THIS WEEK IN DVD’S – OCT 27, 2007
Stanley Kubrick: Director’s Series Collection (Warner)
Well, it’s here – one of the most hotly-anticipated titles of the year. And is it worth it?
Stanley Kubrick: Director’s Series Collection (Warner) has been gestating for a while – the collection comes in tandem with a slew of HD DVD/Blu-ray editions of the films – and while I admit to being an absolutely strident Kubrick-head, I have to say that there are both high points and low points here.
The good: Bonuses. The first two Kubrick multi-title sets were heavy on films but light on goodies (supposedly the way the director liked it). This time, though, each film gets at least a little love. The best of the bunch is 2001’s supplemental material, which sheds light on everything from early storyboard sketches to actor Keir Dullea attempting to take credit for various ideas within the film’s last (and brain-bendiest) sequence. Exceptional.
The bad: Where’s the rest? Dr. Strangelove isn’t a Warner title, but it was included on the earlier box sets – why did Warner not find a way to include it? And Barry Lyndon and Lolita may not be the director’s most popular films, but why exclude them from this set? And don’t get me started on the lack of Paths of Glory, Killer’s Kiss and The Killing – and why is it that no one can drum up a DVD release of Fear and Desire? Even if it’s just a bonus extra, Warner must know that there are thousands of geeks like myself who would re-purchase a box set just to add that to my shelf.
Here’s my humble opinion: This will not be the final say on Kubrick on DVD. Maybe a complete collection on Blu-ray/HD DVD is in the works, maybe not. But listen up, fellow Kubrick-philes: Don’t throw out that old Kubrick Collection set quite yet. You’ll still need it.
A Mighty Heart (Paramount)
Two of Warner’s newest HD DVD releases showcase both what’s great about high-def and what frustrates. First of all, who cares if Michael Bay’s Transformers (Paramount) is an overcooked, tone-deaf non-actioner with forgettable chase scenes and a dumb-as-dirty screenplay? It looks fuckin’ bad-ass on this HD-DVD transfer, like it’s been freshly minted off the best film print possible. And if one has even a modicum of interest in the film, the HD DVD-exclusive framework from which to view bonus features is exceptional: With picture-in-picture analysis, background and interview footage, even this non-fan was sucked into the Transformers universe for hours.
A Mighty Heart (Paramount), however, proves that the format isn’t exactly air-tight. Not only is this adaptation of Marianne Pearl’s devastating nonfiction tale put together poorly – imagine Paul Greengrass’ style without the kinetic narrative movement – but director Michael Winterbottom totally wastes an exceptional performance by Angelina Jolie (as Pearl) by letting his ill-informed sense of style outweigh the emotion at the story’s center. And to add insult to injury, this HD DVD transfer is not excellent: Sure, the film has a documentary-style hand-held motion that would rather be defined as ‘shaky’ than ‘beautiful’, but color accuracy is way off, and while the detail here is crisp and punchy, the overall palette is messy and, well, just off.
So while Transformers on HD DVD is a hoot – even if you’re not a fan – A Mighty Heart’s next-gen release cements the fact that no matter how advanced home entertainment technology gets, true success is a title-by-title scenario.
Young Indiana Jones Chronicles: Volume One (Paramount)
Ready to mourn a certain part of your TV life, fellow thirtysomethings? Check out The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles: Volume One (Paramount).
For those of us who grew up with Indiana Jones, the concept of a weekly TV series was the bee’s knees: New Indy every week? Bring it on. But it took approximately three minutes for this writer to remember why The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles wasn’t on the air for very long: It sucks, man. The acting is bad, the screenwriting (especially in early episodes) is movie-of-the-week atrocious, and there are none of the kind of nuances included here that made the movie saga such an ingrained part of my viewing culture.
But there are fans out there that will look past the show’s shortcomings and get a chance to revel in an absolutely astonishing set of transfers, mixes and bonus features. Long story short: The show couldn’t possibly be presented more impressively. Yeah, this 12-DVD set (and it’s only the first volume!) is a lot to get through, but there are documentaries galore here, as well as commentaries, making-of featurettes, timelines, and, well, everything you could possibly hope for.
