Aisle Seat March Madness
STAR TREK IV Special Edition arrives
Plus: Andy salutes SMALLVILLE, SPY KIDS 2 on DVD,
By Andy Dursin
I don't write about a whole lot of TV here at The Aisle Seat, though
I will admit that I watch my fair share (surely no surprise to those of
you out there!).
One program that I've been an avid fan of ever since its debut is SMALLVILLE,
the teenage Superman program on The WB network. Now, some of you undoubtedly
may have caught the show during its infancy -- when it resembled a "Freak
of the Week" program with Smallville students or teachers stumbling into
Kryptonite and turning into villains each episode -- and quickly wrote
If you did, you made a mistake, since the program has grown by leaps
and bounds into one of the most consistently entertaining shows on the
tube. Freed from the unrelenting sarcasm and narcissism of teen angst shows
like "Dawson's Creek," SMALLVILLE has managed to develop a likable set
of protagonists with unpredictable personalities -- Michael Rosenbaum's
Lex Luthor, for example, is the show's most popular character due to his
conflicted nature -- and establish its own identity in the Superman legacy.
Perhaps surprisingly to some, SMALLVILLE has taken its time diving into
its Superman roots. Last week's episode, however, finally did just that
and then some, with none other than Christopher Reeve himself on-hand to
explain Superman's Kryptonian origins to Clark Kent (the underrated Tom
The show was, like many of the episodes in the series' second season,
well-written and perfectly performed. Reeve's appearance in many ways confirms
that this is the first Superman spin-off to do justice to the original
Man of Steel films since Reeve hung up the cape back in the '80s, while
composer Mark Snow went a step further: eschewing the show's pop soundtrack
and original synth score, Snow did a remarkable job incorporating John
Williams' themes into the episode's second half. That he was able to accomplish
that feat without drawing attention to itself -- instead, working it beautifully
into the context of the program -- should net the composer additional praise.
It's no secret that Warner Bros. is once again trying to resurrect,
and reinvent, the Superman franchise for the big-screen. After abortive
attempts over the years to do so with the involvement of everyone from
Tim Burton and Nicolas Cage to Kevin Smith, reports circulated last week
that the studio is down to Brendan Fraser, Paul Walker, and a soap opera
guy for the lead of the Man of Steel.
If the studio was smart, they'd wait until SMALLVILLE completes its
run and launch the program -- with Welling and Rosenbaum -- onto the big
screen as the next Superman series. If nothing else, it'd be fully deserved
for a program that has rightly staked its place in the annals of Superman
Aisle Seat DVD Pick of the Week
STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME (****, 118 mins., 1986, PG; Paramount):
After the compelling yet solemn story arc of "Star Trek II: The Wrath of
Khan" and "Star Trek III: The Search For Spock," director Leonard Nimoy
and producer Harve Bennett wisely decided to "have a little fun" with STAR
TREK IV. All Paramount execs said was to make the movie into a time travel
picture -- the rest was entirely up to the filmmakers, who ultimately collaborated
with "Khan" auteur Nick Meyer in fashioning a clever, upbeat sci-fi adventure
that remains the most successful of all Trek movies.
After quickly wrapping up plot fragments left over from the preceding
two films, the Enterprise crew heads back to Earth in the Klingon Bird
of Prey -- only to find out that an unknown, alien entity is threatening
all life back home. The probe's only method of communication is in the
song of humpback whales, who are extinct in the 23rd century. Naturally,
Kirk and Spock opt to head back to 1986 San Francisco in order to find
a living specimen to bring back to the future, but with Spock's resurrected
brain not quite functioning yet at 100% and the crew in "fish out of water"
territory, the comedic situations are exploited even more than the dramatic
There has always been a divergence among Star Trek fans on THE VOYAGE
HOME, which is none too surprising since the movie is still the only series
entry to find breakthrough success at the box-office with mainstream viewers,
casual fans, and Trek aficionados alike. Various Trekkies have disregarded
the movie as frivolous and dumb, sometimes as if it's an insult to the
series itself. Others -- and there are far more of them -- recall it being
one of the few Star Trek films, outside of "Khan," that they even remember
As a fan of the original series, I have always felt that THE VOYAGE
HOME showcases Star Trek at its best. Without a heavy, IV is light as a
feather and freed from the formula that has plagued many series entries,
while the cast, looking as relaxed as ever, seemed invigorated by the sheer
scope of the movie, breaking out of the claustrophobic, set-bound trappings
of the previous installment. The movie's script, ultimately co-credited
to Steve Meerson and Peter Krikes but apparently rewritten completely by
Bennett and Meyer, works equally as a comedy and a sci-fi fantasy, with
the interplay between Nimoy and Bill Shatner being utterly priceless, despite
the obviousness of some of the gags. Even after nearly 17 years, it's still
easy to see why the movie was as popular as it was, grossing over $110
million domestically in '86 dollars (it's still the only film in the series
to pass the $100 million mark).
Paramount's new 2-disc Collector's Edition DVD is the latest Trek Special
Edition re-release, and serves as an sizable improvement from the II and
III sets in terms of its supplements.
The commentary by Nimoy and Shatner together is a lot of fun. No, they
don't make too many critical comments (and there's not much discussion
on the development of the project, or those rumors that Catherine Hicks'
part was once intended for Eddie Murphy!), but it's nevertheless a congenial
talk that fans should love.
For more pointed anecdotes, there's yet another text commentary by Michael
and Denise Okuda -- and once again, it's even better than its predecessors,
offering plenty of information on specific details.
Extras on Disc 2 include a standard Making Of, "Future's Past: A Look
Back," which includes interviews with Shatner, Nimoy, Bennett, Meyer, Catherine
Hicks, co- producers Ralph Winter and Kirk Thatcher. There aren't a lot
of stories revealed here that fans won't already know (and isn't overly
critical, much like the preceding DVD documentaries), but it's an accessible
featurette just the same, and far better than the dry, talking head interviews
on the Wrath of Khan documentary. Some production footage is nicely interwoven
in the segment, and is also included on the companion featurettes "On Location"
and "Dallies Deconstruction."
Naturally, there's plenty of material on the special effects ("From
Outer Space to the Ocean," "The Bird of Prey"), with the usual storyboards
and production stills thrown in for good measure, but the big surprises
come in the additional materials Paramount has included here. Especially
enlightening are a 13-minute tribute to the late Mark Lenard, who played
Sarek, and a fun piece called "Kirk's Women," which features comments from
Catherine Hicks and several female guest stars of the original series,
reflecting on their work with Shatner. It's a lot of fun, as are the interviews
with Shatner, Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley shot on the set in 1986. Additional
segments look at time travel, "A Vulcan Primer," "The Language of Whales,"
the movie's sound design, a tribute to Gene Roddenberry, and are topped
off by the original trailer, containing James Horner's music from the preceding
sequels -- indicating in the process how those themes would have clashed
with IV's lighter tone.
Visually, the 2.35 transfer looks quite good. Previous laserdisc releases
suffered from a bit of grain, but the 16:9 enhanced transfer is easily
the sharpest I've seen the movie on video. The 5.1 soundtrack is also fine.
STAR TREK IV is still fun and thoroughly inspired -- right down to Leonard
Rosenman's jubilant and unorthodox (for the series) score -- and likely
to entertain all except the most die-hard Trek curmudgeon who can't see
the film for the joy ride that is.
Also New on DVD
SPY KIDS 2: THE ISLAND OF LOST DREAMS (***, 100 mins., 2002,
PG; Dimension): Stylish, colorful entertainment for kids of all ages, this
second Spy Kids adventure from writer/director/production designer/composer/cinematographer/special
effects supervisor Robert Rodriguez is just as much fun as the original.
Juvenile secret agents Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara are back, this time
out to recover a secret cloaking device that's been stolen by some nefarious
bad guys (as if there are any other kind). Up against them are a pair of
rival Spy Kids and at the center of it all is a mysterious island run by
mad scientist Steve Buscemi, whose monstrous creations bear more than a
passing resemblance to work of Ray Harryhausen.
Rodriguez's fast-paced original film felt like a breath of fresh air
in the family movie genre, which is why I was delighted that SPY KIDS 2
is every bit as entertaining (if a little overlong). There's more action,
more characters, and more effects in this follow-up, which -- like its
predecessor -- also avoids the temptation to preachify and turn the adventure
into a bloated Afterschool Special. Vega and Sabara are both superb, while
Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino reappear as their secret agent parents.
Buscemi is terrific as the insane, befuddled genius, while Ricardo Montalban
makes an appearance as Grandpa. Among the many highlights of Rodriguez's
fantasy: a ballet sequence with Sabara and the President's daughter, plus
a duel with the skeletons from "Jason and the Argonauts."
Buena Vista's equally colorful DVD offers a spotless 1.85 transfer and
5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, featuring another frantic score by Rodriguez
and John Debney. Extras include a full commentary by Rodriguez, a handful
of deleted scenes, tons of featurettes (including "Ten-Minute Film School,"
an examination of how Rodriguez was able to make an elaborate-looking film
at a fraction of the typical Hollywood cost), still and art galleries,
a music video, and plenty more.
Like the original, SPY KIDS 2 is a great fantasy for kids, made intelligently
enough so that adults can enjoy it just as much. Highly recommended!
TUCK EVERLASTING (**, 90 mins., 2002, PG; Disney):
Good-looking but flat Disney fantasy chronicles the lives of a family that's
tapped into the Fountain of Youth and a young girl who uncovers their secret.
The Tucks (William Hurt, Sissy Spacek, Jonathan Jackson, and Scott Bairstow)
are a group of Scottish immigrants who arrive in America at some point
during the Civil War era. While trying to find a settlement for their farm,
they encounter a magical well that causes all who drink from it to become
Into their closed existence comes a sheltered girl (Alexis Bledel from
"The Gilmore Girls") whose parents (Amy Irving, Victor Garber) plan on
sending her away to a turn-of-the-century girls' school for proper refinement.
