Below, Ron Wynn checks out the week's releases on DVD, starting with last Saturday's vampire weekend and continuing all the way to China.
While viewers were aligning themselves with either Team Edward or Team Jacob, critics of the movies based on Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series remained mostly in Team Unimpressed. No matter: The second installment The Twilight Saga: New Moon set both first day and first weekend viewing records (both since shattered by Avatar) and has amassed more than $700 million in worldwide earnings. In anticipation of its release on DVD, the studio changed its normal release pattern to accommodate vampire hours.
Twilight Saga: New Moon: Two-Disc Special Edition (Summit) went on sale last Saturday morning at 12:01 a.m., with some stores holding special events to mark the date. The effort paid off: The disc sold some 4 million copies -- more than Twilight did in its first weekend, and that went on to become last year's sales champion by moving more than 9 million units.
The deluxe version includes behind-the-scenes documentaries and interviews with the film stars and director Chris Weitz, plus lots of music-oriented material. There's rehearsal footage with the band Muse and videos from Death Cab for Cutie, Anya Marina and Mute Math, plus audio commentary and even some examination of special effects and links to the novels. Not included with each purchase, sadly: necklaces of garlic and wolfsbane.
Another intriguing release this week is the DVD edition of The Princess and
the Frog (Disney). Also available either in a two-disc Blu-Ray version or straightforward single set, the film was notable mostly because it featured both the Disney studio's first African-American princess (voice of Anika Noni Rose) and also marked a return to traditional animation rather than the in-vogue CGI effects. The plot also includes the introduction of New Orleans jazz and popular music, an Oscar-nominated song from Randy Newman and a contemporary updating of the familiar fairy tale.
While the film is pretty routine, some of the special features in the disc include Rose talking about the historic impact of playing this characters, as well as some deleted scenes and a music video from Ne-Yo and a portrait Princess game. For fans of classic Disney animation and direction, The Princess and the Frog may have some appeal. Otherwise, this wasn't one of their artistic triumphs despite the entertaining musical pieces.
TV on DVD
AMC's Breaking Bad sometimes gets overshadowed because of the raves and attention given to its period-piece program Mad Men, but lead actor Bryan Cranston has won consecutive Best Actor Emmys, an unprecedented feat for a cable show. His portrayal of Walter White, a mild-mannered chemistry teacher turned dangerous, powerful drug dealer, has been a triumph even as the show has grown progressively darker and more violent.
With the third season underway as of last Sunday, both fans and those still not aware of the show's excellence can grab the four-disc set Breaking Bad: The Complete Second Season (Sony). It takes viewers on a wild journey that shows Cranston's gradual change from a reluctant meth manufacturer to a morally bankrupt mastermind, and the personality shift that results when he's no longer a terminally ill cancer patient.
The set contains numerous extras, among them cast interviews, featurettes, a recap of the first season and six websodes previously only available online. But the biggest bonus is the consistent brilliance of Cranston as he explores the impact of newfound riches and amoral power on a formerly timid and upstanding person. Maybe the set will spur additional interest in a show that is perhaps too bleak and morally troubling ever to find the wide audience it deserves.
John Woo's rousing two-part Chinese historical epic Red Cliff was (barely) released here in a severely chopped two-and-a-half-hour version last fall. The U.S. cut arrives this week on DVD along with the two feature-length films, which Woo completists tracked down as either imports or bootlegs. Also out this week: the blockbuster The Blind Side, featuring Sandra Bullock's Oscar-winning performance; Wes Anderson's delightful stop-motion adaptation of Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox; and Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman and Tobey Maguire in the romantic triangle Brothers.