Latest Software Reviews

DVD: Tanner '88—Criterion and Tanner on Tanner—Sundance Channel Home Entertainment
Audio: 3
Video: 2
Extras: 4
If last year's contentious presidential race wasn't enough to demonstrate how ridiculous politics can be, Tanner 88 and Tanner on Tanner should drive the point home.

Writer Garry Trudeau and director Robert Altman conceived the mockumentary, deciding to have an actor play a presidential candidate and put him on the campaign trail. Michael Murphy plays Jack Tanner, whose fictional run for the White House puts him in the path of real political figures, like Bob Dole, Kitty Dukakis, and Jesse Jackson. What unfolds is a razor-sharp satire about the people and the process.

The two-disc Criterion edition provides all 11 episodes of the 1988 series, each with a new introduction from original cast members playing their characters looking back on Tanner's campaign. And the extras on the sequel, Tanner on Tanner, do a great job of tying both projects together and putting them into a context.

Both sets feature a 1.33:1 aspect ratio (these were created for TV, after all), with a hyperreal-looking color palette. Tanner 88's picture tends to lean toward the overly red, fuzzy side, but that is probably a function of being shot on video in the '80s. They both employ Dolby Digital two-channel audio (Tanner 88's is two-channel mono), which is more than adequate for the dialogue-heavy soundtrack.—Christy Grosz

DVD: The Billy Madison/Happy Gilmore Collection—Universal
Audio: 3
Video: 3
Extras: 3
Adam Sandler. You either love him or hate him...except for me, I tend to love AND hate him! For example, I loved Happy Gilmore, but I could've lived without Billy Madison, which is why this collection is great for me. Happy Gilmore definitely looks and sounds a whole lot better, and it's just a better movie overall, though Billy does have its moments.

Picture-wise (both discs are 1.85:1 anamorphic), Billy's got some great color composition in the elementary school classroom scenes. However, the quality is just far superior across the board in Happy. Check out the bright red bra and pen in Chapter 8 where Sandler autographs his female fan's chest, then jumps in the water with the gator who took his mentor Chubbs' hand. On both discs the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks are more than sufficient, though personally I preferred Billy for the fun, over-the-top musical selections from ELO, Styxx, Billy Squier, and the like.

The extras are probably the only reason to get excited about these discs, but I have to say they didn't blow me away. Deleted scenes and outtakes are plentiful and fairly funny (though most of the deleted scenes tended to err on the side of truly bad taste, as with the nursing-home phone-sex operation scene thankfully deleted from Happy), but anyone hoping for some juicy behind-the-scenes tidbits from the commentary on Billy will find themselves seriously disappointed. Sandler isn't even part of the commentary, it's just director Tamra Davis who frankly, doesn't have much of any interest to share (she keeps talking about how "cut" Sandler is and how funny he was...who cares?!). Aside from the deleted scenes, outtakes, and the commentary on Billy, there are production notes but no cast bios, which I consider fairly standard. Overall, though, it's not a bad effort. –Monica James

In The Spotlight: Twilight Zone Review
When I was in high school, long before VCRs became disposable, I struggled to stay awake into the wee hours to watch The Twilight Zone on various cable TV Superstations. Never mind that I'd seen most of the episodes. A friend and I planned to write a book about the series, so we lost sleep in the name of research.

Later, CBS Video launched a TZ video club, first tape just $4.95, and while I didn't partake, I was thrilled to know I could finally enter the Fifth Dimension on my own schedule should I want to.

Fast-forward to the DVD Age. Image Entertainment has long held the video rights to the Zone, and released volumes containing three or four episodes apiece, in no discernible order. I finally jumped in and picked up two "Treasures Of" discs, containing such classics as the seldom-seen "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge."

This was all prelude to the TV-on-DVD craze of 2004, which has seen many great shows and some far less deserving arrive in handy, chronological boxes. Like Star Trek before it, a distributor finally saw the wisdom of compiling The Twilight Zone by season, and adding gobs of extras. And Image didn't quit with TZ Classic; they went beyond the summit of our imagination and pulled together Season One of the mediocre 1985 reprise. (New Line recently released the 2002 Forest Whitaker–hosted incarnation.)

Season One of the original—and arguably only real—Twilight Zone arrives in a six-disc set that's nearly sublime in both its ambition and execution. That first season, for those who didn't breathe TZ like I did, set the bar for the show's five-year run, presenting such indelible episodes as the Cold War allegory "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street," the nostalgic "Walking Distance," "The After Hours" (who can forget those spooky mannequins?), as well as "A Stop at Willoughby" and my personal favorite, "A World of His Own." Sure, there were a few clunkers, but very few. ("The Chaser," about a love potion, comes to mind.)

The remastered episodes look terrific, boasting excellent clarity and good contrast, along with adequate mono soundtracks. Had Image simply presented them in order we'd have been pleased. But about 80 percent of them have some type of bonus, and some have more than one. They range from isolated music tracks featuring Bernard Herrmann and other composers, vintage radio dramas of the episode at hand, audio interviews with producer Buck Houghton and others, and occasional commentary tracks, including Martin Landau, Kevin McCarthy, and Earl Holliman, who comments on the pilot episode "Where is Everybody?" Best is "commentary" by Rod Serling himself, in the form of Q&As with students at Sherwood Oaks College. He's quick to criticize his own work, and is a joy to listen to.

There is a sixth disc beyond those containing the episodes. And it's a disc as vast as one could hope in terms of more extras. These are of the what-was-available variety, but it's all good stuff, including Serling's pitch to sponsors, in which he describes several planned episodes, and a compilation of Serling's Emmy speeches. We also get the original unaired version of "Where is Everybody?" featuring a narrator other than Serling, and a full episode of The Liar's Club, an odd '60s game show Serling hosted.

The set even includes a copy of the TZ Bible, The Twilight Zone Companion, an excellent tome I'll always resent because it beat my friend and I to the punch.

Jumping forward to 1985, CBS revived The Twilight Zone in a respectable but wildly uneven way. Notable for appearances by up-and-coming talents like Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, and William Petersen, New TZ gave birth to a few memorable stories while occasionally re-making some original episodes.

In all, Season One delivered 59 installments over 24 episodes. Highlights included "Wordplay," in which Robert Klein plays a salesman befuddled by his industry's jargon, and the haunting "Examination Day," in which a 12-year-old must pass a government test with severe consequences for failure. Interestingly, many of the episodes are set in some strange '80s netherworld fraught with out-of-date references, as if the writers thought they were writing for the original Zone.

Picture quality on Image's six-disc box is soft and grainy; clearly no attention was given to the original film prints. The Dolby stereo tracks, meanwhile, are clean and intelligible. Extras are mostly in the form of selected writer, producer, and director commentaries, including such luminaries as director Wes Craven and writer Harlan Ellison. Unlike the original series set, there is no platter devoted to supplements.

It's academic to say that The Twilight Zone's enduring success was a result of telling stories that are as timeless as infinity. As true as that might be, the best part of having entire seasons on DVD is that I'll never have to lose sleep again.—Gary Frisch

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