Aisle Seat Re-Issue DVD Edition
Are New Special Editions Worth the Upgrade?
Plus: SMALLVILLE flies onto DVD
By Andy Dursin
The TV-on-DVD parade continues this week with the first season box set
of SMALLVILLE (***1/2, 922 mins., 2001-02, Warner), which -- as
it readies its third season on the air -- has to rank as one of the most
successful super-hero TV series ever produced.
I've been an avid fan of The WB teen Superman program ever since its
debut, but the show has grown by leaps and bounds from its beginnings into
an engaging character drama -- with a dash of comic book heroism, of course
-- that offers a fresh take on the Man of Steel.
Some of you undoubtedly may have caught the show during its first-season
infancy, back when it resembled a "Freak of the Week" program with Smallville
students and/or residents stumbling into Kryptonite and turning into villains
each episode -- and quickly wrote it off. Judging by very early episodes
like "Hothead" (with ex-Wonder Years dad Dan Lauria as a football coach
who turns into a telekinetic nut a la "Carrie"), you wouldn't have been
totally wrong to tune out.
Doing so, though, ultimately proved to be a mistake, since the program
quickly corrected itself, focused in on its lead characters (Tom Welling's
sensitive Clark Kent, Kristin Kreuk's Lana Lang, and Annette O'Toole and
John Schneider as Clark's parents), and initiated a Superman mythology
all its own. Furthermore, freed from the unrelenting sarcasm and narcissism
of teen angst shows like "Dawson's Creek," SMALLVILLE managed to develop
a likable set of young protagonists with unpredictable personalities --
Michael Rosenbaum's charismatic Lex Luthor is a prime example -- in establishing
its own identity in the Man of Steel franchise.
Warner's massive six-disc DVD set -- nicely packaged with episode notes,
chapter stops, and brief commentary from creators Alfred Gough and Miles
Millar -- includes all 21 episodes from the first season. Again, if you
get a bit antsy during the early shows, stay with it -- your patience will
be rewarded by the time "Hourglass" and "Rogue" (episodes 6 and 9, respectively)
bring the central plot to the forefront.
The widescreen transfers are immaculate, and likely will far surpass
your initial experience of watching the episodes on the tube. The 2.0 Dolby
Stereo soundtracks are also elaborate given the TV confines, sporting excellent
scores by Mark Snow and appropriate contemporary rock tracks that, more
often than not, perfectly fit the action.
Supplements aren't bountiful, but what's here will be of major interest
to fans: deleted scenes from the Pilot and first episode ("Metamorphosis")
are included, along with a commentary track from the creators and director
David Nutter on the pilot and "Metamorphosis" (note that these features
were previously available on the Canadian/overseas DVD of the "Smallville"
pilot). Additional extras include brief TV promo spots from the WB, an
interactive map of Smallville, and DVD-ROM material.
It's no secret that Warner Bros. has long been trying -- to no avail
-- to resurrect, and reinvent, the Superman franchise for the big-screen.
After abortive attempts over the years with the involvement of Tim Burton
and Nicolas Cage to Brett Rattner, pre- production on the new Superman
movie seems to have ground to a halt.
If the studio was smart, they'd wait until SMALLVILLE completes its
run and launch the program -- with Tom 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 history.
Special Edition DVD Re-Issues: Are They
It seems as if there are a handful of DVD titles that go out of print
each month. All of a sudden, these previously-available discs become coveted
"collector's items" on online auction sites -- though in many cases, said
discontinued titles have been given the ax simply because a superior version
is coming down the road.
That's been the case with several new Special Edition DVD releases,
including the Brian DePalma remake of SCARFACE (***, 170 mins.,
R, 1983, Universal).
The Al Pacino-Michelle Pfeiffer crime thriller was previously issued
during the early days of the DVD format in a single-disc edition that reprised
all of the contents from the deluxe "Signature Collection" laserdisc. Along
with the supplements, though, came a dreary, weak transfer, which wasn't
optimized to take advantage of the superior DVD format (it actually rehashed
the laserdisc's transfer, which actually wasn't up to the standards of
the LD medium, either).
Universal withdrew the disc some time ago, making the earlier DVD a
collectible item -- one that's utterly worthless now with the 2-disc ANNIVERSARY
EDITION that streets next week from the studio.
