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The Aisle Seat April Assault

Plus: Guilty Pleasure Picks, Vintage titles, and more!

By Andy Dursin

Since the last video game one of my soundtrack-fanboy pals played was "Tank" back on the old Atari 2600, the Aisle Seat has seen little reason to boast about the latest innovations in home video games over the years. Plus, we get enough movies on a weekly basis that resemble playing "Pac-Man," but aren't as much fun, so there's little need to talk about the often stellar work that game designers and, more recently, composers have achieved in the medium.

That being said, I would be remiss if I didn't recommend the latest sequel in a series I'm sure many readers out there have, in fact, played at one time or another: Nintendo's classic LEGEND OF ZELDA series, which this past week was revived on their GameCube system with an adventure subtitled THE WIND WAKER.

If you recall what Don Bluth attempted to do with his laserdisc game "Dragon's Lair" back in the early '80s, then you'll have an idea what gaming genius Shigeru Miyamoto has done with the latest ZELDA. This is, quite simply, the most gorgeously designed game you might ever lay your eyes on -- characters, backgrounds, objects, and movement are rendered in an cell-shaded, almost hand-drawn animated style to rival Disney, yet the detail and overall look of the game is unique by itself. If you ever played Zelda on the o'l NES system back in the '80s, you'll have a good idea about the game play: it's patented Zelda adventure, with the player guiding hero Link from one fantasy kingdom to another, hunting treasure, collecting puzzle pieces, battling enemies, and solving riddles buried in deep, dark dungeons.

THE WIND WAKER takes it one step further, by laying out its vast world on an endless ocean which you have to explore -- a sea filled with pirates, ghost ships that appear suddenly out of the moon light, lookout towers, and treasures trapped on the ocean floor.

Complimented by one of the most memorable original soundtracks you'll ever hear in a video game (kudos to Koji Kondo), the innovative THE WIND WAKER is an enchanting game for all ages, and the kind of title that really makes you feel as if you're playing an actual movie -- not just any movie, mind you, but a really good one at that. Furthermore, if you have any nostalgia for the games of your youth, it's proof positive that you CAN, in fact, go home again, and have a great time doing it.

And with that, you can imagine how much work was actually done around here at the Aisle Seat offices in the last few days ;) But, as evidence that you can balance it all off, here are this week's new and recent DVD releases, with a few guilty pleasures thrown into the mix for good measure.

Aisle Seat DVD Pick of the Week

WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (***1/2, 104 mins., 1988, PG; Touchstone/Buena Vista): Speaking of technical innovations, Robert Zemeckis' box-office smash from the summer of 1988 was one of those movies -- much like "T2" and "Jurassic Park" which followed it -- that people rushed out to see repeated times for its landmark visual achievements alone.

Live action and animation were combined in a seamless, almost three- dimensional manner by animator Richard Williams and ILM for Zemeckis' frothy 1988 "cartoon noir." Based on a novel by Gary K. Wolf, ROGER RABBIT examines the craziness that ensues once alcoholic private eye Eddie Valiant (the terrific Bob Hoskins) is hired to investigate the possible relationship between toon star Jessica Rabbit and cartoon guru Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye). What Valiant finds is that Acme is murdered and all signs point to Jessica's husband -- cartoon star Roger Rabbit. With Roger in tow, Eddie reluctantly uncovers a seedy underworld buried beneath "Toontown," where Disney, Warner Bros., and MGM stars hang out after hours at clubs and other secluded hideaways.

ROGER RABBIT rightly copped technical Oscars for its then-groundbreaking effects, which help compensate for a somewhat over-praised script (credited to Jeffrey Price and Peter Seaman), which is never as compelling as the visceral element of the film. Hoskins' performance, though, is the glue that holds the movie together, and is rightly singled out by director Zemeckis in both his audio commentary and the 40-minute "Behind the Ears" documentary which forms the core of the DVD's special features.

Disney's 2-disc Special Edition suffers a bit on the technical side (the 1.85 transfer again displays some evidence of shimmering lines around objects and small flaws that have plagued recent Buena Vista discs), but makes up for it with 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks, and a ton of extra goodies.

Disc One includes a "family friendly" collection of extras (along with a full-frame version of the movie), including a vintage Making Of segment hosted by Roger's human voice, Charles Fleischer. Most fans, though, will be thrilled to learn that it also includes the three Roger Rabbit shorts that were released with other Disney films in the late '80s ("Tummy Trouble," "Trail Mix-Up," and "Rollercoaster Rabbit"), a set-top DVD game, and the original trailer as an easter egg (kudos to reader Bill Williams for pointing that out). It should be noted that there's deleted footage in the trailer that you can't see anywhere else.

