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Aisle Seat Special DVD Edition Mania

ROBIN HOOD, TERMINATOR 2, and more resurface on disc
Plus: Mail Bag and more!

By Andy Dursin

The year was 1991. Kevin Costner, fresh off his triumph in "Dances With Wolves," did what any sane star coming off an Oscar victory would do: take the money and run off to make a big-budget mainstream Hollywood film.

In his case, it was ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES, which was shot in England on a hurried production schedule to make it out in time for the summer movie season.

Costner reunited with his one-time "Fandango" cohort, director Kevin Reynolds, for the lavish Morgan Creek production, surrounding himself with big-time co-stars -- including Morgan Freeman, Christian Slater, Alan Rickman and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio -- in the English-lensed version of the classic legend.

PRINCE OF THIEVES, of course, turned out to be a blockbuster smash, but it didn't come easy. Costner reportedly threw Reynolds off the picture in post-production, re- cutting portions of the picture -- including some of Rickman's funniest passages as the Sheriff of Nottingham. Arguments between Costner, Reynolds, and the producers joined publicized tales of problems that flooded the media in anticipation of the release, though the end result at least pleased the masses worldwide as the film became a big hit.

Warner Home Video's 2-disc Special Edition DVD release, out this week (***, 155 mins., Not Rated), includes not only some fine supplemental material but also a new, never-before-seen Extended Version of the movie.

Apparently restoring the excised scenes that Rickman lamented were dropped long ago, the 12 minutes of new footage exclusively belong to the Sheriff and his comical, campy rants. This should come as good news for fans of the film, since most viewers and critics singled out Rickman's goofy but entertaining performance as one of the film's chief attributes.

If nothing else, Rickman's scenes help overcome the movie's biggest liability: Costner, whose stilted delivery (his line "I'm Robin of Locksley" remains an all-time classic) and pasty demeanor are still hard to accept in this kind of movie. I couldn't help but notice the irony that, in 1991, Pierce Brosnan was relegated to hosting a network TV special on the making of the film (included on the DVD), while Costner was cast solely on his then- popularity at the box-office. You have to wonder what kind of film PRINCE OF THIEVES might have been with a more appropriate choice -- say, Brosnan -- in its lead role than Costner, since the two actors' popularity have certainly been reversed in the years since its release.

There's still much to enjoy in the movie, though. Mastrantonio -- a last-minute replacement for Robin Wright (Penn) -- is fine as Maid Marian, while Freeman makes the most of a potentially oddball role as a Moor who fights alongside Robin and his merry men. Fine British character actors, including Brian Blessed, round out the cast, and there's a memorable cameo by a beloved actor who blows Costner off the screen at the very end.

Michael Kamen's uneven score is at least superior to many of his mickey-mousing "action" scores of the period. The Overture and Finale are rousing and memorable, though the rest of the soundtrack doesn't live up to its bookending cues. That said, the DVD includes the entire original soundtrack album in 5.1 Dolby Digital sound on Disc 2. It's not an isolated score per se, but rather the entire contents of the soundtrack album with each cue separated by its track title (you cannot, however, scan through the tracks like you can on a regular CD).

Other extras on the 2-disc set include a pair of new audio commentaries, including one by Costner and Reynolds, together again. It seems as if the two have completely repaired the rifts they had over the years (they did make "Waterworld," after all), though Costner does the majority of the talking -- almost as if he himself directed the film (and apparently he did at times). The duo also skirt the issue of who cut what and when, and I found it particularly curious that when some of Rickman's deleted footage appears back in the film, Costner says "this is some of the new material," to which Reynolds replies, "I don't know, Kev, I can't remember." (Reynolds is likely being diplomatic here. If memory serves correct, Costner threw Reynolds out of the editing room, with Rickman's cuts likely being Costner's doing).

The other commentary features a less energetic track with producers Pen Densham and John Watson, along with Morgan Freeman and Christian Slater. It's fun, but a bit dry and best recommended for die-hard fans of the movie.

The before-mentioned, Brosnan-hosted CBS special is also included (featuring some footage of Kamen at work), along with press junket interviews with the stars, TV spots and the original trailer, essay and photo galleries, and Bryan Adams performing his (godawful) hit single "Everything I Do, I Do It For You" at Ireland's Slane Castle.

The 1.85 transfer is very good, better than the original DVD release, with the DTS/Dolby Digital soundtracks packing a pretty good punch as well.

Despite its uneasy lead performance and production design that recalls the Ewok Village from "Return of the Jedi," ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES is a fun adventure flick that remains a good, old-fashioned time at the movies. Warner's DVD is priced right and includes some solid extras (short of a retrospective documentary and isolated score) to go along with a slightly longer version that gives you more of what worked the first time around. Recommended!


New Re-Issues and Re-packagings

T2 Terminator 2: THE EXTREME EDITION. Artisan, 1991, 152 mins., R. ANDY'S RATING: ***. CAST: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Eddie Furlong, Robert Patrick, Joe Morton. COMPOSER: Brad Fiedel. SCRIPT: James Cameron and William Wisher. DIRECTOR: James Cameron. TECHNICAL SPECS: 2.35 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. DVD FEATURES: Newly remastered, high-definition transfer; theatrical and Special Edition cuts; all-new, scene-specific audio commentary with Cameron and Wisher; Interactive Mode with breakaway featurettes and behind the scenes footage; new featurettes on the FX and "On The Set"; DVD-ROM features; theatrical cut in high resolution for PC playback (Windows XP required).

Yet another re-release of T2 -- this time to coincide with the upcoming release of TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES -- though at least the package has been rightly advertised as a visual upgrade and "companion disc" to the preceding release.

Offering almost none of the supplements from the features-packed "T2: The Ultimate Edition" DVD, this EXTREME edition has two benefits going for it: an all-new, remastered, and gorgeous 2.35, 16:9 digital transfer that alone will be worth the purchase for fans, plus a scene-specific, new commentary by James Cameron and William Wisher recorded last February.

While the latter is of interest since it's the first time that Cameron has sat down and recorded an entire, full-length commentary, the DVD's new transfer is the main draw to owning the disc. Colors are better saturated, the contrast is superior, and the overall definition of the transfer just that much better than the preceding DVD, which crammed an awful lot of material (three cuts of the film and tons of extras) onto a single disc. The new transfer takes advantage of the added space on the DVD, and comes away with a appreciably warmer picture that will be most apparent to owners of larger television sets.

The DVD offers both the Special Edition of the film and the theatrical version, though the latter is an "easter egg" that can be easily accessed by pressing the right- forward button on your remote control five times at the main menu. Unlike its DVD predecessor, this release doesn't include the option of watching the movie with the excised futuristic epilogue intact, though the scene IS included in the Interactive Mode extras.

Speaking of one of the EXTREME edition's added features, the Interactive Mode includes "text commentary"-like trivia as well as on-screen icons that can take the viewer to optional extras like behind-the-scenes footage, promotional materials, and other goodies. Lightstorm's Van Ling produced the new disc, and writes in his liner notes that this release is designed as a companion to its predecessor, taking full advantage of the improvements in the digital medium as a whole since its predecessor's original release.

The disc also features an OK new half-hour featurette on the FX and a shorter "On the Set" featurette, which are best left for the movie's fans. More impressive are the PC-centric bonus features, including a Windows high definition presentation of the theatrical cut and assorted DVD-ROM extras.

One word of warning: the disc and plastic case are housed in a hard, metallic outer-shell that looks cool BUT, alas, rips the plastic off the interior DVD case when you try and slide it out. My copy did this (as have several others reported online), so if you care about the condition of your cover, slide it out and keep it permanently outside the metal casing after purchase.


FAST AND THE FURIOUS: Tricked Out Edition. Universal, 107 mins., 2001, PG-13. ANDY'S RATING: *** (** for disc itself). CAST: Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez. COMPOSER: BT. SCRIPT: Gary Scott Thompson, Erik Bergquist, David Ayer. DIRECTOR: Rob Cohen. DVD FEATURES: New enhanced viewing movie, "Prelude" to sequel "2 Fast 2 Furious," most features from previous DVD release (sans Making Of). TECHNICAL SPECS: 2.35 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital.

Repackaging of Universal's earlier Special Edition DVD of "The Fast and the Furious" turns out to be strictly for fans. While the 2.35 transfer looks fine, the disc is missing the earlier disc's potent DTS track, and certain special features -- like the Making Of featurette -- have been dropped in favor of extras like a "prequel" to 2 FAST, 2 FURIOUS with star Paul Walker. An "enhanced" viewing mode offers a similar experience to T2's on-screen trivia track, and may be of interest for fans as well, though the lack of the DTS track detracts from the title's overall quality.

On the plus side, Rob Cohen's commentary has been retained, and the movie's car chase scenes have held up particularly well. FAST AND THE FURIOUS is no classic, but it's an entertaining B-movie with super-charged racing sequences that are stylishly shot and edited. If you don't have the earlier DVD, this is a passable repackaging, but it's worth tracking down the original if you have a chance.


New From Paramount

THE BRADY BUNCH MOVIE. Paramount, 1995, 88 mins., PG-13. ANDY'S RATING: ***. CAST: Shelley Long, Gary Cole, Michael McKean, Christine Taylor, Christopher Daniel Barnes. COMPOSER: Guy Moon, songs by Steve Tyrell. SCRIPT: Laurice Elehwany and Rick Copp, Bonnie and Terry Turner. DIRECTOR: Betty Thomas. TECHNICAL SPECS: 1.85 widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital.

A VERY BRADY SEQUEL. Paramount, 1996, 89 mins., PG-13. ANDY'S RATING: ***. CAST: Shelley Long, Gary Cole, Tim Matheson, Christine Taylor, Christopher Daniel Barnes. COMPOSER: Guy Moon, songs by Steve Tyrell. SCRIPT: Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan, James Berg and Stan Zimmerman. DIRECTOR: Arlene Sanford. TECHNICAL SPECS: 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital.

The '90s will be partially remembered as the decade of TV series-to-film adaptations, at least from a cinematic standpoint. From the good ("The Addams Family") to the bad ("McHale's Navy") and the just plain mediocre (remember the "Leave It To Beaver" film?), it seemed as if everything except "My Mother, The Car" was turned into a big screen movie.

Clearly one of the better transitions was made by THE BRADY BUNCH, which catapulted into theaters -- and box-office success -- in a ribald 1995 comedy that spoofed the original Sherwood Schwartz sitcom as much as it lampooned the contemporary times it was set in.

The Betty Thomas-directed comedy takes the original Brady family and places them in a grunge-filled '90s that's now almost as foreign as the gaudy era that the Bradys come from. The gags range from homages to the classic Brady episodes (Marcia getting hit in the nose with a football, Jan constantly trying to live up to her sister's popularity, etc.) to sexual innuendo and 70s-vs-90s jokes, some of which have dated just a bit. Others, though, remain quite amusing, like Davy Jones rocking his immortal classic "Girl" to a new generation of onlookers.

Maybe it's because I grew up watching the show, but THE BRADY BUNCH is a perfect example of how to make a kitschy TV show work on the big-screen. Central to the fun is the cast: the kids are uniformly good (especially Jennifer Elise Cox as Jan), with Florence Henderson and Robert Reed being ably filled by the likes of Shelley Long and Gary Cole. Long is fine as Carol, but it's Cole that steals the show as Mike Brady -- brilliantly channeling Reed's persona in a hilarious performance ("wherever you go, there you are.") Guy Moon's amusing score includes variations on TV cues that Frank DeVol and Kenyon Hopkins composed back in the day, while Steve Tyrell effectively remixes some classic Brady tunes to complete the experience.

While the inevitable sequel was not nearly successful at the box-office, A VERY BRADY SEQUEL is, in many ways, superior to its predecessor.

With most of the "clash of eras" gags dropped, as well as some of the more adult themes, the Arlene Sanford-directed sequel more closely resembles the actual show -- taking the Bradys back to Hawaii while the fam tries (and fails) to avoid being scammed by con artist Tim Matheson, who claims he's Carol's long lost husband.

Sure, it's more nonsense that only fans will truly appreciate, but the script manages to play up the sticky relationship between Greg and Marsha perfectly, and the musical score and songs are absolutely perfect -- most especially a homage to the forgotten Brady Kids Saturday morning cartoon series, set to Oliver's "Good Morning Starshine."

