Every week, dozens of DVDs and Blu-Rays are released unto the world, and in this economy it gets harder and harder to decide what to spend your money on. The Weekly DVD Heist is here to tell you what your primary objective is, determine the difference between high priority and low priority targets, and help you decide what to leave behind.
Our Primary Objective is pretty obvious this week, but stick with me because there are some real gems to look out for (and some real turds as well).
April 6th, 2010
The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy (Blu-Ray)
Well, here it is… sort of. Today marks the Blu-Ray release of Peter Jackson’s acclaimed, beloved and Academy Award-winning adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, but only the theatrical editions. Why? Well, the studios may vacillate about needing more time for the extended cuts, but the real reason is because they want to hold something back to release when Guillermo Del Toro’s The Hobbit finally comes out. With The Hobbit’s release date repeatedly pushed back, it means we’ll have to “settle” for these editions which are supposedly a significant improvement on the DVDs but somewhat uneven in their presentation, particularly The Fellowship of the Ring, which had a little less money to throw around in post-production (because it wasn’t considered a sure thing yet).
This is a shame, since of the theatrical editions, Fellowship probably holds up the best. The material spliced back into Two Towers and Return of the King added valuable dramatic content across the board, but the extended cut of Fellowship suffered from an amusing but less dramatic opening sequence and often awkward exposition. Since “Pick and Choose” box sets are probably not on the horizon, I guess we’ll all just have to bite the bullet and buy this box set of some of the greatest epics in film history. Dang?
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (DVD/Blu-Ray)
I missed this quasi-sequel to Abel Ferrara’s The Bad Lieutenant in theaters (supposedly the sequel idea was an afterthought to an unrelated screenplay about a policeman behaving badly). But the critics were extremely kind of Werner Herzog’s crazy-ass film which features Nicolas Cage doing what he does best, namely “going crazy-ass.” Cage gets a lot of flack for appearing in some of the crappiest movies around, like The Wicker Man, Windtalkers and Ghost Rider, but about once a year his bizarre gambits pay off and he winds up in a very good film giving another of his very solid performances. (Knowing was pretty good too, even if the ending went a little overboard.) Sadly, The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans also reunites Cage with his Ghost Rider co-star Eva Mendes, who has yet to provide me with any evidence that she isn’t the worst actress alive. If anyone can make it work, it’s Herzog.
Dreamscape hails from the “awesome” period of the 1980’s, when Dennis Quaid churned out one sci-fi classic after another (still waiting for Enemy Mine and Innerspace in high definition, guys!). Quaid stars as a psychic who enters a government program experimenting with infiltrating people’s dreams. At first the experiments seem benign, and Quaid manages to help cure people of their (often thrillingly filmed) nightmares, but of course it’s a government program so a conspiracy is at work. As neat as Dreamscape is, the production is very much mired in the 1980’s and as such may not benefit much from a high-definition remaster, but my fingers are crossed. That snake dream alone, which gave me nightmares for weeks as a youngin’, deserves to be viewed in all of its glory.
The Thomas Crown Affair (Blu-Ray)
John McTiernan’s The Thomas Crown Affair is one of the movies I point to when anyone says that remakes are always awful. Not necessarily. Sometimes a fondly remembered film has genuine flaws that can be improved upon, as in the case of the original Thomas Crown Affair, in which Steve McQueen starred as a bored millionaire who robs banks for kicks. McTiernan’s film wisely recasts the playful Pierce Brosnan in place of McQueen’s cold calculating Thomas Crown, and changes the crime from the theft of hard currency to a more romanticized series of art heists. Though already a little dated, this sexy little charmer deserves a better reputation as a delightful romance that culminates in perhaps the most entertaining heist in film history.
“Battlestar Galactica: The Complete Series” (Re-Issue) (DVD/Blu-Ray)
Why is “Battlestar Galactica,” one of the finest science fiction series ever produced (if not the finest), not a “Must Own?” Because this is just a re-issue of the existing Blu-Ray box set, that’s why. So why is it then recommended at all? Well, this box set has two key improvements over the existing set: 1) The packaging isn’t as bulky, and therefore easier to store, and 2) This set includes Battlestar Galactica: The Plan, the final and pretty decent Straight-to-DVD movie that wrapped up many of the show’s remaining loose ends (but didn’t actually serve as a series finale). The odds are that if you’re a Battlestar fan you probably already own the series and The Plan to boot, but if you were waiting for the right box set, or are just now starting your love affair with the crew of the Galactica, this will be the set to buy.
The Dam Busters (DVD)
The Dam Busters is a 1955 World War II movie from genre director Michael Anderson, who also directed the Best Picture Academy Award-winner Around the World in 80 Days and other, better pictures such as The Quiller Memorandum (still one of the best spy films ever made) and Logan’s Run, and Peter Jackson is producing the upcoming remake. The film stars the always-great Michael Redgrave as a member of a squad of bombers taking difficult assignments, and one of the biggest action sequences directly influenced the famed Death Star sequence in the original Star Wars. Though sadly not on Blu-Ray, (and the cover doesn’t bode well for the overall presentation) this DVD release at least belongs in everybody’s Netflix queue.
The Lord of the Rings (1978) (DVD/Blu-Ray)
Ralph Bakshi, who was for a time the only American director who was allowed to produce animated films for adults, produced this heavily rotoscoped adaptation of The Lord of the Rings in 1978, and although it has a strong cult following and made money it doesn’t hold up to Peter Jackson’s superior adaptation. Frankly, it’s a mixed bag at best, and ends in a cliffhanger later resolved by Rankin/Bass in a TV movie of The Return of the King, which was arguably a little better than Bakshi’s film. For hardcore animation and Tolkien fans only, although film nuts may have fun recognizing shots from Alexander Nevsky that were rotoscoped into the epic fight scenes.
LEAVE IT BEHIND:
There was a brief period in the 1990’s when it looked like Linda Fiorentino (The Last Seduction) and David Caruso (TV’s “NYPD Blue”) were destined for movie superstardom. And although they had some success in features (Fiorentino in The Last Seduction and Men in Black, Caruso in Kiss of Death), this Joe Ezterhas-written thriller from The French Connection director William Friedkin effectively proved otherwise. Forgettable and gimmicky (Friedkin actually tried to pull subliminal messaging on us, proving that he’s no William Castle), Caruso didn’t recover for years until he finally agreed to go back to television, where he is now once again a small screen icon. Fiorentino is still probably hanging around somewhere, but has only starred in two films in the last ten years, which is a shame because she was really, really, really good in The Last Seduction.
I gave Clash of the Titans – in which Poseidon makes a brief cameo – a lot of crap recently for its many, many flaws, but perhaps the worst sin a big budget blockbuster can commit is being forgettable. For all the money thrown at Wolfgang Peterson’s remake of The Poseidon Adventure, I find myself unable to remember anything about the production other than the vague feeling that Kurt Russell was better than this. (And, of course, he is.) Pointless and pretty much unenjoyable, and not worth your time.
The Relic (Blu-Ray)
Peter Hyams is certainly a hit (Sudden Death, Capricorn One, Outlander) or miss (End of Days, A Sound of Thunder, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt) director, but The Relic somehow falls in between as a bland monster-in-a-museum thriller probably better suited for the Sci Fi Channel than theaters, even if it did provide the lovely and talented Penelope Ann Miller with her last major starring role. Seriously, whatever happened to Penelope Ann Miller? She was genuinely striking in The Freshman and even The Shadow, and has long been deserving of a Tarantino-esque breakout role. Could somebody get on that, please? Thank you.