This holiday season, chances are that you either know somebody who’s getting a DVD player or you’re getting one yourself. Sales of DVD players are increasing exponentially as the price goes down and more people are exposed to the pleasure of watching movies with crisp pictures, dynamic sound, and the extra features that are becoming standard issue on new releases. Earlier this year, we wrote about a few discs that make good starting points for new DVD owners looking to build a library: The Matrix, Rushmore: Criterion Edition, Boogie Nights: Platinum Series, A Bug’s Life: Collector’s Edition, Ghostbusters, and Out of Sight. Since then, several discs have come out that have such superior technical specs and tantalizing bonuses, they should also be in any DVD library. Fight Club, This Is Spinal Tap, North By Northwest, and The Limey all come to mind, and there are new discs almost every week that can make a cinephile leap to empty his or her wallet.
The idea is to find the one disc that can be described as “reference quality”the movie to pull off the shelf when your friends come over and you want to show off your new toy. In the past month, four such “reference-quality” collections have hit the shelves. So whether you’re looking for a gift for the new DVD owner in your family or whether you’re the new DVD owner, any of the discs below will provide hours (and maybe years) of fun.
The Fantasia Anthology . This three-disc set collects Walt Disney’s 1940 “concert feature” Fantasia and its sequel Fantasia 2000 , along with an exclusive disc with extensive looks at the process by which both films came to life. This third disc, Fantasia Legacy, has much to recommend it, especially excerpts from such old Disney promotional featurettes as “Tricks of Our Trade” and “The Plausible Impossible,” in which Uncle Walt himself breaks down the painstaking process of putting classical music standards into a cartoon format. Legacy also includes a timeline that details the changes made to Fantasia over the years with each reissue, and a fascinating look at “The Fantasia That Never Was,” with animated storyboards and partially completed animation sequences for new segments that Disney once hoped to drop into Fantasia during the periodic revivals.
This idea of revamping Fantasia from time to time was picked up by Walt’s nephew Roy, who shepherded Fantasia 2000 to completion. Although it’s a lesser film than the original, several segments are jaw-droppers, and the animation is never less than state-of-the-art. This second disc features an informative 50-minute making-of documentary (although much of the info is recapitulated on Legacy ) and two commentary tracks: one by Roy Disney and conductor James Levine, and one by the segment animators. If nothing else, listen to the secondary commentary track for “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” which features observations by Mickey Mouse. Two other worthy additions: the short subjects “Melody” and “Toot, Whistle, Pluck, and Boom,” which each provide an introductory music lesson set to Ward Kimball’s jazzy ’50s animation.
All of the extras on the Fantasia 2000 disc are available if the movie is purchased separately. The same is true of Fantasia , and if you can only afford one disc, the original is where to put your money. Fantasia has never looked or sounded better, and indeed it hasn’t looked like this at all since the original 1940 release. Disney has restored the original “roadshow” cut of the film, with introductions to each segment provided by the late Deems Taylor. The disc has both a 50-minute making-of documentary and a Roy Disney/James Levine commentary similar to those found on Fantasia 2000 , but the Fantasia DVD’s biggest extra is a secondary commentary track provided by animation historian John Canemaker and Walt Disney himself, whose opinions on his misunderstood masterwork are culled from the many radio, TV, and film interviews that he gave during his lifetime. The film itself remains dreamy and kitschy in pretty much equal measure, but the extras on the disc make it a must for Disney fans or any would-be film scholar.
The Ultimate Toy Box . About the only recent set that can rival The Fantasia Anthology for special features and family entertainment is this three-disc effort from Disney’s computer-animation partner, Pixar. Like Fantasia , the “Toy Box” contains two movies (1995’s Toy Story and its 1999 sequel) and a box-set-only disc of incredibly detailed insider infostuff like a guide to inside jokes, samples of ideas that were storyboarded but abandoned, and an awe-inducing look at the step-by-step process of designing the Toy Story world.
Unlike Fantasia , the bonuses on the movie discs aren’t available if the movies are bought individually (or even in the “two-pack” configuration). Non-box-owners will miss rousing commentary tracks by the Pixar brain trust (led by John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton) and 40 minutes of oft-hysterical promotional “bumpers” that Buzz, Woody, and the gang provided for ABC’s Saturday-morning cartoon lineup. As with Pixar’s Bug’s Life disc, both Toy Story movies are transferred onto DVD from the original digital source, which means they look as vivid as a diorama. And both films remain American classics, as funny and as exciting as the day they were made.
Short 10: Chaos . Since 1998, Quickband Networks has been creating bargain-priced DVD collections by assembling the best live-action and animated shorts from festivals and from the annals of world cinema. For the 10th installment of its series, Quickband has scored a coup: the 1967 short “Electronic Labyrinth,” which George Lucas made while at the University of Southern California. Aside from the fact that it provides the framework for Lucas’ debut feature THX 1138 and an early look at the design sense that would later distinguish the Star Wars series, “Electronic Labyrinth” is a fairly decent film on its own meritsslow-paced and student-y, but striking as an early meditation on the alienating effect of technology.
As a bonus, Short 10 contains brief featurettes about Lucas’ days at USC and an interview with the filmmaker about the creation of the THX sound system. The rest of the disc is pretty choice as well, especially the well-loved cartoon “The Fly,” the witty avant-garde spoof “Po Mo Knock Knock,” the stark Australian truck stop tour “Burnout” (which played at the Nashville Independent Film Festival this past year), and a video short called “Chaos” (about a man being menaced by cute costume characters). All will delight or stun guests at a party, and all feature production notes and bonus behind-the-scenes features. A fine sampler.
Beastie Boys Video Anthology . The 100th DVD produced by the film-lovers at The Criterion Collection is the company’s first foray into music video: a two-disc set containing 18 Beastie Boys videos. The clips themselvesclassics like “Sabotage,” “Intergalactic,” “Shadrach,” “Hey Ladies,” and “Root Down”are exciting, smart, and sound as good as a CD. But that’s not what makes this anthology “reference quality”: Each video also features two commentary optionsan entertaining discourse by the directors or a disappointingly indifferent riff by the bandand a subtitle option that allows the viewer to read the lyrics. On a separate section of the discs are video credits, bonus footage, photo galleries, and artwork from the 12-inch singles. And the marvel of the set is a feature that, on certain videos, gives the disc operator the chance to choose between different remixes of a song and to use the “multi-angle” function of the DVD player to view the full takes that were later edited to make the finished video. In other words, you can make your own video at home, with whatever mix you want. That’s beyond “reference quality.” That’s just cool.
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