goodies for the little ones.
GIFT POTENTIAL: Kids are the primary audience of SPIRIT, a simplistic
but OK animated feature that gets a DVD recommendation solely on the basis
of its neat interactive features. A great package from Dreamworks for a
HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION. Dimension Home Video.
2002, 89 minutes, R.
THE NUTSHELL: What number are we on? I think it's Number 8 for
the "Halloween" franchise, which seems to be regressing from watchable
B-movies to low-grade studio product marginalized by a major studio. Here,
"Halloween II" director Rick Rosenthal is back for another round, which
finds Michael Myers NOT dead (gee, who would've thought?) but rather back
to stalk a group of enterprising teens and internet hucksters, who have
decided to spend a night at the insane one's old home just for the heck
ANDY'S ANALYSIS: Sure, Moustapha Akkad's low-budget "Halloween"
entries 4-6 weren't any great shakes, but at least they were made outside
the studio system. Now, with Harvey and Bob Weinstein's Dimension/Miramax
Films involved, the HALLOWEEN brand name is more of a "product" than ever.
Here, we have a film again as inspired by other horror flicks (think "Scream"
and "Blair Witch Project") as the actual series it claims to belong to.
The idiotic leads range from Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks as web producers
to Thomas Ian Nicholas from "American Pie," and the film is by-the- numbers
all the way. Sure, the old movies were by-the-numbers as well, but what's
missing is the charm and continuing story line from the earlier films.
Danny Lux's score, thankfully, at least resembles the work of Alan Howarth
and John Carpenter more than the overblown orchestral score John Ottman
and Marco Beltrami threw together for H20.
DVD GOODS: You might have thought Rick Rosenthal would have learned
from his terrible experience on HALLOWEEN II (producer John Carpenter re-cut
and re-shot the movie after Rosenthal turned in his initial version), but
history DOES repeat itself, as we all know. RESURRECTION was extensively
re-shot and its release delayed by nearly a year after Rosenthal's original
version was deemed nearly unwatchable.
Some deleted scenes, including several different endings, are contained
in the DVD, though Rosenthal isn't all too candid in his bland commentary
track, recorded with editor Robert Ferretti. Documentary featurettes and
storyboards are also part of a solid DVD package, while the 2.35 transfer
looks good and the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound satisfying.
ANDY'S ANALYSIS: I grew up watching the "Halloween" series and
it's pretty sad to see the franchise turning into another genre cash cow
for the Weinstein brothers. Every generation needs a good, stupid horror
movie about idiot teenagers, but at least Donald Pleasance was around in
the old days instead of Busta Rhymes. Pretty disappointing, even on a B-movie
UNFAITHFUL. Fox. 2002, 124 minutes, R.
THE NUTSHELL: Diane Lane plays a wife who decides to engage in
an affair with a handsome artist (Oliver Martinez) in Adrian Lyne's intriguing
though at times overblown character study. Richard Gere essays Lane's husband,
who watches as his relationship with his spouse threatens to unravel while
she toils around with the handsome stranger.
ANDY'S ANALYSIS: Critical pundits were high on "Unfaithful,"
which nevertheless comes across as a contrived and stilted piece with good
performances. Gere, who was terrific in last year's criminally underrated
"Mothman Prophecies," gives another solid, nicely modulated performance
as the husband, while Lane does a fine job as a woman who acts on her impulses.
The trouble is the script (credited to Alvin Sargent and William Broyles,
Jr.), which is never quite convincing in how the situation is set up: the
opening scene alone is ridiculous in its execution. Still, for Gere or
Lane die-hards, Lyne's steamy picture is worth a view.
DVD GOODS: Fox's DVD offers a strong 1.85 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack
(a full-screen version is sold separately). For supplements, the disc offers
commentary from the director and a cast commentary, along with 11 excellent
deleted scenes (including a more predictable, alternate ending), behind-the-scenes
and editing featurettes, "The Charlie Rose Show" interview with Gere and
Lyne, and more.
GIFT POTENTIAL: UNFAITHFUL is a depressing, at-times revealing,
and often frustrating film that never really gets its act together. Despite
the fine work of the cast, this is an intriguing but not entirely satisfying
film recommended mainly for fans of the actors.
SERPICO. Paramount Home Video. 1973, 130 mins., R.
THE NUTSHELL: Sporting one of Al Pacino's defining cinematic
performances, SERPICO is one of the great cop thrillers of the 1970s. Based
on Peter Maas' book (taken from a true story), Pacino stars as a New York
City cop whose honesty and unwillingness to succumb to corruption alienate
him from many of his brethren -- and ultimately nearly cost him his life.
ANDY'S ANALYSIS: You can't go wrong with SERPICO. This is a tough,
gritty film that ranks as one of director Sidney Lumet's best pictures,
touching upon aspects of integrity, corruption, and government affairs
that haven't dated one bit. While some of the movie's '60s "counter-culture"
elements do, in fact, date the movie, its discussion and contrast of authority
establishments with one's personal beliefs remain timeless.
Pacino's strong performance as an unflinching, uncompromising cop and
the presence of numerous character actors in supporting roles (John Randolph,
Tony Roberts, F. Murray Abraham, Kenneth McMillan, and even a young Judd
Hirsch) adds to the film's power. Norman Wexler and Waldo Salt's script
is taut and Mikis Theodorakis' score highly effective.
