A wondrous animated classic - “Pinocchio” (Walt Disney, 1940, $35.99) - and a nifty superhero collection - “The Batman Anthology” (Warner, 1989-97, $129.95) - top the lineup of this week’s films released on the high-definition Blu-ray format.
“Pinocchio” was Disney’s second full-length animated feature after the huge success of the ground-breaking “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and it looks spectacular in the stellar two-disc Platinum 70th Anniversary Blu-ray edition. This current era of computer animation makes you appreciate even more the stunning results turned in by the Disney artists.
The animation is flawless. Take note of the perfectly timed movements of the shadows of each character while knowing every frame was done by hand. The backgrounds are quite simply works of art. The film is presented the way it was meant to be seen in its original non-widescreen 1.33:1 (4x3) aspect ratio and is accompanied by new 7.1 sound as well as the original theatrical soundtrack.
Based on an 1883 story by Italian writer Carlo Collodi, the film improves on the source material because of Disney’s magical touch. It’s difficult to believe that there is anyone unfamiliar with the tale of the lovable woodcarver Geppetto, who makes a wooden puppet he calls Pinocchio and wishes it would come to life. That night, a beautiful fairy grants Geppetto his wish. In the process, she also appoints the happy-go-lucky Jiminy Cricket as his official conscience.
The fairy promises that if Pinocchio proves himself worthy, he will one day became a real boy instead of a live puppet. Before that can happen, the innocent Pinocchio has to survive many temptations along the way. The film is rich in memorable sequences. from the marvelous survey of Geppetto’s many clocks to the exciting finale featuring Monstro the Whale.
Cliff Edwards, who provided the voice of Jiminy Cricket, sings the film’s signature song “When You Wish Upon A Star,” which won an Academy Award. The Blu-ray edition includes numerous extras. Among them on disc two is a fascinating 55-minute documentary about the making of the film, as well as re-creations of deleted scenes and an alternate ending. Also included is a regular DVD of the film. It’s a great addition to any home’s movie library. Highly recommended.
“The Batman Anthology” includes all four films produced before Christian Bale took on the role in the 21st century. Those who gushed over “The Dark Knight” and Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker would do well to take another look at “Batman” (1989), which leads this set, starring Michael Keaton as the caped crusader. Unlike Bale, Keaton doesn’t have to gruff up his voice when he dons the mask.
Director Tim Burton’s Gotham City is a grim, foreboding place where crime is out of control. For a while, it seems as if only the mysterious Batman is able to put some fear into the crooks and vermin who populate the streets. Into this setting, comes the maniacal Joker played with an equal maniacal flair by Jack Nicholson. It is a role Nicholson was born to play.
Nicholson’s interpretation has much more in common with the original comic book version than does Ledger’s. In fact, Burton’s “Batman” is more faithful to the comic book than “The Dark Knight,” which was inspired more by the super-serious graphic novels that have popped up in the last couple of decades. The 1989 film actually has a sly sense of humor, and Danny Elfman’s music score is outstanding.
After seeing “Batman” again and re-watching “The Dark Knight,” it is difficult to say one is better than the other. They are just different.
The anthology also includes:
“Batman Returns” (1992): Keaton is back as Bruce Wayne/Batman while Danny Vito plays the Penguin, certainly one of the most repulsive villains ever put on film. Michelle Pfeiffer makes a fetching Catwoman. Burton also directs this one with his sense of dark and frightening humor.
“Batman Forever” (1995): Val Kilmer replaces Keaton as Batman in an entertaining outing. The villains include Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face and Jim Carrey as The Riddler. Robin makes his first appearance in the person of Chris O’Connell. While fun to watch, it represents a break away from Burton’s vision.
“Batman and Robin” (1997): I know from experience that kids like this one, but some silliness begins to creep into the franchise. It includes two over-the-top villains with Arnold Schwarznegger playing Mr. Freeze and Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy. George Clooney is Batman.
Each film, packed with extras, looks and sound terrific on Blu-ray. Overall, “The Batman Anthology is highly recommended.
Other Blu-ray releases this week:
“Cadillac Records” (Sony, 2008, $39.95): Adrian Brody plays Leonard Chess, founder of a small record company in the late 1940s that discovered and promoted black performers who became legends. Among them were Etta James (Beyonce Knowles), Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright), Chuck Berry (Mos Def), Little Walter (Columbus Short) and Willie Dixon (Cedric the Entertainer). Behind it all is also a tale of violence, race and sex in Chicago of the 1950s and 1960s. Good performances all around and then there is the great music. Recommended.
“Primal Fear” (Paramount, 1996, $29.99): When an altar boy (Edward Norton) is arrested for the brutal murder of a Catholic archbishop, publicity-seeking defense lawyer Martin Vail (Richard Gere) decides to defend him. Vail doesn’t know if his client is guilty or not and, at first, that really doesn’t matter. Vail just wants to win. But he soon finds himself involved in case with all sorts of twists and turns. First-rate court room drama. Recommended.
“Milk” (Universal, 2008, $39.98): Sean Penn stars in his Oscar-winning role of Harvey Milk, who became the first openly gay man to run for and win a public office, on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Also in the cast are Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, James Franco and Diego Luna.
“Brokeback Mountain” (Universal, 2005, $29.98): A ranch hand (Heath Ledger) and a rodeo rider (Jake Gyllenhaal) meet during the summer of 1963 when they both sign on to work as sheepherders for a Wyoming ranch. During their months of isolation together they form a special bond that turns into love. The film won three Oscars and was nominated for five others.
“Synecdoche, New York” (Sony, 2008, $39.95): Philip Seymour Hoffman portrays a theater director who has health problems and unstable romances with women. Despite all this, he undertakes a staggering project - building a full-scale replica of New York City in a massive warehouse. After he populates it with actors, his vision becomes blurred between reality and art. You can bet there has never been a movie quite like this one.
“Gulliver’s Travels” (KOCH, 1939, $19.98): Max Fleisher’s full-length animated featured inspired by is not quite up to par with Disney’s work, but it still manages to entertain and the kids should enjoy it. Unfortunately, it is not presented in its original 1.33:1 (4x3) aspect ratio and has been blown up to fill the 16x9 wide screen format.
Also now on Blu-ray: “Role Models” (Universal, 2009, $39.98), Seann William Scott, Paul Rudd; “Transporter 3” (Lions Gate, 2008, $39.99), Jason Statham; “Let the Right One In” (Magnolia, 2008, $34.98), Lina Leandersson.