DVD & Games Forecast: 'Blackadder' and 'Fawlty Towers' remastered
Welcome to the DVD & Games Forecast for October 20th, 2009.
It's a strange time for those of us who have been writing about DVD since the early days. I started my coverage of DVD back in 1998 or so for Ain't It Cool, and I've been writing about it continuously ever since. And for years, the studios wanted coverage of the product they were selling. And to make sure you knew what you were writing about, they sent that product to reviewers. These days, they seem to want people to buy the product, but they don't want to show that product to anyone ahead of time.
Imagine if the studios told every reviewer that they were having a screening of their biggest movies, and then told every reviewer that they only had four seats available to see the film. At all. That's the situation with DVD these days. So I'm pretty much out of pocket on a good half of what I write about in this column, or maybe even more at this point. I don't know if the studios have just decided to let DVD die, or if they figure no one cares at all about DVD reviews when it comes to buying them. Whatever the case, the paradigm is shifting, and I expect it will affect the coverage you read not just here but everywhere online. Unless they're one of the four or five. Good sites that do nothing but DVD and BluRay coverage are having to consider their policies right now, and it makes me sad to see.
I'll be honest... it affects how I choose my featured titles. I certainly don't feature everything that's sent to me, but I would have a hard time featuring something I haven't seen unless there's an undeniable significance to the release. I consider my featured titles to be the recommendations each week, and recommending product you can't take for a test drive is, at best, an iffy proposition.
I know. You're not sent free DVDs, so you have no sympathy. But this a key part of doing my job, and for the studios to simply reverse course and decide they no longer want to be part of that process... it seems to be a symptom of a larger malaise that's creeping in.
THIS WEEK'S FEATURED TITLES:
"Black Adder Remastered: The Ultimate Edition" (DVD)
"Fawlty Towers: The Complete Collection Remastered" (DVD)
Do you own these two series already? If so, then you're forgiven if you get irate at the idea of being double-dipped, even if the double-dip does turn out to be worth it in this case. Why should you trade up if you've already got a copy of the single best sitcom of all time in your house? Well, maybe the commentary for each episode by John Cleese will convince you, because it absolutely convinced me. And when the set showed up here at the house, I realized that my wife has never seen "Fawlty Towers," which is equally horrifying and thrilling. Horrifying because I can't imagine going through life without being exposed to the madness of hapless innkeeper Basil Fawlty and the constant petty humiliations that make up each episode of the show, but thrilling because I get to show her the series now and see her react to them. I don't think she'd have the same reaction to the also-brilliant "Black Adder," mainly because of how much knowledge of history is part of the humor of the show. She's also a little grossed out by Rowan Atkinson, which I guess I can't blame her for. I love the way the show works its way through English history and culture, and I think it's one of the smartest comedy series ever, with an amazing brain trust of writers and performers. And "House" fans, you haven't lived until you've seen Hugh Laurie as a whole series of amazing gits on this show. Trust me.
"It's Garry Shandling's Show: The Complete Series" (DVD)
Since fans of "The Larry Sanders Show" have had to resign themselves to the idea that we'll never own a legal copy of the entire run of that groundbreaking show, I'm pleasantly surprised to see that Garry Shandling's earlier sitcom is finally out as a complete-series box set. This is far sillier fare than "Sanders" was, and the glee with which the series repeatedly burned down the conventions of the shot-on-tape-in-front-of-a-live-studio-audience sitcom is palpable. I can't wait to pick this up and rewatch the show, knowing full well that the theme song is going to get burned into my brain all over again when I do.
"Peanuts - 1970's Collection, Vol. 1: It's A Mystery, Charlie Brown/Play It Again/A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving/It's The Easter Beagle/There's No Time For Love/You're Not Elected" (DVD)
There are parts of my childhood that I look forward to passing along to my own kids, and the Charles Schulz/Bill Melendez animated "Peanuts" specials are amazing, an honest record of the way childhood felt. I haven't seen some of these special in thirty years, and I look forward to rediscovering them, little by little, watching them with both Toshi and Allen. What endures for me in thinking back on the specials is never the jokes or the punchlines, but is instead the community of characters that Schulz created, and that is something that never gets dated.
"Easy Rider" (BluRay)
That almost feels wrong, doesn't it? "Easy Rider" was such an anti-corporate film, the opposite of "product," a movie that happened as a reaction to a changing culture, and over time, it's become a major asset for Sony, one of the biggest corporate entities on the planet. Seeing it on BluRay feels like sacrelige, or it would if it weren't so damn beautiful. Great print, great transfer, and despite the inherent contradiction of having a high-def version of the movie in a permanent keepcase, this is one of the best BluRays of a classic title that I've seen so far. Wonderful stuff.
