The Weekly Spin: June 9th 2009

Criterion has selected “Howard’s End” as the winner of the Amazon consumer poll last month of five of their classic titles to come to Blu-ray. The lucky Brits are getting some impressive Blu-ray titles soon as well including acclaimed cult hits “Withnail and I,” “Bubba Ho-Tep,” and “The Long Good Friday”.

Reviews for some upcoming Blu-ray transfers have painted some less than rosy pictures. “Ghostbusters” on Blu-ray is being called flat and disappointing; the first season of “Lost” is said to have blown out contrast and an artificial look at times, though still gets high marks, while the second season is considered generally perfect; and a minor online squabble has emerged over the “Dr. Strangelove” Blu-ray with its wider 1.66 aspect ratio and large amounts of grain.

Warner Home Video will release the recent seasons of The CW’s biggest hits, the eighth season of “Smallville” and the fourth season of “Supernatural”, on DVD & Blu-ray on August 25th and September 1st respectively.

A&E will release the classic cult 60’s TV series “The Prisoner” on Blu-ray this coming October 27th. The five disc set includes all 17 episodes and is no doubt timed with the planned November airdate of AMC’s mini-series remake of the property starring Jim Caviezel, Ian McKellen and Jamie Campbell-Bower.

New Line is pumping out some deluxe DVD & Blu-ray editions of several of its urban-themed hits from the late 90’s – “Set It Off”, “Menace II Society” and major hit “Friday” – each with an ‘extended director’s cut’ of the film and a boatload of extras.

Other Newly Announced DVDs: “American Son” (Aug 25th), “The Class” (Aug 11th), “CSI: Season Nine” (Sept 1st), “Frayed” (Aug 25th), “The Game: Season One” (Sept 1st), “Get Smart: Season Four” (Sept 8th), “I Love You, Man” (Aug 11th), “Kings: Complete Series” (Sept 8th), “NCIS: Season Six” (Aug 25th), “Night Train” (July 14), “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency: Season One” (Sept 1st), “Obsessed” (Aug 4th), “The Spectacular Spider-Man: Season One” (July 28th), “Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure” (Oct 27th), “Wedding Bros” (Aug 18th).

Other Newly Announced Blu-rays: “48 Hours” (Sept 15th), “Braveheart” (Sept 1st), “CSI: Season Nine” (Sept 1st), “Deep Impact” (Sept 15th), “Escape from L.A.” (Sept 15th), “Forrest Gump” (Nov 3rd), “Galaxy Quest” (Sept 22nd), “Gladiator: Extended Edition” (Sept 22nd), “Go” (Aug 18th), “Hannah Montana: The Movie” (Aug 18th), “The New York Ripper” (Sept 29th), “Night Train” (July 14th), “Obsessed” (Aug 4th), “Playtime: Criterion Collection” (Aug 18th), “Star Trek: The Original Series – Season 2” (Sept 22nd), “Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure” (OCt 27th), “Road Trip II: Beer Pong” (Aug 11th), “St. Elmo’s Fire” (Aug 11th), “Wrong Turn” (Sept 15th), “Wrong Turn 2: Dead End” (Sept 15th).

This Week’s Picks:

Gran Torino (DVD & Blu-Ray)
Like “True Crime” or “Absolute Power”, this is more populist than awards-reaching filmmaking from Eastwood this time around. His often humorous and frank performance gives refreshing appeal to the cheap formulaic story of an old crank who opens up and becomes mentor to the young kids next door.

The International (DVD & Blu-Ray)
Though lauded for its superbly executed action sequence in the Guggenheim, Tom Tykwer’s globe-hopping and mostly talky thriller is cleverer and more interesting than its predictable premise might suggest. Visually stunning, it’s not particularly original but generally satisfying for the thriller crowd.

The Siege (Blu-Ray)
I thoroughly enjoyed Ed Zwick’s drama about Arab extremists launching terrorist attacks in New York City when I first saw it back in 1998, but many didn’t seem to care for it then. After 9/11 however it became a whole different story. Still, the director’s trademark flaws and silly ending limit its appeal.

