Tag Archives: DVDs

Firefly, vampires and superheroes (but mostly Firefly).

Firefly: The Complete Series (DVD)Laura and I finished watching the fourth (and final) Firefly DVD after dinner last night. Now we’re all set to see Serenity when it is released in theaters next month. I think Laura likes the series more than she lets on, though I’m sure she’ll deny it. One thing we do agree on: the theme song sucks. Not the music, mind you, the music is good. The lyrics (and the guy singing them)… that’s another story. Die-hard Firefly fans get all weepy about the theme, but I fast-forwarded through it after hearing it twice. No thanks. I do listen to the instrumental version that plays over the end credits every time, though. That one I like.

I completely missed Firefly when it was on Fox. Not surprising, since I tend to avoid Fox (except for Family Guy and occasionally The Simpsons) whenever possible. Don’t even get me started on the local Fox news program. By missing Firefly, I also missed the hubbub surrounding its cancellation. I know that there was a massive fan outcry that led to Serenity being green-lighted, but I wasn’t part of it and really didn’t think much of it until I actually sat down and watched the series.

And? It’s a good show. The concept (Stagecoach in space) sounds a little weird at first, but it works surprisingly well. It helps that so much attention has been paid to the look and feel of the universe as a whole. The particulars of the story are very interesting, and the primary cast is quite good. I wasn’t all that taken with Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Filion) at first, but he kind of grew on me. The crew of Reynolds’ Firefly-class spaceship, Serenity, is an interesting bunch. There are nine altogether (including Captain Reynolds), so I’m not going to get into each of them, but my favorites are Book (Ron Glass), Jayne (Adam Baldwin) and Kaylee (Jewel Staite). Book is a mysterious “Shepherd,” a wandering holy man with a hidden past. Jayne is a straight-up mercenary who is entirely capable of selling out his shipmates if the price is right. And Kaylee… sweet, sweet Kaylee is a dream made real, the embodiment of innocent beauty. To quote Wash (the ship’s pilot), “Were I unwed, I would take [her] in a manly fashion.” Yeah. She’s something else. Oh, and I guess she fixes the ship, too.

After we watched the last three episodes and a couple of the special features, I went upstairs and fired up Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption.

Alas, it just wasn’t good night to be a vampire. Christof, Wilhem and Serena were given permission by the Kindred Prince of Prague to enter Ardan’s Chantry to learn more about the disappearance of several humans and Kindred. Ardan is a member of the Tremere clan, and his Chantry is occupied by numerous Tremere Regents, Neonates and Apprentices, most of whom can cast fireballs. Vampires don’t much like fire. After several unsuccessful attempts to defeat the Tremere and their creatures (gargoyles and annoying, frog-like beasties called “hoppers”), I decided to trade in my fangs for spandex and superpowers. I completed a couple of missions in City of Heroes and then went to bed.

Christmas in June

More new stuff!

Rebel Trucker: Cajun Blood MoneyRebel Trucker: Cajun Blood Money (PC)

Rebel Trucker is, according to the GameSpot review, a “… huge mess of a game that is riddled with grievous bugs, badly designed in every measurable capacity, and completely lacking in any conceivable dimension of fun.” GameSpot rates it a 1.8: abysmal. I picked it up for $6.98 from Half Price Books because I have an unexplainable compulsion to drive big rigs in video games. I should probably be ashamed of myself.

Iron MonkeyIron Monkey (Siunin Wong Fei-hung tsi titmalau) (DVD/1993)

Iron Monkey is a very fun movie with a Robin Hood hero and some excellent wire-fu. The action is a cross between The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. This is the U.S. version (presented by Quentin Tarantino), which is rumored to be superior to the original release in some respects, yet inferior in others. I was surprised to find it at Half Price Books for the low, low price of $4.98. Worth every penny.

Star Wars: Rebel StormStar Wars Miniatures: Rebel Storm starter set

This one was a gift from co-worker Chuck (AKA gator). It’s an assortment of miniature Star Wars figures and rules for engaging them in skirmishes. The set also includes maps and blank grids, and the figures can be used with the Star Wars roleplaying game. This last will likely come in handy when my Star Wars role-playing group starts getting together this summer. Thanks, Chuck!

