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Jurassic Park: Ultimate Trilogy (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

The original Jurassic Park remains one of my favorite theater experiences. When the T. rex made its first appearance, it was one of the scariest film sequences I've ever witnessed. I put it right up there with anything I saw in Jaws, also directed by Steven Spielberg. So it's fair to say that Spielberg knows how to scare me.

The original remains an absolute delight, and it was one of the first films to prominently use computers for its effects. Spielberg had decided on stop-motion for his dinosaurs, but switched gears in the middle of production after seeing some test sequences.

The rest is history, and the effects still hold up 18 years later. The first appearance of the T. rex is still one of the best in-theater experiences I've ever had.

Jurassic Park: The Lost World doesn't hold up as well, although it's still got its share of fun. After introducing CGI dinosaurs to the world in the original, Spielberg took some impressive steps here, with two T. rexes and a lot more effects shots. I just don't like some of the jokey stuff, and the sequence in which the girl takes out a raptor with a parallel-bar exercise is the worst moment in the franchise. The fact that Jeff Goldblum took over the lead role helped make up for some of the stupid stuff.

Jurassic Park III is my least-favorite of the bunch. It was directed by Joe Johnston, and the presence of Spielberg behind the camera is sorely missed. Johnston and friends chose to eliminate the T. rex in favor of another big dino that doesn't look half as cool. While I like Téa Leoni and William H. Macy, they annoyed me in this one.

Everything looks and sounds incredible on these discs, and it's nice to get these films on Blu-ray. If you have a good sound system, the T. rex attack should alarm neighbors, even if you have your volume only at half-power.

Grades: Jurassic Park (A), Jurassic Park: The Lost World (B); Jurassic Park III (B-).

SPECIAL FEATURES: There's a nice selection of features from the prior DVD editions, including behind-the-scenes looks and commentaries. That would be enough, but Universal took the extra step to produce a nice new six-part documentary, Return to Jurassic Park, with participation from the likes of Spielberg, Goldblum, Sam Neill and others.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

Just in time for the holidays—and right on the heels of The Thing prequel—comes the home-video release of one of the strangest Christmas stories ever told. During an excavation in Finland, an evil force is unleashed. No, it's not an alien from outer space that absorbs humans and copies them.

It's the dreaded monster ... Santa Claus!

It's fun how director Jalmari Helander and his writers envision St. Nick as a carnivorous beast who eats children and tears off faces. It's about time somebody did the Santa story right. According to this film, Santa is indeed the ambassador of Christmas—but only after some major housebreaking and time spent in a cage.

I'm going to go ahead and substitute this one for Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer this holiday season. No, it won't get me feeling jolly, but it will make me laugh in that uneasy sort of way.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Included are the two short films that started the whole thing, Rare Exports, Inc. and The Official Safety Instructions. The shorts are actually better than the movie. There's also a making-of documentary, and the film Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, starring Pia Zadora.

Batman: Year One (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

The Year One story bounced around Hollywood for a few years. At one point, Darren Aronofsky was even set to direct a live-action version—but that film never came to fruition.

Now, Warner has decided to take Frank Miller's original story direct to video with a sweet animated version. Bryan Cranston provides the voice of future Commissioner Jim Gordon, who returns to Gotham at the same time when a young, troubled rich man named Bruce Wayne decides to return and put on his bat costume.

I like the animation style of some of these Warner direct-to-video animated movies. As somebody who read the original graphic novel, I can say this is a worthy adaptation of the work, with appearances by Catwoman (Eliza Dushku) and Carmine Falcone (Alex Rocco).

Yes, I might've preferred an Aronofsky Batman film. I'm still holding out hope for a big-screen take on Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. Getting nice animated versions is better than nothing.

SPECIAL FEATURES: You get a creative-team commentary and some cool shorts, including one about how Miller took the Batman character back to its dark, realistic roots. You also get a very good Catwoman short.