- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A pair of adventures tied to the wonders of science, a woman takes an extreme trip to refocus her life and a story about a bunch of hopeless romantics surviving in Seattle are my tops picks in Blu-ray home entertainment this week.

Manhattan: Season One (Lionsgate Home Entertainment, Not Rated, $49.97) — The dramatic events leading up to the United States detonating the first atomic bombs were chronicled in a television drama series last summer on the WGN America network.

Fans of nuclear fission and its effects on humanity can now binge-watch the 13 episodes on a 3-disk set that compiles the entire first season in the high-definition format.

More soap operatic than historically accurate, the series explores a group of scientists and their families along with the military co-existing on a super-secret base in Los Alamos Mexico in the middle of World War II.

Shows offered a mix of real characters such as theoretical physicist Robert J. Oppenheimer (the father of the atomic bomb), kind of real characters such as  curmudgeon Frank Winter (loosely based on the real Seth Neddermeyer) and plenty of fictional ones.

It’s often a fascinating portrayal of life at the base loaded with juicy scientific minutia for nerds in the family and backed by outstanding cinematography, set design (a fully realized town in New Mexico no less) and costuming to present the authentic-looking period piece.

I could have done with less behind-the-bedroom-door shenanigans by the characters. Fact: Supposedly the baby population actually exploded on the base due to boredom. It seemed gratuitous and pointless to forwarding the real story about a team of men inventing a weapon of mass destruction (nicknamed the Gadget) that could end not only a war but potentially destroy the planet.

Extras include a trio of optional commentary tracks highlighting the episodes “You Always Hurt the One You Love” and “Perestroika” with director Thomas Schlamme and creator Sam Shaw; and “The Second Coming” with actor Daniel Stern and producer Dustin Thomason.

Also worth watching is the featurette, “Now I am Become Death,” a much-too-short, 10-minute biography on Oppenheimer.

What I really wanted was a multihour documentary on the actual project or building of the bomb (PBS or History Channel detail quality) to cement purchase of the set.

Right now, the Blu-ray collection is a rental at best, especially considering its availability on demand.

The Imitation Game (Starz/ Anchor Bay Home Entertainment, rated PG-13, $34.99) — A spectacular performance from Benedict Cumberbatch as English mathematician Alan Turing, a man tasked with solving an impossible puzzle that helped shorten World War II, arrived last year in a biographical drama that garnered eight Academy Award nominations.

Now available in Blu-ray, this loose adaptation of Alan Hodges’ book on Turing delivers an infuriatingly heartbreaking story of the brainy, socially awkward genius.

Credited with saving 12 million lives by building a machine to crack the Nazis’ unbreakable Enigma communication code, Turing was, amazingly, not embraced as a hero early on and actually persecuted in the 1950s for being a homosexual in England.

The digital transfer shines especially when comparing the color palette shifts, depending on the time period as well as any scenes of war combat, interspersed to show the dire deadline weighing upon the code-cracking team.

Co-stars Keira Knightly, as Turing’s best friend and fellow puzzle solver Joan Clarke, and Charles Dance (“Game of Thrones”), as the overtly serious Commander Alastair Denniston in charge of the code-breaking team, perfectly complement Mr. Cumberbatch’s effort.

Extras begin with a mandatory commentary track with screenwriter Graham Moore and director Morten Tyldum. Each have plenty to offer as far as the filmmaking process, but Mr. Moore shines with minutia about of Turing’s life.

In addition, the disk contains 29-minutes of interviews with the cast and crew culled from the Telluride Film Festival and Screen Actors Guild sessions and a 23-minute featurette on the making of the film.

The feature does offer a precursory look at the real Turing, but it’s surrounded by fluff and I found it not very informative or satisfying. I would have loved a much, much longer stand-alone piece on the man heralded as the “father of theoretical computer science.”

Singles (Warner Home Video, Rated PG-13, $19.98)  — Director and writer Cameron Crowe had a habit of tapping into the joy of confused youth and their love of music witnessed in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and “Almost Famous.”

In 1992, he offered a romantic comedy set in the grunge-infested lands of Seattle with an ensemble cast featuring Bridget Fonda, Kyra Sedgwick, Matt Dillon, Bill Pullman and Jeremy Piven along with a brief cameo from the great Paul Giammatti (sucking face with a female friend) and a rare appearance by director Tim Burton (actually speaking).

The 99-minute long intermingling of vignettes won’t necessarily be remembered for its exploration of the sometimes-vacuous world of love but rather the potent music dominating the movie.

In addition to appearances of musicians such as Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder, the steady stream of songs from Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Smashing Pumpkins, Paul Westerberg, Mudhoney, Mother Love Bone, R.E.M., Screaming Trees and Jane’s Addiction made it one of the hipper films of the 1990s.

Released for the first time in Blu-ray, Warner Home Video presents the film in the 1.78:1, aspect ratio to fill home theater screens and DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 to fill the ears with song and angst.

The extras offer a whopping 25 deleted/extended scenes including the 16-minute relationship debacle titled the “Ballad of Janet and Dr. Jeff.” I’m sure hardcore fans will appreciate the above and beyond set.

Also, I would have loved an extra CD in the package of the “Singles” soundtrack, but I’ll deal with a pair of complete song performances from Alice in Chains (“Would?” and “It Ain’t Like That Anymore”) and one from Soundgarden (“Birth Ritual”).

Wild (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, Rated R, $39.99)  — A grief-stricken woman attempts to heal and take back control of her life by hiking in a 2014 biographical drama that garnered Academy Award nominations for Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern.

Based on the book of the real-life adventure of Cheryl Strayed and her 1,100-mile walk through the Pacific Crest Trail, the movie’s debut to home theater viewers offers Miss Witherspoon in the title role but stars some stunning locations in the high-definition format

The excellent and crisp digital transfer highlights the beautiful wilderness Miss Strayed covered in the Pacific Northwest and its assortment of colors, wildlife and textured terrains.

Extras really make the disk a worthy purchase for a home theater collection.

They include a low-key but informative commentary track with director Jean-Marc Vallee and producer Bruna Papandrea, an 8-minute interview with Miss Strayed, a look at her monstrous backpack and a color booklet of her story in the package.

My favorite is an “Interactive Map of the Pacific Crest Trail.” Viewers use the Blu-ray player’s controller to click on 11 points on the map (covering the Mohave Desert to the Bridge of the Gods in Cascade Locks, Oregon) to learn how many miles Miss Strayed walked, the day she arrived and a film clip relevant to the location.

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