Laserblast: Battlestar Gallactica, Dexter & More DVD/Blu-ray Releases
Looking for something to buy with that Amazon gift certificate you got for Christmas? The New Year launches with a handful of interesting science fiction, fantasy, and horror titles on Blu-ray and DVD. Read on to see which ones are worth your holiday dollars.
Battlestar Galactica Season 4.0
The second half of the final season of Battlestar Galactica is set to air on the Sci-Fi Channel in a few weeks, giving enough time for a mini-marathon of the first half on DVD. This reincarnation of the clunky but beloved series of the late ’70s leapt beyond nearly everyone’s expectations when it first premiered in 2004. Recasting the Cylons as having been created by humans – rather than just an evil, conquering race of machines – the show took a page from Frank Herbert and came up with a backstory that had the Cylons rebelling against their human inventors and beginning a bloody war. The ’04 Galactica opens with a decades long truce between the humans and Cylons broken when Gaius Baltar (a huge performance by James Callis) unknowingly betrays Caprica and the other 11 Colonies with a very un-robotic Cylon agent (Tricia Helfer). After the Cylons launch an apocalyptic nuclear attack, the handful of survivors gather on the last remaining Battlestar commanded by the just-about-to-be-scrapped-along-with-his-ship Admiral Adama (Edward James Olmos) which was saved from destruction because its antiquated circuitry resisted the crippling Cylon computer virus. Other character holdovers from the previous incarnation include Apollo (Jamie Bamber), the brash Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff, who finally toned down the macho posturing of the early shows to create a more fully realized character) and the sensible Boomer (the stunning Grace Park) and the McCain lookalike Col. TIgh (Michael Hogan). New characters include President by default Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell, finally looking comfortable in a role), the dependable Chief Tyrol (Aaron Douglas), and a host of Cylon agents that are able to take convincing human form. From that point 4 seasons ago, showrunner Ronald D. Moore has crafted the most exciting, intelligent Sci-Fi shows ever produced. Thanks to a gritty, documentary style that definitely owes a debt to the industrial-dark look of Alien, the show’s futuristic touches are made easier to swallow by couching them in familiar surroundings (mechanics fix the ships with wrenches and metal welders rather than magic beams of light). The space combat scenes effectively utilize a Bourne-style panning and zooming that combine with an unusually complex sound mix to create a stunning experience when viewed with a decent home theater setup. The only disappointment in the new SD DVD is that there is no HD version being released as well; the first season was released on the now defunct HD-DVD format and if ever a show cried out for the HD treatment it’s this one. No word on extras yet, but typically the Battlestar Galactica season sets include Moore commentary tracks and webisodes.
Dexter: The First Season (Showtime Blu-ray)
Showtime’s first real (and frankly, only) “watercooler” series gets a Blu-ray upgrade this week. We weren’t able to sample the quality of the discs themselves, but the show – shot on digital video on location in Miami – has always looked fabulous in HD (even in the artifact-rich world of compressed cable broadcast) and the Blu-ray should look even better. Dexter is currently in its third season and is sustained by consistently sharp writing and a top-notch supporting cast, but it’s Michael C Hall in the title role that holds the difficult premise (that of a forensics expert who moonlights as one of the very serial killers that he is supposed to be catching) together. The Blu-ray carries over the commentaries from the SD edition and adds several BD Live features, including “Academy of Blood – A Killer Curse,” “Witnessed in Blood – A True Murder Investigation,” the first episode of Season 3 (though the first episode of season 2 would have been somewhat more helpful), and the first two episodes of another Showtime series, The United States of Tara.
Babylon A.D. (Fox Bluray double/single disc)
Diesel. Depardieu. Babylon A.D. $70,000,000 budget. Greenlit by 20th Century Fox. No kidding.
For some reason, this week sees a trio of previously available classic horror films released – in some cases for the umpteenth time – on DVD: HAXAN, CITY OF THE DEAD, and THE WICKER MAN. The first two of these, from A2ZCDS.com, violate the traditional Tuesday release date for home video, in that they will not be available until Saturday, January 10.
Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages/The Witches (Remastered Edition)
This is the classic silent documentary from writer-director Benjamin Christiansen, which uses dramatic recreations to depict belief in witchcraft over the centuries. The film is already available on an excellent Criterion Collection DVD from 2001, which included the original silent version, titled HAXAN, and the shorter sound re-edit, re-titled WITCHCRAFT THROUGH THE AGES (for which the subtitles were replaced with narration read by author William S. Burroughs). The film was re-issued last year by Triad productions, so a new edition is not exactly a necessity. Amazon.com lists a 77-minute running time for A2ZCDS.com’s new disc, indicating that this is the shortere version of the film. Perhaps the only selling point for the new release is that it is is an all-region disc.
City of the Dead/Horror Hotel(Remastered Edition)
A2ZCDS.com’s second all-region remastered classic is the moody 1960 film starring Christopher Lee as a professor of witchcraft who sends a beautiful blond student to a strange little town to to research, resulting in a plot twist that parallels PSYCHO. Released in its native England as CITY OF THE DEAD, the film was retitled to HORROR HOTEL for distribution in American, where it was shorn of a few minutes of footage. Both versions have previously been released on DVD, but the only one currently still available is VCI’s restoration of the original CITY OF THE DEAD, complete with some nice bonus features, including on-camera interviews and two audio commentaries (one with Lee and one with director John Moxey, who went on to direct THE NIGHT STALKER for TV). Click here to read our review of the film and VCI’s DVD presentation.
