The Oliver Stone Collection
Warner Home Video
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Review by D. K. Holm
When Warner announced in 2000 that a coalition of studios were joining forces to release The Oliver Stone Collection on DVD, many of us were excited. For one thing, Stone was reported to be recording new commentaries for many of the films, and he also was adding many deleted scenes and other extras to films such as JFK that he had already revised earlier. And though Stone's output can be wildly uneven, some of us felt that this multi-Oscar director of 14 completed features (as of this writing), richly deserved such a tribute.
Not many directors in the short history of DVDs have enjoyed such a package deal. Kubrick and Hitchcock come to mind, but few if any others (and I would nominate Richard Lester for such status). But thus far "collection" editions of a helmer's work have been not entirely satisfying like almost everything else in the world of movies, collected works of a filmmaker's oeuvre have fallen far short of what they could be. The Oliver Stone Collection is no exception. The gripe is that these are the people who could do a perfect job, and they always fall short in annoying, inattentive ways. Take the matter of the four double-disc sets included in the package. Though the primary disc is secure in its tray, the secondary disc comes in a small white envelope crammed into a slot on the facing page of the folding snap-case. The second disc is neither safely stored nor easy to get at. Still, the larger 11-disc set seems to be the best that can be done at this moment under the circumstances, and indeed it does offer up a number of small pleasures.
The glaring omissions from the set are Stone's first four films. Seizure, from 1974 (also known as Queen of Evil), is an interesting if inept-sounding suspense film shot in Canada about a horror writer (Jonathan Frid) whose house is invaded by figures of his imagination, including Martine Beswick and Hervé Villechaize. Never released on Laserdisc or DVD, the film has had about four distributors, and Lord knows who owns the rights at the moment. Stone's second film, 1981's The Hand (also a horror tale), is a derivative story of a cartoonist (Michael Caine) who loses his drawing hand in a car accident. It too has neither laser nor DVD publication. (Curiously, this Orion picture is released on VHS by Warner, the main sponsor of the Stone package.) These two films may very well be for completists only. More important is the absence from the set of Salvador (1986), and Platoon (1986). Both were released by Hemdale. Both are influential. Both are major, if controversial statements, from the fledgling director. One earned the best picture Oscar of its year. There was a Laserdisc of Salvador, but though a DVD was announced by Polygram, it never was issued before they liquidated most of their library (MGM likely has the rights at the moment). Artisan released Platoon on DVD with a commentary by Stone, but that edition is now out of print and considered a collector's item; a successive MGM release has no substantive extras. Getting these films for the set might have proven difficult, but surely not impossible, though they would have bumped the suggested retail of the box from $276.78 to perhaps $400 or more.
What remains a series of single and dual-disc sets of all the films from Wall Street on is a mixture of old DVDs, recent releases, and a rush of all-new material. Like Stone's films themselves, the box is uneven. Some movies seem to receive a great deal of attention (JFK, Any Given Sunday), while others that seem equally important get bubkes (Wall Street). Furthermore, the extras on some of the new discs are rehashes from the lasers, but brand new, previously unseen material also finds its way onto some titles, along with new commentaries from Stone. Also, The Oliver Stone Collection comes in two versions. The 10-Pack sports 11 discs all the movies from Wall Street on, plus the documentary Oliver Stone's America. A 6-Pack version has seven discs everything else minus Talk Radio, Heaven and Earth, U Turn, and Nixon. We will go through the films chronologically and try to sort out what's new and old, and what's good or bad.
Wall Street: Stone's dynamic, if Stanley Kramerish, 1987 look at the world of stock market trading in the Reagan '80s is a repackaged version of Fox's DVD from 2000. What distinguished that disc at the time was Stone's audio commentary and a new "making-of" documentary.
Talk Radio: Stone's 1988 adaptation of Eric Bogosian's intense one-person play, expanded with other characters and back-story for the film, is also a re-packaging, in this case of the Universal disc from 2000. It's stylish, sometimes clever, and has a good cast, but it's not one of Stone's best films overall, and the disc comes with few extras.
Born on the Fourth of July: Again, a repackaging, this time of the Universal disc from 2000, which was a visual and aural improvement over earlier discs of the same 1989 movie, and which also features a commentary by Stone.
