Surprise, surprise. It’s time for the return of that weekly column you didn’t realize was gone for several weeks. It’s also time for me to write my first article on this fair site since… August, I believe. It has been a long month of moving, shaking and bribing local officials, I have come back to life and returned to that which I am passionate about most: ripping the latest Blu-ray releases a new disc-hole with my not-so-eloquent prose. This Week in Blu-ray, we take a look at several classics, all from different eras, presented with great care and consideration by their respective studios, several new releases that don’t fail to attain mediocre status, and a big list of titles that I wasn’t able to review — perhaps because many home video publicists were under the impression that I had died recently. Damn that Cole Abaius, he’s always starting nasty rumors.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: 35th Anniversary Edition
As you may know, I love me some remastered, repackaged, ultimate editioned goodness. Especially when it comes to one of my all-time favorite films. Yes, all-time. Milos Forman’s methodically woven tale about a mini-social uprising within the walls of an insane asylum sees Jack Nicholson at his personal best. But more importantly, it’s a film that seemingly invented the concept of “fifteen going on thirty five,” as Nicholson’s McMurphy explains. (It’s the little moments, folks.) This box set, as impressive as it is with a 52-page commemorative hard-bound book, an original press book, a deck of playing cards with character pictures on them (Yes, Lousie Fletcher’s Nurse Ratched is the Queen) and a few original mini-poster reproductions is very cool, but it doesn’t hold a flame to the Blu-ray transfer itself. It’s simply beautiful. Not to mention a full-length documentary about the film, Completely Cuckoo. That’s been seen before, sure, but not like this. On the whole, this is one hell of a set. Consider it highly recommended.
Speaking of balls-out transfers that turn films from yesteryear into enduring towers of home entertainment beauty, here comes that release of David Fincher’s Se7en that you didn’t know you couldn’t live without. “What’s in the booooxxxxx?” The answer is an incredibly well remastered film — a film that’s pretty good, if memory serves me — as well as 4 commentary tracks, a metric ton of extended scenes and alternate endings, several deeply valuable featurettes and one little ditty about how the movie was remastered specifically for home theater playback. It’s all fascinating, I assure you. Not to mention the fact that it hits with 32-page Blu-ray book that is not short on interesting tidbits about the production. There is a reason that companies (in this case, Warner Bros.) put so much time and effort into bringing great (great!) movies to Blu-ray in this sort of manner. And for that, we should be thankful. And by thankful, I mean that you should buy it.
Fringe: The Complete Second Season
Behold, the release of season two of the best show on television that you probably aren’t watching right now. It’s The X-Files for guys and gals who chose Star Trek over Star Wars, if that makes any sense whatsoever. And I’m not just saying that because J.J. Abrams is involved. What I mean is that it’s a great show for science nerds without losing sight of the concept of fusing said science into a story that becomes, over time, emotionally connectable. As in, you’ll find yourself caring about what happens to Fringe‘s unique, offbeat characters. Especially that of Dr. Walter Bishop, as played by the brilliant John Noble. The Blu-ray set features four episodes worth of commentary (which is just okay), a few featurettes and an interactive “analyzing the scene” feature that allows you to explore more deeply six of this season’s most interesting episodes. But most importantly, it includes a damn fine show — one that looks great from episode to episode in high definition. You won’t want to jump right into season two, as it’s not an episodic show, but you will want to get this set the minute you finish with the first season.
As a man of much critical prowess (read: it’s all in my head), I try to maintain an air of balance with all of my Blu-ray recommendations. I don’t decide whether or not a title should be recommended until after I have scrutinized (and subsequently ejected) the disc itself. However, I can’t help but be a little giddy when something like this shows up on my doorstep for review. Not only is Jean-Pierre Jeunet a fine, fine, fine director of delightfully offbeat films, but StudioCanal has been giving Criterion a run for their money lately with the quality of their Blu-ray releases. This (along with The Third Man below) is no exception. A solid slice of special features, a delicious high definition transfer and of course, a main course that includes a spellbinding little film that any film fan should have in their “must watch” pile. I don’t like generalizations, but that is true, friends. Buy it and see for yourself.
The Third Man
I’m a big enough man (and getting bigger by the day, thanks to Texas BBQ) to admit that I had never seen The Third Man prior to this week. However, I was more than happy to fix that with this Blu-ray release. Somewhere, Landon Palmer is feeling warm and he doesn’t know why. It’s because I’m continuing my journey through the world of great film, and has nothing to do with the fact that he just stepped in cow poop outside his university in Indiana. I’m just saying. What’s most memorable about my first run-in with Carol Reed’s 1949 international murder mystery is the score. Anton Karas’ zither howls on the rich DTS-HD master audio track and creates an essential mood to which most of the film’s dramatic effect is tied. And it’s there where this one wins, in the quality delivered in both the video and sound quality. Forget a load of special features, forget the interactive tour of Vienna on the disc, and forget the rich extras that include interviews with Graham Greene and an interview with Zither expert Cornelia Mayer. It’s in the presentation of the film itself that you will find value. As if you needed a reason to pick up a version of The Third Man, anyway.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
“In the end, saying that Prince of Persia is a bad movie doesn’t fit. It’s a shallow diversion, but one that accomplished its main goal — to provide 116 minutes of enthralling action and abs. It offers nothing more in return for your time. Then again, it isn’t asking for much, either.” I wrote that about Mike Newell’s sword-and-abs epic earlier this year during its theatrical run. And the trip from the theaters to the Blu-ray format hasn’t changed my mind one bit. But I will say this, Disney does know how to put together a solid Blu-ray release. If you’re going to pick this one up — and it’s not a bad rent, either way — you should check out the 3-disc combo pack. It includes the Blu-ray, the DVD and a digital copy of the film so that you can have a sweaty, shirtless Jake Gyllenhaal with you wherever you go. The only wish I would have, if I felt strongly about this movie one way or the other, would be for a few more special features. The Blu-ray, like the desert in which the film is set, it pretty barren.
The Lord of the Rings (Individual Titles)
I’m lumping these three titles together, because I can. It has a great deal to do with the fact that all of the Lord of the Rings films seem to run together as one giant time suck in my mind, but also because they are equally disappointing. Sure, Peter Jackson’s big time telling of J.R.R. Tolkien’s massive fantasy text look great in high definition, but their extended editions would also look nice, if they were included (they’re not). To rub salt in the wounds, Warner Bros. has even included a preview of the special extended edition DVD set on the copy of The Return of the King. They really are laughing at you, fans of Middle Earth. My staunch recommendation remains — LOTR isn’t worth buying on Blu-ray until you can have your cake (read: all 35 versions of the films) and eat it, too.
It’s a “terrifying ride into one man’s descent into hell” starring Tim Robbins. That’s such a silly concept to me. That said, Jacob’s Ladder did manage to scare the bejesus out of me several times in its 116 minute run time. That’s not too shabby. However, if I had been interested in seeing more than one lone featurette that would take me on a terrifying ride into one movie’s descent into hell, I would have been sorely disappointed. This Blu-ray release couldn’t scare up much added value beyond a single “making of” featurette, a single (reused from DVD) commentary track with director Adrian Lyne and a few deleted scenes. StudioCanal got two out of three this week with the aforementioned classics, but this one deserves to stay on store shelves.
Also on Blu-ray this week, but not available for review by my deadline due to studios ignoring my countless requests for review material (I really wanted to check out that Twilight Zone set):