- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 8, 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.

Elektra: Director’s Cut (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, not rated, $29.99)  The ill-fated girlfriend of comic-book legend Daredevil, famed assassin Elektra Natchios, starred in a 2005 film covering her resurrection and life with the organization of assassins known as the Hand.

A high-definition look at the box-office bomb arrives on a single Blu-ray disc that adds just a few minutes to the theatrical release and will be of interest to only the most hard-core of Marvel movie fans.

It’s hard to believe the beautiful and acrobatic Jennifer Garner, who plays the title role, could get bogged down in director Rob Bowman’s mishmash of a plot, which ended up feeling more like a television family drama than an action-packed blockbuster.

Sure, it featured a smattering of slick martial-arts fights, but Elektra’s constant brooding and flashbacks consistently squashed any momentum.



I also was disappointed in the film’s transfer to high definition. Many scenes were presented with an unintentional soft focus, and murky colors dominated the visuals.

Elektra deserves better.

Best extras: The abundant bonus features from the DVD release of the same name all have been ported to the Blu-ray.

They include an optional commentary track with Mr. Bowman and editor Kevin Stitt, a two-hour behind-the-scenes look at the movie, deleted scenes (including one with Ben Affleck as Matt Murdock, aka Daredevil) and a look at Elektra in Greek mythology.

The best of the bunch is a 52-minute documentary on the comic-book version of Elektra. The character’s creator, Frank Miller, more subdued than I have ever seen him, discusses her origins while his legendary inker, Klaus Janson, discusses memories and talks about his craft.

Bill Sienkiewicz, the artist of Elektra: Assassin, provides insight into his creative process, and the feature is rounded out with famed comic-book writers Brian Michael Bendis and Greg Rucka discussing their fears about working on Mr. Miller’s famed assassin. All of the interviews are supplemented with some great artwork of Elektra in action.

Read all about it: A fine selection of comics from Marvel Publishing offers insight into the history of Elektra. I would recommend reading “Elektra by Frank Miller Omnibus” ($74.99), which includes the fantastic Elektra: Assassin limited series, and look for a more focused read on one of her conflicts with “Elektra: The Hand” ($13.99), which compiles the five-issue miniseries from 2004.

Alice in Wonderland (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, rated PG, $39.99)  How can anyone not like a movie based on Lewis Carroll’sfixed crazed Wonderland and starring Johnny Depp as the wonderfully insane Mad Hatter?

Filmgoers, of course, loved it, and director Tim Burton’s vision made big bucks at the box office. The film’s arrival in the Blu-ray format should continue the cash flow for a fun, albeit excessive, look at the Alice myth.

The reasons for the film’s success are pretty obvious as this hue-drenched effort mixes some of the best of sequential-art and video-gaming-inspired visuals to simply paralyze the eyes with color and detail.

It also doesn’t hurt to have Helena Bonham Carter as the big-headed Red Queen, Crispin Glover as the evil henchman Knave of Hearts and the voice of Alan Rickman as Absolem, along with some impressive computer-generated environments for this Underland.

The high-definition format will stun with a near-3-D feel (no glasses required) but also shows a bit of a lackluster approach to some of the computer-animated animal characters when compared to the human leads.

Clocking in at a breezy 109 minutes, it’s the perfect evening of entertainment for the pop-culture-loving family.

Best extras: Viewers get about an hour’s worth of behind-the-scenes vignettes, divided into Wonderland Characters and Making Wonderland.

The best of the bunch easily is a look at the Mad Hatter, with interviews with Mr. Depp and Mr. Burton. The five minutes of introspection is visually highlighted by illustrations of the wild character drawn by both Mr. Depp and Mr. Burton.

Also worth noting, this three-disc combo pack includes a standard DVD of the movie and a disc to watch the film on a computer. It’s a fairly standard package for Disney Home Entertainment these days, but I can’t think of a reason you wouldn’t always want to watch this colorful effort in the Blu-ray format.

Read all about it: Boom! Studios delivers a sequential-art adaptation of Mr. Burton’s story in “Disney’s Alice in Wonderland” ($9.99). The 112-page full-color book features gorgeous illustrations from Massimiliano Narcisofixed.

Spartacus, (Universal Home Entertainment, rated PG-13, $26.98)  The cinematic platform that served up a defining role for actor Kirk Douglas finally arrives on a Blu-ray format to give viewers with very large screens the feel of a Techniramacq experience.

Clocking in at more than three hours, this restored version of the 1960 Academy Award-winning epic based on Howard Fast’s novel is the definitive tale of the Thracian slave leader and won’t be confused with the current Starz cable series.

The potential corniness of some of the performances, in particular Tony Curtis as Antoninus with a pinch of a New York accent and a bath scene with Laurence Olivier, can be ignored thanks to Mr. Douglas’ overwhelming performance and the brutality and sadness of the narrative.

It also did not hurt to have the young and ambitious director Stanley Kubrick, who always was willing to push the limits with censors, onboard (in cahoots with Mr. Douglas).

Overall, the price (as low as $17.99 online) and its importance in movie history make “Spartacus” well worth buying and appreciating in a high-definition format.

Best extras: It’s too bad the commentary tracks from the 2001 DVD release are not included here, but viewers still will appreciate some deleted scenes, a handful of nostalgic black-and-white newsreels promoting the film and an archival interview with Jean Simmons (slave girl Varinia).

And, who cannot laugh out loud at the brilliant Peter Ustinov (who played Lentulus Batiatus) goofing around on the set at the gladiatorial school and even pounding a doughnut with great relish.

Read all about it: You can bet your bloody toga that Dell Publishing’s Four Color Comics delivered a sequential-art adaptation of “Spartacus” back in 1960 with a great live-action cover of Mr. Douglas in gladiator garb. (Good luck finding a decent copy for less than $200.) You also can bet I have my beat-up John Buscema-penciled copy preserved in mylar and hanging in my office.

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