DVD Pick of the week: PAPILLON (Warner Home Video)
A grand, grueling adaptation of the international best-seller, director Franklin J. Schaffner’s compelling 1973 adventure stars Steve McQueen as the real-life Henri “Papillon” Charriere, the legendary criminal unjustly imprisoned for murder on the infamous Devil’s Island in what was then French Guiana.
In a role that perfectly reflects his screen image, McQueen is in top form as the unbreakable rebel, relentlessly and repeatedly attempting escape despite impossible odds. Setbacks and beatings only strengthen his resolve over the years. This was probably the actor’s last great performance, and he’s matched, in an atypical role, by Dustin Hoffman as the forger Dega, a man ultimately broken in spirit but not in his loyalty to Papillon.
Rounding out the gutsy cast are Anthony Zerbe, Don Gordon, Victor Jory, Val Avery and William Smithers, the very portrait of smug officiousness as Warden Barrot. The Dalton Trumbo/Lorenzo Semple Jr. is credible and ironic without cheapening the story, and Jerry Goldsmith’s Oscar-nominated score (incredibly, the film’s only nomination) complements the film’s power nicely.
Long available on DVD, Papillon is now available on Blu-ray ($34.99 retail). Rated PG.
THE BBC TUDORS COLLECTION (BBC Worldwide): A 12-DVD boxed set ($149.98 retail) boasting three critically-acclaimed, awardwinning BBC mini-series’ dramatizing the British Royal Family: The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970) stars Emmy winner Keith Michell in the title role and earned four additional Emmy nominations including Outstanding Drama Series; Elizabeth R (1971) stars Glenda Jackson and won five Emmy Awards including Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding New Series and two for Jackson; and The Shadow of the Tower (1972) stars James Maxwell as Henry VII and Norma West as Elizabeth of York.
“BOY MEETS WORLD”: THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON (LionsGate Home Entertainment): It’s senior year for all-American teen Ben Savage and company (including Danielle Fishel, Rider Strong, Will Friedle and William Daniels), in all 24 episodes from the 1997- ’98 season of the award-winning ABC sitcom. This three-DVD boxed set retails for $29.98.
“CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL”: THE COMPLETE FIRST & SECOND SEASONS (Warner Home Video): A self-explanatory DVD boxed set ($29.98 retail) containing all 22 episodes from the 2008 and 2010 seasons of the cable-TV comedy, timed to coincide with the third-season premiere on Adult Swim, that spoofs prime-time medical shows. The cast includes Rob Corddry (who created the series, which originally aired over the Internet), Megan Mullally, Lake Bell, Malin Akerman and Henry Winkler.
FANTASIA & FANTASIA 2000: 2-MOVIE COLLECTION SPECIAL EDITION (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): Two of the most beloved animated features in Disney’s history are brought together in this limited-edition collection: The original 1940 Fantasia, which won two Honorary Academy Awards and Fantasia 2000, which was actually released in 1999. The first film is impossible to top, but the long-awaited followup was quite worthy. Available as a two-disc DVD boxed set ($39.99 retail) or a DVD/Blu-ray combo pack ($45.99 retail). Both films are rated G. Fantasia: Fantasia 2000:
FERTILE GROUND (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Leisha Hailey and Gale Harold are attractive as a young couple who move to a remote house in the country with a dire history. Guess what happens next? Slow-moving, episodic scare fare that travels a well-worn route. Rated R.
THE HIT LIST (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Gimmicky but okay thriller with Cuba Gooding Jr. as a hard-bitten hit man who obliges burned-out businessman Cole Hauser by killing the five people he hates the most. Ideally suited to the small screen. Rated R.
IMAX BLU-RAYS (Inception Media Group):
A pair of documentaries, now on Blu-ray (each retailing for $19.98): Avery Brooks narrates The Greatest Places (1998), which explores many of the planet’s most breathtaking natural wonders; and Joseph Campanella narrates the selfexplanatory Search for the Great Sharks (1995).
“IRT: DEADLIEST ROADS”: SEASON ONE (A&E Home Entertainment): All 13 episodes from the premiere 2010 season of the popular History Channel reality series, spun off from “Ice Road Truckers,” in which drivers attempt to navigate the most perilous roads on the planet. Thom Beers serves as narrator. The DVD boxed set retails for $24.95, the Blu-ray boxed set for $34.95.
“THE KIDS IN THE HALL”: THE COMPLETE MEGASET (A&E Home Entertainment): A mammoth, 22-DVD boxed set ($99.95 retail) boasting every episode from the entire run (1988-’95) of the popular, awardwinning sketch-comedy series that catapulted Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney and Scott Thompson to international stardom. Lorne Michaels, who knows a thing or two about sketch-comedy, was the executive producer. The series picked up three Emmy nominations for writing during its run, to say nothing of a fervent following. A&E Home Entertainment is also releasing “The Kids in the Hall: Death Comes to Town” ($24.95 retail), an eight-part mini-series that reunites the original cast in an all-new murder-mystery spoof.
MLB BLOOPERS: DOUBLEHEADER (A&E Home Entertainment): The most memorable goofs in Major League Baseball are “celebrated” in this DVD twin-bill ($12.95 retail): The Funny Side of Baseball, narrated by Chris Kattan; and Baseball’s Best Blunders, narrated by John Webber.
“PRIME 9”: MLB HEROICS (A&E Home Entertainment): A collection of episodes ($12.95 retail) of the MLB Network series “Prime 9,” which revisits extraordinary baseball plays from the game’s history. Topics include “Home Runs,” “Hitting Seasons,” “Comebacks” and “Best World Series.” When it comes to the latter, I tend to favor 1980 and 2008 …
THE PROWLER (VCI Entertainment): Van Heflin plays a deranged cop who becomes obsessed with lonely wife Evelyn Keyes in this highly suggestive, increasingly paranoid 1951 melodrama written by Dalton Trumbo (under the pseudonym “Hugo Butler”) and directed by Joseph Losey — both soon to be blacklisted.
Produced by Sam Spiegel and John Huston (then married to Keyes). A little ragged around the edges, which adds to the weirdness and simmering sexual tension of this (very) rough gem.
Trumbo provides the voice of Keyes’ off-screen husband (heard on the radio), and Robert Aldrich was the assistant director.
SECONDS APART (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Gary and Edmund Antin play telekinetic twins who use their powers for evil — until they tangle with dogged detective Orlando Jones and tempted by schoolmate Samantha Droke. Uneven, but helped by good performances. Rated R.
“THE UNKNOWN WAR: WWII AND THE EPIC BATTLES OF THE RUSSIAN FRONT” (Shout! Factory): Burt Lancaster hosts this 1978 documentary series that chronicles the Soviet Union’s battle against Nazi forces in World War II, scripted and scored by Rod McKuen. This was pulled from circulation in 1980 when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and hasn’t been seen in its entirety since. This five-DVD boxed set, which contains all 20 episodes, retails for $39.97.
TO PARIS WITH LOVE (VCI Entertainment): Alec Guinness re-teams with Kind Hearts and Coronets director Robert Hamer for this light 1954 comedy about a widowed aristocrat who visits the title city with his son (Vernon Gray), where both find romance. Guinness is always good company, but this is pretty bland.
Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. Copyright 2011, Mark Burger