Paramount has released both BRADY features as good-looking, 16:9 enhanced DVDs with 5.1 digital surround. Sadly, the opportunity was lost here to include special features like the bounty of deleted scenes that were included in the TV prints of THE BRADY BUNCH MOVIE. Still, the prices are attractive (each DVD should fetch around $15 at most locales) and the movies look great, leaving us to hope someone, somehow will release the original show itself on DVD in the near future.


MURPHY'S WAR. Paramount, 106 mins., 1971, PG-13. ANDY'S RATING: **1/2. CAST: Peter O'Toole, Sian Phillips, Philippe Noiret, Horst Janson. COMPOSER: John Barry, Ken Thorne. SCRIPT: Stirling Silliphant. DIRECTOR: Peter Yates. TECHNICAL SPECS: 2.35 Widescreen, Monophonic sound.

Odd WWII action movie finds Peter O'Toole as an English seamen whose fellow crew members are killed by a German U-boat attack in the Tropics. After being nursed back to health by a kindly nurse (Sian Phillips), O'Toole decides to take on the enemy man-to-man in a personal, all-out assault that John Rambo would be proud of.

Peter Yates directed this uneven adventure film, with a beginning half-hour that seems to have been cut down from something much longer. There's little character development but many lengthy set-pieces, such as O'Toole putting a downed plane back together and searching local rivers for the elusive German vessel. Throughout it all, the Stirling Silliphant script -- based on a Max Catto novel -- never comes together, leaving O'Toole to carry the show in a strong performance that the film itself never matches. And, in keeping with '70s cinema, there's a downer of an ending without much resonance.

On the plus side, the film's widescreen cinematography is quite good, and there's an effective, though sparse, music score composed by John Barry in association with Ken Thorne. Barry reportedly wrote the major themes for the film, leaving the conducting and supervision to Thorne (the first of several collaborations between the two).

Paramount's DVD looks extremely good in 16:9 widescreen, while the mono soundtrack packs a little more punch than many 2.0 stereo soundtracks you'll hear on DVD. No extras are included on the budget (under $20) DVD issue.


New on DVD

JUST MARRIED. Fox, 95 mins., 2003, PG-13, Available June 17. ANDY'S RATING: **. CAST: Ashton Kutcher, Brittany Murphy, Christian Kane, David Rasche, Veronica Cartwright. COMPOSER: Christophe Beck. SCRIPT: Sam Harper. DIRECTOR: Shawn Levy. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentary by Kutcher, Murphy, and Levy; deleted scenes; Making Of featurette; Comedy Central special. TECHNICAL SPECS: 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital.

Amiable but slight romantic comedy raked in a few dollars for "Dude, Where's My Car" thesp Ashton Kutcher, here starring as a typical twentysomething who falls too quickly for smart Brittany Murphy.

Before you can say "first date," the two are married and travel overseas for a Honeymoon of Horrors, which involves a snowbound villa from hell, a Venice "hotel" filled with loose walls and crawling insects, Murphy's jealous ex-boyfriend, and the inevitable mix-ups and misunderstandings.

Basically a slapstick farce without enough jokes, JUST MARRIED gets by as a "date movie" basically because of the stars' appeal. Kutcher is obnoxious but intermittently amusing, while Murphy gives one of her more appealing performances as a rich but not uptight young woman who falls for Kutcher's antics. It would have been better had the film thrown in more interesting supporting players or Sam Harper's script simply been funnier, but it's a decent enough romantic comedy with a nice score by Christophe Beck (best known for his work on TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

Fox's fine DVD offers a colorful 1.85 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack, plus an OK group commentary track by the director and stars. Several deleted scenes and Making Of material from the movie's press kit and Comedy Central round out the disc.


THE PAPER CHASE. Fox, 112 mins., 1973, PG. ANDY'S RATING: ***. CAST: Timothy Bottoms, Lindsay Wagner, John Houseman, Edward Herrmann, James Naughton. COMPOSER: John Williams. SCRIPT: James Bridges, from the novel by John Jay Osborn, Jr. DIRECTOR: James Bridges. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by producer Robert C. Thompson; the original trailer. TECHNICAL SPECS: 2.35 Widescreen, 2.0 Dolby Stereo.

Long-overdue DVD edition of the 1973 hit finally enables us to do away with the horrible, washed-out laserdisc and Fox Movie Channel transfers -- for years the only way to see James Bridges' superb 1973 college drama in its original widescreen format.

