DVD Reviews: A Boxed Set Gift Guide

DVD Reviews: A Boxed Set Gift Guide

You know the crunch. Christmas is less than a week away and you still haven’t figured out what to get that one person. What’s interesting is with the introduction of Blu-Ray and the general economy, you can find some very reasonably priced DVD sets that will entertain for hours upon hours.

That said, here are some selections with the Newsarama reader specifically in mind. Price range goes from a little over $20 to under $200. Pick at your own discretion.

BATMAN: THE COMPLETE ANIMATED SERIES

DC Comics Classic Collection

(WB) (17 DVDs)

You know every comic book fan is jonesing for this. Same for any animation fan.

All WB did was collect the previously released four seasons of this landmark series, replete with the original extras, then put them in a properly attractive slip case in a limited quantity. They added an extra disk that does more to promote other projects, like the upcoming Wonder Woman movie and the recent Dark Knight DVD, than actual new information. Don’t forget the attractive book, which really is lifted from Bruce Timm’s book of a few years back.

So is this set worth it? If you have the previous four season sets, the only answer is not really. On the other hand, it is truly undeniable Batman: TAS stands as one of the truly great animated (and arguably overall) televised series of the 20th Century. The show had so many noted innovations, from it’s landmark dark deco backdrops to the mature scripting and acting up front, anyone denying the incredible value of it is stone blind. So, if you’re looking for a sweet gift for a hardcore animation/comics fan, this set is truly hard to beat.

One warning: This is a limited edition collection. WB already stopped production and some DVD services are reporting they are sold out. So, if this is something you want, move fast.

THE REAL GHOSTBUSTERS

The Complete Collection

(Sony/Time Life) (25 DVDS)

The $64 question is why this set hasn’t been released sooner?

Containing every episode, network and syndicated, of this 1986-91 series, what surprises is just how smart and well-conceived this animated spin-off of the Ackroyd/Ramis/Murray movie really was. Then again, it included writers such as J.Michael Strazynski, Chuck Menville, Richard Mueller, David Gerrold, Marc Scott Zircee on its staff. It also was superbly acted with v.o. masters such as Maurice LaMarche, Frank Welker, Arsenio Hall, Lorenzo Music, Charlie Adler and Katherine Soucie. If that wasn’t enough, the animation staff included Bruce Timm, Kevin Altieri, Dan Riba and many other Saturday morning superstars.

The packaging also makes it well worth the giving. Boxed in a reproduction of the original firehouse, each season comes in its own metal tin. From there, the contents include a handy reference book, a wide variety of extra content docs and such, plus a few other googaws guaranteed to make your gifting victim think you’re just the swellest guy in the universe.

In all, a wonderful collection of a truly under appreciated cartoon series. It would look great in any DVD library.

MONTY PYTHON’S FLYING CIRCUS

The Complete Collectors Edition

(21 DVDs) (A&E)

Yes, I know A&E did another version of this collection a few years back. I personally have it. Then again, since I now possess this one, I figure a little regifting is in order.

What you have here is fundamentally 14 DVDs containing every original half-hour of the Python’s silly bits. It even includes one sketch they did that only aired once in the U.S., on a PBS station in the enlightened city of Buffalo, New York. From there, you get a whopping seven extra disks of full Monty madness, including a number of the routines before Mssrs. Chapman, Cleese, Gilliam, Idle, Jones and Palin starting strangling their pythons on television as a flying circus. There are also a number of routines that they did live on stage. If that ain’t enough, each member of the Pythons picked their favorite skits on the last three disks, even the late Chapman. This only begins to delve into the madness that is this Monty set.

About the only thing missing are some exploding penguins, a manual on silly walks and maybe a dead parrot. Yes, it’s a tad pricey. At the same time, any true fan of humor would never forget you if you gave them this box.

THE OUTER LIMITS/The Complete Original Series (MGM) (7 DVDs)

The second greatest sci-fi anthology series to ever grace television is again available. This set collects all the original hour-long black and white episodes, pristinely restored from their originals masters. The only thing missing are the cigarette commercials.

What is there though are tremendous scripts from the likes of creators Leslie Stevens and Joseph Stefano, Harlan Ellison, and more, as well as early acting appearances from Robert Duvall, Martin Landau, Leonard Nimoy, David McCallum and Sally Kellerman.

But what really matters here is we’re talking about an SF series that never talked down to its audience until nearly its end. Such episodes as “The Galaxy Being” with Cliff Robertson or Robert Culp in both “The Architects of Fear” and “Demon With A Glass Hand,” were not just SF TV, but television, at its best. Definitely worthy of being under the Christmas tree.

WALT DISNEY TREASURES:

Dr. Syn: The Scarecrow of Romney March

(Disney) (2 DVDs)

There probably was no bigger an anglophile in the 20th Century than the late Walt Disney. While his animation may have suffered from his almost pious toadying of all things Brit, he made up for it with some truly under appreciated live action work.

