TV on Disc Channel Guide: A 'Titanic' British Mini-Series
Plus 'Birdsong,' American superhero anime, and 'Car 54'
"Cinema Verite" (HBO), a made-for-cable feature from directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini and starring Diane Lane and Tim Robbins, dramatizes the story behind the revolutionary "An American Family." Blu-ray and DVD. Videodrone's review is here.
"Titanic" (2012) (eOne), the four-part British miniseries written by "Downton Abbey" creator Julian Fellowes and starring a superb cast of British actors, arrives mere weeks after the American run on ABC that marked the 100th Anniversary of the infamous disaster.
This take extends the drama through multiple stories and dozens of characters throughout the passenger list and members of the crew, rewinding back with each new episode for backstory and a fresh perspective on the criss-crossing of characters as they take their respective berths on the ship. The actual collision with the iceberg is more ominous than spectacular, a groaning scrape that sounds more like a monstrous growl than a ship-sinking tear. The panic builds slowly as the consequences of the collision – and the barbarous decision not to carry only enough lifeboats to carry a fraction of the passengers – becomes clear.
No surprise that Fellowes focuses most of the drama on the class disparity and divisions with a particularly critical eye toward the arrogance and entitlement of the idle rich (the actual working rich are much more respectful of the working class) and the institutionalized segregation that kept many of the poor veritable prisoner below deck even as the ship was sinking. One of the hallmarks of Fellowes' hallmarks is how the servant class (and in this case, the ship's crew) police the class borders, and in Titanic, they literally guarded the gates to the upper decks so the poor could not escape.
Though this is most assuredly an ensemble piece with stories generously shared throughout the cast, there are some stand-out performances and memorable characters, among them Stephen Campbell Moore as the engineer, Linus Roach as an aristocrat without class pretension, Toby Jones as his employee well aware how out of place he is in First Class, Maria Doyle Kennedy as his resentful wife, and a sweet below-decks courtship between an Italian waiter (Glen Blackhall) and a forthright stewardess (Jenna-Louise Coleman). These romances on the decks are often quite conventional but the scale of the event gives every story an added drama.
As a side note, without commercials, this series is still shorter than James Cameron's Oscar-winning film of the same name.
Features commentary on episodes one on DVD. The Blu-ray edition also features a bonus disc with the documentary "The Curse of the Titanic Sisters," the featurettes "Titanic: Behind the Production," and six shorter making-of featurettes. There is also a three-disc Blu-ray+DVD set that simply combines both releases
See the trailer for the series below, after the "Read more…" jump.
"Birdsong" (PBS), a made-for-BBC movie based on the Sebastian Faulks novel, stars Eddie Redmayne as British soldier on the Western Front of World War I recalling an affair years before with the beautiful young wife (Clémence Poésy) of a French businessman. The memories swirl through the horrors of battle. "It's not fast: this is trench warfare, not a quick raid," observes The Guardian TV critic Sam Wollaston. "But it gradually builds up to an intensity and power that takes hold of you." It two-part drama was seen in the U.S. on "Masterpiece Classic." Blu-ray and DVD.
"X-Men: Animated Series" (Sony) and "Iron Man: Animated Series" (Sony) are original Japanese takes on the American heroes, from the legendary Madhouse animation house in partnership with Marvel and Sony Japan. The stories were written by Warren Ellis in a universe reimagined for this anime reboot of the American heroes. "X-Men" combines comic book storylines from years apart to focus on Hisako Ichiki, aka Armor, a Japanese recruit created during Joss Whedon's run as writer. Likewise, "Iron Man" takes the hero to Japan for its adventure. The anime style is both more aggressive and more visually dynamic than the American animated counterpart, with allies constantly colliding in conflict and distrust in heightened states of emotion, and the battle scenes themselves moving faster and more furious.
Both sets feature one long story arc over 12 half-hour episodes on two discs. DVD only.
"Car 54, Where Are You?: The Complete Second Season" (Shanachie Entertainment) is also the final season of the Nat Hiken-created sitcom starring Joe E. Ross and Fred Gwynne as patrolman partners in the Bronx. Despite the short run, it's been called one of the funniest sitcoms of all time by a lot of vintage TV fans for its big, broad performances, emphatic writing and energetic ensemble work. 30 episodes on four discs, plus an 11-minute clip from a family-friendly Joe E. Ross stand-up comedy act developed after the show was cancelled, in a two-tray digipak with overlapping clasps instead of spindle holders (a design I really dislike; it feels like the disc is about to snap as you pry it out). The first season was reviewed in detail on Videodrone here.
"Agatha Christie's Poirot: Series 4" (Acorn) remasters the popular British mystery series starring David Suchet as the brilliant Belgian sleuth whose little gray cells go to work whenever presented with a mystery. The episodes debut on Blu-ray and are re-released DVD in the original U.K. Broadcast order. These set presents the feature-length episodes "The ABC Murders," "Death in the Clouds," and "One, Two, Buckle My Shoe."
"Top Chef: Las Vegas – The Complete Season 6" (A&E) presents 14 episodes of the competitive cooking series, this season in Sin City, on four discs. DVD only.
"The Wild Thornberrys: Season 2, Part 2" (Shout! Factory) features eight episodes of the animated series on two discs. DVD only.
"Top Shot: The Gauntlet" (History) presents all 12 episodes from the third season of the marksman competition series on four discs, plus bonus featurettes, and "Billy the Exterminator: Season Four" (A&E) presents 12 episodes on two discs. Both DVD only.