While I've never quite understood the appeal of Timothy Bottoms -- who stars here as a Harvard Law student who falls in love with the daughter (a pre-Bionic Lindsay Wagner) of his cranky professor (John Houseman) -- THE PAPER CHASE is a vivid and eloquent film that beautifully captures time and place. Shot on location, Bridges' movie is a terrific drama featuring a wonderful, low-key score by John Williams and Gordon Willis' tremendous widescreen cinematography, all of which looks great on Fox's DVD.

The disc includes a beautiful 2.35 transfer that's got to be the best that THE PAPER CHASE has ever appeared outside of its original release. The 2.0 stereo sound is OK, while for special features, the DVD offers the trailer plus a new commentary by producer Robert Thompson, who's informative and talkative (kudos to Fox for including chapter stops for his commentary as well as the movie proper).


Aisle Seat Mail Bag

From Peter Dishal:

Andy,
I was wondering if by any chance you know anything about this -- I e-mailed Fox Entertainment a couple of days ago to ask what was going on with their "The Enemy Below" DVD release, which was scheduled for May 20, and I got a reply saying it had been cancelled -- no reason given. Would you have any inside information on why, or whether there's a chance it might still happen? The description I had read even talked about some newsreel footage they were going to include as an extra. (In the meantime, I guess I better hang on to my laserdisc--)
Peter, alas I don't have any Insider knowledge on this one. I wouldn't be surprised if the newsreel was the reason, though Fox has unfortunately been slowing down re-issues from their back catalog lately. Their recently announced Halloween promotion was a particular disappointment, since one would have hoped some classic genre titles like THE INNOCENTS would finally be released on DVD. Seems like we're going to have to keep on waiting, and holding onto our laserdiscs--

From Harry Chen:

Hi, Andy!
A question regarding last year's "Back to the Future" trilogy DVD set, which had a disc with framing problems. Since I don't live in a DVD Region One country, can somebody tell me if this framing problem exists in all regional versions of the boxed set? Does the British region two version have this problem? I have emailed my regional distributor (in region three Hong Kong) but they have ignored me for months. Any comments froms BTTF fans in other countries? Thanks and keep up the great work!
I told Harry that I'm fairly certain that the framing issues weren't exclusive to the North American disc, but that perhaps some other, international readers out there could help us out.

From Jeff Heise:

I thought that your review of THE MATRIX RELOADED had some good points, and I agree that the freeway chase is incredible, but why do sci-fi filmmakers have this obsession with pounding some form of philosophy down our throats when they make a film? The original MATRIX was fascinating with the idea of the world we know being a lie and the true world in danger of destruction. Fine with me-good set pieces, interesting characters and incredible visuals all paced just slowly enough to understand the premise and ponder on it while watching.

Four years later, and we're talking about-chocolate cake?

I thought this film was one of the biggest bundles of gas I've ever seen in a theater. The action sequences were terrific, and I am really curious as to how Reeves is finally going to stop Weaving's character once and for all. But the scenes where Reeves has to listen to someone explain what is happening both to him and to us is the equivalent to me of stopping and starting on the freeway-it's exasperating, takes forever to get to the end and really pissed me off. The whole scene in the restaurant will come in handy when I go see the film for a second time but this time with my wife (she was ill on opening night)-I can go use the restroom and stop at the snack bar during it and still have time to play a video game!

I told a friend, when a science-fiction filmmaker dies, they become a philosophy professor with too much tenure.

I really hope that the Waxy Brothers have gotten Joseph Campbell out of their systems now and can get back to business with the third film this fall. If not, then, God help me, there's always the final (I pray) STAR WARS film in 2005.

Good points, Jeff. One thing I've noticed since I saw the movie is -- well, I've pretty much forgotten everything about it, actually. It was fun for 2+ hours, it was over, and it didn't leave me with any lasting impression. The movie's rapidly declining box-office receipts seem to confirm that, as well, which doesn't bode too well for the third film. With a cliffhanger that uninspired, who's going to be sleepless at night with anticipation over the final chapter?


NEXT WEEK: TV on DVD. No, really, for real this time! I promise!! Send all emails to dursina@att.net and have a good week, everyone.


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