Re-releases are a tough business, I tell you. And this week is full of them. Be they the re-lighting of the old flame that still burns from Chaplin’s last trip as the Little Tramp or James Cameron’s twice released (this year) mega-event movie Avatar, This Week in Blu-ray is full of stuff that we’ve seen before, in various capacities. That doesn’t mean that some of these titles aren’t worth buying, as you might expect. A few of these titles will be welcomed additions to your collection. They may also have you cursing the names of faceless Fox executives who duped you into buying Avatar the first time around. Or Blu-ray column writers who recommended it, despite the obvious lack of special features…
Actually, lets not focus on that last part. Why don’t we just move on to this week’s selection of high definition wonders.
Avatar: Extended Collector’s Edition (3 Disc Set)
But Neil, you may ask yourself, I thought that James Cameron’s mega-blockbuster Avatar was already out on Blu-ray? You are right, dear reader, it is already out on Blu-ray. But as you will remember from my article titled The Great Avatar Blu-ray Conundrum, published all the way back in April when the film first hit store shelves, I did warn that this day would come. Avatar is one of those spectacles that are unmatched in any day and age. A film perfectly fit for the Blu-ray format, putting every pixel and watt of your home’s theater to the test at every turn. This three disc set, like the single disc edition released seven months ago, delivers that experience in a big way. With an extra 16-minutes of footage, to boot. It also brings plenty of extras. Still no James Cameron commentary track (seriously, Terminator guy, why can’t you give us this one thing?), but plenty of motion capture to live-action comparison featurettes that reveal all of the performances behind the eventually animated characters of Pandora. This is the comprehensive Avatar release that we yearned for in April. Now that it’s here it feels like a slight case of too little, too late. That is, until we sit down and get lost in the special features. Then it feels just right.
Charlie Chaplin on Blu-ray. It’s an interesting proposition, is it not? One part of me loves the idea of seeing Chaplin’s work — in this case, his triumphant victory lap as the Tramp in Modern Times — in a way far more crisp than ever before. Another part of me feels that the gap between silent era technology and that of my high definition television would become a distraction. Yet, as they always do, Criterion strikes the perfect balance. Modern Times delivers all of the playfulness and effortless charm of Chaplin, and does so with a mastering that feels right at home on Blu-ray. Inside the package are biographer commentary tracks, booklets full of essays that expand on the immense significance of Chaplin’s work, and even a “Cuban documentary short about a projectionist who shows Modern Times to first-time moviegoers.” It’s a delightful experience wrapped in a classy, collector-level shell. Not to sound like a broken record, but it’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from the Criterion Collection.
Sherlock Jr. / Three Ages
Speaking of companies that take old dogs and teach them shiny new tricks, Kino brings together another wonderful release from the Buster Keaton catalog — a two in one special, if you will. In Sherlock Jr., Keaton goes from projectionist to bumbling super sleuth. And in Three Ages, he roams around through history falling victim to some romantic misadventures. One is tight and intimate, while the other is as big and grand as Keaton has ever delivered. Both are delightful. The fact that they come together in one set should be reason enough to own them. The fact that they also come alongside a solid buffet of special features doesn’t hurt, either. Visual essays, behind the scenes documentaries… Wait, I’ve heard this sort of thing before. Sounds a lot like a Criterion release, to me. Then again, that isn’t such a bad thing now, is it?
A Christmas Carol (2009)
Remember that one movie with Jim Carrey playing every single role in Robert Zemeckis’ retelling of the classic Christmas Carol? It released into theaters at Christmas time last year and has not been heard of since it claimed the last of its $324 million worldwide gross. This is that movie. A visual pounding filled with the spirit of the holidays, meant to be displayed in the highest possible resolution and the loudest possible setting on your speaker system. Yes, it’s an impressive sort of film. But not impressive enough, I’d say. Not as impressive as it thinks it is, at the very least. While stomping through the Dickensian tale, Zemeckis shows an unflinching knack for turning a very somber story of redemption into a theme park ride. I’m sure it plays well with the younger, Aderall-dosed youth of today, but it doesn’t exactly resonate on an emotional level, even when compared to The Muppets Christmas Carol (one of the greats, without question). The Blu-ray is bright and loud and full of excitement (and special features that show you how excitement was created), but it’s the movie itself that is nothing more than passable. A fun one-time run through a tale we’ve seen before.
The Kids Are All Right
If you’re going to tell a story about two kids who venture away from their lesbian moms to reconnect with their biological sperm donor father only to wreak havoc on the cozy world in which their family lives, you’d better do it with energy. Luckily, director Lisa Cholodenko infuses this non-nuclear family dramedy with plenty of laughs and bright, shining performances from the likes of Mark Ruffalo, Annette Benning and Julianne Moore. She takes the delicate matter of redefining the traditional notion of family and turns it into something engaging, thoughtful and accessible. With the Blu-ray, we also get a glimpse into the painstaking process of getting this film made, a 5-year fight for Cholodenko. The behind the scenes add some great value to the entire experience, but it’s hard to throw this one out there as a recommended buy for everyone. It’s a movie that you should see — one of the better family dramas of the year, in fact — but not one that I’d peg as a blind buy.
Mutiny on the Bounty
Clark Gable is about to start something — a revolt of sorts. A mutiny, perhaps. On the Bounty, as it’s called. The only problem is that while Warner Bros. gave this classic tale a bit of a spit-shine for the Blu-ray release, they forgot to give us any supplemental material to go along with the movie. I get it, the movie is from 1935 and there isn’t much left to put on the Blu-ray release. But we all know that something can be done. Take a look at the two releases above — one from Criterion and the other from Kino — you can make interesting special features for films from that era, you just have to have the gumption to do so. Warner Bros. doesn’t have it, or they weren’t interested in having it. And this release of Mutiny on the Bounty, lovely as the film may be, suffers for it.
The Last Airbender
Do yourself and any future generations a favor — buy a copy of this Blu-ray release and light it on fire. If you are in a good place financially, feel free to rinse and repeat. When I reviewed the theatrical release over the summer, I called M. Night Shyamalan’s adaptation of the immensely popular Avatar cartoon “the most well-rounded failure of the year, missing the mark on just about every level of craftsmanship.” It fails, aggressively, then fails again. Flat characters, uneven narrative and the seal on the holy trinity of awful: bad kid actors. I am not surprised that Paramount forgot to send me a copy of this Blu-ray. No special feature — short of an apology from M. Night Shyamalan followed by him having to step into a boxing ring with Uwe Boll — could make this worth owning. The upside: at least the Blu-ray won’t force you into watching that atrocious 3D post-conversion.