Now 'The War' comes home
If you've read, watched or listened to media in the past two weeks, you already know the story of "The War" (3 stars, PBS/Paramount, $129.99; look for discounts in the $90 range). Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's seven-part, 15-hour documentary seeks nothing less than to tell the entire story of World War II from the American perspective, "from the bottom up," as Burns put it in interviews.
He and Novick chose veterans and residents from four cities - Waterbury, Conn., Sacramento, Calif., Mobile, Ala. and tiny Luverne, Minn. - to view the battle before and after U.S. involvement, as it affected their communities and their lives.
As has been well-documented, a Hispanic-American special interest group, concerned that their contributions to the war effort had gone undocumented, prevailed upon Burns to include them. Ultimately he did, filming new material after the project was completed.
This segment has been artlessly and obviously tacked onto the end of episode one, but it does not detract significantly from the rather strict form the filmmakers imposed.
What does occasionally threaten to make the film into a slog is Keith David's insistent, voice-of-God narration; things are far better when the citizen soldiers are telling their stories. (The familiar voices of Tom Hanks, Alan Arkin and Samuel L. Jackson also are heard in specific sequences.)
Both the war and home front footage, much of that from home movies, was meticulously scrubbed up, and even familiar footage from "America at War" or old History Channel documentaries looks fresh and new.
The DVD package contains about an hour more of it than was used in the film and extended interviews with the subjects, deleted sequences, a making-of featurette that documents the six years it took to complete "The War," a still photo gallery and commentary by Burns and Novick.
Also new this week:
The 1979 drama "Caligula" is pretty much what HBO's "Rome" series wanted to be, a film that's historically accurate in its depiction of politics and imperial life in ancient Rome while serving copious amounts of violence and sex. But when Italian director Tinto Brass turned in his finished film, starring Malcolm McDowell as the third emperor of Rome, John Gielgud, Peter O'Toole and a young Helen Mirren as Caligula's queen, the producer had a problem.
The producer was Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione. And despite some orgy scenes and Mirren floating around in a diaphanous gown, he thought the film didn't have enough sex, so he proceeded to film some real sex and add it. That made "Caligula" unsuitable to be shown in most theaters.
Mirren, McDowell, director Brass and screenwriter Gore Vidal disowned the film then, but apparently softened and are on hand to provide commentary for the three-disc "Caligula: Imperial Edition" (3 stars, Image, $39.99). It's a dramatic improvement over the version released on disc in 2000. It appears to be the original 156-minute version. A new R-rated version clocks in at 102 minutes and costs $19.99.
TV on DVD:
"Entourage: Season 3, Part 2" (HBO, $39.98) wraps up what fans agreed was the best season yet of the Hollywood comedy.
"Jericho - The First Season" (Paramount, $49.99) looked to be the only season of this drama about a small town that's isolated by a nuclear explosion until a fan protest won it a reprieve; the box set contains episode commentaries and a feature about the show's creation.
Also boxed this week:
"Criminal Minds: The Second Season" (Paramount, $64.99)
"The Sarah Silverman Program - Season One" (Comedy Central, $19.99)
"Shark - Season One" (Fox, $59.98)
Family pick of the week:
Disney's 1967 film "The Jungle Book," loosely based on Rudyard Kipling's stories, is finally back in circulation as a two-disc "40th Anniversary Platinum Edition" (4 stars, Disney, $29.99). The tale of the wolf-raised boy named Mowgli and his effort to save the animals from the terrible tiger Shere Khan is remixed into 5/1 Surround. It's appended with an entire disc's worth of extras: features about the great animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston and deleted songs and scenes, including one with a character that was cut from the film, Rocky the Rhino.
As expected with Disney classic releases, the set also features interactive games, puzzles and sing-a-longs that, considering the caliber of the songs, shouldn't annoy parents as much as the songs on "My Little Pony" DVDs.