This fully remastered edition is a huge improvement on all previous
video releases of this flawed but entertaining '80s cult classic, both
in the sound and visual departments. The 2.35 widescreen presentation is
far more colorful, cleaner, and crisper than the previous DVD/LD release.
Some grain is apparent at certain points, but when compared to the earlier
discs, this is a huge upgrade from a visceral standpoint. The sound, meanwhile,
has been remixed for 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital, and gives the various effects
and Giorgio Moroder's score a bass-heavy boost the earlier DVD didn't have.
Even better is that (almost) all of the supplements from the earlier
DVD have been reprised, along with the inclusion of fresh interviews. Laurent
Bouzereau's fine documentary is complimented by deleted scenes and a montage
of clips from the movie's censored TV prints, while a new 22-minute featurette
looks at the movie's strong influence on the hip-hop community (an "Inspired
By the Movie" hip-hop "Scarface" album has just been released). It's a
great package with one major omission: none of the original trailers or
marketing materials have been included.
Overall, though, if you're a big fan of the movie and were disappointed
by the presentation on the earlier DVD and laserdisc editions, "Scarface"
is well worth the upgrade.
Also worth a re-purchase for that very reason is the Deluxe
"Superbit" Presentation of David Lean's classic LAWRENCE OF ARABIA
(****, 227 mins., 1962, Columbia TriStar).
Like all Superbit editions, the DVD lacks any supplemental features,
devoting the entire space on the disc to a high-bit rate transfer and additional
soundtracks, including a new DTS mix.
Unlike Columbia's 2001 DVD release of "Lawrence," though, the Superbit
transfer is derived from a newly-restored version compiled by producers
Robert A. Harris and Jim Painten -- one that corrects some of the flaws
from the previous DVD, enhancing the overall picture quality.
It's an appreciable improvement from the previous disc: colors are stronger
and the image brighter, while the 5.1 DTS soundtrack is more potent and
powerful than the earlier 5.1 Dolby Digital mix. FSM readers will also
note that an error in the earlier DVD's 5.1 soundtrack (an inadvertently
looped segment of Maurice Jarre's score, heard when Lawrence stages a rally
on top of a train) has been corrected by Harris for this Superbit release.
Fans will undoubtedly want to own both DVD editions from Columbia, since
the earlier Limited
Edition package includes a bevy of supplements, while the superior
presentation is included in the Superbit edition.
Aficionados of the Coen Brothers should be on the lookout
for MGM's new Special Edition of their hit FARGO (***1/2, 98 mins.,
1996, R; out next week), starring Frances McDormand in her Oscar-winning
role as a pregnant Minnesota police chief investigating a kidnapping/murder
The movie is one of my favorite Coen films (along with "The Big Lebowski"),
mainly because of its mix of humor and mayhem, strong dialogue and fantastic
performances from McDormand, William H. Macy and Steve Buscemi. It's a
funny, incisive piece that ranks right up there with the Coens' finest
work (thankfully the proposed TV version, starring "Soprano" wife Edie
Falco, was rejected, though you can still find the pilot being broadcast
on the Trio Channel).
Previously available from Polygram in a no-frills DVD package (reissued
by MGM a few years ago), the new Special Edition offers a new though not
especially comprehensive documentary, "Minnesota Nice," highlighted by
recent interviews with the Coens, McDormand, and Macy. The brothers prefer
not to give audio commentaries, so the spotlight is here given to cinematographer
Roger Deakins, who gives an occasionally interesting talk about the production
of the film. A pop-up trivia track is also included, along with an advertising
gallery, a segment from the "Charlie Rose Show" that aired prior to the
release of the movie, trailers, and TV spots.
Visually, the transfer is a tad superior to the earlier Polygram DVD,
and the 5.1 sound gives a bit of added depth to Carter Burwell's haunting
Aisle Seat DVD Picks of the Week
BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM. 112 mins., 2002, PG-13, Fox, available
Sept. 30. ANDY'S RATING: ***1/2. CAST: Parminder Nagra, Keira Knightley,
Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Andupam Kher, Archie Panjabi, Shaznay Lewis, Frank
Harper, Juliet Stevenson. COMPOSER: Craig Pruess. SCRIPT: Gurinder Chandha,
Guljit Bindra, Paul Mayeda Berges. DIRECTOR: Gurinder Chandha. DVD SPECIAL
FEATURES: Commentary, 10 deleted/extended scenes, Making Of featurette,
international trailers, director-hosted "cooking" segment, music video
and outtakes. TECHNICAL SPECS: 1.85 Widescreen (separate full-frame version
is also available), 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
The British box-office smash that became a bona-fide sleeper hit in
the U.S. (raking in over $30 million domestically), BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM
proved that -- even if soccer isn't the cultural phenomenon here that it
is everywhere else -- its story of culture clashes, personal dreams, and
family relationships is truly universal.