The Wicker Man
Last of the three cult-classic re-releases is is the original 1973 version of THE WICKER MAN, starring Christopher Lee and Edward Woodward. This is at least the second DVD release for the title since since Anchor Bay put out a wonderful two-disc limited edition set back (packed ina wooden box) in 2001. Anchor Bay’s subsequent two-disc special edition was timed to tie in with the release of the remake starring Nicolas Cage, but this latest single-disc release from Lions Gate has an almost random quality to it. The only possible reason for releasing this movie again would be to give fans a chance to own the film as it appeared when released in U.S. theatres in 1979. Unfortuantely, the DVD listing is for an 88-minute running time, indicating that this disc contains the shorter version, trimmed from the original 99-minute cut. Although identified as “theatrical,” this shorter version never really saw release, at least in the United States; it test-screened in a handful of theatres at most before going into distribution limbo. When the film finally received a genuine U.S. release in 1979, it was served up in a third cut that restored some key scenes but wisely omitted unnecessary filler that had been deleted from the 88-minute version. Both the 88-minute and the 99-minute versions were provided on the earlier two-disc DVDs, but the 1979 compromise – probably the best version of the film – remains unavailable.
Speaking of Nicolas Cage remakes brings us to a film from the makers of the original version of THE EYE. Although their latest effort is not horror, fans may be interested, so we include it here…
Bangkok Dangerous (Lionsgate Bluray, double/single disc)
The Pang Brothers, Danny and Oxide (who probably walked away very unhappy from the personalized license plate rack at Disney World) were one of the higher profile HK poaches – filmmakers whose breakneck, take no prisoners style earned them the attention of Hollywood, only to have that same style muted by studio notes and test screenings. Bangkok Dangerous is actually a remake of the brothers’ own 1999 Thai language film of the same name; however, the presence of producer-star Nicholas Cage ensured that the deaf-mute assassin would now be in possession of his full array of senses – robbing the story of the very plot point that differentiated it from the massive number of HK shooters made each year. Bangkok Dangerous is available in both single and double disc SD DVD sets and a two disc Blu-ray edition (the second disc on both sets is identical, holding a free digital copy of the film). Other extras on the two disc sets include an alternate ending, a pair of production featurettes and a trailer, all presented in HD on the Blu-ray set.
Righteous Kill (Starz/Anchor Bay Blu-ray, single disc)
When Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino finally appeared onscreen together in Michael Mann’s 1995 masterpiece, Heat, there was some rather ridiculous grumbling that the actors only shared the screen for a few moments. The ads for Heat touted the pair as “America’s two most electrifying actors” and 13 years ago is would have been hard to disagree with that. But the ensuing years have seen DeNiro either selling out in groaners like The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle and Meet the Parents, or lower profile duds like 15 Minutes or Hide and Seek. And while Pacino has been somewhat more selective, efforts like S1m0ne and The Recruit haven’t done much for his leading man mystique. We missed Righteous Kill during its brief theatrical run last fall, and it was sad to see that the re-pairing of these two giants of contemporary cinema couldn’t generate a ripple of interest. DeNiro and Pacino play, respectively, “Turk” and “Rooster” (I know, I know), a pair of NYPD detectives who fear that they may have put the wrong man in prison years earlier when a local pimp is found dead and a telltale clue is found next to the body that ties the murder to their previous case. The serial killer storyline puts this on the borderline of the horror genre, but the film mostly aims for a hard-boiled police procedural tone, and the screenplay’s sole reason for existence seems to be its attempt to provide an unguessable twist ending to the mystery (although if you manage to keep your eyes open through the whole running time, it should not be hard to figure out). The SD DVD and Bluray case feature the same bored looking images of the two stars as the original theatrical posters and resemble a low-res bootleg more than a major studio release.
The Last Emperor (Criterion Bluray)
This is totally off-topic for Cinefantastique Online, but we could not resist opening this particular can of worms. What should be the week’s premier release unfortunately carries over a blemish from the previous Criterion DVD issue. The Last Emperor was shot by director Bernardo Bertolucci and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro in the Technovision ratio of 2.35×1, and that’s how it was shown in theaters the year that it won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1987. While the previous DVD release from Artisan did contain the longer 220min edit, the colors were dark, poorly saturated, and the disc was non-anamorphic. Fans rejoiced in 2007 when it was announced that Criterion had acquired the rights to the film and would issue a mammoth 4-disc set that would feature both the 163min theatrical edition and the longer cut in a brand new transfer approved by Storaro. But when the set arrived last February, the ratio of the film had been altered by Storaro to 2.0×1, his now preferred format for the viewing of widescreen films at home. And while it was certainly true that back in the 80s and early 90s when we were watching non-enhanced, letterboxed movies on 4×3 tube sets (William Friedkin insisted that Sorcerer be presented full frame on laserdisc and DVD for the same reason) in the era of widescreen HD televisions and 1080p resolution, that argument becomes an epic fail. We give Criterion credit for respecting the intentions of the artist, but that doesn’t salve the burn of losing a sizeable chuck of picture information. What picture remains, however, is absolutely stunning. The Bluray uses the same sparkling 1080p master used for their previous DVD edition and ports over the same set of comprehensive extras, but does not include the 220min cut (and while we prefer the roomier version, Bertolucci has stated the theatrical cut was indeed his final cut).
Steve Biodrowski contributed to this article.