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DVD Releases for October 7, 2008 - Part II

October 7th, 2008

It's not a good week for first-run releases, as there's not a single one from that group that would get serious contention for DVD Pick of the Week. However there are a number of other contenders, including classic releases Sleeping Beauty - Two-Disc Platinum Edition - on Blu-ray and Ray Harryhausen - Ultimate Collector's Giftset on DVD or Blu-ray. There as also a couple of TV on DVD picks to look at like 30 Rock - Season Two and Robot Chicken - Season Three. The final release this week that I would like to give a shout out to is Jack Brooks - Monster Slayer on DVD. (Finally, there are a couple of late spotlight reviews that are worth picking up: NCIS - Season Five and Ghost Whisperer - Season Three.) One last note. While first run releases were weak, the overall list was long and the first part can be found here.

NFL - History of the Washington Redskins - Buy from Amazon
How fortuitous! The Redskins don't suck this year, and they are releasing a 2-disc DVD on the team. All the people jumping on the bandwagon should help sales.

Paranoid Park - Buy from Amazon
This Gus Van Sant movie earned good reviews and started out well in limited release, but collapsed as soon as it tried to expand. Now it is being released on a featureless DVD. This is unfortunate, but the DVD is still worth checking out, even if just for a rental.

The Picture of Dorian Gray - Buy from Amazon
A classic horror film from 1945 starring, among others, Donna Reed and Angela Lansbury. Based on an Oscar Wilde novel, it tells the story of a man who is able to keep his youthful looks through means unknown to all, but given away by the title of the novel. Arguably the best adaptation of this novel, it was nominated for three Oscars winning for Best Cinematography. Extras on the DVD include an audio commentary with Angela Lansbury and the writer Steve Haberman, as well as two short films that the original theater-going audiences might have seen. Certainly worth picking up.

Ray Harryhausen - Ultimate Collector's Giftset - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray and The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad
Three releases from the incomparable Ray Harryhausen hitting the home market this week, including his debut on High Definition. ... and there was much rejoicing.

The two options are the DVD, which includes three films, each with 2-disc sets, and a really awesome figure of Ymir, from 20 Million Miles to Earth. Or you can grab the Blu-ray, which has four movies, including The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, which is also coming out on DVD separately.

The movies included are...

It Came from Beneath the Sea
A nuclear powered submarine is on its maiden voyage when disaster strikes and they are attacked by a giant octopus... with six tentacles. (Budget restraints forced them to trim two tentacles.) And this attack is only just the beginning.

Ray Harryhausen's first feature-length film, but not his best. He was still learning his art, and it is noticeable. Additionally, the rest of the movie can't live up to Harryhausen's special effects.

Extras on the 2-disc DVD include both the original Black & White version and the new colorized version, which doesn't look as bad as I feared, but I would still stick with the original. There is also an audio commentary track with Ray Harryhausen and three special effects artists, who do a great job of asking the right questions. There are also a few featurettes starting with Remembering "It Came From Beneath the Sea", which is a 22-minute retrospective. Next up is a 12-minute look at stop-motion animation. Next, Tim Burton sits down with Ray Harryhausen for a 27-minute long interview. This is especially fascinating, as Ray Harryhausen is without doubt a pioneer in stop-motion animation while Tim Burton is arguably the best know proponent of the technique today. (Although many would argue for Nick Park.) The final featurette is a 23-minute look at Mischa Bakaleinikoff, who composed some of the music for this movie, and the other two movies in this set. Finally, there are a few image galleries, including a look at the new comic book.

There are no additional extras on the Blu-ray, and the extras are not in high definition, but it is BD-Live enabled.

Earth vs. The Flying Saucers
Two scientists, a married couple, are the loan survivors after a misunderstanding sparks a war between the Earth and some flying saucers.

