And only a week after it was released
Variety reported today that "Star Wars: The Complete Saga" sold more than a million units worldwide, breaking records to become the best selling Blu-ray release of all time.
And it's not even Christmas.
The set was released on Monday, September 12 in Britain, Australia and Sweden and Friday, September 19 in the U.S. and elsewhere. Which means that, for the most part, it took merely a week to shoot to the top, though in the current culture of Internet sales and deep-discount pre-orders, those numbers were building for months before it was even released.
Variety reports that sales for the nine-disc set broke 1 million units, a first for Blu-ray, with 515,000 sold in the U.S. alone.
Variety reports that sales for the nine-disc set broke 1 million units, a first for Blu-ray, with 515,000 sold in the U.S. alone. That translates to about $84 million worldwide, according to a press release from Fox, which was quick to spread the news.
This is not necessarily a surprise but it is good news for the high definition format. Blu-ray sales are growing while DVD sales drop, but the increase is not enough to make up the difference in the home video market. It is, however, a boost for Blu-ray, a format that gets more popular with improvements in home theater technology.
George Lucas angered many die-hard fans by releasing only his revised versions of the original trilogy ("Star Wars," "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi"), which include added special effects and new and/or altered scenes (the notorious "Greedo shoots first" in "Star Wars" and, new to this edition, Vader's "Nooooooo!" at the climax of "Jedi," among the most egregious to the faithful), but such revisionism didn't appear to deter sales.
Videodrone's review of "Star Wars: The Complete Saga is here.
Plus 'The Others,' 'Manhunter' and more
The 1941 Disney animated classic about a little circus pachyderm with big ears and the unlikely ability to fly, makes its Blu-ray debut with "Dumbo: 70th Anniversary Edition" (Disney) in newly remastered edition. It was Disney's fourth animated feature and, if slight of story, is as beautiful as any of their classics. The Blu-ray features all of the featurettes and other supplements from previous releases except the commentary by animator and historian John Canemaker on the "60th Anniversary Edition," which it replaces with a new commentary track by Pete Docter, Paula Sigman and Andreas Deja. This comes out in both DVD and Blu-ray editions this week, but exclusive to the Blu-ray is a "Cine-Explore" picture-in-picture mode with commentators plus video clips, vintage interviews, art and other supplementary material, and two bonus animated shorts.
DVD Beaver Lensview critic Leonard Norwitz gives it high marks for color, clarity and restoration, though is less impressed with the new dts-HD 7.1 remix (the disc also includes restored stereo), and offers screencap comparison to the previous DVD release. Adam Gregorich at Home Theater Forum has a marvelous feature on the restoration of "Dumbo" and the preservation of the Disney library.
Audrey Hepburn is perfection as carefree and kooky New York party girl Holly Golightly in "Breakfast At Tiffany’s" (Paramount), Blake Edwards’ sparkling adaptation of Truman Capote's bittersweet novella. Holly's not exactly a hooker in this somewhat gentile take, directed by Blake Edwards from George Axelrod's adaptation, but she does live off dates. That gives her at least one thing in common with George Peppard's aspiring novelist Paul Varjak, who gets by as a “kept man” (Patricia Neal does the keeping). Mickey Rooney’s buck-toothed turn as the Japanese landlord is an insulting racial stereotype that only looks worse with age, but the film is otherwise a smoothly handsome and quietly elegant romantic drama with playful touches of humor. Blake Edwards was a real hand at comedy, but this film brought out another side of the director that is often forgotten. It won Oscars for Henry Mancini’s lovely score and the movie’s legendary theme song “Moon River” by Mancini and Johnny Mercer.
The Blu-ray features the supplements from the "Centennial Collection" DVD release a couple of years ago, namely commentary by producer Richard Shepherd and a bunch of featurettes. Actors from the party scene have a reunion to discuss the scene and cocktail culture of the era in "A Golightly Gathering," the "yellowface" stereotype is dissected in "Mr. Yunioshi: An Asian Perspective," and "Henry Mancini: More Than Music" profiles the composer, and all of these are presented in HD. The rest of the featurettes (in SD) include the cursory "The Making of a Classic," "It’s So Audrey: A Style Icon," "Behind The Gates: The Tour" and "Brilliance In A Blue Box" (a brief history of the jewelry story Tiffany and Co.). Also includes “Audrey's Letter to Tiffany,” galleries of stills and posters and the original trailer. Archivist Robert Harris gives it his seal of approval here.