Parminder Nagra is wonderful as an Indian girl in London whose deft
"footie" moves draw the attention of female soccer player Keira Knightley
(the female lead from "Pirates of the Caribbean," and just as appealing
here). Soon Nagra is out on the field, cutting it like her idol -- British
superstar David Beckham -- but her family disapproves of her actions, wanting
her to instead act like a proper Indian girl and go to university. Complications
ensue even further once Nagra falls for the Irish coach of their team (Jonathan
Rhys Meyers), and the day of the team's final game coincides with the wedding
of Nagra's older sister.
Director-co-writer Gurinder Chandha has created an enormously appealing,
winning film that should appeal to just about everyone. The performances
of Nagra, Knightley, and Rhys Meyers compliment the already well-drawn
characters in the script, while strong supporting work is turned in by
a superb supporting cast, especially Juliet Stevenson as Knightley's long-suffering
mother. There are laughs, colorful situations, a dash of romance and a
lot of emotion poured into the film, but none of it is phony or feels overly
In some ways, the film reminded me of the appeal of "My Big Fat Greek
Wedding" -- celebrating an ethnic culture without stereotypically looking
down on it -- though the characters and situations in BECKHAM feel more
real and less sitcom-ish. In any event, don't miss this terrific and highly
entertaining film, as good as its advance billing and international success
Fox's DVD offers a fine 1.85 widescreen transfer that seems a bit tightly
matted but otherwise is strong. The 5.1 soundtrack is filled with both
traditional and Indian pop tunes, while a collection of solid special features
round out the disc: commentary from the director, 10 deleted/extended scenes,
a featurette "Who Wants to Cook Aloo Gobi?" with the director and "The
Aunties," a Making Of segment, music video, outtakes, and a pair of international
SCROOGE. 114 mins., 1970, G, Paramount. ANDY'S
RATING: ****. CAST: Albert Finney, Alec Guinness, Kenneth More, Dame Edith
Evans, Laurence Naismith, Michael Medwin, David Collings, Anton Rodgers,
Suzanne Neve. COMPOSER: Leslie Bricusse, supervised by Ian Fraser. SCRIPT:
Leslie Bricusse. DIRECTOR: Ronald Neame. DVD TECHNICAL SPECS: 2.35 Widescreen,
5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
If you grew up watching this holiday favorite on local TV like I did,
then there's little I can add about how magical SCROOGE is.
Leslie Bricusse's 1970 musical adaptation of "A Christmas Carol" is
-- along with the Alastair Sim and Muppets versions -- my favorite adaptation
of the Dickens classic. There's vivid Panavision cinematography from Oswald
Morris; evocative production design by Terence Marsh; a tuneful score by
Bricusse (including "December the 25th" and "Thank You Very Much"); and
wonderful performances from Albert Finney as Scrooge, Alec Guinness as
Marley, and Kenneth More and Edith Evans as two of the ghosts Ebeneezer
encounters on that fateful Christmas Eve.
Few presentations of the story convey such a creepy atmosphere as well:
the scenes prior to Scrooge's meeting with Marley look and feel like a
legitimate ghost story, while the movie's superb special effects (particularly
for their time) lend an able assist to the great cast and festive tone.
Paramount has done a phenomenal job translating SCROOGE to DVD. The
studio has retained the original Overture and Exit Music (in full 5.1)
on menu screens prior to and immediately following the film. The 2.35 widescreen
transfer is the best- looking presentation of the movie I've ever seen
(previous video versions were dark, scanned and cropped, except for Fox's
mid '90s laserdisc issue, which was softer than the DVD), while the 5.1
Dolby Digital sound does full justice to Bricusse's score and Ian Fraser's
Although the disc is devoid of any extras, the price and presentation
make this highly recommended, and a must for the upcoming holiday season!
