- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 16, 2003

A behavioral psychology experiment spirals out of control in the effectively harrowing German import The Experiment (aka Das Experiment), new from Columbia/TriStar Home Video (priced for rental VHS, $29.95 DVD). It’s our…

Video pick of the week

The film is loosely based on California’s notorious 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment — in which two dozen college students were recruited to play two-week roles as prison guards and inmates, with disastrous results — and Mario Giordano’s subsequent novel “The Experiment — Black Box.” But the plot and action have been relocated to contemporary Germany.

“The Experiment” centers on cabdriver/journalist wannabe Tarek Fahd (Moritz Bliebtreu, best remembered as Lola’s lowlife beau in “Run Lola Run”). Sensing a hot story, Tarek joins 19 other disparate volunteers for a two-week paid incarceration stint in which 12 will serve as prisoners and eight will be assigned guard duties.

The experiment kicks off as a lark but quickly turns serious when Tarek calculatingly baits the improv authority figures while his opposite number, acting head guard Berus (Justus von Dohnanyi), gets in touch with his inner Nazi and begins tormenting his charges in earnest. As the situation escalates, even the scientists monitoring the activities lose their grip and the mock prison is plunged into chaos.

Director Oliver Hirschbiegel engages the viewer by avoiding an easy exploitation route in favor of a painstakingly constructed character study: You really get to know these men, both in their civilian identities and in the stripped-down roles to which they’re ultimately reduced. Following a limited theatrical release, Mr. Hirschbiegel’s raw, intense “Lord of the Flies”-styled exercise should win a broader base on home video. Columbia/TriStar’s widescreen DVD arrives free of frills beyond a trio of bonus coming-attraction trailers.

The ‘A’ list

Three recent theatrical dramas make their home video debuts this month. Next week, Universal Studios releases the capital-punishment-themed The Life of David Gale, starring Kevin Spacey and Kate Winslet. Columbia/TriStar debuts David Cronenberg’s stark psychological chiller Spider, with Ralph Fiennes, Gabriel Byrne, and Miranda Richardson (in no fewer than three roles). Paramount Home Entertainment presents Guy Pearce and Helena Bonham Carter in the mood piece Till Human Voices Wake Us. All three will be priced for rental VHS and also available on DVD.

In a lighter vein, look for two youth-oriented comedies to surface in early August: Frankie Muniz (of TV’s “Malcolm in the Middle”) in Agent Cody Banks (MGM Home Entertainment, $22.98 VHS/$26.98 DVD) and Amanda Bynes in What a Girl Wants (Warner Home Video, $19.95 VHS/$27.95 DVD).

Wild for Wilder

MGM Home Entertainment prepares a nine-course banquet for quality-film gourmands with this week’s release of the gala Billy Wilder DVD Collection ($129.95).

Highlighting the set are special editions of the Austrian emigre auteur’s classic 1959 drag comedy Some Like It Hot, including two new featurettes with co-star Tony Curtis and never-before-seen production photos, and Mr. Wilder’s witty 1970 mystery The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, arriving with a fresh featurette, deleted sequences and an interview with the film editor.

Also in the collection: 1960’s The Apartment, with Jack Lemmon, who returns in 1972’s Avanti!, 1966’s The Fortune Cookie, and 1963’s Irma LaDouce (reteaming with Shirley MacLaine of “The Apartment”).

And more: Dean Martin and Kim Novak in Kiss Me, Stupid, James Cagney in the frantic Cold War farce One, Two, Three and Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich and Charles Laughton in the 1958 courtroom drama Witness for the Prosecution. The titles are also offered individually at $19.98 each.

People who need Barbra

Streisand fans will want to check out Warner Home Video’s new four-DVD gift set The Barbra Streisand Collection ($69.92). The set features digitally remastered, widescreen editions of Peter Bogdanovich’s What’s Up, Doc?, Irvin Kershner’s Up the Sandbox, Howard Zieff’s The Main Event and Martin Ritt’s Nuts, based on the Tom Topor play.

Each film comes complete with a new audio commentary by Babs herself, along with other extras ranging from vintage documentaries to additional commentary tracks by Mr. Bogdanovich and Mr. Kershner. The discs are likewise available individually ($19.98 each).

Phan mail

Hey, Phantom: I was just wondering if you can tell me if “Beverly Hills 90210” is coming to DVD/video. The show was on for 10 seasons and I know there are a lot of people that would buy the series, so why haven’t they put it out yet? Thanks.

Leo Rogstad, Alexandria

No plans have been set yet to issue the series on DVD. However, Amazon.com is offering a vote-in opportunity for “Hills”-heads to make their wishes known. To join the campaign, just go to the site and search for “Beverly Hills 90210.”

Send your video comments and queries to Phantom of the Movies, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002 or e-mail us at: [email protected] Check out our Web site at www.videoscopemag.com.

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