the lord of the rings: the fellowship of the ring special extended edition (New Line Platinum Edition, 2001) D: Peter Jackson w/ Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen. Four discs. $59. Rating: NNNNN
As promised when the two-disc Lord Of The Rings was issued, the four-disc set does not contain the theatrical cut of the film. It has the expanded three-and-a-half-hour cut, with additions as short as a shot and as long as a scene. It has four commentary tracks and two discs of extras that are not the polished products of the earlier issue but a relentless look at the blueprints, building codes and design corrections that went into the first third of Peter Jackson's epic recreation of Tolkien's Middle Earth.
Watching the expanded version of the film, you can appreciate what a hellacious task Jackson faced in getting it down to the three-hour theatrical running time. Deleting certain shots, notably the sole exterior view of the elf city of Lothlorien, must have felt like cutting off an arm.
The extended version tends to add grace notes, a bit of breathing room and character moments. The pace is slowed a bit, but the rhythm is improved. Principal beneficiaries of the extended version are Sean Bean as Boromir and Cate Blanchett as Galadriel (much of what was cut took place in the elf centres), the council at Rivendell and the gift-giving scene at Lothlorien.
Exhausting extras. If there's an element of the production that doesn't have its own gallery or mini-documentary, I can't imagine what it is. OK, there's nothing on the catering. The two discs of extras rival Terminator 2: The Ultimate Edition for their heaps of sketches, design components, storyboards, costume drawings, location shoots and animatics. They don't have the complete screenplay, but they are massive -- and all different from the extras on the earlier edition. Good commentary tracks as well, whether you want funny on-set stories from the actors or a thorough catalogue of how the effects were achieved.
For those wondering, the five-disc gift set includes a National Geographic documentary on the locations and assorted tchotchkes.
EXTRAS Cast, writers/director, design and producer commentaries. Six hours' worth of making-of documentaries (that we have the option to "play all" straight through if, as Peter Jackson says in his introduction, "you're like me and hate navigating DVDs"), character, location and costume galleries, storyboard-to-film and animatic-to-film comparisons, maps that navigate the characters' geographical movement through the story and much, much more.
One annoyance: it's impossible, at least on my player, to switch from commentary to commentary without going back to the main menu.
star wars: episode 2 attack of the clones (20th Century Fox Home Video, 2002) D: George Lucas w/ Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman. Two discs. $42. Rating: NNNN
People link George Lucas and Steven Spielberg as the godfathers of the summer SFX blockbuster, but they're really opposites. When Spielberg talks about shooting fast without storyboards, you hear someone who, for all the gigantic effects in his movies, loves the cinema's kinetic possibilities. Lucas, in the making-of documentaries that accompany Star Wars: Episode II, reveals himself as cosmic fuss-budget, a perfectionist moving elements to remove as much of the spontaneous or accidental as he can.
In a film starring Samuel L. Jackson, Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman, Lucas manages, by standing these charismatic stars before a blue screen or opposite Hayden Christensen -- which is much the same thing -- not one single great acting moment. The young Christensen, tagged to play Anakin Skywalker, has a range that stretches from smirky petulance to petulant smirkiness. He also furrows his brow occasionally.
The Star Wars films have become so studio- and computer-bound that when a real landscape intrudes, as it does in the scenes on Naboo (shot at Lake Como), it seems artificial.
Having lost my emotional commitment to Star Wars during Return Of The Jedi, somewhere between the revelation that Luke had a sister and the introduction of the teddy-bear army, I am mightily puzzled by Episodes 1 and 2. For starters, I can't follow the plot, and I made it though Mission Impossible without once going into brain-lock. The endless digital effects and fictional landscapes are spectacular, and the disc is beautifully mastered, which may draw fan-boy attention away from the leaden performances and ridiculous plot long enough for them to utter their desperate war cry, "It's better than Episode 1." The rating is for the DVD package as a whole; the movie itself is NN at best.
EXTRAS Excellent extras -- commentary by Lucas and the production crew, documentaries on sound design, digital character creation and previsualization, three featurettes, eight deleted scenes, promotional materials from the Star Wars Web site, theatrical teasers, trailer and TV spots, photo gallery. English, Spanish and French soundtracks, English subtitles.
bad company (Buena Vista, 2002) D: Joel Schumacher w/ Chris Rock, Anthony Hopkins. $24. Rating: N
Bad Company is the sixth movie of the same title since 1973, and of the four I've seen by far the worst. It is perversely fascinating, prompting the question: "How many things can go wrong in a $70-million action comedy?"
Damn near everything, apparently. On big projects, Joel Schumacher is a slovenly director working in a genre that demands the soulless efficiency of Tony Scott, who directed the superior Enemy Of The State for the same producer, Jerry Bruckheimer.
Playing a dead CIA agent's twin brother, who's recruited to take his place, Chris Rock seems to realize that the big cheque is attached to a movie with no funny lines and flails desperately against a script labelled "Generic Will Smith Project."
This film gives us the spectacle of great actors -- Anthony "just send the cheque" Hopkins, Brooke Smith and Peter Stormare (malignancy with a woodchipper in Fargo, reduced here to a stock Russian baddie) -- walking through roles that could be played by robots.
EXTRAS Twelve-minute making-of featurette. English and Spanish subtitles.
Also this week
Goin' Down The Road (Seville) Special edition with commentary tracks.
Sunshine State (Columbia Tri-Star) John Sayles versus real estate developers in an exquisitely structured ensemble drama with Edie Falco, Angela Bassett, Timothy Hutton.
Monterey Pop (Criterion) Three-disc set that includes Monterey Pop, Jimi At Monterey, Shake: Otis At Monterey, new commentaries and two hours of numbers not included in the original films.
= 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