MONTY PYTHON'S THE MEANING OF LIFE: SPECIAL EDITION (Universal, 1983) D: Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, w/ John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Graham Chapman. Two discs. Rating: NNNN
the last monty python film, the Meaning Of Life is basically a sketch musical with a Terry Gilliam short tacked on the front. As Python films go, it's sketchier than most, though the high points are deliriously gigglesome. The Oliver!-inspired musical number Every Sperm Is Sacred comes immediately to mind, and the segment on involuntary organ donation is as sickeningly funny as anything I've ever seen. The film ends, naturally, with a musical number explaining the nature of the universe. Turn on the subtitles and sing along. Universal's giving Meaning Of Life the deluxe treatment, including a Jones-Gilliam commentary track, a hilarious parody of a "restoration featurette," with Jones digging "lost" footage out of a rubbish heap on the Universal lot and Gilliam cleaning the footage in a plastic tub of soapy water - the usual Python silliness. A must for the fans: good transfer and excellent sound, and funnier than, say, Animal House. (Sorry, Universal.)
DVD EXTRAS New 50-minute making-of, John Cleese's Meaning Of Life trailer, "restoration" featurette, theatrical trailer, TV spots, "rejected" posters, directors' commentary, deleted scenes. English, French, Spanish subtitles.
ALIAS: COMPLETE SEASON ONE (Touchstone, 2001) Series creator: Jeffrey Abrams, w/ Jennifer Garner, Michael Vartan. Six discs. Rating: NNNN
featuring a college coed turned covert agent turned CIA double agent, Alias plays like Felicity meets Nikita (series creator Jeffrey Abrams also created Felicity). Plot within plot, reversal within reversal, Alias is one of the most perverse and paranoid TV series this side of The X-Files. Though much of the attention has centred on it girl Jennifer Garner and her never-ending succession of wigs, there's a lot of great support from veteran character actors like Ron Rifkin and Victor Garber, as well as some spectacular drop-ins: Amy Irving, Lindsay Crouse, Quentin Tarantino, Terry O'Quinn, Roger Moore (!).
Touchstone's all wide-screen DVD presentation (Alias is one of the first shows aired totally in wide-screen TV) looks terrific.
The commentary tracks are marginally interesting. Despite the extraordinary density of plot and perpetually snowballing story, these people, who produce the equivalent of a feature film every two weeks, with action sequences and car chases, aren't deep-thinking the process. Unlike some series creators, Abrams tends to farm out everything after the first episode. Season 2 is due in December.
DVD EXTRAS Four episode commentaries, TV spots, pilot production diary.
THE OUTER LIMITS: THE ORIGINAL SERIES 2 (MGM, 1964-65) D: Gerd Oswald, Byron Haskin, w/ Robert Duvall, Robert Culp. Three discs. Rating: NNNN
mgm lets the other shoe drop with delivery of the second, cancellation-shortened season of The Outer Limits. These 17 episodes include some of the short-lived series's most memorable moments: Harlan Ellison's two episodes, Demon With A Glass Hand and Soldier (watch them and see why Ellison got a belated credit on Terminator), and the astonishing two-parter The Inheritors, starring a young Robert Duvall as a cop investigating the curious behaviour of people who are mounting a very unusual science project. These are black-and-white and bare-bones presentations, with no extras of any sort, but The Outer Limits remains the finest science fiction/fantasy show ever seen on network television, and it's a shame we're still saying that four decades after its demise.
It's worth a rent just to see pre-Star Trek incarnations of William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and a Scottish-accent-less James Doohan.
DVD EXTRAS Booklet with episode guide.
IDENTITY (Columbia TriStar, 2003) D: James Mangold, w/ John Cusack, Ray Liotta. Rating: NNN
with its ten little indians plot - a group of strangers find themselves in an isolated motel in a monumental storm and someone starts killing them - Identity was one of the most intriguing titles of the spring season. James Mangold keeps it quick and unnerving, with lightning bursts and a cast attuned to the unstoppable nightmare of the film's story. Aside from John Cusack and Ray Liotta, there's Amanda Peet, John C. McGinley, Clea DuVall and, in a different place, Alfred Molina and Taylor Pruitt Vince. Unfortunately, about 75 minutes into the film the big plot reveal arrives.
Worth a rental, certainly, for the performances, and watch the extended version, which has a few extra scenes that do flesh out the set-up. Mangold provides a good solid commentary explaining his choices that actually answers the question, "What the hell was the director thinking here?"
DVD EXTRAS Wide-screen and full-screen versions, extended version of the film, director's commentary, Starz channel making-of, theatrical trailer, deleted scenes, storyboard-scene comparisons. English and French versions and subtitles.
Also This Week
24: SEASON TWO (20th Century Fox) When they put this on DVD and cut out the commercials, shouldn't they call it 18? Complete second season, six episode commentaries, 44 deleted scenes, tons of extras.
RUSSIAN ARK (Seville) One shot, 80 minutes, 200 hundred years of Russian history.
BULLETPROOF MONK (MGM) Chow Yun-Fat meets Stifler from American Pie.... I think there's a plot, too.
SLEEPING BEAUTY: SPECIAL EDITION (Disney) Two-disc version of the wide-screen animated Disney classic, with making-ofs, documentaries, stuff from Disney's vaults.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb