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Aisle Seat INDIANA JONES Edition

Andy Reviews the Long-Awaited DVD Debut
Plus: RUDY Deluxe, Both ITALIAN JOBs, and more!

By Andy Dursin

While we wait for the original STAR WARS Trilogy to be released on DVD (in whatever Special Edition variant George Lucas sees fit), today marks the long-awaited debut of the INDIANA JONES TRILOGY on disc.

It's a special occasion not only because the Indiana Jones films are at last available on DVD, but the fact that there's never been a "Special Edition" release of these movies in ANY format. It took years for RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK to be issued in letterbox format on laserdisc, and even then, the LDs had no special features to speak of -- not even a theatrical trailer.

Paramount's four-disc box-set of the series offers movie-only presentations of the three respective films, then a fourth DVD comprised of new supplements from Lucasfilm and Steven Spielberg associate Laurent Bouzereau.

It's a great package that starts with new digital transfers and remixed Dolby Digital soundtracks of each film -- and by this point, is there any reason to re-analyze these Saturday Matinee classics? Each movie is immeasurably entertaining on its own respective merits, though fans can still quibble about which one is best.

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (****, 115 mins., 1981, PG) thankfully still retains its original on-screen title (despite its new packaging as "Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark"), and remains a classic of the action-adventure genre. With a smart Lawrence Kasdan script (from a George Lucas-Philip Kaufman story), classic stunts and Spielberg working at the peak of his talent, RAIDERS is still awesome fun, with Ford introducing us to the centerpiece role of his career and Karen Allen easily providing the best female love interest of the series.

The first sequel, INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (***1/2, 118 mins., 1984, PG) was controversial in its day (along with another Spielberg production, "Gremlins," it helped create the PG-13 rating, which was initiated before the summer of '84 was out), and even now it's a violent ride compared to the other Indy adventures. The script by Lucas pals Willard Huyuck and Gloria Katz ("American Graffiti") is silly and more excessive than either "Raiders" or "The Last Crusade," and Kate Capshaw's whiny Willie Shaw is a comedown from Karen Allen's Marion -- so much so that it's tough for "The Temple of Doom" not to be compared unfavorably with its predecessor. Still, the movie's final third is a blast, and John Williams' majestic, triumphant score may be his most inspired of the series: his themes for the Indy-Willie romance, Short Round's Theme, the mine cart ride, and the regal music that accompanies our heroes through the jungles of India are simply fantastic, and when combined with the original "Raiders March," create a phenomenal underscore that effortlessly carries the audience through the sequel's rough spots.

The problems with the second film were rectified with the 1989 blockbuster INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (****, 126 mins., PG-13), which on a surface level sounds like a "Raiders" rehash but is actually, for me anyway, the most sophisticated and durable entry in the series. This is undoubtedly due to Sean Connery's magnetic performance as Indy's father, Dr. Henry Jones. Connery is magnificent and his interplay with Harrison Ford is gentle, amusing and poignant, giving the movie a warm, human center that was completely absent from the amusement-park action of "Temple of Doom" and surpasses the level of character development found in "Raiders." John Rhys-Davies and Denholm Elliott return from the original, and the movie entertainingly reprises the quest-styled plot of "Raiders" as an older Indy tries to track down his father, who was lost while searching for the Holy Grail. Williams' score is again top-notch, and while "The Last Crusade" may lack the freshness that the original contained, it's my favorite film of the series to revisit -- Connery and Ford are so good together that the film's strengths are only magnified on repeat viewing.

The DVD transfers all look exceptional in 2.35 widescreen (16:9 enhanced), and the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks effectively remix and re-work the original Dolby Surround tracks. Because Paramount included all the supplementary materials on the fourth disc, each movie has been encoded at its top-possible compression rate and the results are superb, easily besting the older laserdisc transfers. This is particularly evident in the case of "The Last Crusade," which was never properly remastered following its initial 1990 LaserDisc issue ("Raiders" and "Temple of Doom" were issued later on LD in widescreen and looked exceptionally good for their time).

