DVD REVIEW – JAN 17, 2008





The Pianist (Universal)


Universal has just released a slew of HD DVD products, and many of them are among the best the new format has seen (and others…not so much). Most impressive of the new bunch is The Pianist (Universal), Roman Polanski’s soaring, devastating, exceptional Holocaust tale starring Adrian Brody. In addition to the film being one of the better dramas of the last few years, this disc sports a stellar transfer and a simple but elegant Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix (if only there were a few more bonuses to mention).


White Noise (Universal)
White Noise 2 (Universal)


Less intriguing are White Noise and White Noise 2 (Universal), both of which house appropriate (and often stunning) transfers, but come up waaay short in the story department. I can definitely appreciate that there’s a certain degree of fan-geek porn in the possibility of seeing Battlestar Galactica mistress Katee Sackoff and Firefly hunk Nathan Fillion in the same movie, but White Noise 2 is a hideous piece of work (even worse than the Michael Keaton original, which is dull as dirt). Neither have any notable bonus features; both are worth skipping.


Eastern Promises (Universal)


David Cronenberg’s latest – Eastern Promises (Universal) – may not be everybody’s cup of tea (critics love it; audience find it slow and surprisingly short), but its HD DVD presence is lovely on its inaugural home entertainment edition. This writer found this tale of Russian mob nastiness in modern London to be an exceptional achievement (Viggo Mortensen’s performance is really a thing of wonder), and this HD DVD does great justice to the film’s extraordinary sense of mood and grittiness. But where is the Cronenberg commentary? The fact that two measly featurettes are all we get on this edition is definitely worth a demerit or five.


Underdog (Buena Vista)


On the Blu-ray front, we have good news and bad news. The bad news is that it’s difficult to hate the new live-action Blu-ray disc of Underdog (Buena Vista) because the technical prowess of the release is exceptional. Of course the movie itself is beyond terrible – did Earth really need an Underdog remake? – but the 2.35:1 10800p transfer here is staggeringly clear, and the PCM 5.1 surround mix is both bold and forceful. And Hell – there are more bonuses here than any Underdog fan could possibly ask for (deleted scenes, bloopers, music videos – even extra added deleted scenes and a cartoon as a Blu-ray exclusive!).


Con Air (Buena Vista)
The Rock (Buena Vista)


Con Air’s (Buena Vista) visual palette may not be as pristine as Underdog’s, but the movie is a significant step up from that film’s prissy tween schemes. Sure, this Nicholas Cage prison-break movie isn’t exactly a classic (well, it’s not even close, really, but…) but an upgraded transfer makes the film look fantastic on Blu-ray (and the uncompressed PCM 5.1 sound mix is out of this world). But the real MVP of the format’s newer releases is The Rock (Buena Vista), which hits Blu-ray with a Michael Bay-sized BANG. The movie is one of the better brain-dead adventure flicks of the 90s, and in addition to housing monstrously good video and audio presence on this new-generation disc, the company shoehorns over many of the bonuses featured on the heretofore definitive Criterion Collection DVD release of the film. Buy a Blu-ray setup and watch this one immediately: You won’t be sorry.


The Mod Squad: Season 1, Volume 1 (Paramount)


On the TV front, we unfortunately have just a handful of releases that will appeal to diehard fans and few others. The Mod Squad: Season 1, Volume 1 (Paramount) is probably the best of the bunch – any excuse to see Peggy Lipton scurry around in her Twiggy-era getups is a good excuse – but this first DVD release of the series is only the first half of its first go-round (boooo!), so you won’t be able to follow your favorite heavy, groovy crime-fighting squad to the end of their first round of adventure. Way to kill the buzz, man…



Hawaii Five-O: The Third Season (Paramount)
Mission: Impossible: The Third TV Season (Paramount)


Far more exciting are Hawaii Five-O: The Third Season (Paramount) and Mission: Impossible: The Third TV Season (Paramount). This writer’s of an age group that didn’t get a chance to see any of these episodes in their original broadcast (I may have been privy to a Hawaii Five-O episode or two, but I was in diapers at the time), and what’s most impressive about these releases is how well the shows hold up. One would think that the infinite pop culture references involving Mission: Impossible alone would end up making its original shows look like antiquated novelty items from the deep past, but each of these third-season sets bring the kind of adventure and intrigue we all wish were still on TV.


The Riches: The Complete First Season (Fox)
The Tudors: The Complete First Season (Paramount)


This sentiment is confirmed by two new sets of shows that underperform in nearly every way. The cast assembled for The Riches: The Complete First Season (Fox) is magnificent – Eddie Izzard is a comic genius, and anyone who’s seen her guest spots on Will & Grace can attest to the fact that Minnie Driver is just as capable of getting a laugh as Eddie – but the show itself is so been-there-done-that that it quickly becomes depressing watching two massive talents being wasted so fully. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers is a capable actor, as well, but The Tudors: The Complete First Season (Paramount) suffers the same fate as The Riches. This modern reinterpretation of the story of Henry VIII has set and costume opulence aplenty (the show looks like a million bucks – and probably cost six times more than that to look that good), but while there are moments of greedy, sexy magic every now and then, mostly the show pales in comparison to the star talent it contains.