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DVD Releases for July 31, 2007

July 30th, 2007

We finally got some wide releases worth picking up this week, which have been in tight supply most of the summer. It's been rare to find one first-run release worth picking up in any given week, but this week we have two that are contenders for DVD Pick of the Week: 300 - 2-Disc Special Edition and Hot Fuzz - Buy from Amazon. I was a little worried that a special edition for the latter might be around the corner, but that wasn't enough to prevent me from naming it as the DVD Pick of the Week.

20 Million Miles To Earth - 50th Anniversary Edition - Buy from Amazon
One of Ray Harryhausen's earliest films and that alone should make it worth checking out for many people. This DVD is quite a package with lots of extras and a number of selling points. However, the colorized version of the movie is not one of them. Even so, it is worth checking out for most and picking up for fans of either Sci-Fi films or the era of Ray Harryhausen's stop motion effects.

300 - Buy from Amazon: Single-Disc, 2-Disc Special Edition, Blu-Ray, HD-DVD Combo
Visual effects may overshadow storytelling, and pummel historical accuracy into submission, but the end result is still entertaining. The DVD should be a top-seller; at least the 2-Disc Special Edition will be. The Single-Disc is light on extras (audio commentary track and a hidden making of featurette), and is only worth a rental. The 2-Disc Special Edition contains all of those extras, and a second disc with featurettes of the making of the movie, the historical story, the visuals, and webisodes that original appeared on the website. Overall, it is worth picking up and a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

The Archie Show - The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon
Calling this 2-disc set the complete series is not strictly accurate. One could say The Archie Show only lasted one season, or one could say it simply changed names the next year. And the year after that. And the year after that. Overall the show was quite well done, but I think it is aided substantially by nostalgia at this point. Even so, it is worth checking out, even if it is just for a rental.

Babylon 5 - The Lost Tales - Buy from Amazon
The first of a planned series of direct-to-DVD releases from the science fiction series. If this is any indication, it should be able to survive in this format, but it won't have the same epic feel that the show had. It's far from bad and fans of the show should be mostly satisfied. As for the extras, there is a making-of featurette, a few interviews, memorials for two of the cast members who have recently died, etc. It's a strong package and worth picking up.

Blu-Ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: Blue Planet and Shooter
Wow. Two Blu-Ray releases this week (not counting the concurrent releases), neither of which demands the high definition treatment.

Blue Water, White Death - Buy from Amazon
I hate the title of this documentary. You are more likely to die eating shark than you are getting eaten by a shark. That said, it is still a good documentary and the first to feature the great white shark. Add in more extras than one would expect for this type of film, and it is worth checking out.

Bratz - Buy from Amazon: Glitz N' Glamour, Livin' It Up, and Kidz Sleep-Over Adventure
Given how close it is to the release of the movie, it is safe to assume that the studio is hoping to take advantage of the publicity for that movie when it comes to the sales of these three DVDs. However, I really hope they aren't aiming for the same demographic.

Creature - Buy from Amazon
A Sci-Fi Channel original movie about a landshark. "I'm only a dolphin, ma'am." "A dolphin? Well...okay." AHHHH!! ... moving on.

A Crude Awakening - The Oil Crash - Buy from Amazon
A documentary about peak oil and how the world's demand for oil is climbing as the supply is shrinking. The film is well done, but depressing. Very depressing. Extras improve the replay value, but don't help give viewers much in the way of hope.

Dallas - The Complete Seventh Season - Buy from Amazon
We have reached the halfway point of this primetime soap. That's really all I have to say about it.

The Darwin Awards - Buy from Amazon
This movie might have seemed like a good idea at the time, which is probably what a lot of people featured in the book would say. The book that the film is based on is popular, but it doesn't have a narrative flow and that makes it weak material for a movie. Add in weak extras and I would have a hard time even calling it a rental.

Everything's Gone Green - Unrated Edition - Buy from Amazon
This Canadian film opened with mixed reviews, better than most wide releases get, but not strong enough to escape its limited release. It is a film about a slacker who is finally being pushed into adulthood, but whose method of growing up and getting a job is not quite legit. The movie itself is worth checking out and with better than expected extras (audio commentary track, deleted scenes, pop-up trivia on select scenes, etc.), it is worth picking up.

Film Noir Classic Collection - Volume 4 - Buy from Amazon
10 more film noir classics in one box set. Good news: they are maintaining the strong quality level of the previous box sets with better special features than one would expect for films this old. Bad news: they are coming out on double-sided discs. Even so, the box set is worth picking up. On a side note, they movies are also coming out on double-bill DVDs, but the box set is the better deal, costing roughly 40% less.

Firehouse Dog - Buy from Amazon
A kids movie that failed to connect with its target audience and quickly disappeared from theaters. The movie wasn't particularly strong, but it's box office total was still lower than expected. The DVD should perform better, but it is strictly aimed at kids, and even the extras will bore adults. Rent it to see if the little ones enjoy it, and buy only if they feel the replay value is high enough.