Nicole Kidman hides with her sunlight-averse kids in a gloomy mansion haunted by something truly frightening in "The Others" (Lionsgate), an inspired spin on Henry James’ "Turn of the Screw" set in an isolated Irish manor house in the closing days of World War II. Directed by Spanish stylist Alejandro Amenabar ("The Sea Inside"), this spooky little gothic ghost story is shrouded in the darkness of a perpetually shadowy house enveloped in a seemingly eternal fog. Kidman’s fragile performance, with her terrified eyes and barely controlled voice catching in her throat, is perfectly modulated. It’s a genuinely shiver inducing ghost story that plays mood over shocks, and one of the most interesting portraits denial and acceptance you’ll find in the movies. Includes four featurettes.
The new Blu-ray editions of Wes Craven's "Last House On The Left: Unrated Collector’s Edition" (Fox) and "The Hills Have Eyes" (Image) are reviewed on Videodrone here.
Hannibal Lecter made his first screen debut in Michael Mann's "Manhunter" (Fox), starring William Peteren and Joan Allen and featuring Brian Cox as Lecter, but it was Anthony Hopkins who made Lecter a star, in essence, and takes top billing in "Hannibal" (Fox), the sequel to "Silence of the Lambs" with Julianne Moore taking over Jodie Foster's role
And there are more sequels this week: "Robocop 2" (Fox) with Peter Weller and Nancy Allen and Irvin Kershner taking the reigns from Paul Verhoeven, "Poltergeist II" (Fox), with Brian Gibson in the director's seat, and a couple of comedies. "Scary Movie 3: Unrated" (Lionsgate) is my vote for the funniest spoof in the series, thanks to the brilliant decision of inviting "Airplane!" co-director David Zucker to reboot the crude comedy with his brand of humor. And when I say "crude comedy," I'm referring to the likes of "Scary Movie 2" (Lionsgate).
The original 'Last House On The Left' and 'The Hills Have Eyes'
Today Wes Craven is best known for creating Freddie Kreuger and the "A Nightmare on Elm Screet" franchise and for his self-aware "Scream" films, but back in the seventies he helped usher in the modern age of horror, along with George Romero ("Night of the Living Dead"" and Tobe Hooper ("The Texas Chainsaw Massacre").
"Last House On The Left: Unrated Collector’s Edition" (Fox), Craven's directorial debut, may be the only horror remake of an Ingmar Bergman film, though it feels more like a bargain basement Peckinpah. A violent criminal family kidnaps, rapes, and brutally murders a pair of teenage girls and then takes refuge under the roof of the girl’s own home, where the parents methodically plot their vengeance. At times awkward and inconsistent, with distracting comic interludes, Craven’s handling of the brutal horror scenes is unsettling and the death of the daughter is an unexpectedly quiet and beautifully lyrical moment, and the primitive look of the film only enhances the unexpectedly powerful moments of grace and sensitivity
Five years later he returned "The Hills Have Eyes" (Image), just as notorious as his debut but with a whole new backdrop of savagery. A bickering family on the road to California with a station wagon and a trailer home takes a side-trip into the no man’s land of a desolate desert and breaks down near the cave home of a cannibal tribe on the hunt for fresh meat. It’s modern nuclear family versus wild desert dwelling clan, the latter led by a psychotic patriarch with a taste for human flesh he’s passed to his demented children. Craven shoots the film in a desolate plain ringed with the jagged prehistoric rock ranges, a savage land where the civilized are forced to resort to savagery to survive the human predators who rule it. It’s the feature debut of Dee Wallace and the break-out role for the unforgettable Michael Berryman, a man whose birth defects gave him with a bullet-head, a lizard face, and bulging eyes: one of the most cinematic faces in modern horror films.
"Last House On The Left: Unrated Collector’s Edition" features two commentary tracks (one by writer/director Wes Craven and producer Sean Cunningham, the other by actors David Hess, Marc Sheffler and Fred Lincoln), the solid 40-minute documentary " Celluloid Crime Of The Century," the featurettes " Still Standing: The Legacy Of Last House On The Left" and "Scoring Last House," deleted scenes and an unfinished short film.
"The Hills Have Eyes" features commentary by director Wes Craven and producer Peter Locke, the excellent original 50-minute production "Looking Back on The Hills Have Eyes" and the more hour-long cable production "The Directors: The Films of Wes Craven, plus an alternate ending (Craven did well to cut the weird, awkward attempt at a hopeful ending), galleries of production stills, art, and storyboards, all ported over from the 2003 Anchor Bay DVD edition.
