Blu-ray Round-up: 'My Fair Lady' Not So Fair on Blu-ray
Plus 'Farscape,' 'The Mysterious Island,' 'Despair' and a new 'Evil Dead II'
"Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 1" (Warner) presents the HD debut of 50 of the greatest Looney Tunes cartoons in a three-disc set with commentaries, featurettes and hours of bonus documentaries. Videodrone's review is here. "Three Colors: Blue White Red" (Criterion), the complete trilogy by Krzysztof Kieslowski, gets its Criterion debut on DVD and Blu-ray, and "The Rules Of The Game" (Criterion) is remastered for a new DVD and a Blu-ray debut by Criterion. Videodrone reviews them here.
And a pair of classic, multiple Oscar-winning musicals go Blu this week. "West Side Story: 50th Anniversary Edition" (Fox) is released in two editions with some minor issues that Fox is sorting out. See Videodrone's coverage here.
"My Fair Lady" (Paramount), Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's transformation of the witty George Bernard Shaw play "Pygmalion" into a buoyant musical, also makes its Blu debut, but this edition is even more problematic. Again, I turn to the experts. At Home Theater Forum, Robert Harris (who was involved in the original film restoration of "My Fair Lady" decades ago and is featured on the commentary track, recorded over a decade ago) complains of the weaknesses in the color and stability of the image: "The new Blu-ray, especially with its field problems, is not representative of the film."
And at DVD Beaver, Gary Tooze opens his review with "I have to say that something is 'wrong' here." Both agree that it is an upgrade from the old DVD, but that for an Oscar winner and a beloved film, it is well below the standards set for major studio classics on Blu-ray.
Features all the supplements of the previous DVD release: commentary by art director Gene Allen, singer Marni Nixon and restoration team Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz, the 1994 documentary "More Loverly Than Ever: The Making of My Fair Lady - Then and Now," vintage featurettes, archival material from the vaults (including Hepburn’s original vocals for “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” and “Show Me”) and other extras.
"Farscape: The Complete Series" (A&E) is technically "complete" but practically speaking not quite: it features all four seasons of the wild made-for-cable science fiction series but not the mini-series finale, which was produced after the series was cancelled. The show was the first real trademark hit for the SciFi channel, an original series filled with exotic aliens, marbled worlds, and spacescapes that look ripped from the cover of “Amazing Stories." But it was more than just space opera and pulp adventure. Our heroes are essentially outlaws, escaped from an authoritarian regime and on the run from pretty much everybody out there. The totalitarian worlds and mercenary survivors of this hostile universe are a far cry from the Federation friendly universe of "Star Trek," and the dark art direction and wild, often grotesque creatures (courtesy of Jim Henson studios) made this the most imaginative and unpredictable science fiction show on TV in its day. This series knew how to make an epic on a budget.
As in the previous DVD release from A&E, it features all 88 episodes of the show (on 20 Blu-ray discs) plus the commentary tracks (29 in all), featurettes, interviews, character profiles, deleted scenes, galleries and other goodies seen on earlier releases from show. New to the set is a brand new retrospective documentary: "Memories of Moya: An Epic Journey Explored" featuring new interviews with the cast and crew.
Cy Enfield directs "Mysterious Island" (Twilight Time), adapted from Jules Verne’s sequel to "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," but the creative imagination is provided the Ray Harryhausen, whose intricate visual effects provide the giant bestiary of the island, including a ferocious Dodo bird, a crab the size of an elephant, and a hive of helicopter-sized bees. They are the creations of Captain Nemo (Herbert Lom), who has been stranded on the island but makes his appearance late in the film. The main story involves a group Union soldiers (among them Michael Craig, Michael Callan, and Gary Merrill) who escape form a Confederate prison in a raging storm and crash on the island. The excellent score is by Bernard Herrmann, which is also presented in a separate isolated audio track, as is the custom of the boutique label Twilight Time. This disc marks their first release in a new partnership with Sony to release Blu-ray editions of classics from the Columbia Pictures library.
"Despair" (Olive), adapted from the Vladimir Nabokov novel, is Rainer Werner Fassbinder's first English language production and the first film he didn't script himself (Tom Stoppard wrote this one). Dirk Bogarde stars as Hermann Hermann, a dandified Russian emigree in late 1920s Berlin, the owner of a chocolate factory who plots the escape the monotony of his life by exchanging identities with an unemployed man he believes is his exact double but in fact looks nothing like the man. Fassbinder shot the film simultaneously in English and German language versions for international release. Olive released the film on DVD earlier this year and new offers a restored HD edition of the English language version on Blu-ray along with the new making-of documentary feature "The Cinema and Its Double" by Robert Fischer, which debuts in this release.
"Infernal Affairs" (Lionsgate), the original 2002 Hong Kong gangster thriller that inspired Martin Scorsese's "The Departed," stars Andy Lau as a gangster undercover with the cops and Tony Leung as a deep cover operative in the mob. Andrew Lau’s high concept cat-and-mouse thriller (co-directed by Alan Mak) is like a South Korean crime drama married to the outsized Hong Kong melodrama of loyalty and sacrifice: slick and handsome (it credits cinematographer Christopher Doyle as “visual consultant”), solidly plotted, and satisfyingly cynical. Includes two featurettes ("Confidential File" and "The Making of Infernal Affairs") and an alternate ending.
"Evil Dead II: 25th Anniversary Edition" (Lionsgate) is the second Blu-ray edition of Sam Raimi's cult classic of a horror comedy. Previously released by Anchor Bay, the new Lionsgate edition has been newly remastered from the original negative and includes plenty of new supplements along with the commentary track (by Raimi, star Bruce Campbell, co-writer Scott Spiegel and special make-up effects artist Greg Nicotero) and featurettes of the previous edition. New to this set are the feature-length, seven-part documentary "Swallowed Souls: The Making of Evil Dead II," a comprehensive look at the film from conception to release featuring almost everyone involved in the film except Sam Raimi, and the featurettes "The Road to Wadesboro: Revisiting the Shooting Location of Evil Dead II" and "Cabin Fever," with footage that the film's FX artist Nicotero shot on the set during the original shoot.
The original "Spy Kids" trilogy was released on Blu-ray in separate editions earlier this year. "Spy Kids Triple Feature" (Lionsgate) simply collects them in a single set and a conveniently space-saving standard case with a hinged tray. The review from the earlier Blu-ray release is here.
"WWII in HD: Collector's Edition" (History) is a new edition of the previously-released series which presents the war as seen through rare color film footage, with two bonus programs ("The Battle for Iwo Jima" and :WWI in HD: The Air War") in an olive green case. "Sea Rex 3D" (Universal) presents both 2D and 3D versions of the IMAX documentary.