Best DVD gifts, The Hangover, Star Trek, Futurama Complete Collection, Adult Swim in a Box, Rome
Stuff to Buy Channel / Bullz-Eye Home
It's always a mixed blessing for DVD aficionados when the holiday season rolls around. Sure, the studios flood the stores with new stuff, but they also tend to bombard us with their latest round of reissuing and repackaging, thereby forcing us to make cold, hard choices like, "Is it worth re-buying the entire 'Futurama' collection just because they're releasing it in an ostensibly life-sized reproduction of Bender's head?" Sure, it's annoying, but it's their job to try to think of ways to get you to pick up the latest special edition of your favorite film or TV series, and in most cases, they do it pretty darned well. The holidays are also when Hollywood's summer blockbusters make their debut on home video, which means you can't turn around without hitting a new 2-disc special edition of this film or that. Take a look, if you will, at our picks for some of the best bets on DVD and Blu-Ray; some of them have been plastered all over television and the ‘net, but we've also tried to include a few items that might've flown under your radar. And don't forget: they might be too expensive for you to buy for someone else, but you can always put them on your own Christmas list.
It cost a mere $30 million and looks better than movies five times its size. It deals with aliens not as vicious assassins but as victims of circumstance and politics. They even had the nerve to set it in South Africa (don't they know that all aliens come to the United States first?). "District 9" showed up a lot of slick, expensive movies at the multiplexes this summer, broke nearly every rule about what it takes to "open" a movie, and made a star out of its lead actor in the process, newcomer Sharlto Copley. (Next project: "The A-Team," ka-ching!) It's both thoughtful and gleefully bloody, and even pulls off a sweet love story subplot. And if you buy it on the sly for your teenage nephew, you will officially be the Coolest Person on Earth.
Once upon a time, it wasn't out of the ordinary for people to pay in the $100 range just for a plain old VHS copy of a film; then came the DVD era, with its deluxe reissues stuffed with bonus tracks, alternate takes, trailers and other assorted doodads. These days, no one's buying a movie that doesn't have some
kind of non-theatrical content, and that goes double for a special 10th anniversary edition of a movie like "Fight Club." Fortunately, the newest version of "Fight Club" comes with plenty of extra stuff, including a passel of Blu-ray exclusives and a nifty gag dropped in by director David Fincher himself. Like "The Sixth Sense" and "The Crying Game," "Fight Club" is one of those movies that's most powerful the first time you see it, but it's considered one of Fincher's finest for a reason – and if you're one of the movie's diehard fans, you'll revel in the Blu-ray's sharp picture and plethora of Dolby digital soundtracks. But you won't talk
about it, will you?
Remember when the meanest thing anyone had to say about Robert Zemeckis' films was that they were overly sentimental? You can relive those days with the "Forrest Gump" Blu-ray, which acts as a veritable hi-def shrine to Zemeckis' Oscar-hoarding adaptation of the Winston Groom novel about a kind-hearted dullard's journey through life (and most of the major events in a 30-year chunk of American history). The film itself looks flawless, the soundtrack is appropriately sweeping and pristine, and you get an entire second disc of extra features, some of them never before seen. Even if you have to repress violent urges whenever you hear someone say life is like a box of chocolates, Zemeckis' winsomely sweet (and, yes, very sentimental) movie may very well sweep you into its feathery embrace all over again. And hey, at the very least, it's still better than "The Da Vinci Code" and "Angels & Demons."
It may not have been a great year for big budget blockbusters, but Hollywood still did better than ever thanks to surprise hits like "The Hangover," which, despite earning the kind of buzz that is usually difficult to live up to, actually proved to be one of the funniest films of the year. Credit goes to director Todd Philips, who has an uncanny ability to take a couple of funny actors and a juvenile script and turn it into comedy gold. (See also: "Road Trip" and "Old School.") Some of the humor does get pretty lowbrow at times, but the three leads have such great onscreen chemistry that you'll laugh no matter what kind of trouble they're getting into. Bradley Cooper is excellent as the straight man of the group, Ed Helms has never been funnier as the neurotic geek, and Zack Galifianakis steals the show as the idiot savant. Though we're not very big proponents of unrated editions, more Galifianakis is never a bad thing.
The latest chapter in the "Harry Potter" saga was a surprisingly love-it-or-hate-it affair, but what's not to like? The story follows the book fairly accurately and includes a great mix of drama, comedy, and even a little horror when Harry embarks on a dangerous journey with Dumbledore to retrieve another one of Voldemort's Horcruxes. As Harry continues to mature, so do the movies, but even though "Half-Blood Prince" has its share of dark moments, it's also one of the funniest films in the series. Daniel Radcliffe may get all the limelight, but Emma Watson and Rupert Grint continue to be invaluable supporting players, while the ever-growing cast of British film vets is even more magical than the special effects. Plus, anyone who already has the first five movies is going to want to own this one as well -- so stop sulking and just buy it already. This is one present that you won't have to worry about anyone re-gifting.
Nothing says the holidays like Quentin Tarantino and Nazis, but while the outspoken director's latest film may sound like the perfect set-up for yet another fast-talking bloodbath, it's a decidedly more mature effort. For a movie made by one of the most identifiable directors in the business, "Inglourious Basterds" is the least Tarantino-esque of all his films. There's still plenty of great dialogue and music, but Tarantino's evolution as a filmmaker has never been more evident than it is here. Instead of going for the easy thrill of making an entire movie based on the titular Nazi hunters, he's created an intricately woven drama filled with some of the most suspenseful moments recorded on film. Add to that the star power of Brad Pitt, the Oscar-worthy performance by Christoph Waltz, and an expertly crafted revenge story, and you can begin to understand why "Inglourious Basterds" is poised to have a big presence not only at this year's award shows, but the holidays as well.
