News and Commentary: October 2005

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boxcoverDisc of the Week: More than 50 years before Steven Spielberg gave H.G. Wells' Victorian novel The War of the Worlds a frequently impressive 2005 interpretation, producer-as-auteur George Pal gave the material his own update spin, scoring big with an A-list actioner that became Paramount's must-see thriller of 1953. For his Martian sturm und drang, Pal shifted the action to Atomic Age California, bringing the monstrous "intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic" up against the post-war era's — as Paul Frees' baronial narration puts it — "terrible weapons of super-science." For a movie that already succeeded in scaring the Grape Nehi out of every ten-year-old in the audience, how disquieting it must have been for the Cold War-agitated grownups to witness U.S. might, tanks and A-bombs alike, brushed away helpless as the Martians' "skeleton rays" destroy world capitals and give all America the Dresden treatment. They watched L.A. get pummeled and refugees by the thousands flee the sinister, graceful, cobra-headed war machines. These attackers' stance on interplanetary relations trumped the previous invasion by the lone marauder in The Thing from Another World, and rendered moot Klaatu's preemptive finger-wagging about our WMDs in The Day the Earth Stood Still. Today Pal's version endures as one of the favorite and most muscular of the 1950s science fiction spectacles.

Pal stamped his personality on each of his films. His adaptations of literary sources display Pal's hands in the clay more than the original authors'. In this case, at least, that suited the film just fine. The smart script (by Wells enthusiast Barré Lyndon) never talks down to the audience or treats the material as merely kids' matinee fare. When Gene Barry (as scientist Clayton Forrester) and 18-year-old Ann Robinson (as his librarian-in-distress) get trapped together in a farmhouse, their torpid romance scene pays off with a close encounter and a mushroom-body Martian running away shrieking and waving its arms like a little girl. The Oscar-winning visual effects, supported by sound effects that have since become stock standards, were state-of-the-art, and they still impress us today even when modern prints reveal the wires suspending the Martian juggernauts. The richly saturated three-strip Technicolor, restored to its vibrancy for this DVD, probably caused the entire nation to stop dreaming in black-and-white. Director Byron Haskin kept "the rout of civilization and the massacre of mankind" galloping forward at a stylish clip. Pal's fingerprints are awkward only at the conclusion. When the Martians face defeat by "the littlest things which God in His wisdom had put on the Earth," what Wells the atheist wrote in irony Pal the devout Catholic literalized with Sunday-school piousness. We wince and Wells would scowl, but give Pal's deus ex bacteria credit for prodding the evolution-vs.-"intelligent design" rhubarb two generations early.

Speaking of Barry and Robinson, Joe Dante (in one of the two very good audio commentary tracks on this disc) mentions that when Paramount's marketing department advertised the film they didn't even mention that it had a cast. But the scientist and the redhead on the run ably occupy the boy-meets-girl melodrama Paramount forced Pal to shoehorn into his apocalypse. Ann Robinson's emoting, Max Factor'd screamer is one of the less appealing love interests of the decade, and Barry's likable, hero-jawed professor brings the film quiveringly close to self-parody. A pilot who remains Time magazine handsome even in horn-rims, he's the can-do, outdoorsy celebrity-genius every "top man in astro and nuclear physics" fantasizes he could be. Yet despite his "Pacific Tech" creds and his gardyloo about neutralized mesons, it's a sobering twist to see that even he can't save the day with a stroke of that super-science, like Hugh Marlowe's anti-saucer ray in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. Although Barry punches his way through the sometimes gigglesome dialogue like a trouper, because Lee Marvin had been considered for the role we can wonder how movie history might have turned on that casting choice. And speaking of alternate histories, Pal and Spielberg weren't the first big-shot talents to take a cinematic interest in Wells' interplanetary blitzkrieg. In the 1920s a version slated for Cecil B. DeMille resulted in an interesting, albeit unproduced, screenplay. In the '30s Alfred Hitchcock approached Wells directly about securing the novel's movie rights. But Hitchcock wasn't with Paramount, who owned the rights. The studio ultimately archived five unproduced WOTW scripts over the years. They even offered Sergei Eisenstein the job when the great Russian director was briefly working in the U.S. Finally, in '51 it was Pal's friend and fellow Paramount director DeMille who handed Pal — then completing another erstwhile DeMille could-have-been, When Worlds Collide — the book's movie rights. Grouping Pal with DeMille, Eisenstein, Hitchcock, and Spielberg doesn't happen often; nonetheless, the Wells estate was so satisfied with his treatment of The War of the Worlds that they offered him his choice of any other Wells property. Pal chose The Time Machine, which arrived the same year Hitchcock delivered Psycho. A timeline in which Hitchcock had, thanks to Wells, instead become Hollywood's first master of science fiction, thereby putting Cary Grant in the Tom Cruise role, bears thinking about.

Compared to the 1999 DVD edition, Paramount's "Special Collector's Edition" is superior in every way except the box art. The source print is flawless, definition and clarity are excellent, and that vivid Technicolor knocks our socks off. While this new transfer reveals the wires supporting the Martian attack force more than before, we're grateful that nobody "fixed" the film by CGIing them out of the picture. Along with the DD 1.0 monaural audio, a new and seriously good DD 2.0 surround track gives the audio enough dynamic range and soundspread gusto to take forty years off its age. The menu of extras kicks off with two enjoyable commentary tracks. The first features charming and loquacious Ann Robinson, with Gene Barry occasionally getting a word in edgewise, reminiscing about the production, Pal, their careers, and yesteryear Hollywood. The second commentary brings together three fan-pros we'd want joining us at a drinking spot — Joe Dante (director, authoritative enthusiast), Bob Burns (genre film historian, collector of rare antiquities), and Bill Warren (author of Keep Watching the Skies! American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties). Their lively commentary annotates every scene, pointing out filmcraft details, offering backgrounders on the cast and crew, and being infectiously fanboyish. Further production history with first-hand accounts comes in a new making-of featurette, "The Sky is Falling: The Making of War of the Worlds" (30 mins.), which includes Ray Harryhausen's portfolio footage of his own Martian octopoid emerging from its cylinder. Author-director Nicholas Meyer (Time After Time), Forrest J. Ackerman, and others give Wells his due in "H.G. Wells: The Father of Science Fiction" (10 mins.). Finally we get the original theatrical trailer and (a nice surprise) Orson Welles' famous Mercury Theatre radio adaptation, the hour-long broadcast that on Halloween 1938 gave a timorous America the freaking fantods. It's illustrated with studio stills, though while it plays we aren't allowed to fast-forward, chapter-skip, or rewind to favorite scenes. The War of the Worlds: Special Edition is on the street tomorrow.

One SheetBox Office: Four new titles arrived on screens over the weekend, but horror won Halloween — Lions Gate's Saw II cut far ahead of the pack with a surprisingly strong $30.5 million opening. The win outdistanced Sony's The Legend of Zorro starring Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, which garnered $16.5 to land in second place. Arriving in third was Universal's comedy Prime starring Uma Thurman and Meryl Streep, which took in $6.3 million. And taking a disappointing sixth place was Paramount's The Weather Man with Nicolas Cage, which brought in just $4.2 million. Critics were mixed on Weather Man and Prime, while Zorro and Saw earned mixed-to-negative notices.

In continuing release, DreamWorks' horse-tale Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story starring Dakota Fanning and Kurt Russell hung in at fourth place in its second frame, adding $6.3 million to a $17.5 million total, while the studio's Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit closed out a strong month of October with nearly $50 million in receipts. Taking a tumble was Sony's Doom starring Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson, which dropped all the way from first to seventh place, earning a dismal $4 million over its second weekend. Also doing small numbers is Warner's North Country starring Charlize Theron, which has $12.1 million after two sessions. Expect George Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck to hang around for a while — it's earned $7.2 million with less than 300 screens. Meanwhile, off to DVD prep is New Line's Domino starring Keira Knightly, which failed to reach $10 million before losing its footing.

