The Weekly Spin: June 16th 2009

Warner Home Video has announced a September 29th release for “The Wizard of Oz: 70th Anniversary” DVD & Blu-ray edition. The two-disc set will be released in limited edition numbered packaging, and also feature a digital copy of the film. The film has been restored from the original negatives in 8K resolution, and then remastered at 4K for the best results possible.

The home video fate of “Inglourious Basterds”, Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming WW2 Nazi hunting campy epic is uncertain as Deadline Hollywood Daily reported last week on distributor The Weinstein Company’s major financial woes. As a result, Universal Pictures has become the distributor of the valuable domestic DVD rights though now Genius Products is disputing. The upside to all this is that unlike the Weinsteins, Universal will almost certainly release ‘Basterds’ day & date with the DVD.

In anticipation of “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”, Paramount Home Entertainment will offer consumers access to compelling bonus content on Blu-ray live. This includes over 25 minutes of bonus materials from the original film including a sneak peek of the new film, never-before-seen deleted scenes, Megan Fox’s audition tapes and more. The bonus materials will be available via the first film’s BD-Live features on June 16th.

Paramount has announced it’s releasing seven of its catalogue titles on Blu-ray all on September 15th – “48 Hrs.”, “Deep Impact”, “Escape from L.A.”, “K-19: The Widowmaker”, “The Firm”, “The Score” and “Varsity Blues”.

Other Newly Announced DVDs: “17 Again” (Aug 11th), “Adam Resurrected” (Sept 22nd), “Adventureland” (Aug 15th), “The Art of War III: Retribution” (Aug 11th), “Bad Lieutenant: Special Edition” (July 28th), “Bring It On: Fight to the Finish” (Aug 11th), “Camille” (Sept 15th), “Crank: High Voltage” (Sept 8th), “Crash: Season One” (Sept 15th), “Criminal Minds: Season Four” (Sept 8th), “CSI Miami: Season Seven” (Sept 15th), “Devil May Cry: Complete Collection” (Aug 25th),”How I Met Your Mother: Season Four” (Sept 29th), “The Informers” (Aug 25th), “Julia” (Aug 18th), “Management” (Sept 29th), “My Name Is Earl: Season Four” (Sept 15th),”State of Play” (Aug 11th), “Surveillance” (Aug 18th), “Terminator The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Season Two” (Sept 22nd), “The Tiger’s Tale” (Aug 11th), “The Unit: Season Four” (Sept 29th).

Other Newly Announced Blu-rays: “17 Again” (Aug 11th), “Adam Resurrected” (Sept 22nd), “Adventureland” (Aug 15th), “Billy Jack” (Sept 29th), “Bring It On: Fight to the Finish” (Aug 11th), “Camille” (Sept 15th), “Contact” (Oct 16th), “Crank: High Voltage” (Sept 8th), “Crash: Season One” (Sept 15th), “Devil May Cry: Complete Collection” (Aug 25th), “Ghost Ship” (Oct 16th), “How I Met Your Mother: Season Four” (Sept 29th), “The Informers” (Aug 25th), “Management” (Sept 29th), “My Name Is Earl: Season Four” (Sept 15th), “The Number 23” (Oct 16th), “Sex, Lies and Videotape” (Aug 25th), “State of Play” (Aug 11th), “Surveillance” (Aug 18th), “Terminator The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Season Two” (Sept 22nd), “The Unit: Season Four” (Sept 29th).

This Week’s Picks:

Burn Notice: Season Two (DVD & Blu-Ray)
This smart fusion of Miami-set character comedy and caper action is pure unadulterated fun. The savvy Macguyver-esque monologues about spy tricks of the trade are fascinating, Bruce Campbell and Jeffrey Donovan are well cast but its Gabrielle Anwar’s ex-gunrunner who often steals the show.

Dr. Strangelove (Blu-Ray)
The Shining is more approachable, 2001 more epic, A Clockwork Orange more infamous, but this pitch black comedy satire of the red threat by Stanley Kubrick remains one of his most beloved and best remembered works. Blu-ray screencaps show this new transfer looks superb – a must for any serious film fan.

