2005 Gift Guide: DVDs

Feature films

Office Space: Special Edition with Flair ($19.98)

This enhanced version of the 1999 cult classic - an often riotous send up of cubicle life - begins riffing on its own eminently quotable screenplay right off the cover. ("Flair" is a nod to the button-happy restaurant manager who presses Jennifer Aniston's character to better decorate her uniform.) What resonates for legions of low-rungers: the triumph of everyman Peter Gibbons, who succeeds at work while trying, creatively, to fail. Supporting characters at the dysfunctional firm "Initech" include the stapler-fixated Milton and a super-nerd named Michael Bolton. Best extra: a retrospective that offers insight into the potent creative chemistry that occurred under writer/director Mike Judge. (His early animation, which inspired key characters, is shown.) Reminder: Some bad language flies.

Sideways ($19.98)

One of 2004's surprise hits put Miles (Paul Giamatti) and Jack (Thomas Haden Church) on an excellent, if deceit-fraught, adventure: a pre-nuptial wine-country road trip during which they confront their own middle-age disappointments and a pair of women who are probably too good for them. It's a rare buddy movie that spawned on-location reenactments. What really makes this version worth collecting: Extras with a wry running commentary by the stars that recalls the wonderful, self-mocking "Mystery Science Theater" films. Wine motif, of course, is pervasive.

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith ($29.98)

Creator George Lucas sets a new standard for DVD extras with this final installment in the Star Wars franchise. In addition to the film (in which cinema's most famous heavy breather dons the black helmet for the first time), "Within a Minute: The Making of Episode III" focuses on the creation of a 49-second sequence during a duel between Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Deleted scenes explore a subplot between Padme and fellow senators, while the 15-part Web documentary series goes into all the questions you'd think to ask and plenty more you wouldn't - like how to chrome-plate a rubber light-saber handle.


Bambi: Disney Special Platinum Edition ($29.99)

Few children can forget this tale of a deer, with wrenching scenes, including the death of Bambi's mother and a forest fire that drives woodland creatures to a tiny island on a lake. This two-disc set goes deep on a cultural icon in which good (naturally) triumphs in the end. A full disc of extras leaves the viewer briefed on animation (it shows long-lost sketches) and film restoration. There's a "time capsule" of 1942 events (heavy on Disney doings). Children will enjoy the interactive games - especially the video that mixes animation sequences of the likable Thumper and Flower with informative footage featuring real baby animals (you'll want to adopt a skunk).

The Incredibles ($29.99)

When society turns on those with superpowers, Bob and Helen Parr hang up their Spandex suits and Zorro masks, enter the equivalent of a witness-protection program for superheroes, and try to raise a family. But as they try to lead a normal life, it leads to tensions within the home that would flummox Dr. Phil. To save itself, the family has to unite to save the world from a villain. In a lively commentary track, director Brad Bird doesn't shy from discussing conflict between himself and the film's producer over artistic decisions. In addition to a quirky film by actress Sarah Vowell, the second disc includes a cute short about Jack-Jack, the family baby who turns into a Tasmanian Devil at will.

Polar Express ($28.98)

This animated tale of a young boy's magical trip to the North Pole on Christmas Eve, starring the voice and digital face(s) of Tom Hanks, is a special-effects wonder - and an instant holiday classic.

Wallace & Gromit in Three Amazing Adventures ($19.98)

"What a shocking calamity!" Evil penguin disguised as chicken uses remote-control pants to heist a diamond. Homemade rocket - with wallpapered interior - flies to moon of cheese policed by ... a stove. Just two wonderfully absurdist scenes from the veddy British, clay-rendered world of lumpy, cheese-loving inventor Wallace and his longsuffering dog, Gromit. Three half-hour shorts that predate this year's acclaimed "Were-Rabbit" feature film come with 10 fun micro-shorts (including "Snowmanotron" and the brilliant "The Autochef") and the kind of behind-the-magic explainer that we've come expect with such labor-intensive movies. Delightful.