A low budget Sci-fi film that is an allegory of cold war paranoia that is more famous than It Came From Beneath the Sea, but its reviews are not better. Perhaps the Cold War paranoia hasn't aged well, or perhaps the flying saucers don't have the same personality as a giant octopus, and that's why it earned weaker reviews. However, I prefer this movie out of the two.

Extras again start with the option to watch the movie in the original Black & White or the Satan-inspired colorized version. (Okay, that's going overboard. While it doesn't quite look right, it isn't particularly bad either. Certainly a huge step up from previous attempts.) There is another audio commentary track, again with Ray Harryhausen and three special effects artists, which is great quality. The Hollywood Blacklist and Bernard Gordon is 30-minute featurette on the blacklisting that happened in Hollywood at the time, and how it affected one of the screenwriters of this movie. Remembering "Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers" is another retrospective, this time running 21 minutes. Interview with Joan Taylor is exactly what it sounds like, an interview with one of the stars, Joan Taylor. The final featurette is an 11-minute look at the newest colorization process. Granted, it does look a lot better than the early attempts, but I'm not entirely satisfied with the results. There are also the original credits without Bernard Gordon, as well as several image galleries.

Again, there are no additional extras on the Blu-ray, and the extras are not in high definition, but it is BD-Live enabled.

20 Million Miles to Earth
A rocket ship that was sent to explore Venus returns and crashes back to Earth off the coast of Sicily. The astronauts are rescued, but a specimen of Vesuvian life escapes and soon wrecks havoc. But is it a destructive beast, or just misunderstood?

Of the three films in the DVD Gift Set, this one is clearly the best. Ymir, the creature in question, has real character and emotion in Ray Harryhausen's work. On a side note, this movie kind of reminds me of Cloverfield; I wonder if it helped inspire that later flick.

The extras on this DVD are very similar to the DVDs above, and include both the Black and White and the colorized versions. There is also an audio commentary track with the same men as above, which includes a lot of information (although Ray Harryhausen admits a few times that he can't remember how a few things were done) and a 27-minute retrospective. Finally, there's an 11-minute look at the colorization process, a 27-minute interview with Tim Burton and Ray Harryhausen, a 17-minute interview with Joan Taylor, and a 23-minute featurette on Mischa Bakaleinikoff, all of which were on the other DVDs.

Again, there are no additional extras on the Blu-ray, and the extras are not in high definition, but it is BD-Live enabled.

The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad - Buy from Amazon
Also coming out this week is The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, which is not part of the Ultimate Collector's Giftset on DVD, but is included on the Blu-ray box set.

This is easily the best and the most well known of the Ray Harryhausen films coming out this week; in fact, it is it is one of the most iconic fantasy films of all time.

Like the other films released this week, this one has plenty of extras starting with an audio commentary track, as well as a retrospective, which was also a feature common to the other releases. Next up is a 25-minute featurette on the legacy of Ray Harryhausen and a 27-minute featurette on composer Bernard Herrmann. The DVD also has two vintage featurettes, a 12-minute behind-the-scenes look, and a three-and-a-half minute look at the special effects. Finally, John Landis and Ray Harryhausen sit down for a 12 minute interview. Lesser features include a song made to promote the movie and a gallery of images.

Overall the Blu-rays offer no additional extras, and none of the extras are in high definition. (I don't count BD-Live as an extra, unless there's something additional, something related to the movie, that you can download.) However, the price is just 10% more, which is nothing. What I am upset about is the Ymir figurine, which is totally awesome, but can only be found with the DVD Giftset. Why not offer it with the Blu-ray Giftset as well? This is not the first time I've seen the DVD packaging far superior to the Blu-ray.

Ray Harryhausen's work in special effects was groundbreaking, and not just groundbreaking, but legendary. For those who have a Blu-ray player, the Blu-ray Giftset is certainly worth picking up. For those who don't, think about grabbing the DVD Giftset because that Ymir figure is just too damn awesome for words.

