Latest Software Reviews
What if dogs really came from another world and were sent on a mission to Earth to domesticate humans and assert their superiority? That's the premise of this fetching family film, whose writers never met a canine joke they didn't like. The gimmick of talking dogs—especially when the voice talent includes Carl Reiner and Cheech Marin—carries the movie up to a point, but it runs out of steam about the time the Greater Dane arrives from the planet Sirius to inspect her minions. Still, the visual jokes and awwww-inspiring moments will engage most young viewers and their parents.
Rightly so, the extras focus on the pooches—the effort required to make them act according to the script and animate their muzzles every time they talk. A slick 25-minute making-of includes interviews with all the principals and is fairly interesting. Less so are such offerings as a Q&A with Hubble, the lead dog, and an interactive map of the neighborhood in which the movie is set. There's also a pretty good group commentary by the director and two of the human stars, who are clearly proud to talk about their film.
In a seemingly anachronistic move, MGM has released this in 1.33:1. The picture is adequate, with realistic colors and good detail, but there's a fair amount of grain. The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix is surprisingly good, producing dialogue clearly and the occasional off-screen sound effect. Just don't expect much output from your subwoofer.—Gary Frisch
DVD: The Running Man Special Edition—Artisan
In 1987, this so-so Arnold Schwarzenegger action flick satirized our cultural bloodlust with a horrific game show that televised life-or-death struggles live to cheering audiences. The casting coup then was having Richard Dawson, the smoochy host of TV's beloved Family Feud, play against type as the scheming villain. Seventeen years later, our obsession with reality TV makes scenes that got laughs (or chills) in the '80s look like something straight out of Survivor or Fear Factor. Dawson's stunt casting pales in comparison to the fight in which the current governor of California and the former governor of Minnesota beat the snot out of one another.
Bonus features on this two-disc set play up the film's prescient messages. One documentary discusses reality television's impact on society, while another looks at the government's intrusive policies (in the name of the Patriot Act) in our post-9/11 world. Pretty heavy stuff for a grade-B movie like this one. Behind-the-scenes features are limited to commentary tracks by director Paul Michael Glaser and producer Tim Zinnemann, and by executive producer Rob Cohen.
The set includes 1.85:1 anamorphic and 1.33:1 transfers. Neither looks very good, as the image quality swings between being too contrasty and too muddy. The soundtrack, however, is excellent. Available in either Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS ES, it sparkles, booms, and keeps every speaker busy throughout.—Drew Hardin
SACD: Ladysmith Black Mambazo—Raise Your Spirit Higher [Wenyukela] (Heads Up)
Long before Ladysmith Black Mambazo became the voice of Lifesavers, 7-Up, and Sesame Street, it was the spiritual voice of a nation. For more than 30 years, the group has performed the traditional a cappella music of South Africa called isicathamiya, extracted from Zulu and Christian gospel music. The first U.S. release of new material since 1997 from Joseph Shabalala's 10-member choir, Raise Your Spirit Higher [Wenyukela] marks the 10-year anniversary of apartheid's end in South Africa. It's also the first album since the death of Shabalala's wife Nellie, murdered in 2002 by a gunman while attending a youth service at the family's former home.
The album's heavy emotional agenda inspires a message of hope, prayer, and peace. When the group sings in its native language on this hybrid disc's 5.1 high-resolution mix, the results are mesmerizing. After listening to "Wangibambezela (Message from His Heart)," my preference for a mid-hall seat in the surround mix went out the window. Martin Walters' mix puts you in the middle of the group; sudden whistling emerges from the left rear channel, a huff from the right, then a series of grunts and trills shoot back and forth as Shabalala's voice remains grounded in the center channel.
Raise Your Spirit Higher loses steam when the group shifts to singing three songs in fractured English; something's lost in the translation. "Fak' Ibhande (Don't Drink and Drive)" would make a nice public-service announcement, but it diminishes this album. A fourth English track, "Tribute," is a minute-plus homage to Nellie Shabalala by her grandsons, sung as part R&B, part hip-hop. Apparently, the isicathamiya tradition stops here.—Kevin Hunt