beauty and the beast (Disney DVD, 1991) D: Kirk Wise, Gary Trousdale, w/ Paige O'Hara, Robby Benson. 2 discs, $30. Rating: NNNN
The picture is top-notch and the transfer is beautiful, so anyone who wants Beauty And The Beast on DVD won't go wrong here. This packed two-disc SE of the only animated movie ever nominated for a best-picture Oscar is exquisitely prepared. It has the original film, the Special Edition IMAX cut featuring an additional song, the original theatrical cut and the "work in progress" version screened at the NY Film Festival, with a complete soundtrack but incomplete animation, which was on the old laser-disc release.
It's ungracious to complain, and I know I'm not the target audience, but I occasionally wish Disney wouldn't load up these animated DVDs to appease the short attention spans of 10-year-olds. And a lot of the extras seem to be hosted by the perpetually annoying Celine Dion.
EXTRAS Hours of extras. Excellent director/composer/producer commentary, making-of documentary, background featurettes on the story origins of Disney's modern animated films, tour of the Beast's castle, games, Celine Dion-Peabo Bryson music video. English and French soundtracks, English and French subtitles.
nine queens (Columbia-Tri-Star Home Entertainment, 2001) D: Fabián Bielinsky, w/ Ricardo Darín, Gastón Pauls. $30. Rating: NNNN
One of the neater aspects of the home video revolution is that you can develop a taste for things like Norwegian policiers and Argentine crime thrillers without travelling to remote film festivals. Last week it was the operatic Burnt Money. This week the Mametesque con-game puzzler Nine Queens shows up. Impossible to synopsize, Nine Queens looks like the story of the old confidence hustler schooling the new one for a medium-size game, but the game keeps getting bigger and the cast of characters keeps expanding as the protagonists apparently find a rare set of German stamps known as the Nine Queens and a buyer. Or do they? The first time you watch Nine Queens, the shifting allegiances and motivations are mind-warping.
The second time, you're struck by the elegance with which writer-director Fabián Bielinsky sets the hook. Fans of the genre will note the exquisite execution of several classic "short cons" in the opening scenes.
EXTRAS Theatrical trailer, English and French subtitles -- which, we should note, Columbia has made an effort to keep out of the frame and in the black letterboxed area as much as possible
the mask of zorro: superbit deluxe (Columbia Tri-Star, 1997) D: Martin Campbell, w/ Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta-Jones. 2 discs, $35. Rating: NNN
Columbia Tri-Star is turning some of its special editions into "superbit" special editions. Superbits use the whole disc for the movie and sound. No extras, no commentaries -- just the movie, sampled at the highest bit rate possible. It does generally lead to superior picture quality. There's less compression, for example. And for deluxe editions, they put the extras on a second disc.
But they've "superbit" some very bad movies along the way -- Johnny Mnemonic, Vertical Limit, Anaconda. What are they thinking?
The Mask Of Zorro is not one of these. With Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Anthony Hopkins, it has real swash to its buckle and some genuinely exciting, old-fashioned action. The transfer is stunning, particularly the outdoor sequences, where you can almost count the grains of sand in the Mexican desert.
The stand-alone features from the first special edition have been moved to the second disc, but of course the key supplement, Martin Campbell's commentary, has disappeared. To confuse matters, the second disc has the same label as in the original issue, to the point of being labelled "full-screen," as the original disc included a pan-and-scan version of the film.
EXTRAS Unmasking Zorro featurette, two deleted scenes, trailers and TV spots, photo gallery, Marc Anthony music video, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai subtitles.
manhunter (Anchor Bay, 1986) D: Michael Mann, w/ William L. Petersen, Dennis Farina, Brian Cox. $30. Rating: NNNN
With Red Dragon in theatres, it's worth going back to the original adaptation of the Thomas Harris novel, the first to feature Hannibal Lecter, here played by Brian Cox for the character's two scenes.
Though director Michael Mann's style wasn't obvious at this point in his career -- coming off Miami Vice -- it's now instantly recognizable. There are the immaculately groomed frames shot with a hand-held camera, the mood of grandiloquent dread, the quietly intense performance style.
Since the same cinematographer, Dante Spinotti, was used in both versions, it's interesting to see how much Brett Ratner cribbed from Manhunter visually under the guise of being "more faithful" to the novel. As well, Petersen, now on CSI, carries the weight of FBI profiler Will Graham's past much more convincingly than Edward Norton.
EXTRAS Interview featurettes with Spinotti and the cast, theatrical trailer.
Also this weekAlso this week
Insomnia (Warner Home Video) Al Pacino can't sleep, and shoots his partner.
Life Or Something Like It (Fox Home Entertainment) A psychic tells Angelina Jolie she's going to die, forcing her to come to terms with being a shallow, vain media whore.
Windtalkers (MGM Home Video) Nicolas Cage is assigned to guard a Navajo "codetalker" during the second world war and realizes he may have to shoot him.
= 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