New on DVD
GAS FOOD LODGING. 101 mins., 1991, R, Columbia TriStar. ANDY'S
RATING: ***. CAST: Brooke Adams, Ione Skye, Fairuza Balk, Robert Knepper,
Donovan Leitch, James Brolin. COMPOSER: J Mascis. SCRIPT: Allison Anders
from the novel by Richard Peck. DIRECTOR: Allison Anders. DVD TECHNICAL
SPECS: 1.85 Widescreen, 2.0 Dolby Surround.
Single mom Brooke Adams struggles to raise teen daughters Ione Skye
(the tramp) and Fairuza Balk (the good girl) in a dusty, isolated New Mexico
town, in director-writer Allison Anders' vivid adaptation of Richard Peck's
The performances of the three leads -- especially Balk as the younger
sister, who loves foreign films and dreams of better days ahead -- anchor
this gritty and involving drama, which signaled Anders as a talent to watch
during the early '90s. While her work since hasn't lived up to the potential
she displayed in this film, GAS FOOD LODGING still holds up as a memorable
study of three people trying to make it in the world, any way they know
Columbia TriStar's DVD offers a 1.85 anamorphic widescreen transfer,
which looks well-composed throughout. Since the movie was a low-budget
effort, the picture appears soft in places, though this only adds to the
gritty realism of the story. The Dolby Surround soundtrack isn't anything
out of the ordinary, sporting a moody score by J Mascis.
HOLES. 117 mins., 2003, PG, Disney. ANDY'S RATING:
**1/2. CAST: Shia LaBeouf, Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voight, Tim Blake Nelson,
Patricia Arquette, Henry Winkler. COMPOSER: Joel McNeely. SCRIPT: Louis
Sachar, based on his novel. DIRECTOR: Andrew Davis. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES:
Six deleted scenes, gag reel, two commentary tracks (cast and crew), On
Set featurette, music video, Making Of featurette. TECHNICAL SPECS: 1.85
Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.
Oddball, almost indescribable Disney release about young Stanley Yelnats,
who's sent away to a juvenile facility, Camp Green Lake, where he and his
peers are forced to dig holes in the middle of a barren desert. The warden
(Sigourney Weaver) and her cohorts (Jon Voight, Tim Blake Nelson) seem
to know more about what's happening than they let on, though as the film
progresses, the story of Stanley's checkered family history -- involving
crazy curses and missed opportunities -- unfolds, gradually revealing the
A hit among its age group last spring, HOLES is based on a bestselling
novel by Louis Sachar, who adapted his work for the big screen. The performances
by the young cast (especially Shia LaBeouf as Stanley) are excellent, though
some of the scenery- chewing work by Voight and Nelson gets a bit tiresome.
Speaking of which, HOLES was directed by "Fugitive" vet Andrew Davis, and
while the movie is certainly entertaining, it's also needlessly overlong,
padded to the two hour mark with too many trivial scenes that could have
been left on the cutting room floor. On the whole, though, the movie's
magical moments shine through (especially the flashback scenes with Patricia
Arquette), and Joel McNeely's moving, understated score easily ranks as
one of his best. HOLES is definitely worth a look for older children and
teenagers. (One word of warning for parents, though: some of the subject
matter is a bit heavy, so take the PG rating into account if you have very
young kids in your viewing audience).
Disney's DVD offers a 1.85 widescreen transfer that captures the dusty
tone of Stephen St. John's cinematography. The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound
is superb, while special features include a commentary track by the author
and director, plus a wackier cast track provided by the youthful stars.
Making Of segments, six deleted scenes, and a music video round out the
Family Finds: New Discs From Disney &
When I was a kid, I played with all kinds of things: Star Wars figures,
G.I. Joe playsets, the Shogun Warriors, and even a Lego set or two. These
days Lego isn't as much about the classic construction sets as it is about
"Bionicle," which can be best described (from my admittedly limited expertise
on this subject) as Lego-meets-the-Transformers.
Apparently a worldwide phenomenon among kids, Bionicle has spun off
into a good- looking though convoluted movie, BIONICLE: MASK OF LIGHT
(**1/2, 74 mins., 2003, PG; Miramax), which attempts to establish a
mythology for the figures and playsets kids and Lego fans will recognize.
The result is an impressively-mounted CGI film following the exploits
of two young "Matorans" who stumble upon a legendary mask of light belonging
to a "Toa," a powerful good-guy who could help the Matorans in their struggle
against the evil Rahkshi.
