- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 6, 2010

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 and Blu-ray-enabled computers and home entertainment centers) and also includes a recommended sequential-art reading list to extend the multimedia adventures.

Whiteout (Warner Home Video, rated R, $35.99) Proving that not every comic book need be turned into a movie, the 10-year odyssey to bring Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber’s four-issue miniseries to the big screen froze at the box office and now slides onto high-definition home theater screens.

Kate Beckinsale stars as Carrie Stetko, a tough U.S. marshal investigating a murder and a mystery while stuck on a base in Antarctica.

A by-the-numbers screenplay, a lumbering lack of suspense and the fact you just don’t care about the lead characters’ predicament doom the film. Except, of course, when Miss Beckinsale is in her undies or in the shower — wink, wink.

More problematic is not being able to appreciate Mr. Lieber’s black-and-white art style — stark, snow-speckled storm exteriors balanced with fine, rich detail — which gives the Antarctic a starring role in the comic-book series.

As for this Blu-ray release, there’s nothing quite like seeing a bunch of white on an expensive 82-inch screen to appreciate the subtleties of the high-definition experience — or not.

Best extras: A 12-minute featurette on turning the comic-book series into a movie has Mr. Rucka explaining the origin of the Whiteout story and Mr. Lieber offering his take on drawing characters and the art process. More worthwhile, viewers can enjoy plenty of examples of Mr. Lieber’s artwork on a large screen.

Read all about it: Read the Whiteout trade paperback from Oni Press ($13.95) to see what I’m babbling about.

Dr. Who: The Complete Specials (BBC, not rated, $59.98) Actor David Tennant’s enthusiastic tenure as the good doctor has come to a close, but adopters of the high-definition medium can appreciate some of his fine work in a five-disc Blu-ray set. Compiling a quintet of his latest specials from the past couple of years, the set gives viewers an eye-popping look back at some of the Doctor’s stand-alone adventures. Specifically:

“The Next Doctor” — The new doctor finds himself in Victorian England dealing with an old doctor trying to put a stop to the Cybermen. However, the old doctor doesn’t know the new doctor and the new doctor can’t figure out why the old doctor exists.

“Planet of the Dead” — The Doctor ends up on a bus with a famous thief (played by Michelle Ryan of “Bionic Woman”), and an interdimensional portal sucks them, along with some frightened riders, into a world filled with fly-headed space travelers and swarms of intergalactic manta rays.

“The Waters of Mars” — The Doctor enjoys a visit to the Red Planet until a ghoulish species called the Flood threatens to possess a group of human colonists and destroy Earth. It’s my favorite of the bunch, loaded with drama and monsters and co-starring Lindsay Duncan of HBO’s “Rome.”

“The End of Time, Parts 1 and 2” — The downfall of the BBC’s 10th Doctor (ending Mr. Tennant’s run) fits into a two-part story in which our quirky hero faces off against the Master and the Time Lords. It’s a bit heavy-handed but offers a nostalgia trip.

Throughout, Mr. Tennant provides exuberance unmatched by other Doctors, from his frenetic style of handling gizmos to popping out his snakelike tongue to convey displeasure to keeping a straight face while standing hot-air balloon to chest with a massive Cyber King robot. He also is one heck of a dramatic actor.

The 1080p presentation shines, especially when highlighting beautiful backdrops and special effects.

Best extras: Although the BBC offers a glorious selection of extras for the sci-fi franchise (check out the fifth disc for a fun look at Doctor Who’s appearance at the San Diego Comic Con), I am most taken with the one-hour “Doctor Who Confidential” documentaries that accompany each of the specials.

Packed with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews, each documentary explores burning questions for the hard-core fan, such as how to move an English double-decker bus to Dubai, how to safely get actors to constantly gurgle water on a set filled with electrical equipment and how to explain, briefly, the televised history of the Time Lords.

Read all about it: IDW Publishing offers monthly sequential-art adventures tied to the current and past Time Lords. One of its latest trade paperbacks, Doctor Who: Through Time and Space ($19.99), collects six one-shot stories about Mr. Tennant’s Doctor, starring creative talents such as John Ostrander, Ben Templesmith and Paul Grist.

Zombieland, (Sony Home Entertainment, rated R, $39.95) This latest group of virus-infected, flesh-eating humans gave moviegoers a scare — and a laugh — in theaters last year. Now available in gory high-definition, “Zombieland” offers a hip and humorous take on the genre with action that feels like the best of a video game or comic book come to life.

A single Blu-ray disc contains the fun, which centers on a pair of sisters (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin); a well-armed, nerdy college student (played by Jason Eisenberg); and a quirky redneck with a Twinkie fixation (Woody Harrelson) trying to survive in a postapocalyptic, zombie-filled world.

A story that’s more about the relationship formed by the quartet of heroes than viewers’ constant struggle to visually digest gallons of gore is a breath of fresh air for the genre. Add the glorious battles against the infected, a special appearance by a Ghostbuster and constant reminders of the rules of creature engagement (limber up, wear a seat belt, travel light, beware of bathrooms, etc.) to make the film a treat for zombie fans and non-fans alike.

Best extras: First, watch the film again with the “Beyond the Graveyard” feature enabled. This picture-in-picture track offers a pop-up screen during the movie, complete with snippets showing animatics, interviews with production personnel and cast, behind-the-scenes footage, storyboards and even how they got a woman to fly through the windshield of a car.

Next, watch the film yet again with movieIQ, a BD Live (a broadband-enabled Blu-ray player is required) piece of underwhelming magic that connects viewers to an abbreviated set of facts about the movie. A translucent yellow rectangle that takes up about 25 percent of the screen offers access to a scaled-down Internet-Movie-Database-like text database interface with information about the cast and crew, musical selections and an occasional fact nugget. It’s an idea that needs much more content to keep viewers from simply going to a Wi-Fi-enabled laptop where they can access much more information while still enjoying “Zombieland.”

One last note for the PlayStation 3 owner: Sony has snuck in a theme image that can be installed on the console menu so you’ll always remember the movie.

Read all about it: Comic-book fans love zombies, and publishers are more than willing to feed their habit. For a ghoulish giggle, try any of Marvel Publishing’s Marvel Zombie miniseries, conveniently available in trade paperbacks (averaging $15.99 each). On the more serious side, relish the black-and-white horror of Image Comics’ Walking Dead Compendium: Volume 1 ($59.99), which offers the first 48 issues of writer Robert Kirkman’s monthly series.

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