DVDs for all tastes
The DVD is the fastest- growing new technology consumers have ever gobbled up. With Hollywood scrambling to keep up - to the tune of 100 releases a week - there is a DVD to stuff in every stocking this holiday season. With that certainty in mind, the Monitor offers the following list as a guide for the various tastes of your gift-receiving public.
Beauty and the Beast - Platinum Edition (Rated G, Disney, $29.99): An animated gem, this two-disc release of the only animated film nominated for Best Picture includes such worthwhile extras as three full versions of the film (the original release, a work-in-progress version, and a special edition with a new song, "Human Again"). Other features include games, a music video with Celine Dion, behind-the-scenes footage, and insights about animating with computers. - Gloria Goodale
E.T. (Rated PG, Universal Pictures, $29.98): America's favorite little alien gets a face-lift for the reissue of "E.T.," marking the 20th anniversary of Spielberg's most personal film. E.T. befriends a 10-year-old boy, who lives with his family in a chaotic suburban home. In interviews on this two-disc set, Spielberg recalls that the idea for "E.T." grew out of the loneliness he felt after his parents divorced. In this reissued version, Spielberg tucks in his favorite additional footage. He also discusses the limitations of special-effects technology in the '80s and shows how he applied digital brushstrokes to his "pet peeve shots" to make E.T. appear livelier. The DVD also features the audition tape of Henry Thomas (Elliot), who conjures up tears faster than you can say, "Phone home." Spielberg offers him the job on the spot. The best part about the obligatory Where Are They Now? interviews is seeing the cast all grown up 20 years later.
- Stephanie Cook Broadhurst
Ice Age (Rated PG, Fox, $29.99): This is a humorous tale about a motley crew of ancient animals who trudge through blizzards and over glaciers to return a lost infant to his parents as an acorn-crazed critter trails them. The computer animation is stunningly crisp: Woolly mammoth fur whips in the wind and ice reflects light. But the second part of this DVD set needs editing. There are interesting tidbits about high-tech animation's laborious process - but you'll probably want to skip most of the commentaries. And while the scampering Scrat is comedic in the film, you'll wish he were extinct by the time you've scanned all the DVD features. Still, Scrat's missing adventure is fun viewing, and kids will enjoy manipulating the rodent's quest for a nut in the games section.
Monsters, Inc. (Rated G, Disney/Pixar, $29.99): Dubbed directly from the digital original, this DVD sparkles with sharp, colorful life. But the inventive, charming film is just the beginning of what ought to be considered a DVD "magazine." This two-disc package is jammed with added content: a new animated film created exclusively for the DVD/video release, "Mike's New Car;" "For the Birds," the 2001 Academy Award winner for Best Animated Short Film; a sneak peek of Disney/Pixar's summer 2003 feature film, "Finding Nemo;" and the usual outtakes. (The so-called "outtakes" are actually fully animated originals - there's no such thing as a "take" in the world of animation). - G.G.
Scooby-Doo (Rated PG, Warner Bros., $26.98): Would you watch this dud of a movie for a Scooby snack? Probably not, especially if you knew the treat's secret ingredient: bland wheat paste. At the end of each take, cast members said they would spit out the "nasty" treats. This is probably one of the best little nuggets revealed in the extra features. There are a few other interesting tidbits, such as where it was filmed - in an abandoned power station in Australia. In the alternate scene segment, the director reveals he deleted a scene of Velma dancing in a bikini because it was out of character. But they should have kept the opening scene (later cut), a short segment of the original cartoon. After seeing this movie, you'll long for the superior animated version.
- Lisa Leigh Connors
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (Rated G, Dreamworks, $26.99): This wonderful family film, about a horse who refuses to be corralled, combines traditional cell animation with computer-generated graphics to fabulous effect. The opening sequence alone, traversing the entire Western landscape, is worth the purchase. But the jewel in this DVD case is the Make-A-Movie software, which allows viewers to insert themselves into scenes with backgrounds from the film. Two hooves up! - G.G.
Three Walt Disney Treasures (Walt Disney Treasures, $98.97): New issues from the vaults include "Mickey Mouse in Black and White - the Classic Collection": All the original Mickey cartoons in B&W, beginning with "Steamboat Willie." The disc includes interviews with the original Disney animators, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. "Goofy: His Greatest Misadventures," is a retrospective of Goofy's animated shorts. Film historian Leonard Maltin introduces each one. Finally, "Behind the Scenes at the Walt Disney Studio" is a tour of the old studio conducted by Walt himself. All in all, a charming blast from the past. - G.G.
Amélie (Rated R, Miramax, $29.99): In this witty, inventive French film, a childlike waitress (Audrey Tatou) tries to help others by secretly meddling with their lives and applying her creative brand of justice. On the DVD, director Jean-Pierre Jeunet tells of the incessant rain that flooded scenes and a belligerent Parisian who refused to move his car when the cameras rolled. For a director who obsesses over each inch of footage, the unpredictability of Paris proved too much: He vowed never to shoot on location again. Viewers also learn about the artistic tactics behind this visually stunning movie. Scenes were digitally enhanced with greens and reds, then offset with a fleck of blue or other color to break up monotony. Jeunet says he wanted the film to look bright and playful - just like Amélie's grin. - S.C.B.
