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DVD Reviews for 5/8: Into The Blu
by Peter Sobczynski

In which your faithful critic takes his first tentative steps towards providing Blu-ray coverage, aided in no small part by the hi-def return of a little thing called "Star Trek."

As those of you who are regular readers of this column have no doubt noticed over time, I have concentrated my focus almost entirely on standard DVD releases and have almost entirely ignored the hi-def universe represented by Blu-ray. Well, at first the decision to set Blu-ray to the side was a practical matter--I wanted to wait until the format war between Blu-ray and rival technology HD-DVD came to an end in order to reduce confusion. After that battle was settled, though, I still stayed away from dealing with the format for a variety of reasons--the chief ones being laziness, a lack of a Blu-ray player and, most importantly, the fact that standard DVD was still the more popular choice with consumers while Blu-ray was more along the lines of a niche market like the late, lamented laserdisc. However, while most of the aforementioned rationales still hold up pretty well today, I have decided, starting with this week’s column, to take my first tentative steps into the world of Blu-ray coverage. Although the focus will still be largely dedicated to regular DVD releases, I plan on highlighting the occasional significant Blu-ray releases when they occur and when the new films being released each week receive a Blu-ray issue as well, their listings will include a shiny notation indicating as such. Also, I will be ending each week’s column with a list of Blu-ray catalogue titles that are also making their appearances. It will probably take a few weeks to iron all the bugs out but who knows, it might even be worth it in the end? Besides, unlike other DVD columns, it isn’t as if I am asking anyone to help pay for the upkeep, right?

I suppose that it strangely appropriate to begin my first fumbling steps into the world of Blu-ray with a property that has also had an uneasy past with the format--a little thing that you might have heard of called “Star Trek.” Back in the days of the format battle between Blu-ray and HD-DVD, Paramount, the home studio for all things “Trek”-related, chose to throw in with the HD-DVD side and in fact, one of the things that the HD faction used in order to attract consumers was the fact that their hi-def format was the only one that “Star Trek” in all of its various forms would be appearing on. Unfortunately, while the first season of the original series did appear on HD-DVD in a special edition that included remastered versions of the episodes with newly enhanced visual and audio effects designed to give them additional oomph (a move that did cause some consternation among some purists at the time), the format soon succumbed to market apathy and those poor fools who actually invested in the format were dismayed to discover that when Paramount released the final two seasons of the show, they only appeared on standard DVD, a format that they had already been issued on a few years earlier. However, just in time to coincide with the theatrical relaunch of the franchise (of which I will assume you are aware of by now), the studio has gotten all their “Trek”-related Blu-ray ducks in order and have begun launching the first wave of them onto the marketplace in the hopes of once again convincing loyal fans of the franchise to once again buy things that they have no doubt purchased many times over throughout the years.

Of these releases, the biggest deal of the bunch is “Star Trek: The Original Series--Season 1,” a 7-disc collection comprising of all 29 episodes of the show’s initial season, a run that included several of the show’s most popular and lasting chapters (“The Menagerie,” “The City of the Edge of Forever” and the always-awesome (Nell!) “Space Seed.” Actually, it comprises of more than that because this set not only includes the newly enhanced versions with the upgraded special effects, it also includes the original versions in all their low-fi glory and allows you to switch back and forth between the two via the miracle of seamless branching. In addition, several key episodes (though not “The City on the Edge of Forever,” oddly enough) contain the “Starfleet Access” feature that allows you to further explore those particular shows via interviews and audio/text commentaries with key production personnel and show historians. As for the other extras, the set ports over most of the material seen on the previous DVD and HD-DVD incarnations--interviews with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, documentaries on the show’s initial creation and recent restoration, a collection of rare home movies shot behind the scenes by one of the show’s regular extras and a BD-Live function that will allow viewers to download additional material surrounding the show. In other words, Trekkies, you are pretty much going to have to buy this set yet again--the consolation being that it has been done so well this time around that it will presumably be a long time before Paramount figures out a way to make you do it again.