Astaire & Rogers Collection: Vol. 1 ($59.98)

To instantly class up your Christmas tree, just stick this boxed set underneath it. Showcasing the flying feet of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, it includes the duo's two best films ("Top Hat" and "Swing Time") and their last appearance together onscreen ("The Barkleys of Broadway"). With music from geniuses such as Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields, there isn't room to list all the standards crammed into the five movies, but here's a few to whet your appetite: "Cheek to Cheek," "The Way You Look Tonight," and "They Can't Take That Away From Me." Extras: Skip the dull documentaries and stilted commentaries, and dive directly into the classic shorts (including Bob Hope in "Watch the Birdie") and cartoons.

Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection ($89.98)

When Americans think of silent comedy, they think of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. But in the 1920s, a third man was synonymous with daredevil buffoonery. New Line seems determined to rescue Harold Lloyd from obscurity with this impressive seven-disc boxed set of 28 features and shorts. Lloyd, who's mostly remembered as the bespectacled gent dangling from a giant clock, made some 200 films. His persona was an average guy who survived by his wits and split-second timing, and the best of his films - "Safety Last!" and "The Freshman" - can make viewers chortle and gasp in the same breath. (The risky stunts were all the more impressive since Lloyd was missing part of his right hand.) Lloyd took 300,000 3-D photographs in his life, and producers have thoughtfully included a pair of glasses so viewers can sample his hobby. There are also home movies, speeches, and four hours of archival material. The commentaries, hosted by Leonard Maltin, are enjoyable, but I'd only watch one, since the anecdotes tend to get repeated.

King Kong: Collector's Edition ($39.98)

Director Merion C. Cooper promised Fay Wray the "the tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood" if the actress would sign on to "King Kong." She thought he meant Cary Grant. The gigantic, gaptoothed gorilla is still the undoubted star of the 1933 film, and it's a testament to the pioneering stop-motion animation that Kong is more expressive and soulful than any of the actors. (Wray, seemingly hired for her primal scream, will make you grateful for the mute button on your remote.) The restored black-and-white print includes featurettes on the remarkable special effects as well as a riveting documentary about producer/director/adventurer Cooper, a real-life Indiana Jones who became a pioneer of cinema.

The Wizard of Oz: Collector's Edition ($49.98)

If you're off to see the wizard, travel first-class with this three-disc collector's edition. The 1939 classic that made Judy Garland a star has been gorgeously restored - Kansas isn't black and white anymore, it's a rich sepia, and you can even see the rivet on the Tin Man's nose. Extras: The set comes with everything but a pair of ruby slippers. Highlights include five earlier versions of "Oz," one starring comedian Oliver Hardy, and a Busby Berkeley-choreographed dance for the Scarecrow that was cut at the last minute. Most sympathy goes to the original Tin Man (Buddy Ebsen, who was fired when the silver makeup landed him in the hospital) singing, "If I Only Had a Heart."

The Sound of Music: 40th Anniversary Edition ($26.98)

"The Sound of Music: 40th Anniversary Edition" is the perfect boomer stocking stuffer - yet another excuse to watch Julie Andrews whirl through the ravishing Austrian mountains and cityscape all the while singing some of Rodgers & Hammerstein's most hummable tunes. While avid collectors may own the DVD set released in 2000, this is a new transfer with richer, deeper colors and no visible wear and tear - and noticeably better sound. The eminently watchable extras include several full-length documentaries - one on Ms. Andrews and the making of the film, another on the children - and the A&E Biography episode about the real von Trapp family.

Classic Comedies Collection ($68.98)

"Bringing Up Baby" and "The Philadelphia Story," both Katharine Hepburn/Cary Grant vehicles, outshine the other four films in the "Classic Comedies Collection" - but it's worth it for these two alone. The second pairing of Hepburn with Grant, "Bringing Up Baby" is a screwball comedy about a straight-laced paleontologist (Grant) and a madcap socialite (Hepburn), who fall in love while in search of his lost dinosaur bone. In "The Philadelphia Story" they are joined by Jimmy Stewart, who won an Oscar for his performance as a tabloid reporter assigned to cover the society wedding of the fiery Tracy Lord (Hepburn). Grant, playing C.K. Dexter Haven, her estranged ex-husband, returns on the eve of her nuptials. This two-disc special edition includes "Katharine Hepburn: All About Me - A Self-Portrait," with the star speaking candidly about her 27-year romance with Spencer Tracy. A documentary on Grant rounds out "Bringing Up Baby's" second disc.


