eKC feature
January 16, 2009


Ten DVD Releases That Got It Right in 2008
by Loey Lockerby

American 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 of Cinema

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.

The 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.

Indiana 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.

Iron Man

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.

The 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 Anniversary Edition

Orson 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.

WALL*E: 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.


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