New arrivals this week on Blu-ray and DVD include: The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy: Extended Edition collection, featuring fifteen discs filled with the movies and special features; Zack Snyder dark action movie, Sucker Punch; plus a look at Season Of The Witch and Barney’s Version.
The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy: Limited Extended Edition [Blu-ray]
Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Orlando Bloom, Andy Serkis, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, John Rhys-Davies
Director: Peter Jackson
Peter Jackson’s multiple Oscar-winning Lord Of The Rings Trilogy has been available on Blu-ray for some time now, but this week marks the long-awaited arrival of the extended editions on Blu-ray, which fans have been anxiously awaiting.
Based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy novels, The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy follows the Hobbit Frodo, played by Elijah Wood, as he travels across Middle Earth to rid the world of the evil of the Dark Lord Sauron by destroying the One Ring that holds all his power. Tested by trials of every nature, and pursued by Sauron’s forces, Frodo has to survive at all costs as his friends face war against Suaron’s powerful forces.
As one of the best trilogies ever made, and one of the best adaptations of a novel ever created for the big screen, Jackson’s monumental Lord of the Rings franchise is a spectacular accomplishment with stunning visuals, strong performances, and jaw-dropping sets, which makes it all the more powerful on Blu-ray.
The boxed set includes all three extended films, which total close to eleven-and-a-half hours of movies, plus loads and loads of extras, compiling pretty much every feature that was ever available on previous releases into this one gigantic package of fifteen discs–six discs for the lengthy extended versions of the films and nine discs for features.
Short of writing an epic essay, I can’t really scratch the surface of this wonderfully elaborate collection, but I’ll highlight some of the extras that are most notable.
First of all, and maybe even best of all, the three films each come with four–count ’em, four–audio commentaries that include chats with the writers and director, a second one with the design team, a third with the production team, and finally a commentary with the actors.
If that doesn’t impress you, there’s the six-part making-of feature dubbed The Appendices, three documentaries on the filmmaking process, and a couple of easter eggs. The only flaw in this whole package is the near-total absence of new or high definition features, but considering the must-see quality of these films, and the superb high definition and score, The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy: Extended Edition collection is incredible. If you’re a fan of the franchise, like I am, you won’t want to miss buying the collection.
Starring: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung, Oscar Isaac, Carla Gugino, Scott Glenn
Director: Zack Snyder
In an imaginary world, Zack Snyder would only need his amazing imagination to make a concept like Sucker Punch work, but the real world is sadly much more trying, and in this reality Sucker Punch is more about the ‘Suck’ than the ‘Punch’ and that all comes down to Snyder’s misguided, juvenile screenplay.
Set within what appears to be a dark, alternate reality of the 1960s, Sucker Punch stars Lemony Snicket’s Emily Browning as the young, seemingly battered Babydoll. Losing her mother, which leaves her stuck with her evil step-father, Babydoll makes a dangerous advance to protect her younger sister, which gives her captor his chance to have Babydoll locked away for good in a mental institution.
Bribing the man in charge of the facility, which reminded me of Batman’s Arckham Asylum, Babydoll’s step father has the young woman lined up for a quick and dirty lobotomy in five short days unless she can scheme a way out of the terrible mental hospital.
From this point on, Babydoll’s story takes a step sideways into an imagined world where the mental hospital is actually a risque theatre and whorehouse staffed by the mental patients from Babydoll’s real life prison. In this dark fairy tale, the slimy Blue, played by Oscar Isaac, who runs the place, sells his girls to rich locals while making deals for drugs and alcohol, of which we never actually see much of either.
Plotting with those other women, including Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), and Amber (Jamie Chung), Babydoll plans the perfect escape, but it will require five objects. Taking yet another step sideways from reality, in a plot device that feels like a mixture of Inception meets the game Killzone, Babydoll enters a third reality where the Wise Man, played by Scott Glenn, tries to prepare her for the coming wave of battles.
As Babydoll and her new friends work to capture each object, the group steps into the video game reality to win their prizes. In one scene, they’re battling undead Nazi soldiers for a map of the asylum, while the next adventure has them fighting a dragon for its fire.
Eventually, the group of women will have to face their greatest challenge, along with their dance instructor Madam Gorski, played by Carla Gugino, or accept their fates as prisoners. As an audience we’re left to wonder though how this story affects what’s really happening outside of Babydoll’s head, or what she could possibly be doing during her dance routines that are always rendered as a battle in the video game-style reality.
Written and directed by Snyder, Sucker Punch is visually arresting and has a kernel of a powerful story, but that kernel never develops into anything entertaining or powerful. Sucker Punch wants to be a grrl empowerment action-adventure, and it tries really hard, but Snyder’s script just doesn’t have the art, the emotion, or the ingenuity to take that story to a fulfilling beginning, middle, or end. At times I actually felt myself squirming in my seat because the story and dialogue were so painful, especially from a pop-culture director as notable as Snyder.
Season Of The Witch
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman, Stephen Campbell Moore, Claire Foy, Robbie Sheehan
Director: Dominic Sena
Nicolas Cage has made some bad movies throughout his long and memorable career, but Season of the Witch may be the bad movie to finally make us all ask what Cage does to choose his projects.
Set in the days following the Crusades, Cage plays Behmen, a knight who returns home to discover his homeland has been devastated by the Black Plague. Joined by his soldier buddy Felson, played by the wonderful Ron Perlman, the friends are forced to assist church elders who swear that a local woman is actually a witch who has cursed the land, and the only way to lift the terrible blight is to have her dealt with by a far-away monastery.
Journeying across the land, the duo have to face many challenges on their road, and on the way they also discover the truth about the girl and the force that is trying to defeat them on their quest, which will also change the fate of the world.
While I’m a big fan of Perlman, and of Cage to some degree, the film looks absolutely ridiculous, and with its 7% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the critics are all agreeing on that point.
“Season of the Witch isn’t quite Jonah Hex or Little Fockers bad,” wrote Jim Vejvoda for IGN Movies, “but it’s one helluva shoddy way to start off the year in movies and yet another crummy entry in Nicolas Cage’s woeful post-Oscar filmography.”
While Andrew Barker of Variety aptly commented, “Season of the Witch is a fine example of a film that would’ve been great fun if only its creators had a sense of humor about the wild brew of absurdity they had percolating.”
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Rosamund Pike, Minnie Driver, Rachelle Lefevre, Scott Speedman
Director: Richard J. Lewis
Lastly this week, Paul Giamatti stars in the dramedy Barney’s Version, about an aging television producer named Barney Panofsky as he remembers the highs and lows of his life as he thinks about his own mortality.
Based on the book by Canadian author Mordecai Richler, the film co-stars Dustin Hoffman, Rosamund Pike, Minnie Driver, Rachelle Lefevre, and Scott Speedman in a story that has received praise from a variety of critics.
“There isn’t a moment in Barney’s Version,” wrote Joe Neumaier, critic for the New York Daily News, “that doesn’t feel like a labor of love.”