Ringers: Lord of the Fan ($24.94)

"Lord of the Rings" fans are the new Trekkies. (Who knew?) This documentary introduces viewers to obsessive fans, dubbed "Ringers," who wear homemade chain mail and viking helmets, or parade through town dressed as Ents, the walking and talking trees of Tolkien mythology. Some of them even have girlfriends. (They're the ones dressed as Galadriel.) In fairness, the Hobbit fans - many of whom sport hirsute feet - are a sideshow in a respectful yet irreverent film that explores J.R.R. Tolkien's impact on popular culture over the decades. In addition to interviews with academic types, author Terry Pratchett, and director Cameron Crowe, the film - narrated by Dominic Monaghan, star of the recent films - also includes insights from director Peter Jackson and the cast of his trilogy. "Ringers" will be a "precious" gift for anyone who already owns the books or movies.

Ken Burns: American Lives ($139.99)

Many a history lover fell for Ken Burns in 1990 when, only a half decade into his career as a documentarian, he rolled out "The Civil War," a monumental work in sepia with an evocative soundtrack, dulcet David McCullough narration, and context from the likes of the late writer Shelby Foote. Between 1997 and 2005 he reeled off PBS biographies on great Americans, among them: Thomas Jefferson; Lewis and Clark; Frank Lloyd Wright; Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony; Mark Twain; motorist Horatio Nelson Jackson; and boxer Jack Johnson. These form a boxed set bound by Burns's signature approach - new footage wrapped seamlessly around historical images and stately quotes, and on-screen historians who come off as individuals you want to join for dinner. A package that manages to be encyclopedic but never dry.

Riding Giants ($24.96)

Lest you think that all surfers are beach bums - well, they pretty much are. They are also exceptional athletes and daredevils, conquering (and sometimes succumbing to) the planet's fiercest waves. "Riding Giants" charts the origins of this subculture: the discovery of ferocious monsters in Hawaii in the 1950s; the influx of sun-kissed, penniless blond men (and some women) sleeping on the beach just so they could catch waves; life before and after "Gidget," the 1959 surfer flick that changed everything (for the worse). The bonus features are modest, but the film is a (hang) 10.


Hoop Dreams ($29.95)

"Hoop Dreams" is a real-life story with so many twists and turns, you'll think it was scripted. The Oscar-nominated 1994 documentary follows two inner-city teenagers on their quest for basketball glory. What was supposed to be a one-year effort by the filmmakers turned into six, as dreams were made and broken. "People always say to me, 'When you get to the NBA, don't forget about me,' " says one player. "Well, I should've said back, 'If I don't make it to the NBA, don't you forget about me.' "

Friday Night Lights ($19.98)

For many parents in Texas oil country, high school football is more important than good grades, and coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) is charged with turning a bunch of undersized overachievers into a well-oiled machine. Most of the kids reach the pinnacle of their football careers - and lives - before they can vote. Based on H.G. Bissinger's 1990 bestseller. In the extras, meet the real, very likable Boobie Miles, the Perriman Panthers star running back whose ticket to fame never got punched.

Hoosiers: Collectors Edition ($29.98)

What west Texas is to the gridiron, Indiana is to the hardwood. In Hoosiers, the 1986 classic now in a new two-disc collectors edition, Gene Hackman rallies his seven basketball Davids against a state full of high school Goliaths. If it seems cliché, it's because so many other movies have since copied its winning formula. A true piece of Americana. The juiciest tidbit on the full disc of extras: Jack Nicholson was originally tapped to play the Hackman role.

Clayton Collins, Gloria Goodale, David S. Hauck, Stephen Humphries, Teresa Méndez, and Yvonne Zipp contributed to this guide.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.