The scope of what JRR (for John Ronald Reuel) Tolkien (1892-1973) has wrought with creating Middle-earth is truly a global achievement. This Oxford professor’s fantasy world, created in such stupendous detail, complete with various invented languages and inspired by ancient myths, has been embraced, studied, inspired. I’ve always wondered how his archive came to rest not just in Oxford but my alma mater Marquette University in Milwaukee.
Now, just in time for holiday giving, comes easily the most comprehensive collection yet of all that is Middle-earth on film: the ‘Middle-earth 31-disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition’ (4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital Code, WB, PG-13 and R) boasts not just the theatrical and extended versions of the 6 films that comprise ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’ trilogies, there is a 64-page booklet (costume sketches, production notes, photography), filmmaker commentaries on Blu-ray, the 20th anniversary Alamo Drafthouse ‘Lord of the Rings’ cast reunions. These 3 special conversations are hosted by Stephen Colbert. There is also the Cannes Film Festival presentation reel when sets, costumes and scenes were brought from New Zealand to offer the world their first glimpse of the grandeur that was to come a few months later. Cannes had Hobbit homes, actors in Hobbit costumes, horses with the scary dark riders looming around you in the darkness of night, illuminated only by candlelight. It all comes in a unique ‘Puzzle Box’ collectible packaging. Peter Jackson, the visionary director of all 6 films, oversaw the 4K remastering process.
TRILOGY OF TERROR A new ‘Candyman’ (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Code, MGM/Universal, R), courtesy of producer Jordan Peele, joins ‘Blue Monkey’ (Blu-ray, Code Red, R) from 1987 and ‘The Spore’ (DVD, Lionsgate, R) as a terrorizing trio. Scary is the intention. ‘Spore’ speculates on what happens when an evil spore awakens in an ancient ice field due to global warming. We soon learn! After lying dormant for eons, it unleashes a plague that rivals the Black Death of the Middle Ages. Special Features include a filmmakers’ commentary. The 80s-era ‘Monkey’ unleashes an oversized ‘50s style killer bug (think of the ants in ‘Them!’) in, of all places, a quarantined hospital. Here a heroic detective (Steve Railsback of ‘Helter Skelter’ Charlie Manson notoriety) and doctors, who include Susan Anspach (‘Five Easy Pieces’), try to kill the bug and live to tell the shocking tale. Also here, the magnetic bad guy of so many B movies: John Vernon in the film that has had an HD transfer from the original negative with extensive color correction. As for Jordan Peele’s ‘Candyman’ remake, it breezily acknowledges the 1992 original with an update that won over critics and fans. Tony Todd, the original Candyman, is also here. For the unaware: Candyman is invoked by saying his name 5 times while looking at a mirror. Bonus: Never before seen alternate ending, deleted and extended scenes. Featurettes include ‘Candyman: The Impact of Black Horror.’
WORKING WOMAN Between ‘Sex and the City’ and ‘Emily in Paris,’ Darren Star created the entrancing, clever, funny and heart-hitting ‘Younger: The Complete Series’ (DVD, 84 episodes, 10 discs, Paramount, Not Rated), a 7-season hit. ‘Younger’ has Broadway musical star Sutton Foster playing Liza, a dumped wife and single mother of 39 returning to the workplace only to find she’s over the hill! Somehow, ever so cleverly in Star’s scripting, she gets a magazine assistant job as someone 26. Liza also finds the romantic possibilities of younger guys intriguing and in many ways satisfying. Raunchy, witty half-hour episodes allow key players like Hilary Duff, Debi Mazar, Peter Hermann and Michael Urie to shine. Special Features: Deleted scenes from every season, bloopers. The series is to be remade with local versions in South Korea and China.