The Shield: Season Seven (DVD)
One of the truly great drama series of the past decade comes to a close in the explosive final season. This is one of those shows I catch on DVD in marathon sessions, and though I’m about two seasons behind I’m definitely picking this up as soon as I can to complete the experience.

Fatal Attraction (Blu-Ray)
Adrian Lyne’s sexual thriller seems almost quaintly mediocre these days, yet its release in 1987 at the peak of 80’s excess and the gender wars tapped a cultural zeitgeist that only happens every now and then. Still worth watching for its great premise and strong work from Close, Douglas and Archer.

Other Releases This Week:
Crossing Over (DVD)

Fired Up (DVD & Blu-ray)

Home (2009) (DVD & Blu-ray)

Indecent Proposal (Blu-ray)

Mistresses: Volume One (DVD)

Nobel Son (DVD)

Predator 2 (Blu-ray)

Reaper: Season Two (DVD)

The Cleaner: Season One (DVD)

Time Warp: Season One (Blu-ray)

Were the World Mine (DVD)

Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music (Blu-ray)

Finally, our regular interview correspondent ‘Paul Fischer’ has penned an exhaustive review of the “Star Trek: The Motion Picture Collection” Blu-ray set. Here’s the first half reviewed below, expect the next three next week.

Before we do though some have asked my take on the Trek films and how I would rank them, including the new one. With ‘Trek’ I consider “Wrath of Khan” (ST2) a cinematic classic, I love “Undiscovered Country” (ST6), I think “First Contact” (ST8) and the new “Star Trek” are very good fun action films, “Voyage Home” (ST4) and “Search for Spock” (ST3) are decent adventure yarns with some great character moments and humor, “The Motion Picture” (ST1) and “Generations” (ST7) are flawed and ultimately so-so sci-fi tales with little beyond looking pretty, “The Final Frontier” (ST5) is an utter shambles despite an interesting concept, and both “Insurrection” (ST9) and “Nemesis” (ST10) are pure generic dreck.

If you’ve never seen “Star Trek” beyond the new one and are too afraid to watch any of the TV shows (which had episodes far better than any of the films), I’d suggest watching the films in this order: ST2, 3, 4, 6, 8. Skip the rest.

Anyway onto Paul’s review:

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

Star Trek may indeed be the final frontier, but on DVD, the journeys of the USS Enterprise take on new and at times, visually dizzying heights, as the original 6 films soar into Blu Ray brilliance. Watching these films again, even the weaker films remind one of how great this franchise once was, and how inspiring.

STAR TREK – THE MOTION PICTURE
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, George Takei, and Nichelle Nichols
Director: Robert Wise

A large, mysterious cloud on a direct course towards Earth destroys three Klingon Battle Cruisers and a Federation outpost. A refitted Enterprise is the only ship within intercept range before the cloud reaches Earth, but the ship is in no condition to either pursue or engage the deadly force. His experience his greatest ally, Admiral James T. Kirk, former Captain of the Enterprise, successfully lobbies for his return to the Captain’s chair, supplanting Captain Decker (Stephen Collins) and reassigning him to the position of Executive Officer. Despite new and untested engines, a mostly inexperienced crew, and no science officer, the Enterprise sets out to intercept the cloud, the famed vessel perhaps Earth’s last, best chance for survival.

I’ve been writing about the Trek films since, well, this 1979 big screen adventure for which I interviewed its legendary director. For me, this first big screen adventure was larger than life, and not having seen the movie in some 30 years, what is surprising about its Blu Ray incarnation, is how bold and beautifully cinematic it was, a real classic of science fiction in its purest form. This was Gene Rodenberry in the producer’s chair and the film has his DNA imprinted over the film’s very detailed, metaphysical script as it explores the themes of life, love, death and the insignificance of the universe in a way that science fiction had mot really accomplished for years. The film was post-Star Wars, and was an attempt at combining the basic elements of Star Trek mythology with far more complex themes and moral questions.

