- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A hitherto underseen auteur receives his well-deserved due via New Yorker Video’s fresh release of Peter Watkins’ 1969 military allegory The Gladiators ($29.95). It’s our…

DVD pick of the week

Uncannily predicting the reality shows that cram today’s TV airwaves, the film posits a near future when international aggression is sublimated through corporately sponsored, televised International Peace Games.

The deadly matches, staged in a nominally neutral but actively complicitous Sweden, pit an armed platoon of Western troops and their allies against a Chinese outfit. High-ranking officers from several countries monitor the competition, whose actions are manipulated secretly by hidden computer operators.

As in his earlier films “Culloden” and “The War Game,” director and co-writer Watkins employs a near-documentary approach, complete with interviews with the combatants, but doesn’t sacrifice suspense as the teams square off in chaotic battle. In a subplot, one radical French student seeks to sabotage the games, not realizing that he also is part of the international power elite’s scenario.

Mr. Watkins admirably rises above the highly charged polemics of the Vietnam War era to present an overview in which few of the participants escape culpability. At the same, he leavens the proceedings with dollops of dark satire without diluting his serious core message.

Extras include Mr. Watkins’ seminal 1959 short “The Diary of an Unknown Soldier,” an informative audio commentary by cinema scholar Joseph A. Gomez and a 12-page booklet featuring a revelatory Peter Watkins self-interview.

New Yorker Video recently released Mr. Watkins’ equally worthy Edvard Munch and Punishment Park; hopefully, his 1967 youth fable “Privilege” will soon see the digital light of day as well.

Tele-video

In new TV-on-DVD developments, sleuthing holds sway in a pair of sets: Pierce Brosnan and Stephanie Zimbalist crack tough cases in the 22-episode Remington Steele: Season Three (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, four-disc, $39.98), arriving with select commentaries and featurettes, while Richard Burgi plays an ESP-equipped detective in the 10-episode The Sentinel: The Complete First Season (Paramount Home Entertainment, three-disc, $39.98).

Elsewhere, Neil Patrick Harris returns as Doogie Howser, M.D.: Season 4 (Anchor Bay Entertainment, four-disc, $39.98), assembling all 22 fourth-season episodes, plus bonus interviews. Warner Home Video continues the animated sci-fi adventures of Thundercats: Season 2, Volume 1 (six-disc, $64.92), collecting 34 episodes, and Anchor Bay Entertainment issues the 13-episode cartoon space comedy Tripping the Rift: The Complete Second Season (two-disc, $29.98).

BBC on DVD

BBC Video introduces a pair of new releases: Former “Monty Python” member Michael Palin leads viewers on a trek across the Sahara in a double-disc edition ($34.98) complete with deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes footage and more, while Mira Sorvino stars in the 1995 miniseries The Buccaneers ($14.98), adapted from Edith Wharton’s final novel.

Next week, the label adds the “Masterpiece Theatre” production of Thomas Hardy’s Under the Greenwood Tree ($19.98) to its DVD lineup.

Koch Vision contributes a deuce of double-disc BBC Charles Dickens-based miniseries, both from 1979: David Copperfield and The Old Curiosity Shop ($29.98 each).

Collectors’ corner

Foreign fare dominates the week’s vintage-movie slate. Kino Video introduces two films by painterly Russian director Alexander Sokurov, the lyrical dramas Mother and Son (1997) and The Second Circle (1990), along with Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray’s 1977 epic The Chess Players ($24.95 each).

Lina Wertmuller receives special attention from Koch Lorber Films via new remastered editions of her 1975 classic Seven Beauties (in a two-disc set with a lengthy Lina W. interview) and the 1974 fable Swept Away ($24.98 each), both starring Giancarlo Giannini.

The ‘A’ list

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment tops the list of recent theatrical titles making their digital debuts. Cillian Murphy plays a transvestite cabaret singer in Neil Jordan’s Breakfast on Pluto ($24.96), equipped with an audio commentary and featurette, while Eli Roth directs the edgy horror outing Hostel ($28.95), available in separate R and unrated editions, with no fewer than four commentary tracks and multiple featurettes.

In the import arena, Harvey Keitel stretches as a Latino mover and shaker in Juan Gerard’s period drama Cuban Blood (Velocity Home Entertainment, $24.98).

Animated antics

On the animation front, Walt Disney Home Entertainment releases Pooh’s Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin ($29.99), complete with bonus material, along with three fresh Best Pals cartoon collections: Donald & Daisy, Mickey & Minnie and Mickey & Pluto ($14.99 each).

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: I have Aguirre, Wrath of God and Nosferatu on Beta tape and think these are great movies to bring to DVD.

Yvonne Law, Ashburn

Definitely time for an upgrade. Fortunately, both those Werner Herzog films starring Klaus Kinski are available on disc ($29.98 each) via Anchor Bay Entertainment.

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.videoscope mag.com.

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