- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2008

I Am Legend (Warner Home Video, $28.98 for one-disc DVD, $34.99 for two-disc DVD, $35.99 for Blu-ray) — It’s not often that a big-budget Hollywood film chooses to forego the Hollywood ending — that’s why, after all, it’s so named. However, that’s what happened with “I Am Legend.” If you buy the two-disc special-edition DVD or the Blu-ray edition, you’ll get not only the theatrical version of the film — which made more than $550 million worldwide — but also an alternate version with a different ending.

I suppose it’s debatable which ending is more uplifting. There’s a ray of hope in both. I don’t want to give away too much here, but let’s just say Will Smith proved himself one of Hollywood’s biggest box-office draws with this film, in which he single-handedly carries the movie as (seemingly) the only survivor of a virus that has savaged the planet — and viewers don’t want to see him go down without good reason. A lot of viewers loved “I Am Legend” but felt let down by its third act. The new ending takes away a few of their complaints. It’s not as deeply satisfying, though.

One of the joys of watching this fantastic film is seeing the vision of a post-apocalyptic New York. The regular DVDs have a link to some extra content online about the creation of the movie. You get those extras on the disc if you have the Blu-ray version — and most are in glorious high-definition. “Creating I Am Legend” includes almost an hour of behind-the-scenes material on the making of the visually fascinating film. “Cautionary Tale: The Science of I Am Legend” looks at the history and possible future of viral pandemics.

The Kite Runner (DreamWorks, $29.99) — This extraordinarily moving film features no big names or special effects; its power comes from storytelling and some very truthful acting from its child stars. Based on the best-selling novel by Khaled Hosseini, “The Kite Runner” tells the tale of two boys in pre-Soviet Afghanistan who are inseparable despite their class differences. When one betrays the other, the repercussions last through the years of Soviet and then Taliban rule. Mr. Hosseini, along with director Marc Forster and screenwriter David Benioff, takes part in an audio commentary.

The Ice Storm (Criterion Collection, $39.95) — The Criterion Collection has turned its remastering eye to Ang Lee’s 1997 adaptation of Rick Moody’s novel of suburban resentments. Critics always seem to point the finger of blame at the 1960s for today’s ills. It was really in the 1970s, however, that the sexual revolution took hold. Mr. Lee’s masterful film shows how the selfish pursuit of pleasure by a group of adults (Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Sigourney Weaver and Jamey Sheridan) wreaks havoc on the lives of their ignored children — then up-and-comers Tobey Maguire and Elijah Wood along with Christina Ricci. The two-disc Criterion edition includes a new transfer of the film, audio commentary with Mr. Lee and his frequent producer-screenwriting partner, James Schamus, along with new interviews with the cast and Mr. Moody and visual essays on the 1973-set film’s style.

The Mist (Genius Products, $32.95 for two-disc DVD, $29.95 for one-disc DVD ) — The same team that brought you “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile” — source-material writer Stephen King and director Frank Darabont — brings this horror film starring Thomas Jane and Marcia Gay Harden as two of the people trapped in a supermarket after a mist envelops their town. The two-disc set includes a commentary with Mr. Darabont, deleted scenes and some making-of featurettes. Most intriguing, however, is that the complete film is also presented in black and white. This, apparently, is how Mr. Darabont wanted it to be seen.

Party of Five: The Complete Third Season (Sony, $39.95) — The continuing adventures of the Salinger clan — played by Scott Wolf, Matthew Fox, Neve Campbell and Lacey Chabert in the roles that brought them fame — along with their loves, such as the one played by Jennifer Love Hewitt. All 25 episodes of the third season are on five discs.

Midsomer Murders: The Early Cases Collection (Acorn Media, $159.99) and Midsomer Murders: Set Ten (Acorn Media, $49.99) — No, the title of this contemporary British mystery classic isn’t misspelled — Midsomer is the name of the fictional and rather murderous English county in which these stories take place. The series started airing in 1997 and is still in production.

The 19-disc “Early Cases Collection” offers about 30 hours of engaging village mysteries you might have seen here in America on A&E; or the Biography Channel. If you already have the first sets that were released, you already have these cases, but the collection finally weaves the first 18 tales together as they were broadcast originally. The first five episodes were directly adapted from Caroline Graham’s novels, while later installments told new stories based on her characters. Six of these episodes were written by Anthony Horowitz, who has gone on to do impressive work on the “Poirot” series and writes the Alex Rider young adult spy novels. They feature such notable guest stars as Emily Mortimer (“Match Point”), Orlando Bloom (“Pirates of the Caribbean”) and Prunella Scales (“Fawlty Towers”). A bonus disc contains a retrospective documentary.

“Set Ten” includes four discs of four mysteries, each about 100 minutes.

Kelly Jane Torrance

The Untouchables, Season 2, Volume 1 (Paramount, $27.99) — From last week’s unrelenting headlines chronicling the scandal-plagued fall of one man named Eliot comes news this week of another bearer of that name — Prohibition agent Eliot Ness, whose real-life saga inspired the long-running TV drama “The Untouchables.” Out this week on DVD, the four-disc, 32-episode set follows attempts by Mr. Ness (played by Robert Stack) to squash racketeering beer-and-booze baron Al Capone (Neville Brand) in 1930s Chicago — though in real life, the lawman and his nemesis never made face-to-face contact.

The episodes contain the usual assortment of chase and shootout scenes, guest-star appearances galore (among them Norman Fell of “Three’s Company,” “Hogan’s Heroes” co-star Werner Klemperer and Harry Dean Stanton of “Big Love”) and the rapid machine-gun-style delivery of newsman Walter Winchell, who narrated each episode (reportedly at a cost of $25,000 a pop) during its four-season run on ABC (1959-1963).

Sadly, like season one (released last fall), the new collection lacks the back story of Mr. Ness — felled by a heart attack at age 54 two years before the series’ debut — and of the show itself. Both would have been welcome featurettes on the disc.

A ratings and critical success (it captured two Emmys), “The Untouchables” nonetheless was plagued by protests from various groups that believed the series stereotyped all Italian-Americans as gangsters. Capone’s widow, Mae, also filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the show and its producers, claiming her husband’s name had been used without her permission. The complaint was dismissed.

Robyn-Denise Yourse

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