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Video

This year, studios have gone deeper into the vaults or added amazing special features to lure DVD consumers

 

When it comes to video releases this Christmas, the 300-pound gorilla in the room really is a gorilla—or an ape. Either way, he’s pretty big. After years of meticulous restoration, and timed, not so mysteriously, to coincide with Peter Jackson’s big-budget remake, Warner Home Video has unleashed King Kong: Special Edition. This two-disc set includes the original 1933 film, looking better than it has since, well, 1933; a typically excellent Kevin Brownlow documentary on King Kong’s “daddy,” filmmaker-adventurer Merian C. Cooper; and a two-hour, 30-minute documentary on the making of the film.

You can buy King Kong as a stand-alone DVD package. Or, for a few dollars more, you can get it in a collectable tin box that includes a replica of the original premiere program and other goodies. Or, you can buy it as part of a box set with the sequel Son of Kong and similarly themed Mighty Joe Young. You get your Kong on any way you want.

The vaults have opened and, after literally decades of unavailability, there is The Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection (New Line). Silent comedian Lloyd was more popular than Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton, possibly because it was easier to identify with an ambitious all-American boy than a homeless tramp (like Chaplin) or an otherworldly oddity (like Keaton). Mainly, however, Lloyd was hugely popular because he made very funny movies. This tremendous box set includes Safety Last, in which he hangs from the clock; Girl Shy, which ends with a race to stop a wedding that’s meaner and better than the one in The Graduate; and half a dozen more feature-length films. Plus selected shorts, examples of his 1950s 3-D photography (Bettie Page, hubba-hubba) and, as they say, even more.

This one ain’t designed for the kiddies: Looney Tunes: Golden Collection, Vol. 3 (Warner) comes with a disclaimer that the four-disc set is intended for “the Adult Collector” and “May Not Be Suitable for Children.” That’s nonsense, of course. For example, neither An Itch in Time, which ends with a cat shooting its brains out, nor Video Wabbit, in which Bugs impersonates Liberace and hands Elmer a dynamite candelabra, had a bad effect on me when I saw them repeatedly as a child. (I don’t think so, at least.) Anyway, the set is almost as good as last year’s Looney Tunes: Golden Collection, Vol. 2, and that’s the gold standard. Buy ’em both: What better way to blow a hundred bucks?

He defined a certain kind of cool. On screen, Steve McQueen was remote, self-contained and as inscrutable as a sphinx. Maybe that’s why he’s still popular two decades after his death, as evidenced by two recent box sets. The Steve McQueen Collection (MGM) includes a pair of all-star ensemble films (The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape), but distinguishes itself with the low-key family portrait Junior Bonner and the gimmicky-but-stylish caper The Thomas Crown Affair. More elaborate is The Essential Steve McQueen Collection (Warner). This has six films, including the iconic cop thriller Bullitt, in a two-disc special edition; the colorful and engaging gambling drama The Cincinnati Kid, costarring the great Edward G. Robinson, Tuesday Weld and Rip Torn; and Sam Peckinpah’s bloody, lurid The Getaway. This also includes a real oddity, the World War II drama Never So Few, in which a second- or third-billed McQueen steals the picture from star Frank Sinatra.

Of the scenes written but not included in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, the bit with Travolta’s character talking about the women he’d like to have his ass kicked by was the most weirdly revealing. Top of this list, naturally, was Diana Rigg as the British secret agent Emma Peel in the 1960s show The Avengers. If you know someone with the same jones for Mrs. Peel, there’s The Avengers: The Complete Emma Peel Mega-Set (A&E). This is all 51 episodes, a total of 40 hours of jumpsuits, karate chops and Champagne on ice. (Nice.) And for the ultimate in campy secret-agent action, there’s aging hipster Dean Martin as Matt Helm in the four-film collection, The Matt Helm Lounge (Sony).

Two sitcoms that actually became funnier and more interesting with every passing season were Green Acres and The Bob Newhart Show (the one in which he’s a shrink). That’s reason enough to want Bob Newhart: The Complete Second Season (Fox) and Green Acres: The Complete Third Season (MGM). Don’t forget the drinking games that go with each show. For the former, you take a drink every time someone says “Hi Bob.” For the latter, take a drink every time Eva Gabor says “Oliver,” or Arnold Ziffle oinks.

For TV as fresh as yesterday, Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim offers up Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Vol. 4 (Warner) just in time for Christmas. Look for the cheerful green face of Mooninite Err on the cover; inside are the usual grotesque, crazy-as-hell animated exploits of Master Shake, Frylock and Meatwad in the lower-rent Jersey suburbs. For something even dumber and crazier, there’s Jackass: The Box Set (Paramount). This deluxe package comes with a 48-page book. That’s right . . . a book. The kind with words, that you have to read. Apparently, Paramount has misunderstood the hobbies and interests of the average Jackass fan.

For the foreign/art/cult film fan on your list, three DVDs stand out. Black Girl (New Yorker) was legendary Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene’s breakthrough film about the despair of an African girl working in France; the disc also includes the short Borom Sarret. Some think—OK, I think—that Shoot the Piano Player (Criterion) is François Truffaut’s best film. It’s one of his more genuinely affecting, anyway, mashing up French fatalism with American gangster film conventions. Finally, there’s Audition: Uncut Special Edition (Lion’s Gate). Takashi Miike’s controversial film about a lonely man looking for a sweet, submissive girlfriend and ending up with a psychotic is not for the squeamish.

Finally, Kino has rescued and lovingly released two classic film noirs from director Fritz Lang, Scarlet Street and House by the River. Murder, obsession and the inevitability of doom never seemed so charming.

—Shawn Stone

 

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