DVD Obscura is your bi-weekly guide to newly released DVD and Blu-ray gems that may otherwise be overshadowed by all the big Hollywood blockbusters taking up shelf space. If you like to know when long-awaited independent and foreign films hit DVD, this is the column for you.
New: Are You Ready for Some Spielberg?
If you’re a fan of Steven Spielberg, you’re no doubt excited about the two, count ’em, two movies he’s got opening between now and the end of the year. So while you’re ticking down the days, check out two new DVDs that provide some interesting backstory.
The documentary Making War Horse (Microcinema International; available November 15) traces the development of the National Theater staging of the play in the United Kingdom before it became a Tony-winning Broadway hit and the basis for Spielberg’s live-action film. Naturally, the doc focuses on the elaborate horse puppet prominently featured in the show. (The movie, of course, will use actual animals.)
And if you’re not particularly familiar with the boy detective who’s the star of Spielberg’s upcoming motion-capture animated film, The Adventures of Tintin: Season One (Shout Factory/Nelvana; available November 22) features the made-for-TV exploits of Hergé’s internationally famous character. Meet Snowy, Captain Haddock, and the rest of the globe-trotting crew in this two-disc set.
Charlotte Gainsbourg gives two of this year’s best performances — one of them in Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia, currently on the big screen, and the other in the Australian drama The Tree (Zeitgeist; available November 15), from Since Otar Left director Julie Bertuccelli. Gainsbourg stars as a suddenly widowed mother coping with her grief and with the possibility that her late husband lives on in the enormous tree that’s taking over her family’s home.
If you thought a certain Mel Gibson-Helen Hunt comedy would have been better in Chinese, you’re in luck — the Mandarin-language remake of What Women Want (NewVideo/China Lion; available November 15) makes its way to home video with the very appealing Gong Li and Andy Lau in the lead roles.
Lots of great documentaries making their DVD debuts as well, including the environmental exposé The Last Mountain (Docurama; now available); Life in a Day (Virgil Films; now available), a look at 24 hours on the planet as captured on YouTube; and Superheroes (Docurama; available November 15), which examines the lives of regular folks who become real-life costumed vigilantes.
Classic: From Lerner & Loewe to Freddie Mercury
Two very different screen musicals make their Blu-Ray debuts: the classic My Fair Lady (CBS/Paramount Home Entertainment; available November 15) features lots of extras, including Audrey Hepburn’s unused vocal tracks, while Giorgio Moroder’s rock-and-roll reimagining of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (Kino Classics; available November 15) works way better than you think it might, blending this masterpiece of German Expressionism with songs by Freddie Mercury, Bonnie Tyler, and other ’80s jukebox heroes.
Entertainment Weekly recently cited Dustin Hoffman’s old-age makeup in Little Big Man (CBS/Paramount Home Entertainment; now available) as some of the best in movie history, but that’s just one great facet of this hilarious, tragic revisionist Western starring Hoffman as a man who claims to have been a gunfighter, a Cheyenne, and the sole white survivor of Little Big Horn. This Arthur Penn classic is one of the keystones of the Hollywood New Wave of the 1970s.
And if you’re stockpiling movies for Christmas, two very different but utterly essential titles coming your way (both on Blu-Ray for the first time) are Ingmar Bergman’s gorgeous Fanny and Alexander (Criterion Collection; now available), featuring one of the greatest family Christmas celebrations ever filmed, and the brilliantly bonkers Santa Claus (VCI Entertainment; available November 15), a Mexican import in which Father Christmas battles Satan with the help of Merlin the magician. A holiday favorite for fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000, this new Blu-Ray features the film’s original Spanish-language soundtrack as well as the English dub, along with a new documentary about schlockmeister K. Gordon Murray, the film’s US distributor.
TV: From Near-Sighted to Farscape
Oh, Magoo! The myopic wonder gets his due on Mr. Magoo—The Television Collection (1960-1977) (Shout Factory; now available), an exhaustively complete 11-disc box that features all three of the TV series starring the bumbling-yet-charmed curmudgeon. (A second box set, featuring Magoo’s theatrical shorts, will follow next summer.)
Another great stocking-stuffer for TV collectors is Farscape: The Complete Series Blu-Ray Edition (A+E Networks Home Entertainment; available November 15), featuring all four seasons on 20 discs, plus more than 15 hours of bonus programming, including a brand-new documentary not featured on previous releases.