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February 25, 2008

"How can a train be lost? It's on rails."

So, did any of you watch the Oscars last night? I skipped them again this year. Just couldn't get too excited about it somehow.

Here's what we have coming up this week:

30 Days of Night (2007) Also on Blu-Ray.

Beowulf (2007) Also being released on HD-DVD: there are some titles that were already in the pipeline when the format's demise was announced.

The Darjeeling Limited

Death at a Funeral (2007)

Family Affair: Season 5

The Last Emperor (1987) Criterion issues a new version (and the old one really stinks) of this epic, complete with theatrical and extended versions. There is some controversy over this one since the director and DP asked Criterion to transfer the film cropped to a 2.0:1 aspect ratio (the film was shot and projected 2.35:1). Check out a review thread here.

Newhart: Season 1 (1982)

Silk (2007)

Slipstream (2007) Anthony Hopkins acts, writes, and directs...

The Smurfs: Season 1: Vol. 1 (1981) All you children of the 80s have been waiting for this, haven't you?

February 22, 2008

From another format war...

The Sony SL-2000 Betamax.

We had one of these in the early 1980s. It actually belonged to my old high school, but I got to use it now and then. It was quite the device at the time and cost several thousand dollars. I remember at least one band trip I tagged along with my folks on where I shot video of the marching band (I wasn't in high school yet). This was a very cool rig at the time (the camera that went with it was a tank) and got me all nostalgic...and imagine my surprise that someone had a copy of this ad for it!

February 19, 2008

"This is a very, very, very nice suit."

Hey there everyone. The big news today of course is the fact that the HD format war is officially over. Read the press release here if you're so inclined. Toshiba has thrown in the towel which paves the way for Blu-Ray to succeed or fail in the mass market. Yes, it could still fail overall. Many are still happy with the quality of standard DVD and there's still the factor of HD via downloads or cable/satellite on-demand. Blu Ray has the edge in quality, but its success is by no means assured.

Oh yeah, some shmoe named Castro has stepped down in Cuba.... :-)

So, what do we have for new stuff this week?

American Gangster (2007) This may be one of the last hits to be released on HD-DVD (I'm sure a Blu-Ray version will be announced).

Coach: Season 3

Dragon Ball Z - Season Four

German Expressionism Collection

In the Valley of Elah (2007) DVD Savant reviews this disc here. Also on Blu-Ray.

Lust, Caution (2007) Ang Lee's latest.

Michael Clayton (2007) Also on Blu Ray.

Pierrot Le Fou (1965)

Rendition (2007)

Walker (1987)

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February 12, 2008

TOS Rewind #15: "The Galileo Seven"

Tonight's episode: The Galileo Seven (1/5/1967). The drink: orange juice (I'm trying to get over a cold, so no booze for me).

Without a doubt, this is a Spock episode. Sure, there's the conflict between Kirk and the Commissioner, but this is a sideshow. By placing Spock in a stressful command situation, we get a great chance to see more character development at work.

I've always appreciated this episode for the added complexity it gives Spock. The script shows him having to deal with a very difficult command situation where logic isn't always the right solution. You can really see the character struggling with this as the situation deteriorates on the planet. Nimoy pulls out a good performance with actual nuance. The scene where everyone feels it necessary to kill some of the cavemen/aliens to keep them at bay illustrates the very well. Spock knows that this is the way to go and yet he allows his ideals as a scientist and as an individual, sway him. By refusing to take life, which he slams the human members of the shuttle crew for having disregard for, and stubbornly clinging to the idea that the creatures will behave logically, he puts his command in further jeopardy. This "routine" scientific mission becomes the ultimate command training scenario, with real stakes. Making matters worse is the fact that the crew under his command doesn't have much confidence in his leadership abilities. In fact, they're downright mean to the guy! The one exception is Scotty; probably due to the fact that he's too busy repairing the ship.

Some things I didn't like as much:

The tension between Kirk and the Commissioner was a bit over-the-top. The time crunch pressure should have been enough tension without having the Commissioner, the reminder of the time factor, having to be such a cold-hearted asshat. The shuttle crewmen seem overly hostile toward Spock from the beginning. The blatant disregard for his command seems silly and unrealistic. They could have done that situation with more subtlety. I'm sure they were trying to work in more bigotry and added tension, but this is overdone in the context of the Starfleet military structure. Don't get me wrong, it's really a minor quibble in what's got to be one of the best TOS episodes.

I watched the remastered version of this episode, since I had it handy. I found this to be one of the better efforts with the new F/X. Since there are a number of shots of the shuttle, the planet, and the space quasar phenomenon, I actually liked it pretty well. Here's a sample:


Of course, all the plastic boulders and goofy caveman guys and their spears are just as fake as you remember. The thing I remember being most impressed about growing up was the visual of the shuttle leaving the hangar bay. The original shot still holds up well today, though the new scene adds some CG goodies. Other than that, how can you beat watching a random crewman (non-red shirt) getting impaled by a giant spear!