Lost: Seasons One & Two (Blu-Ray)
The show that changed the face of television finally brings its first two seasons to the Blu-ray format. The first and still the best season of the show sadly isn’t as stellar a transfer as the more ambitious but uneven second season, yet both look superb in HD.

Friday the 13th (2009) (DVD & Blu-ray)
The new ‘Friday’ glosses up the production values just enough to be different from its predecessors, but in the process loses a lot of the fun and essentially rehashes the old films but with a serious and meaner Jason. The opening with the first batch of teen works, after that it loses much interest.

Ghostbusters: 25th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray)
While it’ll look better than any previous DVD release, the general consensus is the new Blu-ray transfer of this truly great 80’s fantasy comedy is surprisingly a major letdown. A real shame as interest in the franchise is surprisingly high right now and the upcoming video game looks great.

John Adams: The Mini-Series (DVD & Blu-Ray)
I didn’t get a chance to see this when HBO aired it, but have been waiting for this release for sometime. The mini-series that swept the Emmys and Golden Globes awards by the handful over the past year finally comes to home video. Anything with a cast like this, Giamatti & Linney especially, I’m down for.

Other Releases This Week:
Everwood: Season Two (DVD)
Fracture (Blu-ray)
Friday the 13th Part 2 (Blu-ray)
Friday the 13th Part 3D (Blu-ray)
Friday the 13th Parts 4-6: Deluxe Editions (DVD)
Generation Kill (DVD & Blu-ray)
Miracle (Blu-ray)
Morning Light (DVD & Blu-ray)
No Way Back (Blu-ray)
Saving Grace: Season Two (DVD)
Spaceballs (Blu-ray)
The Cell 2 (DVD & Blu-ray)
The Diary of Anne Frank (DVD & Blu-ray)
The Greatest Game Ever Played (Blu-ray)
The Seventh Seal: Criterion Collection (DVD & Blu-ray)
Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes To Jail (DVD)

Finally, our regular interview correspondent ‘Paul Fischer’ has penned an exhaustive review of the “Star Trek: The Motion Picture Collection” Blu-ray set. We had the first half last week, here’s a look at the second:

Star Trek: Original Motion Picture Collection Blu-ray
A Detailed Review, Part II, by Paul Fischer

STAR TREK IV THE VOYAGE HOME
Director: Leonard Nimoy

Perhaps the most enjoyable and commercial films in the series, it remains a gem of a comedy in true Star Trek style. With Mr. Spock recovered from his rebirth and once again a fully-capable Starfleet officer, the Enterprise bridge crew votes unanimously to return to Earth to face the charges levied against them. On their way home in a commandeered Klingon Bird-of-Prey, they learn that a mysterious probe has arrived at Earth, sending out a signal that baffles Starfleet Command and simultaneously causing a string of environmental disasters that threaten Earth’s power reserves. Spock surmises that the probe’s signal may not be meant for humans, and verifies his theory when he discovers that it is indeed a replication of the songs sung by humpback whales, an extinct species in the 23rd century. The only solution is to slingshot around the sun in an effort to travel back in time, retrieve a pair of whales, and return them to the 23rd century so they may communicate with the probe before it destroys the planet.

Undeniably the most entertaining film in the series, director Nimoy has a light touch that combines serious elements on a then pro-environmental friendly theme when such issues were unfashionable with a frenetic comedy that further explores the deep rooted friendships of the Enterprise protagonists. The film allowed many of the actors to shine, comedically, and apart from the droll delivery of Nimoy [“What does it mean, exact change?”] , James Doohan has some choice moments, as well as the reliable DeForest Kelley. A new composer was brought in to enhance the film’s lighter tone, and it was the only film in the franchise that brought in a non-Trek audience to the table.

As far the Blu Ray DVD is concerned, however, while the movie is fun, the transfer on this is pallid in comparison to its predecessors. The contemporary footage of San Francisco seems rather flat, but sound is far better. The whale sounds and background noises are beautifully accentuated, but it appears that the visuals lack the lustre of the first two movies in particular. However, the story is so much fun that perhaps one can forgive the overall quality of the film’s High Def incarnation. And watch out for late 80s technology – remember the old 512k little Apple Mac? It was considered so state of the art back then.

