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DVD Releases for December 9, 2008

December 8th, 2008

It's a deceptively light week with most of the top ten DVDs on Amazon's sales chart coming from The Dark Knight. In fact, that film is dominating sales so much that it has scared away most of the competition. Don't get me wrong, it's not the only release worth picking up, but the either the Two-Disc Special Edition DVD or the Blu-ray w/ Digital Copy are probably the best picks this week. Personally, I went with the Limited Edition Blu-ray w/ Batpod, but I clearly should not be trusted with money. There are other DVDs coming out this week that are also worthy of the DVD Pick of the Week, including Man on Wire - Buy from Amazon and Lost - Season Four - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray.

Anamorph - Buy from Amazon
A limited release with an impressive cast, but it didn't impress critics, nor could it draw moviegoers into theaters during its short run. The DVD does have a making-of featurette and a single deleted scene, but that's not enough to lift it past a rental. Even a rental will be more than most people will need.

Another Gay Sequel - Buy from Amazon: Retail Version or Uncut, Unrated Theatrical Version
The sequel to Another Gay Movie, which was a parody of gay movies that found success amongst its target audience, but was not strong enough to find crossover appeal. This film is even weaker and its target audience is even smaller. Extras are impressive for a limited release with an audio commentary track, deleted scenes, making-of featurettes on several scenes, music video, and more. If you liked the first movie, check out this one, but rent first.

Blu-ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: Am - Sonar, Ameican Pie, Antonio Forcione Quartet in Concert, A Battle of Wits, Concert for Diana, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight - Gift Set, Diebuster - The Movie, Dodgeball, Dumb and Dumber, From Dusk Till Dawn, Gunbuster - The Movie, Gunbuster vs. Diebuster: Aim for the Top! - The Gattai, Horton Hears a Who, I Am Legend, Incubus - Look Alive, Jet Li's Fearless, Live at Montreux 1991 & 1992, Live at Montreux 1997, Lost - Season 4, The Mask, Mika - Live Au Parc Des Princes, Red Cliff, The Rundown, Sin City, Slither, The Strat Pack - Live in Concert, Super Troopers, and Thirteen Ghosts
We should have a new record this week as The Dark Knight hits High Definition, but it is not the only Blu-ray worth picking up this week. On a side note, a number of these Blu-rays are imports, and are actually cheaper to order from Canada on Amazon.ca. (For instance Slither or Sin City.) But these are rather bare bones releases, and fans will likely want to wait for a full release.

Christmas Releases - Buy from Amazon: The Christmas Classic Collections and Johnson Family Christmas Dinner
Looks like the number of these releases is drying up, as it is getting too close to the holiday to sell them.

The Dark Knight - Buy from Amazon: Single-Disc DVD, Two-Disc Special Edition DVD w/ Digital Copy, , or Limited Edition Blu-ray w/ Batpod
The biggest hit of the year, and one of the best-reviewed as well. For many its transcends its comic book roots, although quite frankly the best comic books also transcend the medium and are on par with the best literature has to offer. This is a movie that should be seen by all, even those that hate comic book adaptations. And it could become a major player come Oscar night, and not just for the technical categories. Easily worth picking up, even if there were no extras. Fortunately, that is not the case. There are a number of extras on the Two-Disc Special Edition (the Single-Disc DVD is not worth considering) including featurettes on the score, the design of Batman, full IMAX scenes in their proper aspect ratio, and more. The has those extras, as well as a Picture-in-Picture track, more featurettes, and it is BD-Live enabled. Finally, Limited Edition Blu-ray w/ Batpod has a model of the Batpod, but at nearly $50, it is mostly for hardcore fans only. My only concern is the possibility of a double-dip, but that's true of any first-run release with a likely sequel in the works.

Warning: This DVD and Blu-ray did not come out this week and made its home market debut last week. However, the screeners arrived late, hence the delay in the review.

The Day the Earth Stood Still - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
The DVD and Blu-ray screener arrived late, the latter later than the former, but were just in time to be included on this week's list. Oh well, it was worth waiting for.