Everyone has their favorite Christmas movie – whether it's classics likes "A Christmas Carol" and "Miracle on 34th Street" or more unconventional fare like "Die Hard." But for many, the holidays just wouldn't be the same without Frank Capra's 1946 classic, "It's a Wonderful Life." Although NBC has continued their tradition of showing the film every Christmas Eve, that hasn't stopped Paramount from re-releasing it on DVD nearly every year as well. For those who still don't own the film, or are looking for a good reason to upgrade, the new Blu-ray release delivers an unparalleled video transfer that is about as sharp and detailed as you're going to get. Even the colorized version (which is also included in the set) doesn't look quite as fake as it used to, but that won't change the fact that you'll still feel dirty watching it. After all, when the black and white version looks as good as this, what's the point?
"Monsters, Inc." was probably the best film that Pixar had put out at the time, and though it might not seem quite as good when compared to more recent films like "Ratatouille" and "WALL*E," it's just as charming as you remember it. Even though its story is pretty straightforward (based on the original treatment included on the Blu-ray, it's amazing they were even able to stretch it into a full-length feature), the movie shows hints of the raw emotion that director Pete Docter would later inject into his sophomore effort, "Up." Because the original DVD release was already jam-packed with bonus material, however, the new Blu-ray edition is more about owning the film in high definition than the extras that come with it. As you can probably imagine, "Monsters, Inc." looks incredible in 1080p, and even with the changes in technology, you can still hold it up to any Pixar film released in the last three years. The new special features that have been included also serve as a nice complement – particularly a filmmakers' roundtable that looks back at the making of the film and a sneak peek at the new themed attraction at Tokyo Disneyland.
Hitchcock makes his Blu-ray debut with the latest of Warner Bros.' lovingly curated digibooks, which bundles a handful of retrospective essays in with a 1080p transfer that raises the bar for every Blu-ray reissue to follow. The studio is rumored to have spent $1 million completing the "North by Northwest" hi-def upgrade, and it really shows: you can count the hairs on Cary Grant's head, but you don't have to deal with any ugly digital noise reduction as a consequence. The movie looks like it was released yesterday, and with a thick stack of bonus features added to the package – including a feature-length documentary on Grant's life and career, as well as a commentary track from screenwriter Ernest Lehman – there's no mystery at all when it comes to finding a perfect mid-priced gift for the classic film fan on your list. (For bonus cool points, write "To Mr. George Kaplan" on the tag.)
If you were to ask any "Star Trek" fan a few years ago if they thought there would be another movie so soon, they'd probably laugh in your face. That's because the film franchise was practically DOA until Paramount managed to lure J.J. Abrams into directing an origin story reboot. By introducing a time-traveling villain that allowed him to explore alternate storylines without tainting "Trek" canon, Abrams was able to create a film that appealed to longtime fans and newcomers alike. To say it was a success would be a major understatement, and that carries over to the film's Blu-ray release as well, which is jam-packed with so many special features you'd swear they were Tribbles. The three-disc set includes everything from an audio commentary and deleted scenes to a whopping 10 production featurettes on just about every aspect of the moviemaking process. This is a gift that just about any moviegoer can enjoy, although Trekkies would probably prefer the limited edition gift set that includes a replica U.S.S. Enterprise.
The Blu-ray release of "Watchmen" had been the subject of much attention before the movie even arrived in theaters, but that's what happens when you adapt something as popular as Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' groundbreaking graphic novel. The good news is that after all the legal issues with 20th Century Fox and the film's less-than-stellar box office performance, Warner Bros. Came through with one of the coolest Blu-rays of the year. Not only does it feature a director's cut with more than 20 minutes of additional footage, but the three-disc set also introduces the much-publicized Maximum Movie Mode. This is the future of Blu-ray, with Zack Snyder hosting an in-depth look at key sequences (often pausing the movie to discuss certain details), while other extras — like a timeline comparing historical events from Our World to Their World, picture-in-picture interviews with the cast and crew, and storyboards and comic book comparisons — supplement the experience. If there's one release that should help convince your friends and family why Blu-ray is better than DVD, this is it.
This 1954 holiday perennial built around the music of Irving Berlin is widely beloved and so deeply nonchalant that holiday stress magically evaporates as the credits roll. A trifling blend of musical-comedy romance and low-key patriotism about two show biz stars and ex-servicemen (Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye) and two attractive newcomers (Vera Ellen and Rosemary Clooney) trying to help Dean Jagger's kindly retired general get his Vermont ski lodge off the ground, it's the cinematic equivalent of a cup of eggnog, with an extra large dose of sweetness and schmaltz. Indeed, "White Christmas" avoids significance at every turn, though film buffs will note that it was directed by Michael Curtiz ("Casablanca") and is the first production made in the high-resolution VistaVision format. Anyone who grew up loving this film via horribly mangled TV prints will enjoy seeing it in something more like its original big screen glory, as well as the many extras included with on this double-disc set. Still, nothing here tops the first few minutes, when super-crooner Crosby delivers the title song before a crowd of lonely soldiers to the simple and sweet accompaniment of a music box.