For supplements, the cream of this set's crop is a 126-minute documentary on the series, newly produced by Laurent Bouzereau for this release. Dividing the production of each film into its own, 40-minute segment, this is a revealing and terrific effort with new interviews with Lucas, Spielberg, Ford, Kasdan, Connery, Paul Freeman, Alfred Molina, Karen Allen, Kate Capshaw, and most of the major participants in the series. Vintage on- set location footage and screen tests are shown, making this every bit the revealing, comprehensive "Making Of" fans were hoping for. Seen here for the first time are Tom Selleck's screen test for Indy (with Sean Young playing Marion), Karen Allen's screen test for Marion (with Tim Matheson as Indy), location scouting with Spielberg, lots of on-set outtakes, and other bits of trivia that fans will absolutely love. It's well produced and never dull, touches upon the "Temple of Doom" ratings controversy and fallout, and does an excellent job touching upon the various facets of the three movies.

Additional featurettes include a superb 12-minute interview with John Williams, who discusses the music of the series and the conception of his various themes. Recording session footage is shown, while Spielberg aptly demonstrates how maestro Williams ended up combining what were originally two separate "Raiders" motifs into the classic theme that was ultimately used. Spielberg also rightly praises Williams' "Temple of Doom" score for raising the movie several levels, and the more intimate approach the composer employed on "The Last Crusade." Note that there's also a few words included here about "Indy IV" -- the only place in this set where you'll hear talk about the upcoming sequel.

The other featurettes, running 10-15 mins. each, include a look at ILM's work, with a new talk with Dennis Muren; the elaborate, then-cutting edge sound design employed by Lucasfilm wizards like Ben Burtt on the three films; and the conception and execution of the series' various stunts. Trailers and teasers are included for all three films, though I distinctly recall a teaser for "Temple of Doom" (found in the first VHS release of "Raiders") that's NOT included here.

It's a great set, though I was disappointed that Lucasfilm opted NOT to include any deleted scenes. Surely there must have been sequences edited out of the three movies (there were countless scenes Kasdan wrote for "Raiders" that were excised), but sadly, there's nothing here on that front.

Otherwise, THE ADVENTURES OF INDIANA JONES box-set is every bit as satisfying as one would have hoped. It took years for it to happen, but the end results -- the transfers of the films and the supplements Lucasfilm and Paramount included here -- were well worth the wait, making easily for one of the year's top must-have DVD releases.


New on DVD

THE MATRIX RELOADED. 138 mins., 2003, R, Warner. ANDY'S RATING: ***. CAST: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Gloria Foster, Monica Bellucci. COMPOSER: Don Davis. SCRIPT/DIRECTION: The Wachowski Brothers. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Behind the Scenes featurettes; MTV Movie Awards clip. TECHNICAL SPECS: 2.35 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital.

The highly anticipated first MATRIX sequel from the Wachowski Brothers turns out to be a dizzying, frantic blast of sci-fi entertainment that's lots of fun to watch despite some glaring flaws that prevent it from being a classic. The sequel dives right into the action as we find our heroes (Keanu Reeves' Neo, Laurence Fishburne's Morpheus, Carrie-Ann Moss' Trinity) heading to the subterranean city of Zion, where the last remnants of humanity are bearing down for one last confrontation with the machines. While there are those in the city who believe that collective might be the only way to defeat the tyrannical machines, leader Anthony Zerbe believes Morpheus' claim that only Neo stands a chance of defeating the technology that enslaved them all and threatens to do so once again. After an effects heavy opening, this second of two Matrix sequels grinds literally to a halt -- taking time out for a few sex scenes and an utterly bizarre bump-and-grind sequence between thousands of Zion inhabitants that feels just a little out of place here.

