Blu-Ray Pre-Holiday Review Round-Up
We scope out loads of very cool new movies to take home and maybe start collecting for that holiday gift stash. We review cool adventure classics, romance with Rob Pattinson, fun animation and sci-fi starring teens!
From Universal Home Entertainment
Jurassic Park: Ultimate Trilogy – Blu-Ray/Digital Combo Pack
In this pioneering movie trilogy (Jurassic Park, The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Jurassic Park III), Spielberg and pals took on dangerous dinos and made us believe they were in our faces!
You know the drill: Mysterious island, egghead scientists birthing dinosaurs from the DNA grabbed from a mosquito trapped in amber, greed sets in, dinos escape their compound and visiting paleontologists, scientists and business dudes become intended lunch. Then, on a sister island, more dinos are found, studied.. more greed, dino mom is shipped to San Diego where she goes on a rampage to get her baby back and finally, divorced mom and dad search for their son who has disappeared near the last island. They enlist one of our paleontologists from the first movie to help them find him, more dinos on the rampage. All very cool fun!
Special Features: Wow! So many. You can practically learn from scratch how to animate your own dinos from the best special effects men in the biz. You see tech/computer advancements through three movies. Cool! Sounds for dinos included a mix of cows, elephants and walruses. We learn about the Jurassic Park ride at Universal Studios.
Everything from ”Making of” docs from the first releases of the movie to brand new interviews with the casts and filmmakers looking back are included. You hear from the actress who played young Lex.. now all grown up etc. Author Michael Crichton, who has since passed on, talks about his book vs. the movies. Laura Dern talks about how gross it was sticking her hand in even fake dino poop! Spielberg tells us why he made the first movie “I made this as a kid who loved dinosaurs. How else could I meet a dinosaur without being eaten?” All very cool to see and keep.
There is on set video from all the films and studio tours of classic effects house Industrial Light and Magic. Actors remember a Hawaiian typhoon that halted the first movie. We learn that there were stegosaurus dinos in the second movie because kids wrote Spielberg asking for them. Everybody loves a “steggie”.
Wrapping Up: Though some are better than others, all three of these films have the usual Spielberg movie “heart”. You get to know and root for the humans in peril and the exploited dinos as well. Visuals and sound hold up super well. All the movies look and sound great in the HD format and Blu-Ray and the bonus extras are just amazing. Even if you have the three films in an earlier format, these look so much better that you should buy this new set for the ultimate experience of the three films. If you love dinos, action/adventure, great effects, etc., go get and gift this new “Ultimate Trilogy” now!
From Paramount Home Entertainment
Super 8 –Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Combo Pack
You and your pals have probably made home movies with various video devices. You might have posted them on YouTube. Back in 1979, kids and teens were doing the same thing but with a small film camera that used film only 8 millimeters wide. It was first just called “8”, then “Super 8” and almost every filmmaker of a certain age in Hollywood started out using it.
Super 8, from the minds of movie icon Steven Spielberg (classics Close Encounters, E.T., The Goonies, Indiana Jones etc. etc.) and newer fave director J.J. Abrams (Star Trek, Cloverfield, TV’s “Lost” etc.) presents a group of young teen friends in a small Ohio town making a zombie movie. They witness a horrific train crash and see that something escapes from one of the wrecked cars… and they have it on film. Mystery deaths and destruction follow until the teens learn the truth before any adults do and, with the military hot on their tails, end up saving the day and helping a misunderstood alien return home.
Special Features: Wow again! There are a ton of super good extras on the Blu-Ray disc. Not one of them is boring or a typical “let’s sell this movie” piece. You can watch this stuff for hours! The overall fact you learn is that every major person contributing to this film from Spielberg on down made Super 8 movies as a kid! This includes the composer, D.P, effects guys etc. Quite a cool brotherhood and you see a bit of the crude but fun movies they made.
A “Commentary” on the film features director/writer J.J. Abrams and his Director of Photography and producer telling you funny anecdotes and how-to info. Very interesting and fun too.
“The Dream Behind Super 8” – J.J.’s lifelong dream to make a film.. about kids making a film, Spielberg’s involvement, D.P. Larry Fong on his own young filmmaker experiences etc. All the guys were inspired by Spielberg films. J.J. even won a contest at age 14 and was “hired” to repair and edit together Spielberg’s old Super 8 movies. This all gives you inspiration and hope if you are a budding teen filmmaker!
“The Search for New Faces” tells you how the filmmakers wanted kids with little to no acting experience to make the movie “real”. We see their winning auditions and we learn just how hard it was to find the right young teens. We see them on set, learning how to dial an old rotary phone and complaining that 1970’s pants were just too tight! The teens are told to “stop saying Dude all the time” since that slang wasn’t used in the ‘70’s. You see their sad goodbyes after the film. Really insider and cute stuff.
“Meet Joel Courtney” centers on the film’s star and is a basic “day in my life making the film” kind of featurette. We see Joel at his hotel learning lines, in his trailer and on set, going to set school and his revelation that he didn’t know who Elle Fanning was and was both scared and stoked when he was locked in a room with her.
“Rediscovering Steel Town” talks about the small town of Wierton, West Virginia where the movie was shot and how cool this was for the locals and the town that has been suffering since the steel mill shut down there. Kinda sad but interesting too.
“The Visitor Lives” – is a breakdown of designing the alien from rough sketches to computer and final product. Effects experts tell us how their designs have to follow what the creature would do in the story. They design from those functions.. i.e., if it has to dig a cave, it needs sharp talons etc. You get the bus wreck scene where the kids really see the alien well for the first time. Really cool to watch and informative.
“Scoring Super 8” – is of course, all about the music for the movie. Composer Michael Giacchino tells us he also made Super 8 movies and we see brief clips from them. He is totally inspired by Johnny Williams scores for all the Spielberg movies and Star Wars etc. and he tells us why. Also cool.
“Do You Believe in Magic” is a cute featurette on D.P. Larry Fong who is also an accomplished magician. His tricks are pretty awesome and we see a lot of them and kids and crew etc. reacting to them. Even Tom Cruise, who drops by the set, is impressed as are we. How did he do that stuff?
“The 8mm Revolution” is an in-depth study of shooting films way back in the day before video and digital.. You had to buy the film, load it, shoot it and send it off to be developed, then add your “effects” and edit. Modern kids say it was a lot of work, unlike today’s shoot and put it on YouTube generation. A company called Flicker still shows new and old Super 8 films. Spielberg comments on how much easier kids who want to make films have it today. Really neat!
“Deconstructing the Train Crash” is a cool interactive featurette that lets you pick from “Pre-Production”, “Production” and “Post-Production” looks at this amazing scene. A nice break-down.
“Deleted Scenes” – 14 of them are mostly extended scenes but a few things are new. You see Joel’s character give Elle Fanning a walkie talkie so she can be part of the guy gang and they talk about telling his dad all they’ve seen. A new scene includes the gang buying Army clothes for their movie at an Army Surplus store. Well worth a watch.
Wrapping Up: I love this movie. It might depict a more innocent time but pals are pals and besties making movies is still a current and very modern trend. You really identify with these younger teens and follow them on their adventure. It’s always cool when kids and teens drive the story, solve the mystery and save the day. Super 8 is a great example of that. This Blu-Ray is one of the best visually, sound-wise and extras-wise, I’ve seen all year. Definitely a must buy or at least a rental for sure if you didn’t see it in theaters. It makes you wanna go out and shoot a movie with your best pals.
From Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Cars 2- Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Pack
In this sequel to the fun Cars animated film, McQueen and Mater end up in Europe as McQueen competes in the first World Grand Prix. Who is the world’s fastest car? Mater gets his own adventure as he tangles with James Bond-style spy action… all with cars as the spies of course. You also get two fun shorts, Air Mater and Hawaiian Vacation (for Toy Story’s Ken and Barbie).
Special Features: There aren’t too many in this 2 disc pack. You have to buy the 5 disc (including 3-D which most people don’t have yet) pack to get more goodies. Kinda frustrating. But, you do get a few extras here. The two animated short films are very cute.. Mater flies and then Ken and Barbie go Hawaiian.
“Audio Commentary” with directors Brad Lewis and John Lasseter really covers every detail, tons of behind-the-scenes comments for those who love knowing how state-of-the-art animated films are made, etc.
Wrapping Up: This Blu-Ray looks and sounds so colorful and crisp and the added short films are a sweet bonus. The movie wasn’t as well-received or as heartfelt as the original Cars but the spy story provides great animated action sequences and a fun sub-plot for Mater. Well worth a buy or rental. If you have a 3-D TV set, you should go for the 5 disc pack instead.
From 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Water for Elephants – Blu-Ray/Digital Copy
In this period romantic adventure, Twilight’s Rob Pattinson woos hot Reese Witherspoon. She’s the feature act of a failing circus in the 1930’s. He is a young veterinary student who helps save and protect both Reese’s character and the circus’s lead elephant from an evil ringmaster determined to use force to keep “order” and control both his wife and all the animals. Rob and love win out!
Special Features: This film looks really rich and amazing. You feel like you are living way back in the 1930’s depression era America. A lot of the extras focus on the look of the movie.
“Raising the Tent” features production designer Jack Fisk (Husband of classic Carrie actress Sissy Spacek), the costume designer and cinematographer who discuss creating the circus in the film. All the actors talk about how cool it was to have this great backdrop to act in.
“Secrets of the big Top” tells you how accurate the circus recreation is by introducing you to a history of circuses that go back centuries. Really cool and educational too.
“The Star Attraction” centers on the real elephant Tai (who this reporter has met) who plays Rosie in the movie. She is beautiful and seems happy. Hopefully she wasn’t mistreated in the making of the film.
“The Traveling Show: focuses on the book’s author Sara Gruen and then the screenwriter Richard LaGravenese who talks about adapting the novel. Interesting.
“Robert Pattinson Spotlight” is really short for RPatt fans. Not much here but some “Edward” is better than none if you’re a fan.
“Working Without a Net” is a really original and cool visual effects feature showing (not just telling) you how computer, and animatics were used to create the effects.. this is set to music as you see CGI elements blended with live action. Fun to watch!
“Feature Performer Reese Witherspoon” – shows us how Reese trained for her circus act part of the movie.. She gets to know Tai etc. Also cool.
“Feature Commentary” is with Director Francis Lawrence and the writer.. kinda boring but you do get a few new facts and behind-the-scenes tidbits.
Wrapping Up: Water for Elephants is a beautifully-photographed and costumed movie that has a great heart for animal lovers (there are disturbing scenes but all ends well). The romance would have been awesome if Rob and Reese had had any chemistry but, they seem more like buddies than lovers. Pattinson does a decent job of playing this fish-out-of water fellow who cares for circus critters then grows to love the owner’s wife. Reese is fine in her role but there are no real sparks here. You might want to rent just for the wonderful look of the film and there are some cool extra features. If you are a Pattinson fan, you’re going to want this no matter what.