Probably one of the least appreciated of these offerings was this Patrick McGoohan vehicle. The man now best remembered for his work on The Prisoner was in top form here as a pre-Revolutionary British vicar by day and “gentleman of the night.” Batman fans would particularly enjoy McGoohan’s use of the scarecrow costume to frighten the daylights out of the minions of the corrupt King George III.

As with all Disney Treasures, this set comes attractively packaged in its own tin .Features some illuminating commentary from the likes of critic Leonard Maltin and McGoohan himself. As an added treat, the first disk contains Dr. Syn as it was aired on American television, as a three-part miniseries on Uncle Walt’s old NBC Wonderful World of Color. The second disk contains much the same material, but as it was shown in Europe; i.e. as a theatrical feature movie.

Either way, McGoohan is in top form. The plot has some seriously dangerous thrills and anyone who loves seeing some swashbuckling daring do would be eternally thanking you for this collection.

LE CHEVALIER D’EON (5 DVDs)

ERGO PROXY (7 DVDs)

(FUNimation)

Two more reasons why we should forever be grateful to FUNimation for their recent title acquisitions.

Ergo Proxy is a truly magnificent extension of concepts initially explored in Ghost In The Shell. This series is set so far in the future the concept of differentiating human from cybernetic has gone beyond blurred to completely arbitrary. In this world, a futuristic detective, named Re-l, is on the hunt of a crazed killer. The problem is the killer may be the next evolutionary step in a world that resembles Asimov’s Caves of Steel gone into complete rust and decadence. The last disk, containing nothing but extra content, is full of stuff that will keep your average otaku thanking you for some time to come. We should be grateful that FUNimation reissued this title from the Geneon archive.

Where Ergo takes you into a probable future, D’Eon is an exploration of a parallel past. Set during the court of Louis XV, France is secretly governed by a group of alchemists and wizards who call themselves Poets. When the body of a young woman is found floating down the Seine, her spirit takes over her younger brother for a bit of revenge, revolution and revolting undead. Like Ergo, this box set comes with lots of historical notes, commentary and other stuff to keep the average alternate history buff happy. The animation, from Production I.G., is also superlative. Originally released by ADV, it’s good to see this collection is again on the open market.

REAPER/Season One (Lionsgate/ABC) (5 DVDs)

Every so often a TV series comes on the air that throws you completely off guard with its whacked inventiveness and subversive humor.

Such is the case of Reaper, which made its debut on the CW in 2007 and kind of crept along through the rest of the year. It stars Bret Harrison as a child who’s soul was sold to the Devil (Ray Wise, in one of his most wonderfully smarmy roles ever). What does the Devil want with this young slacker? Why to hunt down all the souls that escape from Hell, naturally. Along with an equally unimpressive pack of slackers and the mandatory hot chick, Harrison is given such weapons as a dust buster, a baseball, or something equally, one might say demonically, inoffensive to take these lost souls down with.

But the kicker is that’s just the every day plot. Underneath it all is a mass conspiracy involving the Apocalypse, a rebellion in Hell and some divine intervention that keeps one guessing what is really going down. The payoff, the CW announced a second season of 13 more episodes will come this March.

So, if you missed the first run, now’s a great chance to catch up. If you think you have a friend who would love some brilliant but nearly cancelled TV, this is just the right thing for them.

I AM LEGEND (WB) (3 DVDs)

Considering the three different adaptations of Richard Matheson’s story to film, I have to give this latest version some respect. It’s honestly far superior to the early 70s interpretation by Charlton Heston, but Will Smith ain’t no Vincent Price.

Not that I’m really dumping on Big Willie. The first half of this film, when he’s running around New York City just trying to survive, shows the man has matured remarkably as a dramatic actor. He just doesn’t quite measure up against Price’s incredible gravitas and alienation in the original version Last Man On Earth (now available on Legend Films). The interpretation of the more werewolf-like humans also leaves something to be desired.

It comes with three DVDs, one featuring a totally alternative ending to the film that was released. The third disk is full of extra content ranging from the mandatory making of docs to commentary about the classic SF book the film is based on, including some talk from Matheson himself. The additional booklet, post-cards and clip of 35 millimeter film are just the right add-ons for a true gift set. If you know someone who’s a fan of solid sci-fi/horror, you can’t go to wrong with this set.

I, CLADIUS (Fox/Image) (4 DVDs)

Once voted the second greatest series to ever air on Masterpiece Theater, this adaptation of Robert Graves’ masterwork holds up phenomenally well since it debuted over three decades ago.

Then again, with a cast like this, how could I, Claudius fail? Among the young talent making their U.S. debuts were Derek Jacobi in the title role of the cripple who would become the fourth Emperor of Rome, a deliciously decadent and deranged Caligula, the veteran Brian Blessed as Octavian/Augustus and a young Patrick Stewart as the brutal Sejanus. The content truly was for mature audiences only, not just for its racy elements but also for its intellectual content. If that isn’t all, it comes with an extraordinary special feature about Merle Oberon and Charles Laughton’s failed attempt to do a feature film on the same subject way back when.

If you know someone who loves costume dramas of the highest order, you can’t go wrong with this.

Next Column: A look back on some films I missed, but still deserve some attention.

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