COPPOLA’S FINAL VERSION? Francis Ford Coppola has created a virtual industry around his films as he constantly tweaks, re-cuts and adds new material to his pictures. In 1982 the first film adaptation of writer S.E. Hinton’s novels arrived as ‘Tex’ with Matt Dillon and Emilia Estevez. It’s a candid, realistic look at small town life for dirt poor Oklahoma teens. In 1983 Coppola adapted Hinton’s 1967 novel ‘The Outsiders’ with an astonishing cast of future film heavyweights: Dillon, Estevez, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Ralph Macchio, Tom Cruise and Diane Lane. That same year, Coppola released another film based on Hinton: ’Rumble Fish’ with Lane and Dillon. ‘The Outsiders: The Complete Novel’ (4K Ultra HD + Digital Code, Warner Archive, PG-13 & PG theatrical version) is a 2005 antidote to the 91-minute WB studio version that was imposed on Coppola. With 22 additional minutes, 3 deleted scenes and new music, it is now in 4K Ultra HD with both versions. Coppola offers a brand new introduction, ‘Restoring the Outsiders, Outsiders Looking In.’
A MIGHTY ADVENTURE J. Lee Thompson’s ‘The Guns of Navarone’ (4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital, 2 discs, Columbia, Not Rated), a WWII thriller about an Allied commando team on a mission to destroy a Nazi stronghold and rescue 2,000 captured Brits, was a 1961 monster hit. Led by an A-list international cast – Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn, Irene Papas, Gia Scala and teen idol James Darren (‘Gidget’) – it had an epic stature, Hollywood glamour and was certainly something you couldn’t see on TV. Special Features: Director J. Lee Thompson’s commentary with film historian Stephen J. Rubin, 8 behind the scenes featurettes, 3 documentaries. Plus an interactive feature!
WEAPONLESS IN WARTIME It’s hardly enough to say ‘Incredible but true’ about Desmond Doss, the conscientious objector in WWII whose story Mel Gibson tells as the director of the 2016 ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ (4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital, Lionsgate, R). Doss (Andrew Garfield) was the only American soldier to fight on the front lines without a weapon. During the bloodiest of battles on Okinawa Doss saved 75 men – without a gun. He became the first Conscientious Objector to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest accolade. Bonus: Gibson offers a Veterans Day greeting, a making of that includes the real life people, interviews with Gibson, Garfield and others. Best Buy is offering ‘Ridge’ in Steelbook packaging. Six Oscar nominations, including Picture, Director and for Garfield Actor. Won 2: Film Editing, Sound Mixing.
GOTHIC GOINGS ON “The Haunting 2-Series Collection’ (Blu-ray, Netflix, Not Rated) consists of director Mike Flanagan’s adaptations of 2 legendary novels. Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ from 2018 (10 episodes) is about 5 siblings who grew up in a famously haunted house. As adults, they reunite following a sister’s suicide to face their demons. Special Features: An extended director’s cut with Flanagan’s commentary on several episodes. ‘The Haunting of Bly Manor’ (9 episodes) revolves around Henry James’ ‘The Turn of the Screw’ as a young au pair, hired to care for the estate’s orphaned 2 children, begins to see…. ghosts!
SLEEP NO MORE! THE PODS Jack Finney’s novel ‘The Body Snatchers’ has been filmed multiple times, the last with Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman in 2007. The first – and still the best – is the 1956 Don Siegel (‘Baby Face Nelson’) directed version in black-and-white with Kevin McCarthy and Carolyn Jones. Philip Kaufman’s 1978 ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ (4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray, KL Studio Classics, PG) is surely a technical upgrade where the spores that fall so innocently over San Francisco bloom at night to take over unaware sleepers. Soon, people are acting … strangely. And you may be next! Loads of Special Features: A director’s commentary, a film historian’s commentary, interviews with Brooke Adams, screenwriter W. D. Richter and Jack Finney expert Jack Seabrook. Featurettes on the sound, special effects and Michael Chapman’s (‘Raging Bull’) cinematography.