New films in theaters this Friday include Jarhead starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard and Jamie Foxx, as well as Disney's animated Chicken Little. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:

  1. Saw II (Lions Gate)
    $30,500,000 ($30,500,000 through 1 week)
  2. The Legend of Zorro (Sony/Columbia)
    $16,500,000 ($16,500,000 through 1 week)
  3. Prime (Universal)
    $6,395,000 ($6,395,000 through 1 week)
  4. Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story (DreamWorks SKG)
    $6,300,000 ($17,541,000 through 2 weeks)
  5. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (DreamWorks SKG)
    $4,400,000 ($49,793,000 through 4 weeks)
  6. The Weather Man (Paramount)
    $4,225,000 ($4,225,000 through 1 week)
  7. Doom (Sony/Universal)
    $4,061,000 ($22,868,000 through 2 weeks)
  8. North Country (Warner Bros.)
    $3,650,000 ($12,199,000 through 2 weeks)
  9. The Fog (Sony/Screen Gems)
    $3,300,000 ($25,503,000 through 3 weeks)
  10. Flightplan (Buena Vista)
    $2,600,000 ($81,190,000 through 6 weeks)
  11. Elizabethtown (Paramount)
    $2,350,000 ($22,666,000 through 3 weeks)
  12. Good Night, And Good Luck. (Warner Bros.)
    $2,000,000 ($7,236,000 through 4

On the Board: Making her final appearance anywhere, including on these pages, is the illustrious Alexandra DuPont, who has posted a sneak-preview of Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Meanwhile, new spins this week from the rest of the team include Office Space: Special Edition, Millions, The Wages of Fear: The Criterion Collection, Batman & Robin: Special Edition, Hammett, Kill!: The Criterion Collection, Samurai Rebellion: The Criterion Collection, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, The War of the Worlds: Special Edition (1953), and Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye. It's all fresh under the New Reviews menu here on the front page.

We'll be back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.

— Ed.

In the Works: Here's some new disc announcements, courtesy of and additional staff reports:

  • Up from Fox is the summer actioner The Transporter 2 starring Jason Statham, which arrives in separate anamorphic (2.35:1) and pan-and-scan boxes on Jan. 10 with featurettes, deleted scenes, and more. Also set is the roller-skate throwback Roll Bounce starring Bow Wow, also in anamorphic (2.35:1) and pan-and-scan transfers — two commentaries, three featurettes, and deleted scenes round out the set (Dec. 13). Elia Kazan's little-seen race-relations drama Pinky has been added to the slate for Jan. 10. And Simpsons fans can look for Season Seven on Dec. 13.

  • boxcoverWarner Home Video has announced two new special editions for the month of Feburary. Making its debut on DVD will be David Lean's 1970 Ryan's Daughter starring Robert Mitchum, Sarah Miles and John Mills — the two-disc set will offer a new anamorphic transfer from restored elements with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, while supplements include a feature-length 35th Anniversary documentary, two vintage featurettes, and a commentary with various cast, crew and biographers. Also getting a two-disc release is Philip Kaufman's 1988 The Unbearable Lightness of Being starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Lena Olin and Juliette Binoche — expect a commentary with Kaufman, Olin, scenarist Jean-Claude Carriere and editor Walter Murch, a behind-the-scenes documentary, and a theatrical trailer. Both are due to arrive on Feb. 7. Also announced from Warner are the catalog titles In Country and The Story of Seabiscuit, as well as Lois & Clark: Season Two and The Adventures of Superman: Season Two.

  • Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has announced to retailers that The Exorcism of Emily Rose will street on Dec. 20 in separate unrated and theatrical editions. Upcoming catalog releases include 21 Hours at Munich, Here Come the Tigers, November (all Dec. 20), 2046, Black Dawn, Empire of the Wolves, and Happy Here & Now (all Dec. 27). And arriving from the small screen is Party of Five: Season Two on Dec. 20.

  • boxcoverNo specs are in just yet, but Paramount has announced that John Hughes' 1986 Ferris Bueller's Day Off will street in a new "Bueller… Bueller… Edition" on Jan. 10, while newly listed on the retail sheets is a 45th Anniversary Edition of Blake Edwards' 1961 Breakfast at Tiffany's starring Audrey Hepburn, which is expected just in time for Valentine's Day on Feb. 7.

  • Finally, this year's little-seen thriller Cry_Wolf streets from Universal on Dec. 20 in unrated and R-rated editions with behind-the-scenes footage, deleted scenes, and more. Arriving straight-to-video on Dec. 27 is American Pie: Band Camp, while Seaquest DSV: Season One is here on Dec. 27 and a new Special Edition of Repo Man has been announced for Jan. 24. And arriving on Jan. 17 are three catalog titles from director Melvin Van Peebles, Don't Play Us Cheap, Identity Crisis, and The Story of a Three-Day Pass.

On the Street: We're looking at one of the longest street-lists of the year this morning — and probably the heaviest, if anybody could manage to weigh it. With all of Criterion's October releases postponed until today, collectors not only have Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samouraï to pick up, but also a re-issue of Henri-Georges Clouzot's The Wages of Fear and a four-disc "Rebel Samurai: Sixties Swordplay Classics" set with Kill!, Samurai Rebellion, Samurai Spy, and Sword of the Beast. Also coming out of the catalog are two MGM re-issues, Battle of Britain and A Bridge Too Far, while Warner has a three-disc Wizard of Oz: Collector's Edition and the third volume of The Looney Tunes Golden Collection on the shelves. But wait — there's more! Up from Disney are double-wide reissues of The Emperor's New Groove and Tarzan. Paramount goes triple-wide with James Cameron's 1997 Titanic. And fresh from theatrical runs are such titles as Bewitched, House of Wax, and Herbie: Fully Loaded. Draw up a shopping list and demand your weight in DVDs this Christmas — here's this morning's notable street discs:

  • 3rd Rock From the Sun: Season Two
  • ABBA: The Movie
  • Afraid of the Dark
  • Alias: Season Four
  • American Gothic: The Complete Series
  • Battle of Britain: Collector's Edition (2-disc set)
  • The Beast
  • The Best of MadTV: Seasons 7-8-9
  • Bewitched (2005)
  • Bewitched: Season Two (black-and-white)
  • Bewitched: Season Two (colorized)
  • The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (2-disc set)
  • The Breakdance Kid
  • A Bridge Too Far: Collector's Edition (2-disc set)
  • Cannibal Holocaust
  • Captain John Smith & Pocahontas
  • Danger Mouse: Seasons 3-4 (2-disc set)
  • Darling Lili: Director's Cut
  • Dead & Buried
  • Death in Holy Orders/The Murder Room
  • Detective Story
  • Diabolical Dr. Z /Mill of the Stone Women: Euro Horror Double Bill
  • Disco Pigs
  • Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist
  • Don't Change Your Husband/The Golden Chance
  • The Doris Day Show: Season Two (4-disc set)
  • Dragons: Metal Ages
  • Effects
  • The Emperor's New Groove: The New Groove Edition
  • Empires Collection: Dynasties: PBS (5-disc set)
  • The Escape Artist
  • Face
  • The Flesh Eaters
  • The Frank Sinatra Show with Bing Crosby and Dean Martin
  • George Harrison: Concert For Bangladesh: Deluxe Edition
  • Grey Knight: The Director's Cut (The Killing Box)
  • Hamish Macbeth: Season One (2-disc set)
  • Hart to Hart: Season One (6-disc set)
  • Herbie: Fully Loaded
  • Horatio Hornblower: Collector's Edition
  • House of Wax (widescreen)
  • House of Wax (pan-and-scan)
  • In Living Color: Season Four (3-disc set)
  • Invasion: Earth
  • Jerry Lewis: "The Legendary Jerry" Collection (10-disc set)
  • Ken Burns: American Lives: PBS (8-disc set)
  • The Kids in the Hall: Season Three
  • Kill!: The Criterion Collection
  • The L-Word: Season Two
  • Last Days
  • Leolo
  • The Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Vol. 3 (4-disc set)
  • The Looney Tunes Movie Collection (2-disc set)
  • Love and Anger (2-disc set)
  • Melinda and Melinda
  • Mint Condition: Live
  • Motley Crue: Carnival of Sins (2-disc set)
  • The Munsters: Season Two (3-disc set)
  • The Murder Room
  • Mysterious Skin: Unrated Theatrical Edition
  • Mysterious Skin (R-rated edition)
  • Nail Gun Massacre
  • Naked City Box Set 2 (3-disc set)
  • Noel
  • Nothing
  • Obsession
  • Origins of the Da Vinci Code
  • Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills
  • Partner
  • Point of Order
  • Point Pleasant: The Complete Series (3-disc set)
  • Rebel Samurai: Sixties Swordplay Classics: The Criterion Collection (4-disc set)
  • Robert Rodriguez Mexico Trilogy (3-disc set)
  • Le Samouraï: The Criterion Collection
  • Samurai Rebellion: The Criterion Collection
  • Samurai Spy: The Criterion Collection
  • Save the Tiger
  • Scrapbook
  • Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye
  • Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking
  • Single White Female 2: The Psycho
  • Spider Forest (Geomi sup)
  • The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
  • Strip Nude for Your Killer (Nude per l'assassino)
  • Sword of the Beast: The Criterion Collection
  • Tales From the Crypt: Season Two (3-disc set)
  • Tarzan: Special Edition (2-disc set) (1999)
  • Terror Beneath the Sea (Kaitei daisenso)
  • Titanic: Special Edition (3-disc set)
  • Tom and Jerry Spotlight Collection: Vol. 2 (2-disc set)
  • Tripping the Rift: Season One
  • Two Evil Eyes (Due occhi diabolici)
  • The Wages of Fear: The Criterion Collection
  • Wet Asphalt (Nasser Asphalt)
  • Windhorse
  • The Wizard of Oz: Special Edition (2-disc set)
  • The Wizard of Oz: Collector's Edition (3-disc set)
  • Zombi