ALSO ON BLURAY:
Here's one of those titles that the studio solicited review requests on, and then didn't have any copies of for reviewers. I suspect it's because Paramount doesn't want to sit through another round of reviews for "Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen" (BluRay/DVD), but since most DVD/BluRay reviews are about tech specs and sound and picture quality, why wouldn't you want people to see what I'm sure must be a sterling transfer, even if you don't like the movie itself? Universal had no problem sending over "Waterworld" (BluRay), and I gave it another chance. It still baffles me how this famous fiasco ever got past the "here's my pitch" phase, and I wish the BluRay also featured the longer, slightly better TV cut of the film. But sound and picture? Great. I reviewed "Blood The Last Vampire" (BluRay/DVD) yesterday, and I'll repeat: not good. At all. I would love to get a copy of "Leonard Cohen Live: At The Isle Of Wight," (BluRay) since he's one of my last musical heroes who I have never managed to see live. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to fix that, either, since I live in LA, and there are more than enough hipsters to fill every show of his before I can get my hands on tickets. Criterion's new release of "Monsoon Wedding" (BluRay/DVD) is welcome for any fans of Mira Nair's lush, gorgeous breakthrough hit, and I'm eager to get a look and see how the print is. Hot on the heels of the recent release of "Audition," now you can also own "Ichi The Killer" (BluRay) in high-definition, and considering what exactly Miike spends most of the running time pointing a camera at, that could be a mixed blessing. Finally, I'm not familiar with the title beyond recognizing it, but I'm tempted to pick up "Escaflowne" (BluRay) because every single one of the anime titles I've picked up on BluRay so far has been visually stunning at the very least. I know this is one of the best known anime titles, but you tell me... worth my time to finally catch up?
ALSO ON DVD:
I'm going to add "Hawaii Five-Oh: The Seventh Season" to my collection of the series just as they gear up work on the inevitable big-screen remake. The show is a time capsule, both in terms of the stories onscreen and the style of storytelling itself, and that's exactly what I love about it. I haven't seen the film "Cheri," but everyone swears it features one of the best performances from Michelle Pfeiffer in a while, if not ever, and that's reason enough for me to check it out. And speaking of time capsules, I look forward to seeing "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour: The Best Of Season 2" at some point. I can't believe how controversial the series was while it was on, and how tame it looks from today's perspective. Thankfully, it's funny enought that the long-since-faded moral outrage is not all that matters. "The Tournament" looks like B-movie heaven, with Ving Rhames, Ian Somerhalder, Kelly Hu, Robert Carlyle and more involved in a semi-regular battle for supremecy between assassins. If you want some old-school horror as we head into the home stretch before Halloween, you can't do better this week than picking up "The William Castle Film Collection," which features "13 Frightened Girls," "13 Ghosts," "Homicidal," "Strait-Jacket," "The Tingler," "The Old Dark House," "Mr. Sardonicus," and the completely insane "Zotz!". That's an amazing line-up, and a perfect tribute to the greatest showman of his day. The lovely semi-misfire "The Moon In The Gutter" is worth seeing, and for fans of Jean-Jacques Beineix, it's worth picking up. The raspy-voiced comedian is on fire in his new special, "Greg Giraldo: Midlife Vices," and if you're a fan at all, this is a great set featuring Giraldo at his most blistering. Finally, I have no idea what ten movies are contained on "Spaghetti Western Bible Presents The Fast, The Saved & The Damned," but if you can pick up ten Spaghetti Westerns for fifteen dollars, YOU DO IT. Or at least I do, damn it.
ALSO IN GAMES:
You hear that? That's the quiet before the storm. The next two weeks are relatively low key in gaming releases, and it's no wonder. There are some monster weeks ahead, and I think game companies are giving gamers a break before they roll them over, shake them down, and take everything they've got. Still, I'm interested in "Borderlands" for the PS3, which looks like a post-Apocalyptic version of "Gran Turino," sort of. Lots of killing mutants interspersed with a "Road Warrior" style racing game. Sounds like "Fallout 3" for people who would still like to have an outside life. Sports game fans can either pick up the new "Fifa 2010" today (Argentina! World Cup! Just barely! My house is so relieved) or "WWE Smackdown VS. Raw 2010." By the very nature of gaming, the wrestling game is more "real" than the real sport, which cracks me up and makes my brain hurt at the same time. And finally, "Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars" hits the PSP today, and they've done some radical refiguring to make the former DS exclusive work on the new system.
NEXT WEEK: "The Prisoner: The Complete Series" on BluRay. Nothing else matters. Seriously.
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