‘Downton Abbey,’ more on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday

by Rich Heldenfels

Akron Beacon Journal (MCT)

6 February 2012


The drama series “Downton Abbey” has become a public-television phenomenon, recalling the days when shows like “Brideshead Revisited” and “Upstairs Downstairs3/4 would be buzzed about by viewers who otherwise paid little attention to public broadcasting.

“Downton,” which owes more than a little to “Upstairs Downstairs” in its storytelling, has a seductive blend of melodrama and class conflict — not to mention delicious banter and acting — in its tale of a family and its servants in the early part of the 20th century. (The second season begins during World War I.) So much so, in fact, that its recent gracing of the cover of TV Guide reportedly marked the first time a PBS show had done so in more than 30 years.

Fans of the show, whose second season is airing Sunday nights under the “Masterpiece Classic” banner, will get a bonus on Tuesday when this season arrives on DVD (PBS Distribution, $44.99) and Blu-ray ($49.99). Not only are parts of it on store shelves before being televised, but the release includes eight episodes plus a Christmas-themed telecast in their original British form, which is different from the U.S. telecasts. For example, the first two parts in the United Kingdom were edited into a single (and somewhat shorter) telecast for “Masterpiece”; thus the second episode on PBS is the third in the DVD and Blu-ray sets.

There are also three extras: a piece on romance in wartime as shown in the series, one on changing fashions during the period covered by the show and one called “House to Hospital,” on changes in the lives of the characters and their home, which has been converted into a military convalescent hospital.

Jerry Lewis has been getting new attention of late, including a documentary about his life and work, and he has begun opening his considerable archives. For example, Inception Media on Tuesday will release “The Jazz Singer” ($14.98), an adaptation of the Al Jolson film classic that starred Lewis and aired originally as one of the Lincoln-Mercury Startime specials in 1959.

The DVD includes both a black-and-white kinescope and a color version (NBC, which showed the program, had been doing color broadcasts for several years by 1959); Lewis plays a musician and comedian who wants show-business success, while his father (Eduard Franz) wants Lewis to succeed him as a cantor, continuing generations of family cantors. The production is interesting, not least because Lewis’ performance is very much in keeping with the Lewis we still see today: talented, yes, and capable of moments of vulnerability, but also more than a little combative and arrogant. The presentation is staged very simply, and the color rather worn; the cast also includes Anna Maria Alberghetti, Molly Picon and Alan Reed (who would later be famous as the voice of Fred Flintstone).

The DVD also includes a piece about the restoration of “The Jazz Singer” and a photo gallery.

Other items of interest include:

—“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: Grave Danger,” the two-part, fifth-season episode directed by Quentin Tarantino that comes to Blu-ray as a stand-alone offering (CBS/Paramount, $24.99 in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack). It also includes a feature about making it “Tarantino Style.”

—“A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas,” which reunites Kal Penn, John Cho and Neil Patrick Harris for a third big-screen adventure. The theatrical version was also in 3-D, and it includes some 3-D jokes that are still somewhat funny in the 2-D version I watched. From Warner Home Entertainment, it is being offered in a combo pack with the 3-D Blu-ray, standard Blu-ray, standard DVD and digital copy for $44.95; one with the standard Blu-ray, DVD and digital copy ($35.99); and as a single DVD with digital copy ($28.98). Extras vary, depending on the package.

—Tommy Lee Jones, who directed himself, and Samuel L. Jackson — and don’t you love the idea of those two guys in the same room? — in “The Sunset Limited” (HBO, $26.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray), an adaptation of the play by Cormac McCarthy (“No Country for Old Men,” “The Road”). The meeting between a suicidal professor (Jones) and religious ex-con (Jackson) is too talky but, again, it’s those two guys working together. Extras include a making-of piece and audio commentary by Jones, Jackson and McCarthy.

—“The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall” (Universal, $29.98 DVD, $39.98 Blu-ray), a lavishly shot performance of a 25th-anniversary performance of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. Ramin Karimloo is the Phantom and Sierra Boggess is Christine; both are veterans of Webber’s Phantom sequel “Love Never Dies” (and one of the extras is a making-of piece about “Love”). “Phantom” originals Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman also appear for what Universal proclaims “a memorable curtain call.”

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