When it comes to movie classics, there is none more beloved than Victor Fleming's 1939 musical, "The Wizard of Oz." In celebration of its 70th anniversary, Warner Home Video has released the movie for the first time in high definition in a special collector's set designed for the hardcore "Oz" fan. This four-disc box set includes more than 16 hours of bonus material, a 52-page commemorative book about the making of the film, a reproduction of the original 1939 campaign book and more. Of course, the main draw is the film itself, and while many have logged complaints about the new hi-def transfer, there's no truth behind any of them. Though a movie as old as "The Wizard of Oz" is never going to look as pristine as one from the last decade, the hours of work that went into restoring the film for its Blu-ray debut can be appreciated the minute Leo the MGM Lion comes on screen. It's not perfect, mind you, but when compared to the many reissues over the years, this version is hands down the best one yet. Colors pop off the screen without looking oversaturated, while the sepia-toned segments look sharper than ever. It may not be a good enough reason to buy a Blu-ray player, but it's definitely worth picking up for someone that already has one.
The Criterion Collection is marking the upcoming 100th birthday of the late Akira Kurosawa with a set that should thrill both hardcore cinephiles and Asian cinema fans. "AK 100" boasts all of the touchstone films from Japan's world-famous movie monarch from the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s. That includes such period classics as "Rashomon," the first Japanese film to become a hit with Western audiences; the filmmaker's hugely influential signature epic "The Seven Samurai"; the violent, near black comedy of "Yojimbo"; and the quasi-Shakespearean "Throne of Blood." Also included are such modern-dress dramas as the masterful tearjerker "Ikiru" and two great noirish thrillers set amongst the high and mighty of the business world: "High and Low" and "The Bad Sleep Well." Still, true film geeks may be most excited about the inclusion of such formerly hard-to-find early works as the martial arts dramas which launched the career of "the Emperor," "Sanshiro Sugata" and "Sanshiro Sugata Part II." Some notable later films, including Kurosawa's 1985 masterpiece, "Ran," are not included, but trust us, give this one to a hardcore film lover and you may demand lifelong loyalty.
Whenever an actor dies, there's usually a scramble from the studios that have released their various films to prep some sort of memorial package, and it often feels less like a homage than a quick cash grab. Not so here, however: the care that was taken to produce "Paul Newman: The Tribute Collection" is obvious. Specifically, the 136-page coffee table book, which offers a look at Newman's career and provides many gorgeous photos, is a work of love. As for the film selection -- well, of course, when you split your work between several studios, there's no way you're ever going to have a definitive retrospective, but this one's pretty darned good. You've got the fondly remembered classics ("Exodus," "The Hustler," "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "The Towering Inferno," "The Verdict"), a pair of interesting experiments with Robert Altman ("Quintet" and "Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson"), an Elmore Leonard adaptation ("Hondo"), and a trio of flicks where Mrs. and Mrs. Newman, a.k.a. Joanne Woodward, are teamed together ("The Long, Hot Summer," "Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys," and "From the Terrace"). Mind you, you've also got a couple that really have no place here at all, simply because Newman's barely in them ("Adventures of a Young Man," "What A Way to Go!"), but, hey, at least he's in them.
Like "Friday the 13th" movies (but without hockey masks and naked teens), Sylvester Stallone's "Rocky" franchise made millions by repeating the same basic story. You knew Rocky would try to walk away from fighting, you knew something would draw him back into the ring, and most importantly, you knew everything would culminate in an orgy of beautifully choreographed pugilistic violence during the final act. The franchise had gotten pretty punchy by the time 1990's "Rocky V" rolled around, but the 2006 "Rocky Balboa" helped return the Italian Stallion to glory – and whetted our appetite for this set, which collects all six of the "Rocky" movies (plus a disc devoted entirely to bonus material) all on glorious Blu-ray for the boxing/hi-def enthusiast in your life. While the earlier installments could have used a little extra TLC during the transfer process, the series has never looked or sounded better, and the movies still pack a mean dramatic hook; heck, even "Rocky V" doesn't seem quite so bad now. Let's just hope this doesn't inspire Stallone to make any more sequels.
When you go looking for this set on Amazon (and, believe me, once you hear about it, you will), you're going to want to pay very close attention, because there are actually two
sets bearing the title "Too Cool for School." The other one is filled with John Hughes classics, and, okay, fair enough, you can't go wrong there. But these films -- well, they're not necessarily what you'd call the dregs of cinematic society, but to describe them as "classics" is to really show how relative a term that is. Any guy who had at least one of the premium cable channels during the 1980s will recognize most of the dozen flicks contained in this set, and if you doubt me, then dig, if you will, the titles that are being presented for your viewing pleasure: "The Beach Girls," "Cave Girl," "Coach," "Hunk," "Jocks," "Malibu Beach," "My Tutor," "My Chauffeur," "Pom Pom Girls," "Tomboy," "The Van," and "Weekend Pass." Caren Kaye might've only been considered a sex symbol for a couple of months in 1983, but it only takes one screening of "My Tutor" to remember why; similarly, "My Chauffeur" positively underlines why Deborah Foreman didn't have much of a career after "Valley Girl." None of these are high-class comedies, but they featured cheap gags and – let's face it – a heck of a lot of bare breasts. When you're a teenage boy in the throes of puberty, that's really all you need.
