Sci-fi and fantasy are the words of the day here at Nerdist Playhouse (I’m Conky, of course), as two classic children’s tales get the big screen 3D treatment and two of the best classic Doctor Who stories ever get special edition DVDs for your viewing pleasure. Also, Bruce Lee’s best film gets a huge 40th Anniversary set. Boom sha-kala-ka.
Fans of the L. Frank Baum book series upon which the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz was based will know that there are a great many adventures in the magical land that have yet to be explored on the silver screen. While not based on any particular novel, Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful looks at how the man behind the curtain got to be the man behind the curtain. In this case, Oz (James Franco) is a huckster from sepia toned, 4×3 Kansas whose hot air balloon gets taken via tornado to the brightly-colored, widescreen, 3D CGI land that shares his name. There he gets mixed up in a power struggle between three witches (Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis, and Michelle Williams), and slowly he learns to be the great man he always wanted to be. Also, there’s a talking monkey.
While the visuals are tremendous, the story is pretty uneven and the casting of Franco is completely wrong. Nobody is less relatable than James Franco. But if you want to see a really well-directed movie with gorgeous visuals and lots of color, then you’ll probably enjoy it a whole lot.
The Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy set, which is the norm these days for blockbusters, has a huge amount of extras which any filmmaking fan should find interesting. There’s a Second Screen making-of, and featurettes about the characters, creatures, music, production design, puppetry, makeup effects, and sound design. There’s also a short film about James Franco by James Franco, a music video by Mariah Carey, and bloopers. Pretty hefty, really.
The trailer for this movie doesn’t let on how much it’s played for laughs as well as being an action-horror movie. It’s produced by Adam McKay and Will Ferrell, for pity’s sake. At any rate, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters seemed like it was trying to hedge its bets too much, aiming for the action and the laughs without sticking either very well. Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton actively have California accents and that’s not played up as much as it should be, and Famke Janssen is merrily phoning in her performance as the bad ol’ witch. The Blu-ray comes with the unrated cut, a full ten minutes longer than the theatrical cut, which does go a long way to making up for some of the tonal shortcomings, but overall it’s just okay.
If you’d like to win a copy of this Blu-ray, one signed by star Gemma Arterton, no less, then be sure to enter this here contest to do so. Then, visit our Facebook, Twitter and Google+ pages to get yourself some extra entries. You’ve only got until midnight on Tuesday, June 18th, so make haste with you.
As the above trailer proudly proclaims, Enter the Dragon is the first martial arts movie produced by a major Hollywood studio, in this case Warner Bros. It featured international superstar Bruce Lee in what sadly became his final completed film. Lee came to America from Hong Kong in 1959 and became a star on TVs Green Hornet as the way-cooler Kato, but once that show folded (after a year), Lee had trouble getting roles. He pitched the TV series Kung Fu but the studio didn’t think the American viewers would respond to a Chinese lead and so it was given to David Carradine in yellow face. He went back to Hong Kong and made a series of now-classic martial arts films (like The Big Boss and Fists of Fury) and in 1973, Warner Bros. finally saw Lee’s star power and decided to give him a big American movie. Giving him co-stars John Saxon and Jim Kelly eased some of the racial burden, but all the best stuff is with Bruce Lee as he takes down an opium trader.
The 40th Anniversary Blu-ray set is nothing short of phenomenal. Besides looking and sounding utterly gorgeous, it comes with a packet of never-before-released production art and literally hours of behind-the-scenes documentaries and features about Bruce Lee and a commentary by producer Paul Heller. If you like this movie, or haven’t ever seen it and always wanted to, this set is so very worth your time.
One of the drawbacks of the BBC’s junking policy (aside from all those missing episodes) is that, often, what is recovered is a film print of the video that aired, and sometimes those were in black and white, as was the case of “The Mind of Evil” from 1971. Despite it being made during the color (or “colour”) years, for decades the B&W, sort of grainy film version was all anyone could see. As happened with portions of “The Ambassadors of Death” and full episodes of “Planet of the Daleks” and “Invasion of the Dinosaurs,” a process called “chroma dot recovery” was able to find the individual pieces of color information held within the B&W film prints and recolorize the whole of the episode. It’s a crazy notion, really, but it worked. The Restoration Team was able to do that with episodes 2-6 of “The Mind of Evil,” but episode one had to be manually recolorized, frame by frame, by a guy named Stuart Humphryes. And truth be told, that episode looks better than the chroma dot ones.
It’s the very last unreleased Third Doctor story, and it contains the Master and a great deal of excellent action set pieces shot in and around Dover Castle being used as the set of a state of the art prison. It’s truly a wonderful story, the second and final written by Don Houghton. The extras on the disc aren’t the best, but there is a making-of shot in 2009 and a commentary both with the late great producer Barry Letts, which are in the plus category. The main special feature, though, is that we can finally see this story in its shot and intended, full-color glory.
Doctor Who – Inferno: Special Edition – The first story written by the aforementioned Don Houghton is my favorite classic Doctor Who story of all time. The special edition has a better transfer and picture quality than its 2006 predecessor and has some nifty new extras to boot, including a reunion with members of Doctor Who‘s infamous stunt team, Havoc. Buy it, you fools.
House of Cards – Season 1 – If you don’t have Netflix, or want some extras, then you can buy the Kevin Spacey political series on 4 discs.
Burn Notice – Season 6 – The penultimate season of USA’s popular spy series. Bruce Campbell’s in it, so you know I’m in.
Save the Date – Really charming indie rom-com starring Lizzy Caplan and Alison Brie. I’m in.
Wrong - A super weird indie thing from the guy who brought us Rubber. This one is about a dog that lives in a man’s brain.
Ninja III: The Domination – Finally the third part of this epic is being released. It stars the girl from the Breakin’ films. (I’ve never heard of it but it’s got ninjas in it.)