'Landmarks of Early Soviet Film,' 'Visions of Eight,' 'The Inspector General' and more
"Le beau Serge" (Criterion) and "Les cousins" (Criterion), the first two films from Claude Chabrol, mark the official birth of the French nouvelle vague. They make their long-awaited DVD and Blu-ray debuts in beautifully-mastered editions from Criterion. Videodrone's review is here.
"Landmarks of Early Soviet Film: A Four-Disc DVD Collection Of 8 Groundbreaking Films" (Flicker Alley) may sound like dry lesson plan in film history on the surface but the diversity of films, from dynamic dramas to witty comedies to striking documentaries, makes this collection a revelation for lovers of silent films, classic cinema and adventurous filmmaking. Along with classic works from celebrated masters Sergei Eisenstein ("Old and New") and Dziga Vertov ("Stride, Soviet!") are less familiar but equally rewarding and, yes, entertaining films. And all of them dedicated to the principles of montage.
"The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks" (1924), from film theorist turned director Lev Kuleshov, is a political cartoon of a Soviet satire that knowingly spoofs American stereotypes of "Bolshevik revolutionaries" while embracing equally absurd American clichés, including a cowboy sidekick (played by future director Boris Barnet) who shoots up the streets of Moscow. By the end, of course, our wide-eyed, gullible Mr. West (looking like a middle-aged Harold Lloyd) sees the true glories of the Soviet ideal.
"By the Law" (1926), "the third work of the Kuleshov Collective" and based on a Jack London story, couldn't be different, a harrowing survival drama about gold prospectors in the Yukon. The danger comes from within, however, when one of the shareholders in the mining camp goes ballistic and starts shooting his partners. For a film set in the great outdoors, it becomes palpably claustrophobic as they hole up in a cabin, trapped by rising waters and all but held hostage by their determination to keep the killer prisoner for the authorities. The tension is grueling and the climax is haunting.
Boris Barnet's "The House on Trubnaya Square" (1928) is, to date, my favorite comedy from the silent era of Soviet cinema, a slapstick odyssey of a naive peasant worker from the provinces who comes to the big city hired, gets hired as a maid in a madcap rooming house and learns about the glories of unionization between comic adventures. Barnet's embrace of montage filmmaking is less about ideas than rhythm and momentum, but he also liked to fill the screen with activity and energy , and the result is the liveliest film of the collection. Sergei Eisenstein's "Old and New" (1929), also known as "The General Line," is his final silent film and in many way the most conceptually adventurous production.
The first two discs in the set present four classic fiction films -- comedies and dramas both, all with bright scores from Robert Israel -- and the final two present a quartet of Soviet documentaries, films just as diverse as the fictions. "Stride, Soviet!" (1926) is the first feature from Dziga Vertov, a filmmaker whose dedication to montage often took the form of experimental filmmaking and impressionistic imagery. Esfir Shub’s "Fall of the Romanov Dynasty" (1927) is drawn entirely from pre-Soviet Russian newsreels repurposed and redefined through her organization and editing. Victor Turin’s "Turksib" (1930), which chronicles the construction of the Turkestan-Siberian railway, turned a Soviet industrial assignment into a dynamic film and a popular hit with audiences. And the most visually exciting of the quartet is Mikhail Kalatozov’s "Salt for Svanetia" (1930). Intended as a propaganda piece about the Soviet state bringing the modern world to isolated lands with medieval sensibilities and crippling poverty, it's mix of cultural documentary and expressionist historical study dramatizes its subject with imagery and recreations that turns documentary into drama with a passion. Features scores by Eric Beheim, Alexander Rannie and Zoran Borisavljevic.
Half the films come from excellent HD masters from Lobster Films in Paris and look superb, the rest from older video masters from David Shepard dating back to the VHS days. These latter films are adequate but lack the clarity and stability of the new masters. Given the ambition and the sheer philanthropy of this project, however -- this is the very definition of labor of love, boxing up eight silent films that, on their own, would be familiar to only a tiny fraction of the disc-buying audience -- it is a forgivable compromise. No video supplements but the box set of four discs in four thinpak cases comes with a new booklet with substantial essays by Maxim Pozdorovkin and Ana Olenina, who also served as advisers on the set.