Let’s just hope that George Lucas’ Star Wars series is actually a better show, though.
MGM Holiday Classics Collection (MGM)
The MGM Holiday Classics Collection (MGM) is really only something your grandma will like. Not to say that The Bishop’s Wife, March of the Wooden Soldiers and Pocketful of Miracles are all bad films – The Bishop’s Wife is actually pretty damned good – but sets like these don’t do anything to endear these films to home entertainment enthusiasts. No bonuses, so-so transfers – a collection like this is only worth picking up if the films included on it truly merit a viewing, and as noble as facets of these pictures might be, as a whole, they remain second-tier holiday fare at best.
Planet Terror (Genius Products/The Weinstein Company)
And the disappointments keep coming: While Planet Terror (Genius Products/The Weinstein Company) was the exceptional primer coat of the behemoth known as Grindhouse (definitely the best film audiences ignored in 2007), no behind-the-scenes featurettes included on this 2-disc set can wash away the nasty taste of double dipping. Yes, this film about zombies and Bruce Willis and slutty nurses and a chick with a machine gun for a leg is arguably the most enchantingly engaging film of the year, but Planet Terror and Death Proof were meant to be seen together, and with all the faux-trailer/commercial meta-filmic magic that was the icing on the already-delicious cake.
So, yeah, I’m a jerk for lambasting this Planet Terror release – to be fair, the transfer and mix here are exceptional and even compared to the Death Proof set, there are more than a handful of goodies to enjoy – but, as every Grindhouse fan will tell you, we can literally start our clocks ticking toward a full, multi-disc Grindhouse DVD release in the coming year. I say rent this one now and save your pennies for the mega-version that is no doubt en route.
Fraggle Rock: The Complete Third Season (Hit!)
It has (thankfully) grown beyond nostalgia to stand alone as a singular viewing experience: Fraggle Rock: The Complete Third Season (Hit!) is the real deal. This writer was a devout FR fan back in the day – as a Muppet-head in the worst way, anything Jim Henson-related instantly became a top viewing experience priority – and when these season-long box sets started hitting DVD shelves, I was worried that the show was going to be met with the all-too-common “Oh, I looooved that show when I was a kid!” statement and then just gather dust in the cabinet.
But even three seasons in, Fraggle Rock is a one-of-a-kind success; it’s both an exceptional family entertainment and an astute ideological experiment that succeeds on almost every level (Henson wanted the show to broadcast what it would be like if different characters of different sizes and shapes lived in peace – with a few hiccups, of course). And these box sets are a hoot – sure, audio and video quality aren’t pristine, but there are some intriguing featurettes here, as well as an excellent booklet featuring some original sketches of show ideas and characters.
Start building your collection now (if you haven’t already).
Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut (Warner)
At this point, it has almost become a redundant, moot point – who could possibly give a shit about Oliver Stone’s Alexander? – but for those with even the most minute open mind toward Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut (Warner), the HD DVD experience of this film is one-of-a-kind.
Yes, there are elements of the film that don’t work – some of the CGI work is hardly even video-game-worthy, and there is so little hegemony among actors’ accents that it seems like every star here is delivering a performance in a different movie – but the sheer ambition of Oliver Stone’s near-four-hour epic is enough to at least merit a viewing. It’s as insane, euphoric, almost psychedelic interpretation of the Alexander the Great myth, and while silliness often abounds within its frame, the film remains a singular experiment in the land of mainstream filmmaking.
And one could hardly ask for more than what this HD DVD edition provides. The transfer is rock-solid, the sound mix is aggressive and completely enveloping, and while getting through Stone’s commentary track is not exactly easy – he’s joined by an Alexander the Great scholar who sometimes agrees with Stone’s take and sometimes doesn’t – the documentary included on the second disc of this edition is an essential making-of piece, documenting the blood, sweat, tears, embarrassment, and glory of the film.
Forget what you’ve heard about the movie and actually see it. I guarantee you’ll at least find it…interesting