- The Washington Times - Friday, November 28, 2008

The Coppola Restoration Giftset (Blu-ray, Paramount, $124.99) - When Paramount released “The Godfather” and its sequels on DVD a few years back, the digital transfer was made from badly damaged prints, and little effort was made to clear up the picture. The resultant picture was substandard, at best — better, perhaps, than the ancient VHS releases, but the films looked muddied, as if a layer of dirt were on the television.

The “Coppola Restoration” came about when legendary director Francis Ford Coppola asked his buddy Steven Spielberg to get Paramount to cut a seven-figure check to fix up the prints and do a good job cleaning up the transfer. (Nice to have friends in high places, eh?) The resultant picture is magnificent, as close to film as you’re going to get at home. The restoration process itself is laid out in some detail on one of the supplemental disc’s many documentaries; little else of interest will be gleaned from the rest of the bonus material.

“The Godfather” and “The Godfather: Part II” are the main attractions here, and for good reason: It has been decades since they have been viewed in a condition as pristine as this. Mr. Coppola says in one of the extra features that he had forgotten just how incredible Gordon Willis’ cinematography was - the mixture of lights and darks, the sepia-toned images, the unyielding nature of his vision of just how the film should look. This edition of “The Godfather” is the reason Blu-ray exists, and it’s one of the few movies worth buying a second time solely for an image upgrade.

Band of Brothers (Blu-ray, HBO, $99.98) - Just in time for Christmas, HBO is releasing “Band of Brothers” on Blu-ray disc. If there weren’t a single extra feature on this six-disc collection, it still would be worth picking up. “Band of Brothers” is the definitive look at the European portion of World War II, from boot camp to D-Day to the Bulge to VE-Day. The scope of the miniseries could have been overwhelming had executive producers Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg not focused so relentlessly on the individuals who manned those offensives and the mundane details that ruled their lives.

The image upgrade to Blu-ray is almost too good; the picture is perfect and crystal clear, highlighting the green-screen effects used during the depiction of Easy Company’s jump into Normandy. Also included in the Blu-ray upgrade are interactive information modules that track the progress of the episodes. Even if you already have seen the series, it’s worth watching again with these tracks on, as they provide trivia, photographs and actual film from the era, divulging all sorts of information. This is one of the most impressive, thoroughly informative sets I’ve ever seen.

The Sopranos (HBO, $399.98) - Completists who already have the entire run on DVD won’t find much new here, but those who have yet to see HBO’s epic take on the gangster film would do well to make the investment in this massive 10-pound set. New material is limited to reminiscences by cast members on the series and an interview with David Chase conducted by Alec Baldwin, but the heart of the set is the 86-episode run that captivated audiences and Emmy voters alike.

The Wire (HBO, $249.99) - Like the “Sopranos” set above, this collection is entirely redundant for those who already own “The Wire” on DVD; new bonus materials are scarce. Judging by the series’ awful ratings, however, most people have missed it, and that’s a shame. “The Wire” was loved by critics for a reason: A more truthful examination of inner-city life has never been committed to film. The highlight has to be season four, one of the most heartbreaking - and honest - looks at the decrepit state of the inner city’s broken public school system.

300: Limited Collectors Edition (Warner Home Video, $49.98) - It’s hard to see the point of this set, especially when taking its $50 price point into account. The three-disc set has only one new feature, a 30 minute documentary that takes up the entirety of the third disc. The rest of the special features can be found on the two-disc special edition, which can be found for less than $10 on Amazon.

What else do you get for that extra $40? A hardcover art book that looks kind of nice but brings little else to the table, six postcards featuring images from the movie, and a lenticular motion card encased in enough lucite to stop a Spartan-chucked spear. Avoid at all costs.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (Blu-ray, Disney, $40.99) — The central problem with Prince Caspian - namely, its length - is mitigated slightly for home viewers by the ability to pause this 2 1/2-hour film. It’s not a bad film, per se, but its epic length is never matched by an epic feel; it drags, and the battle sequences, although large, aren’t terribly interesting.

The extra features on this collection are numerous and mostly worth viewing; the features on Peter Dinklage and Warwick Davis’ transformations into the dwarves Trumpkin and Nikabrik are especially intriguing. Those who love C.S. Lewis’ classic children’s books will find much to enjoy in this DVD collection, but the average filmgoer isn’t missing much by skipping it.

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Get Smart (HBO Video, $109.99) - Would you believe that each and every episode of “Get Smart” - 138 in all and packaged on five discs - finally has arrived nearly 40 years after the spy spoof left the air? Created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry to capitalize on the James Bond spy-movie craze of the 1960s, “Get Smart” was added to the NBC lineup in 1965. With the late Don Adams as bumbling CONTROL Agent 86, Maxwell Smart; Barbara Feldon as his sidekick, Agent 99; and Edward Platt as the CONTROL agency boss known only as the Chief, the series won seven Emmys during its NBC run (through 1969) before moving to ABC for its final season in 1970.

Packaged in a carton shaped like the phone booth where Smart learned of his upcoming missions, the DVD set is loaded with eight hours of bonus materials. Among them: audio commentaries from Miss Feldon, Mr. Brooks, Mr. Henry and others; a gag reel filled with bloopers; a behind-the-scenes featurette; a featurette on the show’s famous catchwords and -phrases (including Mr. Adams’ “Would you believe”); Mr. Adams’ 75th birthday “roast” - and, strangely, segments from his 2005 memorial service.

