Movie Article

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EW guides fans to the best DVDs -- We name 50 new and revisited titles to add to your collection

EW guides fans to the best DVDs

Admit it, poor, beleaguered consumer: You're bewitched, bothered, and (most often) bewildered. Director's cuts, special editions, anniversary boxed sets, rereleases of rereleases of rereleases — where does it end? And, more important, where should you begin? Well, we're here to help. All those choices are actually good things, if you know how to make them. We'll point out the best commentaries (this one goes to 11!) and the blah-est DVD treatments (Woody Allen, anyone?) and break down the different ways to view the same movie (ever seen Rocky Horror in black and white, or Night of the Living Dead in color?). Wondering what bonus feature is perfect for you, or why your favorite TV show isn't available? Wonder no longer. After reading this, you'll be able to answer just about any question under the sun. No, not really. But you will be able to identify the best version of Lord of the Rings, and isn't that all anyone really needs to know? And, as always, be on the lookout for those Easter eggs.

The Godfather DVD Collection

Here's a set you shouldn't refuse. Aside from all three films coexisting on disc for the first time, there's director Francis Ford Coppola's nakedly emotional commentary, which ricochets from bracing (he relives almost being fired from the first film) to enlightening (the cat on Brando's lap in Part I's opening scene just wandered onto the set and took a liking to the star) to disgruntled (he compares Sofia's fictional death in Part III with critics' impalement of her performance). Just as good: A lengthy doc on a fifth disc includes screen tests and rehearsal sessions with Al Pacino, James Caan, Diane Keaton, and Robert Duvall — as well as other actors who didn't make the cut — tucked in among remembrances from cast and crew. Martin Sheen as Michael or De Niro as Sonny? Take a look. For completists with a fondness for the extended Godfather I and II on TV and tape, there's a chronologically arranged section of additional scenes. BOTTOM LINE While Paramount's separate releases on May 24 of Parts II and III will include the commentary, these other meaty extras remain available on this boxed set only. Feast away. —Tim Purtell

Star Wars Trilogy

For years, Star Wars aficionados cursed the dreaded Ewok celebratory ''Yub-Nub'' jingle at the end of Return of the Jedi. And while ''Yub-Nub'' still ranks just above Jake Lloyd and just below Jar Jar Binks on the list of truly unfortunate Star Wars entities, you can't help but feel a bit sorry for Wicket & Co. for having their little ditty permanently erased by Emperor George Lucas — first in the special-edition version, and now on DVD. No doubt Lucas did an out-of-this-world job with his bonus-feature-packed Star Wars Trilogy DVD set — the movies all look and sound incredible, and the two-and-a-half-hour doc is aces — but it's still unfortunate that he didn't choose to also release the original, untinkered-with versions that changed the face of moviemaking. (The noted marketing whiz passing up an opportunity to make people buy two versions of the same movie at the same time is almost baffling.) And what of poor Clive Revill, the original Emperor in The Empire Strikes Back, who got wiped off the map (not unlike Alderaan) and digitally replaced by Ian McDiarmid? Did he really deserve to get yub-nubbed? Future generations may never know. BOTTOM LINE A must-have set, but unfortunately, purists still have to dust off those old VHS tapes to visit the galaxy they fell in love with in 1977, 1980, and 1983. —Dalton Ross

Ray

Sitting down with the Ray DVD, you're faced with a decision: Watch the theatrical release, or go buck wild with the three-hour extended version? Several bonus deleted scenes expand the film's historical perspective (such as the rousing moment at church when Charles' wife Della Bea complains about a fiery pastor who rails against her hubby's hedonistic gospel rock); others enhance its jazzy texture and play up Charles' womanizing side (the kinetic montage featuring Ray and his many one-night stands). The strongest additional footage delves deeper into Ray's dark side. In one painful encounter, Ray lies right to Della Bea's face about his escalating drug use; in another harrowing scene — which really should have made the final cut — Charles chews out a band member who is playing the wrong notes, right in the middle of a live performance. BOTTOM LINE Watch the original, then pop in disc 2 and check out the deleted footage, making sure to listen to director Taylor Hackford's lively commentary. —Nicholas Fonseca

Friday Night Lights

One theme in H.G. Bissinger's best-selling novel is how the gridiron glory of a high school football team placates but never erases one town's simmering racial tensions. On screen, however, this uneasiness in Odessa, Tex., is largely ignored. Only during a preseason dinner with Coach Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) and some local bigwigs does the casual prejudice, rampant in the novel, surface. The decision to mute that aspect of Odessa is particularly baffling since the filmmakers don't flinch a bit when it's time to portray the big, bad black behemoths from Dallas Carter High School. The 10 not-so-''Action-Packed'' deleted scenes restore some of the black-white antagonism, capturing an Odessa-Permian coach calling injured superstar tailback Boobie Miles (Derek Luke) a ''big, dumb, showboating clown,'' and introducing us to the race controversy that would have explained why Dallas Carter is so rabid when they finally meet Odessa-Permian on the field. Would theater viewers have felt differently if they'd seen the scene where Boobie's uncle confronts Gaines, chiding him for using his talented nephew, only to then ''throw him away like garbage''? BOTTOM LINE Yes, they would have had a deeper understanding of just what was at stake for these small-town teenagers. —Jeff Labrecque

28 Days Later SPECIAL EDITION
SPOILER ALERT

Weren't crazy about the first ending? Like the weather, if you waited a few minutes, it changed: About a month later, a second one was released in theaters. Those two versions, plus two more, are offered up on the zombie flick's special-edition DVD, complete with a provocative commentary from director Danny Boyle and writer Alex Garland. The original ending is the most hopeful, though the alternate theatrical conclusion does play up the strength of the two main women (who then face a more uncertain future — no plane buzzing overhead in this one). Option 3 sees Selena and Hannah rescued, but sadly, and abruptly, removes our hero, Jim. Still in the formative stages is the fourth, ''radical'' incarnation, which never made it past the storyboard stage because it included a cure for the disease (a full-body transfusion?) that made no sense whatsoever. BOTTOM LINE The original ending, with its optimistic resolution, is our favorite. —Abby West

The Forgotten
SPOILER ALERT

Given the hubbub over the alternate ending of Joseph Ruben's sci-fi psych-out, one would expect the new wrap-up to completely blow the theatrical film's alien-puppetmaster conclusion out of the, um, sky. One would be wrong. In both scenarios, our otherworldly ''friends'' reward Julianne Moore's dedicated mother by returning her abducted son — though in the unreleased version, she's first forced to press her way through a rather cheesy-looking electric force field. Disappointingly, Ruben and screenwriter Gerald Di Pego fail to address the rationale behind the revision in their joint commentary; Ruben, in fact, often seems lost, telling his writer, ''This is a scene I never understood.'' The other ending isn't mentioned in the DVD's two making-of documentaries, either — which otherwise do a nice job of delineating the production and chatting up the film's stars. BOTTOM LINE Don't believe the hype: They're not much different, but the theatrical ending's the keeper. —Michelle Kung

Donnie Darko THE DIRECTOR'S CUT

Despite sometimes feeling a little bit like a demented wrong turn off Mulholland Drive, this trippy reality-bender nevertheless won a cult of woebegone teens with its initial DVD release in 2003. Commentary by writer-director Richard Kelly attempted some elucidation of the Lynch-lite madness, but sadly, Kelly is a bore. Fortunately, on this latest and longer edition, ''friend'' Kevin Smith jumps aboard, giving Kelly's theorizing some much-needed sass. (And yes, making the movie did help Kelly's love life. Thanks for asking, Kev!) Meanwhile, two featurettes offer a knowing nod and wry wink at the sillier contingent of the Donnie Darko cult, which could convert the film's harshest detractors: a Darko devotee's video (i.e., stalking) diary and a night in the life of a British support group masquerading as a fan club. BOTTOM LINE For once, the director's cut — which transforms Darko from pretentious film school fluff into provocative sci-fi think piece — is the one you want. —Timothy Gunatilaka

The Butterfly Effect
SPOILER ALERT

Infantisuicide, although not an actual word, is nonetheless the most fitting description for what occurs in this dubious supernatural thriller's outlandish alternate ending — set partially in the amniotic bubble of a mother's womb. Presented in infinifilm, where you can access special features while you watch the movie, the bonuses include a rote doc that pays lip service to chaos theory and a filmmakers' commentary that veers from bloodlust (a prison rapist knifed in the crotch rates as ''classicness'') to hyperbole (star Ashton Kutcher is ''the most brilliant guy I've ever met''). But what is codirector Eric Bress saying when he claims that New Line's ''wanting to make a buck'' led execs to immediately nix the disquieting finale? BOTTOM LINE Given that the DVD with the restored conclusion went on to be a sales chart-topper (which in turn helped trigger sequel plans), it seems that New Line's second impulse was right on the money. —Joe McGovern

Anchorman UNRATED EDITION

If this DVD's commentary had one more joke about female whale genitalia, you'd wonder if you'd accidentally popped in an X-rated National Geographic special. Don't expect deep discussions on the magic of filmmaking from Will Ferrell and writer-director Adam McKay. Lower-brow highlights include a scat-off between Ferrell and guest soul singer Lou Rawls, and a fake Ron Burgundy-Rebecca Romijn-Stamos interview that ends up in bed — complete with sandwiches. Even in his most loose-cannon moments, Dan Rather was never this wacky. BOTTOM LINE With previously unavailable nuggets, like a 28-minute Burgundy interview with Bill Kurtis (the film's narrator), and the newscaster's hilariously lackluster ESPN audition, unrated is the way to go. —Sandra Kofler

Clerks X 10TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

If you thought Kevin Smith's 1994 credit-card-financed ode to convenience-store tedium looked like it was shot with the store's surveillance camera, the original version — Clerks: The First Cut — that made such a splash at film festivals will only reinforce those suspicions. As Smith admits in the film's introduction, the first cut ''sounds like we're watching it underwater.'' But the poor sound — speech is often out of synch, like in a poorly dubbed Japanese action flick — only adds to the film's gritty charm (and, hey, if that's your major complaint, then this clearly isn't your movie). Part of this definitive three-disc Anniversary Edition, Smith's initial go-around also includes several eventually deleted scenes, among them the film's violent climax, which was wisely axed considering that it would've denied us the 2006 sequel, The Passion of the Clerks. BOTTOM LINE There is, however, such a thing as too much grit — higher-fi is still the right choice. —Jeff Labrecque

Alien Quadrilogy

Show me everything,'' demands Sigourney Weaver's indelible Ripley in Aliens, and this nine-disc leviathan of the interstellar franchise fulfills her directive. Ridley Scott's Alien and James Cameron's Aliens are, as ever, the series' operatic masterpieces, and the teeming supplements yield some fresh minutiae — such as then-unknown Weaver's 1978 screen test — to satisfy even the hardest-core Alieniacs. Big fans of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Alien Resurrection — all seven of you — can rejoice at the gratuitous treatment it receives (a nine-person commentary?). But the conversation piece, and a notable departure from DVD norm, is the frank evaluation of the troubled Alien3 production. ''We set out to make a release date, not a movie,'' Fox exec Jon Landau grumbles about the unfinished script, acrimonious shoot, and compromised vision of director David Fincher. Fox, in a postmortem about-face, sanctioned a vastly preferable, half-hour-longer ''Assembly Cut'' based on what Fincher originally submitted, though he's since disowned the film and is conspicuously absent from this otherwise exhaustive collection. On disc no one can hear Fincher scream — but in this DVD era of verbal gluttony, his silence is deafening. BOTTOM LINE More than double the size of 2001's Alien Legacy, which gave short shrift to the third and fourth films, Quadrilogy blasts the bells and whistles across the whole saga. —Joe McGovern

First Blood ULTIMATE EDITION

As John Rambo, Sylvester Stallone was a one-man army. So it's apt that he alone dominates the Ultimate Edition of the first and best Rambo berserkopic. His candid, self-orbiting commentary (where he never mentions director Ted Kotcheff by name) is largely an annotation of injuries suffered during the cold, drenching shoot, peppered with disarming backstage anecdotes, including the last-minute hiring of Richard Crenna to play Rambo's mentor, Colonel Trautman, after Kirk Douglas quit over script differences. You also get the long-suppressed (and wisely changed) alternate ending with Rambo committing suicide, but Stallone never speaks of it. For context you need to find the out-of-print 2002 Special Edition Trilogy: In an informative doc, exec producer Mario Kassar relates how Sly warned him against a gloomy finale, saying ''Remember Rocky!'' With that boxed set, there's even more insight, with pundits like Howard Zinn and Brent Bozell debating whether Rambo became a patriotic or dangerous symbol of Reagan-era might. BOTTOM LINE The '02 Special Edition gives the fullest picture of the Rambo phenomenon, proving that in the DVD wars, it's best to have backup. —Josh Wolk

Dirty Dancing ULTIMATE EDITION

If you're still watching your ancient video of this slumber-party classic, get Baby out of the corner — switching to DVD is worth the money if for no other reason than the crisp, remastered soundtrack. And if you're the type who really needs extras, go for 2003's Ultimate Edition (over the Collector's Edition, released in 1999). By pushing yourself to the limit, you'll receive a bunch of (dry) interviews and commentaries, a (drier) ''Trivia Track'' (with such cheery reminders as Otis Redding ''died in a 1967 plane crash. . .''), and a sweetly melodramatic tribute to late director Emile Ardolino. BOTTOM LINE Both the Ultimate and the Collector's editions feature the true highlight: Dirty Dancing Live in Concert, a musical extravaganza featuring Bill Medley, the Contours, and Eric Carmen — who inexplicably (though we're eternally grateful) performs ''Almost Paradise,'' the love duet from Footloose. —Whitney Pastorek

Casablanca SPECIAL EDITION

You probably remember this: Ronald Reagan and Ann Sheridan were initially announced to play the leads, and George Raft campaigned for the role that made Bogie a romantic star. You probably don't know that contrary to myth, Ingrid Bergman actually had a pretty good idea of whom she was taking off with at the end. That tidbit is one of many that come from two terrific commentaries by film historian Rudy Behlmer and critic Roger Ebert. One chronicles a nearly day-by-day evolution of the production, while the other rhapsodizes over cinematographic light and shadow, the visual value of cigarette smoke in movies, and Bergman's subtle use of eye movement to suggest unfathomable depths of emotion. The set also contains brief but intriguing outtakes and deleted scenes (Rick visiting Victor Laszlo in prison) and a touching 1956 costume test with Bogart a year before his death and Lauren Bacall, goofy and clearly in love, for an adaptation of Melville Goodwin, USA. BOTTOM LINE With a silvery rich new digital transfer that makes those close-ups of the two stars truly sublime and more extras than the 1999 DVD incarnation, this two-disc version is the one worth looking at, kids. —Tim Purtell

The Rocky Horror Picture Show 25TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Squirt gun? Check. Flashlight? Check. Bustier, pearls, and fishnets? Um. . .check. Whether you're a Rocky Horror virgin or a Frank-N-Furter fanatic, the 25th-anniversary DVD set is like a hot dog from heaven. Disc 1 includes three different versions: the U.S., the U.K. (which adds in the ''Superheroes'' sequence), and a hidden Wizard of Oz-like cut that begins in black and white and morphs into color mid-''Time Warp.'' (Go to the menu, scroll down to ''Scene Selections,'' hit the left arrow on your remote, and press enter when the lips pop up.) There's also a campy commentary by creator-star Richard O'Brien and Patricia Quinn (a.k.a. maid Magenta), a participation prompter (because you're missing out on the full RHPS experience if you're not sitting there with a newspaper on your head during the rainstorm scene), and clips of moviegoers doing their best Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon impressions. On disc 2, you'll find deleted scenes (like Brad's pensive postcoital ballad ''Once in a While''); outtakes; the Pop-Up Video version of ''Hot Patootie''; ''Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me'' and ''Sweet Transvestite'' sing-alongs; and a 35-minute doc, where Sarandon sums up the movie musical's massive appeal: ''Maybe it's just like love — you shouldn't try to dissect it, just enjoy it.'' Dammit, Janet, you said it! BOTTOM LINE A single-disc edition is easy to find, but the two-disc 25th-anniversary set is worth its weight in toast. —Melissa Rose Bernardo

Almost Famous: Untitled THE BOOTLEG CUT

When he added 39 minutes of new footage to a special-edition DVD of his rock-star road movie based on his years writing for Rolling Stone as a teenager, Cameron Crowe conceived it as a whole new film called Untitled. The director invited his mother — played by Frances McDormand in the movie — to join in on the commentary. She's part No. 1 fan (''I think this is incredible filmmaking!''), part film prof (''That scene shows. . .how quickly people will sell out''), part still-uncool mom (''Why do I freak people out, Cameron?''). The two-disc set — three, if you count the CD of '70s-esque original tunes — includes Crowe's RS articles (how did the kid score those hard-to-get interviews with Neil Young and Joni Mitchell?) and footage of rock critic Lester Bangs, who actually looks more like Andy Kaufman than Philip Seymour Hoffman. BOTTOM LINE Crowe's favorite scene is the longer version of Kate Hudson twirling by herself to Cat Stevens' ''The Wind.'' Ours, too. Though arguable whether Untitled is better than Famous, it's still worth coming for Hudson, and staying for Cameron's mom. —Gregory Kirschling

The Adventures of Antoine Doinel

Over five films and two decades, François Truffaut and Jean-Pierre Léaud forged one of film's great auteur-actor partnerships with the clumsily romantic character Antoine Doinel. Criterion's collection befits the series — from the classic 400 Blows to the virtual clip-show Love on the Run. The 400 Blows disc stands out in its gorgeous transfer and its compelling extras: Two commentaries — by a childhood chum of Truffaut's and a scholar — parallel the filmmaker's bio with Antoine's, and chart the techniques that came to define the New Wave aesthetic. Plus, a bonus disc offers footage from two docs on the director and a short anticipating the Doinel cycle. Even the 72-page pamphlet — with writings by Andrew Sarris and Noah Baumbach — serves as a textbook of insights. BOTTOM LINE All five of the films are available separately, but New Wave-iacs will surely want the experience complàte. —Timothy Gunatilaka

Originally posted Apr 11, 2005 Published in issue #815 Apr 15, 2005 Order article reprints