"Visions of Eight" (Olive) profiles the 1972 Munich Olympics through the lens of eight major directors but it's less a sports documentary than survey of impressions introduced by the directors themselves. "I am not interested in sports but I am interested in obsessions," explains Mai Zetterling before her segment "The Strongest," which follows the weightlifters from the training room to the competition, focusing on their preparations and their focus. Arthur Penn slows high-jumpers and pole-vaulters to silently watch them in motion in "The Highest" and Kon Ichikawa performs the same study on sprinters in "The Fastest." Other directors include Juri Ozerov ("The Beginning"), Michael Pfleghar ("The Women"), Milos Forman ("The Decathlon") and Claude Lelouch ("The Losers"), while John Schlesinger breaks the single-minded focus on athletes and competition with the only glimpses of the terrorist kidnapping of the Israeli athletes, which recasts the marathon in his segment, "The Longest," with a reminder of world outside. Framed by the perspective of a single competitor, it makes this the most compelling and revealing segment of an otherwise lovely but insubstantial feature.
"hitRECord RECollection" (hitREcord), a multimedia collection of short films, music and art collected in a hardcover book, is described by producer Joseph Gordon-Levitt as an "open collaborative production company." Not just art created by its contributors, but added to and reworked in a collaborative process. Gordon-Levitt discusses the project at indieWIRE here.
"The Inspector General" (Shout! Factory), the 1949 Danny Kaye musical farce about a medicine show performer mistaken for a government official and targeted by assassins, is one of those hit studio comedies that got lost to the public domain and found by all sorts of cheap labels that churned out terrible, sometimes unwatchable editions, first on VHS and then on DVD. Shout! Factory offers the first decent edition on DVD, and includes silent home movie footage taken on the set of the film (with commentary by Robert Koster, son of director Henry Koster) and the two-reel 1938 comedy "Money on Your Life" with a pre-stardom Kaye.
"Blue Sunshine" (Flatiron), Jeff Leiberman’s 1978 acid flashback horror with a brain-frying afterburn, isn’t exactly a drug scare movie, but it plays on the fear that psychedelics ingested as hippies are internal time bombs in adult yuppies. Future erotic movie producer and soft-core cable king Zalman King stars as a would-be victim of a good friend who loses his hair and then loses his mind, erupting in a homicidal fury. You might expect this cult oddity to be a campy goof, but Leiberman makes the rage-driven horror scenes just a little off balance, what with the wigs slipping off to reveal their hairless domes, and the undercurrent of black humor and yuppie social satire gives the it clever spin. Previously available from Synapse, this new edition features a new 40-minute interview with director Jeff Leiberman but none of the supplements from the old out-of-print disc.
John Mills stars in "The History of Mr. Polly" (VCI), a 1949 British comedy based on the novel of H.G. Wells.
The horrors, the horrors:
"ChromeSkull: Laid To Rest 2" (Anchor Bay), the sequel to Robert Hall's cult horror, arrives direct to DVD and Blu-ray with a cast that includes Brian Austin Green, Johnathon Schaech and Danielle Harris. Includes commentary and featurettes.
"L.A. Zombie" (Strand), starring Francois Sagat as an undead alien, is the latest gay-themed project from underground director Bruce LaBruce, this one combining horror and porn. Daniel Baldwin and James Russo star in the demon monster movie "Born of Earth" (eOne). "After Dark Originals: 51" (Lionsgate) is SyFy Original invasion movie with Vanessa Branch and Bruce Boxleitner and "Secrets in the Wall" (Vivendi), with Jeri Ryan and Marianne Jean-Baptiste, is a paranormal thriller originally made for the Lifetime Network. "Deadtime Stories, Volume 2" (Millennium) is a new anthology of short horror films "presented" by George Romero.
Plus Emmy winners, new shows, old shows, continuing shows and more
"Hawaii Five-0: The First Season" (Paramount) revives the old cops-in-paradise crime series with a young cast and a new sensibility. This Five-0 is a special branch that makes up its rules, sort of a classic cop show on steroids and sun tan lotion. Videodrone's review is here. Dana Delaney returns to TV in "Body of Proof: The Complete First Season" (Disney), playing a flinty former neurosurgeon turned forensic pathologist who has to learn to tone down her attitude and reconnect with her estranged daughter. Videodrone's review is here.
