DVD REVIEWS – OCT 18, 2007



  • The War (Paramount)


The goose-pimply thing that makes Ken Burns’ The War (Paramount) so powerful is its intimacy. It’s the same compliment that could be made for The Civil War and even Jazz – no matter how multi-faceted and complex the narrative, one always gets the impression that these grand stories of love, loss, war and compassion are being told just to me. Ken Burns documentaries aren’t grandiose, they’re panoramic in scope, but they aren’t big-bellied: No matter how epic and long they are, at their heart and soul, they’re simple stories, simply told.

And The War very well could be Burns’ masterwork. I missed the kind of gentle authoritative quality of Shelby Foote’s voice (a narration that made The Civil War veritably crackle to life) – Burns instead relies on multiple narrators and contributors – but this is a minor, almost incidental nitpick. The War is just as good as everyone says it is – a masterwork that is as in-depth as it is elegiac and ethereal.

This six-DVD set does it fantastic justice, as well. The 16×9 anamorphic widescreen transfers are exceptional, to be sure, but the 5.1 sound mixes are sometimes a bit much (sound effects and atmospherics can often get histrionic and overdone). And there is a wealth of bonus features that supplement the documentary exceptionally. Ask for it as a Christmas present: You won’t regret it.


  • The Jungle Book (Buena Vista).


Resist The Jungle Book (Buena Vista). I dare you.

I mean, come on. “The Bear Necessities”? Baloo floating down a river on his back? Little Mowgli learning the ways of the forest? This is gold, people.

And Disney has done here what it’s done to every one of its past animated classics on DVD: It’s given The Jungle Book a pristine and euphorically complete DVD presentation. The video transfer is absolutely stunning – a comparison Disney’s initial release of the film on DVD leads one to state that the differences between the two are literally night and day – and both the newly-upgraded 5.1 surround mix and the film’s original mono soundtrack impress.

And then there are the bonuses. The commentary track here is imperative listening for any Disney fan – in addition to animators who contributed to the original film, we get commentary from modern animators who continue to marvel in the film’s provocative filmic presence – and the multiple featurettes showcase just how many years of manpower go into making a film as effortlessly enjoyable as The Jungle Book.

You know you love it.

  • Jericho: The Complete First Season (Paramount)


Jericho: The Complete First Season (Paramount) has its heart in the right place, but while it is definitely the recipient of an absolutely kick-ass pilot, this first season gets bogged down real quick in overly melodramatic plot convolutions and unbelievable story arcs.

The show’s premise is cool as Hell (like something out of a great Stephen King book from the 1980s): A small town in Kansas is witness to a demonically terrifying mushroom cloud explosion and is cut off from the rest of the modern world, left to fend for themselves, get caught up in very real (and very human) fear paradigms, and – most importantly – figure out what the Hell is going on.

The major culprit: Skeet Ulrich. Yeah, his greasy beau presence in Scream was suited to the actor’s Johnnny Depp-meets-Mickey Rourke smarminess, but as protagonist Jake Green, he lacks the kind of effortless charisma necessary for a role like his (look at Matthew Fox from Lost to see when that kind of acting presence comes off just right). But as flagrant as Jericho’s shortcomings are, this writer can definitely see how fanboys were inspired to begin a letter-writing campaign to keep the show on the air (and it’s still on, folks!).

The show looks fine, though, and has appropriately enveloping 5.1 sound mixes to accompany each episode. The annals of bonus features will keep devotees interested for hours and hours (I was bored halfway through the first one).
I blame Skeet.


  • What About Brian: The Complete Series (Buena Vista)


What About Brian: The Complete Series (Buena Vista) is the kind of TV-on-DVD set that only a mother could love. I mean, this writer knows that the basis of every sitcom (good or bad) is silly and redundant, but as a professional TV watcher, I know when enough is enough: And that moment occurs about halfway through the What About Brian pilot.

Barry Watson plays the eponymous protagonist here, and while the actor is a lovable enough guy, the show’s writers never give him or his co-stars any chance to break free of the Friends-meets-Will & Grace friendship/love narrative paradigm. Like The Single Guy so many years before it, the show hinges on the charisma and endearing tractor beam of its main star (in that case, it was Jonathan Silverman) and, again, like that show, What About Brian smashes the potential draw of its leading man by surrounding everything that character does with been-there-done-that sitcom stupidity.

But the show must have fans out there, and for them, the 16×9 anamorphic transfers and 5.1 sound mixes will be a lovely sending-off gift for the series, and even though the bonus features on this set – three commentaries, an unaired episode and two featurettes – are dull as dirt, Barry Watson’s mom probably loves them.


  • Brothers and Sisters: The Complete First Season (Buena Vista)


The good news: Brothers and Sisters: The Complete First Season (Buena Vista) is far better than one might expect. This weepy, almost-primed-for-Lifetime drama series about a family trying to put their lives back together after daddy William (Tom Skerritt) bites the big one is strident and earnest – it takes itself seriously enough to be a legitimate drama, but doesn’t get mired in the soap-opera histrionics that typically malign series like this one.

The bad news: Brothers and Sisters really only works in fits and spurts, and this tumultuous success rate makes it kind of a bitch to get through. It’s easy to laud Sally Field’s Emmy-winning performance as the wife of the patriarch who is forced to both go through a personal Hell and keep her family together, but for every grand situation that the show’s producers put her in, she gets stuck in typical movie-of-the-week weepy scenarios that neither suit the show nor work emotionally.

The long and the short of it is that Brothers and Sisters is undeniably smart and often quite astute, but you’ll have to weather some storms to get to the good stuff. Maybe its second season is more air-tight.

This DVD set, though, is top-of-the-line. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfers and 5.1 sound mixes are both exceptionally strong – even for modern TV, they’re stunning – and the bonus features, while not exactly designed for anyone who’s not a giant fan of the show, are many (there are four commentaries, a few featurettes, a bonus episode, and some bloopers included).