The film starts with an unidentified object being tracked as it orbits the Earth. When it eventually lands, and a man emerges, Klaatu, and declares he has come in peace. He is almost immediately shot. He announces that he needs to speak to the all of the people of the Earth with an important message. However, the fractured nature of our planet makes that impossible, so instead he sneaks out to get to know the Earthlings, but this causes a panic as the military starts a manhunt to find him.

A classic sci-fi film from 1951, and like all greats of the genre, this one is a metaphor for the times of the day. In this case, it is about the Cold War hysteria and how people at the time were living with the fear of nuclear annihilation. While the Cold War is over, the threat of attack is ever present and this film still holds on to what made it powerful to begin with. There are some elements that shows the film's age, including the pacing, which is more deliberate than we get today. Also, there's one scene early in the movie where the two doctors are talking about Klaatu's age and they are amazed that he is 78 and that the life expectancy of his people is 130. "How does he explain that?" "Says their medicine is that much more advanced." Of course as they have this conversation, they both start to smoke cigarettes. Gee, I wonder why he's so much healthier than you two. That struck me as funny, and casual smoking is something that you rarely see in movies these days.

This is not the first time this film has been released on DVD, nor is it even the first Special Edition DVD, but this one has a huge amount of extras starting with not one, but two audio commentary tracks, the second of which is new to this edition. There is also an isolated music track in 5.1 surround sound that is sure to please fans of Bernard Herrmann's score. There are also featurettes on the making of the movie, the Theremin, as well as a reading from the original story and a vintage news reel from 1951.

Moving onto disc two, we have featurettes on science fiction as a metaphor, A Brief History of Flying Saucers that includes both believers and rational people like Michael Shermer, a featurette on the screenwriter Edmund North, and a short documentary called Race to Oblivion.

As for the Blu-ray, there are two additional extras, both of which are interactive. There is a shooting game with Gort, which is a strange addition to a movie about peace, and an interactive Theremin feature where you compose a 30-second clip to go with the movie. Additionally, for a movie from 1951, this looks fantastic in High Definition. Much better than I was expecting.

It is important to note that the 80-minute making-of featurette from the previous Special Edition release was not ported over, so if you have that DVD, keep it. The Blu-ray is still worth upgrading to, but that version is still worth keeping.

I am not happy that The Day the Earth Stood Still is being remade and I fear that the new version will take everything that made the original a classic and will replace it with special effects. That said, there is one undeniable benefit of the remake coming out: the original is being released on Blu-ray, and despite the fact that the movie is quite a bit more expensive in High Definition than the DVD, it is definitely worth the extra money.

Dragon Ball GT - Buy from Amazon
How many Dragon Ball TV series have there been? Perhaps too many, as the reaction to this show by some have been less than enthusiastic.

Elephant Tales - Buy from Amazon
A live action movie about two young elephants, Zef and Tutu, and their adventures on the African plains.

Zef, and his younger brother Tutu, spend their days playing, scaring zebras, and generally having fun. Until one day when their family are attacked and killed by poachers and only the two brothers escape. Not wanting to tell him the truth, Zef lies and says their mother was taken by a rainbow, but that only makes Tutu want to find her. Along the way the pair run into a number of other orphaned animals, and have to deal with dangers like bad weather, and more poachers.

This is a film that is aimed at younger kids, say 6 to 8 years old, who should be entertained by the animal characters in the movie and their adventures. There are a few places that might be scary for the target audience, including the part where the poachers attack in the beginning, although the actual shooting all happens off screen. Some of the cinematography is quite beautiful, and that give adults something to enjoy while they sit through it with their kids.

There are no extras, but the flipped disc does include both the widescreen and the pan-and-scan versions.

Elephant Tales is worth checking out, however, I am not convinced that the DVD has the replay value needed to warrant a purchase over just a rental.

ESPN - 199 Lives - Buy from Amazon
Just a quick note that this is coming out this week, but my screener is still not here. I hope to have the review online A.S.A.P.

