- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 30, 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 and Blu-ray-enabled computers and home entertainment centers) and also includes a recommended sequential-art reading list to extend the multimedia adventures.

Toy Story and Toy Story 2 (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, rated G, $39.99 each) Nothing will thrill the modern-day animation fan more than watching a Pixar film in the Blu-ray format. It’s not surprising, then, that revisiting the exploits of Woody, Buzz Lightyear and the “Toy Story” gang in high definition is an “infinity and beyond” event.

With digital visuals absorbed by viewers in 1080p, the subtle reflections in Buzz’s helmet, the textures of Rex the Dinosaur and Mr. Potato Head’s dimpled surface, the depth of Woody’s and Buzz’s facial expressions in traumatic situations, and roller-coaster perspectives in chase scenes make each film a near-three-dimensional experience no glasses required.

Director John Lasseter and his talented gang found the right mix in 1995 and 1999 to bring each film to life: a nostalgic collection of toys, humor, family-friendly storytelling and an impressive lineup of vocal talent, including Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, Wayne Knight, Joan Cusack and Wallace Shawn.

Rather than waste space talking plot points, I’ll just toss out a few favorite memories of these classic films’ unforgettable characters. How about Sid’s toy torturing, a visit to Pizza Planet to meet the little green men, plastic soldiers on a gift-discovery mission, the toy trauma of a yard sale, obsessed collector Al McWhiggin’s kidnapping of Woody, the Barbie tour of Al’s Toy Barn, Stinky Pete’s nastiness, and a video-game battle between Buzz and Emperor Zurg.

Considering the groundbreaking use of computer-generated animation techniques, “Toy Story” and its sequel live as industry game-changers that redefined the beauty of an all-ages cartoon.

Best extras: With multiple DVD “collector”-type sets available not limited to a 10th Anniversary Edition, Special Editions and Ultimate Toy Box editions both movies already have been deconstructed exhaustively. So what can Disney offer besides a pristine presentation to entice fans to buy again?

A bountiful supply of older DVD extras has been included on both “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2” most important an optional commentary track from the key production staff but new behind-the-scenes fodder and interaction between Buzz and NASA has been added.

Among the seven additional segments on “Toy Story,” we get a featurette on how the film almost didn’t happen. “Black Friday: The Toy Story You Never Saw” is told through interviews with the legends behind Pixar and the original unacceptable footage that was shown to Disney executives.

On “Toy Story 2,” we get another seven bonus featurettes, with a celebratory memorial to story artist Joe Ranft being the standout.

However, with minimal Blu-ray interactivity (the BD-Live functionality does nothing to extend the movie fun and is simply online marketing), the films might end up in a viewer’s Netflix queue rather than on his home-entertainment shelf.

Note: Both films offer the highly touted “combo pack,” which contains DVD- and Blu-ray-compatible versions of the film. I’m not sold on the concept. That marketing trick seems like Disney (and other major studios) surrendering to format adoption fears and throwing a desperation pass to double-dip consumers, just in case no one cares about Blu-ray.

Read all about it: Boom Studios’ kids line extends the film adventures into a comic-book format. Besides an ongoing monthly Toy Story series ($2.99 each), younger fans will enjoy the trade paperback Toy Story: The Mysterious Stranger ($9.99), which compiles a four-issue series from last year.

Stargate Atlantis: The Complete Series, (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, not rated, $199.99) Little did fans of a little sci-fi film made back in 1994 realize what they were getting themselves into. Before you could utter “Dial me up an eighth chevron,” fans of “Stargate” made a 10-year commitment in 1997 to the cable television show “Stargate: SG-1,” and in 2004 watched another spinoff “Stargate” series anchored in the mythical city of Atlantis.

This latest, massive DVD set collects all five seasons of “Stargate: Atlantis,” culled from the individual disc sets and all in pretty flimsy cardboard containers and packaging.

That’s 26 discs loaded with 100 44-minute episodes, offering an extended journey that finds a crew of international researchers and military types surviving on Atlantis and trekking through Stargates across the Pegasus galaxy.

Actor Joested John Flanigan starred as the cocky Han Solo-type Lt. Col. John Sheppard while actress Torristed Tori Higginson handled the chores of no-nonsense but compassionate expedition commander Dr. Elizabeth Weir.

One of the highlights of the series is the main enemy, the Wraith. This creepy, sort of Klingon-vampire hybrid species fought the Ancients years ago and continues to pester the crew and galaxy for the duration of the series.

Episodes mix a “Star Trek” exploration feel with piles of episodes concentrating on the introduction of new cultures and battling the Wraith. My short list of standouts includes the two-parters “The Siege” and “The Hive” along with “Sunday” and the three-part epic “First Strike,” “Adrift” and “Lifeline.”

Other than the packaging, my only other beef is that it would have been nice to see the series in high definition. Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment has instead left that Blu-ray prize for fans of the new series “SGU: Stargate Universe.”

Best extras: An optional commentary track is available for nearly every episode. Very nice.

Actors including David Hewlett, Rachel Luttrell and Mr. Flanigan and key production staff members including creatures-effects designer Todd Masters, producer-writer Martin Gero and writer-director Robertsted Martin C. Cooper all are in the mix and really give fans a fun reason to rewatch every episode.

Additional featurette and photo and design galleries include a varied mix, ranging from 18 minutes on the visual effects to eight minutes on building a humanoid (for “First Contact”) with James Robbins and Mr. Gero, a 27-minute retrospective on the series, and a 15-minute celebration of the 100th episode.

Read all about it: Avatar Press offered the three-issue comic-book series Stargate Atlantis: Wraithfall back in 2006 ($3.95 each). Dynamite Entertainment publishes Stargate comics now and is developing a new limited-series comic titled Stargate: Valasted Val Mal Doran ($3.99 each), set to debut in May and based on a character from the SG-1 universe.

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