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- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) VHS
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The swashbuckler genre bumped into science fiction in 1954 for one of Hollywood's great entertainments. The Jules Verne story of adventure under the sea was Walt Disney's magnificent debut into live-action films. A professor (Paul Lukas) seeks the truth about a legendary sea monster in the years just after the Civil War. When his ship is sunk, he, his aide (Peter Lorre), and a harpoon master (Kirk Douglas) survive to discover that the monster is actually a metal submarine run by Captain Nemo (James Mason). Along with the rollicking adventure, it's fun to see the future technology that Verne dreamed up in his novel, including diving equipment and sea farming. The film's physical prowess is anchored by the Nautilus, an impressive full-scale gothic submarine complete with red carpet and pipe organ. In the era of big sets, 20,000 Leagues set a precedent for films shot on the water and deservedly won Oscars for art direction and special effects. Lost in the inventiveness of the film and great set pieces including a giant squid attack are two great performances. Mason is the perfect Nemo, taut and private, clothed in dark fabric that counters the Technicolor dreamboat that is the beaming red-and-white-stripe-shirted Kirk Douglas as the heroic Ned Land. The film works as peerless family adventure nearly half a century later. --Doug Thomas
- Adventures of Robin Hood, The (1938) VHS
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Dashing Errol Flynn is the definitive Robin Hood in the most gloriously swashbuckling version of the legendary story. Warner Brothers reunited Michael Curtiz, their top-action director, with the winning team of Flynn and Olivia de Havilland (Maid Marian) and perennial villain Basil Rathbone as the aristocratic Sir Guy of Gisbourne, and pulled out all stops for the production. It became their costliest film to date, a grandly handsome, glowing Technicolor adventure set to a stirring, Oscar-winning score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. The decadent Prince John (a smoothly conniving Claude Rains) takes advantage of King Richard's absence to tax the country into poverty but meets his match in the medieval guerrilla rebel Robin Hood and his Merry Men of Sherwood Forest, who rise up and, to quote a cliché coined by the film, "steal from the rich and give to the poor." Stocky Alan Hale Sr. plays Robin's loyal friend Little John (a part he played in Douglas Fairbanks's silent version), Eugene Palette the portly Friar Tuck, and Melville Cooper the bumbling Sheriff of Nottingham. Flynn's confidence and cocky charm makes for a perfect Robin Hood, and his easygoing manner is a marvelous counterpoint to Rathbone's regal bearing and courtly diction. The film climaxes in their rousing battle-to-the-finish sword fight, a magnificently choreographed scene highlighted by Curtiz's inventive use of shadows cast upon the castle walls. --Sean Axmaker
- All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) VHS
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This 1930 film, No. 54 on the AFI's Top 100 list, still holds up as a surprisingly forceful and honest antiwar drama. Indeed, the modern sensibility is almost as startling as the sometime stagey acting of Lew Ayres, which can be excused by the fact that, three years after the introduction of sound, actors were still applying stage techniques to talking pictures. Ayres plays a German college student during World War I, who is brainwashed into enlisting in the Army (along with the rest of his class) by a zealously inspirational college professor. Once in uniform and on the front lines, however, he quickly discovers that the glory of the Fatherland is of little concern to a soldier dodging bullets and explosions, whose comrades are dying in his arms. As powerful in its way as Platoon almost 60 years later, it remains a classic tale of young soldiers' confrontations with the possibility of imminent and arbitrary death. Director Lewis Milestone shows a surprising range of techniques in this film from the formative years of moviemaking with sound. --Marshall Fine
- Ben-Hur (1959) VHS
VHS widescreen, DVD widescreen, DVD widescreen Collector's Set
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Ben-Hur scooped an unprecedented 11 Academy Awards® in 1959 and, unlike some later rivals, richly deserved every single one. This is epic filmmaking on a scale that had not been seen before and is unlikely ever to be seen again. But it's not just running time or a cast of thousands that makes an epic, it's the subject matter, and here the subject--Prince Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) and his estrangement from old Roman pal Messala (Stephen Boyd)--is rich, detailed, and sensitively handled. Director William Wyler, who had been a junior assistant on MGM's original silent version back in 1925, never sacrifices the human focus of the story in favor of spectacle, and is aided immeasurably by Miklos Rozsa's majestic musical score, arguably the greatest ever written for a Hollywood picture. At four hours it's a long haul (especially given some of the portentous dialogue), but all in all, Ben-Hur is a great movie, best seen on the biggest screen possible. --Mark Walker
- Black Stallion. The (1979) VHS
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Adapted from the beloved novel by Walter Farley, this 1979 family classic was hailed by no less than hard-to-please critic Pauline Kael, who wrote that "it may be the greatest children's movie ever made." A visual feast from start to finish, the timeless tale of The Black Stallion plays out on almost mythic terms. A young boy survives a shipwreck and is stranded on a deserted island with a graceful black stallion, with whom the boy develops an almost empathic friendship. After being rescued and returning home, the two make a winning team as jockey and lightning-fast racehorse under the tutelage of a passionate trainer, played by Mickey Rooney in an Oscar-nominated role. From its serenely hypnotic island sequence to the breathtaking race scenes, this delightful film is guaranteed to enthrall any viewer, regardless of age. The Black Stallion is a genuine masterpiece of family entertainment. --Jeff Shannon
- Caine Mutiny, The (1954) VHS
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Humphrey Bogart is heartbreaking as the tragic Captain Queeg in this 1954 film, based on a novel by Herman Wouk, about a mutiny aboard a navy ship during World War II. Stripped of his authority by two officers under his command (played by Van Johnson and Robert Francis) during a devastating storm, Queeg becomes a crucial witness at a court martial that reveals as much about the invisible injuries of war as anything. Edward Dmytryk (Murder My Sweet, Raintree County) directs the action scenes with a sure hand and nudges his all-male cast toward some of the most well-defined characters of 1950s cinema. The courtroom scenes alone have become the basis for a stage play (and a television movie in 1988), but it is a more satisfying experience to see the entire story in context. --Tom Keogh
- Captain Horatio Hornblower (1951) - VHS
This version with Gregory Peck follows the book more closely. It's a very enjoyable movie that can be seen from time to time on Turner Classic Movies.
- Captains Courageous (1937) VHS
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The award-winning l937 version of Kipling's classic Captains Courageous finds spoiled-rotten brat Harvey Cheyne (Freddie Bartholomew) well on the way to becoming a horrible adult, under the illusion that money can buy all happiness. The little monster falls off a cruise ship, and is fished out of the drink by Portuguese fisherman Manuel (Spencer Tracy) and brought back to his fishing boat. Though the overprivileged lad initially chafes at being put to work aboard the smelly vessel, he eventually learns the value of a day's work and learns lessons in life that make him a functional person and bring him several steps closer to manhood. Despite Tracy's indeterminate accent, he excels in his role as the boy's friend, and enthusiastic performances from the rest of the cast bring this coming-of-age tale to life. It's a film that has lost none of its sentimental appeal (or occasional hamminess) over the years and should have an all-ages appeal to fans of Hollywood classics. --Jerry Renshaw
- Count of Monte Cristo, The (2002) VHS
Revenge rarely gets sweeter than it does in The Count of Monte Cristo, a rousing, impeccably crafted adaptation of Alexandre Dumas père's literary classic. Filmed countless times before, the story is revitalized by director Kevin Reynolds (rallying after Waterworld) and screenwriter Jay Wolpert, who wisely avoid the action-movie anachronisms that plagued 2001's dubious Dumas-inspired The Musketeer. Leading a superior cast, Jim Caviezel (Frequency) expresses a delicate balance of obsession and nobility as Dantes, the wrongly accused Frenchman who endures 13 years of prison and torment, then uses a hidden treasure to finance elaborate vengeance on those who wronged him. Memento's Guy Pearce is equally effective as Dantes's betraying nemesis, and Richard Harris tops his Harry Potter wizardry with a humorous turn as Dantes's fellow prisoner and mentor. Filmed on stunning locations in Ireland and Malta, The Count of Monte Cristo easily matches Rob Roy for intelligent swashbuckling entertainment. --Jeff Shannon
- David Copperfield (2000) VHS
A year before he played his first Quidditch match as Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe cast his spell on audiences as young David Copperfield in this stellar British miniseries based on Charles Dickens's classic novel. Vastly superior to the 2000 American-made miniseries (which gave us Michael "Kramer" Richards as Micawber), this impeccable production, originally broadcast on ExxonMobil Masterpiece Theatre, is an embarrassment of riches, with a cast that includes Oscar® winner Maggie Smith (Radcliffe's Potter costar) as the indomitable Aunt Betsey, Oscar nominee Ian McKellen (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings) as sadistic teacher Mr. Creakle, a wonderful Bob Hoskins (Oscar nominee for Mona Lisa) as the debt-ridden Micawber, Trevor Eve as David's loathsome stepfather Mr. Murdstone (he believes in "firmness" with a vengeance), and Nicholas Lyndhurst as the scheming clerk Uriah Heap. Holding his own with this formidable ensemble is Ciaran McMenamin as the adult David, whose soap opera existence spans an idyll-shattered childhood, unscrupulous villains, tragic romance, and a hard-won happily-ever-after. Rich with incident and populated by some of literature's most memorable characters, this production does full justice to one of Dickens's most beloved and oft-told sagas. --Donald Liebenson
- Emma (1996) VHS
Most people didn't mind Gwyneth Paltrow's English accent in this charming, 1996 adaptation of Jane Austen's novel (which also inspired Clueless). But even if it doesn't sound quite right to you, there are plenty of authentic and wonderful Brit thespians in this film by screenwriter-turned-director Douglas McGrath (co-author of Woody Allen's Bullets Over Broadway), including Juliet Stevenson (Truly Madly Deeply), Alan Cumming (Buddy), Phyllida Law (Much Ado About Nothing), Ewan McGregor (the Scots star of Trainspotting), and Sophie Thompson, outstanding and finally heartbreaking as the chattering Miss Bates. Paltrow plays Austen's benign busybody, Emma Woodhouse--so busy trying to arrange the lives of others that she is sidestepping her own. McGrath brings a kind of pretty and light touch to the production, his best move the wise delegation of creative authority to the actors themselves. --Tom Keogh
- Emma (1997) VHS
Similar to the equally excellent Valmont, this version of Jane Austen's classic novel had the misfortune of following a sumptuous big-star version with Gwyneth Paltrow, which was released the summer before. And, just as 1989's Valmont suffered comparisons with Dangerous Liaisons, inevitably these Emmas were held up next to one another.
This delicious Emma concerns a young woman of financial substance (Kate Beckinsale), who fancies herself a matchmaker, especially with shy Miss Harriet Smith (Samantha Morton, who also appears in A&E's Jane Eyre). In Emma's swirling world of social activity and social consciousness, one's position and stature is a constant preoccupation. But to her credit, Emma, albeit a busybody, has compassion for all classes, and for her kindly but hypochondriacal father (Bernard Hepton).
This miniseries is more subtle than the grand theatrical release, is truer to the novel, and gives a richer explanation of the relationship between Emma associates Jane Fairfax (beautiful Olivia Williams of Rushmore) and the duplicitous Frank Churchill (Raymond Coulthard). Of course, at the center, as in all Austen stories, is the romance between the unsuspecting leading lady and an unlikely, but wholly suitable gentleman. In this case, it's Emma and her brother-in-law, the righteous (as played here) Mr. Knightley (Mark Strong). Strong's Mr. Knightley is more reserved, less coy than Jeremy Northam's; he plays Knightley more like Mr. Darcy (the leading man in Austen's Pride and Prejudice, which A&E also offers in a wonderful miniseries). Beckinsale proves to be utterly delightful and in no way should this excellent adaptation be ignored. --N.F. Mendoza
- Gone with the Wind (1939) VHS
DVD, DVD Collector's Edition
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David O. Selznick wanted Gone with the Wind to be somehow more than a movie, a film that would broaden the very idea of what a film could be and do and look like. In many respects he got what he worked so hard to achieve in this 1939 epic (and all-time box-office champ in terms of tickets sold), and in some respects he fell far short of the goal. While the first half of this Civil War drama is taut and suspenseful and nostalgic, the second is ramshackle and arbitrary. But there's no question that the film is an enormous achievement in terms of its every resource--art direction, color, sound, cinematography--being pushed to new limits for the greater glory of telling an American story as fully as possible. Vivien Leigh is still magnificently narcissistic, Olivia de Havilland angelic and lovely, Leslie Howard reckless and aristocratic. As for Clark Gable: we're talking one of the most vital, masculine performances ever committed to film. The DVD release has optional French subtitles and theatrical trailer. --Tom Keogh
- Henry V (1989) VHS
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Very few films come close to the brilliance Kenneth Branagh achieved with his first foray into screenwriting and direction. Henry V qualifies as a masterpiece, the kind of film that comes along once in a decade. He eschews the theatricality of Laurence Olivier's stirring, fondly remembered 1945 adaptation to establish his own rules. Branagh plays it down and dirty, seeing the bard's play through revisionist eyes, framing it as an antiwar story. Branagh gives us harsh close-ups of muddied, bloody men, and close-ups of himself as Henry, his hardened mouth and willful eyes revealing much about this land war. Not that the director-star doesn't provide lighter moments. His scenes introducing the French Princess Katherine (Emma Thompson) are toothsome. Bubbly, funny, enhanced by lovely lighting and Thompson's pale beauty, these glimpses of a princess trying to learn English quickly from her maid are delightful.
What may be the crowning glory of Branagh's adaptation comes when the dazed, shaky leader wanders through battlefields, not even sure who has won. As King Hal carries a dead boy (Empire of the Sun's Christian Bale) over the hacked-up bodies of both the English and French, you realize it is the first time Branagh has opened up the scenes: a panorama of blood and mud and death. It is as strong a statement against warmongering as could ever be made. --Rochelle O'Gorman
- Horatio Hornblower - The Adventure Continues - VHS
Move over, Mr. Darcy, A&E has a new heartthrob. He's third lieutenant Horatio Hornblower (Ioan Gruffudd reprising his star-making role), C.S. Forester's swashbuckling hero of the high seas. Devotees of the original Emmy Award-winning miniseries will want to "have at" this boxed set containing two feature-length episodes in which the dashing Hornblower and crew engage in "foolhardy actions, rash judgments, and irresponsible adventures." "Mutiny" finds our young hero awaiting trial for "black bloody mutiny" against a once distinguished, but increasingly unhinged Captain Sawyer (David Warner). "It was for the good of the service," Hornblower insists to his mentor, Sir Edward Pellew (Robert Lindsay). "We were headed for disaster." Hornblower relates the events that led him to a Kingston, Jamaica, prison cell. In "Retribution," Hornblower's trial unfolds, and the events surrounding the mutiny are further revealed: Captain Sawyer is detained in a straitjacket, disgruntled crew members desert, dithering acting captain Butland assumes command, and Hornblower leads a surprise attack on a Spanish fort. Meanwhile, the judges look for a scapegoat "to take away the smell." Maritime buffs will have a merry time, with all the shipboard intrigue and skirmishes. Like the "hot shot" that disables an escaping enemy vessel, this boxed set will be "a palpable hit." --Donald Liebenson
- Horatio Hornblower - The New Adventures
Dashing Ioan Gruffud stars as dashing Horatio Hornblower, unparalleled British naval hero, in two more delightful episodes from the A&E series. In Loyalty, a peace with France has left Hornblower decommissioned and short on funds. Only the help of his landlady's daughter Maria (heartbreaking Julie Sawalha, Absolutely Fabulous) keeps him from being kicked out into the street. Fortunately for our hero, Napoleon's armies are afoot, and Hornblower soon finds himself sailing to France in command of the Hotspur, grappling with Irish traitors and French skullduggery. Duty picks up where Loyalty leaves off; Hornblower marries Maria with some ambivalence, but the day after his wedding sails for the coast of France to find a missing ship. After rescuing a supposedly Swiss man and his American wife in a storm, Hornblower finds himself caught between an old foe in France and diplomats in England. Though the derring-do is sometimes melodramatic, Horatio Hornblower swiftly becomes engrossing and suspenseful. Credit is due to smart scripts, efficient direction, Gruffud's heroically curly hair, and a superb supporting cast, including Robert Lindsay and Paul McGann (Withnail and I). --Bret Fetzer
- Horatio Hornblower - VHS
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Based on the rousing sea adventures in C.S. Forester's novel Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, the four-film television series Horatio Hornblower explores the education of a plucky young officer rising through the ranks of His Majesty's Navy. Ioan Gruffudd is all integrity and honor as the ambitious midshipman who is taken under the stern yet nurturing guidance of Captain Pellew (Robert Lindsay) during the war against France in the French Revolution. Through these four adventures he faces a vindictive senior midshipman ("The Even Chance"); meets his hero, a reckless captain whose unorthodox methods are brave but foolhardy ("The Examination for Lieutenant"); is captured by the Spanish in a desperate maneuver to sneak through enemy lines ("The Duchess and the Devil"); and leads his men to French soil in an ill-planned attempt by French loyalists to start a popular front against the revolution ("The Frogs and the Lobsters"). The excellent re-creations of 18th-century vessels and ship-to-ship battles are astounding and reminiscent of such classic Hollywood seafaring adventures as Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk, not to mention Captain Horatio Hornblower, with Gregory Peck as the only previous screen incarnation of Forester's hero. This mixture of swashbuckling adventure and British naval tradition is leavened with well-placed humor and a cast of colorful characters, but at the heart of the tales is Gruffudd's quick-thinking, courageous Hornblower, a starry-eyed officer with the luck of the gods and the steely determination of an old-fashioned hero. --Sean Axmaker
- Jane Eyre (1944) VHS
Made two years after Citizen Kane, this 1943 version of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre sure looks like star Orson Welles muscled his way behind the camera much of the time. (In fact, costar Joan Fontaine--who plays the title character--has maintained that Welles methodically did just that every day on the set.) Not that the film's official director was a hack: Robert Stevenson, who later had a busy career at Disney making numerous live-action hits for the studio, such as Mary Poppins, gets the credit. But there's no mistaking Welles's masterful hand in the film's bold and creative look, and there's no getting away from his enigmatic charisma as Rochester, the widower who takes in Jane as a governess to his daughter. An engrossing, gorgeous film, there's even a small role for Elizabeth Taylor at the beginning as Jane's unlucky, doomed friend at a cruel boarding school. --Tom Keogh
- Jane Eyre (1983) VHS
Starring Timothy Dalton as Mr. Rochester. As an orphan, Jane Eyre learns to survive on independence. As a woman, she finds herself employed by Edward Rochester, whom she grows to love. But on their wedding, Jane discovers that his past holds a dark secret, and flees heartbroken...
- Jason and the Argonauts VHS
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Arguably the most intelligently written film to feature the masterful stop-motion animation of Ray Harryhausen, Jason and the Argonauts is a colorful adventure that takes full advantage of Harryhausen's "Dynarama" process. Inspired by the Greek myth, the story begins when the fearless explorer Jason (Todd Armstrong) returns to the kingdom of Thessaly to make his rightful claim to the throne, but the gods proclaim that he must first find the magical Golden Fleece. Consulting Hera, the queen of gods, Jason recruits the brave Argonauts to crew his ship, and they embark on their eventful journey. Along the way they encounter a variety of mythic creatures, including the 100-foot bronze god Talos, the batlike Harpies, the seven-headed reptilian Hydra, and an army of skeletons wielding sword and shield. This last sequence remains one of the finest that Harryhausen ever created, and it's still as thrilling as anything from the age of digital special effects. Harryhausen was the true auteur of his fantasy films, and his brilliant animation evokes a timeless sense of wonder. Jason and the Argonauts is a prime showcase for Harryhausen's talent--a wondrous product of pure imagination and filmmaking ingenuity. The DVD contains an informative interview with Harryhausen by filmmaker John Landis. --Jeff Shannon
- Les Miserables (1998) VHS
Frenchman Jean Valjean (Liam Neeson), imprisoned for stealing bread, is paroled after nearly two decades of hard labor. A gift of silver candlesticks from a kindly priest helps him begin anew. Forging a decent and profitable existence, he finds success as a businessman and as the mayor of a small town. He even takes in a pregnant young woman (Uma Thurman) and raises her daughter as his own. When a former prison guard (Geoffrey Rush) recognizes Valjean, his past catches up to him. Director Bille August culls mesmerizing performances from his cast, but loses us with an ending that panders to teen audiences. The focus shifts dramatically, and uncomfortably, from the haunted Neeson and his hawk-like pursuer, to his daughter (Claire Danes) and her romance with a handsome revolutionary. After this narrative shift, the script leaves behind the Victor Hugo classic's themes of revenge and redemption to focus improbably on teen angst--hardly what Hugo had on his mind. --Rochelle O'Gorman
- Little Princess, A (1995) VHS
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After the critical success of 1993's The Secret Garden, Warner Bros. returned to the novels of Frances Hodgson Burnett to create this 1995 adaptation of A Little Princess, which instantly ranked with The Secret Garden as one of the finest children's films of the 1990s. Neither film was a huge box-office success, but their quality speaks for itself, and A Little Princess has all the ingredients of a timeless classic. A marvel of production design, the film features lavish sets built almost entirely on a studio backlot in Burbank, California. The story opens in New York just before the outbreak of World War I, when young Sara (Liesel Matthews) is enrolled in private boarding school while her father goes off to war. Under the domineering scrutiny of the school's wicked headmistress, Miss Minchen (Eleanor Bron), Sara quickly becomes popular with her schoolmates, but fate intervenes and she soon faces a stern reversal of fortune, resorting to wild flights of fancy to cope with an unexpectedly harsh reality. Rather than label her fanciful tales as escapist fantasy, A Little Princess actively encourages a child's power of imagination--a power that can be used to learn, grow, and adapt to a world that is often cruel and difficult. It's also one of the most visually beautiful films of the '90s and creates a fully detailed world within the boarding school--a place where imagination is vital to survival. A first-class production in every respect, this is one family film that should (if it's not too stuffy to say it) be considered required viewing for parents and kids alike. --Jeff Shannon
- Lord of the Rings - The Fellowship of the Ring (DVD Widescreen Edition) (2001)
VHS | VHS widescreen | VHS subtitled in Spanish | DVD Platinum Series Extended Edition | DVD Full Screen Edition | DVD with DTS Stereo
Some of these editions have extra features. Follow the links to find the edition that fits your needs.
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As the triumphant start of a trilogy, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring leaves you begging for more. By necessity, Peter Jackson's ambitious epic compresses J.R.R. Tolkien's classic The Lord of the Rings , but this robust adaptation maintains reverent allegiance to Tolkien's creation, instantly qualifying as one of the greatest fantasy films ever made. At 178 minutes, it's long enough to establish the myriad inhabitants of Middle-earth, the legendary Rings of Power, and the fellowship of hobbits, elves, dwarves, and humans--led by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and the brave hobbit Frodo (Elijah Wood)--who must battle terrifying forces of evil on their perilous journey to destroy the One Ring in the land of Mordor. Superbly paced, the film is both epic and intimate, offering astonishing special effects and production design while emphasizing the emotional intensity of Frodo's adventure. Ending on a perfect note of heroic loyalty and rich anticipation, this wondrous fantasy continues in The Two Towers (2002). --Jeff Shannon --This text refers to the Theatrical Release edition.
- Lord of the Rings - The Two Towers (Platinum Series Special Extended Edition) (2002) DVD
VHS, VHS widescreen, VHS subtitled in Spanish, DVD widescreen, DVD widescreen with DTS Stereo, DVD
The extended edition of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring was perhaps the most comprehensive DVD release to date, and its follow-up proves a similarly colossal achievement, with significant extra footage and a multitude of worthwhile bonus features. The extended version of The Two Towers adds 43 minutes to the theatrical version's 179-minute running time, and there are valuable additions to the film. Two new scenes might appease those who feel that the characterization of Faramir was the film's most egregious departure from the book, and fans will appreciate an appearance of the Huorns at Helm's Deep plus a nod to the absence of Tom Bombadil. Seeing a little more interplay between the gorgeous Eowyn and Aragorn is welcome, as is a grim introduction to Eomer and Theoden's son. And among the many other additions, there's an extended epilogue that might not have worked in the theater, but is more effective here in setting up The Return of the King. While the 30 minutes added to The Fellowship of the Ring felt just right in enriching the film, the extra footage in The Two Towers at times seems a bit extraneous--we see moments that in the theatrical version we had been told about, and some fleshed-out conversations and incidents are rather minor. But director Peter Jackson's vision of J.R.R. Tolkien's world is so marvelous that it's hard to complain about any extra time we can spend there.
While it may seem that there would be nothing left to say after the bevy of features on the extended Fellowship, the four commentary tracks and two discs of supplements on The Two Towers remain informative, fascinating, and funny, far surpassing the recycled materials on the two-disc theatrical version. Highlights of the 6.5 hours' worth of documentaries offer insight on the stunts, the design work, the locations, and the creation of Gollum, and--most intriguing for rabid fans--the film's writers (including Jackson) discuss why they created events that weren't in the book. Providing variety are animatics, rough footage, countless sketches, and a sound-mixing demonstration. Again, the most interesting commentary tracks are by Jackson and writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens and by 16 members of the cast (eight of whom didn't appear in the first film, and even including John Noble, whose Denethor character only appears in this extended cut). The first two installments of Peter Jackson's trilogy have established themselves as the best fantasy films of all time, and among the best film trilogies of all time, and their extended-edition DVD sets have set a new standard for expanding on the already-epic films and providing comprehensive bonus features. --David Horiuchi
- Man in the Iron Mask (1977) VHS
Alexandre Dumas's classic tale of fraternal squabbling makes a more than satisfactory transition to celluloid with this 1976 made-for-television swashbuckler. Viewers familiar with the more recent Leonardo DiCaprio version may be stymied at first by the non-MTV pace and the rather unhip presence of Richard Chamberlain in the lead role(s). This well-lensed actioner overcomes a somewhat pokey first half to emerge as a terrific adventure, complete with plenty of derring-do, some sharply pointed dialogue, and a wonderful performance by the incomparably malevolent Patrick McGoohan. Rousing fun for burgeoning rapscallions of all ages. Director Mike Newell would later find success in a different genre with Four Weddings and a Funeral. Ian Holm, Louis Jordan, and Ralph Richardson round out the embarrassingly rich supporting cast. --Andrew Wright
- Moby Dick - VHS
Patrick Stewart makes his entrance late into this telefilm, stringy hair hanging from under his three-cornered hat, his peg leg tapping out his arrival on deck. This Captain Ahab is a hard, driven man--you can see it in his burning eyes--and there's no question he has the resolve and the mad devotion to complete his quest at all costs: kill the white whale that took his leg. Franc Roddam's mini-series adaptation of Herman Melville's classic novel (filmed previously by John Huston in 1956) manages its budget wisely: a judicious use of digital effects creates a terrifying vision of the great white whale, and Roddam's eye captures a near-epic quality. Henry Thomas's earnest performance as the young seaman Ishmael can't compete with Stewart's intensity, and Gregory Peck's cameo as Father Mapple is a hollow echo of his passionate Ahab from Huston's masterpiece. But the rest of the cast excels, and Roddam's haunting imagery and horrific climax make this a compelling dramatic adventure. --Sean Axmaker
- Nicholas Nickleby (2002) VHS
A comic, brutal and passionate take of greed and love in Victorian England. A top-notch cast of veteran actors and rising young newcomers shines in a lavish new British production of the Charles Dickens classic. The hero, a penniless young gentleman, struggles to make his way in the world and protect his mother and sister, meeting up with the worst and best of humanity along the way. Charles Dance (The Jewel in the Crown) stars as Ralph Nickleby, with James D'Arcy (Rebel Heart) as Nicholas and Sophia Myles (Mansfield Park) as his beautiful sister, Kate. Other standouts include Lee Ingleby (Ever After) as Smike, Nicholas' faithful companion, and Dominic West (28 Days) as the lecherous Sir Mulberry Hawk.
- Old Man and the Sea, The (1958) VHS
The classic Ernest Hemingway novel about man battling nature and the demons within himself is adapted admirably in this 1958 film starring the legendary Spencer Tracy. Playing the fisherman who goes on an intense and futile quest as he contemplates his own nature, Tracy turns in a spellbinding performance of understated power. He plays an itinerant Cuban fisherman whose luck at catching his prey has been poor of late, until he becomes embroiled in an intense pursuit of a giant marlin and in the process must confront his own frailties. Though the visual aspect of the film seems dated, Tracy is more than enough reason to see this effort at bringing one of the modern classics of literature to life on the screen. --Robert Lane
- Persuasion (1995) VHS
Movie adaptations of Jane Austen's classic novels were all the rage (relatively speaking) in the mid-1990s. Clueless updated Austen's Emma, which was more conventionally adapted in another version (Emma) starring Gwyneth Paltrow. Emma was produced yet again, this time for British television, as were a celebrated miniseries of Pride and Prejudice and this splendid film of Austen's Persuasion. Persuasion is the story of a love that survives eight years of dormancy and the frustrating obstacles of class prejudice in 19th century England. Anne (Amanda Root) is captivated when she meets the dignified naval officer Capt. Wentworth (Ciarán Hinds), but she is advised to discourage his romantic overtures because he has no fortune. They meet again eight years later, but now Capt. Wentworth has become wealthy while Anne's father is in reduced circumstances in the wake of reckless extravagance. A series of circumstances ensue which prevent Anne and Wentworth from expressing their mutual and inevitable love. The film's success depends entirely on the subtle, superb performances of Root and Hinds. The film builds slowly, occasionally leaving you wondering if anything at all is going to happen. When it does, you realize how carefully crafted a film this is, and the final result is grandly rewarding. --Jeff Shannon
- Pride and Prejudice (1995) VHS
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Jane Austen's classic novel of 1813, Pride and Prejudice, still wins the hearts of countless schoolgirls with its romantic story of Elizabeth Bennet and her Mr. Darcy. Now, the 1996 BBC miniseries is winning over adults, with its faithful adaptation, gorgeous scenery, and superb acting.
The essence of the story is the antagonism between Mr. Darcy, a wealthy single man who believes Elizabeth to be beneath him, and Elizabeth, who upon being insulted at a dance by the aloof Darcy refuses to associate with him in any manner. Austen evokes incredible tension with the wit and flirtation of the two characters, and director Simon Langton (who also directed Upstairs Downstairs) successfully translates the repartee and conflict in this six-hour miniseries. Dialogue, for the most part, is painstakingly replicated, except when fleshing out and smoothing for modern sensibilities was necessary. Darcy, for instance, is drawn out, giving his personality significantly more depth. The acting sweeps you away to Regency England: Jennifer Ehle (of Wilde) is convincing as the obstinate Elizabeth, who, despite her mother's attempts to marry her off, spurs the attentions of Darcy. And Colin Firth (of The English Patient) will have women everywhere longing for a Mr. Darcy of their own.
For those who have been on an Austen binge--enjoying such excellent recent adaptations as Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion--this miniseries will round out the ultimate Austen video library. For those new to these romantic period pieces, this version of Pride and Prejudice will have you hooked and longing for more. One caveat, however: plan to watch it in an entire day, because very few have the self-control to not watch all six hours in a single sitting. --Jenny Brown
- Pride and Prejudice (Special Edition) (1996) DVD
A & E Home Video
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE has taken its place alongside Upstairs Downstairs and I, Claudius as one of the greatest television productions of all time. The landmark adaptation from A&E and the BBC captured the hearts of millions by seamlessly translating the wit, romance and intelligence of Jane Austen's classic novel to the screen.
With a masterful script, deft direction and a star-making performance from Colin Firth (Bridget Jones' Diary, Shakespeare in Love) PRIDE AND PREJUDICE transports viewers to Georgian England, where affairs of the heart are an exquisite game, and marriage the ultimate prize. But Elizabeth Bennet--spirited, independent, and one of five unmarried sisters--is determined to play by her own rules and wed for love, not money or privilege.
- Prisoner of Zenda, The (1937) VHS
One of numerous film versions of Anthony Hope's novel, this 1937 production directed by John Cromwell (Algiers) gets it right. Ronald Colman stars as a British commoner asked to substitute for his lookalike cousin, the king of a small, European country. Besides falling in love with a royal (Madeleine Carroll), he becomes subject to the machinations of a villain (Douglas Fairbanks Jr. who almost steals the show). A classic swashbuckler, the film depends a little too much on an air of pomp (as if to make sure we understand that Colman's character is seeing all this from the inside for the first time). But in every significant sense, this is high adventure for the ages. --Tom Keogh
- Railway Children, The (2000) VHS
Jenny Agutter stars as the mother in this Masterpiece Theater remake of the beloved 1970 Lionel Jeffries film of the same name, in which she played the oldest daughter. This time that role is played by Jemima Rooper, whose face perfectly captures the conflict between her girlhood of railway adventures and her adulthood, in which she comes to understand far more about the disappearance of her father than her younger siblings do. This early 20th-century story based on Edith Nesbit's novel is set in motion when the children's father is taken off in the night from their London home and the family moves to the country in reduced circumstances. The trio take to waving at passing trains for amusement and wind up preventing a derailment, reuniting a Russian prison escapee with his family, and rescuing a schoolboy injured in a tunnel. A couple of their heroics are accomplished with the assistance of a jovial-looking gentleman (Richard Attenborough), who waves to them from the rear car. He turns out to be the owner of the railroad and helps Rooper's character clear her father of a false treason conviction. Agutter does well as the proper British mum with a heart, but this is clearly Rooper's picture. The movie itself is 97 minutes with a few minutes tacked on at the beginning and end for Russell Baker's customary commentary and historical context. --Kimberly Heinrichs
- Raisin in the Sun, A (1961) VHS
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Lorraine Hansberry's play is given sensitive treatment by filmmaker Daniel Petrie (The Bay Boy). Sidney Poitier heads a fine cast in the story of an African American family in Chicago who are struggling with mixed aspirations, not enough money, conflicts over religion, and institutional racism. The film is pretty much set-bound (as plays adapted for the screen sometimes are), but the drama is intense and moving. --Tom Keogh
- Scarlet Pimpernel (1935) VHS
"That damned elusive Pimpernel" finds a dashing embodiment in Leslie Howard, who has the steel to be an action hero and the wit to hide behind his alter ego: a British fop. Based on Baroness Orczy's novel, the story focuses on the efforts of this British dandy to aid members of the French aristocracy in escaping the guillotines of the French revolution. He also romances Merle Oberon, a beauty forgotten by recent generations, and engages in a wonderfully wicked duel of wits with the humorless enforcer for the French Republicans (Raymond Massey). If somewhat short on swashbuckling, it's long on the kind of costume drama that Hollywood seems to have forgotten how to do. Remade in 1982 for television, in an equally engaging version starring Anthony Andrews. --Marshall Fine
- Scarlet Pimpernel, The (1982) VHS
It's tough trying to beat the 1934 version of the popular adventure-romance story, starring Leslie Howard as the 18th-century British hero who poses as a fop in London society but runs a secret mission to rescue the doomed in Robespierre's Paris. But this 1982 television version, starring Anthony Andrews (Under the Volcano) as the Pimpernel and Jane Seymour as his beloved but estranged wife, is quite a treat. Andrews and Seymour expertly capture the essence of a relationship suffering from misunderstandings and elusive passion, and there is plenty of crackle to the action sequences. Clive Donner (What's New, Pussycat?) brings some strong cinematic qualities to this television presentation. --Tom Keogh
- Scarlet Pimpernel, The: Boxed Set (1999)
A & E Entertainment
Dashing, daring and mysterious, he rescues the aristocratic targets of the bloodthirsty French Revolution with his intricate schemes and courageous feats. Pursued by the scheming Chauvelin, THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL dances with death... but never lets it lead!
A&E's acclaimed adaptation of these beloved tales of love and double lives, action and derring-do star Richard Grant (Pret-a-Porter, L.A. Story) as the elusive Pimpernel and Elizabeth McGovern (Wings of the Dove, Ordinary People) as his wife and accomplice. This complete, collector's set includes all three, feature-length adventures on high-resolution DVD for the ultimate Pimpernel experience!
- Sense and Sensibility (1995) VHS
Amazon.com essential video
Emma Thompson scores a double bull's-eye with this marvelous adaptation of Jane Austen's novel. Not only does Thompson turn in a strong (and gently humorous) performance as one of the Dashwood sisters--the one with "sense"--she also wrote the witty, wise screenplay. Austen's tale of 19th-century manners and morals provides a large cast with a feast of possibilities, notably Kate Winslet, in her pre-Titanic flowering, as Thompson's deeply romantic sister. Winslet attracts the wooing of shy Alan Rickman (a nice change of pace from his bad-guy roles) and dashing Greg Wise, while Thompson must endure an incredibly roundabout courtship with Hugh Grant, here in fine and funny form. All of this is doled out with the usual eye-filling English countryside and handsome costumes, yet the film always seems to be about the careful interior lives of its characters. The director, an inspired choice, is Taiwan-born Ang Lee, who brings the same exquisite taste and discreet touch he displayed in his previous Asian films (such as Eat Drink Man Woman). Thompson's script won an Oscar, and 1995 was a fine year for Jane Austen all around: Persuasion was made into an excellent picture, and Emma became the spritzy high school comedy Clueless. --Robert Horton
- Streetcar Named Desire, A (1951) VHS
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Looking for a benchmark in movie acting? Breakthrough performances don't come much more electrifying than Marlon Brando's animalistic turn as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire. Sweaty, brutish, mumbling, yet with the balanced grace of a prizefighter, Brando storms through the role--a role he had originated in the Broadway production of Tennessee Williams's celebrated play. Stanley and his wife, Stella (as in Brando's oft-mimicked line, "Hey, Stellaaaaaa!"), are the earthy couple in New Orleans's French Quarter whose lives are upended by the arrival of Stella's sister, Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh). Blanche, a disturbed, lyrical, faded Southern belle, is immediately drawn into a battle of wills with Stanley, beautifully captured in the differing styles of the two actors. This extraordinarily fine adaptation won acting Oscars for Leigh, Kim Hunter (as Stella), and Karl Malden (as Blanche's clueless suitor), but not for Brando. Although it had already been considerably cleaned up from the daringly adult stage play, director Elia Kazan was forced to trim a few of the franker scenes he had shot. In 1993, Streetcar was rereleased in a "director's cut" that restored these moments, deepening a film that had already secured its place as an essential American work. --Robert Horton
- Tale of Two Cities (1935)
- Tale of Two Cities, A (1991)
How far will one man go for true love? Charles Dickens' epic love story comes alive in this exciting Masterpiece Theatre presentation, filmed on location in Bordeaux and Manchester.
In the dock of a British courtroom, French aristocrat Charles Darnay stands accused of spying for the King of France. The outlook appears grim until some last-minute help comes from his astonishing lookalike, Sydney Carton. As Darnay goes free and makes plans to marry Lucie Manette, Carton keeps his secret desire for her to himself, yet assures her that he would make the ultimate sacrifice for her, "or for anyone you love." As Lucie and Charles settle into blissful married life in London, the French Revolution is exploding. Carton is in Paris on his own mysterious business just as the Darnays return to rescue a faithful servant from the chaos, only to be captured by a crowd thirsty for the blood of aristocrats. The guillotine beckons as does the promise Sydney made to his beloved Lucie years earlier. Amidst the turmoil of one of history's most barbaric eras, will one man's simple devotion be enough to quell the madness?
- To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) VHS
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Ranked 34 on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 Greatest American Films, To Kill a Mockingbird is quite simply one of the finest family-oriented dramas ever made. A beautiful and deeply affecting adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee, the film retains a timeless quality that transcends its historically dated subject matter (racism in the Depression-era South) and remains powerfully resonant in present-day America with its advocacy of tolerance, justice, integrity, and loving, responsible parenthood. It's tempting to call this an important "message" movie that should be required viewing for children and adults alike, but this riveting courtroom drama is anything but stodgy or pedantic. As Atticus Finch, the small-town Alabama lawyer and widower father of two, Gregory Peck gives one of his finest performances with his impassioned defense of a black man (Brock Peters) wrongfully accused of the rape and assault of a young white woman. While his children, Scout (Mary Badham) and Jem (Philip Alford), learn the realities of racial prejudice and irrational hatred, they also learn to overcome their fear of the unknown as personified by their mysterious, mostly unseen neighbor Boo Radley (Robert Duvall, in his brilliant, almost completely nonverbal screen debut). What emerges from this evocative, exquisitely filmed drama is a pure distillation of the themes of Harper Lee's enduring novel, a showcase for some of the finest American acting ever assembled in one film, and a rare quality of humanitarian artistry (including Horton Foote's splendid screenplay and Elmer Bernstein's outstanding score) that seems all but lost in the chaotic morass of modern cinema. --Jeff Shannon
- Treasure Island (1990) VHS
A tale about a fatherless boy finding dramatically different father figures throughout a remarkable adventure, Treasure Island is an entertaining coming-of-age story, with themes of family, loyalty, friendship, trust, and honesty at its core. While Robert Louis Stevenson's classic adventure tale is popular film fare, it's never been done this well. Charlton Heston stars as Long John Silver and Christian Bale as plucky Jim Hawkins in this TNT production. Directed by Heston's son Fraser (who also directed the excellent family fare Alaska), the film remains faithful to the novel, and draws much of the spirit and excitement of the book. The action scenes are first-rate, and if the ship Hispaniola has never looked better or more authentic, no surprise: the ship is the original from 1962's Mutiny on the Bounty. The opening scenes are dark and rich, as they capture the period well, with careful attention to makeup (the teeth, the body grime!) and costuming. Oliver Reed and Christopher Lee are frighteningly effective as Capt. Billy Bones and Blind Pew, and the film's first half-hour is theirs. The tone shifts and lightens when Heston appears as the legendary pirate. Look for Pete Postlethwaite, Julian Glover, and Richard Johnson in wonderful supporting roles. The film marks Bale's segue from poignantly promising child actor (Empire of the Sun) to compelling teen (he would later continue to prove his talent as a versatile young actor in Little Women and Velvet Goldmine). --N.F. Mendoza
- Wuthering Heights (1939) VHS
Amazon.com essential video
One of the most compelling tragic romances ever captured on film, Wuthering Heights is an exquisite tale of doomed love and miscalculated intentions. Though only half of Emily Bronte's classic tale of Heathcliff and Catherine was filmed by director William Wyler, it lacks for nothing.
The story begins when a Yorkshire gentleman farmer brings home a raggedy gypsy boy, Heathcliff, and raises him as his son. The boy grows to love his stepsister Catherine, with catastrophic results. Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon were perfectly cast as the mismatched lovers, with Olivier brooding and despairing, Oberon ethereal and enchanting. This won cinematographer Gregg Toland a much-deserved Oscar for his haunting and evocative depiction of mid-19th century English moors. (Quite a trick, as this was shot in California!) Though nominated for seven other Oscars, it won none of them, as it was released in 1939, one of the best years in Hollywood history and the same year as Gone with the Wind. Interestingly, the script was written by Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht, best known for their witty 1931 flick, The Front Page. --Rochelle O'Gorman