Once the talk and sex is out of the way, and our heroes head into the Matrix, RELOADED finally comes to life. Neo meets with the Oracle again and takes on Hugo Weaving's "bad cop" from the original -- not just one Weaving, but hundreds of them, in one of the film's two must-see, jaw dropping action scenes. A brief encounter with a villainous program guarding the "keymaster" (not Rick Moranis, but a man who knows the location of the source program) enables us to get a glimpse of sexy Monica Bellucci, though her time in the movie comes and goes a little too quickly. On the other hand, her scenes set up the sequel's most incredible and entertaining set piece -- a dizzying, preposterous and yet awesome car chase on a futuristic freeway that goes on for nearly 20 minutes of dazzling screen time. No matter what you think of the rest of the movie, this sequence alone more than justifies the price of admission.

Speaking of the rest of RELOADED, it's good but not great -- sort of the reaction I had to the first movie, which had a little too much exposition inbetween its memorable effects scenes. RELOADED, though, doesn't have enough of a story to sustain itself on that front -- the jumbled script raises the obvious religious parallels early on, but then drops them and any semblance of a coherent story as it moves into the Matrix. On the other hand, who cares? The movie looks and feels like the ultimate video game you've ever played. The non-effects scenes are just filler for the money sequences audiences will remember long after the movie is over.

Don Davis' score works tremendously well here -- it might be even better than the original -- and while the climactic cliffhanger is a dud (it follows through on a subplot that's barely alluded to), THE MATRIX RELOADED provides more unforgettable visual effects than anything you've seen since, well, its predecessor. It's a triumph of technology that hopefully will be followed by a worthier story in the "Matrix Revolutions," which is due out in just a few weeks. Warner's 2-disc Special Edition DVD fares exceptionally well (as you would anticipate) in the audio and video departments. The 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is showcase-quality, while the 2.35 widescreen transfer is extraordinarily crisp and clear: viewers needn't look further for a reference-caliber disc.

The special features are decent but quite as exceptional. Found entirely on Disc Two, the extras include documentaries on the production of the movie, the conception of the special effects, a lengthy look at Matrix-inspired commercials and an extensive spotlight on the production of the "Matrix Reloaded" video game (which was unanimously panned by gamers and critics alike, despite its high budget). Falling somewhere between self-promotional chatter and a candid examination of the filmmaking process, these are mostly of interest for fans, though the lengthy featurette on the making of the freeway chase is certainly worth viewing. Most entertaining of all the extras is a 10-minute MTV Movie Awards clip from earlier this year, featuring Will Ferrell, Seann William Scott and teenie bopper superstar Justin Timberlake. Note that there's hardly anything related to the upcoming "Matrix Revolutions" aside from the trailer attached to RELOADED's end credits.


RUDY: Deluxe Edition. 114 mins., 1993, PG, Columbia TriStar. ANDY'S RATING: ****. CAST: Sean Astin, Ned Beatty, Charles S. Dutoon, Lili Taylor, Robert Prosky, Jason Miller. COMPOSER: Jerry Goldsmith. SCRIPT: Angelo Pizzo. DIRECTOR: David Anspaugh. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Isolated score (in Dolby Digital), featurette, original Making Of featurette, Sean Astin interview, trailer. The original soundtrack CD from Varese Sarabande is also packaged with this release. TECHNICAL SPECS: 1.85 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

One of the great sports movies ever made, RUDY reunited the production team from "Hoosiers" (another classic sports film) in telling the real-life story of a young man who wants desperately to play football for Notre Dame, and makes up in heart and determination what he lacks in talent and academic prowess.

Sean Astin is marvelous as Rudy in David Anspaugh's wonderful film, which never hits a wrong note and feels authentic at every turn. Shot on location at Notre Dame and other Indiana locales, RUDY is as much about hard work and perseverance off the field as it is success on it. Therein, of course, lies the great tale of Rudy's story: after working his tail off to even get into N.D., he never played at all until the final play of his final game at Notre Dame, when he improbably sacked the opposing quarterback and was carried off the field by his teammates -- a feat that never happened before or since at the school.