Europa - Criterion Collection - Buy from Amazon
Directed by Lars Von Trier, starring Jean-Marc Barr, and narrated by Brewmeister Smith himself, Max von Sydow. This movie was made before the Dogme 95 and it is visually a lot more interesting compared to his later films, and just plain better. (I understand the objective of the Dogme 95 Brethren, but instead of being a way to free filmmakers from the Hollywood trap, it became a trap of its own.) Extras on the 2-disc DVD include an audio commentary, a making-of featurette, interview featurette on the director, retrospective, and much more. Certainly worth checking out for fans of the director in particular, or of Criterion releases in general.

FLOW - For the Love Of Water - Buy from Amazon
A documentay about the state of the global water system and how compromised it has become in many areas, including in our backyard. It's powerful and thought provoking, but does suffer from some of the usual problems with advocacy films like this. Firstly, at times it feels like it is preaching to the choir. Secondly, you can get so bogged down in the bad news that it is hard to move forward. That said, it is certainly worth checking out, and with extras like an audio commentary track, as well as extra interviews, it is worth picking up over just renting.

Gunsmoke - Season Three - Volume One - Buy from Amazon
The longest running drama ever on American TV. This show started as a radio drama in 1952 before coming to TV in 1955, where it stayed for 20 years, much of the time dominating the ratings. (It spent 13 years in the top ten, and four years at number one). Season three was the heart of the series' number one streak, and for good reason.

At this point the show was still a half-hour show, and not the hour-long version that most people remember. The main cast of the show remains the same as the first two seasons led by Marshal Matt Dillon, the U.S. Marshal of Dodge City, who has to deal with hired guns, bank robbers, poachers, murderers, and the like. There's a lot of violence on this show; hardly an episode goes by without someone getting shot and killed. Strangely, despite all of this violence, I've seen this described as family entertainment, but I guess things were different back in the 1950s. Chester Goode is seen as the focus on Gun for Chester and Miss Kitty shines in Kitty's Outlaw. Also of note this season, there are a number of guest stars including Jack Lord from Hawaii Five-O and Jack Klugman from The Odd Couple.

Extras are limited to some sponsor bits, which hold some historical curiosity, but little more. There are also proper chapter placements and play all buttons on each disc, but no subtitles.

Fans of Gunsmoke will be happy to further expand their collection. However, at a season and a half per year, it's going to take a long, long time for the show to be completely released on DVD. It would be going faster if they weren't splitting the seasons into two volumes. Fans would also be happier if there were real extras on the 3-disc set, but for most it is still worth picking up over just renting.

Happy Days - Season Four - Buy from Amazon
Great show, weak DVD releases. A show this iconic should come with some extras, although maybe the age prevents that, but at least they are not splitting the seasons into two volumes.

Horton Hears a Who - Buy from Amazon: Single-Disc DVD, 2-Disc DVD, Amazon Exclusive DVD Gift Set, or Blu-ray
First a quick note: I only have the 2-Disc DVD at the moment, and I'm fairly certain the the Blu-ray will not be showing up. But if it does, I will update my review.

I don't think I need to go into details on the plot of this movie, after all, it is based on one of Dr. Seuss's most famous books. It tells the story of Horton, an Elephant who hears someone screaming for help on a spec of dust, and is the only one who can hear these tiny, tiny people. Living on that spec of dust are the Whos, led by their mayor, who happens to be the only Who who can hear Horton. This situation causes no end of trouble for both Horton and the mayor.

This is the third adaptation of a Dr. Seuss book, and of the three, this one is arguably the best. Although saying, "It's better than The Cat in the Hat was!" is hardly high praise. Even How the Grinch Stole Christmas was merely average, so the bar wasn't set particularly high. But exactly what you want is a Dr. Seuss adaptation; it's colorful, it's energetic, it's witty. Perhaps there's not enough Dr. Seussiness (I would have loved to explore Whoville more) but at least the filmmakers didn't have to resort to bathroom humor for laughs, while there's enough here that adults will enjoy that they can watch the movie with their kids and not feel bored.

