- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 26, 2005

One of the best rock chronicles ever committed to celluloid, director Iain Softley’s 1994 Backbeat rolls into vidstores this week in a new “Collector’s Edition” from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment ($19.98). It’s our…

DVD pick of the week

Set largely in Hamburg, Germany, in the early ‘60s, the fact-based “Backbeat” is less about the birth of the Beatles than the fledgling band’s doomed original bassist, Stu Sutcliffe (American actor Stephen Dorff).

The film focuses on Mr. Sutcliffe’s intense relationship with group leader John Lennon (Ian Hart) and the beautiful German photographer Astrid (Sheryl Lee), who encourages Stu’s first love, painting, at the expense of his lukewarm musical pursuits.

Paul McCartney (Gary Bakewell), George Harrison (Chris O’Neill) and drummer Pete Best (Scot Williams) are relegated to secondary roles as opinionated observers of the film’s central triangle.

Mr. Softley and co-screenwriters Michael Thomas and Stephen Ward constructed a flawless script that digs deep into the theme of self-fulfillment vs. ambition. The film also vibrantly captures the raw energy of that legendary time and place as well as the primal audience excitement the boys aroused in their roots gigs.

In place of actual Beatles tracks, such ‘90s icons as Nirvana’s Dave Grohl, R.E.M.’s Mike Mills and Soul Asylum’s David Pirner record the cover tunes (e.g., Larry Williams’ “Slow Down,” Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally”) that made up the bulk of the band’s early playlist.

Thesps Dorff, Lee and Hart all turn in seamless work. (Mr. Hart previously portrayed John Lennon in Christopher Munch’s excellent 1991 “The Hours and Times”).

Extras include interviews with actor Hart, director Softley and the real-life Astrid Kirchherr, along with deleted scenes and featurettes. An audio commentary would have been welcome as well, but as it stands, “Backbeat” arrives as an exquisitely crafted valentine to the oft-tortured vitality of youth.

Tele-video

In new TV-to-DVD developments, A&E Home Video presents a pair of vintage British series: the tense 1978 bomb-unit suspense show Danger UXB, set in World War II (four-disc, $69.95), with a bonus “Bomb Squad” documentary, and Benny Hill: Complete & Unadulterated: Set Two 1972-1974 (three-disc, $49.95), containing 10 episodes and a Benny Hill “Biography” segment.

The label heads west with the seven-disc, 25-episode Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman: The Complete Season 5 ($109.95) before shifting to Baltimore via Homicide: Life on the Street: The Complete Season 6 (six-disc, $99.95), equipped with extras ranging from select filmmaker commentaries to the feature-length documentary “Anatomy of a Homicide.”

MPI Home Video goes the gothic route with its Dark Shadows DVD Collection 16 (four-disc, $59.98), with 40 episodes plus new cast and crew interviews.

Paramount Home Entertainment returns to the ‘80s with MacGyver: The Complete First Season (six-disc, $38.99), starring Richard Dean Anderson as the eponymous adventurer.

The ‘A’ list

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment debuts the subterranean smackdown Alien vs. Predator ($29.98) — a match-up more likely to please “Predator” fans than “Alien” aficionados — in a bonus-packed edition. 20th further ups the ET-action ante with its extras-enhanced, double-disc Predator 2: Special Edition ($19.98).

Elsewhere, Paramount Home Entertainment proffers the teen-themed Mean Creek and an extras-enriched edition of the high-flying adventure Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, starring Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie.

New Line Home Entertainment bows the fascinating, verite-style modern Mongolian folk tale The Story of the Weeping Camel ($27.95).

Original gangsters

Warner Home Video assembles a half-dozen vintage crime classics in its sterling six-disc The Warner Gangsters Collection ($68.92), leading with two of the all-time champs, the James Cagney showcases Public Enemy (1931) and White Heat (1949).

Cagney returns, opposite Humphrey Bogart, in both 1938’s Angels With Dirty Faces and 1939’s The Roaring Twenties.

Bogie occupies center stage in 1936’s The Petrified Forest, featuring Bette Davis and Leslie Howard, and Edward G. Robinson takes over in 1930’s Little Caesar.

The titles are also available individually ($19.97 each).

‘Monster’ redux

Speaking of crime scenes, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment issues a two-disc special edition of the gripping, mega-disturbing Monster ($24.96), with a knockout Charlize Theron as serial killer Aileen Wuornos, complete with extras absent from the initial disc release: commentary by director Patty Jenkins, featurettes, extended and deleted scenes and more.

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: Where can I get a VHS copy of the 1939 classic Of Mice and Men, which starred Lon Chaney and Burgess Meredith?

Mike Carey, Silver Spring

You might try Video Library (vlibrary.com) for a rental copy of that video rarity; the DVD version is readily available ($16.99) from Movies Unlimited (moviesunlimited .com).

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.videoscopemag .com.

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