"Modern Family: The Complete Second Season" (Fox) dominated the Emmys this year, taking home five awards, including the top prize for "Outstanding Comedy Series" for the second year in a row, and "Mike & Molly: The Complete First Season" (Warner) crowned its debut season with an Emmy for its leading lady Melissa McCarthy. More on these shows, plus a complete list of Emmy winners on DVD, is on Videodrone here.
And on the vintage TV front is "Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer: The Complete Series" (A&E) with Darren McGavin and "The Dick Van Dyke Show 50th Anniversary Edition: Fan Favorites" (Image). The whole story is on Videodrone here.
"Law & Order: Los Angeles – The Complete Series" (Universal) - "In the city of Los Angeles, the people are represented by two separate but equal…" You know the spiel: the split-hour structure of the original "Law and Order" is moved to Los Angeles and given a sunnier visual style and splashier cases. Which wasn't enough to make this incarnation last, even after rebooting itself after a brief hiatus by killing off a major character, moving one of its star players -- Alfred Molina as an assistant D.A. -- into the investigative side of things and transferring in Alana De la Garza, reprising her "Law & Order" character, relocated to L.A. for family reasons. The new, moodier credits and theme is almost laughably self-serious and yes, I miss the trademark "chong chong!" stings of the original show., and
Once it was clear the show wasn't coming back, the old line-up suddenly reappeared without explanation. Apparently there were a handful of episodes left when they threw their hail Mary pass of a shake-up so they burned them off in the summer. But why didn't simply plug them back into a logical chronology for the DVD release? Terrence Howard, Skeet Ulrich, Corey Stoll and Rachel Ticotin co-star, with Peter Coyote popping up as the politically driven D.A.
22 episodes (two of them listed as a double-length episode but with separate credits) on five discs, with commentary on one episode and a short featurette.
Mini-series and specials:
Barry Pepper took "Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries of Movie" for his portrayal of Bobby Kennedy in "The Kennedys" (New Video), the controversial miniseries starring Greg Kinnear as Jack Kennedy and Katie Holmes as Jackie. For more on this, see Videodrone's Emmy Awards roundup here.
Tony and Ridley Scott produce the History Channel documentary "Gettysburg" (History), not to be confused with the 1993 feature film of the same name. This production "aspires to be more of a reality-based war movie, packed with adrenaline-inducing action," explains David Hinckley in the New Your Daily News, "and while the result is not all good, it's not all bad, either." Released on a Blu-ray+DVD two-disc combo pack.
"Bill Moyers: The Wisdom of Faith" (Athena) explores the roots of world religions with author and professor Huston Smith. Five episodes on two discs, plus a study guide.
More Debut Seasons:
"Raising Hope: The Complete First Season" (Fox) is the new sitcom from the creator of "My Name Is Earl," another farce of family dysfunction in the shallow end of the economic pool. Lucas Neff stars as the instant 23-year-old single father who turns to his family (including distracted parents Martha Plimpton and Garret Dillahunt and oblivious grandma Cloris Leachman) to help him raise his infant daughter. If it takes a village to raise a child, what happens when the child is left with the village idiots? 22 episodes on three discs, plus the unaired pilot, an extended version of the season finale, featurettes and deleted scenes among the supplements.
The young adult sitcom "Happy Endings: The Complete First Season" (Sony) is romantic antics with Elisha Cuthbert, Zachary Knighton and Damon Wayans Jr.. 13 episodes on two discs. "Mad: Season One, Part One" (Warner) features 13 very short episodes of animated spoofing from the pages of "Mad Magazine" by way of the Cartoon Network (where the 15-minute show is being perfected).
"Going Postal" (Acorn) is not just adapted from the Terry Pratchett Discworld novel, it co-stars Pratchett as a Postman working for the reluctant new Postmaster General (Richard Coyle) ordered to take charge of a haunted post office. The three-hour production, originally made for British TV, co-stars Claire Foy, David Suchet, Andrew Sachs and Charles Dance. Features a second disc of supplements, including cast and crew interviews and deleted scene.
Warren Clark and Colin Buchanan are back as the unorthodox police investigators in "Dalziel & Pascoe: Season Four" (BBC), which introduces Jo-Anne Stockham as the newest member of the team, and Martin Shaw is the former defense barrister turned maverick judge in "Judge John Deed: Season Four" (BBC).
