"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" comes to DVD and Blu-ray with authority, but without many surprises. Kind of like the movie itself.
"Iron Man" came out first, pleasantly surprising critics and fan-boy skeptics. The Marvel Entertainment movie is indeed smart, exciting and perversely fun, even though its third act plays out no better than, say, "Transformers." If you blew it off in theaters, make things right on DVD. Or even better, on the "Iron Man" Blu-ray.
Let's begin with some pop-culture history: Back in the mid-'60s, "Iron Man" was Marvel Comics' black-sheep title, chronicling the adventures of an Establishment multimillionaire who performed his heroic deeds from inside a tin can-looking contraption.
The irony was, most of Marvel's superheroes were brooding, conflicted youngsters such as the amazing Spider-Man. The web-head made 150-point headlines as he battled the bad guys, but as Peter Parker he suffered money problems, self-doubts and the myriad indignities of youth. The Iron Man seemed a better fit for DC Comics, home of clean-cut flag-wavers like Superman and that square rich guy Batman.
Iron Man was "the stepchild in the Marvel universe," as one current Iron Man writer puts it.
Marvel chieftain Stan Lee says on the "Iron Man" DVD that he thought it would be fun to mess with the minds of his increasingly anti-establishment readers. He created Tony Stark, a playboy arms manufacturer whose fortunes flowed directly from the hated military industrial complex.
Lee has said over the years that he regretted having a superhero deal death to the Vietnamese, but on the new "Iron Man" DVD, he's cackling away over that anti anti-establishment move.
Of course, Iron Man's looking hip as they come these days, with plenty of Muslim terrorists to blow up and cool-cat Robert Downey Jr. bringing Stark to life.
Paramount Home Entertainment has released "Iron Man" in spit-shined DVD and Blu-ray editions. All those high-tech weapons and toys look sharp and colorful, especially on the high-def disc. The movie unspools at widescreen 2.39:1, as in cinemas.
"Iron Man" sounds even better than it looks: The hyperactive audio comes in Dolby TrueHD (Blu-ray) and Dolby Digital 5.1 (DVD). Check out the chaos in the opening scene, as bullets from that mad minute in Afghanistan ricochet off the Hummer and slam into every corner of your living room.
The "Iron Man" extras are spread over two discs. Most of the good stuff is on the first.
"The Invincible Iron Man" tracks the millionaire-in-a-can from his 1963 creation through his big-screen debut, with the Marvel crew weighing in on all aspects of the character.
Lee says, "Of all the comic books we published at Marvel we got far more mail for Iron Man from women than any other title. I think a girl would want to mother him. There was something that rouses the female instinct" (with his heart problems). That probably explains the foursome Stark/Downey effortlessly sets up with some beauties at a party (a deleted scene).
One young writer points out that the details of Stark's sophisticated big-money lifestyle come from no experience whatsoever. Comic book writers aren't invited to celeb-riddled parties, he says, glumly.
"Tony Stark is a very difficult character to write because he's a lot smarter than any writer who's going to tackle him," story man Joe Casey points out.
The 48-minute docu covers the influence of graphic novels on the comic series, along with edgy story arcs such as "Extremis" and "Execute Program." "He's a character that can be molded for each generation, unlike most comic superheroes," an "Iron Man" worker points out.
The deleted/extra scenes are uniformly worthwhile, certainly strong candidates for inclusion in any director's cut. They include Stark losing $3 million at roulette; more-explicit hotness with the jet flight attendants; the swinging party scene; and some interesting looks at partially completed ILM fight scenes with the dueling iron men.
Disc 2 has some Downey screen tests (great, but ... this was necessary?) and a lengthy "Iron Man" making-of featurette that's surprisingly leaden. Director Jon Favreau seems tired and distracted throughout.
Also circling the DVD blog's players are "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," the thoroughly enjoyable busted-romance movie that acts all cool but is stickey-gooey old-fashioned in its heart; the animated "Click & Clack: As the Wrench Turns" from those "Car Talk" guys; and another Blu-ray-in-space disc, "When We Left Earth -- The NASA Missions."
New and Notable DVDs:
Adam 12, season 2 (Shout! Factory)
Banacek (Arts Alliance America)
Beauty and the Beast: The Complete Series (Paramount)
The Best of Mr. Bean, Vol. 2 (A&E Home Video)
Billionaire Boy's Club (A&E Home Video)
Buried Alive (Sony)
Can't Hardly Wait (Sony*)
Click & Clack: As the Wrench Turns (Paramount)
Edward the King (Acorn Media)
Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Universal*)
Iron Man (Paramount*)
My Name Is Earl, season 3 (Fox)
My Three Sons, season 1, Vol. 1 (Paramount)
Sports Night: The Complete Series (Shout! Factory)
Trial & Retribution (Lynda La Plante, Acorn Media)
When We Left Earth -- The NASA Missions (Image*)
* = Blu-ray available
Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" project has laid down heavy supporting fire for the DVD debut of the original 1978 Italian combat film, "Inglorious Bastards."
Tarantino points out that Enzo Castellari's WWII B-movie had virtually no rep in the United States until he starting marching out the title as as a remake concept. He discovered the WWII movie -- starring American tough guys Bo Svenson and Fred Williamson -- on a late-night KTLA broadcast decades ago.
"It became a personal little movie that only I knew about," Tarantino says in the "Inglorious Bastards" DVD extras. "In order to talk with anyone about (the film), I had to show it to them first."
Apparently the movie had a 10-second theatrical release in the U.S., three years after it debuted in Italy. "Whatever the Dirty Dozen did, they do it better," the marketing line went.
Now that Brad Pitt has signed on for the movie, "Bastards" ranks among the most famous movies no one has seen.
Severin Entertainment has released "Inglorious Bastards" in a "3-disc explosive edition." Lucky us, the badly dubbed movie turns out to be a real (not guilty) pleasure, with some great action scenes, bullet-spitting performances by its U.S. stars, lots of finely crafted fireballs and nude blondes firing machine guns.
Severin, a relatively new video company, already has earned its genre stripes by releasing a handful of Italian B-movies featuring delightfully gratuitous sex and violence.
Our anti-heroes are prisoners en route to a military prison in France, still partly occupied by the Nazis. An air raid sets them free, and the escapees attempt to cross over into Switzerland by any means possible. Svenson plays the disgraced officer; Williamson is the wily Afro badass. Their companions include a jack-of-all-trades hippie (go figure), a coward who learns the manly ways of combat, and a Nazi deserter fed up with his country's futile war effort.
One thing leads to another, and the rogues end up shooting up a Nazi fortress and then trying to blow up a V-2 missile aboard a runaway train. Great stuff ... if you're not expecting "The Guns of Navarone."
The DVD includes a CD with the surviving original music from Francesco de Masi (the rest was erased for his kid's school play -- the extras tell the story). His fine music helps the movie stand apart from lesser B-fare.
Tarantino and director Castellari sit down for a talk about the original film, with the young filmmaker doing his usual motormouth bit. Castellari gets in a few words here and there, but mostly we hear from Tarentino. As usual, he's on the obnoxious side -- and, as usual, he's worth listening to.
The making-of docu includes interviews with Svenson, Williamson and a lot of below-the-line Italians.
Castellari and Williamson both recall that dealing with too-cool-for-school Svenson was "an experience." Svenson says the friction was "a turf thing." All three agree they're friends these days.
Williamson says he'd go back to making movies in Rome in a flash -- Svenson speaks of the "bittersweet reality" of his error in straying from mainstream moviemaking.
Filming became a bit of a farce as Italian authorities confiscated the production's weapons, citing domestic terrorism. Castellari rewrote the fortress scene to employ silent crossbows and slingshots instead of guns. Later, the production made replica firearms out of wood.
"So here we are re-creating life-and-death battles with guns made out of balsa wood," Svenson recalls. "It was hilarious."
Williamson did almost all of his stunts. (Get a load of the Italian stunt guys hurling themselves through the air when shot -- hilarious.) Michael Pergolani is terrific as the longhaired Italian prisoner with an endless supply of gadgets stashed in his fatigues -- a Q kind of guy in the field.
The movie comes in glorious 1.85.1 widescreen with the 16x9 enhancement. Colors are a tad better than OK. Audio is suitably blunt mono.
Severin's other Italian imports include:
"The Sister of Ursula": A sex-soaked giallo pic, featuring a killer and his magic phallus. Two sisters show up at a seaside resort just as well-ravished bodies start to pile up. Barbara Magnolfi (pictured above), a beauty beloved by the camera, is plenty of reason to watch. Director Enzo Milioni delivers a good half-hour talk about the production, which had plenty of drama of its own.
"Papaya: Love Goddess of the Cannibals": Finnish hottie Sirpa Lane plays a journalist caught up in voodoo doings in the Caribbean. She screws her way to the heart of the island's underground resistance to the white man's nuclear power plant. Includes the "complete Disco Cannibal Blood Orgy sequence." Not as bitchen as it sounds, but there's plenty to heat to be found in this fun little movie. Directed by Joe D'Amato.
"The Beast in Space": Opens with a "Star Wars" bar sequence that's car-wreck awful. Sirpa Lane again, this time getting down with a "hugely endowed man-beast" of the stars. (Just like in her notorious "The Beast.") Not fun bad, just bad. Skip it.
MGM unveiled the first six "classic" 007 movies set for Blu-ray today, with the titles rolling out Oct. 21, targeted for the debut of "Quantum of Solace" and, of course, holiday shopping.
The good news: "Dr. No, "From Russia With Love" and "Thunderball," all with Sean Connery.
The rest: "Die Another Day" (Pierce Brosnan), "Live and Let Die" (Roger Moore), "For Your Eyes Only" (Moore).
As with previous reissues of Bond movies, you get some Connery and the rest sprinkled in. So no "Goldfinger" for now. But half Connery is a generous move, based on previous MGM/Fox patterns.
These are the first pre-"Casino Royale" Blu-rays in the series. They're the Lowry process restorations, which were done four years or so ago for DVD, but with future high definition releases in mind. It'll be interesting to see how "Dr. No" holds up to the unblinking eye of HD, since it was in sorry shape going into the Lowry restoration.
Word on the street (forums) is that the titles all will come with Dolby True HD 5.1 in varying aspect ratios.
We'll have to wait for details such as extras, packaging and pricing: "Exact worldwide market release dates and title configurations will be announced in the coming weeks," the MGM release said.
More Blu-ray action: Disney has "Kill Bill" and "Kill Bill 2" on Blu-ray with a Sept. 9 release date.
Audio and video appear identical to the presentations on the highly regarded "The Adventures of Indiana Jones: The Complete DVD Movie Collection." Even the menus are the same.
(Update: Read the DVD/Blu-Ray review of "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull"
The attractions on "The Adventure Collection" are the new extras, which are decent but don't add a great deal to what was revealed over three-plus hours on the supplemental disc from the 2003 Indiana Jones DVD set.
Still, "Indiana Jones: The Adventure Collection" features new introductions to each film by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, which should please any fan of the series. And a couple of worthwhile featurettes, notably ones covering the series' head-spinning array of far-off locations and that gnarly melting-face trick.
Basically, the new Indy set works for people who don't have the old set, don't care much about the mother lode of extras from '03 and aren't planning to get into high definition anytime soon. Or those who are obsessive about shelf space, since the new box is less than half that of the old.
To be fair, let's look at some recent history: January's collapse of the HD DVD format probably took some of the snap out of this promotional campaign, timed of course to the release of the fourth Indiana Jones movie. As HD DVD backer Paramount retools for Blu-ray, we're left with no high definition versions of the original three "Raiders" movies -- which would have come out right about now in the natural order of things. So it's back to DVDs.
Once again, the video and audio get off to a so-so start. "Raiders" (1981) looks OK, but it's a product of its time -- at least there are few visible signs of wear and images are reasonably clear. (The images do respond to upconversion, at least on my Blu-ray.) But it isn't until "Temple of Doom" (1984) that the high quality of these DVDs begins to emerge.
"Doom" is inevitably called "the darkest" Indy film, but from frame 1 it employs a robust color palette in telling its tale of slavery and black magic. The DVD delivers the goods, with rich blood reds and working-in-the-coal-mine blacks.
All three movies are presented in widescreen (2.35:1) with the 16x9 enhancement.
Dialogue and music come across clearly on "Raiders," but its surround effects tend to muddy up and distract from the action. "Doom's" audio works better, with clear and discrete surround. "Crusade" sounds as if it were recorded yesterday. All of the films are in Dolby Digital (5.1).
Audio and video carry the THX endorsement, naturally.
The Lucas-Spielberg introductions run roughly 7 minutes each. The men are filmed separately. This time out, the old friends take a harder line on the disappointing "Temple of Doom," basically admitting it was a dog.
"The reviews were awful," director Spielberg says. "I like (the others) better," Lucas adds.
Kate Capshaw, who took a Yoko Ono-like beating over her "Temple of Doom" work, appears in another extra with the other two "Indy Women," saying her character was "not very appealing" as written. "It was a stereotype, this woman."
On one intro, Spielberg says, "I wanted to make a globe-trotting movie like James Bond." He succeeded wildly, based on the evidence presented in a cool 10-minute short with with producer Robert Watts, a locations specialist. Watts rattles off what was filmed in which exotic place and why, with pop-up text piling on information.
Another ace extra deconstructs "The Melting Face!" from "Raiders." Effects explorer Chris Walas tells how he made the Nazi creep's head ooze down onto his uniform. Meanwhile, on video, movie creature specialists re-create the gag step by step. After the melting face proved to be a gross-out sensation, Walas says, pros repeatedly asked him to explain the process. "Suddenly, everybody wanted to melt a head somewhere."
The rest of the extras are pretty standard, storyboards and more shorts.
The DVD set attends to its promo chores, with the same trailer for "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" marching in front of each DVD. "An appreciation" of the "Raiders" movies turns out to be just the "Crystal Skull" gang looking back on the series. A Lego game demo appears on each disc as well.
The DVDs also are available separately.