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After a flurry of holiday releases hitting Blu-ray and DVD over the last several months, we’re beginning to hit a bit of a cinematic lull—which may be good for those who already shelled out a pretty penny for movies as varied as The Hobbit and Les Miserables. Unless you’re a Marvel Fan—in which case, this week could mean shelling out quite a bit of cash for an Avengers-based collector’s set. On the slightly less expensive end, sets from History and HBO may enhance your miniseries and TV movie collections and Warner Bros. has put together a romance collection with a reasonable price tag. Read on to learn about some of this week’s best releases, and maybe even a few that may have slipped under your radar.
The Bible Blu-ray
The History Channel, or at least executive producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, had no trouble calling the recent TV miniseries, The Bible, an “epic” miniseries. Since miniseries usually contain programs that are small in scope, the very idea of an “epic” miniseries is somewhat foreign. However, that added tagline isn’t wrong. Broad in scope and detailed in vision, The Bible: The Epic Miniseries takes on the task of telling some of the big book’s most famous tales, told across various timelines and settings, as well as through the eyes of many characters.
While some of the action and acting performances weren’t my favorite part of the endeavor, each of the settings looks great and some of the visual effects—including the parting of the Red Sea—were appealing and better done than I’d seen them in past programming. The biggest boons to this series are likely the voiceover narration from the well-known Keith David, who has worked with Ken Burns in the past on documentaries including War and Jazz, as well as the music from The Dark Knight Rises composer Hans Zimmer. Both add to the overall grandiosity the miniseries is attempting to achieve and mostly succeeds at.
Since The Bible: The Epic Miniseries is a loose collection of some of the great text’s biggest moments, there are certainly ups and downs in the storytelling. Each episode offers storytelling told in vignettes, with multiple stories sometimes devoted to the same characters. The first episode, “In the Beginning,” for instance, offers narratives including Noah, Abraham, Sodom and Gomorrah, and Moses’ roots in Egypt. I’m personally more of a fan of the fire and brimstone stuff of Sodom and Gomorrah than I am of Abraham’s dilemmas with his relationship with God, the drama with his wife and mistress, and his sons, Isaac and Ishmael. I’m also more of a fan of the Old Testament stories than the new a good percentage of the time. However, part of the beauty of this set is that buyers can return to the segments they especially appreciated over and over again, or take in the episodes as a whole. With five episodes devoted to the Old Testament and 5 devoted to the New Testament, there should be something in The Bible for anyone with an appreciation of the big book.
Best Special Feature: There’s no guide to the bonus features, but you can find all of the extras on Disc 4. The bulk of this is a 40+ minute documentary called “The Bible: Creation,” part of which can be watched via the below link. However, my favorite bonus feature is probably the “Scoring The Bible” segment. Zimmer’s passion is really apparent in the clip. If you can get past the silly heartwarming moments and words like “incredible,” “inspiring” and even “pathway of the heart” bandied about, there’s a focus on Zimmer’s experience and feelings as he is creating a project, and a creative session is even shown.
Also apparent is how involved Burnett and Downey were in the creation of every aspect of the miniseries. They pop up throughout each of the bonus features and are invested in every detail of the creation. If you like both executive producers, you certainly get to see a lot of them.
Other Special Features:
“The Bible: Genesis”
“The Cast of The Bible”
“The Bible: Creation”
“Scoring The Bible”
“Believing in Miracles”
“The Bible: Visual Effects”
“Mary, Did You Know” Music Video
Best of Warner Bros. 20 Film Collection: Romance
Warner Bros. has spent a good part of this year putting together 20-film DVD collections for fans. These have ranged from collections of Best Picture winners to comedies to musicals. Today, the newest collection, Romance, offers 20 movies ranging from the 1938 film Jezebel to the 2008 film Nights in Rodanthe, with films like You’ve Got Mail, Gone With The Wind, Casablanca, Doctor Zhivago, and Rebel Without A Cause. The movies available with the set are definitely the best reason to purchase, and if you’d like to see the full list, you can check out all the movies at the Warner Bros. shop.
Packing with the set includes three giant cases full of films all encased in one unremarkable pink outer shell. Each of the three discs is separated by time period, and is given a cute name (films from 1938-1942 are the “Timeless Love Collection,” etc.). I’m actually a little surprised this set didn’t drop closer to Valentine’s Day, as it would make a good gift for a lover of great romances.
