2001: A DVD Odyssey Solid Efforts

Solid Efforts

The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle
Sound A- Picture B+ Film B+
This film is much funnier than its mixed reviews might have led you to believe, and, like the original series, it's unreservedly but endearingly silly. The sound is good, though nothing about it is particularly memorable. The image is marred by excessive edge enhancement, though it's clear that underneath the manipulation there's a very nice transfer trying to get out.

Anna and the King
(20th Century Fox)
Sound A- Picture B+ Film B+
This non-musical film took a lot of flak from critics who missed the Broadway score of The King and I. Hello? The plot did not originate with Rodgers and Hammerstein. The film is a perfectly competent and interesting retelling of the true story of an English schoolmistress in the household of the King of Siam, circa 1865. Overdone in places, yes—the rebellion subplot is an unneeded play for the action crowd—and perhaps not the best casting. Jody Foster is, as always, never less than good, and does a convincing English accent, but doesn't bring out the warmth you expect from the character. But a bad film? Certainly not. In the theater, the photography of Anna and the King was breathtaking. The DVD gets the vivid color, and the images are punchy and often arresting, yet the entire transfer is disappointingly soft, which the film itself was not. The sound is better; though rarely of demo quality, it never lets the film down.

Sound B- Picture A- Film A+
The sound clearly shows its age but never offends. The images hold up extremely well, even by today's standards. And this 1959 film is, of course, a classic.

The Bridge on the River Kwai
(Columbia TriStar)
Sound B Picture A- Film A+
Considering that this film was made in 1957, its sound and picture are remarkable. We can argue till the cows come home the relative merits of Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia—easily director David Lean's two best films—and still not settle anything. But everyone can agree that both are classics.

(Artisan TV miniseries)
Sound B Picture B Film A
See my review in this issue.

Erin Brockovich
Sound B+ Picture A- Film A
The sound is good but nothing special, the picture suffers a little from visible edge enhancement, but the true-life story is gripping.

Sound C Picture B+ Film A-
Fantasia was a landmark for its day, combining animation and classical music. The film shows its age more in sound than in picture, but it has been beautifully restored; it's certainly never looked this good on video before. The package to own is the boxed set, which combines the original with Fantasia 2000 (see above) and lots of extras.

(New Line) Sound A- Picture B+ Film B+
Frequency deals in the mind-bending paradoxes of time travel: If you go back in time and change something, does that change alter your own time in a way as to make the first change impossible? You can get a headache just thinking about it. But it's the stuff of many an intriguing sci-fi plot, as it is here. The sound mix is always creative, and at times outstanding. The picture is a little soft and has some visible edge enhancement—enough to keep it out of demo territory, but not enough to distract from the enjoyment of the film.

Independence Day
(20th Century Fox)
Sound A Picture A- Film B+
The story is silly, but the film—which borrows ideas from more movies than you can count—is more fun than it has any right to be. The sound is dynamic but clean, with powerful, subwoofer-straining deep bass. The video is a bit soft.

Sound B+ Picture B Film A
Though hardly up to modern standards, the sound is a nice, multi-dimensional transfer of the mono original. The picture is rather soft and uneven, but always watchable. And the film—well, if we have to tell you, then where have you been for the last 26 years? This is the movie that began the whole phenomenon of the summer blockbuster.

Lawrence of Arabia
(Columbia TriStar)
Sound C Picture B+ Film A+
Arguably the greatest film ever made (it's number one on my list), Lawrence of Arabia has been a long time coming to DVD. While the picture has some annoying edge enhancement and the sound is edgy—particularly in the music, which appears to be an accurate re-creation of the original soundtrack—it was worth the wait. The most collectable title on the list.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park
Sound A Picture B Film B
The sound is fine, though as over-the-top as you might expect. The images are soft and edge-enhanced at the same time (the drab photography doesn't help), and the story is inferior to the original's. Spielberg's heart really didn't appear to be in this. Let's hope director Joe Johnston freshens up the franchise with this summer's Jurassic Park III.

Meet the Parents
Sound B+ Picture A- Picture B
I found Meet the Parents more amusing than fall-down hilarious; some of its humor is more cringe-inducing than truly funny. But most viewers will identify with this story of a socially mandated Experience From Hell. Nothing about the transfer really stands out, but the sound and picture are good.