"Enthusiasts" are recommended to check out Disc Two, which features a full group audio commentary by Zemeckis, Frank Marshall, the writers, and ILM supervisor Ken Ralston; the before-mentioned 40-minute documentary featuring new interviews with the cast and crew; "Toontown Confidential," a trivia text track that runs throughout the film; "The Valiant Files," which compiles still photos from the various stages of production; plus split-screen comparisons of before-and-after FX footage, on-location footage, and the infamous "Pig Head" sequence, which was deleted from the film but added to CBS' network TV broadcasts in the early '90s.

ROGER RABBIT is one of those dizzying, frantic Zemeckis films that pushes the technical boundaries of its genre, remaining a favorite of both animation fans and fantasy aficionados. Disney's DVD, the transfer notwithstanding, is a terrific Special Edition rich with bonus features that should satisfy all fans of the movie and keep them glued to their sets for hours.

Also New On DVD

THE RING (***, 105 mins., 2002, PG-13; Dreamworks): Genuinely creepy new horror films are tough to come by, which is why genre buffs should check out this American remake of a hugely popular Japanese novel and film. Before I first saw THE RING last October, I had to admit my expectations for the film were low. First, it was directed by Gore Verbinski, a Dreamworks "in-house" director whose last misfire was "The Mexican." Second, it's a horror flick from Dreamworks, and the last time the studio released a genre film, we ended up with the heavily compromised "The Haunting," where Steven Spielberg himself apparently "helped" re-shoot the final third of the movie.

Despite those elements seemingly working against it, I was pleasantly surprised by the picture, which became one of the highest-grossing horror films in years. THE RING manages to be genuinely spooky and highly entertaining, with a couple of potent scares along the way. The plot, which follows the Japanese version fairly faithfully, features the premise that a video tape brings death to all those who view it within the span of seven days. Journalist Naomi Watts stumbles upon the tape after her niece's heart mysteriously stops beating, and sees a series of seemingly random images on the video, several of which involve a little girl. This forms the basis for a mystery that takes Watts to an island off the northwest coast, where a horse breeder and her husband had a daughter with unexplained, incredible powers.

Hideo Nakata's Japanese filming of Koji Suzuki's novel was a smash hit in its native country, and was one of the few recent genre films to succeed primarily on the power of suggestion and minimalist scares -- not gore and violence. It was followed by a poorly received semi-sequel called "Spiral," the tepid "Ring 2" and a so-so prequel ("Ring 0"), none of which are available domestically but can be obtained as subtitled DVD imports from England.

The American remake, scripted by Ehren Kruger ("Scream 3"), drops the ball in a couple of places (most notably in the subplot involving Watts' son, who apparently shares a physic connection with the girl that's never elaborated upon), and adds a couple of unnecessarily ghoulish-looking Rick Baker corpses, but otherwise adheres closely to its source material. THE RING is a movie that starts off slowly but picks up steam as its mystery unfolds, culminating in a doozy of a climax that's a little more Hollywood than the Japanese version, yet in some ways is superior: there's just more atmosphere and tension in the American remake. In fact, if it wasn't for an equestrian suicide that should have been left unfilmed, I'd say THE RING would be pretty much ideal.

That element of the film excepted, Verbinski does an adept job building and sustaining tension here. The Pacific Northwest locales are vividly photographed by Bojan Bizelli, and if there's one area where the American RING is a marked improvement on its predecessor, it's in the film's stylish look and mood. Complimenting the picture is a marvelous score by Hans Zimmer -- or at least, Zimmer and his stable of Media Ventures composers (three are listed with having written "Additional Music" in the end credits). I actually didn't know who scored the film going into it, and thought it may have been James Horner or James Newton Howard. To my surprise, the moody, Herrmann-like score was written by Zimmer, and THE RING is unquestionably one of the composer's finest works. If nothing else, it's one of the best genre soundtracks I've heard in a long while (hopefully the film's commercial success, and the score's recording in London, will result in a soundtrack album one day).

Dreamworks' DVD offers a strong 1.85 transfer with matching 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks (again, the DTS soundtrack proves superior). The disc is almost completely devoid of supplements sans a 15-minute "mini-film" produced by Verbinski, comprised of deleted scenes and alternate takes not utilized in the finished film. Among them are Watts' meeting with town locals, her ex-boyfriend's run-in with a corpse, and other snippets of interest for fans. THE RING is slick and entertaining, with enough memorable sequences to keep you from turning on the TV late at night. Worth a creepy view or two.