DOCTOROW’S AMERICANA A surprise bestseller, E.L. Doctorow’s imaginative look at American roots, circa 1900, was turned into a prestigious film, also called ‘Ragtime’ (Blu-ray, 2 discs, Paramount, PG-13 & Unrated). Directed by Czech émigré Milos Forman who had scored with ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and ‘Hair,’ this ambitious 1981 drama boasts the return of James Cagney to the big screen after a 20-year retirement and film debuts for, among others, Samuel L. Jackson, Debbie Allen, Jeff Daniels. Nominated for 8 Oscars. Bonus: New deleted-extended scenes, a new conversation with screenwriter Michael Weller, commentary by Forman and on Disc 2, Forman’s never-before-seen director’s cut workprint of the film.
MARTIN’S LOVE LETTER Steve Martin wrote and stars as a lovelorn weatherman in ‘LA Story’ (Blu-ray + Digital, Lionsgate, PG-13). This 1991 semi-surreal rom-com has Martin receiving, he thinks, messages from a traffic sign on the freeway. The women here are Marilu Henner, Sarah Jessica Parker and Victoria Tennant, who was married to Martin at the time. Special Features: Deleted scenes, outtakes and 3 featurettes.
VIDEO GAME INSPIRED LANDMARK The 2001 ‘Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within’ (4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital, Columbia, PG-13), now in Ultra HD, made several milestones when first released. Hironobu Sakaguchi’s film was the very first photorealist computer-animated feature film. At that time it was also the most expensive video game-inspired feature ever made (even though a video game was never produced). It’s 2065, a meteor has crashed into Earth, unleashing millions of aliens, the Phantoms, who have destroyed cities and fields and threaten the human race. It took 4 years and a staff of 200 to complete ‘Spirits Within.’ Voice cast includes Ming-Na Wen, Donald Sutherland, Alec Baldwin and Steve Buscemi. The visuals, especially the leading ‘actress’ Aki Ross, who is meant to be seen as human, not an android, continue to be widely praised. The many extras range from 2 feature-length commentaries, an interactive documentary on making ‘Final Fantasy,’ the original opening, a full sequence on Aki’s dream and character profile.
MUSCLES FROM BRUSSELS Jean-Claude Van Damme, the martial artist turned international action star known as ‘The Muscle from Brussels,’ was not exactly known for a first-rate filmography. When Van Damme hit the celebrity bell it was with years of hearty-party times that derailed his career. He eventually returned to filmmaking but on a more modest scale. One film stands out among his hits: John Woo’s 1993 ‘Hard Target’ (Blu-ray, KL Studio Classics, Unrated), the first American film for the Hong Kong master (‘A Better Tomorrow,’ ‘Face/Off’ and ‘Hard Boiled’) and the first American studio film helmed by a Chinese director. Set in New Orleans, ‘Target’ finds Van Damme aiding a woman’s search for her father, only to discover that despicable entrepreneurs (the movies’ great villains Lance Henriksen and Arnold Vosloo) have arranged a ‘hunt’ for humans, using homeless men as their targets. Yes, this is yet another adaptation of the 1932 Hollywood classic ‘The Most Dangerous Game.’ During production on location, Henriksen discovered something was different: ‘We were making a John Woo film instead of a Van Damme film.’ The US release was diminished by cuts the ratings board mandated to get the necessary R. This ‘Hard Target’ is a brand new 4K restoration of the Unrated International cut that is 3 minutes longer than the American release. Special Features: Audio commentary by film historians, a new Woo interview and interviews with cast members and the stunt coordinator.
CRUISE REMAKE Tom Cruise and screenwriter Cameron Crowe hit the gong with ‘Jerry Maguire’ in 1996, a career-defining entry for the enduring star. Crowe directed and wrote their 2001 follow-up, ‘Vanilla Sky’ (Blu-ray, Paramount, R), a remake of the Spanish film ‘Open Your Eyes.’ Both versions co-star Penelope Cruz. ‘Sky’ is a twisty mix of sci fi-romance-psychological thriller that never quite jells. This limited edition remaster is from a 4K film transfer supervised by Crowe himself. Special Features: Crowe on the HD ‘Sky,’ commentary by Crowe and his wife Nancy Wilson of Heart who did the music, an alternate ending, interview with Paul McCartney, gag reel, deleted scenes, photo gallery and a music video ‘Afrika Shox.’