The supplementary features are, naturally, in abundance. I loved hearing the Nimoy-Shatner commentary, and was bemused that the writers of the new Trek film, Orci and Kurtzman. But the behind the scenes documentary on the franchise is wonderful. Future’s Past: A Look Back is the first of five features under the Production tab. An entertaining retrospective piece, cast and crew discuss the success of the franchise, the humour of the film, the time travel story arc, a discussion of some of the film’s more famous scenes (including the “punk on bus” sequence), and more. On Location looks at shooting in then-modern-day San Francisco. Dailies Deconstruction shows viewers side-by-side takes and angles of a scene. Below-the-Line: Sound Design examines the creation of sound effects for objects that exist only on-screen. Pavel Chekov’s Screen Moments features Actor Walter Koenig discussing his increased role in the film.

Next up is The Star Trek Universe, a collection of seven features, all of which are a must for Trek fans.

STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER
Director: William Shatner

Shore leave is cut short when the newly-designed Enterprise — registration NCC-1701-A — is called upon to resolve a hostage crisis on the planet Nimbus III, a world settled jointly in the name of “galactic peace” by the Federation, the Klingons, and the Romulans. Each of these powers’ emissaries to the world is taken captive by a renegade Vulcan named Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill) who devises a scheme to overpower the Federation forces and hijack their starship for the purpose of travelling to the edge of the galaxy in search of God. Though with only a skeleton crew and plenty of technical problems plaguing the ship, the Enterprise heads to Nimbus III, only to fall prey to Sybok’s plan. With the Enterprise crew enchanted by Sybok’s mystical ability to ease the burden of deeply-rooted individual pain and suffering, the ship heads towards a world that may be home to God — with a Klingon Bird-of-Prey in pursuit.

This maybe the most reviled film of this part of the franchise, but seeing it again for the first time in 20 years, and it remains a flawed but fascinating look at the notion of heaven, hell and life and death. A personal story for director/star Shatner, the film is overly philosophical for some, intriguing for others and it further solidifies what is essentially a love story among the film’s three protagonists. Many of the problems of the film have more to do with Paramount cost-cutting than with Shatner’s vision, and perhaps had he been given more freedom, Star Trek V would have been a greater film.

Still, it is a very spiritual and personal treatise, which is why Trek fans abhor it so. I rather liked the film and it stands apart as more fascinating on a new viewing than it may have been when released in the summer of 1989. Ironically, the DVD transfer in High Def is superb, accentuating the contrasts between the Klingon Bird of Prey, and the harsh browns of Nimbus III. Audio featuring the powerful Dolby TrueHD 7.1 lossless soundtrack is surprisingly active, full of brilliant clarity, and the sound is amongst the best in this Blu Ray collection.

Supplementary material includes a fun Shatner commentary, but the behind-the-scenes documentary, The Journey: A Behind-the-Scenes Documentary looks at the process of creating the film, from the origins of the story to the scrapping of the infamous “rock man” footage. It really is fascinating to hear how Shatner had to navigate the politics of moviemaking. Also great is a look back at a wonderful press conference that took place on the lot just after principal photography. The Star Trek Universe tab contains an additional eight features. Herman Zimmerman: A Tribute looks back on the career of the famed composer.

Original Interview: William Shatner is a vintage piece featuring the actor-director discussing the film. Cosmic Thoughts features a philosophical examination of what might be beyond the boundaries of Earth and man’s place in it. That Klingon Couple features Actors Todd Bryant and Spice Williams recounting their experiences playing Klingons in the film. A Green Future? (takes an extended look at Yosemite National Park and nature’s importance to mankind, while ‘Star Trek’ Honors NASA looks at the influence of Gene Roddenberry’s creation on the space program and the series’ forward-thinking themes and technologies. Hollywood Walk of Fame: James Doohan showcases a few brief scenes from the dedication ceremony. Starfleet Academy SciSec Brief 005: Nimbus III (again takes a futuristic look back at the events as depicted in Star Trek V.

