- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Father’s Day is Sunday. After an afternoon barbecue, spend some quality time with dad with one of these recent DVD releases, all perfect gifts for the big day.

John Adams and Generation Kill (HBO, $79.98 each for Blu-ray) - Two of HBO’s most high-profile miniseries from last year are being released on Blu-ray, both three-disc sets with lots of father appeal. “John Adams” is the superior product of the two, though it offers a rather simplified version of the historical record - and you never know what most of the Colonists thought about the Revolution brewing around them. Instead, this compulsively watchable series implies a group of undemocratic men decided the fate of our democracy. This is Thomas Carlyle’s great-man theory of history in action, asserting that the second president of the United States was simply indispensable in founding the country itself. There are some nice extras here, including a pop-up on-screen historical guide, picture-in-picture biographies of the main players (portrayed by a stellar supporting cast including Laura Linney, Stephen Dillane, Tom Wilkinson and Justin Theroux).

“Generation Kill” is a look at a more modern war, the Iraq invasion as seen through the eyes of an elite Marine Corps unit. The series was based on a book by reporter Evan Wright, who was embedded with the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, and co-written by the creators of HBO’s “The Wire.” There are no big Hollywood names here; instead, the desert is populated by a young ensemble cast. This set also includes a pop-up feature, one that explains military tactics, as well as the usual commentaries and deleted scenes.

Star Trek: Motion Picture Trilogy (Paramount, $29.99 for DVD, $48.99 for Blu-ray) and Star Trek: Original Motion Picture Collection ($104.99 for Blu-ray) - The “Star Trek” reboot is the biggest movie of the year so far, with a domestic gross of more than $232 million to date. It’s a hugely entertaining film, but there are quite a few of those in the franchise already. They’re all finally on Blu-ray, thanks to the renewed interest from the latest film. The larger collection has the first six films - “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” “The Wrath of Khan,” “The Search for Spock,” “The Voyage Home,” “The Final Frontier” and “The Undiscovered Country” - all digitally remastered in gorgeous high-definition. Everything from that disgusting creature put in Chekov’s ear in the second film to those beautiful whales in the fourth looks fantastic - and sounds it, too, with new 7.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtracks. The set includes more than 14 hours of extras, including 2 1/2 hours of all new material. You can also get just three of the movies in the smaller trilogy set - the second, third and fourth.

Land of the Lost: The Complete Series (Universal, $59.98 or $69.98 for DVD with lunchbox) - The “Land of the Lost” film might turn out to be one of this summer’s biggest disappointments. It was star Will Ferrell’s worst summer opening, making only $18.8 million its first weekend, less than a fifth of its $100 million budget. Many critics believed the problem was that it strayed too far from the original - this film with adult humor was based on the children’s television series that aired on NBC from 1974 to 1976. At least the movie has reminded viewers of the show, created by Sid and Marty Krofft. Dads who grew up watching “Land of the Lost” can relive their childhoods with this eight-disc set that includes all 43 episodes of the series about a father and his two children who are plunged into a strange world where they find both dinosaurs and odd technology. For an extra $10, you can get your dad a lunchbox with the set to take his sandwich to work in retro style.

Transformers: The Complete First Season 25th Anniversary Edition - (Shout! Factory, $29.99) Here’s another box of nostalgia for dad and just in time for the June 24 big-screen opening of “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” This three-DVD set includes every battle between the Autobots and the Decepticons in the original animated series’ 1984 first season. Extras include archival commercials for the popular toys, a printable script, a collectible magnet and a making-of featurette.

Playing Shakespeare (Athena, $79.99), The Adventure of English ($79.99), Every Picture Tells a Story ($39.99) and The People’s Republic of Capitalism ($39.99 for DVD, $49.99 for Blu-ray)- Silver Spring-based Acorn Media Group has launched a new documentary DVD line, aptly named for the Greek goddess of wisdom. Any father interested in lifelong learning should appreciate one of these top-notch sets that include viewer’s guides and bibliographies. “The Adventure of English” explores how our language came to be so influential after not-so-promising beginnings 1,500 years ago. Author and broadcaster Melvyn Bragg hosts, and he talks to such luminaries as Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney. “Every Picture Tells a Story” looks at the life behind eight works of art, by masters such as Botticelli, Rembrandt and Caravaggio.”Playing Shakespeare” is the best of the bunch - if your father is an actor, or simply a theater- or literature-lover interested in the Bard, you really need to pick this up. The Royal Shakespeare Company’s John Barton leads a legendary 1982 masterclass with nearly two dozen of Britain’s finest actors, including Dame Judi Dench, Sir Ian McKellen, David Suchet and Sir Ben Kingsley. “Shakespeare, more than any other dramatist, leaves it all pretty open-ended,” Mr. Barton comments, making a delicious world of interpretation possible. You’ll see, for example, actress Susan Fleetwood reading one of the sonnets, giving three very different emotional performances of the work. This is a fascinating look at the greatest dramatist who ever lived from people who have spent a lifetime thinking about and performing his works. If you want to supplement this set with an actual play, Edward II (BBC Video, $14.98) is a recent release that features the performance that made Mr. McKellen a star.

Fathers interested in learning about something more modern might like “The People’s Republic of Capitalism,” journalist Ted Koppel’s look at the complicated economic relationship between the U.S. and China. It’s certainly interesting to watch how the world’s next superpower is climbing its way up. As the U.S. faces economic crisis, it’s a good time to take a look at where many American jobs are going - though Mr. Koppel doesn’t just look at China’s manufacturing sector, of course. This is the only Athena release also available on Blu-ray.

Jeeves & Wooster: The Complete Series (A&E, $49.99) - There is nothing so certain to cheer one up as a dip into P.G. Wodehouse’s novels and stories about that “gentleman’s personal gentleman,” Jeeves. Now it’s even easier to get a dose of happiness, with the recent release of the complete television series based on the books. The British comedy duo Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry are pitch-perfect as, respectively, the bumbling well-off bachelor Bertie Wooster and his rather more competent valet, Reginald Jeeves. All 23 episodes of the four-season series that ran from 1990 to 1993 are here. Mr. Laurie certainly looks a lot younger than the curmudgeonly, unshaven doctor he now plays on American television in “House.” The men might have gotten even more comfortable with their characters as the series went on, but the first episode, in which Jeeves is hired, is a classic. The valet manages to get his new boss out of an unwanted engagement. “I don’t want to be molded. I’m not a jelly,” an indignant Bertie tells his Aunt Agatha, who responds, “That’s a matter of opinion.” Yes, this is Wodehouse, all right.

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