USHE Comes Up Short Again With ‘Curious George: Season 9’ DVD Release

Courtesy: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Courtesy: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Universal Studios Home Entertainment has come up short again.  The once powerhouse studio, which made its name on the backs of its classic monster movies and the likes of Jaws, has suffered with the home release of its Curious George season sets in recent years.  The studio has released the series’ 1st season along with seasons 6 – 8 on DVD, and while each set has presented the respective season in whole, each has suffered with its own negatives.  The newly released 9th season (released Nov. 1) is not different.  It presents the season in whole.  But that is the single-disc season’s only positive.  Just as with the series’ previous season sets, the live action segments that are included in the series’ compilation discs are nowhere to be found here.  That will be discussed shortly.  The lack of any bonus material puts the final nail in the DVD’s proverbial coffin.  All things considered, the DVD’s nearly two and a half hour run time will keep young viewers entertained.  But having the season in full is not enough to make the disc’s presentation a win.

Curious George: Season 9 is an enjoyable presentation in its own right.  But in the grand scheme of things it is anything but a win for Universal Studios Home Entertainment.  That is due in part to the fact while the disc presents the series’ ninth season in whole, it also lacks some key elements that would have otherwise made it complete.  The first of those elements is the live action material included in the series’ compilation discs.  The live action segments in question are lifted from the show’s original broadcasts.  Maybe there were legal reasons for those segments not being included in this set (or the series’ other full season sets).  But if that is the case then why were they included in the compilation discs, but not this or any of those season sets?  One can’t help but wonder about that.  Sure, it is a minor qualm, but one can’t deny that it should be noted.  While it is a negative, this new set isn’t a total loss.  The single-disc set does feature Season 9 in whole.

Curious George: Season 9 suffers from the lack of the live segments that are included in the series’ compilation discs. It seems like a minor qualm.  But having those segments included in the collection adds so much to the feeling that audiences are watching the series on TV even though it is on DVD.  To that end, that omission takes away plenty from the set’s overall presentation.  While it clearly detracts from the disc’s presentation, the disc isn’t a total loss.  Audiences at least get Season 9 in its entirety here.  That is twelve episodes and more than two hours of family friendly entertainment.  From an undersea adventure to open the season to helping the man in the yellow hat find some missing dinosaur bones to making valentines and more, Season 9 offers audiences of all ages plenty of fun.  It’s just too bad that it is the only fun that audiences are offered.  Staying on that note, this disc (again like the series’ previous season sets) is lacking in any bonus material.

Curious George: Season 9 offers audiences of all ages plenty of fun throughout the course of the set’s twelve episodes.  Sadly, that is about the only fun that is offered.  That is because there is no bonus material to be seen anywhere in this disc.  Again, this is the same case as with the series’ previous season sets.  Again, by contrast, the series’ compilation discs do present those extras, which include educational games to help drive home the lessons featured in some of the sets’ featured episodes.  To once again not have those extras present takes away just as much as the lack of the show’s live segments, if not more.  That being the case, this latest addition to Universal Studios Home Entertainment’s Curious George offerings is largely another letdown.

Universal Studios Home Entertainment’s newly released ninth season of Curious George is a sad letdown of a new release.  Much like the series’ 1st, 6th, 7th, and 8th, season, this single-disc presentation could have been so much more impressive than it turned out to be.  Sadly, that wasn’t the case.  Sure, it isn’t a total loss.  But by and large, it proves to sadly be anything but a win for the series’ fans and for Universal Studios Home Entertainment.  It is available now in stores and online now.  More information on this and other Curious George DVDs is available online now along with lots of Curious George games and activities at:

 

 

 

Website: http://pbskids.org/curiousgeorge, http://www.curiousgeorge.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/curiousgeorge

 

 

 

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Curious George: The Complete First Season Is Complete In Name Only

Courtesy:  Universal Studios Home Entertainment/PBS/PBS Kids

Courtesy: Universal Studios Home Entertainment/PBS/PBS Kids

Curious George is one of America’s most beloved literary figures. For generations everybody’s favorite curious little monkey has been entertaining readers and viewers of all ages with his adventures. From an extensive series of literary adventures to a classic animated series of sorts in the 1980s to his most recent series, which debuted in 2006, George’s adventures have been teaching important lessons and putting smiles on families’ faces for ages. And this past May fans of George’s most recent animated series were finally rewarded for their loyalty to the series as Universal Studios Home Entertainment (USHE) finally released the series’ first season in its entirety on DVD. Its release marks the first time that this series’ first season has seen the light of day in whole on DVD. And as entertaining as it is, it has to be said that it isn’t a perfect release. On the good side, audiences get the entire sixty episode (yes, sixty episodes) run from Season One on just four discs. That equals to roughly ten hours of entertainment and education for audiences of all ages. This is especially important for a number of reasons and will be discussed shortly. Sixty episodes is a lot of episodes. So one would naturally think that an episode guide of some sort would have been included in this set. Sadly the exact opposite proved to be the case. There is no episode guide. And that’s just one of a handful of cons that weigh down the set. For all of the cons that weigh it down, there is at least one more positive to consider. that positive is in fact the writing that went into each of the set’s episodes. More simply put, the mix of entertainment and education incorporated into each episode offers its own value to the whole of Season One. That value set alongside the set’s cons and its one major positive, Curious George: The Complete First Season isn’t a total loss for audiences. It is one of the year’s best new box sets for children and families. Though, sadly it can’t be said that it is the year’s best.

Curious George: The Complete First Season has been a long time coming. Ever since the series made its debut nine years ago, audiences have waited patiently for its release. Yet for some reason the people at USHE instead started with the series’ sixth and seventh seasons and only now released its first season. Why USHE would take that route is anyone’s guess. Getting back on track, audiences will appreciate that while it is complete in name only, Curious George: The Complete First Season is complete at least in terms of its episode listing. Season One boasts a total of sixty (yes, sixty) episodes. Those episodes are spread across a total of four discs that are packaged wisely inside a standard DVD case. The inclusion of all sixty original Season One episodes here is a positive in that it replaces a number of USHE’s previously released standalone Curious George compilation discs. This critic alone owns no fewer than a dozen of those standalone DVD compilations. That means that no less than half of those DVDs can now be eliminated. In other words, that means less DVDs cluttering up the house. Any parent will welcome less clutter. What’s more, owning sixty episodes in one set means that much less worry about missing George when it comes on TV regardless of whether it be on PBS or a family’s local PBS Kids affiliate. Keeping all of this in mind, the inclusion of all sixty Season One episodes in a wisely packaged four-disc set definitely makes Curious George Season:  The Complete First Season worth the addition to any family’s home DVD library.

The presentation of all sixty episodes from Curious George’s first season is within tiself plenty of reason for families to add this box set to their home DVD library. It potentially eliminates clutter from families’ homes. And it means that much less worry about missing Curious George when it comes on TV. Those are all great aspects of Season One. For every positive there is always at least one negative, though. Sadly, Curious George: The Complete First Season has its share of cons. The most glaring of those cons is linked directly to the season’s sixty-episode run. It is the lack of an episode guide of any kind. Considering that Season One boasts so many episodes, one would have thought it common sense that some thing as simple as an episode guide outlining which episodes are on which disc would be included in the set. Apparently someone at USHE thought otherwise. So audiences essentially have to either memorize the episode listing or write up an episode listing themselves and add it into the box. It’s sad that that was apparently an afterthought for the people at USHE. It is just one of a number of cons that weigh down this set, too. Along with that con, audiences will also note that there are no bonus features to speak of anywhere in the set.

The “mid-show” segments that feature kids doing what George did in the corresponding episode are nowhere to be found, either. The “mid-show” segments are commonplace with each broadcast on television. They are even there on the series’ standalone sets. So why not here? It’s doubtful having them in each episode would force an extra disc or even more to the set. So why not have them here? It seems a trivial aspect. But in reality those segments help to drive home the concepts being taught in each episode. They drive home the presented concepts because they present children doing the things that George did in the corresponding episodes. This makes them that much more relatable for young viewers and in turn more capable of reaching them. So not having them included here yet again weighs down the set even more. It means that parents and teachers have to find ways to keep those audiences engaged after the episodes are over and figuring out how to drive the lessons home themselves. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it would have been nice to have that starting point regardless. Because it isn’t there audiences are actually losing out by not having them included here. The same can be said of the lack of bonus features.

The bonus features that are so commonplace in the series’ standalone compilations also help to drive home the concepts being taught in the presented episode. They, too are starting points for bigger lessons that can be taught on the presented topics. A prime example is the rocket building game that corresponds with “Curious George’s Rocket Ride.” That game is included in the standalone DVD which features said episode as its focal point. That game in nowhere to be found anywhere on this set. It keeps children interested in rockets and space all while teaching a basic lesson about shapes. It’s just one of so many games and other activities not included in this set that could have been included. Because it and the others from other Curious George DVDs aren’t here, it means teachers and parents having to figure out how to come up with a cost-effective way to present the same games on their own. Yet again, that’s not a total loss. But still it would have been nice to have at least something there. Not having any bonus games, “mid-show” segments, or episode guide to go by, so much enjoyment and even education that could have been had is potentially lost from this set. Considering this, Curious George: The Complete First Season loses a lot of points and shows even more to be in reality complete in name only.

Curious George: The Complete First Season is sadly complete in name only. That is because despite having its full complement of sixty episodes, it is lacking in a number of other areas, as has been pointed out. For all of its cons, there is at least one more important pro that should be noted here that is directly related to the cons. That pro is the actual writing that went into this season’s episodes. The writers expertly balanced the series’ entertainment value with its educational content in every episode without fail. From one episode to the next there are various lessons that teach problem-solving skills, basic math and science skills, and so much more. For example, in “From Scratch,” George teaches viewers about using deductive reasoning by trying to solve what made scratches on the furniture at Chef Pisghetti’s restaurant and clear Gnocci’s name. Young viewers won’t even realize that they are being taught thanks to the fact that the series’ writers made the episode a whodunit sort of story with George playing the detective. “Zero To Donuts” teaches viewers basic math skills as George accidentally orders one hundred dozen donuts when he should have only ordered one dozen. So he has to learn about the values of certain numbers. And in “The All Animal Recycled Band” kids learn both about music and conservation as George wants to make a band of his own. The problem is that he has to figure out how to make his instruments and who will play them. His decision on who will play makes for plenty of laughs for the whole family. The lesson about conservation taught through George’s development of his instruments is just as important to the episode. It’s another example of the writers’ ability to balance important educational content with entertainment throughout Season One. There are plenty of other episodes that could be used as examples of how the writers’ ability to balance educational and entertainment content make Season One’s episodes makes them so enjoyable. There just is neither enough time nor space for a discussion on each one. Needless to say, the talent of the writers to balance both elements set along with the fact that all sixty episodes are finally presented in one complete set makes Curious George: The Complete First Season a welcome addition to any family’s home DVD library. This is the case even with all of its negatives. Those negatives make this season enjoyable but sadly complete in name only.

Curious George: The Complete First Season is a welcome addition to any family’s home DVD library. The fact that al slixty of its episodes have been presented together here for the first time is just one reason that it is such a welcome addition. The balance of educational and entertaining content within each episode makes for even more reason for families to add this box set to their home DVD library. Sadly there are some glaring issues with the set including the lack of something as basic as an episode guide, the “mid-show” segments that are commonplace in the series’ TV broadcasts and its standalone DVDs, and any bonus features that are common on those same standalone DVDs. Even with those cons noted, they don’t make Curious George: The Complete First Season a total loss. They only make it complete in name only. All things considered, Curious George: The Complete First Season is one of the year’s best new box sets for children and families. But it is hardly the best. It is available now in stores and online. More information on this and other available Curious George DVDs is available online along with the latest Curious George news at:

Website: http://www.curiousgeorge.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/curiousgeorge

Audiences can also get more information on Curious George, print out coloring pages, and play Curious George games at http://pbskids.org/curiousgeorge. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Despicable Me 2 Fun For An Occasional Watch

Courtesy:  Universal Studios

Courtesy: Universal Studios

The latest installment in Universal’s Despicable Me franchise is more proof of the old adage that the sequel is never as good as the original.  Despicable Me 2 is an enjoyable story.  But ultimately, it is just as forgettable as so many other unnecessary sequels, prequels, and remakes that Hollywood has churned out in recent history.  That’s not to say that it is terrible.  It just was unnecessary.  Though to the script’s benefit, it can be noted that the pop culture references peppered throughout the story make up for the relatively lackluster story.  While the story itself was largely unnecessary, it can be noted of this movie that lead actor Steve Carell is just as entertaining this time out as he was in Despicable Me.  That talent, along with the pop culture references thrown in for good measure, makes this movie one that is good for a lazy day at home, but sadly little else.

The story at the heart of Despicable Me 2 is a continuation of the bad guy-gone-good story established in the franchise’s first flick.  The story of a bad guy-gone good is nothing new to the movie industry.  So the question left to Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul was how to make this story stand out from the others of its ilk.  The end result is a story that is unbalanced and predictable.  Daurio and Paul have crafted a story that becomes more rom-com than its family friendly predecessor.  The story starts well enough with Gru being recruited by the Anti-Villain League to help stop an evil mastermind.  In the process, Gru is teamed up with agent Lucy (KristenWiig).  The rom-com storyline that ensues ends up taking a front seat, while the real story ends up being sadly little more than a distraction.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, at least one of the jokes inserted into the script is one that was completely unnecessary.  The joke in question saw Gru looking for a syrum via a high-tech belt buckle of sorts.  As he searched a store for signs of said serum, it looked like he was dry humping pictures and even a statue.  Despicable Me 2 is supposed to be a family friendly movie.  So the gag in particular will leave some older viewers scratching their heads, wondering why Daurio and Paul thought they had to go blue.  Thankfully, it’s the only joke of its kind through the course of the movie’s near two-hour run-time.  Of course, the script would have been well-served to have not even had the gag in question included in the first place.  Luckily for Daurio and Paul, there are more than enough hilarious pop culture references mixed into the story to make up for that one unnecessary tasteless gag.

Despicable Me 2 suffers from its share of problems as should be evident by now.  But it isn’t without its merits.  One of those merits is the number of pop culture references thrown into the storyline, not the least of which being a handful of James Bond references.  Older audiences will appreciate the references to Dr. No as well as other classic Bond flicks.  At one point, there is also a tribute to the classic sci-fi/horror hybrid Alien.  One wouldn’t think that such a reference would work in this story.  But it does indeed work.  And again, audiences familiar with that movie will also find themselves laughing at the reference.  Daurio and Cinco pay homage to other classics throughout this story.  And audiences that watch the movie for themselves will take joy in each one.

The classic film references added to Despicable Me 2 go a long way toward saving the movie from itself.  The acting on the part of Steve Carell also helps salvage the story.  Carell expertly interprets Gru’s attempts to balance his newfound life on the other side of super villain status with being dad.   Audiences will laugh uproariously at Gru’s reaction by a certain woman to set him up with her friends.  So many older audiences will admit that they can relate to Gru’s relationship plight.  And even as the voice of a computer generated figure, Carell can make audiences laugh in the moments of physical comedy, too.  He makes a scene such as when Gru is attacked by a “watch chicken” feel as funny as any live action physical comedy bit.  It’s one more testament to Carell’s ability as an actor.  This is just one more of so many examples of Carell’s talents.  As with the jokes and gags peppered throughout the story, Carell’s acting is the only other saving  grace to what is an otherwise forgettable film.  It is available now in stores and online.  Despite being largely forgettable, it is still a movie worth renting once in a while.

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MST3K The Movie A Fabulous Farewell For Cult Sci-Fi Show

Courtesy:  Shout! Factory/Universal Studios Home Entertainment/Gramercy Pictures

Courtesy: Shout! Factory/Universal Studios Home Entertainment/Gramercy Pictures

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie is an absolutely funny final farewell for this cult classic TV show.  The movie was already extremely difficult to find in its original release some years ago.  Now thanks to a partnership between Universal Studios Home Entertainment and Shout! Factory fans of the show and its big screen finale can finale add this piece of movie history to their home libraries.  And they can do so in proper fashion on Shout! Factory and USHE’s release of the movie in a double-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack release.  The movie itself is reason enough to pick up this new re-issue.  The choice of movies to be*critiqued* by Mike and his robot friends was another positive.  And in turn, the feature on the making of both This Island Earth and on the history of MST3K: The Movie seal the deal for fans.  Together with the movie and the movie within the movie, the whole package becomes one of the best re-issues of 2013.

