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In the simplest possible terms, Steve McQueen had "It." Truly, women wanted him, and men wanted to be him. Maybe it was the eyes, the sense of intensity he conjured, or the impression that he knew something we didn't. Or perhaps it was his physicality, the grace with which he performed his own stunts, combined with his ease and outright glee with props. Warner has assembled some hard evidence of the actor's elusive mystique in their recent Essential Steve McQueen Collection, a grouping of souped-up reissues and new-to-DVD titles.
It's safe to say that the Bullitt two-disc special edition is the star of this set. Director Peter Yates' first American film pushed the technical limits for movie photography, circa 1968. It's preserved here with a healthy amount of film grain but only modest compression and excellent detail in the 1.78:1 anamorphic image. The stereo soundtrack is highlighted by the hypnotic revving of Detroit's finest engines in the seminal car chase, one of the most thrilling in movie history. Disc one also includes a charming audio commentary by Yates, while disc two proffers a number of featurettes: a new 90-minute documentary, "Steve McQueen: The Essence of Cool," spanning his entire career; the "Bullitt: Steve McQueen's Commitment to Reality" behind-the-scenes featurette; plus the brilliant 100-minute program from Turner Classic Movies, "The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing." I don't know why Warner chose to release this gem here of all places, but I'm not complaining. These last two extras are even presented anamorphically.
A new deluxe edition of The Getaway is supplemented by a commentary that gathers experts on director Sam Peckinpah, moderated by DVD producer Nick Redman. There's also a "virtual" commentary that reunites McQueen, Peckinpah, and Ali MacGraw, as culled from vintage interviews, cut to reel one of the movie. The 2.35:1 anamorphic picture displays varying levels of grain throughout, as well as that nostalgic 1970s warmth. Audio is only mono, but it's an adequate mono.
New to DVD is one of the all-time great poker movies, The Cincinnati Kid. It's a release no doubt spurred by the newfound popularity of the game, and no one could have portrayed the steely nerves of a professional card player more convincingly than McQueen. The 1.78:1 anamorphic video is at times uneven, marred by some compression and softness, but it's often strikingly natural, as with the crisp reproduction of the dollar bills at the start of chapter two. Here again, the mono is just fine, since the movie is largely a bunch of guys sitting at a table, although the film does feature Ray Charles' rendition of the title song. The disc is dressed up with commentary by versatile, prolific director Norman Jewison, further audio kibitzing by Dave Foley and Phil Gordon from Bravo's Celebrity Poker Showdown, as well as an old promotional reel.
Nearing 50, McQueen was a perfect fit to play the aging, fabled cowboy in his final western, Tom Horn, an engaging drama about frontier morality. The 2.35:1 anamorphic image is the best-looking of this bunch in terms of color and clarity, although the mono audio is disappointingly weak, and this disc is short on extras. Never So Few is an unusual choice for this collection, a rather dated World War II tale starring Frank Sinatra, with a young McQueen in a supporting role. This was likely an A movie in its day, and Warner was able to include a fairly impressive 5.1 mix, although the 2.35:1 anamorphic video tends to be soft, the colors slightly hot, and the brights overblown. Lastly, Papillon, based on a true story, still resonates as a prison-escape drama/adventure on an epic scale. This disc is a direct repackaging of the 1999 DVD release, with its 5.1-channel remaster and 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer. The making-of featurette "The Magnificent Rebel," was shot in widescreen and squeezed to fit the 4:3 nonanamorphic frame without black bars or panning and scanning.
Longtime fans—as well as a new generation ready for a timeless antihero—will likely cherish this set, an assortment of new, improved, and classic DVDs that exemplify Steve McQueen's universal appeal.—Chris Chiarella
DVD: Star Trek: Enterprise: The Complete First Season—Paramount
A generation before Captain Kirk and company, there was Jonathan Archer, first captain of the Starship Enterprise, heading with his crew of true space pioneers to explore strange new worlds. It's 2151, and Archer and his officers have a distrust of transporters, phased pistols, and Vulcans, who have subjugated humans' efforts in space for the 100 years since Zefram Cochrane invented the warp drive.
If Enterprise lacks some of the story-telling panache of earlier Star Trek series, it makes up for it with lots of winking nods to later generations of Federation explorers, for whom space travel has become all too routine. As Captain Archer, Scott Bakula perfectly blends wide-eyed enthusiasm and cavalier behavior as Earth's first warp-driven science vessel finds its space legs.
Although it was the first Trek series since the original to be canceled before its seventh year, DVD allows Enterprise to live on. Nicely but awkwardly packaged, the seven-disc set boasts an exceptionally clean, artifact-free picture in 1.85:1 anamorphic, and the lively Dolby Digital 5.1 audio delivers the series' many rumbles, torpedo blasts, and explosions.
Extras are plentiful but lean. Featurettes with such titles as "Creating Enterprise," "Star Trek Time Travel," and "Oh Captain, My Captain!" are joined by a commentary track on the 90-minute pilot, "Broken Bow," in which Rick Berman and Brannon Braga discuss the genesis of the series and characters.
If you're one of the many fans who mourn the loss of Enterprise, you'll want this set.—Gary Frisch