Here's my list of the 10 best DVD bets for movie and TV lovers that came out in the past year. Hopefully, it will help you through the dreaded holiday shopping tribulations.
For three years running, director Peter Jackson and crew have set the high watermark on how to make a fantastic DVD. There are more than 50 minutes of added footage, and it's all good. An assortment of behind-the-scenes documentaries dwarves any DVD package currently on the market. Nothing beats what Jackson has done with the DVD medium, and I'm hoping his future King Kong remake gets similar treatment. This man is the God of the Geeks. One could also consider buying the entire trilogy in a boxed set.
Sixty classic shorts from the likes of Bugs, Daffy and the Road Runner, with an obscene quantity of special features to keep cartoon nuts giddy. This is also available in a condensed version with fewer shorts and features, but you must avoid that one. A few extra bucks results in cartoon bliss, and much more viewing pleasure.
Any Seinfeld fan who has burnt themselves out watching episodes getting sliced and diced in syndication will rejoice in the opportunity to see the show, uninterrupted, in its best presentation to date. Seasons 1-3 are contained in the two volumes, and it's fascinating to watch the show progress from clunky (the original pilot was quite poor) to genius (Seinfeld developing a crush on former baseball player Keith Hernandez in Season 3's "The Boyfriend"). Commentaries, deleted scenes and genuinely hilarious bloopers abound. Another great sitcom currently getting excellent DVD treatment would be Arrested Development (Fox). It is the funniest, most groundbreaking sitcom since Seinfeld.
Every Mr. Show is now on DVD, and you would be a hero if you gave a gift package containing the entire series to a fan. If you must pick one season, this puppy is a good way to go. Creators David Cross and Bob Odenkirk went full-on nuts in their last hurrah, and no TV show before or since is funnier. Full cast commentaries are on each show, and these are commentaries you will actually want to listen to.
The folks at Shout Factory aren't messing around, releasing a new volume of SCTV episodes every four months or so. While Mr. Show gets my vote for all-time funniest, SCTV remains a tremendous pioneer. Before its inception, only Monty Python's Flying Circus surpassed it on the ingeniously funny scale. These volumes contain nice tributes and retrospectives, as well as the occasional commentary.
At long last, Lucas ponies up DVDs on the original trilogy. Well, sort of. He's made many changes to the films, and refuses to let the original theatrical versions see the light of day. That's a travesty. I like the changed films, but I like the originals, too, so give me both, for I am the consumer, and I crave them! The bonus stuff here is pretty good, and seeing the films all shiny and pretty is worth the dough. Still, quit screwing around, Lucas, and let us have the beautifully primitive original versions!
The movie is good enough, but a DVD containing real-life wiseguy Henry Hill's commentary is just unbelievable. Listening to Hill comment on the carnage in the film, saying stuff like "Oh, I remember that!" when somebody gets stabbed or shot, is absolutely insane. It's also available in a supremely cool Martin Scorsese box set that includes After Hours, Mean Streets, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore and Who's That Knocking at My Door?
Admittedly, I was introduced to this show via DVD and not its TV slot on the Cartoon Network. A shake, a box of French fries and a meatball basically hang out and crack wise at each other, resulting in one of the strangest cartoons ever produced. If you have a friend possessing a bizarre sense of humor, this one is a good bet for maximum appreciation. There are also DVD sets available for such Cartoon Network "Adult Swim" mainstays like Space Ghost and Sealab 2021.
Monster-movie maniacs who thought Van Helsing blew ass can take heart in this exceptional series that boasts hefty volumes dedicated to Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman, the Invisible Man, the Creature From the Black Lagoon and the Mummy. Those who purchase a volume not only get the original film, but the Universal sequels that followed, along with boatloads of glorious extra junk.
Two studios took nice care of Marx Brothers fans this year by releasing their films to glorious DVD splendor. The Warner Brothers effort, simply called The Collection, gathers films such as A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races, while Universal's package (The Silver Screen Collection) offers the likes of Duck Soup, Animal Crackers and Horse Feathers. For special features, Warner Brothers' presentation is better, while Universal's is pretty much movies only.