DVD Releases That Got It Right in 2008
Gangster: Collector’s Edition
If a movie is based on a true story — especially one as fascinating
as that of ‘70s drug kingpin Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) —
the “special edition” DVD is a perfect way to provide the
context you can’t get in a theatre. Universal’s release
of the Ridley Scott epic does just that, offering extensive background
material, including interviews with the real Lucas and Richie Roberts,
the cop who helped bring him down. The disc even discusses a previous
effort to film the story and how the project was kept alive.
Georges Méliès: First Wizard
Anyone who has ever taken a film history class has seen at least one
film by this pioneering French director. From 1896 to 1913, Méliès
took the infant medium to delightful heights, inventing the concept
of special effects along the way. This 5-disc set compiles over 170
of his films, restored as fully as possible, considering their ages.
With a biographical featurette and a booklet full of information, this
is a terrific example of what digital technology can do for film preservation.
Godfather: The Coppola Restoration Gift Set
Francis Ford Coppola is known for the care he takes in his movies’
DVD releases, and he has outdone himself with this new edition of his
legendary gangster trilogy. Not only has he supervised a complete audio
and video clean up of all three films, he has included all the extras
from the 2001 DVD release (including a commentary track and a disc-full
of features) as well as another disc of brand new material, which runs
nearly 90 minutes. No fan could refuse this.
The Golden Compass: Platinum Series
Despite its success with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, New
Line took a timid approach with this adaptation of Philip Pullman’s
fantasy novel, offering a movie with plenty of thrills for fans, but
little to pull in newcomers. The Platinum Series DVD acknowledges some
of the behind-the-scenes drama (mostly involving director Chris Weitz),
but its main focus is rightly on the book. Pullman offers his own insights
into the process, while Weitz and the film’s producers are detailed
and honest about the challenges they faced.
Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: 2-Disc Special Edition
Whatever you thought of Indy’s fourth adventure (and many people
hated it), Steven Spielberg and George Lucas know how put together a
DVD set. Every aspect of production, from the initial decision to bring
back Harrison Ford’s hero to the details of John Williams’
score, is covered in minute detail. It’s a feast for aficionados
of the series, and more enjoyable than the film itself for many.
Jon Favreau’s take on the Marvel superhero was everything a summer
blockbuster should be — funny, exciting, thoughtful and full of
awesome explosions. Plus, it starred Robert Downey, Jr. The DVD doesn’t
miss much, either, with a feature’s worth of behind-the-scenes
footage. Most importantly, though, it respects Iron Man’s longtime
fans, offering interviews with the likes of Stan Lee and Joe Quesada
as it explores the character’s comic book roots.
Nightmare Before Christmas: Collector’s Edition
No other movie bridges the gap between Halloween and Christmas like
Tim Burton’s gleefully demented animated film. In the years since
its original release, Nightmare has developed a loyal following,
and Disney’s Collector’s Edition rewards those fans handsomely.
Setting aside the nifty packaging (which can include a Jack Skellington
bust for just $179.99!), this set is filled with the kind of twisted
fun only Burton (and his director, Henry Selick) can provide. There
are making-of features, of course, but also examples of Burton’s
early animation, a theme-park ride tour and Christopher Lee reading
the original Burton poem that inspired the film. That’s right,
Christopher Lee. What more do you need?
Touch of Evil: 50th
Welles’ gritty thriller was released in 1958, but it has been
considered one of Hollywood’s great “lost” films anyway.
Unhappy with Welles’ vision and work habits, Universal chopped
up his original version, leading the director to fire off a 58-page
memo detailing his objections and desires. The studio restores its cinematic
karma with the 50th Anniversary Edition DVD, offering three versions
of the film (the “preview” version, the theatrical cut,
and a re-edit from 1998 following Welles’ original preferences).
There are also commentary tracks on each version by critics and historians,
and even an old one featuring the movie’s late stars, Charlton
Heston and Janet Leigh, plus features on the restoration process and
the locations. There is even a printed reproduction of the infamous
memo, which is worth the price of the set by itself.
Criterion’s DVD releases are always spectacular, and the company
did right by Carl Theodor Dreyer’s freaky 1932 horror classic.
In spite of (or perhaps because of) its low-budget, experimental style,
Vampyr haunts anyone who sees it, and this cleaned-up print
offers the best restoration so far. There are notable extras on the
discs themselves, but the real finds are in print. Criterion has included
a booklet of critical essays on Dreyer and the film, as well as a copy
of the original script and the short story on which it is supposedly
(very loosely) based.
Three-Disc Special Edition
The Pixar fan base contains as many adults as kids, and the company’s
DVD releases reflect that balance beautifully. This sci-fi charmer,
about the adventures of a trash-compacting robot in Earth’s distant
future, is a treasure trove for geeks and toddlers alike. The technical
side is covered in about an hour’s worth of material while Pixar’s
history gets a feature-length documentary all to itself. For the kids,
there are the usual array of short films, plus fact pages on the robot
characters and a read-along storybook. It’s the very definition
of “something for everyone.”
Loey Lockerby can be contacted at LRL94@aol.com.