Robot Chicken - Season Three - Buy from Amazon
One of the best shows on Adult Swim. One of the best shows on TV, period. It skewers pop culture spoofing movies and TV series with stop motion animation using action figures. Extras on this 2-disc set include audio commentary tracks on all 20 episodes, deleted segments, behind-the-scenes, and more. Easily worth picking up and a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

The Sarah Jane Adventures - The Complete First Season - Buy from Amazon
Elisabeth Sladen's portrayal of Sarah Jane Smith makes Kelsey Grammer's run as Frasier Crane look like a cameo. She's been playing the Doctor's favorite companion for 32 years, first for three and a half seasons, then on various guest shots and specials, and now the star of the latest Doctor Who spin-off. This show is aimed at kids, but fans of the original should still have fun watching it. The price is high on a per minute basis compared to most other TV on DVD releases, but this is common for imports and most fans will likely be willing to still pick it up.

The Simpsons - Season Eleven - Buy from Amazon
Almost everyone agrees that by season 11 The Simpsons was past its prime. ... And we are only halfway through its run. Even so there are still a number of excellent episodes: Brother's Little Helper, Guess Who's Coming to Criticize Dinner?, E-I-E-I-D'OH, Take My Wife, Sleaze, Little Big Mom, The Mansion Family, Missionary: Impossible, Behind the Laughter, and Treehouse of Horror X. Add in an excellent assortment of extras, including the ever-present and entertaining audio commentary tracks, and this is a 4-disc set that is easily worth picking up, and a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

Slacker Uprising - Buy from Amazon
Michael Moore's latest movie, which is about his attempts to get the youth of American politically motivated, so as to change the way elections are won. This happened in 2004 and was mostly unsuccessful, although that might change this time around. The fact that it didn't work last time makes the movie seem overly self-congratulatory and many critics have said it's for hardcore fans of the director only.

Sleeping Beauty - Two-Disc Platinum Edition - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
This is one of those reviews where I don't really know where to begin. It's Sleeping Beauty, one of the most famous animated movies of all time, and one of the best. I don't know what I need to say about this movie that hasn't been said hundreds of times, most of the time by people with a greater grasp of the English language than I do.

I will talk about the DVD presentation, but first a note, I don't have the Blu-ray version yet, but I will update this review when it arrives. However, just looking at the DVD, it is clear that this is the best looking this film has been since its was first released, possibly ever. It is also the first time it has been released on the home market in its original 2.55 aspect ratio, which has been pushed hard in the advertising, For casual fans, this might strike them as weird thing to focus on, but for hardcore fans, it is important to see the movie exactly as the animators intended. I can't wait to see this movie in High Definition, because the DVD looks awesome.

Most of the extras on the first disc are in a section called Backstage Disney, which has an audio commentary track, a princess pop-up trivia track, Grand Canyon, which is an animated short based on the Grand Canyon Suite by Ferde Grofe, and The Peter Tchaikovsky Story from the Walt Disney Presents TV series. Also, there is a section called Music & More that has a music video for "Once Upon A Dream" by Emily Osment (as Disney channel fans should know, as she's plays Lilly on Hannah Montana). You can also choose to listen to all of the songs from the movie, or watch the movie with the lyrics on the screen.

The rest of the extras are on the second disc, placed in two sections: Cottage and Castle. The former has two games: Briar Rose's Enchanted Dance Game and Sleeping Beauty Fun With Language Game. Castle starts with Picture Perfect: The Making of Sleeping Beauty, a 43-minute making of featurette, which is amazingly in-depth. Eyvind Earle: The Man and His Art is a 7.5 minute long look at the man who was the background artist for Sleeping Beauty and other films. Sequence 8 is a 5.5 minute long look at Sequence 8, which is one of the most complex of the scenes to make in the entire movie. Alternate Opening is just that, while Deleted Songs has three deleted songs. All four scenes are shown in various stages of animation. Storyboard Sequences shows a couple of scenes in storyboard form with comparison to the final film, complete with introductions. Live Action Reference shows footage of the model references that were done to help the animators make the film. Fascinating to watch, if a little strange, especially with no context. There is a three-part look at the Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough Attraction at Disneyland. Four Artists Paint One Tree is a 16-minute short showing four artists painting the same tree, with rather different results. Finally, there are several image galleries, and a few trailers.