Miss Congeniality
Sound B+ Picture A- Film B+
If you're a fan of Sandra Bullock, all you need to know is that this lightweight but, um, congenial romantic comedy is her best film since While You Were Sleeping. The plot is relatively original: FBI agent goes undercover as a contestant in a beauty pageant. The premise—that Bullock is an ugly-duckling tomboy—is a bit of a stretch, but she pulls it off. The sound is a little better than satisfactory, with a nice finale that would make an unconventional but fun home-theater demo piece. The image is just a little soft throughout, but looks at least as crisp as it did in the good but unexceptional theater where I first saw the film.

A Passage to India
(Columbia TriStar)
Sound B+ Picture A- Film A-
David Lean's last film is not his best, but it's great by almost anyone else's standards. Set in British India at the height of the Empire, it's an intimate story of ethnic prejudice with an atmosphere much more reminiscent of Masterpiece Theater than Lawrence of Arabia. The 1.85:1 aspect ratio (unlike Lean's earlier, widescreen-era CinemaScope films) reinforces the small-screen feeling. The picture is a little soft, but all the more atmospheric for it. There is little visible edge enhancement, and "filmlike" describes the transfer perfectly. The soundtrack is Dolby Surround rather than a full 5.1 mix. This is a little disappointing, but never seems to shortchange the movie, which provides few opportunities for dramatic sound anyway.

Princess Mononoke
Sound B+ Picture A Film A
As is typical of Japanese animé, this film's motion is less fluid than in most American animated features, but otherwise the drawing is as stunning as it gets. The story is an absorbing fantasy on an ecological theme. The truly beautiful video transfer is kept from a top rating only by a barely noticeable softness, but there is no visible edge enhancement to mar the clarity. The sound is very clean, but marked down for being a bit two-dimensional and lacking in high-frequency air. A potential animation classic.

Space Cowboys
Sound A Picture A- Film B+
The plot is a bit of a stretch—three, er, older astronauts tapped for an important space mission because of their specialized knowledge and experience (Tommy Lee Jones is clearly too young for his role)—but this one is fun nonetheless. The picture varies considerably: The opening black-and-white footage and the space scenes are clearly superior to the rather ordinary and soft-looking earthbound business. There's a little too much edge enhancement throughout, though it's not distracting. The sound follows suit: exceptional in those early and late scenes, nothing special while the story remains on terra firma.

Sound B+ Picture A- Film A
Beautifully restored, this 1978 classic rejuvenated the Superman mythology and inspired three sequels. We'll undoubtedly have more to say about the DVDs of all the feature films in an upcoming issue, but the video quality here, while a little variable, is never less than good. The sound is only marked down a bit because of the rather lean quality of the soundtrack music, but otherwise, it, too, has been nicely restored. Purists may complain about a bass track that clearly appears enhanced beyond anything anyone heard in 1978, but in a movie like this, fun is the name of the game, and the robust bass is definitely fun.

The Truth About Cats and Dogs
(20th Century Fox)
Sound B+ Picture B+ Film B+
Picture and sound are totally adequate to the job, but neither will generate any e-mails home. The main attractions are the story—a totally charming romantic comedy that performs a gender flip on the story of Cyrano de Bergerac—and the performances, particularly Janeane Garofalo's.

Wings of the Honneamise
Sound B+ Picture B Film B
We seem to be on a remote planet (though the culture appears more than vaguely Japanese) in which a nascent space program gets minimum public support and the trainees go through the motions. But with a suddenly growing threat and one particularly dedicated astronaut, the heat is turned up. The story of this popular Japanese animé never rises above the strange, though it is also strangely fascinating. The transfer is more than a bit disappointing, particularly the soft-looking picture, which doesn't do justice to the sometimes striking artwork. As with all animé, however, don't expect the fluid, natural motion characteristic of the best Disney-style animation.

(20th Century Fox)
Sound A Picture A Film B+
The technical quality of this DVD is hard to fault. The story isn't all that special or engaging, but it rises above routine comic-book-to-movie fare by virtue of its outstanding cast and the filmmakers' resolutely serious—rather than campy—treatment of the material.