AUTO FOCUS (**1/2, 106 mins., 2002, R; Columbia TriStar): The life and death of "Hogan's Heroes" star Bob Crane is chronicled in this fascinating though flawed work from writer Michael Gerbosi and director Paul Schrader. Greg Kinnear essays Crane as a devout family man who attends weekly church services and comes home regularly to wife Rita Wilson and their three children after working at a local L.A. radio station. Everything is just peachy in Crane's spotless '60s world, except for the occasional discovery of a smut magazine in the garage by his mystified wife. Soon, the comic-DJ receives a script for a new sitcom from Bing Crosby Productions, and his career blossoms as the controversial "Heroes" takes off.

Unfortunately, with success come temptations, in the form of busty young women seeking his autograph, to his friendship with seedy tech expert John Carpenter (Willem Dafoe), who has the latest in video equipment including a very early video camera and "VTR," the reel-to-reel precursor to VHS. Not only that, but Carpenter loves swinging on the town and taping his subsequent sexual exploits -- something that turns out to be the downfall of Crane's personal life, as he indulges in a series of orgies as his career and marriage(s) take a downward spiral.

This tragic tale of personal destruction and sin lurking in a seemingly ordinary family man is not a new subject matter for director Schrader, who tackled similar terrain in his 1979 film "Hardcore." AUTO FOCUS is a creepy and at times compelling bio-pic of Crane, with an interesting visual design (courtesy of expert cinematographer Fred Murphy) that veers from warm, primary colors at its start to washed-out, grainy hues representing Crane's personal and professional descent. As the picture progresses, its pop soundtrack takes a turn towards David Lynch territory -- no surprise with Angelo Badalamenti providing original score.

The central problem I had with AUTO FOCUS is Kinnear's performance as Crane. His affected mannerisms and accent never come off, and while the movie tries to illustrate the pop-culture success he garnered (however fleeting it may have been), Kinnear never adequately conveys how he got there -- he's not especially funny in the "Hogan's Heroes" recreations, looking stiff and uncomfortable, and his success on the radio is also bewildering if you judge it solely on Kinnear's performance. The picture needed someone to channel into Crane's comedic talent and contrast it with the dark side of his personal life, but somehow Kinnear never manages to find any kind of balance, playing what feels more like a Mr. Rogers stereotype than a real person.

Columbia's DVD offers a fine assortment of Special Features, including an hour- long documentary on Crane's murder and the subsequent trial of Carpenter, which the film does not elaborate upon. A Making Of documentary is also included, as are a handful of deleted scenes culled from the workprint. More interesting are three full- length audio commentary tracks, one from director Paul Schrader, another from producers Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski and writer Michael Gerbosi, and a third with Willem Dafoe and Greg Kinnear, which is the most relaxed and engaging of the lot. The 1.85 transfer is very good, and the 5.1 sound appropriately employed at various places.

AUTO FOCUS is a movie that Hollywood insiders and "Hogan's Heroes" addicts will undoubtedly want to seek out, and comes recommended for those viewers despite my reservations about its central performance.

8 MILE (***, 111 mins., 2002, R; Universal): One of the more surprising awards at the Oscars last week had to be the winner of the Original Song category. Most prognosticators thought either U2 (for their so-so "Hands That Built America" from "Gangs of New York") or Paul Simon (for his forgettable tune from the "Wild Thornberries" movie) would walk home with the Oscar, but rapper Eminem ultimately copped the award for his "Lose Yourself" track from 8 MILE -- even though the "song" itself wasn't even performed at the ceremony!

Say what you want about Eminem, but his semi-autobiographical film 8 MILE -- now on DVD -- is a gritty slice-of-life vividly brought to the screen by director Curtis Hanson ("L.A. Confidential," "Wonder Boys"). The rapper stars as "Jimmy Smith, Jr.," a guy from the wrong side of the Detroit tracks who lives in a trailer park with his troubled mom (Kim Basinger) and younger sister. Jimmy has the vision to become a recording star but lacks the means to gain the opportunity, blacking out when he tries to win a "rap battle" on stage at pal Mekhi Phifer's nightspot. Ultimately, Jimmy -- the cinematic alter- ego for Eminem -- tries to rise above the insanity and hopelessness of his surroundings and gain a new opportunity for himself.