Like I said, I don't have the Blu-ray version of this movie yet, but there are a ton of Blu-ray exclusive extras that are being pushed by the studio. These include Picture-in-Picture commentary track, interactive games, a trivia game you can play over BD-Live against others, and a whole lot more, including a copy of the movie on DVD. All of this for just 20% more. I will deal with them in greater detail as soon as the screener arrives.

Sleeping Beauty is the latest Disney animated film to get a Platinum Edition release, and it deserves it. It is also the first of the classic Disney animated films to come out on High Definition. Picking up the DVD is certainly worth it, but the Blu-ray is a serious contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

The Smurfs - Season One - Volume Two - Buy from Amazon
They are planning to make a trilogy of Smurf movies, with the first one coming out in 2010. At this pace, they will still be releasing The Smurfs TV series on DVD by the time the final movie is released (if they make it to three). It wouldn't take that long if they didn't insist on splitting the seasons into two volumes.

South Park - The Cult of Cartman - Revelations - Buy from Amazon
A 2-disc, 12-episode release that contains only a few episodes not yet on DVD. Also, it has extras that will only be found here. ... It's a cash grab, pure and simple.

Of the 12 episodes on this DVD, the three that are making their home market debut are...

  • Tonsil Trouble - Cartman needs to have his tonsils removed, but as a result of an accident, he becomes infected by AIDS. And after Kyle laughs at him, Cartman intentionally infects Kyle to get back at him, and the two boys' only hope for a cure is Magic Johnson.
    This is the season premiere, and it wasn't greeted warmly. It's not a terrible episode, but it is just average for the series. Average is not a good way to sell a 2-disc set with only three new episodes.
  • Eek, A Penis! - Mr. Garrison decides to become a man again, so he needs to grow a penis on a mouse. Meanwhile, Eric Cartman takes over the classroom for Mr. Garrison, and when the class does better he moves up to high school. However, The class succeeded because they cheated, so Eric teaches the inner city kids to cheat.
    The Mr. Garrison story line is the A-story here, which means Eric is part of the B-story in his own episode. Sadly, like the previous episode, this one is only average.
  • Super Fun Time - The kids take a field trip to Pioneer Village, but when the park is taken over by some criminals. However, the park employees are of no help because they refuse to break character, even at the threat of death. Meanwhile, Eric and Butters sneaked away to Super Phun Time, and when they see the cops surrounding the place, they think they are the ones in trouble.
    Again, Eric Cartman's role in this episode takes a back seat to the A-story. However, this is clearly the best of the three new episodes found on this DVD.
Extras are limited to short introductions by Eric Cartman on his rules to live by. Also, there is a sticker and a member's card for Cartman's Cult. However, that's not enough to make this DVD a better value than the full season sets.

Simply put, South Park The Cult of Cartman - Revelations is for casual fans of the show who aren't into full season sets, and hardcore fans of the show who must have every DVD release they put out. I don't think there are enough of the former, nor can I support the actions of the latter. Perhaps it will be worth a rental to some while they wait for Season 12 to be released on DVD.

Speed Racer - The Complete Classic Series Collection - Buy from Amazon
If you are going to double-dip on TV on DVD by putting out a full series set, at least follow this example and made the case really cool.

Spirit of the Marathon - Buy from Amazon
A documentary about marathon running, specifically the 2005 Chicago Marathon. This movie has a limited target audience, but the movie should appeal to them, and it might even create some converts. Extras include a behind-the-scenes featurette and a making-of featurette, and there's enough replay value here that many will opt for a purchase over just a rental.

