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Black Friday DVDs
by Ed Owens

Thanksgiving is upon us, and that can mean only one thing: Black Friday. Tomorrow, stores throughout the country will open their doors at ungodly hours and slash prices on dozens of items that we would never buy at full price. If you've never stood in a line outside a Circuit City with dozens of other Shoppers ('cause that kind of dedication earns you a capital letter) watching your breath curl out in smoky wisps, you haven't lived. That or you have better things to do with your time.

Like sleep.

Whether you brave the maddening crowds of Black Friday or wait until Sold Out Saturday to begin your holiday shopping, here's three recent DVD releases worth fighting crowds for.

King Kong (Collector's Edition)

The image on Warner Brothers' long-awaited release of the 1933 film is impressive given the age and condition of the source material, but little of that will matter when confronted with the solid package Warner's has put together. First up is the film itself, which has been largely (and inexplicably) MIA on DVD, a classic in every sense of the word that deserves a place in film history. The disc includes a generous sprinkling of extras, including a documentary on director Merian C. Cooper and a separate documentary on the making of the film. Next up are a slew of items geared towards collectors. The Limited Edition version (these comments specifically pertain to Best Buy's exclusive version) includes the 2-disc special edition of the original film, a DVD release of Son of Kong , a DVD release of Mighty Joe Young , a reprint of the original souvenir program, and 10 movie one-sheet postcards. For $3.25 shipping & handling, you can also have a "free" 27" x 40" reproduction of the original movie poster.

Ran (Criterion)

This is the third incarnation of Kurosawa's masterful adaptation, and owners the earlier Masterworks release (from Wellspring) would do well to upgrade. While Wellspring's transfer was more vibrant than the one presented here, it was also plagued with visual artifacts that the Criterion team have painstakingly removed. The result is a softer, but more natural looking image that is, quite literally, spotless. Extras include the same Stephen Prince commentary that appeared on Wellspring's edition (Peter Grilli's commentary did not make the leap, so owners of that version who particularly like Grilli's commentary should hang on to their previous disc), footage from the Toho Masterworks series, and a fascinating production diary (of sorts) shot by Chris Marker. Bottom line: even if you own the horrendous Fox/Lorber release or the much better Wellspring version, you owe it to yourself to add Criterion's four-star treatment to your collection.

The Wizard of Oz (3-disc Collector's Edition)

Transferred using Warner's Ultra Resolution process (the same used on the superb The Adventures of Robin Hood transfer), Dorothy has never looked better, but the real treasure here is the literally exhaustive supplements. The three discs hold over 7 hours of video extras plus nearly 5 hours of audio-only features (including vocal tests, radio promos, and an hour long Lux Theater radio broadcast.and that's not even a third of it!). While it's not all of equal value (the 1910 filmed play is probably more interesting as a historical footnote than an independent project), it's nice to have such a comprehensive archival package and is a testament to Warner's commitment to film preservation. There's also a 2-disc version available, but why skimp?

©2005 Ed Owens

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