- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 29, 2004

While it doesn’t quite hit the heights of his 1981 cult classic “Quest For Fire,” director/co-writer Jean-Jacques Annaud’s wildlife drama Two Brothers, new from Universal Studios Home Video ($29.99), stalks into vidstores as a sheer delight. It’s our…

DVD pick of the week

Set in 1930s Indochina, “Two Brothers” chronicles a hectic year in the life of two young tiger siblings, the aggressive Sangha and the cautious Kumal.

Separated from their mother, Sangha winds up the unlikely pet of a governor’s son (Freddie Highmore), while Kumal is sold into circus captivity. Providing the narrative glue is great white hunter Aidan McRory (Guy Pearce), who feels both affection and responsibility for the cubs whose father he’d killed.

While steeped in an old-school adventure ambience (the film could hail almost as easily from 1964 as 2004), “Two Brothers” admirably avoids cheap sentimentality. The film’s core message is that people can make life rough — or worse — for animals, and viewers aren’t spared the cruelties our furry heroes and their jungle brethren suffer at the hands of man.

The two-legged thesps hold their own in rather broadly drawn roles, but Sangha and Kumal (and their various stunt doubles) are rightly the stars of the show.

Several brief but informative supplemental featurettes demonstrate how director Annaud refrained from employing animatronics for all but a clawful of shots, instead placing his crew behind steel mesh wire while his animal actors roamed free. A director’s audio commentary fills in still more of a backstory that’s almost as fascinating as the film itself.

At a time when many homegrown movies adopt either mean-spirited or simpleminded feel-good stances, “Two Brothers” bounds in as a welcome breath of celluloid fresh air.

The ‘A’ list

In another busy week for recent theatrical releases making their digital debuts, MGM Home Entertainment releases two relatively low-key titles —Michael Winterbottom’s thought-provoking futuristic fable Code 46, starring Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton as forbidden lovers, and Paul McGuigan’s romantic thriller Wicker Park ($26.98 each), with Josh Hartnett. Both arrive with ample bonus material ranging from featurettes to deleted scenes and more.

Universal Studios proffers “Star Trek” thesp-turned-director Jonathan Frakes’ live-action adaptation of Gerry Anderson’s cult 1960s sci-fi puppet creation Thunderbirds ($29.98), pitting high-flying hero Bill Paxton and brood against a villainous Ben Kingsley in a special edition complete with director’s commentary and a wealth of featurettes.

The same label premieres the romantic comedy Wimbledon ($29.98), pairing Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst, with bonus featurettes.

Milla Jovovich returns to fight supernatural evil in the video game-based sequel Resident Evil: Apocalypse (Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment, $28.95) in a double-disc set incorporating three separate filmmakers and cast audio commentaries, deleted scenes, outtakes, featurettes and more.

Lions Gate Home Entertainment likewise goes the scare route with the visceral shark shocker Open Water ($26.98), also equipped with a boatload of extras, from commentaries to featurettes.

Tele-video

Three new animated tele-series invade area vidstores: Warner Home Video releases a pair of four-disc Hanna-Barbera Classic Collection sets ($44.98 each) — The Flintstones: The Complete Second Season, containing 32 episodes, and Top Cat: The Complete Series, with all 30 original episodes. Both include a wide array of animated extras.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment counter-programs with Mike Judge’s adult cartoon series King of the Hill: The Complete Third Season (three-disc, $39.98), collecting all 25 Season 3 episodes.

Warner Home Video offers Gilmore Girls: The Complete Second Season ($59.98), a six-disc set featuring such audiovisual accessories as previously unaired scenes, featurettes and a “Gilmore-isms” booklet.

HBO Video aims for an older crowd with its three-disc Sex and the City: Season Six: Part Two ($49.98), with deleted scenes and three alternate endings from the final episode.

Video verite

In the increasingly busy digital documentary field, Docurama debuts the double-disc Faster ($29.95), an in-depth look at the speed-crazed world of MotoGP, narrated by Ewan McGregor.

First Run Features contributes Googoosh: Iran’s Daughter ($29.95), a portrait of the eponymous Iranian diva, and WGBH Boston Video investigates Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution ($29.95), a two-disc set from Public Television’s “Nova” series.

Collectors’ corner

Buena Vista Home Entertainment visits vintage Britain via Hollywood with its gala double-disc Mary Poppins 40th Anniversary Edition ($29.99), brimming with extras from a fresh documentary to a new animated “Mary Poppins” short and audio commentary by stars Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke.

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: Where can I get a video copy of “The Librarian: Quest for the Spear?”

DGW, via e-mail

No date has yet been announced for that recently aired TV movie.

Send your video comments and queries to Phantom of the Movies, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002, or e-mail us at phanmedia@aol.com. Check out our Web site at www.videoscopemag.com.

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