The Three Stooges Collection - Volume Four - Buy from Amazon
Things we learn from watching the Three Stooges #312... If you are a secret spy organization working for the Nazis, don't outsource doorbell repairs; it won't end well.

This 2-Disc, 21-short collection spans 1943 to 1945 and includes a number of classic offerings from The Three Stooges, but what struck me was how consistent they were. Of the 21 shorts presented here, only two or three are below average, and that's below average for the troupe up to this point. There are no real true misses here.

Highlights include...

  • Crash Goes the Hash - The trio get hired as undercover reporters to get the scope on a possible marriage between a high society lady and a prince. So they pretend to be the new chef and the two butlers. On a side note, it was during the filming of this short that Curly suffered his first mini-stroke, which is seen in the outdoor shots.
  • The Yoke's on Me - Not a highlight, but a lowlight. This short deals with Japanese interment camps. Its depiction of the Japanese is so racist that it was banned from TV in the 1970s. Saying it is uncomfortable watching this particular short is an understatement.
  • Three Pests in a Mess - The trio tries to patent their fly killing machine, but they are mistaken for lotto winners by a team of scam artists. In the course of events, they accidentally shoot and kill... a mannequin. But that's only the beginning of their troubles.
  • Idiots Deluxe - Moe's on trail for assaulting Curly and Larry with the intent to commit mayhem... Mayhem? Is that a real crime? Anyway, Moe tells his side of the story where he needs peace and quiet to recover nerves, so Larry and Curly take him hunting. That ends poorly.
  • If a Body Meets a Body - Curly may be the heir to $3 million, so they head to his recently deceased uncle's mansion for the reading of the will. But it turns out his uncle was murdered, and he's not the only one who is bumped off that evening.
  • Micro-Phonies - The Three Stooges are installing a radiator when they hear a beautiful lady record a song for her audition as a radio star. But they accidentally get signed instead... Curly has to cross-dress and sing at a high society party. The Three Stooges + High Society = Guaranteed Funny.
Notice something about that list? It only includes shorts on the second disc. Why is that? Because while I was reviewing the first short on the first disc, there was a power surge that fried my PS3. I was able to review the second disc in my old DVD player, but the first disc was trapped. I will get to it this week after it comes back from the repair shop, and update the review for next week. Sorry for the delay.

Unfortunately, there are no special features on the 2-disc set, but getting all of the Three Stooges shorts in chronological order is special enough.

The Three Stooges Collection - Volume Four covers 1943 to 1945, which many consider part of the Golden Age of the comedy trio. For fans who have enjoyed the previous three volumes, there is practically no reason to not add Volume 4 to their DVD Collection. The second disc alone has enough classic comedy shorts to make it worth picking up, and next week I'll review the first disc... assuming I can retrieve it from my now dead PS3.

Touch of Evil - 50th Anniversary Edition - Buy from Amazon
One of the best movies ever made, it displays Orson Welles' visual flair at its finest. This two-disc set includes three versions of the movie, the original preview version, the cut down theatrical version, and the 1998 restored version. It also includes 4 audio commentary tracks, including two on the restored version. There is also a 40-minute, two-part making-of featurette. They probably could have included a third disc with a feature-length making of documentary, especially given the troubled production of this movie, but what we get here is still worth picking up if you don't have the movie, and upgrading to if you do.

The Visitor - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
I've said many, many times that 2008 hasn't been a strong year for limited releases and we've yet to see a massive hit coming out of art houses. While this is true, The Visitor came pretty close earning nearly $10 million, and there's a reason for that. (On a side note, Richard Jenkins is a great character actor, so I'm very pleased to see him get a lead role.) However, while the film did well at the box office, the DVD is light on extras with just an audio commentary track, deleted scenes, a making-of featurette, and a featurette on playing the Djembe, which is the instrument Walter Vale learned how to play in the movie. This is not bad for a limited release, but I was hoping for more since it made nearly $10 million at the box office. As for the Blu-ray, it has no additional extras, but it costs 80% more. It is definitely worth picking up, but I can't recommend the Blu-ray over the DVD.