There aren't a ton of surprises in Scott Silver's screenplay, but 8 MILE nevertheless works primarily due to the film's atmosphere and Hanson's direction, which gets a lot of mileage out of Eminem's surprisingly strong performance and work from the supporting cast. Reviewed by some as "'Rocky' for Rappers," 8 MILE manages to be understated and quietly emotional at times, leaving a lot of questions dangling as it comes to its conclusion. Like many of Hanson's films, the location filming makes for an authentic, atmospheric picture that's formulaic and yet distinctive at the same time, with a potent climax involving dueling rappers that's entertaining even if you aren't into the genre (which I'm just guessing most of us here are not!).

8 MILE has just arrived on DVD in a solid disc from Universal sporting a few extra features geared towards Eminem fans, including uncensored "rap battle" outtakes (a separate release censors some of the language), comments from Eminem and Curtis Hanson, an adequate Making Of featurette, a music video and a terrific 2.35 transfer. The soundtrack is mastered in both DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks, but perhaps as a downside to filming on location, the dialogue is often difficult to comprehend, meaning you'll want to turn up the bass-heavy volume at key points to comprehend it.

MAID IN MANHATTAN (***, 105 mins., PG-13, 2002; Columbia TriStar): Breezy fairy tale romantic-comedy stars Jennifer Lopez as a Manhattan hotel maid and single mom who improbably turns into a modern-day Cinderella after meeting senatorial candidate Ralph Fiennes.

John Hughes instigated this piece of escapist fare, which was ultimately turned over to screenwriter Kevin Wade and director Wayne Wang, with Hughes receiving story credit under the pseudonym "Edmond Dantes." [Hughes previously used this pseudonym on "Beethoven;" Dantes was the title character from "The Count of Monte Cristo"--SB]

There aren't any big surprises or twists in MAID IN MANHATTAN, yet this box- office hit from last Christmas manages to be highly entertaining for what it is, thanks to a collection of engaging performances -- including a surprising turn from Fiennes as a genuinely nice guy (what a contrast from his role in "Red Dragon"!). Supporting roles are nicely filled by the likes of Bob Hoskins, Natasha Richardson (as an obnoxious hotel guest), and Stanley Tucci as Fiennes' top aide, while J. Lo and Fiennes manage to actually create a fair amount of chemistry together. All of it is nicely shot on location in New York City, with a breezy Alan Silvestri score and widescreen cinematography by Karl Walter Lindenlaub making the proceeding look appropriately glossy.

Columbia's DVD offers both 2.35 and full-frame transfers, but this is one of those instances where the film was shot in Panavision (not Super 35) and thus the standard- frame version is severely cropped at every turn. As with most every Columbia effort, the transfers are impeccable, though obviously only the widescreen version is recommended. The 5.1 soundtrack is fine, though extras are limited to theatrical trailers -- leading me to believe that there may be a Special Edition release sometime down the road, as there has been with several Columbia TriStar titles over the last couple of years.

Aisle Seat Vintage DVDs

WIND (***, 126 mins., 1992, PG-13; Columbia TriStar): After years of being held in the unpredictable waters of the Huraki Gulf in New Zealand, the America's Cup was recently won by the Swiss boat Alinghi -- a victory that will send future Cup races somewhere across the pond to a venue yet to be determined.

It didn't used to be that complicated, as Newport, R.I. (a stone's throw from the Aisle Seat offices) was the home for the race for the better part of the 20th century -- at least until the Australians took the Cup home in 1983 and changed the complexion of the event forever.

WIND was shot in 1992 -- just a few years after the Americans reclaimed the Cup Down Under -- and chronicles how an American sailing crew loses the trophy but decides to go at it again in Australia against an arrogant, obnoxious businessman (Jack Thompson), a character not unlike American entrepreneur Ted Turner.

Matthew Modine and Jennifer Grey (back when she had her original, and much cuter, nose) [rumor has it that she had her famous nosejob during the extremely long shoot of "Wind," so interested viewers may want to look for nose changes from scene to scene--SB] essay the sailing tandem seeking to reclaim the Cup, but it's safe to say that the "plot" is the least relevant aspect of director Carroll Ballard's film. Like "The Black Stallion" and "Fly Away Home," Ballard's strength is in his strong visual style, which in WIND captures the essence of sailing the same way that the filmmaker captured the majesty of nature in his other works. With cinematographer John Toll vividly providing on-location shooting, WIND is a movie that works beautifully when it's on the water, and the only elements that matter are the images and Basil Poledouris' marvelous score. On the land, the film suffers from a hackneyed screenplay (credited to five different, unfamiliar scribes) and some shaky performances (Modine and co-star Cliff Robertson seem especially uncomfortable), but on the whole WIND is a journey well worth taking for its look alone.