When the words "CASH GRAB" are placed in large block letters on the back of a box set, at the very least, you can't say its producers are trying to get away with anything underhanded. It's only to be expected that the folks over at Cartoon Network's Adult Swim would offer up a slightly skewed collection of their best work, and you can't technically fault any of the inclusions (they're all hilarious in their own way), but there seems to be no particular rhyme or reason to what's been thrown into the mix. What you'll get from the Box is as follows: "Sealab 2021: Season 2," "Metalocalypse: Season 1," "Robot Chicken: Season 2," "Space Ghost – Coast to Coast: Season 3," "Moral Orel: Season 1," and "Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Volume 2." But the thing that's really going to thrill fans -- well, y'know, after they've pitched the requisite fit at Adult Swim for sticking it in the middle of a bunch of sets that they probably already own -- is a bonus disc of failed pilots for the network, including "The Best of Totally for Teens," "Cheyenne Cinnamon and the Fantabulous Unicorn of Sugar Town Candy Fudge," "Kogoth of Barbaria," "Perfect Hair Forever," and "Welcome to Eltingville." If you're an Adult Swim aficionado, you won't be able to resist. And that's how the bastards get you.
"Oh, I believe I am ready for what Fox has to give…"
Yes, after a highly extended wait due to the inevitable music-licensing issues that accompany just about every series these days, 20th Century Fox has finally gotten around to releasing "Ally McBeal" in the United States. Instead of wasting time by rolling out one season after another, however, they decided to try an interesting tactic. Yes, they did release "Ally McBeal: The Complete First Season," but they did so on the same day that they released "Ally McBeal: The Complete Series
," which includes all five
seasons. For fans of Calista Flockhart's eccentric, neurotic and highly single attorney, buying the whole enchilada at once is clearly the only way to go. Plus, Fox has pointedly included two bonus discs with the complete-series set, one containing special features (a retrospective, five promotional featurettes made while the show was still in production, and the episode of "The Practice" that crossed over with "Ally McBeal"); the other offered a best-of from the show's soundtrack. Hard to argue with that kind of incentive.
Looking at the current ratings for NBC and the relative failure of Jay Leno's five-day-a-week primetime venture, one has to wonder if the folks at the network ever sit back and wonder where they'd be if they had just kept "Andy Barker, P.I." and "Kings" on the air. Okay, it's possible that no one at NBC has ever
done that, but, seriously, these are two shows that had a heck of a lot of potential but were never really given a chance to build an audience. Then again, maybe they never
would've built one. The adventures of accountant/detective Andy Barker (Andy Richter) and his rag-tag gang of compatriots (played by Tony Hale, Marshall Manesh and the gone-but-in-no-way-forgotten Harve Presnell) were probably a little too off-center to have played in the sticks. "Kings," with its modern-day political intrigue and seriously Shakespearean bent, was a drama that was way too intelligent for broadcast television. You have to give NBC credit for putting them on the air in the first place, and even if it's just to make a few bucks on the back end, they nonetheless deserve our thanks for releasing them on DVD. But they still suck for canceling them as quickly as they did.
, this is a lot of TV -- but, boy, is it good. Few could've expected that when David Eick and Ronald D. Moore pitched the idea of rebooting the classic ‘70s sci-fi series it would quickly come to be hailed as one of the finest series of the decade; but here we are, and that's exactly what it is. As Ross Ruediger observed, "Battlestar Galactica" may be best summed up in three phrases: (1) humans create Cylons; (2) Cylons destroy most of humanity in a nuclear holocaust; (3) the survivors run from the Cylons in a creaky old spaceship, looking for the fabled planet Earth. But it's so much more than that. Like many of the best series within the genre, the show is able to take real-world subjects, address them through the lens of science fiction, and – here's the true shocker – actually make you think
. What a concept, eh? Plus, if you've never dared to watch the series before, there's no better way than in this complete-series set, which features awesome packaging, tons of bonus material, and even your very own Cylon Centurion action figure.
Much like "Fawlty Towers" is for John Cleese, "Blackadder" may well be the jewel in Rowan "Mr. Bean" Atkinson's comedy crown. The series spans four seasons of six episodes each, as well as a handful of specials. It tracks the exploits of Edmund Blackadder (Atkinson) and his faithful but idiotic servant Baldrick (Tony Robinson), as several generations of both men tumble through English history, spouting priceless witticisms and engaging in all manner of crude humor. Joining them in major roles are such British comedic and dramatic royalty as Stephen Fry, Miranda Richardson and, many years prior to "House," Hugh Laurie as the clownish Prince George of Wales. Yes, Hugh does funny just as well as he does drama – maybe even better. This is ideal fodder for that English major you know, or indeed anyone with an appreciation for a hearty dose of comedy with both substance and
style. This collection boasts numerous commentary tracks, as well as the outstanding documentary, "Blackadder Rides Again," which was produced by the BBC just last year. The set does not, however, come with Baldrick's prized turnip or a pair of comedy breasts.
Although no one would suggest that the TV-DVD sets released by Mill Creek are anything but bare-boned (just pop one open and gaze in stunned silence at the way the discs are housed in paper sleeves), they deserve full credit for helping to keep alive the legacy of some of producer Stephen J. Cannell's shorter-lived series. In "Cobra," Michael Dudikoff doled out justice from behind the wheel of his classic AC Cobra for 22 episodes, all of which are provided in this complete-series set. Unfortunately, the same claim can't be made of Richard Grieco's "21 Jump Street" spin-off series, "Booker," which lost two of its episodes due to issues with music rights. Trust us when we tell you that 20 episodes will be easily all the "Booker" you can possibly handle. All of Mill Creek's sets are highly affordable, but if you had to pick just one, then it's unquestionably "Crime Story: The Complete First Series." It isn't just one of Cannell's best series; it's one of the best shows to have aired during the 1980s.