The story behind MST3K: The Movie will impress any hardcore fan of this cult show.  It plays out just as if it was an extended episode from the show itself.  Ironically enough, as audiences will learn in the bonus feature, “Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie: The Motion Picture Odyssey”, that actually was not the intent of those behind the cameras and the movie’s script.  That aside, all of the irreverent humor that made the television series so funny is here.  The same can be said of the hilariously intentional low-grade sets and special effects that made the original series so funny, too.  It was obvious that despite being a big screen feature, the people behind the cameras wanted to make sure that this feature entertained the show’s core audiences just as much as the original show did.  And it did just that.  The interesting fact here is that as hilarious as the movie was, those behind it faced a lot of contention from Universal in its creation.  This is revealed in interviews in the extremely in-depth bonus feature that is “Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie: The Motion Picture Odyssey.”

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie: The Motion Picture Odyssey” is one of two bonus features included in the movie’s new re-issue that make it even more enjoyable this time around.  This feature actually should have been the “Making of Feature” rather than the “Making of” feature that was included.  That’s because of just how in depth this feature turned out to be.  It offers a glimpse into the movie from its conceptual stage all the way to its premiere.  Along the way, audiences are presented with both the good and the bad of the movie’s eventual creation.  Some of the most interesting of the stories involve creative conflicts between Universal’s brass and those in charge of the movie itself.  One of the most notable of those anecdotes involved a joke centered on the alien creature crafted for the story.  The joke involved comparing it to one Bootsy Collins.  According to the story shared by Trace Beaulieu, the studio brass didn’t want the joke in the movie because they thought that no one knew who Bootsy Collins was at that time.  So the joke ended up being pulled.  It’s wasn’t the only conflict those behind the cameras had with Universal, either.  According to the stories shared, there were a number of conflicts between the two groups.  And viewers will get to find out just how many there were when they pick up this re-issue for themselves when it is released on September 3rd.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie: The Motion Picture Odyssey” is the heart of the bonus features in the new re-issue of this release.  However, just as with the previous MST3K box sets, this one also includes a fully in-depth analysis of the movie screened within the main feature.  And this analysis is no different.  “This Island Earth: 2 ½ Years in the Making” offers audiences a complete look at the work that went into making the movie in question.  In offering the discussion, it also goes into a certain amount of depth as to what makes the movie so important in the overall picture of 1950s science fiction flicks.  One of the most notable facts shared in this special is that had the mutant used to move the story not been included, the movie would have been considered a movie for adults.  And it was Universal’s brass that insisted the mutant be included as it would bring in young audiences.  Speaking of the mutant, those interviewed for this feature actually go into depth about the mutant, even going so far as to share some laughs about it.  As with the previously mentioned bonus feature, there is so much more for viewers to take in here, too.  Together with the previously mentioned feature and with the movie itself, the whole package proves in the end to be another joy from Shout! Factory and one more of the best of the year’s re-issues.  It will be available Tuesday, September 3rd and can be ordered online direct via the Shout! Factory website at http://www.shoutfactory.com/?q=node/217794.  Audiences can find out more about this release and other upcoming releases from Shout! Factory on the official Shout! Factory website at http://www.shoutfactory.com and the official Shout! Factory Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/shoutfactoryofficial

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MPI, Cohen Media Group Making Their Name With Their Latest Uncovered Classic

Courtesy:  Cohen Media Group/mpi media group

Courtesy: Cohen Media Group/mpi media group

The partnership between Turner Classic Movies and Warner Home Video has made the two companies leaders in re-issuing cinema classics.  Universal Studios is a close second thanks to the recent re-issues of Cape Fear, its Alfred Hitchcock Essentials collection, and it Universal Monsters collection. Now two more companies are staking their claim in the classic movie world.  Those companies are Virgil Films and Cohen Media Group.  Early in 2013, the two companies partnered for the release of what is one of the single greatest classics of all time in the Thief of Bagdad.  Now months later, they have released an even lesser known classic in Perfect Understanding.