We love the stuff!

Recently added to my DVD collection:

Daredevil: Director’s CutDaredevil: The Director’s Cut

I wasn’t aware that there was a director’s cut of Daredevil until I saw it in the used bin at GameStop. Though it certainly doesn’t measure up to some other recent superhero movies (Spider-Man, X-Men), I’m comfortable saying that Daredevil is still leaps and bounds better than some of the stuff we’ve seen in the darker past (Captain America), not to mention the horrid television version of the Man Without Fear that some of us remember from The Trial of the Incredible Hulk, which featured Rex Smith (who’s he?) as Matt Murdock/Daredevil and John “Sallah” Rhys-Davies as The Kingpin.

The ShadowThe Shadow

The Shadow and The Phantom (starring Billy Zane) top my list of underappreciated superhero movies. Next to his turn as Jack Ryan in The Hunt for Red October, this is my favorite Alec Baldwin performance to date. Baldwin’s voice is excellent and the special effects that transform Lamont Cranston into The Shadow are top-notch. Throw in folks like John Lone, Penelope Ann Miller, Tim Curry, Peter Boyle, Ian McKellan (yes, that Ian McKellan) and you’ve got a fantastic, fun popcorn movie.

Tetris and Star Wars: Clone WarsI also picked up a used copy of the Star Wars: The Clone Wars/Tetris Worlds disc that used to be included in the Xbox system bundle. GameStop was selling this for $8.99 used, but their sticker price on a used copy of the standalone version of The Clone Wars is $12.99. Go figure.

In other news, Bob is turning into a damn cycling nut. Not only did he ride our route again Sunday, but he alleges to have ridden six miles this morning, too. And me? I planned to go out for a while yesterday evening but wimped out. I need to see if I can fix the head and tail lights that Laura bought me. They no workee, and I don’t want to cycle after dark (when it’s no longer 90+ degrees) without ’em.

Batman: Old School

Batman Disc 2 MenuPart of what has made Batman such a popular superhero over the years is the fact that he has no super powers. He’s just an ordinary millionaire playboy who has trained to the peak of physical perfection and used his seemingly limitless funds to build an astounding array of gadgets and gizmos to aid him in his battle against crime. Just like you or me.

Nowhere is the fact that Batman is just an ordinary Joe more evident than in the 1949 movie serial, Batman and Robin. The Dark Knight and the Boy Wonder drive around not in the Batmobile, but in Bruce Wayne’s car. They defeat criminals with fisticuffs worthy of a barroom brawl. No fancy martial arts, no swinging from rooftops, and nary a Batgizmo in sight. That’s right, the utility belt that saved Adam West’s Batbacon on so many occasions in the 1960’s does little more than hold up Robert Lowery’s Battights in the 1940’s.

Well, so far. I’m only about a quarter of the way through the 15-installment serial. The depths of The Wizard’s fiendish plot have yet to be revealed, but at the core of the masked madman’s machinations is a device that can remotely control any vehicle (be it plane, train, automobile or … tire iron?) within its range. The clever contraption can even cause a controlled car to combust. The malevolent machine runs on diamonds, and apparently requires a steady flow of the stones to operate. Thus, The Wizard dispatches his henchmen to pilfer the precious pretties from a variety of vendors, only to see them thwarted by the Dynamic Duo.

As with all serials, each episode ends with Batman and/or Robin in dire peril, and the following installment reveals how they escaped certain death, usually by cheating. Yes, the plane exploded, but … oops! … we forgot to show that crucial cut where Batman and Robin exited the aircraft with plenty of time to spare. Hell, they could have sat down for tea and biscuits after disembarking. They had that much time.

Such is the way of the movie serial of yesteryear. When Batman and Robin cheat death, they really cheat. It’s fun to watch, nonetheless. When the Captain America serial is eventually released on DVD, I’ll snatch that one, too. Yeah, I’ve already got it on VHS, but I’m a sucker for Captain America.