“Star Trek: Original Motion Picture Collection,” on the other hand, is a slightly dicier proposal. On the one hand, it not only contains all six of the initial feature films with the original cast--”Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (1979), “The Wrath of Khan” (1982), “The Search for Spock” (1984), “The Voyage Home” (1986), “The Final Frontier” (1989) and “The Undiscovered Country” (1991)--but it presents them in their original theatrical incarnations (a DVD first for “The Motion Picture” and “The Undiscovered Country”) and also offers up most of the bonus features seen on previous releases, new commentary tracks and BD-Live features and the bonus disc “Star Trek: The Captain’s Summit,” a 70-minute roundtable discussion on all things “Trek” moderated by Whoopi Goldberg (insert obvious joke comparing this to a typical episode of “The View”) featuring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Patrick Stewart and Jonathan Frakes. On the other hand, the set drops all of the extended or altered versions of the films that have come out over the years as well as the bonus features related specifically to them (such as the extended audio and text-based commentary tracks)--this means, for example, that virtually none of the features that appeared on the acclaimed 2000 release of the director’s cut of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (including the film itself and the fascinating documentary surrounding its long development) are to be found here. Since I can only presume that the extended versions and their related bonus material are being held back in order to release them at some point down the line, whether this particular set is worth purchasing depends largely on whether you think the refurbished versions were improvements on the original or not and whether hearing Shatner and Nimoy rehashing old stories is enough of a draw.

As for the films themselves, my personal opinions of them are pretty much concurrent with those of most “Trek” fans. Although “The Motion Picture” is often slow and bloated from director Robert Wise’s attempts to transform the material into some kind of epic drama, it does play a little better than it did when it first came out and it is also a little more ambitious than some of the other entries in the series. (That said, the 2000 recut is a marked improvement on the original.) “The Wrath of Khan” is, simply put, not only the best “Star Trek” film by a wide margin, it is one of the most compulsively entertaining sci-movies ever made--the story is gripping, the finale is undeniably touching and as the fearsome Khan, Ricardo Montalban is one of the most iconic figures of evil in the history of the genre. “The Search for Spock” is pretty good, though it will appeal more to hardcore fans than newcomers. “The Voyage Home” is a hugely entertaining work, to be sure, but it is less a “Star Trek” movie than it is an admittedly witty variation on co-writer Nicholas Meyer’s previous time-travel tale “Time After Time” (even going so far as to using some of the same jokes) designed to appeal more to people outside of the immediate fan base. “The Final Frontier” is still not only the worst “Trek” film to date, it still maintains its position as one of the worst big-budget films ever made--a colossal ego fest for star-director Shatner that makes his old record album seem like a masterpiece of subtlety and artistic refinement by comparison. As for “The Undiscovered Country,” it is probably the most underrated film of the bunch. Although the story wasn’t much to write home about (I for one can barely remember it at all), that was hardly the point--the film was essentially designed to send the original cast off into the sunset with some modicum of grace and dignity and in that regards, it works wonderfully. (And yes, that is Christian Slater making a brief cameo appearance at one point and no, I have no idea why.)

The final “Trek” related releases this week, available only on standard DVD, are “The Best of Star Trek: The Original Series” and “The Best of Star Trek: The Next Generation,” two best-of compilations that are clearly aimed solely at newcomers to the fold who may want to dip their toes into the show’s history after checking out the new movie by offering up four key episodes from each series. This is especially the case of the set dedicated to the original show as the four episodes selected all have some connection to ideas and themes that pop up in the film: “The City on the Edge of Forever” (time travel), “Balance of Terror” (Romulans as the main villains instead of the more familiar Klingons), “Amok Time” (the friendship between Kirk and Spock) and “The Trouble with Tribbles” (a bunch of cute things filling up the hallways of the Enterprise and causing inadvertent havoc wherever they go). Although I cannot believe that someone could put out a “Star Trek” best-of and not include the immortal “Space Seed” (the episode that would eventually inspire “The Wrath of Khan”), this is still a pretty good introductory sampler. As for the “Next Generation” collection, it includes “The Best of Both Worlds Part I,” “The Best of Both Worlds Part II,” “Yesterday’s Enterprise” and “The Measure of a Man.”


STAR TREK: ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE COLLECTION: A Paramount Home Video release. $139.99.




BLEAK HOUSE (BBC. $39.98): Charles Dickens’ sprawling novel, a work that follows the lives of three young people trying to find their respective places in the world and which veers from comedy to melodrama to romance to Gothic horror to courtroom intrigue, is the subject of an equally sprawling miniseries originally produced for British television and featuring such familiar faces as Gillian Anderson and Charles Dance. Thanks in large part to the teleplay by Andrew Davies (who previously penned the 1995 TV version of “Pride and Prejudice”), this has already begun to earn a reputation as one of the best Dickens’ adaptations ever produced.

