Skip or Double Dip? - 'Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn,' 'Gods and Generals,' and More

Skip or Double Dip? - 'Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn,' 'Gods and Generals,' and More

Nov 30, 2011

There is a chain of buzzwords—collector's edition, anniversary set, director's cut, unrated cut, extended version, digitally remastered, Digibook, etc.—that studios slap on DVD and Blu-ray cases to tempt you to buy the same movies over and over again. Some are worth the upgrade, but many of those double dips are just the studio returning to the well one too many times. Read on and decide if you want to skip or double dip this month.

Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn

Sam Raimi's cult favorite comedy-horror sequel with Bruce Campbell and his "boomstick" returning to fight some foul demons has been released on DVD so many times that we have lost count. Is there anyone who doesn't have rights to put out this movie? Evil Dead II made its Blu-ray debut back in 2007 thanks to Starz, but hardcore fans complained about the quality of the video transfer. Now they have a choice between that version and a new 25th Anniversary Edition that was released by Lionsgate on November 15.

What's New?: The Starz release had a commentary track, the behind-the-scenes documentary "The Gore the Merrier," a 17-minute slideshow and a trivia track. In addition to far superior image quality, the new Lionsgate anniversary edition has all of these extras plus the 98-minute "Swallowed Souls: The Making of Evil Dead II," five separate segments that look at the special-effects makeup and creature creation, a virtual tour of the shooting location as it stands today, and four collections of photo galleries.

Skip or Double Dip?: The Evil Dead "are the things that were and will be again," and that applies to their appearance on disc as well. Lionsgate has given Ash fans the Blu-ray they've been clamoring for, so double dip even if you rolled the dice with the Starz version a few years ago.


Gods and Generals

The 1993 historical drama Gettysburg didn't break any box office records, but it was praised by critics and history teachers alike. This prompted director Ronald Maxwell to return to the scene of the battle and craft the 2003 prequel Gods and Generals, which stars Jeff Daniels as Union Colonel Joshua Chamberlain and Stephen Lang as Confederacy Lieutenant Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson and focuses on their military maneuvers in the two years preceding the Battle of Gettysburg. Warner Bros. first released the film on Blu-ray in 2007, then an extended version encased in a Digibook arrived in May 2011, and now the studio has put out an extended edition sans Digibook this month.

What's New?: The 2007 edition—put out during Blu-ray's infancy—was criticized for its soft picture and lack of detail that one would expect from a high-def disc. It contained an audio commentary, an introduction by executive producer Ted Turner and three behind-the-scenes featurettes. Both editions of the extended director's cut cram a 280-minute movie onto one BD, so there are some compression issues that videophiles will notice. The extended editions both contain two different commentaries, a behind-the-scenes featurette, "The Life of Thomas 'Stonewall' Jackson," a Bob Dylan music video and a tour of Civil War sites—it's just a question of whether you prefer the extended edition with or without the picture-filled Digibook packaging.

Skip or Double Dip?: Even though the 2007 edition didn't have the most impressive picture, the extended editions didn't look that much better. If you're a history buff, you're going to want to double dip and buy the extended cut with the Digibook. If you already own that edition, skip the new non-Digibook extended cut because you have more already.


A Christmas Carol (1951)

The 1951 British interpretation of Charles Dickens's unstoppable tale features Alastair Sim's unforgettable performance as Ebenezer Scrooge and made its Blu-ray debut in 2009 from VCI Video. Now the same company has released a 60th anniversary diamond edition. Both editions also came packaged with a DVD to spread the "bah humbug" to every room of your house with a player.

What's New?: The original Blu-ray had audio commentary by George Cole and some bios. The new 60th anniversary presentation has that same commentary plus an introduction by Leonard Maltin, "Dead to Begin With: The Darker Side of a Classic," a new featurette detailing why the American release changed the title from the original Scrooge, a documentary on director Brian Desmond Hurst, a video narrative of A Christmas Carol and its adaptations by Fred Guida, and a collection of early silent films based on Dickens's work.

Skip or Double Dip?: Although there are some reports of playback problems with this 60th anniversary edition—especially for those with Samsung players who have not been diligent with updating their firmware—the new assortment of extras and silent film clips will be worth the double dip for film-history buffs.


It's a Wonderful Life

Love it or loathe it, Frank Capra's 1946 classic starring James Stewart and Donna Reed is the most ubiquitous holiday film of all time. The film languished in the public domain for years, which means that anyone could dust off a print, air it on TV or slap it on VHS or DVD without worrying too much about paying royalties to copyright owners, which is exactly what happened. There are so many versions of It's a Wonderful Life floating around like snow out there and it airs constantly on TV near Christmas, but diehard nostalgists who need the film in high definition probably snapped up Paramount's 2009 Blu-ray debut. Now the same studio has released a collector's edition gift set—just in time for holiday shopping.

What's New: Both the 2009 version and the one in the gift set contain the same extras, including a colorized version of the film, a making-of featurette and the theatrical trailer. The new collector's edition gift set also comes packaged with a commemorative booklet and a bell ornament.

Skip or Double Dip?: Unless you have an active interest in boosting Paramount's bottom line for the fourth quarter, we can't imagine why you'd buy this movie again on Blu-ray just for a little booklet and another thing to hang on your Christmas tree. Skip it.

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