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Mr. Bean: The Ultimate Collection and The Complete Monty Python’s Flying Circus: Collector’s Edition Megaset (A&E; Home Video, $69.95 and $159.95) - There are millions of fans of British comedy here in the United States. You would provide hours of side-splitting fun if you gave either of these complete collections of two of the genre’s funniest programs.

“Mr. Bean: The Ultimate Collection” includes all 14 episodes of the television series starring Rowan Atkinson as a mostly mute troublemaker that ran from 1990 to 1996; the feature films “Bean: The Movie” and “Mr. Bean’s Holiday”; and even “Mr. Bean: The Animated Series,” which is little-seen in the United States.

I was once on a plane in Europe, wondering what in-flight movie could have a varied group of people of all ages from a collection of rather different countries all laughing out loud. I looked up at the screen to see “Mr. Bean.” Mr. Atkinson’s visual comedy doesn’t need translation.

In a 40-minute making-of documentary included in the set, Mr. Atkinson talks about how the character came about in the 1970s, when he was studying engineering science at Oxford and was asked during his first term there to participate in a comedy revue. Despite having virtually no previous writing experience, he had to come up with five minutes of material on two days’ notice. “I stood in front of a mirror and started messing with my face, basically,” he recalls. “This strange, surreal, nonspeaking character evolved.”

His interest in visual comedy was first sparked, he says, when he was a projectionist in sixth grade and saw the French classic “Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday.” The amateur footage of Mr. Atkinson’s early Oxford performances is just one of the joys that make this set a treat. Other extras include never-broadcast sketches, Comic Relief skits, a making-of featurette on the animated series, and more.

The “Monty Python” set is a limited-edition release of the comedy classic. The entire four-year run of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” is here on 21 discs, as are two live shows, new documentaries, and the previously released “Personal Best” DVDs, in which each member picks his favorite sketches.

David Lynch: The Lime Green Set (Absurda, $179.99) - There’s no question what you should buy the independent film fan this holiday season. With 720 minutes of material from one of our greatest living directors, this 10-disc box set is a treasure trove - and a more-than-pleasant surprise from a filmmaker who didn’t seem to embrace the DVD format before.

The set contains four of Mr. Lynch’s best films: “Eraserhead” in a remastered version, “The Elephant Man,” “Blue Velvet” with a “new Lynch-approved 5.1 sound mix” and “Wild at Heart.” There’s also an “Eraserhead” soundtrack, a disc of extras for “The Elephant Man,” a disc of short films, the DVD debut of the musical play “Industrial Symphony No. 1,” the online shorts “Dumbland” and new-to-DVD material on the “Mystery Disc.” I hate to spoil surprises, but people who already have some of this material will want to know just what’s on that disc. As Mr. Lynch himself says in a rather amusing introduction, “This is a good disc.” There are a bunch of short films and footage, including some experimental 16mm that Mr. Lynch shot in Philadelphia in 1967-68; two episodes of “Rabbit,” the Web sitcom that inspired “Inland Empire”; and two episodes of “Out Yonder.” Some of these extras show that Mr. Lynch has no problem poking fun at his own slightly inscrutable aura.

Most exciting for fans of this singular director, though, is a collection of deleted scenes from “Wild at Heart,” almost enough to make up a feature film of its own. “I think you’ll really like them,” Mr. Lynch says. “It was a dream finding them.” Some of these scenes are just as good as anything in the great, Palme d’Or-winning 1990 film.

Alfred Hitchcock: Premiere Collection (MGM, $119.99) and Vertigo: Special Edition, Psycho: Special Edition and Rear Window: Special Edition (Universal, $26.98 each) - It can be hard to buy for the classic-film buff. How can you find movies on DVD he doesn’t already have? The solution is not to worry about it and find new releases with extras that make the duplication worthwhile.

The Premiere Collection includes eight films from the master of suspense that span the early part of his career: 1927’s “The Lodger,” 1936’s “Sabotage,” 1937’s “Young and Innocent,” 1940’s “Rebecca,” 1944’s “Lifeboat,” 1945’s “Spellbound,” 1946’s “Notorious” and 1947’s “The Paradine Case.” Each film is restored and remastered (except “Lifeboat,” which was already rereleased) and includes extras, including interviews with filmmakers Peter Bogdanovich and Francois Truffaut, making-of featurettes, screen tests and more. The set also has a 32-page book with pictures and trivia.

The other three films, some of Hitch’s best, also have been released before but have been digitally remastered and have all-new extras. “Vertigo,” the director’s masterpiece, for example, includes commentary from the restoration team, commentary from “Exorcist” director William Friedkin, excerpts from the famous interviews between Mr. Hitchcock and Mr. Truffaut, the restoration documentary “Obsessed With ‘Vertigo’: New Life for Hitchcock’s Masterpiece” and more.

The Flintstones: The Complete Series (Warner Bros., $129.72) - This cute, Bedrock-themed box set is actually “aimed at adult collectors of animation,” Warner Bros. says. I suspect that’s a bit of legalese to cover the studio in case some parents get upset by the sometimes politically incorrect nature of old cartoons.

Of course, “The Flintstones,” the Hanna-Barbera cartoon that ran from 1960 to 1966, was actually aimed at adults, although I’m sure I’m not the only person who grew up watching it in reruns as a child. You could learn a lot about the adult world, including marriage and work life, from this animated version of “The Honeymooners” that took place in a technologically advanced Stone Age. All 166 episodes are here on 24 discs. There are more than four hours of extras, although if you have the previously released season sets, you likely already have most of them.

There are interviews with Mr. Hanna and Mr. Barbera; a featurette on those fun, animal-powered inventions; and the rarely seen pilot, “The Flagstones,” among other things.

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