This week's home video releases lack the mass appeal of other more intriguing weeks, but there are still a few titles worth your money. The three most intriguing DVD and Blu-ray releases take a stab at three distinct time periods in history.
Sling an arrow with Robin Hood, thrust a blade with Spartacus: Blood and Sand or smell the roses with American Beauty in this week's DVD and Blu-ray breakdown.
If you are thinking twice about spending money on this week's releases, give them a cheap rental and prepare for next week's highly-anticipated batch of home video releases.
The following titles can now be found on DVD and Blu-ray:
Robin Hood - Go figure, Ridley Scott has a new home video release and it includes a director's cut. The filmmaker who practically invented the director's cut is back with another that should enhance some of the head-scratching moments of Robin Hood.
I personally loved the film, but certain plot points - like the Nottingham vandals - could use some more screen time. Critics were generally harsh on Ridley Scott's film. In his review, our own Vic Holtreman felt "the performances [were] good" but the film was "overly long and doesn’t tell the story you’ll want to see." Maybe the director's cut will be the story we want to see. Scott is known for making vast improvements between theatrical and director's cuts.
While we don't know exactly what is in the director's cut, we do know the DVD and Blu-ray will feature some extensive supplements. Blu-ray.com got a jumpstart on the new release and shared the list of special features.
- Director's Notebook offers a wealth of background information, including some of Scott's original hand drawn conceptions for various scenes.
- Deleted Scenes (13:06) presents several completely deleted, or in some cases extended, scenes which failed to make even the longer cut of the film.
- Rise and Rise Again (1:02:41) is a better than average featurette detailing the background of the film, from the first Nottingham version to the final product;
- Art of Nottingham is an interesting compendium of slideshows and galleries, split into four discrete elements, Pre-Viz/Storyboards, Production Design, Costumes, and Behind-the-Scenes. Each of these elements has introductory comments available;
- Marketing Archive contains two theatrical trailers and six TV spots.
Spartacus: Blood and Sand - The first season of the no-holds-barred Starz original series is finally available on home video. If you thought pay cable couldn't get any more graphic, you obviously haven't seen Spartacus. Zack Snyder's stylized action is all over the show, even though he was not directly involved. Actually, an interesting note is that the creators of Blood and Sand are friends of Snyder's and asked him to direct an episode. Snyder declined because he couldn't imagine filming an entire episode in a week.
That turnaround time is a testament to the show's dedication to stand alone in its genre on television. There are not many shows like it and it is at least worth a rental. As far as pure entertainment goes, this should be an instant purchase. There are few television shows that push the boundaries like Spartacus.
The DVD and Blu-ray features a good amount of special features, including commentaries and featurettes on the making of the Starz series.
- Featurettes like Gladiator Camp, History Rewritten, Make-up Effects, The Hole and more
- Audio Commentaries
- Episodes with Enhanced Digital Effects
- Behind-The-Scenes Footage
- Exclusively on the Blu-ray you will find four “Directors’ Cut Extended Episodes” personally selected by Executive Producer Rob Tapert
American Beauty - One of the best filmmakers in the world today is Sam Mendes. He deserves to be right up there with fellow directors who may have 50 more titles under their belt. His film debut as a director also earned him an Oscar for Best Director. That film is American Beauty, one of the best films of one of the best decades in film - the 90s.
Rarely do films capture a cultural and a personal story simultaneously. American Beauty found a way to hone in on a slice of Americana during a time where we stopped to take a look at our evolution as a culture. The 60s, 70s and 80s have had plenty of interpretations, but the 90s need more recollections like American Beauty.
Now, the film reaches the Blu-ray format. Conrad Hall's subtly beautiful cinematography needs this kind of a transfer. Unfortunately, a number of reviews have complained about the video transfer, along with a number of others from Paramount's Sapphire Series.
It's difficult to harp on a film like American Beauty unless you really hunt for the flaws. Unless you are a true cinephile, this Blu-ray transfer should make a great addition to any collection. If you are in the mood for some special features, you won't find much change from the original DVD release.
- Commentary with director Sam Mendes and screenwriter Alan Ball
- American Beauty – Look Closer...
- Storyboard presentation with Sam Mendes and director of photography Conrad L. Hall
- Two theatrical trailers (in HD)
In addition to the more familiar titles on DVD and Blu-ray this week are a pair of cinematic classics. Charade and The Third Man both find their way on Blu-ray - the former gets a Criterion Collection release. Hard work was put in the video and audio transfers of the films and you should be able to see and hear the differences all around.
Next week's home video market may be one of the best of the year. Between Iron Man 2 and the much-anticipated Criterion Collection Blu-ray release of The Thin Red Line, there are many more worthy DVDs and Blu-rays to purchase. Save your money if you have to for next Tuesday.
Check back for more detailed analysis of next week's home video releases on the next edition of the Breakdown.