by Mike Corrigan, Ted S. Mcgregor, Jr. and Marty Demarest
The Outer Limits: The Original Series -- Network television was never more daring -- or frightening -- than when that formless control voice of the original The Outer Limits series took over programming, allowing some of the medium's most inventive writers, producers and special effects experts to plunge viewers into thought-provoking science fiction nightmare worlds of paranoia and terror. This set from MGM compiles all 32 original episodes from season one (1963-64) on four double-sided discs.
Often compared -- and confused -- with the longer running The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits (which survived less than two seasons), was a fundamentally different beast. Less moralizing and, in my view, more whacked-out and terrifying than its equally smart and moody TV cousin, The Outer Limits excelled by inserting extraordinary characters -- hideous aliens as well as some very human monsters -- into every-day American life. (The Twilight Zone did essentially the opposite, placing regular folks in extraordinary circumstances.) Though not complete -- there were 49 episodes in the entire series -- this season one set is a great place to start. --Mike Corrigan
Walt Disney Treasures -- Film buffs and animation fans less than enamoured with Disney's current "crank 'em out as fast as we can merchandise 'em" philosophy will love the studio's recently released "Treasures" series. Consisting of three two-disc DVD sets (each sold separately), the series compiles dozens of early Mickey Mouse and Goofy shorts along with a behind-the-scenes look inside the magic factory that was the Walt Disney Studio during the late '30s and early '40s. Each disc includes an introduction by film historian Leonard Maltin and lots of insightful extras. Each set is packaged in an attractive metal tin with a limited edition lithographed movie poster.
"Mickey Mouse in Black and White" contains a complete set of 34 Mickey Mouse shorts (from 1928-35) including the world-famous rodent's very first appearance, Steamboat Willie. "The Complete Goofy" is just that (with a total of 46 full-color animated shorts) and "Behind the Scenes at the Walt Disney Studio" takes viewers on a guided tour of Walt's workshop during the golden years of Disney animation, including the 1941 animated feature, The Reluctant Dragon. --M.C.
Studio Ghibli Collection -- Studio Ghibli isn't a name that springs to mind when you start talking about major movie studios. However, the work that this Japanese company has produced has already made an impact on the American market, and gotten Disney worried or inspired enough to start distributing their work stateside. The primary reason for all of this is the artist Hayao Miyazaki, who was responsible for this past year's cinematic masterpiece, Spirited Away. Miyazaki has made several of the top-grossing Japanese films of all time, giving him a Spielberg-like status in his native country. He's often referred to as the Walt Disney of Japan. But spend a few hours with some of the films from Miyazaki's studio, and you'll quickly see that he's much more than that.
Collected here are some of the most heartfelt, brilliantly drawn and breathtakingly imagined films anywhere. Whether it's the sublime My Neighbor Totoro, or the heartaching Grave of the Fireflies, each one of these films makes it clear why some of the world's leading film critics are increasingly praising anime as one of the great cinematic mediums, and Miyazaki as one of the great artistic originals in film. And with 11 films -- most of them by Miyazaki, and all of them produced by him -- and one music video for $75, it's one of the best values around. Most of the titles have English subtitles only -- no dubbing -- but they're suitable for all ages. In fact, adults may find themselves more engaged by Miyazaki's animation than most recent live-action features.
The box set can be hard to find. Try online, or contact the Comic Book Shop (1202 N. Division) to check on availability. --Marty Demarest
Band Of Brothers -- There are very few works of art that succeed on as many levels as the mini-series Band of Brothers. Produced by Steven Spielberg and World War II buff Tom Hanks for HBO, these 11 hours easily constitute one of the most lavish, detailed war films ever made, as it follows the soldiers of Easy Company of the 101st Airborne Division from their training as paratroopers to the taking of Berchtesgaden. But along the way, it reveals itself to be a moving, complex exploration of the political, moral and psychological effects of war. Whether it's a harrowing episode detailing the company's winter spent at Bastogne, or the frustrating but moving catharsis of the soldier's looting of Hitler's Eagle's Nest, Band of Brothers unflinchingly presents conflicting perspectives within the confines of unalterable reality.
But perhaps most surprising of this set's virtues is its value as pure entertainment -- you will come to look forward to each hour spent with this fictional portrait of Easy Company as some of the most important and enjoyable DVD footage you've ever watched. As a work of art, the acting, directing (one episode by Hanks), production and writing are better than almost anything that has been screened in a theater. HBO has wisely supplemented this beautifully packaged set with a series of interactive DVD menus that guide the viewer through any questions they might have -- from the ranking of U.S. officers, to maps of the operations during WWII -- linked to each appropriate episode. --M.D.
Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring Platinum Series Extended Edition Box -- Set This is the gift for the dedicated fan. You know who they are. They read The Hobbit as a child, then The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Perhaps they even delved into some of the other books that use Middle Earth as a setting as well, and they can probably put their hands on their copies right now. They can tell you about the previous film adaptations of Tolkien's work, and they might even know some of the songs from one of the films. The ways of elves don't confuse them. They know every way in which Kiwi director Peter Jackson's epic Fellowship of the Ring diverged from Tolkien's holy writ, and they railed against these changes even while seeing the movie half-a-dozen times. And they were disappointed by Warner Home Video's previous release of last year's hit film.
Well, here's what they've been waiting for. Jackson's already-epic theatrical release is extended an additional 30 minutes, filling out Hobbiton and the world of the elves more completely. No fewer than four commentary tracks are available, covering every aspect from directing the film, to acting in the film, to creating its technical marvels. And there are two complete DVDs dedicated to additional materials, like tours of Jackson's studios and early production meetings that are enough to satisfy anyone. Add to that the pair of Argonath bookends that come with the pack -- those are the big statues of the kings that flank the river, duh -- and you will have made some hobbit very happy this year.
The Count of Monte Cristo -- In Hollywood's mad rush to pump its product into theaters across the country, good stuff is bound to get lost in the confusion. Sure, there are the not-so-good straight-to-video films, but there are also a handful of great films that come and go without much notice. Maybe the studio isn't promoting the film right, or maybe it doesn't fit the current mold of what's hot. This seems to be what happened to The Count of Monte Cristo, which came out last spring and lasted just a couple of weeks in theaters. It's too bad, because it's a delightful movie that succeeds in transporting you completely to another time and place.
Director Kevin Reynolds has taken his lumps (for Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Waterworld), but he has clearly learned something along the way. Filmed in Malta and Ireland, The Count of Monte Cristo looks great -- it's as lush as a Merchant and Ivory picture. But as an adaptation of the Alexandre Dumas novel, it has big adventure and big themes, too -- friendship, revenge, love, spirituality. Dumas, subject of an included special feature, may be the first writer of what we now call pulp fiction.
And the performances are great, too, with the underrated Jim Caviezel as the wrongly accused Edmund Dantes, Aussie Guy Pearce (Memento) as his one-time best friend and the late, great Richard Harris as Edmund's wise old cellmate. It's no Academy Award winner, but it's a sure-fire crowd-pleaser. Too bad most of us missed it when it came through the theaters. But then that's why they make DVDs. -- Ted S. McGregor, Jr.