The Quiet Man (Not Rated, Artisan/Republic, $19.98): It's a badge of honor for actresses to do their own stunts today, but how many pampered A-listers would gamely be dragged down hills covered in sheep manure, the way Maureen O'Hara did in John Ford's Irish romantic comedy? It took Ford years to find a studio willing to make the film that would win him his fourth Best Director Oscar. Republic Studios' Herbert Yates said yes only on the condition that the director and cast agree to make the Western "Rio Grande" first. That way he would recoup the money he was sure to lose on the tale of an American boxer who falls in love with a girl from Innisfree. O'Hara narrates the commentary with refreshing candor and great affection for her irascible director and her underrated costar, John Wayne. Other extras include two documentaries, one hosted by O'Hara and one by Maltin. - Yvonne Zipp
Roman Holiday (Not Rated, Paramount, $24.99): Audrey Hepburn famously won an Oscar for her first Hollywood role. But the stakes were even higher for the screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo, who was sent to prison for refusing to cooperate with House subcommittee on Un-American Activities. Anxious to raise money for his family, he penned the lovely fairy tale about a runaway princess on her day off and the newspaperman (Gregory Peck) who falls in love with her. Another writer, Ian Hunter, agreed to front for Trumbo, and director William Wyler agreed to make the picture after Frank Capra backed out in fear of the blacklist. In addition to restoring each frame of the romantic classic, Paramount has restored Trumbo's name to the opening credits. - Y.Z.
Singin' In The Rain (Rated G, MGM, $26.99): It was a made-to-order story cobbling together songs swiped from old musicals. There's no way "Singin' in the Rain" should have been good, let alone the best. And yet it is. Musical-lovers would probably buy the DVD just to own Gene Kelly's rapturous puddle-stomping in a form that won't wear out. But the two-disc special edition is truly worth its name, with features ranging from Debbie Reynolds's lone solo (cut from the theatrical release) to archival clips of Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, and Mickey Rooney performing the original versions of Arthur Freed's songs. Only the commentary track is disappointing, with lots of voices, but few revelations. That's made up for by the sight of Cliff Edwards (the voice of Jiminy Cricket) strumming a ukulele while warbling the original rendition of the title song. - Y.Z.
To Catch a Thief (Not Rated, Paramount, $24.99): Poor Alfred Hitchcock. Not only was the director famously snubbed by Oscar, he couldn't get any respect from film professors either. When Hitchcock helped his granddaughter write a paper about his favorite film ("Shadow of a Doubt"), her teacher gave the effort only a "C." That's probably the most interesting tidbit to be gleaned from the four documentaries included on this DVD. This confection about a reformed cat burglar (Cary Grant) suspected of a string of robberies on the French Riviera may not be Hitchcock's most profound offering, but it's sure a lot of fun. Grace Kelly is stunning in her third and final outing with the director. - Y.Z.
Austin Powers in Goldmember (Rated PG-13, Warner Home Video, $26.98): The third installment starring Mike Myers as Austin Powers and Dr. Evil puts the once-groovy franchise to shame. The constant insipid comments and potty jokes grow tiresome fast. But the first five minutes are worth watching: cameos from Tom Cruise, Danny DeVito, and Gwyneth Paltrow are the best part of the movie. The most unusual feature of the DVD features an "Austin Powers Revoice Studio," where you can record your own voice to certain scenes. - L.L.C.
The James Bond Collection (MGM, $124.96): Somebody over at MGM asked himself: "How many films should we issue from the 20 Bond films that have been made?" (Even though MGM doesn't actually own the rights to all those films.) The answer: Seven. Here are the films that made the cut: "Dr. No," "Goldfinger," "GoldenEye," "License to Kill," "The Man With the Golden Gun," "The Spy Who Loved Me," and "Tomorrow Never Dies." That gets you four of the five actors who have played Bond (no George Lazenby) and some of the best Bond girls and bad guys. Have they ever gotten anyone to beat 1964's Oddjob? - G.G.
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring - The Platinum Series Extended Edition (Rated PG-13, New Line Cinema, $39.99; Platinum Series Extended Edition Collector's Gift Set - $59.94): This four-disc set is the second DVD to be made from the first installment of the trilogy, but it truly is not money wasted. The filmmakers have seamlessly woven in an additional 30 minutes of material, to create what is essentially a new film. It is well-timed, coming out just weeks before the second installment of the series, "The Two Towers." The new material fills in background information that is helpful for No. 2. Additional bits include more information about the world of the hobbits, as well as an extended sequence with the Lady Galadriel and a foreshadowing of the final episode. The hours of extra material are fairly standard, but the video diary of the filmmaking is fun and interesting. - G.G.