As for the extras, there are a huge number present on the 2-Disc DVD starting with an audio commentary track with the two directors that provides a lot of information while maintaining an energy level. Next up are several deleted scenes, also with audio commentary tracks. They are sorted by how far along the animation path they got before they were cut (storyboard, rough animation, nearly completed animation). I really like dividing them up like this. On a similar note are the Animation Screen Tests, which looks at the two main characters, as well as an assortment of Whos. Next up are a series of featurettes, starting with how the animators act out the roles before they animate the characters. There are also featurettes on Horton specifically, as well as one on Katie, the weird Yak thing from the movie that adds the most "Huh?" moments to the movie. (So much so that in the end when she simply floats into the sky, it actually made sense. At least in the context of the movie.) There are more featurettes on bringing the Dr. Seuss feel to the movie, Jim Carrey's voice work, the message of the movie, and more. One of the big selling points of the DVD, at least according to the package, is the short film Surviving Sid, however, it didn't find it that entertaining. I liked the movie, but the short left me flat.

I only have the 2-Disc DVD, so I can't be sure about the other versions, but the second disc is just the Digital Copy, so I don't think there are any additional extras over the Single-Disc DVD. Meanwhile, the Blu-ray does have a Picture-in-Picture track featuring Jo Jo, the Mayor's son.

Horton Hears a Who was the first major digitally animated movie of the year, and I think it benefited from that at the box office. It is good, but not as good as WALL-E or Kung Fu Panda. However, it is still worth checking out for fans of Dr. Seuss or of digitally animation in general. And if you have kids, the replay value is more than high enough to be worth buying over just renting. I don't have the Blu-ray to compare directly with the 2-Disc DVD, but given the Picture-in-Picture track and the tiny increase in price, it is almost certainly the better deal.

I Am Legend - Ultimate Collector's Edition - DVD or Blu-ray
It has been less than a year since the movie first hit the home market, which is far too short of a time for a double-dip.

It / The Shuttered Room - Buy from Amazon
A double-bill with two horror films from the 1960s. It! stars Roddy McDowall and it is based on the Jewish myth of the Golem. The Shuttered Room is based on a book by August Derleth, who was one of the later wave of writers inspired by H.P. Lovecraft. Neither movie is among the best example of the genre, but it is hard to argue with the price.

Jane and the Dragon - Dragon Rules - Buy from Amazon
A Canadian digitally animated series about a young girl, Jane, living in the middle ages who wants to be more than the typical gender roles of the day allow, so she tries out to be a squire in hopes of one day becoming a knight. There have been several DVDs released, and while I would prefer full season sets, these single-disc releases are still worth checking out and the replay value is high enough that they are worth picking up for most.

Lost - Season Four - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
The DVD is here, just in time for its actual release. Instead of repeating myself too much, I'll link over to last week's review, which mostly skipped over the season and dealt with the extras. This was intentional, as I don't want to give away any spoilers. I will say that season four was an improvement over season three, at least in my opinion, but I don't think I'm alone in that judgment.

As for the specifics of this 6-disc set, the extras start with audio commentary tracks on four episodes, which I forgot to mention last time. There are also all of the featurettes, deleted scenes, outtakes, etc. that were on the Blu-ray, only here they are spread across two discs. The only exceptions are the interactive part of Course of the Future: The Definitive, Interactive Flash Forwards and Season Play, which keeps track of where you are in the season. Additionally, the video quality is fantastic, obviously not as good as in High Definition, but those who don't have that option will not be disappointed.

Lost appears to be back on track after a season or two where it seemed like maybe the writers didn't have a plan. Despite the writers' strike that shortened the season, the 6-disc DVD or the 5-disc Blu-ray have more than enough bang for the buck to be worth picking up. The Blu-ray doesn't have a whole lot of additional features, but the video quality alone is enough that it is worth the upgrade to High Definition.

