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Date: 5 December, 2003
In the first of a new regular monthly column, Steve Couch reviews
his choice of the best film releases on DVD. To buy a DVD, and raise
money for Christian Aid projects, simply click on its title or picture.
'Without exception, the new material adds to the story
and enhances what was already a fine piece of film-making.'
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Special Extended DVD edition (4 discs).
The cinematic release weighed in at just under
three hours, and director Peter Jackson has added a further 42 minutes
of footage, by way of adding lines of dialogue to existing scenes,
or reinstating scenes which had to be sacrificed to bring the film
down to a manageable length.
So what is the effect of the additions? Will they work, or prove
to be a millstone, burdening an already long film with more weight
than it can bear? Without exception, the new material adds to the
story and enhances what was already a fine piece of film-making.
Supporting characters such as Farimir, Eowyn and Treebeard are given
more screen time, and their stories are developed. Some of the subtleties
of characterisation become more apparent, and the audience is given
a clearer grasp of the psychology driving the characters.
Gandalf's grasp of the big picture becomes more apparent, and there
is more sense of him as the mastermind of the opposition to Sauron,
like a chess player marshalling his pieces to defeat the Dark Lord.
The playful rivalry of Legolas and Gimli is restored, as well as
countless small details like Sam's Elven rope, and Merry and Pippin's
experience of Ent draught, which will delight fans of the book.
Whether you are a major Tolkien buff or only know the films, the
additional footage all serves the story and adds significantly to
the enjoyment of the film.
If all you got for your money was the improved
version of the film, that would be a fine addition to any DVD collection.
But there's so much more on offer here. Four commentary tracks,
featuring the director and writers, cast, design and production
teams respectively; and no less than thirteen documentaries spread
over two discs of extras.
This DVD package will sustain - and reward - hours of viewing time
spread over several weeks. Again, the documentaries tend to serve
the film, enhancing and explaining the creative process, rather
than merely filling out disc space.
Changes to Tolkien's original story are justified by the writers,
and Tolkien buffs who were initially indignant will at least understand
the reasons behind those creative decisions. For the most part (I
write as one whose indignation was provoked by a couple of things)
the reasoning makes sense, and you can see that Peter Jackson and
his team probably got it right.
Who should buy this DVD? Fans of the films and fans of the books
will be delighted by the detail and insight. Cinema buffs will love
the craft of the movie-making that is revealed. If you didn't like
the original film, this probably won't convert you, but then again,
you probably don't expect it to. Peter Jackson has done a marvellous
job in capturing the spirit of Tolkien's novel and recreating it
on screen. That was true even without the extended versions, but
this gets closer to his - and Tolkien's - vision. When God invented
DVD, he probably had this kind of package in mind. Utterly brilliant.
Other Current Releases
Ranking somewhere in the middle of Jim Carrey's wackiness range
(more toned down than Dumb and Dumber or Ace Ventura, but crazier
than Truman Show or The Majestic), to some extent what you make
of Carrey as a comic actor will determine how you feel about Bruce
An excellent supporting cast - Morgan Freeman turns in a typically
classy performance as God - provides the platform for Carrey to
do his thing. A disappointingly slight extras package includes 'The
Process of Jim', which shows Carrey improvising multiple takes in
search of the best comic business. Again, depending on your view
of Carrey, this is either testimony to his genius or tiresomely
self-indulgent. In the same way, the out takes will delight some
and bore others.
The message of the film turns out to be disappointingly bland -
stop looking to God to change things and be your own miracle - and
maybe the film could have done with a little more bite. Nevertheless,
there are several laugh out loud moments and this is a good night
in if you want to be entertained without having to think too hard.
A film that didn't know whether it was a blockbuster action movie
or a thoughtful psychological drama, and possibly falls between
the two stools. Plaudits for director Ang Lee for attempting to
do more than just 'Hulk smash!' his way to box-office riches.
Although there are early hints at the Hulk as an out-of-control
suppressed beast of the subconscious, for the most part he is played
more as a noble savage.
Even when Hulk lays waste to units of American tanks, helicopters
and soldiers, he is always motivated by self-defence rather than
anger. At times the film topples into the ridiculous (the fight
with a genetically modified killer poodle springs to mind), while
still trying to be taken seriously. A generous selection of DVD
extras, but it's hard to shake off the thought that this film has
more to offer than it delivers. This isn't a bad film, just a decent
one which should have been so much better.
Simpsons Season 3 box set
You know what you're getting with a Simpsons box set. Consistently
funny episodes (24 of them here) which don't lose their edge with
familiarity. Which is just as well, as everything in this box set
has been aired on television many times over.
By season three, the show was well and truly into its stride, with
sharper animation than before, finely polished writing and the likes
of Sting, Danny DeVito and Michael Jackson queuing up to make guest
appearances. (Jacko appears as a fat white man who is convinced
that he is ... Michael Jackson). This season marked the point where
Homer ousted Bart as the main comic focus of the show, but there
is plenty of room for all of the characters to shine.
As we have come to expect, there are laugh out loud moments in every
episode, and enough subtlety that you will still be spotting new
jokes after several viewings. Best of the bunch for me are Colonel
Homer and Saturdays of Thunder, but the standard is so consistently
high that a case could be made for just about any episode here.
Cartoon DVDs don't get better than this. At least, not until season
4 comes out.
Other DVDs from 2003
Jennifer Aniston cast very much against type, and a revelation as
a downtrodden supermarket employee tempted by an affair with younger
co-worker (Jake Gyllenhaal). Finally, one of the Friends stars in
a really good film.
Catch Me If You Can
Spielberg, Hanks and DiCaprio combine for the based-on-true-story
tale of fraudster extroadinaire Frank Abagnale Jr. Less cat and
mouse chasing than the promotional material led us to believe, but
still a good film that's worth a look.
of New York
Leonardo in grittier mode than the previous offering. Scorsese's
labour of love finally made it to the big screen (he's been talking
about this one for years), and was appallingly overlooked at the
Oscars. A long hard examination of the foundation of modern America,
and one of the best DVD releases of the year. DiCaprio and Diaz
are very good, while Daniel Day Lewis is mesmerising as Bill the
The Life of David Gale
Kevin Spacey and Kate Winslet are both on form in this tale of an
anti-death penalty protester who finds himself facing the death
penalty. Engrossing and thought provoking.
West Wing, season 2
Absolutely no DVD extras, not even an interview or 'making of' documentary,
but in spite of that, this is still excellent. The West Wing consistently
provides some of the best written and best acted drama ever produced
for television, and it deserves a wider audience than Channel 4's
erratic scheduling has delivered.
An ensemble cast of intelligent, dedicated and idiosyncratic characters
who swiftly work their way into the affections of the audience.
Season one is just as good, but newcomers to the programme will
soon pick up the pace if they start here. Only the lack of extras
keeps this from the top marks that the episodes deserve.
Intelligent, grown up philosophical science
fiction. A disappointing box office opening for Steven Soderbergh's
remake of Andrei Tarkovsky's 1972 classic, but can you name a non
shoot-em-up sci-fi that did any better? George Clooney demonstrates
again that there's much more to him than 'Gorgeous George the Hollywood
Heart-Throb'. Not for everyone, but very good nonetheless.