The sensitive and moving script by Angelo Pizzo is marvelously acted by Astin, Ned Beatty as Rudy's dad, Robert Prosky as a sympathetic priest, and especially Charles S. Dutton as a field manager at Notre Dame Stadium. Technically, the movie just feels right, complimented by Oliver Wood's cinematography and Jerry Goldsmith's perfect score (to my mind, the last truly "great" score of Goldsmith's career). RUDY is, as you can tell, a personal favorite of mine, and the new Deluxe Edition release from Columbia TriStar is highly recommended -- though only if you don't already own the previous Special Edition DVD.

This bundle reprises the contents of the earlier DVD -- from an interview with the real Rudy to Goldsmith's full isolated score track -- adding the original Varese Sarabande CD soundtrack release as an extra. Hence, it's the best way to own both the DVD and CD at a bargain price (most outlets price it around $20), though if you have both already, there's no need to indulge since there's nothing new here.


The ITALIAN JOBs

The late '60s were a colorful time in cinema, and the 1969 caper comedy THE ITALIAN JOB (***, 99 mins., G; Paramount) perfectly embodied the style of its era. In Troy Kennedy Martin's original story, Michael Caine plays a con man who recruits a gang of thieves to knock over a shipment of gold bullion in Turin, causing what's sure to be a massive traffic jam.

While the plot sounds traditional, the movie itself is wild and woolly in its execution. With warm colors, a groovy score by Quincy Jones, and a certainly offbeat cast (including Caine, Benny Hill, and Noel Coward), the original "Italian Job" became a huge hit in England and, over the years, a much-revered picture in its native territory. The outlandish, comical chases and stereotypical supporting roles date the movie as a product of its time -- along with its strange ending -- but those who love the old "Italian Job" enjoy it for the lead performances, the slapstick hyjinks and riveting car chases, all superbly helmed by Peter Collinson and dryly performed by the cast.

When an American remake was planned a few years ago, fans of the old movie -- particularly those overseas -- cried foul. Then came the casting of Mark Wahlberg, who already top-lined a high-profile remake of a beloved '60s classic ("Planet of the Apes"), and threatened to turn the new ITALIAN JOB (***, 110 mins., PG-13; Paramount) into another needless re-do of a viewer favorite.

The good news, though, is that F. Gary Gray's U.S. version is -- for a traditional American-made action movie -- surprisingly good in its own right. As light as this genre seemingly comes nowadays, the Donna and Wayne Powers-scripted version follows a group of thieves (Wahlberg, Donald Sutherland, Seth Green, and Jason Statham among them) who end up being double-crossed by one of their associates (Edward Norton) following what was to be their last big heist. Norton escapes with the loot and takes Sutherland down in the process (don't worry, this was given away in all the trailers), but Wahlberg recruits the remaining gang and adds Sutherland's safecracker daughter (Charlize Theron) in an effort to get the gold back.

The car chases are crisply edited and exciting, the story is told with a dash of humor (obviously not as outlandish as the '69 version, but what could be?) while the cast is just engaging enough for the material to work. This comes in spite of the movie's relatively scant character development, which is one area where its more relaxed predecessor has an advantage (and nobody is going to argue that Mark Wahlberg is a suitable replacement for Michael Caine!).

That said, THE ITALIAN JOB '03 is -- like the original -- solid entertainment most of the way, and Paramount's DVD releases of both versions offer plenty of special features.

The 1969 cut offers a gorgeous, 2.35 widescreen transfer that looks immaculate. The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is superior to most soundtracks that date from the era, while supplementary features include an engaging, informative commentary by producer Michael Deeley and "Italian Job" expert Matthew Field, three Making Of documentaries offering fresh interviews and insights, multiple trailers, and a deleted scene with an introduction from Field. This DVD Special Edition was available in Europe late last year and comes strongly recommended for fans of the original, particularly for its low (under $20) price tag.