— Ed.

boxcoverDisc of the Week: French director Jean-Pierre Melville knew what he liked — and what he didn't. Once, he famously compiled a list the best directors of the pre-WWII era, ending up with sixty-three names. Raoul Walsh was omitted because Melville never liked him. Charlie Chaplin, on the other hand, didn't make the list because "Chaplin is a God." Great art doesn't happen in isolation, a fact borne out by the French New Wave filmmakers, many of whom began their careers as critics. For them, Melville was a hero, the sort of director who was deeply in love with the big screen, free to pick and choose his influences and reshape them into something altogether new. Melville spent his youth watching five movies a day — or feeling bad if he couldn't get to — and his life-long love affair with cinema eventually led to a career behind the camera. After the Second World War, he put together what little money he had to make his first feature, 1947's Le Silence de la Mer, which was based on a book that he didn't even have the rights to. As a maverick, he remained outside the system, craving autonomy so badly that he formed his own studio. It was there that he shot his most accessible film, 1967's Le Samouraï. It was also during that shoot that the studio was destroyed by fire. Thankfully, the picture remains, as intact as it was on its premiere night.

Le Samouraï opens with a quote (made up by the director) from the Book of Bushido, and a "trombone shot" (when the camera dollies out as the camera zooms in, used most famously by Alfred Hitchcock in Vertigo and Steven Spielberg in Jaws). Within this evolving space we meet contract killer Jef Costello (Alain Delon) sitting on his bed, smoking, creating movement in stillness — a perfect metaphor for what's to come. He's been assigned to take out a club owner, and he concocts the perfect alibi: His girlfriend (Nathalie Delon) will say he was at her place. And because she's a kept woman, he will make sure the other man sees him leave. The hit goes down according to his plan, after which Jef is picked up by the police — but his airtight alibi (provided by both his girlfriend and the cuckolded man) provokes entirely new suspicions. The people who hired Jef did not expect him to be picked up, causing them to renege on their payment and try to take him out — unsuccessfully. On the run like a wounded animal, Jef then tries to put together the pieces of what went wrong. He's most curious about the pianist (Cathy Rosier) who saw him leave the club after the hit but didn't turn him in to the police — he figures she must know the men who set him up. But after proving his sure and steady hand, he's contracted again for another job, even though an entire police department is following his every move.

Jean-Pierre Melville was always attracted to film noir — after his success with Le Doulos (1962) he made a string of crime thrillers that led to the creative zenith of Le Samouraï. The film, which blends American noir, police procedurals, Japanese minimalism, and French romantic fatalism, is all about small gestures and looks. Delon said he was attracted to the role because — as he read the script — it became apparent that he was the leading character, even though he barely talked (like his director, Delon was attracted to samurai sensibilities). Few actors are so fascinating to watch sans dialogue, and he and Melville make the minutiae count. One of the most striking images of the film features Jef hiding in the bathroom, washing his hands, only to reveal — as he wipes his hands with a towel — that he's already wearing his killer's gloves (the gloves are the same type editors wear when cutting film). Thanks to the script's procedural framework, viewer are asked pay close attention, which Melville uses to his advantage. Having spent his life studying movies, he's a master at manipulation, creating tension with the simplest of inter-cutting. Filmmakers thrive on their influences, but Melville transformed his passions into something unique. Le Samouraï — which doesn't quite hide its forbears — it still very much its own thing, in addition to being a film that has influenced later generations of cineastes — most notably Walter Hill, who reworked Le Samouraï into 1978's The Driver, and John Woo, who also took much from this film for 1989's The Killer.

The Criterion Collection presents Le Samouraï in a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with the original French monaural audio on a DD 1.0 track with optional English subtitles. Extras include an interview with Melville on Melville author Rui Nogueira (13 min.), in French with optional English subtitles, which covers the body of Melville's career — but, more importantly, Melville's state of mind when making this picture. Nogueira describes the film as being "almost unbearably perfect." There's also a second interview with Ginette Vincendeau (19 min.), who's written extensively on Melville. "The Line Up" (24 min.) includes vintage interviews with Melville, Alain and Nathalie Delon, Cathy Rosier, and François Perier. Also on board is the film's theatrical trailer, and (as with all Criterion releases) an insight-packed booklet, here featuring essays by David Thomson, John Woo, and excerpts from Nogueira's Melville on Melville. Le Samouraï: The Criterion Collection is on the street tomorrow.

One SheetBox Office: Halloween is just around the corner, but action returned to the top of the box-office over the weekend — Sony/Universal's Doom starring Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson launched to the top of the chart with a $15.3 million break, easily beating all other new arrivals. Landing in second place was DreamWorks' Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story with Dakota Fanning and Kurt Russell, which took in $9.3 million, while struggling to reach the top five was Warner's North Country starring Charlize Theron, taking in $6.4 million. Grabbing just $2.2 million, Fox's thriller Stay with Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts failed to chart, beaten into the 12th spot by George Clooney's Oscar-contender Good Night, and Good Luck, which generated $2.3 million on just 225 screens. Dreamer and Country earned mixed-to-positive notices, while critics largely dismissed Doom and Stay. And it seems reviewers can't praise Luck nearly enough.

In continuing release, DreamWorks' animated Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit continues to draw in fans, holding down third place after three weeks with $44 million overall. Slipping from its first-place debut, Sony's The Fog tumbled to fourth in its second frame, now holding down $21.5 million. And Paramount's Elizabethtown starring Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst is struggling to find its audience, taking in just $5.7 million over its second weekend. Buena Vista's Flightplan with Jodie Foster is a bona fide hit thanks to a $77 million gross after five frames. And Fox's In Her Shoes from director Curtis Hanson may be an Oscar dark-horse this year, now with $26.1 million and strong notices. However, taking the worst hit is New Line's reviled Domino starring Keira Knightly and directed by Tony Scott, which fell out of the top ten in a hurry. And off to DVD prep is Universal's Serenity, which doubtless will connect with its fan-base after a $22 million theatrical run.

Four new titles seek box-office glory this Friday — The Weather Man starring Nicolas Cage, The Legend of Zorro with Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, Prime with Uma Thurman, and the slasher Saw II. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:

  1. Doom (Sony/Universal)
    $15,382,000 ($15,382,000 through 1 week)
  2. Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story (DreamWorks SKG)
    $9,300,000 ($9,300,000 through 1 week)
  3. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (DreamWorks SKG)
    $8,700,000 ($44,034,000 through 3 weeks)
  4. The Fog (Sony/Screen Gems)
    $7,300,000 ($21,548,000 through 2 weeks)
  5. North Country (Warner Bros.)
    $6,470,000 ($6,470,000 through 1 week)
  6. Elizabethtown (Paramount)
    $5,725,000 ($18,953,000 through 2 weeks)
  7. Flightplan (Buena Vista)
    $4,712,000 ($77,282,000 through 5 weeks)
  8. In Her Shoes (Fox)
    $3,900,000 ($26,194,000 through 3 weeks)
  9. A History of Violence (New Line)
    $2,700,000 ($26,300,000 through 5 weeks)
  10. Two for the Money (Universal)
    $2,404,000 ($20,689,000 through 3 weeks)
  11. Domino (New Line)
    $2,375,000 ($8,692,000 through 2 weeks)
  12. Good Night, And Good Luck (Warner Bros.)
    $2,305,000 ($4,586,000 through 3 weeks)

On the Board: Dawn Taylor has posted a look at Universal/Focus Features' new The Big Lebowski: Collector's Edition, while fresh spins this week from the rest of the team include Bewitched , House of Wax , Melinda and Melinda, Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist, Batman Forever: Special Edition, Sword of the Beast: The Criterion Collection, Samurai Spy: The Criterion Collection, Battle of Britain: Collector's Edition, A Bridge Too Far: Special Edition, Le Samouraï: The Criterion Collection, and The Wizard of Oz: Collector's Edition. Everything's been added to the New Reviews menu here on the front page — you can find even more DVD reviews with our handy search engine right above it.