Trekkies were mixed about the film but seeing it again was as if one sees it for the first time. There are remnants of the wry, witty humour that would develop as a trademark of this initial franchise, the further development of its principal crew of characters, and some rather astonishing effects for 1979. It is also a rather wistful and haunting film in its own right, a movie that is more about the internal, rather than some kind of action film set in space. Robert Wise’s direction is fluid, imaginative and the movie is definitely slower and more verbose than what would come after.

The film looks gorgeous on Blu Ray with its 1080p, 2.35:1-framed transfer and full-fledged Dolby TrueHD 7.1 lossless soundtrack. One is struck by the clarity of detail that exists with shots of the Enterprise and in particular, the Klingon cruisers that have more depth to them than I originally recalled. Overall, it looks and sounds sublime, very smooth and more visually gorgeous than even its theatrical version. That magnificent music by Jerry Goldsmith, by the way, never sounded as wonderful as it does here.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture debuts on Blu-ray with a nice selection of bonus materials, from a commentary track with Michael & Denise Okuda, Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens, and Daren Dochterman who all share their recollections on the film’s origins and opening; special effects shots; the actors in both major and minor roles; shooting locations; new sets, uniforms, and accessories; and plenty of discussion on the planned but never created television program, “Star Trek: Phase II.”

Library Computer allows users to access detailed information on persons, places, and things as seen or discussed throughout the movie. The Longest Trek: Writing ‘The Motion Picture’ further examines the origins of what was to become the first of now eleven Star Trek feature-length films. Special ‘Star Trek’ Reunion features a quintet of extras reminiscing on their experiences of winding up in the movie. Starfleet Academy SciSec Brief 101: Mystery Behind V’Ger features a “Next Generation” Starfleet officer recalling the events as depicted in The Motion Picture. As well as your usual deleted scenes and a few other goodies.

In all this first Star Trek movie is far more extraordinary than we have ever given it credit and the Blu Ray is superb.

STAR TREK II – THE WRATH OF KHAN
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Kirstie Alley and Ricardo Montalban.
Director: Nicholas Meyer

Long regarded as the best of the franchise, Wrath of Khan is devilishly entertaining and exhilarating. On a mission to locate a lifeless world on which to test the “Genesis” device, an object capable of instantly transforming a barren world into a habitable paradise, the U.S.S. Reliant’s Captain Terrell (Paul Winfield) and Commander Chekov beam down to Ceti Alpha V (though they believe the planet to be Ceti Alpha VI) to investigate a singular object which may represent life.

There, they discover the remnants of the Botany Bay, the vessel housing a marooned Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban), a 20th Century genetically-engineered superman with an unquenchable thirst for the blood of his old nemesis, Admiral James T. Kirk. Capable of controlling Terrell and Chekov and commandeering Reliant, Khan sets out to both capture the Genesis device and exact revenge on an unawares Kirk and Enterprise crew while Kirk is dealing with a midlife crisis of his own.

While Rodenberry was no longer producer and director Meyer was new to the Trek universe, the film was almost a reboot of sorts, in that it had no connection to its predecessor and a direct link to the TV series. It was the film that developed and cemented the relationship between Kirk and Spock, and provided McCoy with much of the film’s dry humour. Hugely entertaining and marvellously plotted and paced, Khan is fabulous and on Blu Ray is pretty good, but apparently, its quality depends on the copy you have to review.

A friend of mine complained about its inferior visual look, while my copy was pristine. That of course presents Paramount with a problem of duplicating its Blu Ray films with consistency. Perhaps this is the flaw of the technology to begin with, but for me, the film looks quite stunning, very detailed in its imagery and flesh tones and other visual details are nicely balanced. The lossless sound, which was strong in the first film, does appear weaker here, and the James Horner’s music disappears at times over dialogue. However, I didn’t see this as a major distraction, and some of these elements are equipment dependent.