It's odd to think of a teenage melodrama in terms of being groundbreaking television, but when you look back at the dreck that preceded the premiere of "Dawson's Creek," then you listen to the way characters talk on a series like "Gossip Girl," and you won't be able to deny the influence of Kevin Williamson's story of the residents of Capeside, MA. The dialogue that emerges from the mouths of Dawson Leery, Joey Potter, Jen Lindley and Pacey Witter may sound exactly like the sort of thing a 20-something TV writer wishes they'd said when they were teenagers (as opposed to, say, something a teenager would actuall
y say), but it's equal parts funny and dramatic. If the pop culture references haven't all aged gracefully, it just makes the trip back to re-watch these six seasons of "Dawson's Creek" all the more nostalgia-inspiring. As for the packaging -- well, it looks damned cool, but it'll take a minor miracle to make it through the series without scratching some of the DVDs as you remove them. Good thing Sony has already sent up a plan to replace any discs that may have been ruined through no fault of your own.
We've given NBC some shit, and now it's time for the American Broadcasting Company to take their lumps. When the broadcast networks rolled out their new fall line-ups, ABC came roaring out of the gate with some of the most creative programming they'd produced in -- geez, I think you'd have to say decades
. There was the occasionally campy drama of "Dirty Sexy Money," with its modern-day spin on "Dynasty;" the unlikely blending of legal drama and song-and-dance numbers in "Eli Stone;" the surreal comedy noir of "Pushing Daisies;" and Christina Applegate's delightful spotlight series, "Samantha Who?" Wonderful shows, all of them, acclaimed by many critics and beloved by, uh, well, not nearly enough viewers, unfortunately, as all four series bit the dust within their sophomore seasons. Although we got a certain amount of closure with the final fates of Chuck and the Pieman, as well as at least a tentative idea of how Eli Stone's future may turn out, the biggest pisser of this bunch came with "Dirty Sexy Money," which offered a game-changing reveal in its final episode cliffhanger. Damn you, ABC! Still, if you've got a TV fan in your life, any or all of these sets are well worth picking up, though we'd obviously suggest that you pair them with their respective first seasons. To do otherwise would just be cruel.
When it comes to Japanese anime, there's no series more revered than Akira Toriyama's "Dragon Ball Z," and as U.S. distributor Funimation has learned over the years, it's also a bonafide cash cow that might as well have its own form of currency. Though the company just finished releasing an entire collection of remastered DVD box sets, demand for a definitive version of the show (one that conserved the original 4:3 aspect ratio) was so high that they've reproduced the incredibly rare Dragon Box (originally produced in limited quantities and only available in Japan) to please hardcore fans. Featuring the first 42 episodes remastered and restored frame by frame, the new six-disc set also includes the original Japanese audio, episode previews, and a 48-page collector's book filled with episode summaries, sketches and more. This is the most authentic "Dragon Ball Z" release you're ever going to find, but it's strictly for purists. If the recipient in mind eats, drinks and sleeps "DBZ," however, you can feel safe knowing that this will most certainly make their day.
Most everyone knows a science fiction fan, but even with the surplus of sci-fi material available today, it can still be tough finding something they don't already have. Enter "Farscape," a cult series that ran from 1999 to 2003, and has been out of print on DVD for several years. A&E has reissued all four seasons in one heavy 26-disc set. The show follows astronaut John Crichton (Ben Browder), who's been flung across the universe, via a wormhole, and ends up in a world of strange aliens with bizarre customs. Produced by The Jim Henson Company, the series is a visual feast, with plenty of action, humor and explosions all wrapped up in an engrossing ongoing storyline. Oddly, the only type of sci-fi fan who you shouldn't
buy it for is someone who's already a fan of the show, since they likely already have most of what's on here. But folks who enjoy lighter fare such as "Star Wars," "Doctor Who," or "Buck Rogers" will have a field day with this series. In addition to all 88 episodes, the set includes 31 audio commentaries, 90 minutes worth of deleted scenes, and numerous documentaries and behind-the-scenes conversations with the actors, writers and directors. If you're on a budget, the seasons are available individually as well.
There probably isn't a safer TV-on-DVD gift-giving bet this holiday season than this newly remastered three-disc set of a show that's typically considered the granddaddy of all Britcoms. If the recipient of this gift has a funny bone in their body, there's plenty here to laugh at, and while 12 episodes may not sound like much, the comedic richness of the episodes in question make the antics of Basil Fawlty (John Cleese) well worth revisiting time and again. Fawlty is the rude and uptight proprietor and manager of the titular hotel who's continually at odds with his wife and employees, and -- especially -- the hotel guests at the top of his frustration heap. There doesn't seem to be a day that goes by for Basil that doesn't involve a crisis that could easily have been averted by simply telling the truth. But he doesn't, and the resulting chaotic situations are some the finest examples of British farce ever created. This new collection features brand new commentary tracks with Cleese himself on all 12 installments, alongside a host of other extras.
