The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers: Special Extended Edition (New Line Platinum Series/Alliance Atlantis, 2002) D: Peter Jackson, w/ Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen. Four discs. Rating: NNNNN
by "extended" the distributors mean it has 43 extra minutes, and this dark middle film of the Tolkien trilogy is helped immensely by giving the characters a little room to breathe in the headlong rush toward the monumental Battle of Helm's Deep. In the theatrical release, that battle tends to crush everything before it. This longer version clarifies the story and improves the picture's rhythm. The scene selection menu indicates which scenes have been added or extended. For the theatrical cut or the pre-existing extras, you'l l need the two-disc DVD release from August. As was the case with The Fellowship Of The Ring, there's no duplication of features between the two issues.
The first two discs offer a stunning transfer of the movie, with four separate commentaries: one by Peter Jackson and his co-writers, one by various cast members, one by the design team and one by the production team. That's about 20 hours of obsessive enjoyment. The other two discs offer a one-way ticket to movie geek heaven - more than six hours of documentaries. Want to hear about the production design? The creation of Gollum? The sound mix? All here.
Things that become clear watching the extras: Peter Jackson may be triplets - the only way to manage something of this size - and Andy Serkis really deserved an Oscar for his performance as Gollum even if he never physically appears on camera.
Four commentaries (see above), multiple behind-the-scene documentaries. Great Easter Egg, too; go to the last page of the scene selection menu on disc one, go to Chapter 30, click "down," then click on the ring that lights up. Huge production and design galleries (more than 1,200 images). Additional DVD-ROM content and Web links. English- and French-language versions and subtitles. DTS 6.1 sound.
Once Upon A Time In The West: Special Collectors' Edition (Paramount, 1968) D: Sergio Leone, w/ Charles Bronson, Henry Fonda. Two discs. Rating: NNNNN
the highlight in this package is a spectacularly clear anamorphic transfer of Sergio Leone's epic western, which means those who've been hanging onto the slightly scratchy, non-anamorphic laser disc can put it up on eBay. Once Upon A Time In The West, like The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, operates on a time scale and tempo not normally considered by western directors, and it was repeatedly cut down from its 160-minute running time during its initial theatrical release. The opening, in which three men wait at a train station for the hero to arrive, runs 15 minutes, and nothing, in conventional narrative terms, happens until the last minute or so.
Scripted by Leone, Dario Argento and Bernardo Bertolucci, Once Upon A Time is a movie about revenge and water rights, but it's also about other westerns. In the supplements, Bertolucci claims that Leone didn't even realize that he was sneaking in references to films like Johnny Guitar, but, then, Leone was busy getting a buckboard from a Cinecittà sound stage into the mythological landscape of Monument Valley.
This is one of the greatest westerns, with Charles Bronson's best performance and Henry Fonda's most startling turn, as a hired killer.
Critical/homage commentary including scholarly accounts and appreciations by John Carpenter, Alex Cox and John Milius; hour-long making-of feature on the second disc including archival interview contributions by Leone and Fonda; image gallery. English and French versions, English subtitles. Original mono soundtrack and 5.1 stereo remix.
Yeelen (Brightness) (Kino/Pixi, 1987) D: Souleymane Cissé, w/ Issiaka Kane, Aoua Sangare. Rating: NNNN
Genesis (Kino/Pixi, 1999) D: Cheick Oumar Sissoko, w/ Salif Keita, Sotigui Kouyaté. Rating: NNN
Hyenas (Kino/Pixi, 1992) D: Djibril Diop Mambéty w/ Ami Diakhate, Mansour Diouf. Rating: NNNN
very few african films are on video in North America. Indeed, it's hard to see any outside the festival circuit, so Kino's scored a bit of a coup with this trio of releases from West Africa: Yeelen and Genesis from Mali and Hyenas from Senegal. Souleymane Cissé's Yeelen, widely regarded as one of the greatest African films, is set in 14th-century Mali, a world of magical beings and complex tribal laws that takes at least two viewings to sort through.
Hyenas is the most accessible of the three, an adaptation of Friedrich Dürrenmatt's play The Visit, the story of a now rich woman who returns to her home village for revenge on the man who impregnated her and the town that drove her away. There are at least three earlier productions, including a 1964 TV version with Ingrid Bergman. It's a great part, and Ami Diakhate imbues it with an unbendable fury. Tremendous film.
Genesis is an adaptation of the biblical story of Jacob and Esau in a sub-Saharan setting. It has good performances and is strikingly shot. There's an integration of colour that settles characters and costumes into the harsh landscape.
None, which is a shame. Kino might have commissioned a booklet essay or something. Also, everyone's docked a point for non-anamorphic transfers.
ALSO THIS WEEK
X2 (20th Century Fox) Wolverine kicks ass, and the blue-skinned Mystique morphs into Rebecca Romijn-Stamos in her femme fatale role.
Man On The Train (Paramount) Jean Rochefort and Johnny Hallyday in a very French existential puzzler.
Let It Come Down (Mongrel) Biopic about writer Paul Bowles.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb