Gift Guide-DVDs

by Ted S. McGregor, Jr.

Forrest Gump -- In my opinion, this is one of the great films of the past decade. Sure, some will argue that it's too sentimental. It worked for me mainly because of its series of visually stunning and emotionally powerful scenes. Forrest Gump is an everyman, and his story is America's story from the '60s through the '80s. The film is really a series of vignettes. Who can forget little Forrest running so fast his leg braces fall off? Then there's the scene where he's reunited with Jenny at the Reflecting Pool in Washington, D.C. It's during an anti-war rally, and their moment of joy trumps all that anger. There's Forrest looking out on the bayou from the deck of his shrimping boat. There's Lieutenant Dan showing off his new legs and meeting Jenny for the first time. Forrest running... and running... and running. The list of memorable scenes goes on and on.

This Collector's Edition offers two discs, with some great little featurettes. The best one lets you in on how some of the film's visual tricks were accomplished. How did they get Forrest to shake John F. Kennedy's hand? And how did they do Lieutenant Dan's missing legs? This segment also offers two scenes that didn't make the final cut.

The film, which also has one of the great film scores in recent memory, also looks great in letterbox format. If you're choosy about which movies you want to own, this one's a safe bet.

Star Wars: Episode One -- I'll just say it right up front: this is an impressively bad movie. Screwing up one of the most beloved cinematic experiences of all time isn't easy. This two-disc DVD explains that mystery, perhaps unintentionally, with some of the behind-the-scenes looks at the team that put this thing together. George Lucas, it appears in reading between the lines of these documentaries, could use some colleagues willing to be honest with him. Too much control is not always a good thing. Exhibit A: Jar Jar Binks.

This character, completely digital, would have ruined the movie if the film didn't have so many other problems. Jar Jar is annoying and is not funny unless you're five. It's unclear why a Jedi Knight on a crucial mission would keep him around. That's just one of many problems with the plot -- if you can even call it that. Can anybody explain what this movie is about? And acting doesn't help, as Liam Neeson seems to sleepwalk through his role as the Jedi Knight. And all those crazy characters, as we first saw in the cantina in the original Star Wars? At the pod race -- the film's "big moment" that drags on way too long and has zero suspense -- we see all kinds of these creatures, but they just look silly.

On the positive side, this film looks incredible. The deeply saturated colors pop off the screen, and the special effects (especially in outer space) are stunning. Lucas may need help as a storyteller, but as a technician, he's one of the best.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band Live in New York City -- In the summer of 2000, the Boss made a triumphant return to Madison Square Garden for a series of sold-out shows. This DVD provides you with three hours of the best from those shows. Bruce fans are calling the last show, on July 1, one of the greatest concerts in his incredible history. This DVD also offers interviews with Bruce (conducted by Bob "I-know-a-lot-of-big-words" Costas).

But as with any good concert film worth owning, it's the music that matters. Here Bruce mixes hits from the past with new songs, including "Land of Hope and Dreams," which hasn't made it onto any other recording yet. With Max Weinberg keeping the beat and the rest of the old gang together again, "Thunder Road," "Born to Run" and "Badlands" never sounded -- or looked -- so good.

America: A Tribute to Heroes -- If you missed this telethon that was aired on all networks in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 tragedy, here's your chance to check it out. "Star-studded lineup" somehow seems too tame a phrase to describe what went on here, as actors from Will Smith to Tom Hanks gave messages in between songs by Eddie Vedder, Sting and Bruce Springsteen.

The depths of emotion that the events of that awful day brought out gave these artists plenty of fodder to really put on some compelling -- and for some, once-in-a-lifetime -- performances. Neil Young playing John Lennon's "Imagine" was brilliant. Wyclef Jean's "Redemption Song" (originally by Bob Marley) was deeply touching. The Goo Goo Dolls' (and friends') take on Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" was something totally unexpected. And Willie Nelson reminded us all why he's a living national treasure.

If you want a reminder of the beauty a free civilization can produce, pick this one up. A percentage of the proceeds also go to the United Way's Sept. 11 Fund.

The Princess Bride -- Rob Reiner's cult classic gets the DVD treatment, including interviews with most of the cast, and even a video documentary shot during the filming by star Cary Elwes.

It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World -- In the 1960s, the all-star cast was all the rage, and It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World had one of the biggest. This search-for-buried-treasure flick featured Milton Berle, Sid Caesar and cameos by the Three Stooges and Jack Benny. There's not much on the special features front here, but the film is still very funny.

Moulin Rouge -- Baz Luhrmann's splashy pastiche of new and old, this film wowed audiences when it hit theaters earlier this year. And the music, from Ewan McGregor singing Elton John's "Your Song" to the sassy "Lady Marmalade" by Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Pink and Mya, was a huge part of the story. And this two-disc set is filled with extras, including a closer look at the dance sequences and a "Making of" feature that originally aired on HBO. Available on Dec. 18.