Even though the series came from the mind of Matt Groening, the adventures of Philip J. Fry never quite took off in the same way that those of Bart Simpson and family did, leading to the show's cancellation after only four seasons. Just as "Family Guy" returned from the dead, however, so did "Futurama," though it took a decidedly more circuitous route to get to its upcoming 5th season on Comedy Central, releasing four feature-length straight-to-DVD films in the interim. But good news, everyone! In preparation for its return to the airwaves, Fox has released "The Complete Collection," culling together all four seasons of the show, along with the subsequent movies ("Bender's Big Score," "The Beast with a Billion Backs," "Bender's Game," and "Into the Wild Green Yonder"), and putting the whole bunch of them into what we suspect is supposed to be a life-sized reproduction of Bender's head. This, of course, means that you can walk around singing, "Da da da, look at my head, it's so crazy, look at my head, I got a big ol' head," only stopping when you finally feel the need to say, "All right, show's over, I'm tired." By the way, if you don't get this joke, then you really
need this set.
"Nazis. I hate
those guys." So said Indiana Jones while in the midst of "The Last Crusade." Given the atrocities committed in the name of Hitler and the Third Reich during the 1930s and 1940s, who doesn't
hate them? But because they're so hated, it makes it easy to mock them, which is the reason why "Hogan's Heroes" manages to be funny despite the fact that it's set in a German prisoner of war camp during World War II. Inspired in no small part by Billy Wilder's "Stalag 17," the series follows the shenanigans of American Army Air Corps Col. Robert E. Hogan (Bob Crane) and his fellow prisoners of war as they outwit their Nazi captors at every turn -- not that it's such a difficult feat, given the likes of Col. Klink (Werner Klemperer) and Sgt. Schultz (John Banner). This is the first time that all six seasons of the series have been compiled into one box, but as is to be expected with this "komplete series" set, there's a bonus disc that will make fans want to howl in fury even as they're plunking down the dough. In fairness, though, there's some great stuff on there: an extended version of the pilot episode, promos, clips of the cast on other CBS shows, as well as the Emmy Awards, conversations with co-creator Albert S. Ruddy and co-star Richard Dawson, a digital version of the Mad Magazine parody of the show ("Hokum's Heroes), and -- wait for it -- an episode in German
. Yes, believe it or not, Germans actually like
the show. But, then, they like David Hasselhoff, too.
By mocking the conceits of the sitcom format and its tendency toward predictability, "It's Garry Shandling's Show" managed to be one of the most creative half-hour comedies of the 1980s. Granted, it was a little off-kilter for middle America – which is kind of ironic, given that its origins can be found in an extremely popular series from the 1950s: "The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show," which found George regularly chatting to the camera as if it were an actual person. Leave it to Shandling, however, to go several steps further and take the concept to a ridiculous extreme, offering both a parody of the sitcom and a four-season love letter to the format. In recent years, Shandling has come to be known predominantly for his work on "The Larry Sanders Show." With any luck, "It's Garry Shandling's Show: The Complete Series" will remind folks that he actually has two
classic series under his belt, and this set from Shout! Factory is certainly the way to do it. Shandling and co-creator Alan Zweibel were heavily involved in this set, as were the other cast members, and it shows: there are 18 commentaries scattered throughout the eight discs, along with six featurettes, original series promos, outtakes, and two segments from Michael Nesmith's "Television Parts" which provide an embryonic look at what would evolve into "It's Garry Shandling's Show."
It may seem a little strange to release a themed collector’s set like the DHARMA Orientation Kit for a single season when they could have just waited for the inevitable complete series set to break out all the goodies, but for fans of “Lost,” it makes sense. After all, Season Five was the year that everyone’s favorite Losties were forced to go through an orientation of their. Enclosed in an oversized cardboard box reminiscent of DHARMA food packaging, the Orientation Kit consists of a binder with an orientation video (on VHS, natch), a welcome letter from Horace Goodspeed, pamphlets on the compound (including a map and the cafeteria menu), vocational and station patches, and the official Letter of Truce with additional notes by Richard Alpert. Of course, you also get the discs themselves – packed with hours of bonus features from deleted scenes and audio commentaries to the Blu-ray exclusive “Lost 100” and “Lost University” – as well as a CD recording of Geronimo Jackson’s “Dharma Lady.” We thought about including a warning that this was strictly for diehard fans, but it seemed a bit redundant considering that when it comes “Lost” there really isn’t any other kind.
If you've got a stoner on your Christmas list, and buying them a new bong every year has become ho-hum, then bestow upon them the whacked-out gift of "The Mighty Boosh." Centered around best anti-friends Howard Moon (Julian Barratt) and Vince Noir (Noel Fielding), the show whips up such off-the-wall storylines as the pair battling a demon in the form of a nanny, and an encounter with an underwater boogeyman (with questionable genitalia) named Old Gregg. Still not weird enough? How about a talking gorilla called Bollo, who DJs in his spare time, and a magical roommate named Naboo, who has his very own flying carpet? "Boosh" is perhaps the coolest thing to travel across the pond since "The Young Ones." What's most amazing, especially given its all-pervading experimental vibe, is how most of it actually works. This set collects all 20 episodes, offers up a bongload of extras, and features DVD menus that will keep your stoner friend busy for hours. There is, however, perhaps another train of thought by which to judge "Boosh." You don't need drugs to enjoy it, because it is
Maybe it's just the tint of these rose-colored glasses, but by our recollection, "The Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show" was one of the most enjoyably silly superhero series ever to air on Saturday mornings. But that's only appropriate, really, given that Plastic Man was never a hero to take seriously, anyway. After years of anxious waiting, Warner Brothers has finally gotten around to releasing "Plastic Man: The Complete Collection" on DVD, and it's still a hoot and a half to see Plas completely defying all physical laws with his shape-shifting abilities. With his girlfriend – and, later, his wife – Penny, and a Polynesian sidekick named Hula-Hula, Plastic Man battles such villains as Doctor Duplicator, Captain Graffiti, and -- wait for it -- Disco Mummy
. Animation geeks will enjoy the special features, which include the unaired pilot for a 2006 "Plastic Man" revival, and "Plas-Tastic: A Brief History of Plastic Man," a 14-minute featurette including talking-head comments from Mark Evanier, Jerry Beck and the usual gang of idiots (so to speak). It's been a long time coming, but the superhero fans in your life – particularly those in their 30s – will totally get their geek on with "Plastic Man: The Complete Collection."
