video vault

by Mark Burger


(The Criterion Collection)

It wasn’t the first. It wasn’t the biggest. But this award-winning 1958 docudrama may well be the best depiction of the story of the ill-fated maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic, which struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sank on April 15, 1912 with more than 1,500 lives lost.

Adapted from Walter Lord’s bestselling book by Eric Ambler and directed with brisk efficiency and intensity by Roy (Ward) Baker, it’s impossible not to get caught up in the story and the characters, all presented in credible, sympathetic fashion. There’s no need to deviate from the factual elements of the story, which are compelling enough without dramatic (or melodramatic) addition or accentuation.

As inevitable as the ending is, it’s no less devastatingly rendered, with Geoffrey Unsworth’s black-and-white cinematography a major asset, and although dated, the special effects are still tremendously effective.

The cast is superb, headed by reliable Kenneth More as Lightoller, the second officer, with Honor Blackman, David McCallum, Alec McCowen, Ronald Allen, Andrew Keir, Michael Goodliffe, Tucker McGuire (as “the unsinkable” Molly Brown) and Laurence Naismith (as Captain Smith) also on hand. Bonus features include an hour-long 1993 documentary about the production, an audio commentary, and more. The DVD boxed set retails for $29.95, the Blu-ray boxed set for $39.95.

“ADAM-12”: THE FINAL SEASON (Shout! Factory): Martin Milner and Kent McCord hang up their holsters as two of LA’s finest, but not before a final 24 episodes (from the 1974-’75 season) of the long-running, prime-time NBC police drama created by Jack Webb. The DVD boxed set retails for $34.93.

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: CHIPWRECKED (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Jason Lee and David Cross are back for their third go-’round with the animated chipmunks in this family comedy that sees the critters stranded on a remote island. Some of those chipmunk voices include those of Christina Applegate, Amy Poehler, Anna Faris and Justin Long (as Alvin). Available as a single DVD ($29.98 retail), a double-DVD ($34.98 retail), or a DVD/Blu-ray combo ($39.99 retail). Rated G.

“DANNY PHANTOM”: SEASON 2, PART 1 (Shout! Factory): A DVD collection ($19.93 retail) of the first 10 episodes from the 2005-’06 season of the award-winning Nickelodeon cartoon series about an intrepid teenager (voiced by David Kaufman) with the ability to transform himself into a ghost with supernatural powers.

“DARK SHADOWS” (MPI Home Video): With Tim Burton’s big-budget adaptation due on screens in May, fans can prepare themselves with a pair of self-explanatory compilation DVDs from the Emmy-nominated ABC-TV daytime soap opera which ran 1966-’71: “The Best of Barnabas” and “Fan Favorites.” Each DVD retails for $14.98.

DING DONG DEAD (MVD Visual): Writer/ producer/director Creep Creepersin’s lowbudget, nonsensical black comedy stars Luke Y. Thompson as an unemployed suburban misanthrope who strikes back after being assaulted by a gang of girl pranksters called the “Ding Dong Ditchers.”

“GAME OF THRONES”: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (HBO Home Entertainment): The mythical kingdom of Westeros is up for grabs, in all 10 episodes from the premiere 2011 season of the HBO series based on executive producer George RR Martin’s best-selling A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy novels. The cast includes Lena Headey, Sean Bean, Mark Addy, Aiden Gillen, Iain Glen and Peter Dinklage (Emmy winner as Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series). A second Emmy for Outstanding Title Design, with an additional 11 nominations including Outstanding Drama Series. The DVD boxed set retails for $59.99, the Blu-ray boxed set for $79.98.

HIDDEN (Entertainment One): An abandoned treatment facility holds a heinous secret for a group of researchers in this tepid shocker with a few visual flourishes. The Brood did it better.

THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD IN TWO HOURS (A&E Networks): The title tells all in this History Channel documentary that covers the 14 billion-year history of Earth. The two-DVD collector’s edition retails for $19.95.

