The following gift guide will not discuss high-definition or Blu-ray DVDs. Yours truly hasn't surrendered himself to either technology yet, but I probably will during the course of the coming year. As for now, we'll be discussing the old-fashioned, run-of-the-mill DVDs.
There's no sense lying about it: The first 10 months of the movie year were pretty lousy, and you were better off to stay home and watch stuff on DVD. With the holiday season upon us, the following is a guide to some of these DVDs I've deemed best from this past year, as well as some that are coming up that I think will be rather spiffy.
EPICS AND BLOCKBUSTERSFor me, the year's biggest DVD event is King Kong: Deluxe Extended Edition, which was just released this week. With additional footage, the film now clocks in at an astonishing 17 hours. (Just kidding. There's something like 15 minutes of new footage, which would make the film just more than 3 1/2 hours long.) The three-DVD set includes commentary from director Peter Jackson, 40 minutes of deleted scenes, outtakes and behind-the-scene featurettes. The set has plenty in common with the deluxe editions for Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. There's also a gift-set version that features a cool Kong figurine, so for any Kong Head, this is a must.
Many folks passed on Superman Returns in theaters, and that's a shame (although a sequel has apparently gotten the green light). The film comes to DVD this holiday season—it's slated for a Nov. 28 release—and provides an in-home chance to see director Bryan Singer's rebirth of the franchise.
As for the old Superman flicks, Warner Bros. is putting out new special editions of the original film and its three sequels—again, scheduled for Nov. 28 distribution. Of this set, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut holds the most appeal, offering Donner's full vision of the film. (He was fired halfway through the original production and replaced by Richard Lester.) For pure insanity, there's the Superman Ultimate Collector's Edition, a 13-disc set including all of the films and loads of special features. This looks a bit like that massive Alien set that came out a couple of years back.
I want this for Christmas! Somebody buy it for me!
CLASSICSThis past year, Warner Home Video released a lot of cool films as part of its "Signature Collection" series. For the classic film lover, there are sets dedicated to Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart. It's a good way to get films like The Maltese Falcon and The Spirit of St. Louis into a collection, while introducing people to lesser-known goodies like The Naked Spur and Passage to Marseille.
Actually, Warner Home Video dominates this category with additional collections spotlighting Bette Davis, Marlon Brando, Astaire and Rogers, and more. Give this company credit for releasing some of the very best DVDs the market has to offer. The Tennessee Williams collection containing a special edition of A Streetcar Named Desire and the forgotten classic Baby Doll would make for a nice stocking stuffer. (There, I have met the "stocking stuffer" cliché quota for this gift guide.)
Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now: The Complete Dossier offers up both the theatrical version and Coppola's extended "Redux" edition. There are plenty of features, perfect for those who count this film among their favorites.
TVTV on DVD seemed stupid at first in my eyes, but it has grown to be my very favorite thing about the technology. I eschew watching television, wait a year and then get to watch my favorite shows in one-week sittings. Lost: Season 2; My Name Is Earl; The Office: Season 2; The Sopranos: Season Six, Part One; Big Love; Deadwood Season 2; Arrested Development Season Three (R.I.P.) ... these discs took up the biggest share of my DVD viewing this past year, and they are all great.
As for shows that exist no more, there's a great set for The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.: The Complete Series, that strange comedy-Western-science-fiction show that somehow managed to make it onto network television. Great comedy is available with That's My Bush: The Definitive Collection, Trey Parker and Matt Stone's hilarious skewering of George W. Bush that nobody saw during its original run on Comedy Central. Speaking of Comedy Central, the now-dead Stella: Season One is one of the funniest television comedies to hit airwaves since Mr. Show.
For those who used to (or still) collect action figurines, Robot Chicken: Season One, Seth Green's hilarious comedy series utilizing stop-motion animation with action figures, is a must.
CULT, HORROR AND OBSCURE FILMSTwo great films from 2006 are on DVD, and few saw these two gems in theaters. Hard Candy, where a young girl makes a pedophile pay for his nasty ways, and Brick, a bizarre modern-day film noir, get nice treatments. These films contain two of the year's better performances from Ellen Page, as Hard Candy's inventive torture maestro, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Brick).
One of the ultimate cult films, David Lynch's Eraserhead, finally made it to DVD this year. If you wish to make someone's holidays emotionally disturbing, put this one under the Christmas tree.
For horror fans, you can't go wrong with Masters of Horror. The DVDs for this Showtime show are packed with extras, complementing nicely the one-hour films directed by the likes of John Carpenter, John Landis and Tobe Hooper. The show itself is magnificent, and the DVD treatment is optimum for collectors.