The Washington Times - December 15, 2008, 07:23PM

While writing about the Criterion Collection’s move into the world of Blu-ray and high definition content on Friday, space did not permit a full review of each of the discs. This was unfortunate, since each title is worthy of its own capsule review, at the least. 

Bottle Rocket is probably the most exciting of these releases, since we’re dealing with both a brand new transfer and a brand new array of special features. Wes Anderson’s first film is an interestingly flawed picture; originally a 13 minute short (and a big hit at the Sundance Film Festival in 1992), the expansion to 90 minutes did some damage to the overall integrity of the picture. The three act structure feels both forced and aimless, not an easy trick to pull off. Leaving that aside, there’s plenty to enjoy here. The dialogue is affectionate and quirky, and, as Martin Scorsese noted in an Esquire essay included in the DVD’s booklet, the innocent and heartfelt acting of brothers Owen and Luke Wilson is a breath of fresh air. 

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The special features on this disc are extensive. Included are the original short is included on this release, as well as a handful of deleted scenes (some of which were reincorporated into the feature for the first time). One of the more intriguing features is a an anamorphic widescreen test shot by Wes Anderson and cinematographer Robert Yeoman; by comparing the test shot to the finished project it gives the layman a pretty intriguing look at the less-understood decisions faced by filmmakers. The commentary with Owen Wilson and Mr. Anderson isn’t terribly informative, though a fan of the movie will learn some interesting nuggets of trivia.

Chungking Express is another new release from Criterion, and a nice little addition to anyone looking for an introduction to Wong Kar Wai. It’s probably his most accessible film, and it perfectly captures the zeitgeist of a time and a place (namely, Hong Kong in the years before its handover by the British to the Chinese) according to the commentary track recorded by “noted Asian cinema critic, Tony Rayns.” Mr. Rayns’ commentary track is tough sledding for those of us who aren’t well versed in Asian cinema’s intricacies. it’s the equivalent of a 200 level course at your local film school: informative, but sometimes difficult to follow because of a lack of foundational information. The movie itself looks fantastic, with the sparkling new transfer giving extra heft to the innovative techniques employed by Mr. Wong. 

The Third Man is the most comprehensive disc in the group, and probably the one most aided by the hi-def transfer. Black and white tends to get muddled at lower definitions as the shades of black blur together and white tends toward gray. The sharpness provided at 1080p is something to behold, and the closest to film you’re likely to see outside of the cinematheque. A pair of commentary tracks—one by Steven Sodebergh and Tony Gilroy, one by film scholar Dana Polan—are crash courses in filmmaking. If Mr. Rayns’ commentary was a 200 level course, these are the 100 level equivalents.

Mr. Soderbergh and Mr. Gilroy’s track is especially interesting; in it they discuss basics of screenwriting (how long to wait to reintroduce a “call back” to something from earlier in the film, how to show and not tell, the importance of utilizing film for all its worth instead of authoring little more than a spoken novel) and direction (framing shots, working around a recalcitrant star like Orson Welles). Also included are a handful of documentaries that take a closer look at the movie’s troubled production—the aforementioned Mr. Welles made life as difficult as possible for director Carol Reed, refusing, for example, to work in the sewers of Vienna and forcing the production company to build a lifesize set of the underground passageways in England. If you had to make a choice and was forced to purchase only one of these discs, do yourself a favor and pick up the British Film Institute’s number one film of all time.

The Man Who Fell to Earth is probably the least seen of these films, and this is a welcome rerelease. David Bowie stars as an alien who comes to Earth to find a way to bring water to his homeland; he uses his superior technology to create innovative technologies that turn a massive profit, hoping to use that money to get back to his home planet. The plot is largely secondary, however, to the surreal imagery and Nicolas Roeg’s impressive direction. He, Mr. Bowie, and costar Buck Henry collaborate on a commentary track originally included on the 1992 laserdisc release. Fans of smart sci-fi and experimental cinema (not to mention David Bowie) will find a great deal to enjoy here, and the lusciously shot imagery is more reminiscent of a painter of landscapes than what you typically see in a feature film. Though not for everyone, Mr. Roeg’s feature is must-viewing—at least once.