If it sounds complicated, trust me, it is. You'd better be a fan of
the Bionicle franchise to fully understand the characters and scenario
posed by the 74-minute feature, which feels at times like "The Dark Crystal,"
just with lots of little robots running around and indulging in some occasional
extreme sports action.
Still, if you've got kids who like the characters, they'll undoubtedly
enjoy the action- packed special effects and fast-moving plot, which has
just surfaced from Miramax on DVD with a stellar 1.78 transfer and potent
DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks. Extras include a commentary track,
brief deleted scenes, and -- for those who have yet to be initiated into
the saga -- an "enhanced viewing mode" that provides back story while the
film is on-going.
Two efforts from a kinder, gentler (if arguably tackier)
period in family entertainment have also been newly issued by Disney: ESCAPE
TO WITCH MOUNTAIN (***, 97 mins., 1975, G, Disney) and RETURN FROM
WITCH MOUNTAIN (**1/2, 94 mins., 1978, G, Disney).
These live-action efforts are above-par for the Ron Miller tenure at
Disney, offering fun sci-fi/fantasy stories for kids about psychic teens
Tony (Ike Eisenmann) and Tia Malone (Kim Richards). The duo's power is
exploited by evil billionaire Ray Milland in the original film, with the
Malone twins on the run from danger when help arrives in the form of kindly
camper Eddie Albert. Later, some otherworldly stuff begins to happen, though
if you haven't seen the movie (or can't remember it), I won't spoil it
Johnny Mandel scored the original film, while Lalo Schifrin took over
musical duties on the sequel, RETURN FROM WITCH MOUNTAIN, which is more
conventional and slightly less magical than its predecessor. Director John
Hough was brought back to direct the action, which this time offers criminal
masterminds Christopher Lee and Bette Davis attempting to recruit Tony's
power for their own nefarious purposes.
It's more formulaic than the original, but still entertaining considering
its target audience, and Disney's DVDs offer excellent special features
on both discs. Audio commentaries with Eisenmann, Richards, and Hough are
included on each film, along with revealing, new "Making Of" segments featuring
recent interviews with the cast and crew. Bonus cartoons and shorter featurettes
culled from the Disney Channel are also on-hand, while the 1.75 THX-approved
widescreen transfers look very good. The sound has also been remixed for
5.1 Dolby Digital, making these the definitive presentations of both WITCH
Disney has also released a good-looking, full-frame edition
of the charming 1988 feature THE BRAVE LITTLE TOASTER (***, 90 mins.,
G, Disney), which remains one of the most entertaining animated films of
its day (back before Menken & Ashman became mainstays at the studio).
Yes, it's a musical adventure about a toaster, vacuum, electric blanket,
lamp and radio that join forces to find their former owner, but under the
circumstances, the movie works just splendidly. The voices are amusing,
the songs are decent, David Newman's score is superb -- Disney was certainly
wise to pick up the independently-produced feature, which ended up spawning
a pair of sequels (including, I kid you not, "The Brave Little Toaster
Goes to Mars" with the voice of DeForest Kelley!).
The DVD offers a decent full-frame transfer that seems a little banged
up than most animated Disney offerings on DVD, but few should mind. The
5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack fares better, and a "Making Of" segment profiles
the success of the original film and the production of the two, late '90s
Finally, Columbia has dusted off an entertaining movie
for young teenagers, THE BABYSITTERS CLUB (**1/2, 1995, 92 mins,
PG; Columbia TriStar), an adaptation of the successful Scholastic book
Schuyler Fisk (Sissy Spacek's daughter), Rachael Leigh Cook, and Larisa
Oleynik are a few of the familiar faces who appear in this cute tale of
a club of babysitters (go figure!), their tween romances, dealings with
business associates (including Ellen Burstyn), and discovery of long lost
fathers (Peter Horton from "Thirtysomething," whose co-star on that series,
Melanie Mayron, directed this film).
The movie isn't anything out of the ordinary, but it's good fun for
its target demographic just the same. That same audience shouldn't mind
that Columbia's DVD is full frame, seeming a little cramped at times on
the sides but passable overall. The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is more accomplished,
sporting a bouncy collection of pop tracks and a David Michael Frank score.
NEXT WEEK: The Mail Bag returns, I promise (hay
fever took down this week's edition). Direct all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
and we'll catch you then. Excelsior!