If you enjoyed the new AMC miniseries of the same name, then you'll probably like the 1967 original starring Patrick McGoohan as a former secret agent who's abducted and whisked away to a mysterious place known only as The Village. Held captive for possessing government secrets, he battles to protect his mind and identity while attempting to make his grand escape. Though the show was made more than 40 years ago, "The Prisoner" looks pretty amazing in high definition. A&E have really outdone themselves with the restoration, because even though there's still the odd scratch or dirt spec on the print, it's more than we expected from an otherwise low profile release. There's even a special feature dedicated to the restoration process, as well as audio commentaries, a 94-minute retrospective documentary, and an interview with Peter Wyngarde. Many people will probably be upset by some of the changes made in the new version, but we actually think it works better in a miniseries format and with only one actor playing Number Two. Still, we wouldn't even have a reimagining if it wasn't for the original, and it's still the more thought-provoking of the two.
HBO's series about the rise of the Roman Empire may not sound very appealing to some, but it's one of those shows that slowly grows on you the more you watch it. The series only ran for two seasons, but in that time, they managed to cram in a ton of history – from Julius Caesar's invasion of Gaul to the beginning of Emperor Augustine's reign – all experienced through the eyes of a pair of Roman soldiers played by Kevin McKidd and Ray Stevenson. For as great as those characters are, however, the show is truly an ensemble effort, and there's not a weak performance in the group. It really helps make everything feel more realistic, because while most of the show is based on historical fact, there's definitely some dramatized fiction in there as well. For those who may have been hesitant about tuning in while it was on TV, you can now experience the entire 22-episode run in a complete series box set that includes hours of bonus material like audio commentaries, production featurettes, and an interactive database highlighting the connections between the various characters. Buy it for the history buff in your life or someone who just loves great TV.
Boy, if you need a wake-up call to how old you are, there's nothing quite like learning that the show that helped teach you your letters and numbers has just entered its fourth decade of existence. Some might argue that the series just hasn't been the same since the death of Jim Henson, but try telling that to the kids who've been educated by it since then, and they won't believe you -- or will
they? You know, if you offer up evidence from this retrospective collection, which mixes up material from throughout the show's run, maybe they just might. Both of the set's discs contain previously unseen footage, and while those who want to kick it old-school will probably prefer Disc One, which gives you a backstage look during the era when it was Henson and Frank Oz doing the voices of Ernie and Bert, your kids will probably prefer Disc Two and its look into the lives of Elmo and Abby Cadabby. "40 Years of Sunny Days" isn't as comprehensive as its title might imply, and it's not nearly as indispensable as the pair of "Old School" collections that came out a few years ago, but given that the songs and sketches will bring the memories rushing back even as they educate your kids, you could do a lot worse.
When Shawn Ryan's gritty cop drama first hit airwaves, it was lauded as groundbreaking television, so it almost goes without saying that when "The Shield" came to its inevitable conclusion in fall 2008, many fans were disappointed to see it go. Though some claim that the quality of the show dropped considerably over the course of its seven-season run, those people clearly weren't paying attention. From its great ensemble cast and the memorable group of characters they portrayed, to the writing team's ability to consistently hammer out quality and controversial storylines, "The Shield" is by far one of the best cop dramas ever produced. Nay, one of the best dramas, period
. It may not have gotten the attention it deserved during its time on the air, but its release on DVD will ensure that the legacy lives on. If nothing else, you can expect it to be heavily referenced when the next great cop drama arrives on television, because while "The Shield" may not have invented the wheel, it definitely burned the rubber off the tires enough times for people to take notice.
Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? I'll give you a hint: he's absorbent and yellow and porous, and a marine biologist created him. Not that Stephen Hillenburg necessarily played it too close to the facts when he devised the universe of SpongeBob Squarepants, but given that Bob is well past the 100-episode mark at this point, it clearly didn't matter to kids. Or college students. Oh, hell, anyone
who can appreciate a bit of goofy, irreverent fun can appreciate SpongeBob Squarepants. Certainly, the guest voices appeal to all ages and demographics: within this set, you can hear contributions from Charles Nelson Reilly, Dean and Gene Ween, Patton Oswalt, Gene Shalit, Lux Interior of the Cramps, Pat Morita, Gene Simmons, Christopher Guest, Ray Liotta, Nigel Planer and Rik Mayal (late of "The Young Ones"), and Ernest Borgnine and Tim Conway as Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy! In addition to the 38-plus hours of episodic content, there are also a handful of audio commentaries, a very nice documentary ("Square Roots: The Story of Spongebob Squarepants"), and "Life Lessons from Bikini Bottom," among other items. If you're feeling a little overwhelmed at that run time, maybe you're not the target audience. The real fans, however, are already waiting for "SpongeBob Squarepants: The Next
The DC Animated Universe has been a sight to behold ever since the premiere of "Batman: The Animated Series," but the subsequent adventures of Superman always seemed to get dismissed as being somehow less cool
. That's kind of missing the point, though. Just because The Dark Knight is more consistently awesome than the World's Most Powerful Boy Scout doesn't mean that "Superman: The Complete Animated Series" isn't extremely enjoyable. There's a bit of tweaking to the comic book mythos, as you tend to expect from these series, but watching Supes battle Luthor, Brainiac, the Toyman, and – yes! – Lobo is still a lot of fun. But there's fun, and then there's spectacular, and the latter is a much better adjective to use when describing "Justice League: the Complete Series." Leave your gripes about the Super Friends at the door, because this is arguably the best animated series ever to emerge from DC, and it's filled top to bottom with almost any hero you can imagine. Yes, even B'wana Beast.