After a mysterious stranger (Ben Kingsley) seeking the Tucks talks to Bledel
about their whereabouts, the girl ventures outside her family's grounds
and meets the mysterious family that never ages.
Natalie Babbitt's acclaimed novel was previously brought to the screen
in a modestly-budgeted independent production in 1981. Here adapted by
screenwriters James V. Hart ("Hook," "Bram Stoker's Dracula") and Jeffrey
Lieber for the big screen, TUCK EVERLASTING is a watchable, well-intentioned
film nicely performed by a strong ensemble cast. The rural Virginia locales
are vividly shot by cinematographer James L. Carter, and certainly the
movie has its share of effective moments (particularly when Bairstow outlines
his failed marriage) that make it a worthwhile film for family audiences,
especially older children.
The central problem with the too leisurely-paced picture is that director
Jay Russell never seems to get a firm grasp on the material. The movie
is written for the viewpoint of the young girl who runs into the Tucks
-- and is narrated by Elisabeth Shue in a manner to reflect that -- but
the picture never quite connects dramatically. Bledel is fine but somehow
her character's conflicted nature and questioning of whether or not she
should drink from the well is nowhere near as well-exploited as it should
be, and we ultimately come to care about the Tucks so much that the film's
ending -- telling us only what became of the young girl -- seems to miss
the mark completely.
The movie, which was co-produced by Scholastic Entertainment, does raise
pertinent issues of life and death that parents can address with their
kids, but one can sense that a better film could have been crafted from
the source material.
Disney's DVD offers a feature called "Lessons of Tuck," which is hosted
by co- star Jackson and interrupts the movie every few minutes for an Afterschool
Special-like discussion of the picture's themes. Offering interviews with
author Babbitt, the filmmakers, cast, and everyday teenagers, this is a
nice segment that should prove rewarding for the family audience (eight
and up) the movie is primarily aimed at.
Other Special Features include an interview and profile of Babbitt,
and a pair of commentary tracks, one from director Jay Russell and Jackson,
the other from Russell and screenwriter Jim Hart. The 2.35 transfer looked
a bit shaky on one of my old DVD players in terms of picture instability,
though the colors are nicely saturated and the cinematography otherwise
looks great. The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is fine, sporting a serviceable
score by William Ross.
DAREDEVIL VS. SPIDER-MAN (80 mins., 1966-1994;
Buena Vista): The latest DVD compilation of Spidey cartoons -- released
to coincide with the debut of "Daredevil" on the big-screen -- this assortment
offers a four-episode arc from the '90s Fox Kids series involving Peter
Parker and Matt Murdock. The "Marvel Team-Up" inspired collaboration between
Daredevil and Spidey finds the duo going up against (who else?) the Kingpin
at night, while Murdock defends Parker in a trial by day.
The animation is standard, but fans enjoyed the Fox series for its relative
faithfulness to stories found in the original Marvel comic, and should
subsequently enjoy this new DVD release.
As with before, the DVD includes introductions by Stan Lee, plus a pair
of bonus episodes: a vintage 1966 Spider-Man cartoon featuring the Kingpin,
and a '90s Fantastic Four cartoon that guest-starred Daredevil. Transfers
are all in decent shape, and the newer episodes boast OK stereo sound.
With Buena Vista adequately exploiting their animation archives for
these Spider- Man discs (I suppose the next-best-thing to a proper box-set
of Spider-Man cartoons), hopefully Rhino will release the highly entertaining
Charles Fries live-action Spidey TV series from the '70s starring Nicholas
Hammond and that groovy soundtrack on DVD.
HALF PAST DEAD (**, 98 mins., 2002, PG-13; Columbia
TriStar): Easily the best Franchise film to be released last year (read
into that what you will), this by-the-numbers but at least energetic enough
programmer stars Steven Seagal as an FBI agent who improbably has to infiltrate
Alcatraz to prevent a group of gung-ho special forces ops from taking down
a death-row inmate hiding a $200 million secret.
Morris Chesnut leads the revolt from the commandos while Seagal works
diligently with his man on the inside (played by rapper Ja Rule) to turn
the tables and stop the bad guys before it's too late.
Martial arts expert Don Michael Paul wrote and directed this standard-issue
(and modestly-budgeted) action flick, which managed to make a few dollars
at the box-office last fall. There are few surprises to be found, and the
limited budget results in some claustrophobic action sequences, but HALF
PAST DEAD is at least swiftly-paced to work as a decent B-movie view for
genre fans. And isn't it great to see Nia Peeples on screen again? (That
would be a rhetorical question)
Columbia TriStar's DVD offers top-notch 1.85 and full-screen transfers,
plus a predictably heavy, effects-filled Dolby Digital track including
an original score by Tyler Bates. Commentary with Paul is included, plus
some deleted scenes, a Cinemax making of special, bonus trailers, and more.
HALF PAST DEAD may be the most apt way to describe Seagal's career,
but it's also a view with sufficient thrills to satisfy action-craving
viewers who were let down by "The Foreigner."
NEXT TIME: THE OSBOURNES swear their way onto DVD,
plus more reviews and your comments. Send all emails to firstname.lastname@example.org
and we'll catch you then!