The Weekly Spin: May 12th 2009

One of the busiest week’s so far this year in terms of new releases. Before we get to that, lets look at the news.

Pre-exisiting Trekkers, and fans of the new “Star Trek” who’ve been curious to check out the old films, be warned. Reviews have begun to come out about the picture quality of the “Star Trek: The Motion Picture Collection” set hitting stores today containing the six of the ten previous films starring the original series cast. While the best film in the series, “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”, underwent a full high-def restoration and apparently looks superb – the other five films in the set suffer from very noticable DNR issues.

For those unaware, DNR (Digital Noise Reduction) is becoming the most talked about issue for Blu-rays lately – employing it on a film removes some of that annoying film grain but in the process loses the tiny details that make the image truly high definition. On small screens it won’t be noticeable but on big ones it loses the film like appearance. While the color and contrast are certainly better than the previous DVD releases, those wanting to play this on anything bigger than say a 50″ screen should be wary.

The details on “Watchmen” have been revealed with the July 28th release most definitely a ‘bare bones’ version before some ultimate set at the end of the year. The theatrical cut will be available as a single-disc DVD only, the new ‘Director’s Cut’ will be on two-disc DVD and Blu-ray along with minimal extras. Cover art for all three versions can be found at DVD Active.

Lionsgate is planning new DVD-only special editions of Harvey Keitel’s infamous cult hit “Bad Lieutenant” for July 28th and Kathryn Bigelow’s acclaimed but little seen western vampire feature “Near Dark” for July 7th. Notable however is the “Near Dark” cover art (seen here) desperately evokes the design of the “Twilight” poster. Great irony considering the success of “Twilight” shot down plans to remake ‘Dark’.

Even though it hasn’t set an airdate yet, the third season of “Torchwood” subtitled ‘Children of Earth’ is set to hit both DVD and Blu-ray on September 15th. Clocking in at 300 minutes, the five-episode mini-series format for the show marks a notable change from the “Doctor Who” spinoff’s previous 13-episode seasons.

Sony Pictures has unveiled its Fall line-up of Blu-ray catalog titles which will include “About Last Night,” “Blue Thunder,” Go,” “Starman” and “St. Elmo’s Fire” in August; “Easy Rider,” “Labyrinth,” “Punch-Drunk Love,” “The Quick and the Dead” and “Silverado” in September; “The Craft,” “Freedomland,” “Snatch,” and a trilogy boxset of “Wolf,” “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” and “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” in October.

The Blu-ray version of “Dr. Strangelove” from Sony Pictures looks to be copying the book-form layout that Warners has been using for some of its back catalogue like “Amadeus” and “Natural Born Killers”, a photo is up at High Def Digest. The company is also forcing those who want to see “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” on Blu-ray to buy it in a boxset along with “The Curse of the Golden Flower” and “House of Flying Daggers” on July 14th.

Other Newly Announced DVDs: “12 Rounds” (June 30th), “Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li” (June 30th), “Dark Streets” (June 30th), “Knowing” (July 7th), “Push” (July 7th), HBO’s “Grey Gardens” (July 14th), “Flight of the Conchords: Season Two” (Aug 4th), “Sons of Anarchy: Season One” (Aug 18th), “Batman: Brave and the Bold – Season One” (Aug 25th), “Crash: Season One” (Aug 25th), “The Girlfriend Experience” (Sept 2nd)

Other Newly Announced Blu-rays: “12 Rounds” (June 30th), “Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li” (June 30th), “Knowing” (July 7th), “Push” (July 7th), “I Still Know What You Did Last Summer” (July 14th), “Big Trouble in Little China” (Aug 4th), “My Cousin Vinny” (early August), “Sons of Anarchy: Season One” (Aug 18th), “Crash: Season One” (Aug 25th), “The Girlfriend Experience” (Sept 2nd), and 1954’s “Godzilla” (Sept 22nd).

This Week’s Picks:

Taken (DVD & Blu-Ray)
Pierre Morel’s actioneer is decidedly cliche and owes a lot to David Mamet’s 2004 thriller “Spartan”. Yet it works as pure, smart escapist action thanks to the utter conviction of the brilliant Liam Neeson, effective old-school close combat action, and a relentlessly efficient filming style. Ridiculous, but great fun.

Star Trek Original Motion Picture Collection (Blu-Ray)
In spite of the picture quality issues mentioned above, the word is these Blu-ray are still the best the pre-reboot films have ever looked and sounded. Certainly out of the six films here the value is good as you have one masterpiece (Wrath of Khan), one excellent sci-fi mystery thriller (Undiscovered Country), a decent comedy (Voyage Home), a serviceable but forgettable sci-fi adventure with strong character moments (Search for Spock), an ambitious if deeply flawed pure sci-fi epic (The Motion Picture), and only one outright turkey (The Final Frontier).

Fargo (Blu-ray)
Still considered by many to be the best and most original work of the Coen Brothers, the multiple Oscar-winning “Fargo” retains the pitch-black humor and twists that made it such an acclaimed hit back in 1996. I’d rather not spoil it as for those who haven’t seen it, this is a film worth discovering yourself.

The Best of Star Trek: The Next Generation (DVD)
Better value than the ‘Original Series’ counterpart (as half those eps are on Blu-ray already), this shows how good some of the post-Kirk “Trek” hours could be with the Borg two-parter “The Best of Both Worlds”, the superb time travel ep “Yesterday’s Enterprise”, and the well-written courtroom drama “The Measure of a Man”.

Man with the Golden Gun/License to Kill (Blu-Ray)
Roger Moore & Timothy Dalton’s second attempts at James Bond yielded two of the worst films in the series, albeit in completely different ways. Moore’s “Gun” had a solid villain concept and actor (Christopher Lee) but ruined it with campy excess from extra nipples to an evil dwarf and Britt Ekland.

Dalton’s ‘Kill’ on the other hand takes it too seriously, resulting in a bland 80’s Hollywood revenge thriller with a chaste Steven Seagal-esque Bond hunting drug dealers. It’s the darkest 007, but also the dullest and least Bond-like. No wit, no style, bland Bond girls, and a crap villain (albeit well played by Robert Davi).

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (Blu-Ray)
Many have been waiting for one of Sergio Leone’s classic western ‘Dollars’ trilogy to make the HD jump and surprisingly it’s the last one. While there has been complaints of DNR issues which will understandably hold purists off, it’s still worth a look at one of the true archetypal films of the genre.

CSI: Season One (Blu-Ray)
Though it looks good now, the first season DVD of the original “CSI” is a full screen, badly transfered effort. Now CBS has gone and properly redone the episodes with new high-def digitally remastered widescreen presentations that bring the video and visual quality up to the level of current HD broadcasts.

Other Releases This Week:
The Best of Star Trek: The Original Series (DVD)
French and Saunders Live (DVD)
Force 10 from Navarone (Blu-ray)
Galaxy Quest: Deluxe Edition (DVD)
Kingdom: Complete Series (DVD)
Major League (Blu-ray)
Of Time and the City (DVD)
Passengers (DVD & Blu-ray)
Penn & Teller Bullshit: Season Six (DVD)
S. Darko: A Donnie Darko Tale (DVD & Blu-ray)
Seth MacFarlane’s Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy (DVD & Blu-ray)
Star Trek Motion Picture Trilogy (DVD & Blu-ray)
The Grudge (2004) (Blu-ray)
There’s Something About Mary (Blu-ray)
Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (DVD & Blu-ray)