The lord of the rings: the fellowship of the ring (2001, Alliance Atlantis) dir. Peter Jackson w/ Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen. Rating: NNNNN
This magnificent transfer of The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring does full justice to both Andrew Lesnie's Oscar-winning cinematography and Howard Shore's Academy-honoured score. On the other hand, however good the transfer, LOTR really demands a pristine celluloid print on the big screen -- and it's good to know there are still films that do in this laser era.
Do you want this two-disc package, which contains the full theatrical cut of the movie and two and a half hours of documentaries and featurettes, and the four-disc extended version coming in November, which has a cut of the film that's 30 minutes longer and a full array of extras created specially for the new DVD?
Fans of the film will probably end up with both. This is going to get expensive by the time all three films arrive on home video. The best plan may be to wait for the 20-disc, every-available-version-and-bonus box that should hit stores in time for Christmas 2004.
EXTRAS: Documentaries from the Sci-Fi Channel, Fox Television and publisher Houghton Miflin, 15 two-minute featurettes from the LOTR Web site, "behind the scenes" documentary preview of the next instalment, The Two Towers, original theatrical teasers, trailers and television spots, Enya music video, preview of the "special extended" edition, English and French versions, English subtitles. DVD ROM content.
last orders (2001, Columbia TriStar) dir. Fred Schepisi w/ Bob Hoskins, Michael Caine. Rating: NNNN
From Graham Swift's Booker Prize-winning novel, Last Orders is the story of a gang of aging Englishmen scattering their old pal's (Caine) ashes, while every character in the film suffers from the galloping flashbacks.
It's never confusing; Schepisi is a reliable director, not a flake like Nicolas Roeg, whose chronological leaps can induce prolonged head-scratching. A jaw-dropping cast -- Hoskins, Helen Mirren, David Hemmings, Tom Courtenay and Ray Winstone -- carries one through, but it all seems too similar to Sidney Lumet's Bye Bye Braverman, even if the milieu in that film was New York Jewish rather than working-class Brit. Not a lot of extras, but Fred Schepisi's commentary track makes some very interesting points about the cast and the practical aspects of a time-shifting narrative.
EXTRAS: Theatrical trailers, director's commentary, English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.
curse of the demon/night of the demon (1958, Columbia Tri-Star) dir. Jacques Tourneur w/ Dana Andrews, Peggy Cummins. Rating: NNN
Here's a special for film buffs. Curse Of The Demon and Night Of The Demon are more or less the same picture, only Night is the original English production and Curse is the 12-minutes-shorter American cut.
From the director of Cat People and Out Of The Past, Night Of The Demon is an atmospheric supernatural thriller in which the director dodges the cheesiness of the monster by keeping it off-screen as much as possible. A beautiful mastering job, but -- and this may be a malfunction of my player -- it's hard to access the main menu, and the copyright warning comes up in Japanese. I had the same problem with the Columbia issue of Hammer's The Revenge Of Frankenstein.
EXTRAS: Trailers, English, French and Japanese subtitles.
gremlins: special edition (1984, WB) dir. Joe Dante w/ Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates. Rating: NNN
gremlins 2: the new batch (1990, WB) dir. Joe Dante w/ Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates. Rating: NNNN
Joe Dante came out of the trailer department at Roger Corman's New World Pictures, and his jokey, referential fondness for junk sci-fi and ancient character actors (Look! Kenneth Tobey! William Schallert!) give him the perfect sensibility for the rummage-sale conglomeration of Gremlins, and even more so for Gremlins 2, which takes Galligan and Cates from the mythical movie small town of the first film to a New York City run by a mogul who combines the worst enthusiasms of Donald Trump and Ted Turner (John Glover).
Gremlins 2 is less a remake of the first film, the traditional route of the sequel, than a canny deconstruction of it, with characters and monsters set loose in a culture in the throes of disintegration. Gremlins 2 isn't only funnier than Gremlins, but it also looks eerily prescient: a cable empire that has an archery channel and a cooking channel seemed wildly improbable in 1990.
Although Gremlins is a special edition and Gremlins 2 is not, the only appreciable difference between these overdue DVD issues is that Gremlins has two commentary tracks -- one creative, with director and stars, one technical, with Dante and Gremlin creator Chris Walas -- while the sequel has only the creative track.
EXTRAS: Commentary tracks, deleted scenes, making-of documentary, storyboard gallery (Gremlins), blooper reel (Gremlins 2), theatrical trailers, English, French and Spanish versions and subtitles.
Also this week
Iris Kate Winslet and Judi Dench portray the younger and older novelist Iris Murdoch.
Joe Somebody Tim Allen plays a meek dad who discovers his macho side.
We Were Soldiers Mel Gibson heads a battalion of young recruits who are massacred during the Vietnam War.
= 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