Titanic Makes A Splash On Blu-ray, Plus More New And Recent Releases To Check Out This Week

Three notable releases for the week of September 11, 2012

What is it?

James Cameron’s Oscar-winning Titanic making its Blu-ray debut.

So this is that movie where Leonardo DiCaprio says he’s “The King of the World.”

The very same. The one that made all those billions a decade and a half ago when going to the movie theater used to be fun. Unlike now thanks to the downfall of civilization when it comes to manners and personal responsibility. (I know I could have been more harsh, but I don’t want to alienate those who continue to read my ramblings, witless they may be.)

Is this the King of Blu-rays?

Far from it. If going strictly from individual movies on Blu-ray, Titanic has to contend with Blade Runner (which contains five cuts of the film!), Apocalypse Now (two cuts and a great making-of documentary), and Pixar’s The Incredibles for starters. But the content alone is enough to label either the Blu-ray 3D or standard Blu-ray release as Must Own.

From a movie standpoint the plot is weaksauce, but it pasts the litmus test on what makes an “event movie” and event movie. And while I may argue that L.A. Confidential was the better film overall in terms of structure and acting, Hollywood loves its epics and in 1997 Titanic was an epic film, sappy and overwrought as it may have been.

My fiance says I have to get this on Blu-ray or she’s going to give me the “Lorena Bobbit special.”

Consider yourself lucky, then. That means she’s only rabid to seagoing excursions as opposed to vampires that sparkle. On a happier note, the Blu-ray 3D release boasts more than just a nude Kate Winslet in 3D. While it is arguably the best catalog presentation in three dimensions, the remaining discs offer a plethora of supplemental material. In addition to behind-the-scenes featurettes on the construction of the ship used in the film and visual effects, there’s an hour’s worth of deleted scenes, and a pair of documentaries worth your time exploring. “Titanic: The Final Word” originally aired on the National Geographic Channel on the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic. Running 96 minutes, “The Final Word” is a well-produced doc that is a must for history buffs. From scientific examination of what happened that fateful night to getting first-hand experience from survivors describing the sinking, this documentary is the cherry on top of great special features package.

(Paramount, Blu-ray 3D $29.99, Blu-ray $22.99)


What is it?

The fifth season of CBS’ The Big Bang Theory.

Is this like Frasier but with comic nerds?

That’s packing it into a pretty tight nutshell. Theory lacks Frasier‘s level of sophisticated humor despite having a cast populated by a bunch of rocket scientist types. Okay, you got me. One is an experimental physicist, another is an aerospace engineer, and one of the female characters is a waitress. (Hey, it’s harder than it looks!)

Do I need to play catch up to understand the story lines?

The best thing about traditional sitcoms is that there are about five different plots that alternate over the course of a series’ run. So if you’ve never watched The Big Bang Theory and are boldly going where you have never gone before you should be okay. Just know that the star of the show, Sheldon (Emmy winner Jim Parsons), is a neurotic worrywart, and his attitude can test the patience of a viewer. And sometimes the show tries to be too smart for its own good (translation: laugh tracks are so last century). Honestly, after five seasons this comedy is looking a little long in the tooth, while the praised but little seen Community struggles to be afloat in the sea of TV obscurity on NBC. (For the record, it is moving to Friday nights this fall where it will complete its run without showrunner Dan Harmon.) Digression over, back to Theory: The biggest standout this season is the work of Mayim Bialik (of Blossom fame) as Sheldon’s uncommitted girlfriend. She was originally just going to have an arc, but she proved to be so good that series creator Chuck Lorre made her a recurring character. I’m just waiting for the eventual episode where Joey Lawrence shows up as her brother. Whoa!

Okay, I may check this show out. Any extras to speak of, or is it a no frills release?

In a new trend, some TV titles are packaging both the Blu-ray and DVD in the same set. The Big Bang Theory includes all 24 episodes on two Blu-ray discs as well as three DVDs. Extras are few but it does include a special look back at the celebration of the series’ 100th episode, cast reflections about the fifth season, a nine-minute gag reel, and behind-the-scenes tour of the production and the departments that give Theory its “big bang.”

(Warner Bros. Blu-ray $29.99, DVD $24.99)


What is it?

The fourth season of ABC’s Castle.

I only watch the police procedurals on CBS, why should I bother?

Well, if that’s the case then you are truly missing out. CBS may lead the other Big 3 networks when it comes to airing successful police procedurals, but don’t discount this gem from ABC that has managed to carve out a niche on Monday nights, and it has steadily increased its number of viewers each year. Castle is a cross between Murder, She Wrote (only with Nathan Fillion in the Angela Lansbury role) and Moonlighting – the sexual tension between Fillion’s Richard Castle and Stana Katic’s Det. Kate Beckett is palpable. Having watched my fair share of police procedurals and legal shows what keeps my attention isn’t the crime or the legal brief, it’s the interaction between the principal actors. This fourth season sees some growth for both Castle and Beckett. At the start of the season Beckett is still trying to come to grips after taking a bullet from a sniper in the season three finale. So she isn’t quite herself and this causes a riff in the Castle-Beckett fabric, further complicating their “will they? or won’t they?” relationship.

To paraphrase The Princess Bride: Is this a kissing show?

There are many teases, but you’ll have to wait until the season finale (“Always”) when it goes from simple petting to all out ravishing. Along the way you’ll get to see some standout episodes, including: “Cuffed” (Castle and Beckett handcuffed together in a sealed room – sounds kinky), “The Blue Butterfly” (an episode shot as a 1940s Film Noir), “47 Seconds” (bombing attack in NYC), and “Headhunters” (Firefly fans rejoice! Castle teams up with a new detective on a case, played by Adam Baldwin).