“LOGAN’S RUN”: THE COMPLETE SERIES (Warner Home Video): In the title role, Gregory Harrison flees a 24 th -century world where people don’t live past 30, in all 13 episodes from the 1977-’78 (and only) season of the prime-time CBS sci-fi series, inspired by the 1976 film based on William F Nolan and George Clayton Johnson’s novel, also starring Heather Menzies as Logan’s companion Jessica, Randy Powell as his nemesis Francis, and the always welcome Donald Moffat as a benevolent android named Rem. The DVD boxed set retails for $39.98.

THE LONE AVENGER (Alpha Home Entertainment): Ken Maynard tracks down his father’s murderer in this straightforward, nononsense 1933 Western programmer.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE — GHOST PROTOCOL (Paramount Home Entertainment): The fourth time’s the charm for the big-screen franchise based on the classic ’60s espionage series, with producer/star Tom Cruise and a new IMF team (Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton and Simon Pegg) on their own and on the trail of a megalomaniac (Michael Nyqvist) who wants to jump-start World War III. Director Brad Bird brings a free-wheeling, eye-popping style to the proceedings. Tom Wilkinson, Michelle Monaghan and Ving Rhames appear unbilled. Rated PG-13.

NEVERLAND (Vivendi Entertainment): The origins of JM Barrie’s classic Peter Pan are dramatized in writer/director Nick Willing’s miniseries, originally broadcast on SyFy, with Charlie Rowe as the 19 th -century London street urchin Peter Pan, with Rhys Ifans (as Hook), Bob Hoskins (playing Smee, as he did in Spielberg’s Hook), Anna Friel, Charles Dance and Keira Knightley as the voice of Tinker Bell. The DVD retails for $19.97, the Blu-ray for $29.97.

“NHL: ROAD TO VICTORY — THE ’94 NEW YORK RANGERS STORY” (National Hockey League/Warner Home Video): This sports documentary ($24.98 retail) recounts the New York Rangers’ 1993-’94 season, in which the team won its first Stanley Cup in 50 years.

THOU SHALT NOT KILL… EXCEPT (Synapse Films): Vietnam vets battle a murderous Manson- like cult (headed by Sam Raimi) in Michigan, in director Josh Becker’s fast-moving, cheerfully trashy low-budget 1985 shoot-’em-up, originally titled Stryker’s War — so named for the lead character, Jack Stryker (Brian Schulz). This special-edition DVD/Blu-ray combo ($29.95 retail) includes the original 8mm short film with Bruce Campbell (who earns a story credit on the feature) as Stryker.

TITANIC: THE COMPLETE STORY (A&E Networks): Regarding the world’s most famous ship (except, perhaps, Noah’s Ark), this two- DVD collection ($19.95 retail) includes three History Channel documentaries about the title vessel and its doomed maiden voyage.

“TRANFORMERS PRIME”: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Hasbro Studios/Shout! Factory): Doubtless inspired by the success of the big-screen franchise, this limited-edition collection includes all 26 episodes from the 2010-’11 season of the Emmy-winning animated series following the new adventures of the title titans, broadcast on The Hub in the US. The DVD boxed set retails for $29.93, the Blu-ray boxed set for $64.99.

UNDER THE BOARDWALK: THE MONOPOLY STORY (Docurama Films): Zachary Levi narrates this engaging, informative documentary tracing the 75-year history of the world’s most popular board game, culminating in the annual Monopoly World Championship. Rated G.

“YO GABBA GABBA!” SUPER SPIES (Nickelodeon/Paramount Home Entertainment): A DVD collection ($16.99 retail) of episodes from the popular, award- winning Nickelodeon children’s series about a group of friendly, musically-inclined monsters and their human friend, “DJ Lance Rock” (Lance Robertson).

WRONG SIDE OF THE BUS (First Run Features): Writer/producer/director Rod Freedman’s heartening, worthwhile, awardwinning documentary follows European-born professor and author Sidney Bloch, whose family fled the Nazis to South Africa during World War II, where he was promptly exposed to yet another culture, as per apartheid, being oppressed by those in powers — except this time, ironically, on the other side. Returning with son Aaron (who narrates) after many years in Australia, Bloch attempts to come to terms with the country’s history as well as his own. Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92.

© 2012, Mark Burger