Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001, WB), dir. Chris Columbus w/ Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint. Rating: NNNN
Director Columbus (the Home Alone films, Mrs. Doubtfire) stays true to J.K. Rowling's decidedly British novel about boy wizard Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), which in itself is a major achievement. The film doesn't cut-and-paste the book's tightly packed narrative, so we get a continuous rush of fantastical action, including a rousing game of Quidditch and a to-the-death chess match.
Along for the imaginative ride are a who's who of UK acting talent, including Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman, John Cleese and Julie Walters, who treat their jobs with the required regard. The fear factor in the novel has been diminished, but look for the sequel films, like the books, to grow progressively scary.
The second disc is full of interactive fun. Take a self-guided tour of Hogwarts, attend a class and mix a potion, try to catch a snitch onscreen (those little suckers are tricky), and every so often get to taste of Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Bean. There's no commentary track, which is too bad, but Columbus is undoubtedly working overtime to complete the sequel, Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, in time for its late fall release date.
EXTRAS: A making-of documentary, interactive tour of Hogwarts and Diagon Alley, theatrical trailer, English and French subtitles. There's also a DVD-ROM PC feature that allows you to collect wizard trading cards, be sorted by the sorting hat, receive owl e-mails and download a screensaver.
dark blue world (2001, Sony Pictures Classics), dir. Jan Sverák w/ Ondrej Vetchy, Krystof Hádek. Rating: NN
During the second world war, two Czech pilots (Ondrej Vetchy and Krystof Hádek) go to England to join the RAF, and both fall in love with the same woman (Tara Fitzgerald). Director Sverák's last film, Koyla, was an Oscar-winning crowd-pleaser that included just the right amount of sentimentality. Dark Blue World strains to be an old-time Hollywood epic about comradeship and a doomed love triangle, but it stars two fish-out-of-water heroes who can barely speak English. It just doesn't work.
EXTRAS: Commentary track with director Sverák and producer Eric Abraham, who aren't riveting but do provided a detailed account of Czechoslovakia's wartime history and politics. Plus two interesting making-of documentaries (one for the movie, one for the visual effects), a photo montage, an aerial symphony, theatrical trailers and Web site link.
the rambo trilogy (1982, 1985, 1988, Artisan), dir. various. Rating: NN
The three Rambo films, starring real-life action figure Sylvester Stallone, helped define the war-mongering 80s, which saw hawkish U.S. president Ronald Reagan championing a return to American pride through defence spending. The films are simple-minded kill-'ems, and Stallone's character, a returning Vietnam war vet, becomes increasing monosyllabic as the series progresses.
This four-disc package includes the three films and a supplement disc full of goodies, including a trivia game, documentaries and a silly feature in which the huge variety of Rambo action figures and toy weapons (their prices are displayed onscreen) act out the film plots.
The Rambo III disc, in which Rambo helps Afghan rebels defeat the Russians, includes a telling documentary about the politics behind the film. It reminds viewers that after the Americans withdrew their support for the country, it spiralled into warlordism, abetting the terrorist activities that culminated in 9/11. EXTRAS: Six documentaries, seven features. Each Rambo film has its own audio commentary, production notes, cast and crew info and theatrical trailer. Note: if you own the three movies, you already have most of the supplemental material, but you may want the package due to the newly remastered wide-screen prints.
Also this weekAlso this week
Chunhyang Epic Korean love story set in the 18th century.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb
No rating indicates no screening copy