Comparisons to Moonlighting has my interest piqued, but does the DVD set offer any substantial extras?

In addition to the typical deleted scenes, bloopers and audio commentaries, the set offers a behind-the-scenes look at the stunts performed in the two-part episodes “Pandora” and “Linchpin,” as well as a featurette on the genesis behind the season’s hallmark episode “The Blue Butterfly.” But the coolest extra may be Nathan Fillion and members of the principal cast performing for an audience as if they were recording an old-time radio drama. Very cool.

(Buena Vista Home Entertainment, DVD $27.99)


Three other notable releases

What is it?

It’s either the start of a joke you’ve heard before or it’s Sebastian Gutierrez’s latest directorial effort, A Girl Walks Into a Bar.

Was this even released in theaters?

Technically, no. It was specifically made to be distributed online, but it did have a few screenings during various film festivals. This includes the celebrated South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Tex. (That’s where I first saw it.)

If it’s available online for free, why should I even bother with the DVD?

Girl Walks Into a Bar is a quirky little film with punchy dialogue and a talented ensemble. For costing next to nothing, Gutierrez has put together quite the cast thanks in large part to his wife, Carla Gugino. Much like the director’s previous efforts, Women in Trouble and Elektra Luxx, the film is littered with recognizable faces, including: Zachary Quinto, Josh Hartnett, Danny DeVito, Rosario Dawson, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Robert Forster, and Alexis Bledel. So basically you have some TV stars, some of the supporting players in Sin City and Forster kicking ass like always. All conspire to be in a feature that plays like a chain letter that sees the characters journey from one bar and strip club to another. And did I mention the nudist ping pong club?

Okay, but that still doesn’t explain why I should pick up the DVD.

Fair enough, but Girl Walks Into a Bar is one of those under-the-radar gems that you can show to friends, and it’s much easier to put it in a machine and hit play than it is to watch it on YouTube with a group of people. And at a brisk 80 minutes you could do far worse.

(Entertainment One, DVD $14.99)


What is it?

Juan of the Dead, the first horror feature to come out of Cuba.

Is this just some cheap Asylum production in the tradition of U.K.’s Shaun of the Dead?

In the tradition of Edgar Wright’s zombie comedy, Juan of the Dead is very far removed from any Asylum studio comparisons. All you need to know is that Robert Saucedo gave this film a glowing review when he saw it at last year’s Fantastic Fest, calling it “a live-action Loony Tunes cartoon given a syringe shot of zombie action.” And it was because of him that I was fortunate enough to see it on the big screen several months ago. All the praise directed its way is warranted; this is a great little splatterfest flick that looks to kill you will laughter more often than not.

But why Cuba?

Why not Cuba. It’s the perfect setting for a zombie infestation. The island nation has a rich cultural history, which writer-director Alejandro Brugués incorporates into the film. So beyond its zombies Juan of the Dead is rich in political satire – there’s a quick joke directed about Fidel Castro that somehow managed to sneak by the censors. Plus it shows how two men can start their own small business without the help of the government. Now that’s utilizing your full potential!

Any extras?

Though it deserves a bigger release, the current DVD of Juan of the Dead only offers deleted scenes and a quick behind-the-scenes featurette.

(Entertainment One, DVD $9.99)


What is it?

A 19-pound box set otherwise known as the Harry Potter Wizard’s Collection.

Wait, you mean the studio sent you that entire box set in the mail?

Well, not exactly. If any Tom, Dick and Harry had requested the set to review and the studio sent them to everyone the shipping charges would be enormous. Instead, they sent me the key bonus discs and a few other tchotchkes. And that’s fine. I’m well-schooled on Harry Potter and his leap from page to screen. The series as a whole has been quite a feat in storytelling as compared to Joseph Campbell’s concept of a hero’s journey. If anything that’s one of the big aspects to take away from the series. To see Harry Potter’s maturation from boy wizard to adult over the course of eight films (or seven books, if you prefer) is epic in scale but is handled with such dexterity with each successive sequel, especially after David Yates took the reigns as director. (Though, Alfonso Cuarón’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is arguably the best of the eight films.)

What all is included with the collection?

(Takes a deep breath) Three or four discs are reserved for each film as all eight films in the set are present on Blu-ray, DVD and Ultraviolet formats. There are extended cuts of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets, and 13 discs are reserved for bonus content. This includes the final installments of “Creating the World of Harry Potter” (Parts 7 and 8) and the set-exclusive bonus disc. All in all, these three discs amount to more than 700 minutes of never-before-seen supplemental material.

Besides containing enough supplemental material to give your favorite chair a permanent indentation, the box set also includes memorabilia like a “Catalogue of Artefacts,” a blueprint of Hogwarts castle, a fabric map of Hogwarts and the surrounding areas, concept art prints in both color and B&W, and a prop replica of the Horcrux Locket.

But the asking price is $345 (US). That seems too much for such a set.

While you are correct with your response, realize that this set will appeal to the die-hard Harry Potter fanatic first and foremost. That said, it wouldn’t surprise me to see this set drop in price by year’s end as Warner Bros. look to unload product and retailers start to free up space for more titles. So if you are a Harry Potter fan but don’t need the accoutrements, then you might settle for the eight-film set on Blu-ray, which can be had for a little less than $100.

(Warner Bros. Blu-ray $344.99)


Ranking the six titles described above:

1. Titanic
2. Juan of the Dead
3. Castle: The Complete Fourth Season
4. A Girl Walks Into a Bar
5. The Big Bang Theory: The Complete Fifth Season
6. Harry Potter Wizard’s Collection

*You can order any of the seven titles on either Blu-ray or DVD by clicking on their corresponding sale links.

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