Spider-Man (Rated PG-13, Columbia Tri-Star, $28.96): Spidey leaps and creeps to great effect in this hit film, and the two-disc take-home version is a great way to stop and replay all the best moments. The extras are good - the "making-of" featurette, interviews with the director and composer, and Tobey Maguire's screen test. Highlights include a look at the mythology of Spider-Man in the 21st century and tips for the Activision videogame. - G.G.
Star Wars: Episode Two - Attack of the Clones (Rated PG, 20th Century Fox, $29.98): This second installment may be more fun at home than it was in the theater for the simple reason that you can skip the silly bits and get to the parts you like best. It is really crisp because it was created digitally. Real life never looked this good! The extras are endless, but some are worth watching such as the How-They-Did-It montage, which is short but good. Also worth viewing: the two documentaries with Lucas and Frank Oz, the man who makes Yoda live, and, of course, the blooper reel of Hayden Christensen stumbling all over the set. - G.G.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture Collection (Paramount, $219.99): This nine-disc collection is for the true Star Trek fan (you know who you are). The first two films have been recut as director's editions, "The Search for Spock" has an additional DVD full of extras such as a featurette on the real-science applications of terraforming (if you know what that is, this collection is for you!). The remaining six films round out the Star Trek mythology through 1998. If you are waiting for the next Star Trek film, this will help pass the time, Admiral, er, admirably. -G.G.
Band of Brothers (HBO, $119.98): This groundbreaking HBO series about the final days of World War II is now on six DVDs. For anyone who tried to follow the occasionally dense 13-part series on TV, this is a great aid because it allows easy stop-and-checks that make it easier to keep track of individual characters and battle sequences. The extras include well-worth-watching interviews with the original men of Easy Company, the World War II division upon whom the series is based, as well as a documentary on the making of the TV show. - G.G.
A History of Britain: The Complete Collection (BBC, $99.95): This five-DVD set, written and presented by historian Simon Schama, is a highly entertaining and historically sound look at the history of an island nation that has had a huge impact on cultures around the world. The series attracted a certain amount of controversy for dispensing with traditional timelines in favor of historical themes, but this approach works well if you're in the mood for marathon viewing. Historical recreations of key figures and moments help keep the action fresh. The extras, such as biographies of important historical figures, are nice but not sizzling. The core content is the reason to get this package for the history-minded soul on your gift list. - G.G.
High Noon (Not Rated, Artisan, $19.98): OK, it's not technically historical, but Gary Cooper's Marshal Kane is a classic study on the American archetype of a man "who's got to do what he's got to do." Shot in newsreel-style, director Fred Zinnemann's film takes place almost in real time, as Cooper tries to find someone, anyone, who will help him fight the convict who's coming to kill him on the noon train. (The same train on which new bride Grace Kelly plans to leave if her husband goes through with the showdown.) The sound has been restored, so that Tex Ritter sounds better singing the Oscar-winning theme song than he did in the original. But the "making-of" documentaries aren't terribly exciting, and there are curious inconsistencies - with critic Maltin asserting that Cooper only won one Best Actor Oscar, and Maria Cooper holding up two (the other was for "Sergeant York"). - Y.Z.
The Life of Birds (BBC Video, $59.98): British naturalist David Attenborough offers a fabulous three-disc nature series on the winged ones of this planet. These beautifully filmed chapters tackle the subject through a range of topics such as: when and how birds began to fly, the mastery of flight, signals and songs, and the limits of endurance (how birds have adapted to changing environments, including cities). - G.G
Cirque du Soleil (Columbia Tristar, $71.95): This DVD features performance tapes from three of the troupe's most famous productions: "Quidam," "The Journey of Man," and "Dralion." Now you can "transform your world ... ignite your senses, and behold the wonder" in the comfort of your living room. Put these DVDs in and see if anyone at home can resist the magical worlds these performers create. It's not the same as being under the big top, but it sure beats "Survivor" for sheer entertainment. - G.G.
La Bohème (Image Entertainment, $19.99): This DVD is a live recording of director Baz Luhrmann's version of the opera produced in the Sydney Opera House by Opera Australia. The director whose "Moulin Rouge" has become a cult hit, has updated the classic bohemian tale to the 1950s, and the result is lush. This is the version hitting Broadway in December, so if you can't make it to New York, the DVD is a good alternative. Don't expect extras - the opera is all you get, but it is enough. In Italian with English subtitles. - G.G.
Upstairs/Downstairs - The Complete Series (A&E Home Video, $299.95): For the true TV buffs on your list, this 20-disc collection details the full travails of the Bellamy family and their servants, all 68 episodes worth. At a mere 3,468 minutes, this set alone will take up most of your vacation viewing time. But the show that garnered nine Emmys, a Golden Globe, and a Peabody during its five-season run made TV history, so just think of it as your cultural homework. It's also jolly good fun, even 30 years later. - G.G.