And on to Mr. Eric:

Somehow, after freezing my ass off shoveling a mountain of snow out of my driveway for the 10,581,869th time (yes, I’m keeping track), I managed to rewatch “The Galileo Seven.? Not surprisingly, it was far more enjoyable than shoveling snow. In fact, this episode holds up very well and remains a favorite of mine. I find it fascinating because it’s an insightful examination of the qualities that make a good leader, and it’s done through a clever comparison of Kirk and Spock in their respective leadership roles.

Before I get started, one bit of trivia is that this was the first episode that featured the shuttlecraft. It wasn’t shown or referred to earlier because AMT (the company that produced the original series model kits) built the full-sized shuttlecraft mockup and was very late finishing it. This is also why Roddenberry came up with the transporter—without the shuttlecraft, he had to have some way of getting people to and from the Enterprise.

Another piece of trivia, technical this time, is that the depiction of the quasar in this episode was accurate based on what we knew in 1967, but in the intervening 41 years, astronomers have reached consensus that quasars are the very bright, distant, and active nuclei of young galaxies. 20/20 astrophysical hindsight...

Anyway, I’ve always enjoyed “The Galileo Seven? because it takes an insightful look at command and leadership. Spock gets his first command when Kirk puts him in charge of the science team being sent to investigate the Murasaki 312 quasar, and as soon as the team’s shuttlecraft crashes on Taurus II (a planet within the quasar), we see just how committed Spock is to basing his command on logic. On the Enterprise, by way of contrast, we see Kirk’s very human approach to command. He is determined not to leave his missing crewmates behind, despite the demands and threats of this episode’s resident bureaucrat, Galactic High Asshole Ferris. Kirk chooses compassion and loyalty, and insists on searching for the missing team until the last possible second, even though it could cost him his captaincy. Spock, however, takes a dispassionate approach that discounts the fact that emotional creatures, humans or the primitive anthropoid inhabitants of Taurus II, don’t react logically to emotionally charged situations. And this causes significant trouble for him. Thankfully, with McCoy’s “guidance,? Spock starts to understand that while logic and reason are important tools for a commander, feelings (intuition?) are just as important. And armed with this realization, he manages to get the team (minus two crewmen) off the planet, hopefully to rendezvous with the Enterprise.

This is where there is a wonderful convergence of loyalty and irrationality. Kirk, under duress from Ferris, is forced to abandon the search for Spock’s team, but he proceeds at the slowest possible speed and keeps every sensor directed toward Taurus II. And as ingenious as this is, it is Spock who makes it possible for the team to be rescued (in the nick of time) by making the completely illogical choice to burn the last of the shuttlecraft’s fuel to send a distress signal that the Enterprise picks up. So the team is rescued and Kirk and Spock show that a good leader has to base decisions on reason and logic that is leavened with emotional insight and occasionally, irrationality. And if they’re lucky, friendship.

Next time: “The Squire of Gothos?

February 11, 2008

"Some people fear the Lord, I fear women."

Holy crap it's cold around here! Still, no matter the weather, the new DVDs march on.

The Amateurs (2005) Also on Blu-Ray.

Becoming Jane (2007) Also on Blu-Ray.

Blade: The Series

Dallas: Season 8

The Equalizer: Season 1

Family Ties: Season 3

George of the Jungle: The Complete Series (1967)

Gone Baby Gone (2007) Also on Blu-Ray.

The Joan Crawford Collection, Vol. 2

No Reservations (2007) Also on Blu-Ray.

Peter's Friends (1992)

Romance & Cigarettes (2005)

We Own The Night (2007)

February 8, 2008

Star Trek: The Nostalgic Picture

So last night I'm sitting in my home office transferring the Laserdisc of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) onto the computer for DVD burning and I get to thinking a little about this film. Why am I spending time transferring an old Laser when there's a DVD available (which I own)? Because this is the only way to view the original theatrical cut of the film in its 'scope aspect ratio. The old VHS and Beta (yes, I have one of these too!) video tapes were pan/scanned and used the television cut which ran 143 minutes. This version, which was never mastered at the correct aspect ratio, has a bunch of scenes that are either redundant or detract from the film. Let's face it: the original version (132 minutes) is long enough as it is (there's truth to the joke, "Star Trek: The Motion(less) Picture").

The Laser version is the way the film ran when I first saw it in 1979. The current DVD, which has some interesting updates and a bunch of bonuses, lacks the original theatrical version. They did this kind of tweaking to Blade Runner, but gave fans the option of buying a set with the theatrical cut. So, this is Trek: fans are well used to re-purchasing material. I'm sure they would have paid a few extra bucks for a version of this DVD that included all the various cuts. I know I would have. But they didn't, so here I am copying over the disc. It's analog video that looks inferior to the DVD, but it's original.