Other TV-related DVDs appearing this week include "Boston Legal: Season Five" (Fox Home Entertainment. $49.98), "Crusoe: The Complete Series" (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98), "Gigantor: The Collection, Volume 1" (E1 Entertainment. $39.98), "Jake and the Fatman: Season Two, Volume One" (CBS DVD. $36.98), "The Last Templar" (Genius Entertainment. $19.95), "Lipstick Jungle: Season 2" (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98) and "That Girl: Season Five" (Shout! Factory. $39.99).

CHANDNI CHOWK TO CHINA (Warner Home Video. $27.98): Hoping to regain some of the millions of dollars that they unwittingly gave up when they sold their rights to distribute “Slumdog Millionaire” to Fox Searchlight, Warner Brothers quickly released this goofy Indian-made action comedy into theaters in order to cash in on the curiosity for all things Bollywood-related. The film, in which a lowly Indian vegetable cutter is brought to a besieged Chinese village by representatives under the mistaken impression that he is the reincarnation of a fearless warrior who can help them fend off their evil oppressors, is nonsense from start to finish (and little more than a knock-off of “Kung-Fu Hustle” to boot) and, like many Bollywood films, goes on a little too long for its own good but for those who are curious about the genre or looking for something off the beaten path, the combination of goody humor, reasonably impressive fight scenes and the awe-inspiring beauty of co-star Deepika Padukone makes for a relatively entertaining experience.

THE CHICK’S ABILITY (Impulse Pictures. $24.95): In this incredibly tacky 1984 sexploitation classic from our friends in Brazil, a innocent young lass (Helena Ramos) gets knocked up, is cast away by her parents and discovers that her child is in desperate need of expensive medical care. To raise the money, she does the only thing one can possibly do if they are a character in a movie of this type and they look like Helena Ramos--she goes to work in a high-end brothel in order to save the kid’s life. There is a fairly good chance that this may be the sleaziest film I have ever covered in the history of this column and God bless it for that.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (The Criterion Collection. $34.98): Blending together cutting-edge technology with old-fashioned storytelling values, this adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story chronicling the strange life of a man (Brad Pitt) who was born old and who aged backwards into infancy is a knockout piece of contemporary cinema that blow the mind and touches the heart in equal measure. Yes, it clocks in at nearly three hours but it is told with such skill that, unlike its main character, you never feel the passage of time. This is the kind of ambitious swing-for-the-fences filmmaking that few American movies these days even attempt anymore, let alone pull off successfully. In other words, David Fincher (ably aided by the contributions of a large and talented collection of actors and technicians, many of whom where honored by the 11 Oscar nominations that the film received) reconfirms his position as one of the great filmmakers working today by giving us a film destined to go down as an instant classic. Although casual fans will no doubt be satisfied with the movie-only edition being released by Paramount Home Video, most of you will want to go to the 2-disc special edition being put out by Criterion that includes, among other things, an absolutely fascinating and detailed making-of documentary that also clocks in at about 3 hours and is arguably the most fascinating such thing to appear on DVD since the “Dangerous Days” documentary that appeared with “Blade Runner.”

ENCHANTED APRIL (Miramax Home Entertainment. $29.99):Long unavailable in this country due to a conflict involving the rights, this Oscar-nominated 1992 adaptation of the Elizabeth von Arnim novel (previously filmed in 1935) from Mike Newell about a quartet of women--unhappy housewives Miranda Richardson and Josie Lawrence, cranky senior citizen Joan Plowright and bored socialite Polly Walker--who split the rent on an Italian villa for a month and find themselves coming to terms with their lives has finally arrived on DVD. Although certainly not an example of flashy cinematic technique by any stretch of the imagination, this low-key tale holds up surprisingly well thanks to the nice performances from the entire cast (which also includes the always-reliable likes of Alfred Molina and Jim Broadbent) and cinematography so beautiful that you may find yourself pricing villas in Italy as soon as the movie is over.

FLIRTING WITH FORTY (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.96): No, this isn't one of those films that Sasha Grey did before hooking up with Steven Soderbergh. Instead, this made-for-TV melodrama follows a forlorn and recently divorced mother who goes off to Hawaii for her 40th birthday, falls into bed with a hunky surf instructor and finds her life turned upside-down when it appears that what began as a one-night stand might actually blossom into true love. Oh yeah, that forlorn 40-year-old woman desperately looking for what may be her last chance at romance and happiness and willing to battle the disapproval of society--she’s played by Heather Locklear.

