Latest Software Reviews
Cartoon connoisseurs are to be forgiven if they foolishly believe that a three-disc package entitled Popeye: 75th-Anniversary Celebration Collector's Edition might contain a minute or two of archival-worthy, eye-popping Popeye animation. After all, the beautifully designed case jacket proclaims the set offers "85 of the original King Features Syndicate cartoons" that have been "Digitally Remastered with Enhanced Audio and Visual Quality!" You'd also be excused if you didn't immediately realize that the eight hours of 4:3 video accompanied by glorious Dolby Mono sound was culled from those two watershed years of made-for-TV Popeye creativity: 1960 and 1961.
Don't get me wrong. If you happen to like the inane, repetitive, it-doesn't-have-to-make-sense-or-even-look-good style of cartoon that makes one wonder how broadcast television ever survived the '60s, this jam-packed set is a downright bargain at a mere 35 cents an episode.
Although mono and limited in dynamic range, the audio is clean and mostly undistorted, but I'm not sure a worse print could have been found from which to make many of the video transfers. Whatever effort went into enhancing the "visual quality" was minimal at best. Despite the "collector's edition" label, don't go looking for lots of extras. You won't even find a stinking speck of spinach.
As a collection of Popeye's early sojourn into TV land, this set might be useful for the Popeye-ologist. The intentionally misleading title, however, is the sort of shameful antic you'd expect from Brutus.—Darryl Wilkinson
DVD: Welcome to Mooseport—20th Century Fox
Welcome to Mooseport, Maine, new home of former U.S. president Monroe "Eagle" Cole (Gene Hackman) and longtime residence of "Handy" Harrison, a blue-collar hardware store owner/plumber (Ray Romano). When the town's mayor suddenly dies, both men find themselves running for the position, albeit for very different reasons. If you think hilarity ensues, then welcome to disappointment.
Although Hackman gamely manages a few smirks as Cole, Romano never quite breaks through a very unfunny script. Ironically, the working-class comedy for which he's known on television comes off as stilted here, as if he's uncomfortable with his dialogue but delivering it out of obligation to his castmates.
Even more painful to watch are six deleted scenes, which—along with an outtake reel and commentary track by director Donald Petrie—comprises the bulk of the extras. Petrie praises his actors, noting ad-libs and subtleties in their performances, but unfortunately his prompting doesn't make the scenes any funnier. The biggest laugh on this disc is an included commercial (merely alluded to in the dialogue) with Hackman's dignified ex-president pitching a Norwegian car atop a snow-covered mountain.
Picture quality is very good, with the 1.85:1 anamorphic presentation delivering skin tones and Romano's red plaid shirts naturally. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is more than adequate for a film with virtually no sound effects. Rent this if you love Raymond. All others, you've been warned.—Gary Frisch
DVD: The Triplets of Belleville—Columbia TriStar
In this era of computer-generated, hyperrealistic animation, the Oscar-nominated Triplets of Belleville is a breath of fresh air. Director/writer Sylvain Chomet's story follows the diminutive Madame Souza, whose grandson, Champion, mysteriously disappears while competing in the Tour de France. It's an eccentric, sophisticated plot (complete with an evil wine baron), but Madame Souza's journey is filled with engaging characters and complicated scenery that are well worth watching.
While there's virtually no dialogue, the story comes to life through the film's jazzy music, created by Benoit Charest. In one of the DVD's supplemental featurettes, Charest demonstrates how he extracts sounds from everyday items (most notably, a vacuum cleaner) to give the music its unique essence. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio delivers every quirky note with aplomb and even makes good use of the surrounds when necessary. The 1.78:1 anamorphic picture has wonderful detail and contrast, with a muted color palette of city-drab browns and countryside greens.
Other extras on the disc include a music video, the film's trailer, and select scenes with commentary. Unfortunately, the commentary is in French, with English subtitles, making it difficult to figure out who's actually doing the talking.—Christy Grosz