This Week in the Mercury


Monday, October 24, 2011

DVD Roundup: Tarantino! Adventure Time! Malick! Jurassic Park!

Posted by Erik Henriksen on Mon, Oct 24, 2011 at 2:12 PM

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Here! Have some quick reviews of a few recent Blu-ray/DVD releases: Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown! Tree of Life! Jurassic Park Ultimate Trilogy! And Adventure Time! And yes. I know I'm awesome at PhotoShop.

Tree of Life (Blu-ray, out now)—It's Tree of Life, which means... you know. It's Tree of Life. I quite liked it in the theater, and on Blu-ray, it's an excellent justification for buying that HDTV: A few regrettably cheesy dinosaur special effects aside, this thing is gorgeous to look at, and its graceful, melancholy tone still sucks you right in. (Even if that's not quite as effective when you're sitting in your living room rather than watching this thing on big screen—if there was a law that forbade people from seeing Malick films at home rather than on the big screen, I'd probably be in favor of it.) The Blu-ray's sparse, with only one bonus feature: "Exploring The Tree of Life," a half-hour doc that includes interviews with seemingly everybody in the world talking about Terrence Malick. (Naturally, the reclusive Malick is nowhere to be seen.) Particularly cool is seeing old-school special effects wizard Douglas Trumbull talking about how they made Tree of Life's practical effects, and hearing David Fincher talk about seeing Days of Heaven three or four times in the theater, and listening as Christopher Nolan recalls both Badlands ("a striking, striking piece of work") and Days of Heaven ("I was simply staggered by the relationship of the image to the storytelling—the idea that you were seeing a form of narrative that could only be cinema"). Adulatory, sure, but deservedly so.

Jackie Brown and Pulp Fiction (Blu-ray, out now)—Two of Tarantino's best finally hit Blu-ray, and they're basically fine-tuned versions of the already impressive two-disc DVD releases. Those discs were crammed with special features, and everything carries over: Pulp Fiction, for example, includes things like a Tarantino interview with Charlie Rose, Siskel & Ebert's special on Tarantino, and the Palm d'Or acceptance speech, while Jackie Brown has the Siskel & Ebert review of the film plus (and this might be one of my favorite features of all time) a bank of old Robert Forster trailers, featuring previews for everything from The Black Hole to Aligator. New to these Blu-rays are some critics roundtables, moderated by Elvis Mitchell—there's one for each film, and both of them feel drawn-out, self-congratulatory, and, ultimately, unnecessary. Pulp also has "Not the Usual Mindless Boring Getting to Know You Chit Chat," which is code for a slew of new cast interviews, but... eh. Nothing remarkable there. The real draw are the already solid suite of features, not to mention the films, both of which are still phenomenal (Jackie Brown still gets better every time you watch it) and both of which have never looked better. Plus, the price tags: Blu-rays are usually far too expensive, but these are stickered at $20 a pop, meaning they're actually only 10 bucks each on Amazon. Which means if you like movies you should probably have these. Like, now.

Adventure Time: My Two Favorite People (DVD, out now)—Adventure Time has been on Cartoon Network for like two years, but this is the first time it's come out on DVD, which seems like a CRIME, because it's amazing. The downside here is that rather than containing a full season or two, this DVD only has 12 episodes, presented without any apparent rhyme or reason. Which is disappointing, because I want more of it. It's the story of Finn, a 13-year-old adventurer, and Jake, a talking shapeshifting dog. They're BFFs, live in the coolest house ever, and they fight an ice king (The Ice King), clash with a vampire (Marceline the Vampire Queen), hang out with a princess (Princess Bonnibel Bubblegum) and a flying unicorn dragon thing (Lady Rainicorn) who speaks Korean. There are also some stupid/sad cloud creatures and the Ice King's evil heart (Ricardio the Heart Guy) who has the seductively sweet voice of George Takei. You wouldn't be blamed for thinking it just sounds obnoxious, and in print, it does—but in motion, there's a surprising amount of tenderness here, and the show's consistently hilarious, insanely inventive, and solidly good-hearted. It pulls together elements of Dungeons & Dragons and Adult Swim and Nintendo and buddy-cop movies and... man. It's just good. I tore through all 12 episodes as quick as I could, and if it made any sort of sense at all to buy cable, this would be one of the things I'd regularly watch. As is, I guess I'll just wait around and hope they put out another DVD with more episodes soon.

Jurassic Park Ultimate Trilogy (Blu-ray, out October 25)—Tomorrow Universal's putting out a Jurassic Park box set that, packaging and extras-wise, closely mirrors their Back to the Future Blu-ray set. This is a good thing. All three films are here, and they all look and sound good, if not amazing—these are an improvement from the DVDs, but that's about it. (Part of this might be the CG, actually: Computer effects frequently translate weirdly to home video, and in general, the computer effects shots in these effects-heavy movies seems far more uneven to me on Blu-ray than they did on DVD or in the theater.) The real draw is "Return to Jurassic Park," a six-part documentary that boasts new interviews from Steven Spielberg, the cast, and effects technicians, as well as pulling in old footage of the late Michael Chrichton and Stan Winston. Spielberg talks about okaying Jurassic's effects shots while he was on the set of Schindler's List, sound guy Gary Rydstrom goes into all the weirdness that went into making dinosaur sounds, artist Mark "Crash" McCreery notes how "everything changed" after the crew saw Industrial Light and Magic's first tentative test shot of a CG tyrannosaur. Combined with glimpses inside Winston's workshop and archival footage of the stop-motion animatics used to plan out key action sequences (the entire animatics can also be found on the discs, which is great), it's a solid documentary, and it's appropriately weighed towards the first film, with a few interesting details about The Lost World (like Spielberg talking about hiring his cinematographer from Schindler's, Janusz Kamiński, to shoot the darker sequel—they've since made, like, everything together) and a quick wrap-up of Jurassic Park III, which no one seems that invested in but everyone admits was fun to make. (By the time they were shooting III, the cast would leave the dinsosaur-filled set at Universal Studios and immediately hear the sounds of screaming tourists elsewhere the park—riding the nearby Jurassic Park-themed ride. That's a pretty telling anecdote.) Still, it's worth noting that for all its goofiness, III is significantly more cohesive than The Lost World, a frequently nonsensical and silly sequel that has aged... poorly. The first film, though, is still entirely great, and, combined with the six-part documentary, it makes this thing a pretty solid investment if you're the sort of person who likes watching other people run in terror from velociraptors. Which is probably everybody.

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