Back tomorrow with the street discs.

— Ed.

In the Works: Here's just a few new disc announcements, courtesy of Image Entertainment and, and additional staff reports:

  • Up from Warner Home Video is a much needed overhaul of Sam Peckinpah's legacy with the "Sam Peckinpah Legendary Westerns Collection." The 1969 classic The Wild Bunch will arrive in a new two-disc Special Edition (replacing the single-disc "flipper" that's been on the market since the earliest days of DVD) featuring a new transfer of the 1994 restoration print, commentary from four Peckinpah scholars, the documentaries "Sam Peckinpah¹s West: Legacy of a Hollywood Renegade," "The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage," and "A Simple Adventure Story: Sam Peckinpah, Mexico and the Wild Bunch," outtakes, deleted scenes, and trailers. Also getting the two-disc treatment is 1973's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid starring Kris Kristofferson and James Coburn, which warrants both the 2005 special edition cut at 115 min. and the Turner Preview Version at 122 min. Also expect commentary, two new featurettes, and trailers. Peckinpah's 1962 Ride the High Country with Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea will arrive with a commentary and a new documentary, as will 1970's The Ballad of Cable Hogue with Jason Robards and Stella Stevens. Expect all to arrive separately on Jan. 10., as well as in a six-disc slipcase.

  • Also due from Warner are a trio of African-American Musical Classics. The first all-black feature film from a major studio, 1929's Hallelujah from director King Vidor will include a commentary track from film scholars Donald Bogle and Avery Clayton, as well as two vintage musical shorts. The Green Pastures, a 1936 title starring Rex Ingram, gets a track from LeVar Burton and others, and two musical shorts (one featuring 7-year-old Sammy Davis Jr.). And Vincente Minnelli's 1943 Cabin in the Sky with Ethel Waters, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington, will offer commentary from Horne, USC film professor Drew Casper, and others, an audio outtake, and a vintage short. All three are on the street on Jan. 10.

On the Street: There's little doubt what this week's all about — The Bat-Man, who gets reimagined in Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins, arriving from Warner in a deluxe two-disc set. Also new from Warner is an eight-disc "Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology," which delivers new double-disc sets of Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Begins, and Batman & Robin. New from Universal is George Romero's Land of the Dead in unrated and R-rated packages, as well as a re-issue of the Coen Brothers' The Big Lebowski. Finally out from Fox is the last MIA Hitchcock film, 1944's Lifeboat, while double-dips of Elektra and The Mark of Zorro are on the board as well. Sony triple-dips The Mask of Zorro in anticipation of the sequel The Legend of Zorro, Lions Gate has a two-disc Saw on the board, and one of this year's better documentaries is out from Paramount, Mad Hot Ballroom. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of and Image Entertainment:

  • 13 Curses
  • Avalanche: Nature Unleashed
  • Batman: The 1943 Serial Collection (2-disc set)
  • Batman: Special Edition (2-disc set)
  • Batman Begins: Deluxe Edition (widescreen) (2-disc set)
  • Batman Begins (widescreen)
  • Batman Begins (pan-and-scan)
  • Batman Forever: Special Edition (2-disc set)
  • Batman Returns: Special Edition (2-disc set)
  • Batman & Robin: Special Edition (2-disc set)
  • Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology 1989-1997 (8-disc set)
  • The Batman vs. Dracula
  • The Big Lebowski: Collector's Edition (widescreen)
  • The Big Lebowski: Collector's Edition (full-frame)
  • The Big Lebowski: Achiever's Edition Gift Set (widescreen)
  • Black and White
  • Blood of Beasts
  • Bolivia
  • The Bruce Lee Ultimate Collection (remastered) (5-disc set)
  • Care Bears: Big Wish Movie
  • Chained Heat 2
  • Coen Brothers Collection
  • CSI: New York: Season One (7-disc set)
  • Day of the Dead 2: Contagium
  • The Defender
  • Dot the I
  • Elektra: Unrated Director's Cut (2-disc set)
  • Eternal
  • Excessive Force II: Force on Force
  • Felony
  • Ferngully: The Last Rainforest
  • Five Children and It
  • Flores de Otro Mundo (Flowers from Another World)
  • The Garfield Prime Time Gift Set
  • The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful: Bikini Academy
  • The Harlem Globetrotters: The Team that Changed The World
  • House of Voices
  • Jacqueline Hyde
  • The Jazz Singer: 25th Anniversary Edition (1980)
  • Land of the Dead (unrated)
  • Land of the Dead (R-rated)
  • Lifeboat
  • Mad Hot Ballroom
  • The Man With the Golden Arm
  • The Mark of Zorro
  • The Mask of Zorro: Deluxe Edition
  • My Little Pony: A Very Minty Christmas
  • Omagh
  • The Rat Pack: Live from Las Vegas
  • Rosalinda
  • Saved by the Bell: The New Class: Season Five (3-disc set)
  • Saving Face
  • Saw: Uncut Edition (2-disc set)
  • Season of the Witch (Hungry Wives)/There's Always Vanilla (2-disc set)
  • Six Feet Under: Season Four (5-disc set)
  • Slaughter of the Vampires
  • Strange As Angels
  • The Twilight Zone: Season Four (6-disc set)
  • Unscripted
  • Unseen Cinema: Early American Avant-Garde Film 1894-1941 (7-disc set)
  • Unseen Cinema: Picturing a Metropolis
  • World Poker Tour Season Three (8-disc set)
  • Ziggy's Gift

— Ed.

boxcoverDisc of the Week: Alfred Hitchcock may be remembered forever as "The Master of Suspense," etched into cinema history by several masterpieces and some shrewd self-promotion, but few will remember the legendary auteur's second career: journeyman director. Hitchcock got his start in the film industry as a graphic artist, creating title-cards for London's Famous Players-Lasky studio, which quickly led to directing jobs in the mad dash of silent-era productions. Nearly a third of Hitchcock's filmography preceded his first breakout hit, 1934's The Man Who Knew Too Much, and while he later became synonymous with sophisticated thrillers, from time to time he also took on the sort of material that marked his younger days as a director-for-hire. Lesser entries, such as Jamaica Inn (1939) and The Paradine Case (1947) tend to attract completists, while Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941) is a competent screwball comedy and Dial 'M' for Murder (1954) is a superior stage-play adaptation. Hitchcock first came to America as a journeyman, undertaking producer David O. Selznick's Rebecca (1940) — Selznick got an Oscar, Hitchcock didn't. And when Selznick loaned out Hitch to Daryl F. Zanuck at 20th Century Fox, the director asked John Steinbeck to write a story for him. But not about murders, or microfilm, or innocent men accused of crimes they didn't commit — he simply wanted to make a movie entirely in a lifeboat.

Lifeboat (1944) begins with two startling images: A smokestack on a large transatlantic steamer bellows coal-black soot, only to tip over sideways and fall into the sea; amid the floating debris-field, a lifeboat contains a glamorous woman, smoking a cigarette with luggage at her side, perturbed that she has a run in her stocking. She is Constance Porter (Tallulah Bankhead), an international reporter who — as with everyone else on the Merchant Marine vessel — finds her New York-to-London voyage disrupted by a torpedo from a German U-boat. Soon, others find the lifeboat and climb aboard, including seamen John Kovac (John Hodiak), Gus Smith (William Bendix), and Sparks Garrett (Hume Cronyn); galley mate George Spencer (Canada Lee); industrialist Charles Rittenhouse (Henry Hull); and nurse Alice McKenzie (Mary Anderson). Some survivors confirm that the steamer was able to torpedo the U-boat before she went down, destroying both vessels — a fact made plain when the American survivors pluck German sailor Willy (Walter Slezak) from the chilly Atlantic. Debate over how to handle the German prisoner reveals early discord among the Americans, whose temperaments range from communist to isolationist to fascist. The situation is made even more dire when they realize they'll have to sail for the nearest land, and Willy is the only one among them who can navigate by currents and stars.

