Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World - Collector's Edition
(20th Century-Fox, 2004) D: Peter Weir, w/ Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany. Rating: NNNNN
The first filmed adaptation of Patrick O'Brien's epic series of novels about the British Navy combines a couple of books from the middle of the series and offers an old-fashioned sea-going adventure about manly men facing tough opposition. With Russell Crowe as Captain Jack Aubrey and Paul Bettany as Dr. Stephen Maturin, his best friend and philosophical adversary, the film offers naval battles that look like early-19th-century paintings, unabashed heroism and some spectacular effects that don't look like effects. The last is no surprise, as ILM did the computer work and WETA, who did The Lord Of The Rings, handled the miniature work.
There are two ways to buy this. If you just want the movie, there's a single-disc, bare-bones edition with a gorgeous transfer and an enveloping DTS soundtrack that makes you feel like you're on the ship.
Those who like extras can shell out an extra $10 for the two-disc Collector's Edition, with an hour-plus documentary on the production, extensive featurettes on the effects and sound design, and deleted scenes.
They don't look like the sort of canned featurettes we usually get - someone's been watching the The Lord Of The Rings SEs. The only drawback is that there's no director's commentary, but Peter Weir is heard plenty in the supplements.
EXTRAS Making-of feature, HBO First Look, four production featurettes, six deleted scenes, multi-angle presentations, production and design galleries, ship blueprints, booklet, pullout map covering the voyage, three theatrical trailers. English, French and Spanish versions; English and Spanish subtitles.
Step Into Liquid
(Alliance Atlantis, 2003) D: Dana Brown, w/ Layne Beachley, Rochelle Blanchard. Rating: NNNN
Dana Brown isn't just a second-generation surfer and filmmaker, he's a second-generation surf filmmaker - his father, Bruce Brown, made Endless Summer 40 years ago. Step Into Liquid is a haphazard journey around the world of surf, from world champions like Laird Hamilton to the the Malloy Brothers, who surf the Irish Sea, to surfers in the Gulf of Mexico, where there's no real surf, who look for supertankers and ride their wakes. Brown's not real big with, like, words, but the surfing footage is awe-inspiring. The man understands water. The two-disc set offers an assortment of surfing tutorials on the first disc, and the second disc includes a high-definition cut of the movie playable on Windows Media 9.0, DVD ROM Games. I tried to set up my computer to watch this version, but it froze and I had to reboot. Your mileage may vary, of course.
EXTRAS Director's commentary, which sounds exactly like Brown's linguistically haphazard voice-over narration, deleted scenes, outtakes, behind-the-scenes stuff, Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer DVD-ROM game, additional interviews, surfing tutorials. English and French versions; English and Spanish subtitles. Hmmmmm.... what is Spanish for "gnarly waves"?
The Ingmar Bergman Collection: Persona, Shame, The Passion Of Anna, The Hour Of The Wolf, The Serpent's Egg
(MGM, 1965-1977) D: Ingmar Bergman, w/ Liv Ullman, Bibi Andersson, Max von Sydow, David Carradine. Six discs. Rating: NNN
this is an enormously frustrat ing issue for several reasons. It was delayed for a couple of months when MGM managed to get to the day before release before discovering that Shame and The Hour Of The Wolf were in the wrong aspect ratio, for one thing. It does show how hard it is to be Criterion, though, because this five-film, six-disc issue wants to be Criterion so badly. (Bergman, of course, is a Criterion franchise - they have 13 of his films in their catalogue, with more to come.)
MGM's found a well-known Bergman scholar to provide a commentary, and conducted extensive new interviews with Bibi Andersson, Liv Ullman and Erland Josephson.
Unfortunately, you'd never know from Marc Gervais's lacklustre, hesitant commentaries that he's written a book about Bergman. (I note this sadly, as I've known Marc for almost 20 years.) Then, because MGM can't decide whether to plug the box or buy the single-disc issues, the interviews appear nowhere intact - they're chopped into pieces to make production featurettes.
There'd be more value in a straight- up, half-hour interview with Bergman's principal collaborators than in a production featurette. The prize among the extras is a 1970 interview with Bergman from Man Alive, which you have to buy the box to get, as it's on the sixth disc of supplemental material.
What MGM has is two unadulterated, central-to-the-canon masterpieces in Persona and Shame; the intensely personal Passion Of Anna, the by-product of his breakup with Liv Ullman; the gothic oddity of The Hour Of The Wolf; and the disaster of The Serpent's Egg, which, ironically, has the best commentary of the bunch, from star David Carradine.
The prints are excellent, as are the transfers, except for Persona, which seems to have been zoomed - it's missing about 10 per cent of the image all around, which just makes an extremely claustrophobic chamber drama even more so.
Bergman is such an important film artist and these are such important films and MGM tried so hard that I wish a wholehearted recommendation were possible, but it isn't. And it's not likely that there'll be a redo on this project any time soon. For those who wish to sample, Persona, Shame and Passion Of Anna are indispensible.
EXTRAS Each film comes with a making-of featurette, theatrical trailer, cast interviews, photo gallery,and critical commentary, except Serpent's Egg, which has a star commentary. The supplemental disc includes interviews with Bergman from 1970 and 2002, featurettes on cinematographer Sven Nykvist and on Faro (Bergman's home and the bleak location for Persona, Shame and Passion) and a series of American Cinematographer articles on Bergman.
(Columbia/TriStar, 1942) D: William Wellman, w/ Ginger Rogers, Adolphe Menjou. Rating: NNN
fresh off her oscar for kitty Foyle, Ginger Rogers stars in this rowdy comedy about a would-be Chicago nightclub dancer who gets arrested for shooting a man in her apartment. If this sounds familiar, it's because it's based on the same material as Chicago, and it's interesting just to see an earlier take on the story. There's no Velma Kelly, but Adolphe Menjou is slick as it gets as noted mouthpiece Billy Flynn, and the pregnancy defence is in place, which is rather startling given the time.
I can't argue for it as a great film. Wellman had a gift for knockabout low comedy in between "serious" projects like The Oxbow Incident. And while Rogers is very game, she's too old for the part and, not to put too fine a point on it, she's enough of a low comic that having her play, or in this case overplay, one is bad idea. It is fun, though.
Coming Tuesday, April 27
(Columbia/TriStar) Tim Burton's fable about a self-dramatizing Southerner (Albert Finney) and his realist son (Ewan MacGregor).
Ghosts Of The Abyss
(20th Century Fox) As we all know, the best way to watch IMAX films is on TV. Featuring an extended cut and the theatrical release.
The Monster Legacy Collections
(Universal) The classic Universal horror films, six discs, 13 films, including Frankenstein, Dracula and The Wolfman, with new transfers, documentaries, commentaries and goodies. Dracula offers Philip Glass's Dracula opera as an alternate soundtrack.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb