Monday, June 04, 2007

attention all personnel: it's time for the roundup

What's that in your mouth soldier? Gum? Did you bring enough for everyone?
In a few days, we will mark the 63rd anniversary of D-Day. It is usually around this time of year, because of that and Father's Day in the wings, that the studios release or re-release war movies on DVD. Last year saw some nice special editions of some war classics. This year we get even more that are making their way to DVD for the first time. Besides that we've got some Sci-fi adventure classics, some comedy classics and modern classics and more. We've got a lot of ground to cover today, so let's get moving soldier!

Top Shelf Pick of the Week:
World War II Collection, Vol. 2: Heroes Fight for Freedom
This time two years ago, Warner Home Video released a box set entitled: World War II Collection: Battlefront Europe. It was a great set that featured some excellent films in the vast Warner library like The Dirty Dozen, Where Eagles Dare, etc. I suspected, but didn't know for sure, that WHV would come around with a volume II, especially of some new to DVD films. That day is here. This new box set features six films, all new to DVD: Hell to Eternity, Air Force, Command Decision, The Hill, Thirty Seconds over Tokyo and 36 Hours.
Heroes Fight for Freedom is an apt title as the films take a variety of approaches to war, comrades and heroism.

The centerpiece of the collection is the long awaited appearance of Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo starring Spencer Tracy and Van Johnson. This is the story of Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle and his squadron of fliers who mounted a raid on Tokyo after the Attack on Pearl Harbor. The film covers the planning, the raid, and the desperate attempt to get back home. Some actual footage of the raid was used in the film. Thirty Seconds was made in 1944, just a couple of years after the raid, and before any outcome was certain. War movies like these were not only an attempt by the studios to bolster audiences on the home front but also to convey the heroism of those on the front lines. Many know that studios frequently used whatever stars they could muster out (at least those who weren't currently in the service -and sometimes while some were on duty) to put out these films. What isn't as widely known is that by this time some of the directors, screenwriters and technical advisers had returned from active duty themselves. While there are fictionalized sequences, the emotion and drama seems to be more immediate and palpable than in some later war films. A lot was toned down for wartime audiences, but what those men endured and saw is in the drama of the script and images.

Also filmed during World War II, Air Force by master director, Howard Hawks, takes a different approach to the events of Pearl Harbor. The men in this film are head towards Hawaii in a B-17 , the day before the Japanese dawn raid. Hawks' signature theme of men bonding together and working as a unit during times of crisis comes through when the crew arrive during the actual raid. 36 Hours is a psychological drama about an Army Intelligence Major played by James Garner, who suddenly awakes in a hospital with amnesia. He is told that it is 1950 and the war is over and is asked questions by the hospital staff about what he remembers. It isn't long before the Major discovers that he is being lied to; the War is very much in swing, and the hospital staff aren't who they claim to be. Command Decision stars Clark Gable as an Air Force commander (not much of a stretch for Gable who served in the war flying planes) who makes tough decisions regarding sending his men into possibly suicidal missions. Hell to Eternity is about a young man adopted by a Japanese American Family who is then drafted into the war after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Finally, The Hill is perhaps the most different of the set. It stars Sean Connery as Joe Roberts, a British soldier imprisoned in a Libyan stockade. When the brutal treatment causes the death of a comrade, Roberts stands up to his captors only to be put to the same brutal punishment endured by the others, including a harrowing, full pack climb up "the Hill" under extreme heat. Although put through the paces, Roberts' spirit cannot be broken.

All of the films contain the great features you've come to expect from the folks at WHV. Theatrical trailers, classic cartoons, and vintage shorts abound. Unfortunately there are no commentaries to speak of, although surely a commentary with Sean Connery on The Hill would have been a treat, however unlikely that would have been. Most of the films have been remastered and the audio seems to have been given the once over. All in all, an excellent box set with some very worthy films. Fans should definitely look to picking this up either for themselves or dear ol' dad.

More war films:
Twelve O'Clock High, Von Ryan's Express and The Sand Pebbles
20th Century Fox is upping the ante on classic film fans by issuing some excellent war films in Special Edition sets. Packed with features
these films have been around the old home theater block before, but it looks as if Fox is trying to do them justice. These two disc sets have commentaries, many "making of" documentaries and featurettes on the inspiration behind the films and the actors and directors. Fox is also continuing to include a interactive gallery feature which allows you to view and access reproductions of press books and pr material on the disc. I'm not sure whether I completely like the feature yet, (I do like the repos and lobby cards that you can read or look at without the disc) but I am starting to warm up to it. Von Ryan's Express even has a reproduction of a Mad Magazine parody of the film. Another interesting feature is the Isolated Score track that allows you to listen to the soundtrack, with an optional commentary track. Fox is really investing into these films, and I really like what I see. Hopefully sales will be such as to encourage them to continue in this vein.

Fantastic Voyage and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea
You know, I have vivid memories of watching Fantastic Voyage as a Saturday afternoon matinee feature on my local tv station when I was young. The whole concept of shrinking down a ship and having it travel through the body and fight diseases, etc. was pretty cool. And Raquel Welch in uniform wasn't bad either. Grrowll.

But I digress. The plot for FV has been parodied and copied to death, but it's a great film. This isn't Star Wars-esque graphics and effects here. This is 1960's feature film sci-fi goodness in all it's glory. The premise is cool, the effects are cool, but the characters and their situation drive everything. Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea is the same. In fact, you might get the feeling you've seen it before...when it was called 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Hey, same director. Whattya gonna do? It also became a television series. Don't sell it short, though. the film is a tight paced, cold war thriller. And Fox is also giving these films the two disc Special Edition treatment with many features, documentaries and commentaries. The Interactive Gallery also includes the comic book adaptations! Score!

Sergio Leone Anthology:
You know, sometimes I just get mad thinking about the all the times when I've noticed a special edition coming out for a film that I already own on DVD. You probably have felt the same. Especially when the special features look awesome. Could it be possible that some enterprising studio would think about selling the features disc at a reduced price for those who already own the films. Ha, ha, ha, ha... sorry, just a little joke. Nonetheless, the great Sergio Leone Man with No Name trilogy makes yet another appearance on DVD, this time in a box set as two disc special editions. Also included is a first time on DVD Leone film, Duck, You Sucker! with James Coburn. Many special features can be found on each two disc set including the usual making of featurettes, documentaries on Sergio Leone and his style of film making, and commentaries (although none featuring Clint Eastwood) DVD Savant has an excellent review and inside scoop that you can read here. (He worked on the DVD release) It looks like a great set to have. The swath of extra features, the great job they did on fixing previous problems on the prints and audio, and the inclusion of Duck, You Sucker! makes this an easy upgrade.

Martin & Lewis Collection, Vol. II
This is the follow-up to last years set. Thankfully it wasn't put off like last time with Volume I. In this collection we have the films:
Living It Up, You're Never Too Young, Artists and Models, Pardners and Hollywood or Bust. Artists and Models and Pardners are perhaps the best of the bunch, but since I'm a big Martin and Lewis fan, I'm biased towards all of them. Hollywood or Bust is the last joint film appearance of the duo, and reportedly the feuding on the set (mainly from Jerry and his ego) led to a difficult shot with director Frank Tashlin. Don't let that dissuade you from adding to your collection one of the great comic teams of the 20th century.

Fantatic Four: Extended Edition
I usually have a hard time being convinced that Extended Edition DVDs are really worth the money and effort. It seems so blatantly greedy. However, I have been wrong on occasion. Kingdom of Heaven is a prime example where I will tell someone to buy the extended edition without hesitation. The studio slashed the film to pieces, and the extended edition actually restores Ridley Scott's film to where it should have been. With the Fantastic Four, I'll go out on a limb and say if you enjoyed the film, you might want to go ahead and pick up the extended edition. I really enjoyed the film and felt like it was given short shrift, and that's from someone who was a avid fan of the comic book series. I saw a lot of promise for even better future films and look forward to this year's FF: Rise of the Silver Surfer.
With this two disc Extended Edition of FF, you have restored scenes as you would expect, but you'll get more than you bargained for. The second disc includes a wallop of special features including a feature length documentary on Jack Kirby! There are also concept art galleries, featurettes on the making of, a Baxter Building: Declassified feature and much more. The second disc alone is worth the price of the set! If you are looking forward to this year's sequel, there is no better way to prepare than by getting this set. Highly recommended.

The Fall Guy: The Complete First Season

I may be dating myself here, but I can remember the exact tune and words to the theme song for this show; The Unknown Stuntman. Call me a nerd, but The Fall Guy was a great series. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that I was a Six Million Dollar Man fan also. Nevertheless, the tongue-in-check humor, the truck, the story, Heather Thomas... it all just works. Yeah, I know the first season of ChiPs also comes out today, but my money is on the "unknown stuntman".

Also out this week:
Bill Murray in Meatballs: Special Edition
And some great Eddie Murphy films:
Norbit, and special editions of Coming to America and Trading Places (packed with special features)

And don't forget to tune into the Geekerati BlogTalkRadio Show at 7pm et/ 10pm pt! We'll be there talking about this week's releases with Cinerati's Christian Johnson and the gang. Don't miss it.

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

Well feed me corn and watch me grow! How did all this scum get in here?


Anonymous said...

The Fall Guy! ON DVD! Heather Thomas! I never thought it would happen. The DVD that is, not me and Heather Thomas.

Laura said...

I'll be getting the WWII set and TWELVE O'CLOCK HIGH -- my teenage son will especially love them -- they sound great.

Fox is doing such great releases lately. Even a "minor" release like HELL AND HIGH WATER (which arrived in today's mail) comes with a Richard Widmark BIOGRAPHY episode, stills gallery, and the interactive pressbook, plus trailer. And the "Cinema Classics" sets like JANE EYRE are really impressive. I just wish they'd continue the Studio Classics line (I have such a nice row of white cases on a shelf, grin) but I guess the Cinema Classics sort of take the place of those in the meantime...

I'm looking forward to your upcoming TCM article, too!

Best wishes,

Laura said...

Just tuned in and listened -- that was fun, though I wish you'd had more time to chat!
Best wishes,

Wolf Flywheel said...

I know. Conversation would've ben great. I think we wil do our own show in the not too distant future if we feel like there will be enough listeners. Thanks for listening. We'll be on every week.

Anonymous said...

Hey there I like what I see but I wish that you guys would write about some real classics: The Beatles.


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