Lacking the suspense, plotting, and dark humor that marks Alfred Hitchcock's masterworks, Lifeboat is the director's most notable break with the thriller genre. And for it, critical reception has been mixed in some quarters. New York Tribune critic Dorothy Thomson famously gave it "ten days to get out of town," while Hitchcock authority Donald Spoto has described it as his least-favorite Hitchcock film. To be certain, Lifeboat is grim — the characters' predicament is underscored by a constant sense of loss and wearing away, as one by one things are sent overboard: a camera, a typewriter, food and water, an amputated leg, and eventually people. But the picture overcomes its own bleakness thanks to Hitchcock's masterful handling. Lifeboat marked Hitch's first foray into one of his favorite cinematic experiments, the single-set film. Dial 'M' for Murder, Rope (1948), and Rear Window (1954) would follow, but rarely would the director undertake a project quite this ambitious again. With most of the principal photography to take place on actual water, a massive tank with rear-projection served as the primary locale, which brought about sea-sickness among the cast, a case of pneumonia for Tallulah Bankhead, and a near-drowning for Hume Cronyn. Nonetheless, the confined space forced Hitchcock to create a variety of compositions with nothing more than his cast and the pitching sea, and virtually every shot is a small study in Academy-ratio framing. As always, Hitch demanded a solid script, and while John Steinbeck earned prominent credit, Hitchcock and scenarist Jo Swerling compiled the final dialogue, which is sharp enough to work as a straightforward radio play. Bankhead's A-list work is supported by a well-rounded cast, in particular John Hodiak, the Steinbeck-esque left-wing machinist, and Walter Slezak, who toys with the audience's sympathies as the German captive. Lifeboat may never garner the enduring popularity of such Hitchcockian treats as North By Northwest and Psycho. But it deserves its reputation as one of his great minor masterworks, earning new admirers every year thanks to the name above the title.

Fox's DVD release of Lifeboat features a clean full-frame transfer (1.33:1 OAR) from a black-and-white source-print that looks excellent overall. There are moments in the film when the transfer appears to display artifacts, but in fact this most likely is a result of the oil-and-water mist Hitchcock directed at his stars with giant fans (and they say he didn't like actors). Audio is crisp clear in both the original mono and a new Dolby 2.0 stereo track. Supplements include an informative commentary from USC film professor Drew Casper, as well as the featurette "Lifeboat: The Theater of War" (20 min.) and five stills galleries. Lifeboat: Special Edition is on the street tomorrow.

One SheetBox Office: Sony's low-budget remake of John Carpenter's The Fog bested the competition to grab the top spot on the box-office chart — but while the run up to Halloween may have helped, the tally was a modest $12.2 million. Debuting in third place was Paramount's romantic comedy Elizabethtown starring Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst, and directed by Cameron Crowe, which earned $11 million. And arriving in a disappointing sixth was New Line's Domino from director Tony Scott, starring Keira Knightley, which took in just $4.6 million. Critics were mixed-to-negative on Elizabethtown, while Fog and Domino earned overwhelmingly poor notices.

In continuing release, DreamWorks' animated Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit stepped down to second place, adding $11.7 million to a $33.2 million total, while Buena Vista's Flightplan isn't out of fuel yet, in fourth place after one month and $70 million. Fox's well-received In Her Shoes from director Curtis Hanson dropped to fifth place in its second session, crossing $20 million. But Universal's Two for the Money starring Al Pacino and Matthew McConaughey is down to seventh with $16.5 million. Look for Tim Burton's Corpse Bride to clear $50 million before it exits. And on the way to DVD prep is Sony's Into the Blue with Jessica Alba and Paul Walker, which earned a dismal $14 million before dropping off the chart.

New in theaters this Friday are Doom starring The Rock, Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story with Dakota Fanning and Kurt Russell, North Country starring Charlize Theron, and Stay with Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:

  1. The Fog (Sony Pictures)
    $12,200,000 ($12,200,000 through 1 week)
  2. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (DreamWorks SKG)
    $11,700,000 ($33,280,000 through 2 weeks)
  3. Elizabethtown (Paramount)
    $11,000,000 ($11,000,000 through 1 week)
  4. Flightplan (Buena Vista)
    $6,475,000 ($70,766,000 through 4 weeks)
  5. In Her Shoes (Fox)
    $6,100,000 ($20,050,000 through 2 weeks)
  6. Domino (New Line)
    $4,675,000 ($4,675,000 through 1 week)
  7. Two for the Money (Universal)
    $4,614,000 ($16,524,000 through 2 weeks)
  8. A History of Violence (New Line)
    $3,600,000 ($22,364,000 through 4 weeks)
  9. Tim Burton's Corpse Bride (Warner Bros.)
    $3,460,000 ($47,650,000 through 5 weeks)
  10. The Gospel (Sony/Screen Gems)
    $3,200,000 ($12,173,000 through 2 weeks)
  11. Waiting (Artisan/Lions Gate)
    $2,900,000 ($11,584,000 through 2 weeks)
  12. Serenity (Universal)
    $2,282,000 ($22,144,000 through 3 weeks)

On the Board: New reviews this week from the team include Batman Begins: Deluxe Edition, Kicking & Screaming, Land of the Dead, Unleashed, Mad Hot Ballroom, Batman: Special Edition, Batman Returns: Special Edition, McLintock!, The Mark of Zorro: Special Edition, The Mask of Zorro: Deluxe Edition, Lifeboat: Special Edition, and Elektra: Unrated Director's Cut. All can be found under the New Reviews menu here on the front page, while our DVD reviews database features more than 3,200 additional write-ups.

Back tomorrow with the street discs.

— Ed.

In the Works: Here's some new disc announcements, courtesy of Image Entertainment and, and additional staff reports:

  • Up from Universal is a surefire DVD hit — The 40-Year-Old Virgin starring Steve Carell will arrive in separate unrated and R-rated editions with featurettes, outtakes, deleted scenes, and a vintage sex-ed video. It's here on Dec. 13.

  • It didn't do much in the late-summer theater season, but Buena Vista/Miramax's The Great Raid gets another shot on home video, arriving in both an unrated "Director's Cut" and the theatrical version on Dec. 20. Also due are Boy Meets World: Season Four and Once and Again: Season Three (both Jan. 10).

  • Fox's January lineup has been announced to retailers, including the so-blazin'-fast-you-missed-it Supercross, which hits the shelves on Jan. 31. Earning a "15th Anniversary Edition" is Robert Townsend's 1991 The Five Heartbeats (Jan. 10), while catalog titles include Cloud 9 (Jan. 3), American Woman, Island in the Sun, Stormy Weather, Trouble Man, An Unmarried Woman (all Jan. 10), and Love's Long Journey (Jan. 31). Also watch for TV boxes of Alien Nation (Jan. 3), Mary Tyler Moore: Season Three (Jan. 17), Hill Street Blues: Season One, The Time Tunnel: Season One (both Jan. 24), and the first three seasons of The X-Files in repackaged sets.

  • Mel Brooks' 1968 The Producers is getting a "Deluxe Edition" treatment from Sony/Columbia TriStar on Dec. 13, now in a two-disc set. December catalogs this time around include Baxter, Beautiful Country, Crooked Hearts, Everybody Wins, F.I.S.T., Godzilla: Final Wars, Pretty Persuasion, and Saint Ralph (all Dec. 13). Meanwhile, a Ray Harryhausen Gift Set will include 20 Million Miles to Earth, It Came From Beneath the Sea, and Earth vs. Flying Saucers (Dec. 6), the Matt Helm Lounge has returned to the calendar (Dec. 6), and Tour of Duty: The Complete Series streets with no less than 14 discs (Dec. 13).

  • And two more summer titles have crossed retailers sheets in recent days — expect Michael Bay's The Island to arrive from DreamWorks on Dec. 13, while Warner's Must Love Dogs starring Diane Lane and John Cusack streets Dec. 20. Unfortunately for fans of Barbra Streisand, Warner has let us know that 1976's A Star Is Born has been delayed due to some special-features issues — it's temporarily off the list with no new date.

On the Street: Fresh from Fox this week is Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven starring Orlando Bloom, which arrives in a packed two-disc special edition. Universal also is on the board with Kicking & Screaming starring Will Ferrell and Unleashed with Jet Li. Up from Paramount are a pair of John Wayne catalog classics, Hondo and McLintock!, as well as the sixth season of South Park, while Lions Gate has the French thriller High Tension under wraps. Also watch for Warner's Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Sony/MGM's Me and You and Everyone We Know. And small-screen spins this time around include Arrested Development: Season Two and Veronica Mars: Season One. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of and Image Entertainment:

  • 11:14
  • 2005 Tour De France (6-disc set)
  • Amityville 1992: It's About Time
  • Amityville: A New Generation
  • Animal Holiday
  • Arrested Development: Season Two (3-disc set)
  • Black Girl/Borom Sarret
  • Bomb the System
  • The Bridge of San Luis Rey (2004)
  • The Crusaders
  • Ellen Degeneres: The Beginning/Here & Now (2-disc set)
  • Flesh/Trash/Heat
  • The Fog (Dhund)
  • Fresh Prince of Bel Air: Season Two (4-disc set)
  • Great Ballets of the World (4-disc set)
  • High Tension (Haute Tension) (unrated)
  • High Tension (Haute Tension) (R-rated)
  • Holy Warriors
  • Hondo: Collector's Edition
  • Imagining Argentina
  • The Jeffersons: Season Four (3-disc set)
  • Kicking & Screaming (widescreen)
  • Kicking & Screaming (pan-and-scan)
  • Kingdom of Heaven (widescreen) (2-disc set)
  • Kingdom of Heaven (pan-and-scan) (2-disc set)
  • McLintock!: Collector's Edition
  • Me and You and Everyone We Know
  • Only Fools and Horses: Series Six (3-disc set)
  • Sex-A-Go-Go Collection (3-disc set)
  • Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
  • Soap: Season Four (3-disc set)
  • South Park: Season Six (3-disc set)
  • Tanya Tucker: Live at Billy Bob's
  • Tom and Jerry: The Fast and the Furry
  • Unborn But Forgotten (Hayanbang)
  • Undead
  • Unleashed (unrated) (widescreen)
  • Unleashed (unrated) (pan-and-scan)
  • Unleashed (R-rated) (pan-and-scan)
  • Veronica Mars: Season One (6-disc set)
  • Vidas Secas

— Ed.

boxcoverDisc of the Week: Given that much of today's children's literature — or "Young Adult" fiction — is better than mainstream fiction, it seems appropriate that one of the best shows on TV at the moment is a kid's program disguised as a prime-time mystery series called Veronica Mars. For those who haven't been paying attention, Young Adult fiction has grown surprisingly mature over the years. Writers such as Louis Sachar, Philip Pullman, Lois Duncan, S. E. Hinton, Lois Lowry, and Rob Thomas, among many others, write books that deal frankly with sex, violence, drugs, and social conflict. And it's all happening in an era when most "kid-oriented" movies, such as animated features, are often wittier and better paced than adult fare — livelier, with more engaging characters and imaginative plots.

YA novelist Rob Thomas (Slave Day, Rats Saw God) is the creative spirit behind Veronica Mars, which is produced by Scott Rudin (because, it seems, no big-name movie producer today is worth his salt without a hit show on prime time). An unofficial updating of the Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden books with keggers, premarital sex, and roofies, Veronica Mars takes place in the fictional town of Neptune, in the fictional seaside county of Balboa, lodged somewhere between Los Angeles and San Diego. Neptune also lies to the west of seemingly placid Wisteria Lane and just south of the O.C. — it's got the amused narration and serious murder plots of one popular show and the beautiful, rich, sun-dazed teens of another. By day, Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) goes to Neptune High, where the class divisions are out of Dickens, and where she is the most unpopular girl due to the actions of her dad Keith (Enrico Colantoni) during a murder case a year earlier when he was sheriff. By night, she works for her dad, who opened the Keith Mars Detective Agency after his wife Lianne (Corinne Bohrer) abandoned them in the wake of the scandal. From week to week, Veronica takes on one minor mystery after another (Who kidnapped a rap producer's daughter? Who is manufacturing fake i.d.s at the school? Did the Neptune High's history teacher really sleep with a student? Who kidnapped the school's mascot parrot?). Meanwhile, her overriding mission is to solve the murder of her best friend, Lilly Kane (Amanda Seyfried), the daughter of a software millionaire (Kyle Secor), and whose brother (Teddy Dunn) Veronica once dated. The fact that, by the last episode of Season One, Veronica does solve this mystery, in a fully gratifying and tear-inducing climax, is a credit to the show's creators, who pack more plot, character, and incident in a typical hour of Veronica Mars than there is in a whole season of "Lost."

From its hallucinogenic theme song by the Dandy Warhols to its sometimes garish color schemes (director of photography Victor Hammer uses a lot of orange and red gels for his Super 16 images), Veronica Mars may come across at first like one of those old USA Network sexy crime shows. In reality, it's arguably the best kid's program on the air. One of its conceits is that Veronica used to be one of the cool kids, but since the scandal she can view those rich, selfish layabouts with a mix of outsider and insider perspectives. The success of the series is due to the petite Bell, as well as the show's quotably clever dialogue and intricately designed plots. Veronica's quick wit gives her a pleasingly mature relationship with her dad, where both the banter and the sincerity are probably the envy of struggling single fathers everywhere. The pilot offers a good example of how thoroughly satisfying the Mars narratives can be, and the episode "Ruskie Business" illustrates the writers' attention to detail, from the episode titles on down, with its intricate blend of Russian mail-order brides, Tom Cruise, and '80s nostalgia. Veronica Mars made its debut on the Paramount-owned UPN network on September 22, 2004, and it came perilously close to cancellation. But fan-marshaled protests were enough for UPN to approve a second season (in which the main story arc concerns a school bus tragedy that may be no accident).

Despite the fact that UPN is a Paramount-Viacom company, Veronica Mars is produced by Warner Television, and Warner Home Video releases Veronica Mars: The Complete First Season in a six-disc set. Each disc contains at least four of the first season's 22 episodes with anamorphic transfers (1.78:1) and Dolby Digital audio, as well as captions in English, French, and Spanish. (Each disc also has a "play all" option.) Given the rabid fan-base for the show, it's disappointing that the extras are little more than an extended version of the pilot, a collection of deleted or extended scenes (22 min.) — 28 of them from 14 episodes — and a brief promo for Season Two. For the most part, the deleted scenes add little to our understanding of the episodes, except for clarifying parts of "Hot Dogs" and "Ruskie Business." Each disc has a special features screen, which summarily explains that the supplements are on Disc Six. Also included is a 16-page booklet with stills, credits, episode summaries, and chapter titles. Veronica Mars: The Complete First Season is on the street tomorrow.

One SheetBox Office: A rush of new films dominated the weekend box-office, with one cheese-eating Brit and his dog taking the top spot — DreamWorks' Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit from Aardman Animations took in $16.1 million, further establishing the franchise on American shores. Arriving in third place with $10 million was Fox's In Her Shoes, starring Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette and directed by Curtis Hanson, while Universal's Two for the Money starring Al Pacino and Matthew McConaughey arrived in the fourth spot with $8.3 million. Also charting were Sony's The Gospel in fifth with $8 million and Artisan/Lions Gate's Waiting in seventh with $5.7 million. Critics praised Were-Rabbit and Shoes, while the remaining films earned mixed-to-negative notices. In limited release, George Clooney's Good Night and Good Luck also earned raves.

In continuing release, Sony's Flightplan starring Jodie Foster held strong in second place after two weeks at the top, adding $10.7 million to a $60.9 million gross. Warner's Tim Burton's Corpse Bride also has found a following, taking in $42.1 million after one month. Expect New Line's A History of Violence with Viggo Mortensen to be a slow burn, holding $16.6 million after three sessions. Meanwhile, Universal's Serenity is fading in ninth place with $17.5 million, while Sony/MGM's Into the Blue is bound for the cheap screens with just $13.8 million. And off to DVD prep is Universal's The 40-Year-Old-Virgin, which cleared $100 million.

New films in the 'plexes this Friday include Tony Scott's Domino starring Keira Knightley and Mickey Rourke, Cameron Crowe's Elizabethtown with Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst, and the spooktacular The Fog. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:

  1. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (DreamWorks SKG)
    $16,100,000 ($16,121,000 through 1 week)
  2. Flightplan (Buena Vista)
    $10,788,000 ($60,940,000 through 3 weeks)
  3. In Her Shoes (Fox)
    $10,025,000 ($10,025,000 through 1 week)
  4. Two for the Money (Universal)
    $8,380,000 ($8,380,000 through 1 week)
  5. The Gospel (Sony/Screen Gems)
    $8,000,000 ($8,000,000 through 1 week)
  6. Tim Burton's Corpse Bride (Warner Bros.)
    $6,540,000 ($42,145,000 through 4 weeks)
  7. Waiting (Artisan/Lions Gate)
    $5,700,000 ($5,700,000 through 1 week)
  8. A History of Violence (New Line)
    $5,125,000 ($16,697,000 through 3 weeks)
  9. Serenity (Universal)
    $4,925,000 ($17,594,000 through 2 weeks)
  10. Into the Blue (Sony/MGM)
    $4,800,000 ($13,873,000 through 2 weeks)
  11. The Greatest Game Ever Played (Buena Vista)
    $4,012,000 ($8,788,000 through 2 weeks)
  12. Just Like Heaven (DreamWorks SKG)
    $3,400,000 ($43,568,000 through 4 weeks)

On the Board: New spins this week from the team include Kingdom of Heaven, Battlestar Galactica: Season One, The Fly II: Special Edition, South Park: Season Six, Demon Seed, Dracula A.D. 1972, Veronica Mars: Season One, and Night of the Lepus. Everything's been added to the New Reviews menu here on the front page.