So what about this movie? Needless to say, it isn't the best film of the series. Many don't care for or are indifferent to it. Much of the criticism of the film is valid; for one take on it, check out this review by DVD Savant. Allow me to make a few critical comments...

1) The original cast standing around with little to do than pose for reaction shots. I think this gets at the heart of what's wrong with the film: where's the chemistry? They manage to get everyone back (even Janice Rand!) from the original series and the screenplay has them either making speeches or interacting in slight monotones. There are a few moments where the old character interaction comes back, but it's far too infrequent. The Decker (unit!) and Ilia characters seem to have more spark than the crew we all know/love (and this is sad since they're pretty lame characters). I see two reasons for this: the writing and the directing. The dialog is what it is, but couldn't Wise have wrung some emotion out of the scenes sometimes? I found myself missing the Shatner scenery-chewing (scary).

2) Long and boring. This is often why people have negative reactions to the film. Part of the problem here is that all the grand camera sweeps around the new Enterprise don't have the same impact on a small screen. I remember being blown out of my seat at the Rapid Theater when I first saw it. There was a lot of anticipation attached to that film. All I'd seen was the TV show and this was the new, big, shiny Enterprise on the big screen with a pompous (but in a good way) musical score to match. There's even an overture. Some of that slow exposition works well getting us back into the Trek world. They do spend too much time later on in the film showing off the effects and having the actors look like they're as impressed as we should be. There is a lot of standing around talking; this is a slow, deliberate "ideas" movie without much in the way of space battles or Kirk rolling around in the dirt fighting. One scene that stands out in all of this is the opening where the Klingons are re-introduced. Between the great music and the models/effects (which always looked good to me), this section kicks butt.

Another thing that DVD Savant points out, which I agree with, is the costumes and color schemes. The film has a drab color that isn't helped by the silly pajama-like uniforms the crew wear. And what's with the probe-Ilia's voice? If the probe duplicates the person "in every detail," why the robo-voice? Did they think the audience wouldn't remember her being zapped beforehand?

The "director's cut" DVD redoes effects and slightly reedits the film. Nothing substantial here. Sure, there are some cool-looking effects that appear, but it doesn't address the fundamental problems with the movie. Not that it could, really, unless there was some completely different version of the film out there.

Okay, so I have problems with the film. If so, why spend the time to preserve the theatrical version I've been slamming?

Nostalgia, obviously plays a big part. I have a soft spot for the film, not as much as the original Star Wars, but it is important. One of the things, besides the nostalgia angle, is how the cast still looks somewhat young in this film. Shatner looks reasonably fit and the rest of the cast is in pretty good shape. It's fun the see the TV cast on the big screen before they really got old. So, this isn't that significant a deal, but there's just something about it being the connection between the series and the long-running movie franchise.

Whenever I see this film today, I can't help but wonder what it could have been. Maybe the pressures of the release schedule (well-documented) were to blame, but if the screenplay had just placed more emphasis on the characters than the "space wedgie", it could have been much better. I was psyched to see the Enterprise on the big screen, but what we all really wanted was to see the old cast get back out there. Just having them present was great, but it could have been so much more. The tired old humans vs. machines thing wasn't what we want, it's Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and co. that we lined up back in 1979 to see. But we have what we have and I'll continue to enjoy it with my nostalgic haze, even from that mediocre Laserdisc.

February 5, 2008

"Premium-wise and billing-wise, we are eighteen percent ahead of last year, October-wise."

We finally finished watching Battlestar Galactica season three over the weekend. A really good finale, can't wait to see how they wrap the series up later this year. Certainly one of the best shows I've seen lately; I'm going to be buying this in HD sometime down the line.

So, what do we have this week?

2 Days in Paris (2007)

Across the Universe (2007) I have to wonder if this movie got green-lit due to its potential to sell soundtrack cds of Beatles covers....also on Blu Ray.

The Apartment: Collector's Edition The Wilder classic finally gets a decent DVD with a new transfer and bonuses. If this had been released a year or two ago, I would have sprung for it since the old DVD is pretty lackluster. Now, I'm set to wait for the inevitable Blu Ray release. This attitude is not uncommon throughout the film fan community.

The Aristocats The 1970 Disney flick gets its second DVD release.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) Also on Blu-Ray

Beauty and the Beast: Season 3

The Brave One (2007) Also on Blu Ray.

Descent (2007)

Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007) Galadriel puts on some armor and kicks butt!

The Jane Austen Book Club (2007)

The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection - Volume 10.2

Tootsie - 25th Anniversary Edition A new SE replaces the old bare-bones DVD.