LAST CHANCE HARVEY (Starz/Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $29.98): Sure, the basic story of this London-set comedic drama--a man and a woman, both of a certain age, get to know each other over the course of a long and eventful day and evening--is little more than a variation of Richard Linklater’s glorious “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset” and the last 20 minutes or so are borderline unforgivable in its blatant attempt to jerk tears. And yet, it is easy to overlook these flaws because of the charming central performances from Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson in the main roles--they play so wonderfully of off each other that even when the movie comes to an end, you’ll still find yourself wanting to follow them around on their further adventures.

A PLUMM SUMMER (Paramount Home Video. $24.99): Inspired by a true story, this low-key family-oriented drama deals with the mysterious disappearance of a frog puppet that hosts a local kiddie TV show alongside Happy Herb (Henry Winkler) and the efforts of three kids--a 5-year-old who is the frog’s biggest fan, his older brother and a new neighbor girl with a taste for mysteries--to solve the crime. Although it may look like silly direct-to-video junk, this is actually a nicely done film that should appeal to kids and parents in equal measure.

SMOTHER (Universal Home Entertainment. $24.98): Apparently hell-bent on squandering every bit of the considerable good will that she has banked over the years thanks to films like “Annie Hall,” Diane Keaton pops up in yet another would-be “comedy” (following on the heels of “Because I Said So” and “Mama’s Boy”) in which she plays a meddling mother interfering in the lives of her grown children via means that aren’t as much “amusing” as they are “creepy” and disturbing. This time around, the blanks are filled by Dax Shepard as her harried son, Liv Tyler (who underwent less torture in “The Strangers” than she does here) as the daughter-in-law and Mike White as the wacky best pal. Diane--maybe you should ask the Revlon people for a raise so you don’t have to further tarnish your reputation with comedies that contain fewer genuine laughs than “The Little Drummer Boy” and “The Good Mother” combined.

STREISAND: THE CONCERTS (Hip-O Records. $34.98): This 3-disc set offers fans of the music world’s best-selling female artist the chance to see her doing her thing in two complete concert performances--one from the Ft Lauderdale stop of her record-breaking 2006 tour (featuring an appearance from the pop-opera quartet Il Divo) and the Emmy-award winning special chronicling her return to the stage in 1994 after a 27-year hiatus from live performance--and a bonus disc comprised of the cable special “Putting It Together--The Making of The Broadway Album” and a selection of musical numbers taken from her early TV specials. You know, it is a good thing that my beloved mother is one of the many people who doesn’t actually read this column because if she did, she would know exactly what she is getting for Mother’s Day this year.

If you are still in the mood to hear to old standards after watching these, you can also pick up the two new CD releases from the late saloon singer Frank Sinatra, “My Way: 40th Anniversary Edition” and “Live At The Meadowlands” (Concord Music. $18.98 each). Yes, some of you purists may point out that these aren’t actually DVDs and in response, I will simply remind you that whatever Frank says or does, goes--capiche?

WENDY AND LUCY (Oscilloscope. $29.95): When filmmaker Kelly Reichardt’s previous film, “Old Joy,” came out a couple of years ago, it received rapturous reviews that I never quite understood--it was so grim and poky that it felt more like a parody of a low-key indie film than anything else. Thankfully, her latest film, in which a young woman drifting through a small Oregon town on her way to Alaska finds her entire life waylaid when she loses her beloved dog, is a much more interesting and intriguing effort, thanks in part to Reichardt’s quietly nuanced screenplay and direction and in great part to Michelle Williams’ beautiful turn in the lead role, one of the very best screen performances of last year and one that deserved far more attention than it received. If you watched that “Marley & Me” malarkey, you owe it to yourself to see this truly moving depiction of the bond that can grow between humans and their pets and the emotional upheavals that can occur when that bond is challenged or threatened.

WINTER OF FROZEN DREAMS (Monterey Video. $26.95): Based on a bizarre real-life murder case that occurred in Madison, Wisconsin in 1980, Thora Birch portrays Barbara Hoffman, a brilliant biochemistry student who drifted into prostitution and who would eventually be accused of seducing and murdering men in order to collect on their life insurance policies. Strangely enough, when you consider the tawdriness of the crimes that it depicts, the film is almost maddeningly boring and lifeless and only the appearance of Keith Carradine as the oddball detective on the case adds any sort of juice to the material.

Also on

FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (Paramount Home Video. $29.99)
GREASE (Paramount Home Video. $29.99)
ROXANNE (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.95)
SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (Paramount Home Video. $29.99)
TWILIGHT (Summit Entertainment. $34.99)

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originally posted: 05/08/09 01:29:24
last updated: 05/15/09 04:24:17
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