STAR TREK VI – THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY
Director: Nicholas Meyer

When the Klingon moon Praxis — a primary energy production facility — suddenly explodes, the Klingon species finds itself unable to recover and on the verge of extinction. In an effort to both save the Klingons and bring peace to a long-troubled relationship, the Federation agrees to help the Klingons, assistance that includes dismantling part of the fleet across the neutral zone. Spock volunteers Kirk, the Enterprise, and her crew to escort the Klingon Chancellor, Gorkon (David Warner), through federation space to a peace conference. Kirk rejects both the mission and its purpose, proclaiming his distrust of the Klingons.

Nevertheless, the Enterprise carries out her orders, but relationships become further strained when the ship seems to fire on the Klingon Cruiser and a pair of assassins beam aboard the vessel and murder the chancellor. Kirk and McCoy beam over to the Cruiser to ascertain the situation, are arrested, and ultimately found guilty of the assassination. Sentenced to life imprisonment on the harsh penal colony of Rura Penthe, the pair must not only struggle to escape but to save their very lives on a daily basis. Meanwhile, the Enterprise crew vigorously searches for answers in hopes of identifying the true assassins before they have a chance destroy any hopes of achieving peace.

Of all the Trek films, Undiscovered Country may well be the smartest and most profound in the series. On the one hand, the film has a visceral energy, a scene-stealing Christopher Plummer who sprouts Shakespeare with a hammy glee, and the film makes literary references from Dostoyevsky, to Shakespeare to Dickens and with a wistful touch of Peter Pan as a final comment on age and wisdom.

This Trek film is masterfully crafted by Nicholas Meyer and proved to be as fitting, elegant finale to this initial franchise, with its deep commentary on race relations, a look back at the end of the Cold War and a film that is reflective of this cast and we all grew up with this first generation of the Enterprise. It remains an eloquent, exquisite movie that works on so many levels and can be appreciated on both its own right or as part of an overall legacy.

The High Def transfer is gorgeous for the most part, though some scenes are not as consistently smooth as others. Sound is again exemplary and the lossless audio takes advantage of background noise and sound effects. it’s a nice transfer but not as fluid as the first films in this series. As for supplementary extras, there’s a ton of stuff, beginning with two commentary tracks, the first with Director Nicholas Meyer and Screenwriter Denny Martin Flynn, the other by Larry Nemecek and Ira Steven Behr.

The detailed Stories from ‘Star Trek VI’ breaks down into six features. It Started With a Story that further examines that looks at the role of racism in the film, Director Nicholas Meyer features cast and crew laying praise on the director, Shakespeare and General Chang which looks at both the role of Shakespeare and Actor Christopher Plummer in the film, Bring it to Life that takes a look at the making of various segments of the film, and my favourite, Farewell and Goodbye that looks at the ideas behind the film’s final shot. In this documentary we learn that one of the original ideas behind Star Trek VI was that it be a prequel, showing a young Kirk and Spock at the Academy. I guess that script had to wait two decades to get made. There is also a moving tribute to the great DeForest Kelley, an 8=part Star Trek Universe and much more.

The Blu Ray pack also contains a 7th disc, The Captain’s Summit, which is an entertaining roundtable discussion on Star Trek and popular culture by Shatner, Nimoy, Patrick Stewart, and Jonathan Frakes, hosted by Whoopi Goldberg. It is a brisk, fun discussion but hardly necessary to have been shot in high def.

FINAL THOUGHTS.

Star Trek has been a part of our lives for years and this high def package is a must for fans. While the Blu Ray transfer is mixed, mostly, the films still look beautiful and the films, all of them, deserve their place in Trek lore for better or worse. I had fun spending the past two weeks savouring Star Trek: Original Motion Picture Collection Blu-ray, and hope to still find some more jewels. But most importantly, the Trek films remain so much a part of popular culture, seeing them again was a reminder of their intelligence, humour and impact on American cinema.