- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 14, 2007

The comic book permeates all levels of popular culture. This sporadic feature reviews some recent examples from the world of digital video discs (compatible with DVD-ROM-enabled computers and home entertainment centers) and also includes a recommended sequential-art reading list to extend the multimedia adventures.

‘Samurai 7’

(Funimation Productions, boxed set, rated PG, $99.98)

Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 movie masterpiece about seven warriors who agree to help peasants defend their land against evil bandits got brilliantly animated and re-imagined within a futuristic universe dominated by steam-powered machines and mech-armored villains back in 2004.

After trickling single DVDs of the series to the masses over the past couple of years (at $29.98 each for an average of four episodes) Funimation finally gives us a break and compiles the entire series of 26 episodes into one seven-disc set.

I will not gush over the massive adventure, but I want fans of the original film to know it is a faithful adaptation of the original, with an expansion on the peasants’ struggles, and it spends plenty of time developing the wonderful characters.

Fantastic battle sequences that highlight dynamic sword fights and metal-shredded battles work within themes of honor, friendship and the Samurai code of Bushido to give viewers a story as deep to reflect upon as it is breathtaking to watch.

“Samurai 7” looks gorgeous in the digital format and offers a great example of what the best of Japanese animation has to offer.

Best extra: Slim pickings on the discs, with mainly character biographies. An optional commentary track for Episode 14, “The Offering,” takes too lighthearted an approach to a series that needs the thoughts of anime scholars rather than joking around by some of the voice-over actors.

However, the package contains seven sketchbooks’ worth of great illustrations, and each has interviews in the back with the show’s Japanese production team.

Read all about it: As far as I can find, “Samurai 7” has never been made into a comic-book series, but the famed Japanese warrior has numerous sequential-art series devoted to him.

I would suggest either the trade paperback “Usagi Yojimbo: Glimpses of Death” (devoted to Stan Sakai’s famed rabbit ronin) or the more serious work of Hiroaki Samura’s “Blade of the Immortal: Shortcut” ($16.95). Both compile issues from monthly series that are published by Dark Horse Comics.

‘Re-Animator’

(Anchor Bay Collection from Anchor Bay Home Entertainment, unrated, $24.98)

One of the grossest and most twisted movies ever made gets another justified tribute in this two-disc DVD set. It offers new insight into the minds of the actors and the creators of the 1985 film, which has become a cult classic for fright-film enthusiasts.

Director Stuart Gordon’s loose adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft short story about a medical student who devises a liquid solution to bring the dead back to life is an 86-minute roller-coaster ride of glorified horror with its bloody tongue planted firmly in cheek.

Although its content is more violently mature than can be imagined, it continues to please both critics and fans of the black humor and schlock genre of movies.

Best extra: What distinguishes this release from its Millennium Edition brethren (released in 2002) is a new 70-minute documentary, “Re-Animator: Resurrectus,” found on the second disc, which explores the making of the film and is loaded with cast and crew memories.

I also appreciated being able to pop the second disc into a PC and read the original Lovecraft story, “Herbert West, Reanimator,” a nice touch. Additionally, fans get a fluorescent green marker shaped as a syringe; the ink looks just like the liquid used by Mr. West to resurrect the dead.

Read all about it: Last year, two of the greatest pop-cult-film horror stars, Ash Williams and Herbert West, clashed in the bizarre four-issue comic-book story Army of Darkness vs. Re-Animator from Dynamite Entertainment. The trade paperback ($14.99) is available for fans.

‘Spider-Man 2.1’

(Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Unrated, $19.98)

Director Sam Raimi’s second cinematic homage to Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s comic-book hero returns through another two-disc DVD set to enable Sony Pictures to extricate some last-minute cash from die-hard fans before the release of the new Spider-Man film in three weeks.

It adds eight extra minutes to an already wonderful movie that chronicles the journey of an angst-ridden hero, with new footage to help further explain some character motives and relationships while throwing in more humor. The scene in which Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson lives out a spandex fantasy will justify at least a rental until some YouTube fanatic illegally posts it.

Best extra: Those who do not own a DVD set of the film can grab the “Spider-Man 2: Special Edition” set (nicely priced at about $9.99 through online vendors) jampacked with extras.

This version slightly expands upon the older edition’s cooler features, the Spider Sense pop-up trivia track. Viewers still get a plethora of text-based minutiae over the action, but they can watch some select scenes shrink into the corner of the screen as their silent “behind the scenes” equivalents pop up for comparison.

Additionally, a 32-minute five-part look at some of the special-effects innovations developed for “Spider-Man 2” will keep the techie in the family magnetized to his seat.

Read all about it: Of course, Marvel offers the trade paperback “Spider-Man 2: The Official Comic Adaptation” ($12.99), which includes the film translated to sequential art. It also adds some reprints of Ultimate Spider-Man issues and, more important, issue No. 50 from Amazing Spider-Man, highlighting the day Peter Parker gave up on his alter ego.

Zadzooks! wants to know you exist. Call 202/636-3016; fax 202/269-1853; e-mail [email protected]; or write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002.


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