DVD GOODS: Paramount's Special Edition DVD offers a fine 1.85
transfer and a subtly effective 5.1 Surround re-mix. The print shows its
age at times but generally looks razor sharp, while the stereo sound adds
a little oomph to Theodorakis' atmospheric score.
For Special Features, Paramount has included several featurettes: "Serpico:
From Real to Reel," "Inside Serpico," and "Serpico: Favorite Moments."
Each featuring new interviews with Lumet and producer Martin Bregman, these
are engaging discussions that touch upon the film's popularity and enduring
thematic elements. A photo gallery, featuring additional comments from
Lumet, is included along with the movie's theatrical trailer, that runs
some four minutes (!) and basically conveys an abridged version of the
GIFT POTENTIAL: If you like great acting, strong writing, and
gritty filmmaking, SERPICO represents '70s cinema at its finest. Worth
it for movie buffs, Pacino fans, and anyone seeking one of that decade's
best, issue-oriented films.
THE DUELLISTS. Paramount Home Video. 1977, 100
THE NUTSHELL: Ridley Scott's first feature has been given a tremendous
Collector's Edition release courtesy of Paramount. Harvey Keitel and Keith
Carradine play soldiers in Napoleon's army who begin a series of duels
that span some 30 years. Frank Tidy's gorgeous lensing of the film's locations
and Howard Blake's atmospheric score compliment Scott's visual eye, which
even in 1977 was on full display in this highly acclaimed picture.
ANDY'S ANALYSIS: The American leads (Keitel, Carradine, and the
bland Cristina Raines) basically play second fiddle to a fine contingent
of British actors (Edward Fox, Robert Stephens, Tom Conti, and "guest star"
Albert Finney), but THE DUELLISTS is more about visuals and atmosphere
than the picture's lead performances. Based on Joseph Conrad's story "The
Duel," THE DUELLISTS is a movie where each scene conveys a feeling or mood
-- it's beautiful to look at and still one of Scott's most impressive aesthetic
DVD GOODS: Paramount promised a bona-fide Special Edition and
THE DUELLISTS definitely delivers. There are two full commentary tracks:
one from Scott that's insightful and filled with information (as seemingly
all of his tracks have been), the other by Howard Blake that also includes
his score isolated in stereo! Obviously, this makes it a must-purchase
for FSM readers right there.
A half-hour conversation between Scott and filmmaker Kevin Reynolds
("Count of Monte Cristo," "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves") is interesting
and laid back, providing an analysis of Scott's work on the picture. There's
also a lot of great, archival behind-the- scenes footage from the shooting
present in this revealing retrospective.
Photo galleries, storyboards, the original trailer, and Scott's half-hour
first movie, "Boy and Bicycle," round out a terrific group of Special Features.
The 1.85 transfer, meanwhile, is superb, looking far better than most
movies made in 1977 ever have on video before. The 5.1 Surround re-mix
is also superb.
GIFT POTENTIAL: THE DUELLISTS is, admittedly, a mood piece, but
if you're a fan of breathtaking cinematography and Ridley Scott's other
works, it's well worth seeing. Certainly the DVD presentation is enriched
by excellent supplementary material, making it one of the year's best "vintage"
releases in the format all told.
WAR AND PEACE. Paramount Home Video. 1956, 208
THE NUTSHELL: One of Dino DeLaurentiis' earliest epics, this
1956 adaptation of the Tolstoy novel stars Audrey Hepburn as Natasha, Henry
Fonda as Pierre and Mel Ferrer as the Prince in a long and talky tale of
a Russian family's exploits during the invasion of Napoleon. Huge battle
scenes (shot by Jack Cardiff and directed by Mario Soldati) and some sweeping
moments are undermined by a production that just seems to lack energy.
Perhaps director King Vidor was in over his head making this international
co- production, which failed to achieve the awards and acclaim it was intended
ANDY'S ANALYSIS: Big productions from the '40s and '50s that
didn't become classics don't always get a chance to have a second life
on DVD, but kudos to Paramount for at least resurrecting this seldom-screened
epic. Still, despite the interesting casting of Fonda and Hepburn, WAR
AND PEACE is overlong, overblown, and simply too uninvolving for its own
good. A lot of the film is spent in endless drawing-room conversations,
which might have worked had the script (credited to some six writers from
around the globe) clicked. Unfortunately, the film is just flat and cold,
though still watchable due to the sheer scope of the mammoth production
DeLaurentiis assembled at the time. Nino Rota's score is another plus.
DVD GOODS: Paramount's DVD is pretty straightforward. The VistaVision
transfer is framed around 1.85 and looks good, considering how seldom the
movie has been released on video over the years. The mono soundtrack isn't
anything extraordinary, and there's only an English language track included
(which contains some pretty awful dubbing at times).
For Special Features, Paramount has included a pair of trailers: an
extended "Behind The Scenes" trailer similar to a lot of ads produced back
in the '50s that were like mini- documentaries, and a more standard re-issue
GIFT POTENTIAL: WAR AND PEACE is not one of the all-time Hollywood
classics, but it's an interesting curio that'd be a nice purchase for a
Golden Age fan on your list this year just the same. Others are advised
to wait for Image's deluxe Special Edition release of the original Russian
version coming up in a few weeks.
AND THAT'S ALL FOLKS! I'll be back in 2003 with
a complete theatrical release round-up, plus the usual news and views.
Until then, thanks for reading, and may you have a healthy and prosperous
Christmas and New Year. Be safe, be good, and see ya on the other side
in January. Ho ho ho -- I'm outta here!