Columbia TriStar's DVD offers a 16:9 enhanced transfer in the 1.85 aspect ratio. This is a strong effort from Columbia, reproducing all the vivid colors of Toll's cinematography brilliantly, with the source material exhibiting only a tiny bit of grain at times. The 2.0 Dolby Surround soundtrack is better than most Pro Logic mixes, though perhaps a 5.1 mix might have done more justice to Poledouris' excellent score. A theatrical trailer is included on the supplemental side.

Guilty Pleasure Picks

DAWSON'S CREEK: Season One (1998, 570 mins.; Columbia TriStar): Some five years ago, Kevin Williamson created a teen angst drama that managed to find the right balance between the soap opera melodramatics of "90210" and the more "reality" driven edge of "My So-Called Life." When it initially premiered on the then-fledgling WB network, DAWSON'S CREEK also had controversy written all over it: one of the characters was supposed to have an affair with one of his teachers, while sex was supposed to have been a freely- discussed topic. Parents wondered if the show would be suitable for youngsters, while the network issued various "warnings" to its targeted demographic about the subject matter.

That controversy, though, soon died out as it became apparent how sweet and innocuous DAWSON'S CREEK actually was. Williamson's often smartly-written show examined the life of a Cape Cod-ish teen named Dawson Leery (James Van Der Beek) who wants to be the next Steven Spielberg, his best-friend/soulmate Joey Potter (Katie Holmes), Jen, the new girl in town with a troubled past (Michelle Williams), and their ever-lovable, underachieving pal Pacey Whitter (Joshua Jackson). "Capeside" is your quintessential little New England coastal town, and while the show was actually filmed on location in North Carolina, the program did an excellent job capturing the on-location feel of a place far removed from shows like 90210, with more level-headed kids trying to live out their aspirations and move on in their lives.

The interplay between the characters and the show's writing -- especially in its first season -- are what made DAWSON'S CREEK into a big hit for the WB, with the program being constantly aware of its genre and sometimes mocking it. At the same time, the show indulged in all the trappings of a good prime time teen drama: scandals, dating, sex, family relationships, personal responsibility, and all the inherent problems in growing up were deftly exploited by the producers, who brought in filmmakers like Steve Miner to help establish the program's look and feel. And through it all, the core ensemble cast remained an attractive, appealing bunch to watch each week.

What more can I say? I admit it: I've watched CREEK since it was first on the air, and have lived through its uneven subsequent seasons when the cast tried to hang together despite some sub-par plots -- problems, though, that any TV show with a five- year run often go through. DAWSON'S CREEK is an unabashed guilty pleasure for a lot of viewers, not just teens but anyone old enough to have watched the John Hughes comedies from the '80s. Its myriad of genre conventions is complimented particularly in the first 13 episodes by characters you can care about and situations everyone has lived through.

Whether or not you enjoyed those times can say a lot about one's tolerance for DAWSON'S CREEK, but Columbia has done a solid job with their three-disc DVD box- set of the show's first season. The episode transfers on DVD vary from very good to mediocre, with one show in particular ("Dance" on Disc One) looking as if the picture has been "stretched" vertically for no apparent reason. Some grain is evident in some of the shows, yet more often than not the full-frame transfers are in satisfactory condition.

The Dolby Surround soundtrack offers a collection of familiar rock tunes and Adam Fields' introspective original score, one of the show's more effective elements (Fields' score is actually isolated on an import "Best of Dawson's Creek" DVD, available in Europe with four episodes compiled from the first two seasons). Supplements include a fun audio commentary from Kevin Williamson and executive producer Paul Stupin on the Pilot and season finale ("Decisions"). The two discuss the show's genesis and casting, along with the N.C. shooting and other trivia that fans will love. A brief "retrospective" featurette includes interviews with the duo, along with cast interviews filmed shortly before the program's 1998 premiere.

If you're still reading this review, chances are that you too are a closet fan of DAWSON'S CREEK, in which case this DVD edition will bring back some good memories from the show's prime. Even when it's bad, it's still good, and the program's solid run -- which ends next month after five seasons on the air -- proves that there are some Capeside addicts out there who will enjoy having the first season on disc, to enjoy again at their leisure.

