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Universal Home Video is My New Best Friend!

The early favorite for DVD Studio of 2004
by Scott Weinberg

I'm certainly not one to blindly shill for a movie studio. I call 'em like I see 'em. When Fox releases a phenomenal DVD for a little movie like 'Donnie Darko' or when Paramount skimps hard on the DVD of 'Grease', I'm apt to share an opinion or two. Just recently I came across a quiet little development from the fine folks at Universal Home Video, and it impressed me so much that I thought it worthy of sharing. Fair warning: this article may end up costing up you 50 bucks in the end.

Throughout my normal wanderings at Home Theater Forum and our own Mr. Childress' DVD Release Schedule, I caught wind of a few upcoming titles I might like to own.

The first one was called The Airport Terminal Pack, which (obviously) is a compilation of four cheeseball disaster flicks from the 1970s. Airport (1970), Airport 1975, Airport '77 and The Concorde: Airport '79! All in Anamorphic Widescreen. Dolby 2.0, no features aside from the trailers. Under 25 smackers. For all four movies, delivered in their original aspect ratio. And this is coming from Universal Home Video, not a Goodtimes or a Madacy or any one of those other butchers. Amazon sells it for $21.23.

So even though I'm not a huge fan of those movies, I do remember seeing them as a kid and these days I love watching the old disaster movies. Because they're so amazingly bad. Don't believe me? Add The Swarm to your Netflix queue and then drop me an email.

The same folks at HTF then mentioned that this was a whole new LINE of DVD releases from Universal. Apparently someone passed a memo around stating that movie fans really enjoy and appreciate a good bargain. So look what else they got!

The American Graffiti Drive-In Double Feature Not only do you get the same great transfer and the extra features from the previous AG DVD, but they toss in the (clearly inferior but still watchable) sequel as a bonus! Both movies, again, are delivered in Widescreen Anamorphic. If you already own the first AG release, and you're not at all interested in the sequel, then you should stick with what you got. But if you're still in the market for this classic comedy, it's nice to get the goofball follow-up as a rainy-day flick. Amazon says $17.98 for the pair. So that one had me interested as well, but my money was still on the Airport set. But wait! What's this?

The Smokey and the Bandit Pursuit Pack?? No way they even included the third one! :) Yup. All three chase flicks (2 with Burt, Dom and Sally), all in their original formats, each nestled next to a theatrical trailer...on 1 disc. Hmm, three movies on one disc? Let's hope side A is reserved for the first one alone. And I doubt I'd ever watch the third one except as a bizarre curiosity, but the first two movies have a lazy charm that I've always liked. Hell, I liked the first Cannonball Run, so what do I know? This platter, packed with Jackie Gleason goodness, can be yours for $17.99.

OK, so Airport, Smokey and the Bandit and American Grafitti. I haven't spent too much money yet. Wait a sec...

Conan: The Complete Quest ?? (Sorry folks, no Red Sonja; that one is Fox's cross to bear.) Here we have the full-on Special Edition version of the amazing Conan the Barbarian (complete with Arnie/John Milius commentary, numerous featurettes, deleted scenes, FX footage, trailers, etc.) and a lovely Widescreen transfer. Tossed in for comic relief is the wacky sequel Conan the Destroyer, in WS as well. The SE stuff (and the first movie) are worth 15 bucks on its own, but you get the sequel too for $16.99. Solid deal there. Surely I was in enough trouble already. I'd gladly buy all four of those DVDs and be content for at least...six days. But there are more...

Coming next week is The Flintstones Yabba-Dabba 2-Pack. (Cute name.) Now, this isn't one I'd really be interested in buying, as I consider the original rather blah (though not as awful as people think) and the sequel rather crappy. But one thing that is worthy of note: this single-disc release contains the equivalent of two separate Special Edition releases. For Part 1 you get an audio commentary, a few featurettes and a bunch of little junk; for Part 2 there's a Making-Of featurette and the trailers. If you ARE a fan of these movies (and as someone who drop-dead adores Altman's Popeye, I'm not one to pass judgment), this disc is a no-brainer. Again, no trace of a Full Frame transfer is in evidence, and this one would set you back $16.98.

So at least there's one that I don't need to own, but waitaminnit... What's this next one??

Dragonheart: 2 Legendary Tales Hmm, this was a toughie. See, I really think the original Dragonheart is a fine adventure movie, and one that's been unfairly maligned (or more accurately: forgotten) over the past few years. Since I don't currently own the DVD, I was quick to check out the specs on the double feature disc. Director's commentary, featurettes, trailers, outtakes, TV spots, still galleries... Hey, this is that same SE that I should have bought last year! AND it comes with its own direct-to-video sequel from a few years back, a sequel I've never seen and therefore cannot cast petty aspersions about its DTV lineage. Hopefully it'll be watchable. (Note: you WILL find a Full Frame transfer via Dragonheart: A New Beginning, as it was a DTV release and those guys can get away with it sometimes.) The Lord Amazon commands $16.98 for the Dragon flicks.

FOUL! Argh, we've hit a snag. My research indicates that the upcoming Problem Child Tantrum Pack is faulty in several ways, not the least of which is the fact that the movies kinda stink. No offense to the always lovable and sorely missed John Ritter, but these movies were pretty much beneath him. Still, the guy earned his check and moved on to better projects. I still can't believe that goofy lug is gone. Sigh.

ANYWAY, here's the main problem: Both movies, films that were produced for and released within movie theaters, theaters that have large rectangular screens and not small square ones, were originally produced in Widescreen. To call this a "Tantrum Pack" would be quite appropriate indeed, as Full Frame transfers of theatrical releases...well, they suck ass is what they do.

Another detriment is that the second sequel, the made-for-television Problem Child 3: Junior in Love, is NOT included in the Tantrum Pack. I figure one extra dose of Junior's insanity could surely inspire extra tantrumming (and Part 3 is indeed a Universal release), but alas Parts 1 and 2 is all we got. Should you want to inflict nasty Fullscreen movies upon your children, Amazon asks $16.98 for the disc.

But what about OLD people? We like movies too, right? Universal not only has some classics to share, but get a load of what's included for the price.

The Adventures of Ma and Pa Kettle is available. Four movies (The Egg and I (1947), The Further Adventures of Ma and Pa Kettle (1949), Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town (1950) and Ma and Pa Kettle Back on the Farm (1951)) prove that "sequelizing" is in no way a recent phenomenon. I bet there are a few grandmothers out there who wouldn't mind seeing these moves again, plus these are the first four titles in the series, presented in order. That counts for something. The flicks are Full Frame because that's how they were made back in the gray days, and you'll even find a few trailers as well. Four old comedy classics on one DVD; Amazon requests $16.98 from interested parties.

You think four one on disc (for 17 bucks) is impressive? Especially considering the movies involved? Ha, I say! Get a load of this one:

The Best of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello: Volume 1

Eight movies on two discs. And these are not some fuzzy and obscure A & C movies, either. We're talking about the ones you actually know! One Night in the Tropics (1940), Buck Privates (1941), In the Navy (1941), Hold That Ghost (1941), Keep 'Em Flying (1941), Ride 'Em Cowboy (1942), Pardon My Sarong (1942) and Who Done It? (1942). Each movie comes with production notes and a theatrical trailer, old-school FF transfer and 2.0 sound. I've only seen a few of these myself, but holy mackerel; if you dig on the Golden Age comedies, just donate $21.23 to the Amazon foundation. (Wow, $21.23 is their most expensive one yet. That equals out to about $2.75 a movie.)

I thought that was pretty much all Universal had up their sleeves. All of these releases will have hit stores by o3/o2/o4. But then I did a little digging into Universal's website and came up with some rather exciting discoveries.

Horror Fans: Go get some red spray paint and scrawl "April 27th" across your forehead, and make sure you're sitting down before reading any further.

Dracula: The Legacy Collection - 2 discs - $22.93

Dracula (1931)
Dracula (1931 - Original Spanish Version)
Dracula's Daughter (1936)
Son of Dracula (1943)
House of Dracula (1944)
--The original documentary "The Road to Dracula"
--Feature commentary from film historian David J. Skal
--New (alternate) score by Philip Glass and the Kronos Quartet

Frankenstein: The Legacy Collection - 2 discs - $22.93

Frankenstein (1931)
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Son of Frankenstein (1939)
Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)
House of Frankenstein (1944)
--An original documentary on the making of the Frankenstein films
--Additional commentary from film historian Ruby Behlmer
--"The Frankenstein Files: How Hollywood Made a Monster," an original documentary by David J. Skal