Man on Wire - Buy from Amazon
One of the best reviewed documentaries of the year, and it is on the short list for an Oscar nomination. (I would have to think it is a practical lock to earn one of the nominations this year, and a favorite to win.) The film tells the story of Philippe Petit, who on August 7, 1974, concerned with my upcoming birth, momentarily went crazy and decided to tightrope walk between the World Trade Centers. Okay, I'm not sure I had anything to do with his motivations, but it makes as much sense as anything else I've seen. (And I'm fairly certain about the "momentarily went crazy" part.) This movie is not to be missed, and the DVD has an audio commentary track and deleted scenes lifting it to the level of a DVD Pick of the Week.

McLeod's Daughters - The Complete Seventh Season - Buy from Amazon
The penultimate season of this Australia soap opera set on a ranch in the outback. Fans should love everything about this season, except the price. Ouch.

Peter and the Wolf - Buy from Amazon
A stop-motion animated take on the classic Russian tale that won the Oscar for Best Animated Short. The film itself is just 30 minutes long, but the DVD has a making-of featurette and interviews and it is worth checking out for most, picking up for many.

The Philadelphia Phillies 2008 World Series Collector's Edition - Buy from Amazon
This 8-disc set contains every game of the World Series, plus highlights from the other two series, as well as parade footage, locker room footage, and the trophy ceremony. Easily worth picking up for fans of the team. Or giving away as a joke gift to Devil Ray fans.

Rawhide - Season Three - Volume 2 - Buy from Amazon
The second CBS TV on DVD release coming out this week in a split season format. Like the first, this one is a Western from the Golden Age of TV westerns, a time when there are dozens of shows on TV. It is rare for any show to last 8 years, and rarer still for it to be remembered so fondly nearly 50 years after it first aired. However, this one survives.

This is the show that launched Clint Eastwood's career. In it he plays Rowdy Yates, one of the drovers in a 1,600-head cattle drive. (Having completed their original cattle drive during the first part of this season.) This drive is lead by Trail Boss Gil Favor, played by Eric Fleming, a tough boss who had to keep hot-headed Rowdy Yates in check, especially during the earlier episodes. This season sees the men deal with outlaws, the army, and the constant need for water for their cows. Guest spots this season include Jack Lord, John Cassavetes, and even Leonard Nimoy as a Native American seeking vengeance. I'm not sure how to react to that. To be fair, while having a white person playing a Native American is certainly not kosher these days, the TV series was ahead of its time, as most shows of its time would deal with Native Americans as merely generic bad guys who were there to shoot at, and be shot by the good guys.

There are no extras on this 4-disc set, nor are there subtitles. But at least there are play all buttons and proper chapter placements.

Rawhide started its run nearly half a century ago, and while there are parts of it that haven't stood up well, for the most part it is still as effective as the day it first aired. If you own the previous releases, odds are you have already pre-ordered Season Three - Volume 2. If you haven't seen the show yet, but you are a fan of the genre, check it out, but start with Season One.

Sex and the City - The Wedding Collection Ultimate Collectors Edition - Buy from Amazon
A massive gift set with two extra discs, including a CD soundtrack, and physical extras like a hardcover book. Hardcore fans should love it, but at nearly $50, it's for hardcore fans only.

Swingtown - Season One - Buy from Amazon
A TV series set in the 1970s and about Swingers. That's pretty risqué material for a network show, but the critical response was rather flaccid, for lack of a better word, and after premiering last summer, it still hasn't been picked up for a second season. This 4-disc set might be the show's last shot at success, and there are plenty of extras to entice fans. These include audio commentary tracks, deleted scenes, outtakes, and a couple of featurettes.

TV on DVD - Full Series Megasets - Buy from Amazon: Deadwood, Shelley Duvall - Bedtime Stories, and The Wire
Not a huge selection of TV on DVD Full Series Megasets, but The Wire and Deadwood are selling very well.

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Filed under: Video Releases, The Dark Knight, I am Legend, Sex and the City, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, Sin City, The Rundown, Huo Yuan Jia, Slither, Man on Wire, FLOW: For Love of Water, Anamorph, Red Cliff, Another Gay Sequel