Supplementary features on Khan are abundant. I loved the Original Interviews With William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, and Ricardo Montalban (480p, 10:56) that features these actors recalling their experiences in making the film in a collection of classic interviews especially as Shatner and Nimoy address the film’s [impending] controversy. Nicholas Meyer presents a fascinating commentary, Production. Captain’s Log (480p, 27:21) takes a direct but incredibly fascinating look at how the film came together, told through interviews with primary cast and crew.

Designing Khan (480p, 23:54) features a look at the design of the ships, the new uniforms, the creation of the Genesis torpedo, and more. Where No Man Has Gone Before: The Visual Effects of ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’ (480p, 18:14) takes viewers behind-the-scenes and into the making of the film’s special effects shots. James Horner:Composing Genesis (1080p, 9:33) features the composer discussing his work on the film.

The ‘Star Trek’ Universe is another piece broken into several features. Collecting ‘Star Trek’s’ Movie Relics takes a very interesting look at some of the props used throughout the history of ‘Star Trek.’ A Novel Approach looks at bringing ‘Trek’ history and lore to the printed page. Starfleet Academy SciSec Brief 002: Mystery Behind Ceti Alpha VI features a “future” look back at the events of ‘The Wrath of Khan.’ Rounding out this package of supplements is a collection of 13 storyboards, A Tribute to Ricardo Montalban, and the film’s theatrical trailer. The package is quite amazing and at time of writing had to yet discover some of these first-hand, but Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan deserves its classic status as one of the great Trek adventures of all time that looks exquisite in high def.

STAR TREK III – THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK
Director: Leonard Nimoy

Leonard Nimoy makes his feature directorial debut on Search for Spock, a film made as an excuse to reintroduce Spock for the next entry in the series. Most of its trainees reassigned and the badly damaged Enterprise returning home from its confrontation with Khan, the skeleton crew laments the loss of their friend, Spock, the ship feeling cold and lifeless in his absence. Upon their arrival at a star base, Kirk and crew learn that the Genesis planet is at the centre of a galactic controversy, and a refitted and repaired Enterprise won’t be returning to the new world where their colleague has been laid to rest.

In fact, the Enterprise is to be decommissioned, the fate of her crew in question. When Kirk learns that Spock’s katra or “living spirit” was transferred to Dr. McCoy moments before his death, he, Scotty, Uhura, Chekov, Sulu, and McCoy hijack the Enterprise from space dock in order to return to Genesis to retrieve Spock’s body in hopes of reviving him and transferring his katra back to its rightful body. Complicating matters is a none-too-happy Starfleet and a Klingon captain named Kruge (Christopher Lloyd) bent on securing the secrets of the Genesis device for his own use as an ultimate doomsday weapon.

On a second viewing, Search for Spock is a mighty piece of Trek entertainment that is full of rich humour and inventive visuals, coupled with a deep humanity, thanks to the Harve Bennett script and Nimoy’s perceptive direction. The Blu Ray for this Trek film is absolutely stunning. The opening sequence featuring the uncloaked Klingon ship with its green hues is a pointed reminder of the brilliance of high def when handled appropriately.

Colour and imagery are beautiful as are the contrasts between the void of space and the shimmering brilliance of the Genesis planet and Vulcan, both of which look breathtaking in High Def. While some imagery is not as vibrant as the first two films, it is still a glorious looking film. The sound, once again presented in a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 lossless format, The Search For Spock enjoys a solid listening experience with music and sound effects blissfully complementing each other.

Supplementary material abounds from an extraneous short called Spock: The Early Years, looks at the young actors who portrayed Spock in the film, which I thought, was rather dull and pointless. Far more enjoyable is Captain’s Log, that looks at Star Trek III’s origins, Leonard Nimoy’s involvement, the development of the story, the challenges of the shoot, cast discussing their characters, and more, with some very funny observations by Shatner and Nimoy, done in 2002.

The commentary track features director Leonard Nimoy, Writer/Producer Harve Bennett, Director of Photography Charles Correll, and Actress Robin Curtis, with a passionate Nimoy providing the most fascinating input. it’s understandable why the third Star Trek is nobody’s favourite, but it is still wonderfully entertaining, and shows the power of Christopher Lloyd who makes a formidable Klingon adversary.