We'll be back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.

— Ed.

In the Works: Here's some new disc announcements, courtesy of Image Entertainment and, and additional staff reports:

  • The January slate has been posted at Criterion — arriving on Jan. 10 is Akira Kurosawa's 1960 The Bad Sleep Well starring Toshiro Mifune, which will include a new 36-min. documentary from the Toho Masterworks series and a theatrical trailer. Long overdue on DVD, Criterion also will release John Ford's 1939 Young Mr. Lincoln starring Henry Fonda on the 10th, which will offer archival audio interviews with Ford and Fonda, the "Academy Award Theater" radio dramatization of the film, and a stills gallery. Jan. 24 sees the arrival of Vittoria De Sica's 1944 The Children Are Watching, featuring new interviews with star Luciano de Ambrosis and De Sica scholar Callisto Cosulich. Also set for the 24th is Ingmar Bergman's 1961 The Virgin Spring, although no special features were available at press time. Meanwhile, Criterion's making the end of the month a busy time for reviewers — all of their titles in October have been delayed to Oct. 25, including the Rebel Samurai: Sixties Swordplay Classics box set (featuring Kill!, Samurai Rebellion, Samurai Spy, and Sword of the Beast), Le Samouraï, and The Wages of Fear.

  • This year's surprise family hit Sky High hits the shelves on Nov. 29, thanks to Buena Vista — expect featurettes, outtakes, and an alternate opening. Retailers have been informed to expect The Brothers Grimm on Dec. 20. Director James Gray will deliver a "Director's Cut" of 2000's The Yards starring Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix (Dec. 13). And delayed until year's end is the three-disc Chicago: The Razzle-Dazzle Edition, now set for Dec. 20.

  • Good stuff on the way from Sony/Columbia TriStar includes three "Deluxe Edition" re-issues — Winged Migration (Nov. 22), Legends of the Fall, and A River Runs Through It (both Nov. 29). Earning re-promotions thanks to upcoming remakes are 1949's All the King's Men and 1977's Fun With Dick and Jane, while Christmas with the Kranks starring Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis, delayed from early this year, now streets on Nov. 8. Catalog items in the pipe include Arizona, Belle of the Yukon, Kid Galahad, Konga, Ladies in Lavender, Land Raiders, Ride Beyond Vengeance, The Shadow Riders (all Dec. 6), A Fine Mess, and Kid Millions (both Dec. 13). Small-screen offerings include The Magnificent Seven: Season One and Green Acres: Season Three (both Dec. 6). Big Fish: Special Edition is set to arrive on Nov. 1 with a bonus book. And returning to the sched on Dec. 6 is the Matt Helm Lounge.

  • Up from Universal is 1975's Return of the Pink Panther starring Peter Sellers, which now has a Jan. 10 street date. Anticipating some Kong-fevah, also due are the catalog double-feature King Kong vs. Godzilla/King Kong Escapes (Nov. 29) and King Kong: Peter Jackson's Production Diaries (Dec. 13). Meanwhile, TV boxes include Law & Order: The Fourth Year and The Rockford Files: Season One (both Dec. 6).

  • Finally, arriving from Paramount on Jan. 10 is the critically acclaimed Hustle & Flow, while TV sets include MacGyver: Season Four (Dec. 20), two volumes of Gunsmoke as "50th Anniversary" editions (Jan. 3), Have Gun Will Travel: Season Three (Jan. 3), and PBS documentaries on Frank and Eleanor Roosevelt (Jan. 10). And surely, we are serious — Airplane!: Don't Call Me Shirley Edition has been kicked back to Dec. 13.

On the Street: Making its DVD debut this week is Walt Disney's Cinderella in a two-disc "Platinum Edition," which kicks off the pre-holiday shopping season and is certain to be one of the top sellers of the year. Also new this week is Fox's splendid two-disc set of David Cronenberg's 1986 The Fly in a definitive edition. Warner's got catalog treats with The Val Lewton Collection, a five-disc set that features the 1942 classic Cat People. Up from Universal is this year's thriller The Interpreter starring Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn, while Paramount's The Warriors: Ultimate Director's Cut is sure to satisfy late-night cable fans. Under the radar from Lions Gate is David Duchovny's House of D. And if it looks like Universal's trying to wreck our credit ratings with both the first season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and a 15-disc Alfred Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection, Paramount's weighs in a pound or two heavier with Star Trek: Nemesis: Special Edition and a 20-disc Star Trek: The Motion Pictures Collections. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of and Image Entertainment:

  • The Alfred Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection (15-disc set)
  • Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Season One
  • Alien Apocalypse
  • Batman & Mr Freeze: Subzero
  • Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
  • Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman
  • Beg
  • The Best of the Chris Rock Show: Vols. 1-2 (2-disc set)
  • Beyond the Gates of Splendor
  • Big Deal on Madonna Street: 20 Years Later
  • Billion Dollar Brain
  • Bob Newhart: Season Two (3-disc set)
  • Body Parts
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Spike: Love Is Hell
  • Cat People/The Curse of the Cat People (1942/1944)
  • A Change of Seasons
  • Cinderella: Platinum Edition (2-disc set)
  • Cop
  • Count Duckula: Season One (3-disc set)
  • Cream: The Farewell Concert: Extended Edition
  • Dark Backward
  • Dead Cert
  • Demon Seed
  • Desperate Souls
  • Dracula A.D. 1972
  • Drawn Together: Season One (2-disc set)
  • Edgar Ulmer: Archive (3-disc set)
  • Face
  • The Fly: Collector's Edition (2-disc set)
  • The Fly II: Collector's Edition (2-disc set)
  • The Fog: Special Edition (remastered)
  • From Tragedy to Triumph: Jewish Experience (4-disc set)
  • The Girl from S.I.N./Henry's Night In
  • The Girls Most Likely To
  • Happy Mondays: Live in Barcelona
  • House of D
  • I Walked With a Zombie/The Body Snatcher
  • Ian Hunter: Just Another Night: Live at Astoria
  • Innocent Lies
  • The Interpreter (widescreen)
  • The Interpreter (pan-and-scan)
  • Into the West (4-disc set)
  • Isle of the Dead/Bedlam
  • Jesus Jones: Live at the Marquee
  • Jiminy Glick in Lalawood
  • Journey to the Center of the Earth
  • Kiss of Death
  • Kolchak: The Night Stalker (3-disc set)
  • The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane
  • Mail Order Wife
  • The Man With Nine Lives
  • The Man With the Screaming Brain
  • Monster High
  • Mortuary Academy
  • My Summer of Love
  • Ned's Atomic Dustbin: Shoot the Neds: In Concert
  • The New Kids
  • Night of the Lepus
  • The Nutcracker and the Mouseking
  • Out of Season
  • Parts of the Family
  • Peanuts Classic Holiday Collection (3-disc set)
  • Pixies Sell Out
  • Private Parts (1972)
  • Pulse
  • Road House
  • Robot Jox
  • Saddles & Silks: A Jockey's Story
  • Santa Claus: The Movie: 20th Anniversary Edition
  • Satan's Little Helper
  • School Killer
  • The Siege at Ruby Ridge
  • Sin Syndicate/Sin Magazine/She Came on the Bus
  • The Spiral Staircase
  • Star Trek: Nemesis: Special Edition (2-disc set)
  • Star Trek: The Motion Pictures Collections (20-disc set)
  • Stargate S-G1: Season Eight (5-disc set)
  • A Stranger Is Watching
  • Swan Lake
  • Take a Hard Ride
  • Teorema
  • Three's Company: Season Five
  • Torture Garden
  • The Tunnel
  • The Val Lewton Collection (5-disc set)
  • Vlad: Director's Cut
  • The Warriors: Ultimate Director's Cut
  • Wild Palms
  • William Shatner's A Twist in the Tale
  • The Wonderstuff: Construction for the Modern Vidiot

— Ed.

boxcoverDisc of the Week: The most paralyzing horror story to come out of the movie industry in the last few decades might be Hollywood's fear of new ideas. With multiplexes already sagging from sequelibrium, recent years have seen a non-stop influx of TV spinoffs and movie remakes angling for the jaded moviegoing dollar, usually offering little more than name-recognition doused in the damp humor of smug pop-culture deconstruction. One of the least ambitious strains of this recent remakery has been the recycling of classic horror movies, duly stripped and sterilized of genuine thrills and atmosphere, and fed into the meatyocrity grinder. In this current atmosphere of prefab gore it's easy to forget, then, just how good an uncynical horror remake can be. While the 1980s horror genre was overrun with franchises built around unstoppable killers Jason and Freddy, two of the movies of the decade were dynamic remakes of talky 1950s sci-fi and horror classics: John Carpenter's 1982 chilling monster yarn The Thing and David Cronenberg's astounding 1986 updating of the 1958 Vincent Price creature feature The Fly. Where Kurt Neumann's 1958 version of George Langelaan's short story "The Fly" featured a few memorable scenes and lines, its drive-in, B-movie aspirations translated into a triumph of camp over creeps, and its titular fly-headed ghoul (and the corresponding human-headed fly) is more likely to elicit titters than shivers. Director Cronenberg and co-writer Charles Edward Pogue, however, instead of simply regurgitating the same content into a slicker but soulless package, dig deep into the source material to mine an emotionally powerful story that, appropriately, melds contemporary special effects with profoundly disturbing psychological human drama and technological terror.

