- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 22, 2011

Here are a few of the latest releases highlighting the best interactive possibilities from the high-definition format.

Howling high-def

Kevin Costner’s mega-Academy Award-winning 1860s epic about a white man bonding with American Indians returns to the high-definition format through a special release.

Not only does Dances With Wolves: 20th Anniversary (MGM Home Entertainment, rated PG-13, $29.99) deliver a restored, extended cut of the film (more than four hours) with a 7.1 Master Audio track, but the two-disc Blu-ray set also compiles a generous supply of extras.

In addition to previously released features such as a pair of optional commentary tracks and a seven-part behind-the-scenes documentary (the buffalo hunt breakdown was especially interesting) a couple of interactives during the movie shed light on the historical aspects of the story and the filmmaking process.

First, turn on the daunting Military Ranks and Social Hierarchy Guide to see a bar across the bottom third of the screen offering access to numerous pop-up facts about the Civil War, frontier weapons and Indian tribes.

While the movie is playing, the presentation lists either ranks (corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, captain and general) or topics (Council of Old Men, Medicine Men, Civilian and Military Leaders, Warrior Societies and the Lakota) depending what is on the screen.

Each rank or topic automatically highlights and reveals a fact, or, when multiple topics are available, a viewer can choose to reveal the information.

These nuggets might include “The largest number of troops killed in the Civil War was during the three-day Battle of Gettysburg,” “Most bullets that struck men in the Civil War were soft lead from .36 to .75 caliber” or “All Lakota children learned to ride a horse by the age of 6.”

Although that’s a good idea, I could have used more historical information, and the navigation menu is just confusing. The facts easily could have popped up in the corner of the screen, without viewer help, and used much less space.

A better idea is the Real History or Movie Make-Believe quiz. This seemingly unending stream of true/false questions stresses out history buffs during the entire four-hour viewing of the movie.

Testing knowledge of the 19th-century American military, the Lakota way of life and the film, the questions and menu consume about a third of the bottom of the television screen.

The more quickly a player answers questions correctly, the more points he gets. At the end, he earns either a military rank or a place in Lakota society for his efforts.

Questions such as “Both Union and Confederate armies used balloons for reconnaissance?” or “Cigars got the nickname of ‘stogies’ from the Conestoga wagon drivers who smoked as they drove on the trail?” pop up about every 90 seconds.

A few nice features to the quiz include saving a game, moving forward in the film to the next question and hiding the menu bar.

Although the quiz delivers a much better selection of fact nuggets than the Military Ranks and Social Hierarchy Guide, it does not offer insight when a player gets an answer wrong.

I guess that’s why we have the Internet.

Bunny massacre

A franchise of familiar forest friends returns for a third animated adventure in this direct-to-Blu-ray release.

With the voluminous choices afforded younger cartoon fans these days, who really wants Open Season 3 (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, rated PG, $28.95)?

My primary beef is the underwhelming computer animation — it looks more like a cut scene from a video game than anything close to Pixar-quality design.

However, the hijinks of Boog the grizzly, Elliot the mule deer and Mr. Weenie the dachshund continue.

This time out, the bear swaps places with one of his performing brethren in the Maslova Family Circus. When Boog’s pals find out he’s gone, they concoct an extravagant rescue plan to bring him home.

Parents quickly can gauge their child’s opinion of the 74-minute cartoon with help from the interactive Rabbit Splat mode. Junior aims a target reticule with the Blu-ray controller’s directional pad to toss five bunnies that stick to and cover the screen during the movie. He can clear the mess with the yellow controller button to toss another five.

I’m not sure teaching kids to throw things — even virtual things  at daddy’s big-bucks LCD television is such a great idea, however.

The Blu-ray also offers Boog’s Cannon Blast Game, set under the circus big top. A player aims a cannon with the Blu-ray controller’s directional pad and hits the “OK” button to shoot creatures at objects.

The player launches five of the Open Season cast per each of the eight levels of action. His goal for each level is to pop balloons and break boxes to clear a path and then shoot a bull’s-eye painted on the ever-elusive Boog in a box.

This very primitive game won’t win over even the youngest fan and certainly does nothing to advance the potential of the Blu-ray format.

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