Watership Down - Deluxe Edition - Buy from Amazon
I can't believe this movie is 30 years old. I remember seeing this classic animated story when I was a kid, and I was mesmerized. While it is a cartoon, it is not a kiddie story and it is told in a way that should enthrall adults as well. (In fact, there are parts of the movie that are way to violent for younger kids.) I've been waiting a long time for this film to get its due treatment on the home market, but sadly I think I'll have to wait a little bit longer. The only extras on the DVD is an interview with the filmmakers, a featurette on the style, and a storyboard to screen comparison. It is still worth picking up, but a full set of extras would make it a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

Wonder Pets - Save the Nutcracker - Buy from Amazon
The eighth DVD for this franchise, which features three elementary school pets, Linny the Guinea Pig, Turtle Tuck, and Ming-Ming Duckling, who rescue other little pets who get into trouble. This DVD features the Christmas themed double-length episode, which lends its name to the release.
  • Save the Nutcracker - It's Christmas Eve and the Wonder Pets are disappointed in their only Christmas present, the Nutcracker. But when the Mouse King steals it, they have to save it.
  • Save the Pangaroo - A Pangaroo, that's part parrot and part kangaroo, falls off his art stand and lands in the trash. However, when the Wonder Pets get him out, it's only the beginning of the rescue.
  • Save the Cricket - A baby cricket got stuck in a bubble and is floating over the city of Chicago. What will the Wonder Pets do?
  • Save the Old White Mouse - Linny is off visiting her grandma, and Ming-Ming is put in charge, but they have to go to Linny and help an old white mouse who got stuck in a clock.
  • The Adventures of Bee and Slug! - This episode focuses on two friends, a bee and a slug, who watch the Wonder Pets rescue a fox, but they get into trouble and they need rescuing themselves.
  • Save the Cow - There's a baby cow stuck in a tree. How? By a twister? You would think that would be fatal.
  • Save the Skunk - Ollie the Bunny joins the trio to help save a skunk, but first Ollie needs to learn the value of teamwork.
Extras on the DVD includes a music video for "Waltz of the Flowers" and a very simple game called Decorate the Christmas Tree.

No Christmas before Halloween! Why is this rule so hard to follow? ... Moving on... Wonder Pets - Save the Nutcracker features plenty of music, including some based on Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite, which is my personal favorite classical music (although Tchaikovsky himself disliked it, claiming it was too commercial) and this made this DVD more fun to review than many pre-school releases. I'm sure pre-school fans of the show will feel the same.

You Don't Mess With the Zohan - Buy from Amazon: Original Theatrical Version, Unrated Single-Disc Version, Unrated Two-Disc Version, or Blu-ray
Adam Sandler's latest movie performed pretty much as expected, earning weak grades with critics and $100 million at the box office. There are several versions of the movie coming out this week, but there are only two worth serious consideration: the Unrated Two-Disc Version and the Blu-ray. The former has plenty of extras including an audio commentary track, deleted / alternate scenes, and more than a dozen featurettes mostly on various aspects of the making of the movie. The latter has all the above, plus a Bonus View Picture-in-Picture track called Translating the Zohan, which is acceptable for a 35% premium in price.

You're Not Elected, Charlie Brown - Buy from Amazon
A lesson in the futility of politics as laid out by the Peanuts Gang. This TV special from 1972 is probably best known as the first animated appearance of Joe Cool, Snoopy's alter ego, as well as the first televised appearance of Woodstock. However, while not as well known of some of the other TV specials, it is still quite good and the timing of the release is excellent. Worth checking out for most, picking up for many. Two releases DVDs are being re-released tomorrow: A Charlie Brown Christmas and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.


Filed under: Video Releases, The Visitor, Paranoid Park, Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer