New DVD and Blu-Ray Releases For September 11, 2012
By Ryan Michael Painter
(KUTV) This week’s new release DVD and Blu-ray releases highlighted by the Blu-ray release of James Cameron’s “Titanic” and his Titanic documentary “Ghosts of the Abyss” (both available in 3D) and Warner’s beautiful 7-film Blu-ray “The Tim Burton Collection.” Recent theatrical releases making their home video debuts include “Snow White and the Huntsman,” “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” and “October Baby.” Television fans have “Terra Nova,” “Spartacus: Vengeance,” “30 Rock” and “Up All Night.” Documentary fans and historians will want to give Alex Gibney’s documentary “My Trip to Al-Qaeda” a look.
Here are this week’s reviews broken down by genre.
Comedy: “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”
Documentary: “Ghosts of the Abyss,” “My Trip to Al-Qaeda”
Drama: “Game of Life,” “October Baby,” “Spartacus: Vengeance,” “Titanic”
Fantasy/Sci-fi: “Snow White and the Huntsman,” “Terra Nova: The Complete Series,” “The Tim Burton Collection”
What to Expect When You’re Expecting (DVD and Blu-ray)
Based on Heidi Murkoff’s bestselling novel “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” follows five couples’ experiences with pregnancy. It stars Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Elizabeth Banks, Brooklyn Decker, Anna Kendrick, Chris Rock, Chase Crawford, Matthew Morrison, Dennis Quaid and Rodrigo Santoro. To say that the film is overloaded with stars and soon-to-be household names would be an understatement. Unfortunately this means that there is little room for story and character development. It’s like trying to fit an entire television season in to 110 minutes. Even if you love Diaz as a fitness freak, Decker as a trophy wife or Kendrick as a food truck chef you’ll only get snippets of a story. The plus side is if you don’t like a particular storyline you won’t have to wait very long for the film to shift its focus. Guys might enjoy some of the “men in the park” bits, but for the most part this one is for the ladies.
Ghosts of the Abyss (3D Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
James Cameron’s love affair with the Titanic didn’t end with the 1997 of “Titanic.” In 2001 he and actor Bill Paxon journeyed to the resting place of the boat. Aided by a Russian crew and state-of-the-art technology Cameron was able to explore the wreckage in a way that had previously been impossible. The result of their journey was a 60-minute 3D IMAX experience. The film isn’t so much a history lesson on the Titanic tragedy as it is a tour of the ship’s remains. In many ways it is like watching footage from another world with unusual creatures and 90 years of sea bottom decay eating away at the twisted metal. Yet there are still remnants of grandeur, hints of opulence and the scattering of evidence that reminds us that once there were people, now lost, who filled the ship’s cabins. “Ghosts of the Abyss” is haunting and breathtaking all at once. This Blu-ray/DVD combo pack includes the original 60-minute film in2D and 3D (Blu-ray only) as well as the extended 90-minute version in 2D.
My Trip to Al-Qaeda (DVD)
With “My Trip to Al-Qaeda” Director Alex Gibney (“Eron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”) and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lawrence Wright have crafted a must-see documentary. Based on Wright ‘s play the film offers is a compelling and often terrifying peak into the mind of Osama Bin Laden and his followers. The documentary feels balanced and objective as Wright draws upon his extensive research and experiences interviewing family members, friends and associates of Bin Laden. But the film isn’t just about Al-Qaeda, it also examines the impact of the 9/11 attacks on America on a political as well as psychological level.
Game of Life (DVD)
Five struggling (on a variety of levels) families are connected in this narrative by their children’s soccer team. Infidelity, finance, selfish behavior and self sacrifice are just a couple of the themes addressed in “Game of Life.” The film features some familiar faces in Tom Sizemore, Tom Arnold, Heather Locklear (in various states of undress) and Beverly D’Angelo. Director/writer Joseph Merhi’s film is a very somber affair with a few moments that feel lifted directly out of the “How to Write a Soap Opera” handbook. In Marhi’s defense he’s at least trying to address real issues. I can’t help but think that if he narrowed down his focus to one or two of the families the film would have been stronger.
October Baby (DVD and Blu-ray)
Hannah is a young woman who learns that her health problems may be the result of an unsuccessful abortion. Devastated by the news she sets out on a road trip of self discovery. There is nothing subtle about “October Baby.” It is a film with a pro-life agenda. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, particularly because the film makers were very boisterous about their message in the promotion of the film. But, because its message is so obvious, it’s it is unlikely to change anyone’s stance on the issue.
If you’re looking for a film with a Christian message you’ll probably enjoy “October Baby.”
Spartacus: Vengence (DVD and Blu-ray)
The second proper season of Starz “Spartacus” is an interesting beast. First you have Liam McIntyre replacing the late Andy Whitfield as the titular character (with Whitfield’s blessing). Second, having established itself as a joyous guilty pleasure, the series was faced with the daunting task of living up to expectations. The season begins where “Blood and Sand” leaves off. Spartacus, having escaped from the House of Batiatus with a small army of former slaves, is now hunted by Roman troops. Caught at a crossroads Spartacus must choose a path of revenge or rise above his bloodlust and become a hero for the repressed.
Titanic (Three Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo and Four Disc 3D Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
It goes without saying that James Cameron’s “Titanic” is one of the most beloved (and debated) films of all time. Part of the film’s appeal is the story of the doomed ship that some claimed “not even God to sink.” In the hands of a director like Roland Emmerich the disaster would have been more than enough to justify the film, but Cameron, being the blockbuster genius that he is, made an epic love story the central focus of the plot. Everyone knows that the ship sinks by the end of the film; what we don’t know is the fate of the romance. Buoyed by fantastic performances from Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, with a little help from James Horner and Celine Dion, “Titanic” was not just a movie; it was a phenomenon. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the real Titanic’s sinking Cameron’s film was re-released with the added bonus of being presented in 3D. Unfortunately I did not see the 3D version of the film in theaters and have only been sent the traditional 2D version of the film. I can’t comment on the quality of the 3D version of “Titanic.” I can tell you that the standard Blu-ray release looks absolutely brilliant. The movie’s art direction is second to none and how you can see the intricate work and care that went into reproducing the massive vessel and its stately rooms. Bonus features mirror those from the 2005 DVD release with the addition of two newly produced features. One is essentially members of the cast and crew looking back on their experiences, the lasting impact of the film and its 3D conversion. The second feature is Cameron and a group of experts analyzing what we’ve learned about the Titanic’s sinking in hopes of finally figuring out why the ship sunk. Both are quite good. Even if you’re only lukewarm on the film, “Titanic” is a must-own release.
Snow White and the Huntsman (DVD and Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
Universal’s re-imagining of the “Snow White” has all the traditional elements of the fairytale: Snow White (Kristen Stewart), an evil stepmother (Charlize Theron in a deliciously evil performance), a magic mirror, seven dwarves, a poisoned apple and a benevolent huntsman (Chris Hemsworth). The film also ups the action-adventure aspect of the story. The script is a bit uneven, particularly when it comes to the character development of Snow White (there’s a reason why they’re hinting at a Huntsman centered sequel). Stewart does all she can with the role and while her off-screen controversies might keep her from returning for possible sequels I wouldn’t mind if she did.
Visually the film feels a bit like something you’d see from Tim Burton with some Terry Gilliam and a splash of David Fincher thrown in for dramatic effect. For a first-time director Rupert Sanders holds his own, but doesn’t exactly establish himself as an artist with a unique vision.
I definitely prefer “Snow White and the Huntsman” to the family-friendly fare of this year’s “Mirror Mirror.” It takes more risks and while it often falls short of its lofty goals it still makes for an entertaining experience.
Terra Nova: The Complete Series (DVD)
“Terra Nova” was an extremely ambitious sci-fi series produced by Steven Spielberg that combined elements of “The Swiss Family Robinson” and “Land of the Lost” (with greatly improved visual effects). It was primarily about the Shannon family who time traveled to Cretaceous era to escape the distant future when the world is on the verge of collapse because all of its natural resources have been used up. The family lives in a small community that is under constant threat from dinosaurs and a splinter group of humans known as “Sixers.” The series starts off quite well, but hits a lull in the middle episodes as it dwells too much on clichéd storylines accented by dubious dialogue. Thankfully by season’s end the series begins to understand its potential and finishes strong. Which is where the real disappointment starts because Fox, despite the show’s solid ratings, decided to not renew it for a second season. Yes, it was an expensive show to produce, but the audience was still there. Fox promises to continue to story in a motion comic, but that is hardly a consolation for those (myself included) who would have liked to have seen at least one more season before abandoning the project. Don’t let the show’s premature end keep you from exploring the world of Terra Nova. The finale wraps up enough of the storylines to serve as an ending. It’s just not the ending the series deserved.
The Tim Burton Collection (Blu-ray)
This attractive collection contains all of Tim Burton’s films released by Warner Bros. Included are the early classics “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” and “Bettlejuice,” his two “Batman” films, his sci-fi comedy “Mars Attacks!,” the stop-motion horror/romance of “Corpse Bride” and his adaptation of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” The collection includes a 72-page book with photos and trivia for each of the seven films. It’s a must-own release for fans of Burton’s work (even if they already own most of the films).
(Copyright 2012 Sinclair Broadcasting Group)