So many discs to sift through, so little time. Here’s what’s rockin’ my world this month.
HARRY POTTER (forever) — Man, it seems like the Harry Potter franchise is the most bankable thing out there. Each year that a new movie comes out, Warner Bros. releases it on DVD while also repackaging the older movies in a new box set. Now the advantage of the new Harry Potter Years 1-6 Blu-ray set is that it not only includes the movies but the bonus features but the special features themselves. When I obtained the Years 1-5 set on DVD, I just got the movies, so it’s better on Blu-ray. Of course, more importantly, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 has arrived on home video, in time to whet our appetites for the final installment of the famed series, which hits theaters this summer. Naturally the three-disc Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy combo offers even more special features than the single DVD version, so the question you need to ask yourself is, how much do you need?
DEAD MAN (versus TEXAS RANGERS) — You’ve got to love studio thinking: “Let’s put together a bunch of two-packs from different genres and toss them into the bins!” So we have two Westerns here at a budget price of $10. Two very different Westerns. One is an arty, black and white “Acid Western” by Jim Jarmusch featuring Johnny Depp in one of his most underrated performances as an accountant who becomes an unlikely killer and whose life gets stranger from there. (Oh yeah, Iggy Pop shows up, too. Go figure.) The other is a slick flick directed by Steve Miner of Friday The 13th fame and stocked with good-looking young actors—James Van Der Beek, Dylan McDermott, Rachel Leigh Cook, Ashton Kutcher and Usher; no, I’m not kidding—who really take the grit out of the genre as they portray the birth of Chuck Norris’ favorite shit-kicking peace officers. So just think of it as an amusing bonus. Dead Man is also available standalone for $7, so it’s your choice. I mention the 2-for-1 release because the juxtaposition really amuses me.
THE ERNIE KOVACS COLLECTION — The late comedian Ernie Kovacs is the unsung hero of television comedy. His highly visual sketches from the 1950s and 1960s were radically different than the more conventional humor proliferating the airwaves at the time. His blend of surrealism, non-sequiturs and oddball characters has been cited as an influence on everyone from Monty Python to Pee Wee Herman to David Letterman, yet little of his work has been available on DVD, and not even at the highest quality, until now. Shout! Factory has just unleashed this six-disc collection of classic skits from this unique funnyman, who tragically died in a car accident in 1962 at the tender age of 42. A plethora of programming is available on this collection, from his local Philadelphia morning shows in the early 1950s and national evening shows to the ABC prime time specials in the early 1960s that made his name. Get introduced to colorful Kovacs characters like Percy Dovetonsils, Matzoh Hepplewhite, Mr. Question Man and Uncle Gruesome, and immerse yourself in myriad extras (including 8mm home movies) and a commemorative booklet that includes rare photos, program notes and a special tribute by award-winning novelist Jonathan Lethem. Every aspiring television producer, director and actor should see this.
HUMAN PLANET — If you were a fan of Planet Earth and Life, then you’ll probably enjoy this eight-part BBC series devoted to man’s relationship with nature, but squarely focused on the human side, specifically our species’ ability to adapt even in difficult regions and harsh circumstances. From cold arctic places to lush rainforests to small islands, Human Planet explores the human struggle to survive across our intense home planet, and sometimes it’s not always pretty. This acclaimed series is narrated by veteran thespian John Hurt with musical support from award-winning composer Nitin Sawhney.
BEING HUMAN: SEASON THREE — Before Syfy brought its own version of Being Human to the airwaves, there was the BBC original, which featured a nice blend of horror, humor and pathos, not to mention a charming principal cast. Oh yeah, it’s still going strong. These eight episodes see an increasing number of supernatural associates and enemies for George, Mitchell and Annie (our werewolf, vampire and ghost protagonists), despite their moving to a former bed and breakfast on Barry Island to try to live, err, normal lives. And the season finale certainly delivers a shocking denouement, but we won’t spoil it here. If you’re a fan of the Syfy version, you definitely need to see the original series. Season Three arrives on May 3.
THE ULTIMATE TRON EXPERIENCE Limited Edition Box Set — I loved the original Tron. While it certainly has that ‘80s vibe to it, and the effects may seem primitive to kids weaned on today’s over-stimulated effects extravaganzas, it still is a stylish, charming action-packed flick. Computer programmer Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) gets sucked into a computerized netherworld dominated by the tyrannical Master Control Program, which has been teaching the programs in its universe to reject the computer users of the outside world and let him run this digital domain. Naturally, Flynn and the titular character invoke an insurrection. But last year’s sequel, in which Flynn’s son comes into this expanding digital domain to seek out his father, who returned back to it years later? Well, that was an exercise in slick effects and cool costuming that visually cribbed from 2001 and Blade Runner. While it did feature a particularly memorable performance from Michael Sheen as a corrupt, opportunistic nightclub impresario, it did not pack the emotional wallop it should have, although original star Jeff Brides does his best. Tron: Legacy still offers plenty of eye candy, and if you’re a die-hard fan of the franchise (a third Tron is reportedly coming), then you will probably love this five-disc package that features both movies on Blu-ray and DVD along with a boatload of special features, including behind-the-scenes documentaries, interactive extras, a Daft Punk music video and more. Some visual flaws of the original Tron will be a bit apparent on high-def Blu-ray, but who cares. It’s still cool.
SHOPPING TIPS: Believe it or not, it is not that uncommon to open up a new DVD and find it scratched, which is why I always recommend opening and checking your DVDs soon after you purchase them. A couple of years ago I went through a period of buying dozens of movies through Deep Discount, my favorite online movie outlet. Many of them I did not open for a year, and I later discovered that out of the 100 that I had purchased, six or seven were scratched. Luckily their customer service was outstanding, and they replaced all of the damaged discs, even paying for return shipping. I’m sure it probably helped that I had been such a loyal customer. However, not every vendor is so understanding, and I advise that whenever you buy a DVD or Blu-ray, open it up and check it out to be safe, so that you can return it immediately if there is a problem. Blu-rays are really hard to damage, but DVDs are less durable, able to be scratched even when the disc gets loose in a sealed package. Better safe than sorry, peeps.