Glass Spider Tour - Special Edition DVD / 2 CD Set - Buy from Amazon
Wow. This is the first rock concert I ever went to. That alone is enough to make me want to pick it up.

Hawaii Five-O - The Second Season - Buy from Amazon
The second season of this show maintained the high standards set by the first. However, the extras have dropped off to nearly nothing. There are previews for each episode, but that's not very special for a special feature.

HD-DVD Releases - Buy from Amazon: Blue Planet, Darkman, Sea of Love, Shaun of the Dead, Shooter
A rather limited selection this week. Shaun of the Dead is clearly the best movie on this week's list, but I couldn't say that is it worth upgrading to high definition.

Hot Fuzz - Buy from Amazon: DVD or HD-DVD
One of the best-reviewed wide releases of the year, the film did respectable business at the box office. (It earned more than enough to show a profit, but not nearly as much as a film with 90% positive reviews should earn.) Fortunately, the DVD should attract a lot more viewers especially with extras like an audio commentary track, trivia track, deleted scenes, outtakes, a featurette on the promotional tour, and more. Excellent package and easily worth picking up. It is also a contender for DVD Pick of the Week, but I have a niggling feeling that a special edition isn't too far away and that might prevent it from winning that honor.

John Wayne's Tribute to America - a.k.a. Swing Out, Sweet Land - Buy from Amazon
John Wayne's TV special that was meant to counter-act the anti-war protests that he found anti-American. (On a side note, since America was founded on protest, it always struck me as odd that protesting could be considered anti-American.) As for the show, it is boisterously entertaining, but feels outdated. Hell, it was old-fashion in 1970 when it first aired. Even so, it is worth checking out, but with weak extras a rental will suffice.

The Kids in the Hall - The Best of Volume 2 - Buy from Amazon
They released a full-series Megaset, so why are they releasing Best Of sets as well?

The Kids of Degrassi Street - The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon
The first incarnation of this long, long, long-running Canadian kids show. This show is 20 years old, and it shows its age. It may not be as strong as the later series, but it is still worth checking out for fans of the franchise.

Kung Fu Hustle - Axe-Kickin' Edition - Buy from Amazon
It hasn't been that long since the original DVD was released, so this DVD better give us a real reason to upgrade. The main reason is the new cut: this DVD uses the original Hong Kong cut and not the slightly edited North American version. There are also a number of new extras including a new interview, a trio of production featurettes, and storyboard comparisons with a total running time of roughly 30 minutes. However, the audio commentary track and most of the rest of the extras from the original release are not back. This means if you do decide to upgrade, you'll want to keep both versions of the DVD. On the other hand, if you don't already own the movie on DVD, it is certainly worth picking up.

Lonely Hearts - Buy from Amazon
A lackluster affair about two cops (John Travolta and James Gandolfini), chasing two serial killers (Salma Hayek and Jared Leto), who target widows. Given the real life nature of these crimes, the film should have an easy time setting up the right atmosphere, but it misses the mark. The script isn't particularly strong and for the most part the actors don't do enough with the material. Add in light extras (just a single making of featurette), and I can't even recommend a rental.

Mission of the Shark - The Saga of the U.S.S. Indianapolis - Buy from Amazon
A TV movie about the real life events surrounding the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis. Anyone who has watched Jaws knows how dramatic the story is, but a TV movie is not the way to tell it. It's not terrible, but there's not a lot of replay value here either. Call it a rental.

Mr. Conservative - Goldwater on Goldwater - Buy from Amazon
Political movements evolve, even those that don't believe in evolution, but it is hard to believe that Barry Goldwater helped revitalize the conservative movement as what it turned into is nearly the antithesis of what he envisioned. However, to turn around and call him a liberal, well, that's not entirely accurate either. In today's political environment he might be called a libertarian, but that's not quite right either. This documentary tries to paint him as a closet liberal, which is a problem. Having a point of view and arguing it isn't the problem, as a lot of great documentaries do that, but the argument here is rather weak. The DVD includes 30 minutes worth of extra interviews and overall it is worth checking out.

Pathfinder - Buy from Amazon: Theatrical Version or Unrated Edition
Just a terrible movie that is clearly using the Unrated label to try and compensate for bombing at the box office. Don't fall for. Also, don't fall for the list of extras you'll read about on the back of the DVD. Most are better than the movie, but they don't compensate for such a weak film. Skip it.

Popeye the Sailor - 1933-1938 - Volume 1 - Buy from Amazon
I know what you are thinking. "Ugh. Another collection of animated shorts. He's going to bring up Looney Tunes, again." And you're right. That's because when it comes to this type of release, the Golden Collections are the template that all other studios should follow. And fortunately, this collection follows it. (This isn't surprising as it comes from the same studio, Warner Bros.) This 4-disc set includes 60 shorts, 2 specials, audio commentary tracks, featurettes, retrospectives and more. Warner Bros. understands that Popeye has a place in our pop culture history and fans of his want to learn more and celebrate that. Even if you are not a major fan of Popeye, you will get a greater appreciation for him after watching these shorts. Popeye the Sailor - 1933-1938 - Volume 1 is easily worth picking up and a clear contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

The Rhinemann Exchange - Buy from Amazon
Just in time for The Bourne Ultimatum, this mini-series makes its debut on DVD. Based on the novel by Robert Ludlum, who also wrote the Bourne novels, among others, this is the first time his work was adapted, but it is not the best. Still, it is worth checking out for fans of his work, even if it is just for a rental.