Hellboy Revisited

Hellboy - Director’s CutThe day after I bought a used copy of Hellboy from Blockbuster, the three-disc uberhyperultramegaspecial platinum tiger edition was released. Naturally. This new edition contains added scenes, new commentaries, additional special features and is hand-delivered by Ron Perlman, Mike Mignola and Guillermo del Toro, who sit on your couch, drink beer, and trade amusing anecdotes as you watch the director’s cut of the movie, the running time of which is nearly eleven hours.The interviews and commentaries contained on this DVD are for entertainment purposes only. The views and opinions expressed therein are those of the individual speakers, and do not necessarily reflect those of Revolution Studios, Sony Pictures Entertainment or any of their affiliates.

Sounds like the perfect Christmas gift for me, doesn’t it? Boy, howdy, it sure does! Well, don’t reach for your wallet just yet, ’cause I already got it as part of a gift exchange. I am, as the Beat Farmers would surely assert, a happy boy. I watched the movie (again) over the weekend (or perhaps it was Monday night). I’m pleased to report that the added scenes flow quite nicely, and nicely flesh out some aspects of the story. I have yet to watch any of the commentaries, but Hellboy is one of those rare movies that I could watch three or four times in the space of a month without worrying that I’ll grow tired of it. It is simply fun to watch.

Star Wars Trilogy DVD

Star Wars TrilogyI’ve had a little time to recover from the emotional upheaval brought on by my little revisionist fiction rant last week. I’ve also had time to watch the entire original Star Wars trilogy in the manner dictated by its creator.

First, the good. Everything looks brilliant. The entire trilogy looks as though it could have been released in theaters yesterday. There is nary a speck or scratch to be seen. The folks over at LucasFilm did a fantastic job of restoring the films. Every image is crisp and clear, and some of the less-than-pristine effects have been cleaned up quite a bit. In Return of the Jedi Luke Skywalker’s battle with the rancor looks much less blue-screen-y than it did in previous releases. Also in Jedi, the evil black floating blob on the left (screen right) side of the Emperor’s face that was present in some scenes has been completely eliminated. Viva la technology!

The sound is equally impressive. Yes, there are a couple of oddities in A New Hope, but it’s far from disastrous. The revamped THX sequence that plays before each of the three films was mighty mighty on my surround sound system, and almost everything that followed was aurally satisfying.

And guess what? The magic isn’t gone. A New Hope still has the same effect on me that it did when I first saw it so many yesterdays ago. Yeah, Greedo shoots first. In the DVD version, it’s pretty much simultaneous. I can live with it, really. It doesn’t make Han any less bad ass. Also, the DVD version of Jabba the Hutt is far superior to that seen in the Special Edition. It’s still not quite there, but it’s a huge improvement. All in all, the first of the trilogy suffers least from Lucas’ most recent meddling tweaking. I watched it on the 21st and was fully prepared to watch it again on the 22nd, when Miscellaneous G™ came over to watch The Empire Strikes Back.

Ah, Empire. Of the three original films, it has always been my favorite, for several reasons. First, Vader was at his nastiest. Second, it introduced Yoda (who seems far more alive as a puppet than as a computer-generated image) and Boba Fett. Throw in AT-ATs, snowspeeders, Cloud City, Lobot (hell yeah!) and a cliffhanger ending, and you’ve got the best of the best.

Alas, it is my beloved Empire that suffers most in the DVD release. The changes Lucas introduced with the Special Edition were largely benign: an expanded Wampa ice creature scene (good), an extended Cloud City landing for the Millennium Falcon (bad; the computer-generated Falcon looks far too flat), a more open, airy Cloud City (good), Luke’s scream as he falls (bad, bad, bad; this greatly diminishes Luke’s bravery in choosing death over the Dark Side) and an extra line from Vader (bad; clearly not James Earl Jones). Lucas actually removed the aforementioned Special Edition scream, for which I applaud him. Unfortunately, he also completely emasculated Boba Fett.