The plot of Perfect Understanding rests in the agreement between Swanson’s Judy and Olivier’s Nicholas that could be equated to an open marriage.  Right off the top, it’s obvious just how original this is, considering social norms and values of America in the early 1930s.  The agreement between the couple is meant in order to break the trend that the couple sees among its friends.  Neither wants to end up like their friends.  Ironically enough, it is because of the agreement that the couple reaches the point of its friends.  The ensuing story is unlike anything that fans of the rom-com genre have seen since.  It’s obviously not just another typical boy meets girl-loses her-gets her back in the end story.  It’s almost Shakespearian in a way when one really goes back through the story a couple of times and analyzes it at a much deeper level.  It should also be noted here that despite a run time of an hour and half, the story actually moves along at a relatively easy pace.  This, along with the largely original story is another positive to this unearthed gem of a classic film.

For a film of its era and its style, Perfect Understanding could very well have been much longer and less able to relate to viewers, even today.  Luckily, it didn’t do that.  And roughly eight decades after it premiered it’s still as funny today as it was in its premiere.  Taking into account the film’s age, it’s incredible that it still sounds and looks as good as it does to this day.  What audiences see and hear is largely what audiences heard when the film first premiered so long ago.  It is a true testament to those charged with restoring the film to its original glory.  And now thanks to those individuals, a whole new generation of film buffs can enjoy this rare classic.

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Hyde Park On Hudson One Of The Worst Historical Works In Years

Courtesy: Universal Studios/Focus Features

Courtesy: Universal Studios/Focus Features

Hyde Park on Hudson is one of the least enjoyable movies of 2012 and just as uninteresting now that is has been released to DVD and Blu-ray.  The problem with this attempt at a semi-biopic is the lack of balance between the story of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s relationship with his mistress Margaret “Daisy” Stuckley and that of the visit by King George and his wife, Queen Elizabeth.  The script attempts to tie the two storylines together.  But in that effort, writer Richard Nelson and director Roger Michell have instead crafted a story that ends up plodding along at a near snail’s pace all while not really amounting to anything by the time it ends.  The story is narrated by what is supposed to be Margaret Suckley, explaining her relationship.  Herein lies another issue with the story.  Because it is told from the vantage point of “the other woman”, there’s no way to ignore the comparison to the Madonna helmed W./E.  Just as the latter was an art film, this movie comes across the same way, eventually amounting to nothing.

The initial comparison to W./E. is only one problem with Hyde Park on Hudson.  Anyone that has any knowledge of presidential history or even the slightest interest in said history know that Roosevelt was just one of so many political figures that has been anything but faithful in their marriage.  Keeping this in mind, it makes the storyline of FDR’s relationship with his mistress–and only certain people knowing about it—all the less interesting.  Had the story been more focused and aimed perhaps at the political relationship between the British royals and the President, it might have actually had more substance about it.  But sadly, Nelson opts instead for the more dramatized side of things, going more for the intended soap opera that surrounded FDR and his mistress, again causing the story’s pacing to drag along slowly, and thus leave audiences feel robbed of their time.

For all of the negatives surrounding Hyde Park on Hudson, it does have at least one positive.  That positive would be its backdrops and associated cinematography.  The beautiful countryside backdrops of the story are beautiful.  And thanks to the expert work of the movie’s film crew, those backdrops became the real stars of the movie; even more so than lead star Bill Murray who did quite the job of portraying the late President.  Murray’s portrayal leaves one wondering if he did so well, then how much better could this script have been had Nelson and Michell come to terms on which story was more important.  But because of Hollywood’s seemingly insatiable appetite for prequels, sequels, and reboots, one can only hope that should the story of Roosevelt’s “secret” ever be retold, it will star Murray again, but actually have more worth seeing.

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Les Miserables Not So Miserable In Its Home Release

Courtesy:  Universal Pictures

Courtesy: Universal Pictures

Adapting classical literature for the big screen is one of Hollywood’s most time honored traditions.  Countless books have been adapted for the silver screen since the industry’s Golden Era.  Just as common for movie studios to do is to adapt stage plays that have themselves been adapted from books.  So as common as this practice is even now in Hollywood’s modern era, it takes a lot to make a movie of this fashion stand out in today’s overly crowded movie market.  Enter the newest big screen adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic story, Les Miserables.

