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Blu-ray Highlights: Week of June 9th, 2013 – Pay No Attention to That Man Behind the Curtain

In this week’s new Blu-rays, Disney cashes in on one of the most beloved family films of all time with a gaudy 3D prequel, fairy tales get reimagined in ways no one ever wanted, and The Rock delivers the first of seemingly dozens of movies he’ll star in this year.

Which Blu-rays Interest You This Week (6/11/13)?

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New Releases

Blatantly patterned after Tim Burton’s 3D ‘Alice in Wonderland‘, Disney hoped for another billion-dollar blockbuster with ‘Oz: The Great and Powerful‘, the long-in-development CGI-fest prequel to ‘The Wizard of Oz‘. That the film only pulled in about $500 million was no doubt seen as a disappointment, even though it’s currently the second highest-grossing movie of the year so far. Based on the trailers, I’m amazed that it did that well. But I thought the same about ‘Alice in Wonderland’, so what do I know? Sam Raimi seems like entirely the wrong director for a family flick like this, and it was evident even from the TV ads how poor a casting choice James Franco would be. Nevertheless, the movie is shiny and colorful, and has 3D crap poking out of the screen, and that seems to be all it takes to entertain children these days.

For the Blu-ray, Disney made a controversial decision to segregate the 2D and 3D editions to separate releases. (Most 3D releases, especially for family movies like this, come bundled with a standard 2D disc for backwards compatibility or the ability to watch in a different room.) Already facing a backlash over that, the studio has hastily shoved coupons into the packaging that will allow you to purchase the 2D disc for an additional $5.99. Gee, thanks. If you’d rather bypass that hassle, consider importing the UK edition (street date July 1st) that will include both copies right in the case. Or just don’t buy it at all, which is my plan.

Jeremy Renner may not have yet reached the vaunted leagues of A-List superstars like Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt, but I still feel like he doesn’t need to be slumming in crap like ‘Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters‘. If the title alone didn’t put you off, the trailers certainly did. The movie was a big flop, and I have a hard time believing that surprised anyone. I mean, it has a grown-up Hansel and Gretel hunting witches – in 3D. Why? How did this get made? Who greenlit this?

In the first of many movies and TV projects he has on the docket this year, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson hops on a broomstick and kicks ass as the world’s greatest Fantasy Quidditch champion… Wait, that’s not the plot of ‘Snitch‘? Too bad. The movie would be so much more interesting if it were. I guess we’ll have to settle for The Rock suplexing drug dealers, or whatever he does in this one. I like The Rock, but this looks like generic direct-to-video fodder.

Catalog Titles

Disney animation fell into a significant lull through much of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Lately, the studio has taken to churning second-tier titles from that period (regardless of possible artistic merit or even if they returned a modest profit) out onto Blu-ray force-bundled with their crappy DTV sequels. This week brings us the flawed-but-underrated ‘Atlantis: The Lost Empire‘, the charming ‘Lilo & Stitch‘, and the misbegotten comedy ‘The Emperor’s New Groove‘. I’m a fan of at least the first two of these, especially the genuinely wonderful ‘Lilo’. Although its meta-upon-meta-upon-meta humor has developed a cult following, I’ve never warmed to ‘Groove’. While I don’t necessarily dislike it, I find the story behind its making (the film was originally intended to be a serious epic until Disney execs shifted gears and decided to turn it into a parody at the last minute) more interesting than the movie itself.

Warner is reissuing Bruce Lee’s breakthrough hit ‘Enter the Dragon‘. The film was previously released on Blu-ray in the early days of the format in a compromised disc with a flawed transfer and only lossy Dolby Digital audio. The new 40th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition will correct those issues, plus add new bonus features and collectible art cards. I think that this will be a good excuse for me to finally retire my HD DVD copy.

The Criterion Collection upgrades Ingmar Bergman’s masterpiece ‘Wild Strawberries‘ to high definition. In other highbrow developments of equal cultural import, Synapse Films unleashes the 1987 cult horror comedy ‘Street Trash‘. (Here’s an interesting article about the trouble that Synapse went through to get a decent transfer for the movie.)

Indie distributor Twilight Time offers a limited edition of Walter Hill’s 1975 ‘Hard Times‘, starring Charles Bronson as a Depression-era street boxer. At one point, Twilight Time had also announced a simultaneous release of Hill’s 1978 action flick ‘The Driver’, but that one appears to have been postponed without explanation.

Television

For those, like me, who don’t subscribe to Netflix, this week’s Blu-ray release will make a good opportunity to catch up with Kevin Spacey’s political drama ‘House of Cards‘. I hope this bodes well for the new season of ‘Arrested Development’ as well.

If you read any of my recaps last summer, you may remember that I wasn’t much impressed with Aaron Sorkin’s latest drama, ‘The Newsroom‘. As is evident in his Blu-ray review, Shannon was a much bigger fan of the show. I’ve asked him to take over recapping duties when the series returns this summer. I don’t know how much more of it I can take.

Finally, Image breaks out the third season of the classic ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show‘, but the complete series box set remains a better value at current prices.

I’m in for ‘Lilo’, ‘Atlantis’ and ‘Wild Strawberries’ – but I wish that I wasn’t forced to buy the crummy Disney sequels to get those first two. I’ll also try to upgrade ‘Enter the Dragon’ at some point, though I’ll probably wait for a smaller package without the unnecessary swag. Will you buy anything this week?

18 comments

  1. William Henley

    I asked Amazon.co.uk to verify the region coding on Oz last week. I somehow doubt that it is region free – the same bundle with other UK retailers is region locked B, the US release is region-locked B, and every other disc Disney has released over the past couple of years (or has announced through the end of the year) is region-locked. I will be shocked if the Amazon.co.uk version is truely region-free. Anyways, this came to my attention when I was looking at Josh’s article about UK Disney steelbooks.

    Stitch and Groove should be arriving today or tomorrow. I read on another review site that the transfers have issues with banding, which disappoints me. Pocahontas had issues with the DTV sequel in some of the CG scenes, but I attributed that to cheap CG effects. However, now I am starting to wonder. The fact that they didn’t even bother to port over the extras from the DVD worries me, but it sounds like the extras are on the DVD copies included with the discs.

    I’ll eventually pick up Tom and Jerry. Still trying to get through volume one – its in my pile of shame (which is growing faster than its going down) – ie discs I purchased but never watched. I think I have about 50 titles in there (many are TV shows, so a single title may be like 15-20 hours of viewing material).

    Hansel and Gretle is a rental for me, as I missed it at the theater.

    • Tom & Jerry has been postponed indefinately. No reason was given, but the massive outcry against the censorship of a few of the cartoons is believed/hoped to be the reason.

      • That’s strange – volume 1 came with a disclaimor that they were presenting the cartoons uncensored, and a huge long legal notice about perserving the past because censoring it was the same as saying it never happened.

        • Yup. This time they decided to remove a couple of cartoons because they were deemed “unsuitable for the intended audience”, even though the back cover says: “Tom & Jerry volume two is intended for the adult collector, and may not be suitable for children”

          At the moment, 126 of the 131 reviews on amazon rates it 1-star. The only 4-star review was made before the censorship was known, and the only 5-star review was made after WB pulled the release.

          I don’t know what the final outcome will be. If they’ll stop releasing T&J blurays completely, or if we’ll get an uncensored set eventually. But, personally, I think that the spotlight collection DVDs were “good enough”, so if they’re not going to make the blu-rays complete and uncensored, there’s just not any point in releasing them at all.

  2. Josh, I don’t know how much faith ye has in me regarding movies, but … Hansel & Gretel is a lot of fun! Do give it a chance! It’s genuinely exciting and silly! The good kind of silly!

    Oh, and: if you don’t like the crappy Disney DTV-sequels forced upon you (who does like them?), you can opt for the European release. Over here, they NEVER bundle the sequel. Instead, they force you to buy it as a seperate release – but that does mean you can actually just buy the good movie on its own. A recommended move, for sure.

      • Depends on a title to title basis. Most Pixars aren’t. Wreck-It Ralph isn’t. Beauty and the Beast is. There are great sites out there to check the region coding for each title. Choose wisely and proceed :)
        (if all else fails, I can keep you updated)

        • William Henley

          I wish I could be sure about Oz. I am about to cancel my preorder. While the page at Amazon.co.uk says it is region free, the same disc at other retailers is Region B locked, and all the sites selling it here in the US is Region A locked. Ugh! That was one of only two good things about HD-DVD – the lack of region locks!

  3. William Henley

    Based on the trailers, I’m amazed that it did that well. But I thought the same about ‘Alice in Wonderland’, so what do I know? Sam Raimi seems like entirely the wrong director for a family flick like this, and it was evident even from the TV ads how poor a casting choice James Franco would be. Nevertheless, the movie is shiny and colorful, and has 3D crap poking out of the screen, and that seems to be all it takes to entertain children these days.

    So….. You are saying that you haven’t seen the movie, and are judging the directing and casting choices based on trailers?

    I for one was thrilled with the directing and casting choices. The story had a couple of holes in it if you are a fan of the Oz universe, but so has every film / television adaptation. It seems most people who have negatively judged the film from a story perspective do so solely from the way that the 1939 movie portrayed the Land of Oz. My main issue with the film is that they spend far too much time establishing back-story, but overall, I found the movie to be quite enjoyable. And the 3D is pretty good. :-)

  4. Toby

    If you guys are really worried about region coding, why not bite the bullet and get the Orei M2 from Amazon or Bombay Electronics. For $149 you get a 3D Blu ray player that plays everything ( along with MP4-MKV-AVI- thru USB – . I got one and it works fine. The money I save buying from Amazon UK makes up for it real quick.

    • William Henley

      I haven’t seen it, but it reminds me the trailers remind me of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, which I loved. The fact that Will Ferrel is involved only sweetens the deal for me, which is why I put in a vote for it. I may pick it up from Redbox on my way home from work tonight, and then debate if I am going to end up buying or not. Actually, too lazy to go all the way to Redbox, may just rent it through Vudu – at least then I can see it in 3D.

  5. Drew

    Over the course of a few previous blog posts, as well as discussions about the review, on the main site, multiple people have already commented on the appeal.

    Specifically, look at Julian’s comment, directed towards you, in this very post. The movie is a lot of fun. It never pretends to be something that it’s not.