- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 8, 2004

Writer-director David Cronenberg’s visionary 1983 cult film Videodrome, a singular combo of visceral horror and McLuhanesque media meditation, receives the royal treatment it’s long deserved in the Criterion Collection’s gala new double-disc edition ($39.95). It’s our…

DVD pick of the week

A typically intense James Woods toplines as Max Renn, a small-time cable-TV operator in search of more outre fare. Max finds it in spades when he discovers a pirate broadcast of a violent reality TV show called “Videodrome.” Trouble is, the illicit signals are capable of scrambling viewers’ minds, so Max’s search for the show’s source may be a labyrinthine descent into a sinister corporate conspiracy — or a headlong freefall into utter madness.

In addition to fashioning an artfully surreal suspense film, Mr. Cronenberg proves something of an electronic prophet: He envisions an environment dominated by cable television, virtual reality, artificial body alterations and other elements rampant today but apparent only in embryonic form two decades ago.

The ever-versatile Mr. Woods carries much of the film on his twitchy shoulders but receives surprisingly deft support from Deborah Harry (of the band Blondie) as a kinky TV hostess, and an ace cast of local Canadian actors. Highlights include several breakthrough special effects set pieces, such as the infamous living, breathing television, crafted by FX ace Rick Baker sans the benefit of computer-generated imagery.

Mr. Cronenberg contributes a fascinating, candid audio commentary, while other extras include new and vintage featurettes, interviews, trailers, still galleries and a 40-page booklet with critical essays. “Videodrome” not only stands the test of time: Time has yet to fully catch up with it.

Tele-video

Science fiction and spookery also figure strongly in several of the latest TV box sets to invade area vidstores:

• 20th Century Fox releases the supernatural series Angel: Season Four ($59.98) in a six-disc set incorporating 22 episodes, creator and cast commentary, interviews, outtakes and featurettes.

• New Line Home Entertainment debuts the updated 1995 The Twilight Zone ($59.98), also in a six-disc set containing 43 episodes hosted by Forest Whitaker and featuring such guest stars as Jason Alexander, Vivica A. Fox and Cloris Leachman.

• Universal unearths Rod Serling’s original 1970 Night Gallery: The Complete First Season” (3-DVD, $59.98).

• MGM Home Entertainment journeys back to 1980 for the Ray Bradbury-based futuristic mini-series The Martian Chronicles ($19.98), starring Rock Hudson, Gayle Hunnicutt and Bernie Casey, in a frills-free double-disc edition.

• In a vintage comedy vein, Paramount fashions a five-disc valentine to I Love Lucy: Season Two ($69.99); beyond assembling all 31 episodes from 1952, the set gathers lost and deleted scenes, featurettes, script excerpts and other extras targeted to please Lucy lovers.

Animated antics

In animation news, Walt Disney Home Entertainment presents The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride: 2-Disc Special Edition, with a jungle full of extras, from bonus animated shorts to music videos and games, and Mickey, Donald and Goofy as The Three Musketeers, with voice cast commentary, featurette, music video and more. The discs are tagged at $29.99 each.

Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment counters with the French CGI animated feature Kaena: The Prophecy ($24.96), with an Anglo voice cast headed by Richard Harris, Kirsten Dunst and Anjelica Huston. The disc arrives with a “making-of” featurette and a “virtual interview” with fictional heroine Kaena.

Paramount Home Entertainment goes the irreverent route with “South Park’ “s answer to Mel Gibson, The Passion of the Jew ($19.99). The disc contains two additional religious-themed episodes, “Christian Rock Hard” and “Red Hot Catholic Love.”

The ‘A’ list

Comedies dominate the week’s theatrical-to-disc slate. Buena Vista Home Entertainment offers extras-enhanced editions of Kevin Smith’s Jersey Girl (via the company’s Miramax division), with Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler and Jennifer Lopez, and the Coen brothers’ The Ladykillers ($29.99 each), starring Tom Hanks and Marlon Wayans.

MGM Home Entertainment launches Soul Plane in separate standard and unrated editions ($26.98 each), both with a cargo full of extras.

Lions Gate Home Entertainment aims to keep action fans busy with the comic book-inspired The Punisher ($27.98), pitting hero Thomas Jane against a villainous John Travolta.

Video verite

In fresh documentary developments, couchside military historians will want to sign up for A&E Home Video’s massive The World at War ($149.95). Narrated by Sir Laurence Olivier, the 11-disc set presents a definitive look at World War II and includes some 12 hours of bonus documentaries, a photo gallery and more.

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: Is the Cagney classic White Heat out on DVD?

Stan Harris, via e-mail

That 1949 gangster great has yet to join the digital ranks; Movies Unlimited (moviesunlimited.com) carries the MGM VHS ($9.99).

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: phanmedia @aol.com. Check out our Web site at www.video scopemag.com.


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