JACKASS: THE MOVIE (***, 84 mins., 2002, R; Paramount): I hate getting into situations where I have to grudgingly admit that I like a movie that has no redeeming social value whatsoever. The last time at the Aisle Seat where I praised a movie as repugnant as JACKASS, it had to be Don Mancini's subversive "Bride of Chucky." Well, I suppose a gap of five years is enough time to recommend another profane and yet outrageously funny flick: MTV's feature-length JACKASS, an assortment of pranks and stunts that managed to score a few bucks at the box-office last fall.

If you've never seen the TV show (which I hadn't prior to seeing the DVD), JACKASS is like an R-rated "Candid Camera" crossed with "Super Dave." There's no plot or point, just a collection of blackout segments ranging from the idiotic (guy dresses up as a mouse and navigates through a course of mouse traps) to the ridiculous (men dress up as elderly folks and cause trouble on city streets) to the completely disgusting (like star "Steve-O" pole vaulting across a "river of poo" filled with excrement and a dead cat). While some of this is undeniably gross and gut-wrenching, a lot of it is truly inspired -- such as when star Johnny Knoxville takes to a golf course to sound an air horn while a group of unsuspecting golfers tee off. Some of the elderly bits are also truly priceless -- in contrast to some of the vomit-inducing sequences -- and are worth scanning through the movie for again after you've sat through it once.

Paramount's DVD offers a 1.85 transfer that likely looks better on video (how it was shot) than it did cinematically, where it was blown up to suit the needs of a theater screen. The 5.1 soundtrack is crisp and bombastic, boasting tons of contemporary rock tracks. For Special Features, the disc is ripe with outtakes and some 27 minutes of amusing scenes that didn't make the final cut, including Knoxville's memorable trip into a porn shop. Audio commentary by Knoxville and a separate group commentary are also included, along with promo spots, music videos, the trailer, photo and poster galleries, and cast and crew bios.

JACKASS is a movie that you won't want to admit that you liked, but I'll be damned if most viewers out there with a sense of humor wouldn't find at least SOME of it funny if they were forced to watch it. If you're in the mood or are having a group of friends over who can tolerate the R-rated material (and a few throw-up scenes), you'll likely find yourself in stitches watching these brainless fools torture and humiliate themselves for the purposes of a few laughs.

Quick Takes

TROOP BEVERLY HILLS (**1/2, 106 mins., 1989, PG; Columbia TriStar): Shelley Long plays a Beverly Hills housewife who opts to take over her daughter's Girl Scout troop after disgruntled husband Craig T. Nelson decides to leave her. Shenanigans (but of course) ensue once Long takes to outdoor hikes, campfire tales, and other scout activities. Charles Fries ("The Martian Chronicles") produced this silly but enjoyable 1989 family comedy, which has managed to gain a semi-cult following over the years since its initial release. Under the direction of vet Jeff Kanew, TROOP BEVERLY offers colorful, predictable laughs and a serviceable Randy Edelman score to wash it down with -- a pleasant piece of late '80s fluff for viewers of all ages. Columbia's DVD offers only a full frame transfer and standard 2.0 Dolby Stereo soundtrack, but both look adequate and the movie isn't crying out for the widescreen treatment in the first place. Supplements are also non-existent aside from bonus trailers, but for fans, this is definitely an upgrade from your old VHS or laserdisc release.

INSPECTOR GADGET 2 (**, 88 mins., 2003, PG; Disney): Colorful, live-action sequel to the lame box-office hit from a couple of years ago, GADGET 2 offers French Stewart in the role Matthew Broderick essayed in its predecessor. Here, Gadget has to join forces with a fully robotic new police officer (Elaine Hendrix) in order to take on the remnants of the evil Claw's organization. This made-for-video follow-up lacks some of the dizzying, non-stop effects of its predecessor, but that's not necessarily a bad thing -- and neither is Stewart, whose comic abilities better suit the lead character than Broderick anyhow. It's all forgettable, silly kids stuff, but youngsters should enjoy it and again, it's certainly no worse than the first film. Disney's DVD offers a "family friendly" 1.66 transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, outtakes and deleted scenes, and other extras for youngsters. GADGET 2 was shot on location in Australia, and boasts a number of familiar faces in supporting roles, including MAD MAX 2's Bruce Spence and THE MAN FROM SNOWY RIVER's Sigrid Thornton.

NEXT WEEK: Take a ride on the GHOST SHIP, we discuss upcoming titles, plus your comments and more. Email me at and we'll catch you then. Excelsior!

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