"Castle: The Complete Third Season" (Disney) is still getting by on the cheeky charms of Nathan Fillion and his terrific chemistry with Stana Katic as the veteran police detective with runway-model style. The writing is still too cute by half but the characters keep it working. And it ends on a nice twist of a cliffhanger. 24 episodes on five discs, plus featurettes, commentary on select episodes, deleted scenes and interviews among the supplements.
"The Mentalist: The Complete Third Season" (Warner) brings the Red John investigation even closer to home by having the serial killer genius go after Patrick Jane's (Simon Baker) investigative unit. 24 episodes on five discs, plus featurettes and deleted scenes.
And the rest:
"Spongebob Squarepants: Runaway Roadtrip" (Paramount) presents six animated adventures debuting on DVD before they show on TV. "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe: The Complete Second Season" (Mill Creek) features 65 episodes (plus supplements) on eight discs in a bargain-priced edition. The documentary "Lee & Grant" (History), co-written by author/historian Winston Groom, was originally made for The History Channel.
The debut films of Claude Chabrol and the birth of the French New Wave
"Le beau Serge" (Criterion) and "Les cousins" (Criterion), the first two films from Claude Chabrol, mark the official birth of the French nouvelle vague. The two confident, mature dramas don't have the stylistic flash or narrative invention of the more famous works by Godard and Truffaut that followed, but that was always the way with Chabrol, the classicist of the "Cahiers du Cinema" crowd.
Where Truffaut added autobiography, enthusiasm and a palpable love of the very act of filmmaking to his films, and Godard deconstructed the act of filmmaking, storytelling and expectations in his films, Chabrol used his camera like a microscope to study the psychology under the surface of human behavior in the Petri dish of social definitions and relationships. It all begins with these two features which predated Truffaut's "The 400 Blows" by mere months. True to form, they quietly established the arrival of a new talent, while Truffaut and then Godard, with "Breathless," created a seismic shift.
The two films are like a match set of city mouse/country mouse tales, the first in the dying community of a rural village (Sardent, Chabrol's own hometown), the second in a decadent bohemian society of Paris, with Gérard Blain and Jean-Claude Brialy as the provincial and the sophisticate (respectively) in both films.
In "Le beau Serge" (1958), Brialy is François, the young man who escaped the village and returns as a sickly, almost foppish sophisticate recovering from tuberculosis. He finds that his one-time best friend Serge (Blain) has slipped into the role of town drunk, a sneering, self-hating souse who drinks to forget the death of his first child and keeps on drinking to forget his own failings. "Poor François," remarks one townsperson of his drive to "save" Serge. "Always ready to do a good deed." But François' efforts, while sincere, are not necessarily completely altruistic and there is a hint of arrogance in his sanctimonious lectures. Meanwhile this twentysomething young man rather recklessly starts sleeping with the 17-year-old sister (Bernadette Lafont, all pouts and curves) of Serge's neglected wife (Michèle Méritz), which François treats with rather more nonchalance than everyone else.
Vintage TV sets debuting this week
"Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer: The Complete Series" (A&E) is the first small screen version of Mickey Spillane's violent pulp detective, previously featured on radio and the big screen. The title is something of misnomer, in that this is hardly Mickey Spillane's sexist, sadistic misanthrope with a gun. And it's not just that he's been toned way down for fifties TV. Darren McGavin is a smiling tough guy with a snappy wit and self-effacing humor, not shy about using his fists and quick to kiss a willing dame. But this Hammer also has principles and loyalty and uses humor as much as he does violence in his work. This New York PI actually seems to enjoy life as much as he enjoys his job.
Considered excessively violent for the day, this half-hour crime show (a long-gone genre that, at its best, has the quality of a short story) today plays like hard-boiled nostalgia with a tongue-in-cheek flair, and the generic studio sets are enlivened by New York streets and location shooting. It's a snappy little series and a lot of fun, thanks in large part to McGavin's amiability and rough-and-tumble humor, and the episode guest cast includes Angie Dickinson (in two episodes), Robert Vaughn, Lorne Greene and DeForest Kelley as a rather nasty hoodlum posing as a stand-up middle-class citizen.
The series lasted two seasons and a whopping 78 episodes (they didn't skimp on seasons back in the day), all of them collected on 12 discs in a box set of two standard cases with tightly-packed hinged trays. In terms of storage efficiency, these are both substantial, efficient and still easy to access.
"The Dick Van Dyke Show 50th Anniversary Edition: Fan Favorites" (Image) presents 20 classic episodes of the series that has been called by many the greatest sitcom of all time. Carl Reiner based the show about New York comedy writer Rob Petrie (Dick Van Dyke), his genial modern wife Laura (Mary Tyler Moore) and his wisecracking writing partners (played by veterans Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie) on his own experiences but it took the easy rapport of the cast, from Van Dyke and Moore bridging the gap between 1950s patriarchy and 1970s equality to the by-play of the writer's room, to turn the generous writing to comic magic. It's still the best the TV comedy has to offer.
The five-disc collection (in a box-set of five thinpak cases) also features the original pilot "Head of the Family," which featured an entirely different cast (including Reiner as Rob, Barbara Britton as Laura, and Sylvia Miles as Sally), the featurette "The Making of It May Look like a Walnut!," a clip from "Diagnosis Murder" where Van Dyke’s Dr. Mark Sloan of 1998 meets the Rob Petrie from yesteryear in a clever bit of video magic, Dick Van Dyke singing the show theme song (complete with lyrics by Morey Amsterdam, unheard to that time) at the Hollywood Bowl, bonus interviews and rehearsal footage among the supplements.
These winners from Sunday's Emmy Awards arrive on home video this week
"Modern Family: The Complete Second Season" (Fox) was the reigning champ of the 2011 Emmy Awards with five wins, including "Outstanding Comedy Series," a match set of "Supporting Actor" (Ty Burrell) and "Supporting Actress" (Julie Bowen) trophies, and awards for Directing and Writing. This is the show's second win for top comedy and it earns it once again, updating the classic American family sitcom with an extended family that is nothing if not diverse. And funny. 24 episodes on three discs on DVD and Blu-ray, plus featurettes, deleted scenes and a table read for one of the season's scripts among the supplements.
"Mike & Molly: The Complete First Season" (Warner) crowned its debut season with an Emmy for its leading lady Melissa McCarthy (who was a hysterical scene stealer in "Bridesmaids," also out this week). The comedy, from "Two and a Half Men" creators Mark Roberts and Chuck Lorre and sitcom legend James Burrows, follows the stumbling romance between two plus-sized singles (McCarthy and Billy Gardell) who meet at an overeaters anonymous meeting and fumble through courtship like teenagers. It was the hit new comedy of the 2011 season and McCarthy's win inspired a generous gesture of solidarity and support from her fellow nominees, who coronated her before her acceptance speech. (You can see that highlight -- sadly truncated -- below, after the jump.) Reno Wilson, Katy Mixon, Nyambi Nyambi and Swoosie Kurtz co-star. 24 episodes on three discs on DVD and two discs on Blu-ray, plus two featurettes, deleted scenes and a gag reel.
"The Kennedys" (New Video), starring Greg Kinnear as Jack Kennedy, Barry Pepper as Bobby and Katie Holmes as Jackie, hit TV earlier in 2011 with a notorious backstory: originally created for the History Channel, the $25 million mini-series was turned down for factual inaccuracies and a focus on lurid gossip and picked up by Reelz, a virtual unknown among cable channels. But it came into the Emmys with ten nominations and left with a win for Pepper for "Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries of Movie." Hollywood Reporter TV critic Tim Goodman complains that it "feels like a paint-by-numbers recitation of history and a not-very-sordid waste of artistic license." The eight-part series (which runs about six hours sans commercials) arrives on DVD and Blu-ray (both are three-disc sets) with the bonus featurette "The Kennedys: From Story to Film."
Not all winners are yet available on home video or digital download – neither "Mildred Pierce" nor the first seasons of "Boardwalk Empire" or "Game of Thrones" have been announced by HBO (through subscribers can view them via their new HBO Go service) and don't expect the second season of "Justified" until late spring, when the third season begins.
These winners, however, were released earlier this year:
"Mad Men: Season Four" (Lionsgate) – Outstanding Drama Series
"Downton Abbey" (PBS) – Outstanding Miniseries or Made for Television Movie, Supporting Actress (Maggie Smith), Directing (Brian Percival) and Writing (Julian Fellowes)
"Friday Night Lights: The Fifth And Final Season" (Universal) – Lead Actor in a Drama Series (Kyle Chandler) and Writing (Jason Katims for the series finale)
"The Big Bang Theory: The Complete Fourth Season" (Warner) – Lead Actor in a Comedy Series (Jim Parsons)
"The Good Wife: The Second Season" (Paramount) – Lead Actress in a Drama Series (Julianna Margulies)