Roving Mars - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-Ray
An IMAX feature looking at the Mars landings of 2003 in which two rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, successfully landed on Mars to begin scientific exploration.

(Note: While the movie is coming out on DVD or Blu-Ray, I am reviewing the DVD edition only as I only have a DVD player. However, that will change shortly and sometime next month I hope to start reviewing high definition releases.)

This DVD release is the second time Roving Mars has hit the home market and the first time was only last year. However, last time around the only thing on the DVD was the 40-minute feature, which is fascinating, at as far as most critics are concerned. There were some complaints about the over-abundance of digital animation, others attacked the film for being an ad for NASA looking for more funding, others thought the runtime was just too short. I didn't find any of those issues to be a problem. Yes, there's a lot of digital animation, but that's to be expected since they couldn't take IMAX cameras to Mars. The short runtime, that's another limitation of IMAX. As for the propaganda aspect, I think that was a little unfair, especially for a industry that brings in more than $9 billion a year. Every movie made is about money.

As for the positives about the movie, there are plenty. It's educational, it is engaging, the visuals we do see are fantastic (and based 100% on the real flight data). Those who are big fans of space travel will love to learn more, while those who are less inclined might change their minds after seeing this. It certainly gets across the explorers' mentality and enthusiasm and even the parts of the film that feature just talking heads we get this feeling of enthusiasm coming through and this enthusiasm is infectious.

Had this been the only thing on the disc, it would have been a disappointment. Fortunately, there are two substantive extras on: Mars: Past, Present & Future and Mars and Beyond.

Mars: Past, Present & Future helps flesh out the movie, talking about early space exploration and how it influences a lot of the people who worked on the current Mars missions. Present deals with, among other things, the making of the movie and the initial aspects of the mission. Future talks about the possibility of a manned mission to Mars in the (near) future. It's an excellent featurette with a total running length of close to 25 minutes and one that complements the movie very well.

Finally there's Mars and Beyond, which originally aired in 1957 as part of Disney's Disneyland series. This is the longest of the three programs at just over 50 minutes. I liked this featurette a lot for two very different reasons. Firstly, there is plenty of imaginative bits of animation throughout the piece, and secondly, it is amazingly outdated. It even talks about the channels in Mars that were 'discovered' by Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli in the last few years of the 1800s. When this program was made, these channels had not yet been disproved and this adds to the charm of the program.

All three programs are worth checking out and have more than enough replay value to justify picking up the DVD. My only minor complaint is the price for the short runtime. Because of this, I would suggest giving it a rental first, but many who do check it out, will end up picking it up.

Sabrina the Teenage Witch - The Second Season - Buy from Amazon
A mainstay for TGIF programming for seven years, Sabrina the Teenage Witch was arguably at the top of its game at this point in its run. The Lindsay Sloane years were always my favorites. Yes, the show was aimed at kids, but it rose above that target and delivered quality entertainment. It wasn't intellectually challenging for the most part, but it was entertaining. As for this 4-disc set, there are no special features, which limits its value. Also hurting are the music substitutions and edits. (Studios need to get the home market rights to all music they use. Not having it back in 1997 is understandable, but these issues should serve as a warning to anyone making TV today.) Overall it is worth checking out, but whether that means a rental or a purchase depends on your level of fandom for the show.

Space 1999 30th Anniversary Edition Megaset - Buy from Amazon
One more disc than the previous Megaset at half the price. So if you bought that set back in 2002, congratulations, you've been screwed.

Starter for 10 - Buy from Amazon
A charming British film that earned amazing reviews and promptly disappeared from theaters. With such a poor performance, the weak extras are not surprising, but I was still expecting more than a soundtrack trivia track and a fluffy making of featurette. This is a disappointing development and reduces the value to a rental.

Thunderbirds 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition Megaset - Buy from Amazon
Same as the Space 1999 30th Anniversary Edition Megaset, except no new bonus disc. These releases just piss off hardcore fans who buy they sets when they first come out, which may make them reconsider buying the next big box set that comes out waiting for a better deal. This hurts everyone.

Whole New Thing - Buy from Amazon
A coming of age story that is, at times, as awkward at times as the main character. It's worth checking out, but with just an audio commentary track, I can't be too enthusiastic with my recommendation. Call it a solid rental leaning toward a purchase.

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Filed under: Video Releases, Shooter, Hot Fuzz, Kung Fu Hustle, Firehouse Dog, Shaun of the Dead, Roving Mars, Pathfinder, Starter for Ten, Lonely Hearts, Everything's Gone Green, Whole New Thing, The Darwin Awards, 300