Jeff Goldblum gives the performance of his career as brilliant but socially awkward and isolated physicist Seth Brundle, who can't help but reveal to a pretty science journalist (Geena Davis) that he's close to completing a project that will revolutionize life as we know it: a teleportation pod that can deconstruct an object down to its molecular level and reassemble it in another pod. When Veronica threatens to turn his flaccid attempt at seduction into a career-making scoop, he persuades her to wait until he has perfected the pioneering process, after which he promises her exclusive book rights to his discovery. While the teleportation system works well with inanimate objects, it doesn't do so well with living creatures (as evidenced by a baboon that comes out of the destination pod turned gooily inside out). It takes Seth and Veronica's burgeoning love affair to inspire the epiphanous breakthrough, but when Veronica opts to visit an ex-boyfriend (Jon Getz) rather than celebrate a successful baboon teleportation, Seth decides in a drunken fit of jealousy to teleport himself before further testing, and neglects to notice when a common housefly enters the teleportation chamber with him. Not programmed to handle the teleportation of two separate subjects, the computer combines in-transit Seth's and the fly's DNA structures into one hybrid organism. Initially visibly unaltered, Seth feels revitalized by the process, stronger and more agile, energetic and powerful. But his physical appearance begins to deteriorate as he begins to shed his human features and the insect within him takes control.

The Fly's most remarkable qualities are inextricably tied to its three key players — David Cronenberg, Jeff Goldblum, and makeup effects master Chris Walas. Since his crude-but-effective 1975 low-budget feature Shivers, Cronenberg has been the undisputed master of biological sci-fi horror, racking up a series of fascinating, unsettling, and thoroughly original explorations of humans consumed by science, technology, and machinery (best amongst them 1976's gritty Rabid and 1979's unforgettably eerie The Brood). In many ways, The Fly is the perfect culmination of Cronenberg's key obsessions, as Brundle's conflicting human needs and emotions corrupt his hunger for discovery, and the final, unforgettably heartbreaking scene is Cronenberg at his purest, mixing horrific content with a deep sense of empathy. As always, Cronenberg's approach is patient, never in a rush to deliver cheap shocks, but letting them evolve naturally from his keenly designed character's obsession. Goldblum has always been the best in his class at delivering quirky pseudo-scientific chatter as if he were accessing organic thoughts, and the first half of The Fly plays to his most obvious strengths. But it is during the second half of the film — as he slowly transforms from a monstrously paranoid and self-obsessed man-fly into monstrous fly-like creature bitterly aching to reclaim his humanity — that he delivers one of the all-time great film performances, effortlessly exuding empathy, pathos, self-loathing, and fascinated anguish from underneath several pounds of decaying latex goo. Goldblum is so powerful as "Brundlefly" that he disarms resistance to what was a dramatic step-up in the level of gore considered stomachable in most big Hollywood pictures. And what exquisite (but never gratuitous) gore it is, with Walas creating a disturbingly authentic transformation that even in its most extreme moments never loses the echoes of humanity that make the movie so effectively potent and unprecedentedly poignant. Walas won an Oscar for Best Makeup Effects (and went on to direct a 1989 sequel, The Fly II), but neither Goldblum or Cronenberg were nominated.

Fox's two-disc Collector's Edition of The Fly is an excellent tribute to an underrated movie, presenting the feature in a great anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio options, as well as an interesting commentary by Cronenberg. Disc Two features a wealth of extras, including the three-part documentary "Fear of the Flesh," which covers the film more extensively than one would reasonably expect (running 2 hrs. 30 min.) and features an enhanced branching option for even more depth of coverage on selected subjects. Also included are a few deleted and extended scenes, including a shocking (and sometimes silly) sequence, understandably cut following a test screening, during which a deteriorating Brundle creates and then kills a deformed baboon-cat hybrid creature before chewing off a newly grown insect appendage. (Ick.) A thankfully unused alternate ending is also included. In the "The Brundle Museum of Natural History," Walas looks at the a collection of concepts, models, and artifacts from the movie (12 min.). Film tests show evolving ideas for the title sequence and some special effects, including "Cronenfly" (8 min.) Textual supplements include Langelaan's original short story, Pogue's original screenplay, Cronenberg's screenplay rewrite, and articles from Cinefex and American Cinematographer magazines. Also on board are promotional featurettes, still galleries, original teasers, trailers, and TV spots. The Fly: Collector's Edition is on the street tomorrow.

One SheetBox Office: Despite several new releases over the weekend, Jodie Foster held altitude on the box-office chart — Sony's thriller Flightplan took first place for the second weekend in a row, adding $15 million to a $46.1 million gross. Debuting in second place was Universal's sci-fi saga Serenity from Josh Whedon, which took in $10.1 million from "Firefly" fans. In semi-limited release, New Line's A History of Violence from director David Cronenberg landed in fourth place with an $8.2 million break. MGM's Into the Blue starring Jessica Alba and Paul Walker barely reached the top five with $7 million. And Disney's The Greatest Game Ever Played, also in semi-limited release, earned $3.7 million for ninth place. Critics gushed over Violence and Serenity, were mixed-to-positive with Game, and largely dismissed Blue. With $875,000 on less than 800 screens, Roman Polanski's Oliver Twist did not chart, earning mixed notices.

In continuing release, Warner's Tim Burton's Corpse Bride held strongly in third place, adding $9.7 million to a $32.9 million tally. DreamWorks' rom-com Just Like Heaven also has done well with early-fall audiences, taking in $38.3 million after three sessions. And Sony's The Exorcism of Emily Rose has garnered $68.5 million after one month. Falling despite some generous reviews is the '70s roller-skating drama Roll Bounce, now with $12.6 million. Also struggling is Lions Gate's Lord of War starring Nicolas Cage, which has generated $21.6 million so far. And off to DVD prep is Fox's The Transporter 2 after stashing $40 million in the trunk.

Plenty more new titles are in cineplexes this Friday, including Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Curtis Hanson's In Her Shoes starring Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette, Two For the Money with Matthew McConaughey and Al Pacino, the musical drama The Gospel, and the restaurant-based Waiting with Ryan Reynolds. Here's the top-grossing movies at North American theaters from last weekend:

  1. Flightplan (Disney/Touchstone)
    $15,038,000 ($46,145,000 through 2 weeks)
  2. Serenity (Universal)
    $10,141,000 ($10,141,000 through 1 week)
  3. Tim Burton's Corpse Bride (Warner Bros.)
    $9,755,000 ($32,910,000 through 3 weeks)
  4. A History of Violence (New Line)
    $8,200,000 ($8,969,000 through 2 weeks)
  5. Into the Blue (MGM)
    $7,000,000 ($7,000,000 through 1 week)
  6. Just Like Heaven (DreamWorks SKG)
    $6,100,000 ($38,396,000 through 3 weeks)
  7. The Exorcism of Emily Rose (Sony/Screen Gems)
    $4,400,000 ($68,522,000 through 4 weeks)
  8. Roll Bounce (Fox Searchlight)
    $4,025,000 ($12,673,000 through 2 weeks)
  9. The Greatest Game Ever Played (Disney)
    $3,749,000 ($3,749,000 through 1 week)
  10. The 40-Year-Old Virgin (Universal)
    $3,110,000 ($101,396,000 through 7 weeks)
  11. Lord of War (Lions Gate)
    $2,450,000 ($21,630,000 through 3 weeks)
  12. The Constant Gardener (Focus)
    $1,396,000 ($29,846,000 through 5 weeks)

On the Board: New reviews this week from the team include Cinderella: Platinum Edition, The Warriors: Ultimate Director's Cut, Inside Deep Throat, The Fly: Special Edition, and Gilmore Girls: Season Four. All can be found under the New Reviews menu here on the front page, while our DVD reviews database features more than 3,200 additional write-ups.

We'll be back tomorrow with this week's street discs.

— Ed.

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