The Wolf Man: The Legacy Collection - 2 discs - $22.93

The Wolf Man (1941)
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)
She-Wolf of London (1946)
Werewolf of London (1935)
--A documentary on the making of The Wolf Man
--Feature commentary from film historian Tom Weaver

...or you can purchase all three collections (totalling 6 discs and 14 flicks) through the Monster Legacy Gift Pack for $55.99...and it also comes with slick little stauettes of the three immortal monsters. For all us fanboys out there. Click HERE to check it out! (Thanks to DVDTown for the sweet look!) So for 50-some bucks you got 14 movies, a healthy dose of extra goodies, a nice polished box-set, and a fun place to turn when it's a cold rainy night and you wanna get creepy. I cannot wait to get my fingers on this set...but where's The Mummy?? That guy did at least five movies? I want my M... OK, sorry. Moving on.

You think I'd save that big horror salvo for the grand finale, and I sorta did, but there are a lot more of these cheaply-priced, impressively-crafted multi-packs on the way real soon. What else?

The Adventures of Ma and Pa Kettle: Volume 2 - 1 disc - $13.99

Ma and Pa Kettle at the Fair (1952)
Ma and Pa on Vacation (1953)
Ma and Pa at Home (1954)
Ma and Pa at Waikiki (1955)

Hey, if ya bought the first one, you like 'em enough to buy Volume 2, right? How about...

The Best of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello: Volume 2 - 2 discs - $21.23

Hit the Ice (1943)
In Society (1944)
Here Come the Co-Eds (1945)
The Naughty Nineties (1945)
Little Giant (1946)
The Time of Their Lives (1946)
Buck Privates Come Home (1947)
The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap (1947)
Abbott and Costello Meet Jerry Seinfeld (1994)

The great thing about a set like this is that I can rent one disc from Netlfix...and get four movies! Baha! Yay!

So maybe you're sick of Abbott & Costello and Ma & Pa. I know lotsa ornery geezers who'd dig the...

On the Road with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby Collection - 1 disc - $21.23

Road to Singapore (1940)
Road to Zanzibar (1941)
Road to Morocco (1942)
Road to Utopia (1946)

Again, this is a disc I'll gladly RENT at least once, as I've never seen any of these ROAD TO movies that everyone digs so much. Looking forward to it.

Ahh, but April 27th holds yet another classic series! Behold the beauty that is...

K-9: The Patrol Pack - 1 disc - $16.98

K-9 (1989)
K-911 (1999)
K-9: P.I. (2002)

Bet you didn't even know there were three separate Belushi/German Shepard movies! But there were. The press notes state that all three will be in Widescreen Anamorphic, but since Parts 2 and 3 were DTV releases, I wouldn't bet the farm on it.

For the sake of including ALL of the Universal Multis, I'll mention the...

The Adventures of Francis the Talking Mule: Volume 1 - 1 disc - $16.98 - June 1st

Francis the Talking Mule (1950)
Francis Goes to the Races (1951)
Francis Goes to West Point (1952)
Francis Covers the Big Town (1953)

Not sure I'm all that interested in Mr. Mule. Plus, "Vol. 1" indicates even more to come.

June 1st also offers a 1-disc double feature of Firestarter and Firestarter 2: Rekindled for $16.98.

So whew. What I see here is a DVD outfit willing to change with the times, to offer the consumer a deal, and to maintain the integrity of the original films. (OK, Problem Child notwithstanding.) Other studios have, of course, released similar multi-packs (my double feature of The Fly and The Fly 2 gets some heavy rotation around here, so thanks to Fox for that one), but what's most impressive about Universal's new approach is that A) the quality is there and B) the prices are more than fair. Your kid wants Smokey and the Bandit? Great. Now he has all three. You and your girlfriend looking for a night full of popcorn and horror flicks? Great. Go pick out a Dracula and two Frankensteins. And why watch just ONE collection of has-been actors die in a fiery plane crash...when you can see FOUR?

So a hearty handshake and a tip of the cap to the folks at Universal. As a movie junkie and DVD animal, I'm both impressed and grateful.

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originally posted: 02/11/04 21:36:27
last updated: 02/13/04 19:28:20
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