Not to be outdone, the 2003 ITALIAN JOB boasts its own superior extra features. While the transfer (2.35 widescreen) and sound (5.1 Dolby Digital) are both up to today's expected technical standards, extra features include six deleted scenes, a Making Of that's predictably more promotional in nature than the featurette produced for the original film, a segment on the script, a closer examination of the stunts and car chases, plus the original trailer. Jolly good!


Aisle Seat Capsule Reviews

DEAD HEAT ON A MERRY-GO-ROUND (**1/2, 107 mins., 1966; Columbia TriStar): James Coburn plays a just-released convict who returns to society and tries to knock over a bank at LAX in this generic '60s heist picture -- albeit one with a blackout twist ending. Coburn is cool and suitably suave in his performance as Eli Kotch, a con man who latches onto Boston girl Camilla Sparv and assembles a team of experts to help him put the heist over. Bernard Girard's film is light and provides nostalgic '60s entertainment, along with a Stu Phillips score typical of the era. On the downside, the movie goes on a bit, and is almost too low-key for its own good. Columbia TriStar's DVD marks the debut of the movie on video in ANY format, and offers a clean 1.85 transfer with solid mono sound. Movie buffs take note: the film features one of the first performances of a very young Harrison Ford, who receives his own chapter stop (kudos to the Columbia DVD team) for his one scene appearance!


VIEW FROM THE TOP (**, 87 mins., 2003, PG-13; Miramax): Incredibly odd, '60s-ish romantic comedy with Gwenyth Paltrow as a small-town girl who wants to escape her dreary existence by becoming a flight attendant. Director Bruno Baretto's movie is over at the 79 minute mark and offers a handful of music-video montages (and the requisite outtake reel) to pad the running time. It all feels so arbitrary, and yet there's a terrific cast on-hand: Paltrow, Christina Applegate, Kelly Preston, Rob Lowe, Mark Ruffalo, Candice Bergen, and even Mike Myers in an over-the-top cameo as a cross-eyed employee of the airline. There had to have been something in Eric Wald's script that drew interest from the cast, yet the final result is an ever-so-slight vehicle that seems decades out of its element. (Paltrow recently admitted that the movie was cut to shreds, with the final cut barely resembling the original intent of the story). Miramax's DVD offers a sunny 2.35 transfer and bouncy 5.1 soundtrack (sporting lots of songs and Theodore Shapiro score), though it's light on supplements, with very brief featurettes offering little of interest in terms of how the movie was made.


HEAVEN'S PRISONERS (**1/2, 133 mins., 1995, R; New Line): Uneven but certainly stylish mystery-thriller from director Phil Joanou. Alec Baldwin stars as Dave Robicheaux, an ex-New Orleans cop who relocates to a secluded bayou with his wife (Kelly Lynch), only to have a plane crash in his new backyard. A little girl survives, but what transpires sends Baldwin into a web of deceit involving the local authorities and a drug lord (Eric Roberts) with a sexy wife (Teri Hatcher) and a childhood connection with the former cop. Based on the bestselling novel by James Lee Burke and scripted by Harley Peyton and Scott Frank, HEAVEN'S PRISONERS might have been the beginning of a series of films, but its poor box-office performance (it was one of the final films from Savoy Pictures) curtailed any prospects of a sequel. Though Baldwin's performance is a bit much, the strong supporting cast is excellent -- especially Mary Stuart Masterson as a stripper who comforts Baldwin. New Line's DVD offers a strong 1.85 widescreen transfer along with 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks, sporting a strong dramatic score by George Fenton.


NEXT WEEK: The Aisle Seat Halloween Edition with DRAGONSLAYER, CAPTAIN KRONOS, and much more! Email comments to dursina@att.net and we'll see you then. Cheers!


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