Western epic, Paul Newman classic top Blu-ray releases

by Doug Nye

McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)

9 September 2008


The star-studded epic Western “How the West Was Won” (Warner, 1962, $34.99) and the Paul Newman classic “Cool Hand Luke” (Warner, 1967, $28.99) lead the list of a dozen titles arriving on the Blu-ray high-definition DVD format this week.

“How the West Was Won” tells the adventurous stories of four generations beginning in 1840, going through the Civil War and culminating with the settling of the West in the late 1890s. Among those taking roles in the film are Gregory Peck, Debbie Reynolds, John Wayne, Richard Widmark, Karl Malden, Eli Wallach, George Peppard, Carol Baker, James Stewart and Henry Fonda.

Besides its huge cast, “How the West Was Won” also made news when released because it was only one of two movies produced in Cinerama that told a story. The process, which had been around for years and was used for U.S. pilot training during World War II, employed three cameras to film its subject matter.

Hollywood thought the process was too complicated to deal with until box-office numbers began to drop in the early 1950s because of the television boom. Many felt the movies needed an extra boost to get patrons back to the theaters. That’s why Fred Waller, who developed Cinerama, thought the time was right for the process and, with the help of explorer and journalist Lowell Thomas, “This is Cinerama” premiered Sept. 20, 1952, in New York City and caused a sensation.

The three 35mm film strips were projected onto a huge curved screen that gave audiences the feeling they were actually participating in the action. Most of the Cinerama efforts were travelogues that featured such things as roller coaster rides, flights over majestic mountains and voyages on the high seas.

“How the West Was Won,” inspired by a series of articles in Life magazine, was different. It carried audiences back to the days of Western expansion, sending then down a river through dangerous rapids, putting them smack in the middle of a buffalo stampede and taking them on a thrilling chase over newly laid railroad tracks.

The film was so big, three directors - Henry Hathaway, John Ford and George Marshall - all lent their talents to the project. In later years, when seen on television, the “join lines” which separated the three film strips were easily visible and detracted from its enjoyment.

Warner Bros has eliminated those “join lines’ and the results are spectacular. The Blu-ray edition includes two discs. The first presents the film in “normal” wide screen and also includes a terrific documentary, “Cinerama Adventure,” that chronicles the history of the process and why it eventually was abandoned.

The second disc contains what Warner calls the “Smile Box” version which duplicates the curved perspective audiences saw when the film was shown in Cinerama theatrically. It works pretty well, but be aware that the bigger the television screen the better the effect. Kudos to Warner Brothers for a top-notch picture and stirring sound track.

In “Cool Hand Luke,” Paul Newman plays one of his most famous roles as Luke Jackson, who winds up on a Southern chain gang after being arrested for smashing parking meters. Luke enjoys defying prison authority and soon becomes a hero to fellow inmates. No matter what punishment the prison bosses dish out, Luke manages to survive. George Kennedy, J.D. Cannon and Strother Martin also co-star. (The film also is remembered for Martin’s line “What we got here is failure to communicate.”

Other Blu-ray titles released this week:

“Jerry Maguire” (Sony, 1996, $28.95): Here’s another movie that gave us an oft-quoted line, “Show me the money.” But this one is more than about the money. What seems to start out as a tale about the dog-eat-dog world of sports agents, turns into an often poignant film about friendship, loyalty and love. Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) is a highly successful agent who suddenly is fired from the company he helped build. Only a secretary, Dorothy Boyd (Renee Zellweger), and one client - pro footballer Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.) - stick with Maguire during the bad times. Cruise, Zellweger and Gooding are in top form.

“Rudy” (Sony, 1993, $28.95): Based on the true story of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger (Sean Astin), whose dream is to play football at Notre Dame. Because of his small size, Rudy is told he doesn’t have a chance. Four years after high school graduation, he finally makes it to Notre Dame and joins the football team as a walk-on. Although it appears he will never get into a game, his Irish teammates admire his grit and determination. And then, during his senior year, the big moment arrives. Good stuff for anybody who loves to cheer for the underdog. Ned Beatty and Charles S. Dutton also are in the cast.

“Baby Mama” (Universal, 2008, $39.98): In this comedy, an infertile businesswoman (Tina Fey) hires someone to be her surrogate (Amy Poehler). Also in the cast is Sigourney Weaver.

“Superman Returns” (Warner, 2006, $34.95): Brandon Routh is the Man of Steel and Kevin Spacey is Lex Luthor in this film being re-released on Blu-ray with an improved soundtrack.

“Smallville: The Complete Seventh Season” (Warner, 2007-08, $79.98): This is made up of 20 episodes starring Tom Welling as Superman. The series returns for its eighth season Sept. 18 on the CW.

“Night Watch” (20th Century Fox, 2004, $39.98): After a prologue set in medieval times, the film switches to modern Russia, where the forces of darkness such as vampires and witches unleash an all-out war across the world. A creepy and visual treat. Russian actor Konstantin Khabensky stars.

“Day Watch (20th century Fox, 2006, $39.98): Khabensky is back for this sequel in which the forces of light and darkness clash again and the world appears on the brink of Armageddon.

“The Fall” (Sony, 2008, $38.96): Fiction and reality merge as the tale of five mythical heroes seems to come true to a little girl. Lee Pace, Catinca Untaru and Justibe Waddel star.

“Kill Bill Vol. 1” (Buena Vista, 2003, $34.99): Quentin Tarantino directed this blood-splattered film about an assassination squad. Its main theme revolves around a bride (Uma Thurman) who supposedly was killed by her husband, Bill (David Carradine). Unfortunately for Bill, she didn’t die. Fans of violence and Tarantino love this stuff. Also in the cast are Lucy Liu and Daryl Hannah.

“Kill Bill Vol. 2” (Buena Vista, 2004, $34.99): The murderous bride (Thurman) is back and continues down the bloody trail in an effort to gain revenge.

Recent Blu-ray releases:

“Transformers: Two-Disc Special Edition” (Paramount, 2007, $39.99) Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox

“The Gauntlet” (Warner, 1977, $28.99) Clint Eastwood, Sondra Locke, Pat Hingle

“Every Which Way But Loose” (Warner, 1978, $28.99) Clint Eastwood, Sondra Locke, Beverly D’Angelo, Geoffrey Lewis

“Outbreak” (Warner, 1995, $28.99) Dustin Hoffman, Morgan Freeman, Rene Russo, Kevin Spacey, Cuba Gooding, Jr.

“Under Siege 2 - Dark Territory” (Warner, 1995, $28.99) Steven Seagal, Katherine Heigl, Eric Bogosian

“Eraser” (Warner, 1996, $28.99) Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Caan

“Married Life” (Sony, 2007, $38.96) Pierce Brosnan, Chris Cooper, Patricia Clarkson

All prices listed are the suggested retail price and can be purchased cheaper for those who shop around or go to www.amazon.com.

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