Latest Software Reviews
In one of those creative masterstrokes that elude most of us, the resurrection of Shoeless Joe Jackson is used as a foil to re-examine the American experience of the 20th century, first in the book and later in the movie Field of Dreams, wherein ex-hippie/farmer Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) risks everything by plowing under his crop to give Jackson and others a place to play.
Although the new 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is the best this movie has ever looked on video, with basically solid blacks and some beautiful colors from Iowa sunsets to the spectrum of cornfield greenery, it displays some grain and visible compression, plus a general softness that keeps it from being a home run. The remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS soundtracks are clean if restrained, with adequate bass and some appropriate surround-channel usage during the Fenway Park scenes. They deftly capture the essence of one of James Horner's most moving scores.
The commentary track dates back to the 1996 Signature Collection laserdisc, but the many other extras appear to be brand-new, including an engaging roundtable with Costner and baseball greats Johnny Bench, George Brett, and Bret Saberhagen. The 11 minutes of deleted scenes with optional on-camera introductions are a pleasant surprise, but perhaps most poignant are the comments of actor Dwier Brown (Ray's dad) in the behind-the-scenes documentary. A must-see, like the movie itself.—Chris Chiarella
DVD: The Monster Legacy DVD Gift Set—Universal
To help promote the release of Van Helsing, Universal reissued three of their classic monster films, along with their sequels and collectible busts, in this $80 box. While the disc presentations are excellent—completists will love having all the original Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, and Wolfman series in one place—the ulterior motive is clear. Each disc includes a brief featurette with Van Helsing director Stephen Sommers discussing the monster featured in that set, with, of course, lots of making-of footage from his film.
Fortunately, each of the two-disc sets (also available separately) carries over some superb extras from Universal's previous standalone DVDs—namely, in-depth retrospectives on the history, popularization, and each character's enduring appeal, plus commentary tracks by professorial-sounding film historians. Rightfully, Dracula gets more attention than the others, with both the renowned Bela Lugosi version and a simultaneously shot (some consider superior) Spanish-language version. There's much to bite into, but again it's mostly recycled material. While follow-up films such as House of Dracula and She-Wolf of London can't hold a torch to their predecessors, there are some gems in the collection, like the terrific Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman.
Myriad scratches and dirt betray these films' age, but contrast is good, and blacks are solid. Audio is mono in all cases. If you're a fan of these monsters or want to discover the originals that inspired countless remakes, this package is the best way to enjoy them. —Gary Frisch
DVD: RoboCop Trilogy—MGM/UA
Any day I can watch Paul Verhoeven's brilliant RoboCop, with or without being paid for it, is a good one. With a silly title that belies a fiercely original script, gleefully violent style, scathing social commentary, and not just one but a pair of great movie villains, RoboCop has earned its status as an action classic. The trilogy represents a deterioration from the unrated original director's cut to the R-rated sequel to the PG-13 finale, but I blame Hollywood, not 2/3 screenwriter Frank Miller, for the Future of Law Enforcement losing his way.
All three films are presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic format; RoboCop almost perfectly fills the 16:9 frame with minute, four-corner windowboxing. The image is somewhat soft and grainy, but it's the best this modest-budget movie has ever looked. The Oscar-winning audio predates digital cinema sound, but the remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 track delivers a strong, immersive soundfield with some discrete effects. The sequels are less impressive sonically and just average visually, neither extraordinary nor offensive.
Only trailers accompany the sequels, while the original sports brand-new commentary from the director, executive producer, and one of the writers, plus a recent documentary, two vintage featurettes, and picture-in-picture storyboard-to-movie comparison with narration. All in all, I'd buy that for $39.—Chris Chiarella