The latest adaptation of Victor Hugo’s timeless story of redemption is one of the best movies of 2012.  And now that it has been released to BD/DVD/Digital combo pack, it has proven to be one of this year’s best home releases.   It isn’t the year’s best.  But it does come close as it struggles with at least two glaring issues.  Those issues are the movie’s scene transitions and its general cinematography.  Much of the cinematography issue goes hand in hand with the problematic scene transitions.  Though there’s just as much problem with this movie’s shooting style not directly linked to the transitions in question.  Despite having issues with shooting and scene transitions, the movie’s positives far outweigh its negatives.  And those positives are many.

The primary positive to the home release of Les Miserables is its abundance of bonus features.  The bonus features included in the movie’s new home release offer lots of interesting tidbits that make the movie more worthy of respect.  For starters, viewers learn through the bonus features that star Hugh Jackman actually went through a rather rigorous diet and exercise regimen in order to obtain a specific look of a convict who has spent much of his life in prison.  It definitely worked as he looked every part the convincing character.  Just as interesting to learn in watching the bonus features is the vocal work that went into singing each scene.  Most audiences know by now that the entire movie was sung.  It shows how seriously those behind the movie took its creation.  The bonus features expand on the musical aspect of the movie.  Jackman and company explain the training that was undertaken and how the cast and crew balanced the noise of the cast and instruments with the cast singing.  Part of that balance came in the form of carpeting on the scenery floors to cancel out footsteps and keeping the pianist in a soundproof box, just to point out a little bit.  One could go on for quite some time discussing the role of the bonus features in the new home release of Les Miserables.  But viewers would be better left to check out the remaining bonus features for themselves.  That’s because there is so much more to cover in this new home release.

The bonus features included in the new home release of Les Miserables go a long way toward making the movie better at home than it was in theaters.  So what else could help elevate the movie?  How about the director’s commentary?  Director Tom Hooper discusses a variety of topics throughout the course of the movie.  Perhaps the most interesting aspect of his commentary is how he and writers Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil adapted not just the famed stage play but also the original literary work into one full big screen work.  Those who have read the novel likely recognize the combination.  But those who are more familiar with the stage presentation will appreciate this little nugget of information.  It explains away the order of events in the movie in comparison to the stage work.  This is just one more factor that makes Les Miserables better than it was originally given credit for in theaters.  And yet again, it’s more proof of the value of special features on a movie’s home release.

Speaking of the movie’s audio commentary, the commentary involuntarily points out one more positive to the movie.  That positive is the movie’s casting.  Experienced fans will recognize both Samantha Barks and Colm Wilkinson from the 25th anniversary performance of the musical from London’s O2 arena. Samantha Barks reprises her role here as Eponine.  Wilkinson on the other hand actually plays the bishop.  This role is just as important as that of Jean Valjean in that it is the bishop who first helps Valjean turn around his life.  He showed in his performance here that his vocal chops are just as sharp as ever.

Just as interesting as Wilkinson and Bark returning for this adaptation of Les Miserables is the mention by [Tom] Hooper that casting Eddie Redmayne was quite the choice considering so many of his fellow actors had also played the role of Marius.  One can only imagine how nerve wracking it had to have been for Redmayne to have been so new to the role and surrounded by those who were so experienced in his role.  He pulled off the role quite well though.  This little piece of information, along with everything else that Hooper discusses in the audio commentary makes the movie that much more enjoyable.  Though, it should be pointed out that while he does discuss the camera work, there is no apology for his shooting style.  It is that shooting style that is really the movie’s one major downfall.

The music, acting, and scenery make this latest adaptation of Les Miserables a huge hit, as do the bonus features and audio commentary.  For all of this movie’s shining positives, there is one glaring negative that none of the positives can erase.  That negative is the general cinematography.  It, along with some of the scene transitions, makes things a little bit difficult to handle; so difficult in fact that they could leave viewers feeling slightly dizzy and even confused.  The problem with the cinematography is that throughout the movie, Hooper tries too hard to catch the emotion of his cast.  The resultant effect is that it makes it seem as if the cast is over emoting, thus making the acting seem a little bit campy. On the other hand, the rough scene transitions do eventually make way for smoother transitions, thus making the movie that much more bearable and more worth the watch, whether one is an experienced fan of this classic musical or not.

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