If you came of age in the 1980s and spent any amount of time in front of the TV after school, then you couldn't help but catch an episode or two of either "G.I. Joe" or "Transformers." It's been a long time since those halcyon days of your youth, however, and with both properties having since been transformed into live-action feature films, we can imagine that you've had a hankering to reinvestigate the original articles. Please genuflect in the general direction of Shout! Factory, then, because not only have they released complete-series sets for both shows, but in their inimitable fashion, they've completely kicked out the jams with the packaging: "G.I. Joe" comes in a foot locker, and you actually have to "transform" the box to gain access to "Transformers." Naturally, they've also gone all-out with the bonus material, too, filling both top to bottom with special features, including the classic public service announcements from the "G.I. Joe" gang. When it comes to providing you with the best possible presentation for your flashbacks, nobody beats Shout! Factory.
One of the great mysteries of television is how a series can receive critical acclaim out the ying-yang but yet never get the kind of ratings that such acclaim warrants. "The Unit" was probably voted The Best Show You're Not Watching more often than any other in recent memory, and now that it's off the air and all four of its seasons are available in one handy set, it will probably result in a whole lot of people saying, "Holy crap, why wasn't
I watching this?" Good question. When a show's created by David Mamet and has Shawn Ryan ("The Shield") as its executive producer, it really should have your attention right off the bat. Those who have tried to watch "Army Wives," but have found it too schmaltzy by half, will likely embrace "The Unit" for providing a more realistic look at the family lives of Army men, and those who enjoy action. When you're talking about a series that revolves around a top-secret military unit, you can bet there's plenty to go around.
Wallace and Gromit: The Complete Collection: People may think of Tim Burton when they hear the words "stop motion animation," but for our money, Nick Park is the king of the genre. His "Wallace & Gromit" shorts have earned a nice little following over the years, and though the feature-length "Curse of the Were-Rabbit" failed to take the franchise to the next level, it's still a darned good film in its own right. Still, Park's bread and butter (or crackers and cheese, if you will) has always been the shorts, and along with collecting his three previous films ("A Grand Day Out," "The Wrong Trousers" and "A Close Shave"), the new compilation also features Wallace and Gromit's latest madcap adventure, "A Matter of Loaf and Death." To sweeten the pot, Lionsgate has also included a bevy of bonus material like commentary tracks, making-of featurettes and a hilarious episode of "Shaun the Sheep." And at only $20 bucks for the Blu-ray edition, it's hard to imagine even the most casual fan not succumbing to such a great deal.
From the Disney archives comes both seasons of this TV relic that aired on ABC from 1957 to 1959. No doubt, the audience for these DVDs is small (and Disney knows it, too – each box set is limited to 30,000 copies), but surely you know an uncle or grandfather who was about 10 years old in '57? If so, chances are he was a big fan of this show when he was a kid. (The series was probably Walt's answer to "The Lone Ranger.") Starring Guy Williams as the Spanish masked man, the action-adventure is very serialized in nature, with actual story arcs comprising a great deal of each of its 39-episode(!) seasons. What's most striking about these sets are how unbelievably nice these episodes look: crisp, almost perfect black and white picture, with clean audio to match. There are plenty of shows 20 years younger than this that don't look half this good on DVD. Further, each six-disc set comes in a metal tin and contains a numbered certificate of authenticity, a limited-edition collectible lithograph and a collectible pin.
So it's not really a TV-DVD, but cut us some slack. If you've ever played any of the "Scene It!" series of games, then you already know approximately how this one will work: it's a board game with a certain amount of video interactivity, blending question cards with a DVD that offers clips from your favorite TV series or movies, which are in turn followed by questions. Given the obsessive nature of most "Simpsons" fans, there's no question that it's a show that's perfect for the format, and "Scene It!" definitely makes the most of the material that they've licensed for the game. On the DVD, there are such categories as "Name That Thing-Areeno" (you're shown a picture, and you have to identify what you're seeing), "The Wiggum Files" (name the character by reading his rap sheet), and "Worst. Movie References. Ever." (You're asked to name the film being parodied from the episodic screen shots provided), along with scenarios where have to play Guess the Character, Finish the Quote, or simply watch a clip and answer a question afterwards. You have to be careful with those, though, because sometimes it's episodic trivia, but other times you're just required to use your powers of observation to recall something that was shown in the clip. Even when you're asking a question on one of the cards, you can still utilize the DVD by pulling up a 30-second time which counts down letting you watch a Squishee slowly being drained. (When it hits the bottom of the cup, your time is up.) Best. Christmas gift. Ever? If you're a "Simpsons" fan, there's no competition.