The Doors: Chronologically, this is the first film in the set to received lavish presentation and enriched supplemental material, spread out over a two-disc set. It seems to be a variation or expansion of the Pioneer LD of 1997. Stone's 1991 account of the rise and quick fall of the influential and still distinctive L.A. rock group is far from being one of his best, but it's interesting nonetheless. This Artisan set features the trailer and teaser from the laser, as well as a documentary about the making of the movie, "The Road to Excess." There is also a six-minute promo feature, production notes, a "jump to a song" function that takes the viewer immediately to all of the film's tunes, and (most important) 14 deleted scenes, amounting to about 44 minutes of material, with an introduction by Stone. These are rather pale and scratchy takes, but look ready to be slipped into the film, and they are in a 2.35:1 ratio. Among the scenes are a foreshadowing conversation about death between Jim Morrison and his wife on an airplane, as well as some scenes at one of the band member's wedding. Also on board are seven talent files, the theatrical trailer and a teaser (both full frame), both rather scratched. There is a six-screen set of production notes, and a six-screen file called "Cinematographic Moments," about how the film was shot. The hippy-dippy musical menus are hard to read and navigate. It's all great stuff, but you really have to like the film.
JFK: The Director's Cut: One of the major contributions to the box set, this latest version of JFK is a two-disc package with a soundtrack remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1. There's a commentary by Stone, while Disc Two includes the theatrical trailer (in 1.85:1), two "multimedia essays," and best of all 54 minutes worth of deleted or or extended scenes 12 in all with Stone's optional commentary, all in 2.35:1. Among the most provocative is a fantasia moment originally intended for the Shaw trial sequence, in which Lee Harvey Oswald (Gary Oldman), visiting the courtroom from beyond the grave, has his moment on the stand. There are also numerous DVD-ROM features. It's one of the crown jewels of the box.
Heaven and Earth: Previously unreleased on DVD, and one of Stone's best and most beautiful movies, this low-key film from 1993 enjoys a commentary by Stone and nine deleted or extended scenes with optional commentary, including a completely different opening sequence that's 20 minutes long (!).
Natural Born Killers: Trimark released the Director's Cut on DVD this is the theatrical version, but has a lot of the same stuff as the Trimark disc, lacking about two minutes of additional, more violent, images, but with a deleted scenes package that includes Mickey and Mallory meeting the shaman in the desert, Robert Downey, Jr. interviewing the Hun Brothers and Steven Wright, the cruel nine-minute courtroom scene in which Mickey kills Ashley Judd, and a Denis Leary rant. It also has "Chaos Rising: The Storm around Natural Born Killers," a 26-minute "making-of" doc; an alternate ending with an intro by Stone; and 11 minutes of Charlie Rose interviews with Stone.
Nixon: An expansion of the Buena Vista DVD release, and drawing upon the Laserdisc version, this two-disc set comes with an audio commentary, deleted scenes, and Stone on the Charlie Rose Show.
U Turn: Again, a reiteration of the previously released DVD.
Any Given Sunday: Any Given Sunday arrived in DVD in the fall of 2000 in the director's cut, and in the Stone box it receives lavish re-release as a two-disc set, which is exclusive to this box. In addition to an enthusiastic commentary by Stone, the disc also bears an excited commentary by Jamie Foxx, plus a music-only audio track. Other features include a menu of 10 football highlights from the movie, several DVD-ROM features (including two scenes followed from script to screen), the opportunity to re-edit one scene, an anthology of articles and reviews, and the film's original Website. Disc Two has 14 deleted or expanded scenes with optional Stone commentary. This amounts to about 38 minutes worth of material, and it includes variations on post-game press conferences, an additional scene between James Woods and Matthew Modine, and a meeting between Al Pacino's coach and his resentful son. There are three music videos on this disc, plus three audition videos with Jamie Foxx. There are also a few outtake montages, eight minutes of football game footage, and three minutes of random second-unit scene-setting shots. There are two stills galleries, one of the film's promotional material, the other of stills. Finally, there is a gag reel of outtakes and bloopers, the funniest one with Woods and Pacino improvising over some pill bottles while sitting next to each other on the team's jet. If you love the movie (and it does grow on you), this is invaluable material to have.
Oliver Stone's America: Also exclusive to the box-set is this hour-long documentary about Stone. Directed by Charles Kiselyak, it's not the greatest profile of the director you've ever seen, but it gives the director a chance to get a lot of ire over the critics off his chest. This disc also includes one of Stone's student films, the 12-minute "Last year in Viet Nam." It is perhaps the quintessential student film.
The Oliver Stone Collection ends up being a mixed bag, a two-and-a-half-star set featuring a bunch but not enough four-star movies and DVDs. The box lacks four early Stone movies, and not all of the DVDs come updated; some of the discs were released not long before the box, and many Stone fans probably already have them.
But is the 10-pack worth having? Yes, if you are new to DVD and don't have any of these discs. Some of the expanded DVDs first released as part of this set have already been slated for separate release, and the others just might come out later as well. Could the box have been better? Yes again. But as a nearly unique testimony to Stone's importance to American movies, The Oliver Stone Collection is a fine statement. I just wish it had been a little bit more articulate.
D. K. Holm
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