Boba Fett has a mere three lines in The Empire Strikes Back. The first is on board an Imperial Star Destroyer. Darth Vader instructs a group of bounty hunters that they may use any methods necessary to apprehend Solo and his companions, but the fugitives are to be delivered alive. Addressing Boba Fett, he says, “No disintegrations.” Fett responds, “As you wish.” Three little words, and the manner in which they were delivered in pre-DVD releases was an acquiescence, but not a submission. To maintain continuity, Lucas opted to dub over Fett’s original voice. What we now hear is Temuera Morrison, the actor who portrays Jango Fett in the prequels. Morrison’s delivery of the line is entirely devoid of menace. No longer is there a sense that Fett is dangerous, formidable and respected. Instead, he is obedient and submissive. In Vader’s presence he has no spine whatsoever.

That’s a lot to read into three little words, isn’t it? It’s an entirely subjective debate, of course. To me, Fett is transformed from mysterious, edgy bounty hunter into just another of Vader’s whipping boys. His second line doesn’t really improve the situation. “What about Solo?” he asks on learning that Han is to be frozen in carbonite. “He’s worth a lot to me.” Maybe it’s the accent. Maybe it’s that the emphasis has moved from “lot” to “me.” Whatever the case, it simply grates on me. Whether or not I’m able to grow accustomed to this change after further viewings is unknown.

Thankfully, Fett’s final utterance is Morrison’s best attempt at capturing the bounty hunter’s previously menacing, gravelly voice. “Put Captain Solo in the cargo hold,” he says, as he stands guard outside Slave I, ensuring that no one will snatch his long-sought prize at the last minute.

Boba Fett comes out of this new Empire with some of what made him cool chipped away by Lucas’ revisionist hand. While it could be argued that Fett’s dying (or not) scream in Return of the Jedi certainly didn’t help his badass image, that is an entirely different film. Within the confines of The Empire Strikes Back, Boba Fett’s badassedness was matched only by Darth Vader’s; but that was a long time ago, before the technology was available to tell the story right.

Still, not all of the changes in Empire are bad. I was quite pleased (despite my initial trepidation) with Ian McDiarmid’s recreation of the Emperor. The dialogue was changed a bit, but not enough to incite outrage, and the overall effect was quite good. Here, at least, I can appreciate the new continuity.

Finally, we move to The Return of the Jedi. Long recognized as the weakest of the original trilogy, even at its worst Jedi doesn’t approach the levels of decrepitude achieved by The Phantom Menace and its even feebler successor, Attack of the Clones. With the Special Edition, it came pretty darn close, though.

Of the original trilogy, Jedi got the most Special Edition attention. Unfortunately, that attention was realized in the form of a musical number in Jabba’s palace that was, in simplest terms, awful. To paraphrase Obi-Wan Kenobi, it was more cartoon than CG, wretched and horrifying. The original song, Lapti Nek wasn’t exactly a high point in the Star Wars saga, but it was at least passable.

Still, that’s Special Edition. That’s old news. It isn’t until the very end that the far-reaching hand of Lucas twists Jedi, replacing the ghostly image of Sebastian Shaw with that of Hayden Christensen, who looks as though he’s trying out for the Jack Nicholson role in a remake of The Shining. Seriously, there’s nothing in his gaze that says, “I’m at peace now, thank you, son. Thank you for freeing me from the grip of the Emperor and redeeming me.” No, it’s more along the lines of, “As soon as you look away, I’m going to kill and eat the little green fellow and the old man. Now go, my son, leave me.” I suppose it could have been worse. It could have been Hayden’s scarred head Luke revealed when he removed Vader’s mask.

In the end, this is Star Wars. None of the changes Lucas made – whether they be Special Edition or new to the DVD – can truly negate the fact that this trilogy has finally made it to DVD. Yes, it would have been nice to see the original versions. No, I don’t think Lucas is going to reconsider. So I’ll take what I can get, and I will enjoy it. The magic, as I said, is still there, even if the magician seems quite mad at times.