However, sets like these are able to be cost effective by not being cohesive. No great repackaging of the films has been undertaken and no new bonus features have been added—which can be good or bad, depending on perspective. It’s nice if you are watching, say Two Weeks Notice, to be able to check out the audio commentary, the “Making of ” or even additional scenes that were available with the original DVD release. However, if you already own several of the films included in the Best of Warner Bros. set, there may not be a good reason to re-shell out cash for just a few new movies you may be interested in. Additionally, this collection is on DVD by necessity, since many of the older films have not been transferred to Blu-ray. However, for those films that have been transferred, a Blu-ray copy may be preferable to some.
With the Best of Warner Bros. 20 Film Collection Romance, Warner Bros. shines the most in the selection of the films. There are very few duds, indicated by the presence of The Lake House, in the 20-film collection and even films that have less prominence or have had less staying power over the years are, for the most part, still worthy of owning. I never envisioned purchasing a copy of A Touch of Class, but I’m happy it’s part of the collection.
Best Special Feature: There are some great bonus features within many of the individual films, including Casablanca commentary from Roger Ebert, historical commentary for Gone with the Wind, a sweet map tour with You’ve Got Mail, and outtake musical numbers from Annie Get Your Gun. The best bonus feature for the set as a whole, however, is the guide to the collection of films. The booklet offers photos, short summaries, and facts, but the most appealing facet is the use of the original font for each of the titles of the films used to headline each of the pages.
Hemingway & Gellhorn Blu-ray
Most film and miniseries programming on HBO is well done, offering high profile performances and great settings, often on impressively smaller budgets than it would take to create a theatrical film. Hemingway & Gellhorn has all the trappings of a small tale made legendary on film, but unfortunately, it doesn’t flesh out into a tightly woven story, and is sometimes as slow going as it can be harrowing or romantic.
The biggest problem here is that most literature fans know plenty about Earnest Hemingway and little about Martha Gellhorn, at all. Hemingway’s legendary bravado and drinking has been made popular on film numerous times, and even recently in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, where Corey Stoll took on the role. To overcompensate for this, it feels like we are constantly being told about Gellhorn’s prominence as a writer herself. I’m happy to see the woman had spunk, intelligence, and was a fine writer, but it does feel like the movie lingers on those points when it should be fairer to the couple’s relationship.
The good news is, if you like torrid love affairs, this is one of the weirdest. Set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, Nicole Kidman’s Marty and Clive Owen’s Hemingway don’t mind getting it on as bombs affect buildings and plaster showers all around. Director Phillip Kaufman does a great job using trick newsreel footage to tell parts of the story or to segue throughout the film. The look of those scenes, if anything, is enough to hide some of the film’s more frustrating flaws.
Best Special Feature: The bonus features with the set are actually very few, which is a little surprising for an HBO set, but less surprising for a film from the company. Fans of Kaufman might like to hear him throughout the audio commentary, but he also pops up in the other bonus features, so if you want a smaller dose of the director, he’s around.
The best bonus feature is called “Behind the Visual Effects” which shows how a green screen was used to capably implant Kidman and Owen and other actors and set pieces into archival footage. Additionally, other visual effects used in the film, including the fight caught by a photographer that jumps from a moving scene into a newspaper headline, are explored.
Other Special Features:
Audio Commentary with director Philip Kaufman and editor Walter Murch
“Making Hemingway & Gellhorn”
Other April 2 Releases
If you are willing to shell out, this week’s other big release is Marvel’s Cinematic Universe: Phase One – Avengers Assembled. With great briefcase packaging, six movies (some available on both Blu-ray and 3D Blu-ray) in the set, and ten discs packed full of bonus content, the only way you can go wrong is if you aren’t willing to shell out the $219 it costs to purchase the set. Luckily, it’s on sale over at Amazon and other outlets. It’s a limited collector’s set, so make a decision sooner rather than later.
Check out our list of this week’s other cinematic and television Blu-ray and DVD releases.
Marvel’s Cinematic Universe: Phase One – Avengers Assembled Blu-ray
John Dies At The End Blu-ray and DVD
That Thing You Do! Blu-ray
The Killing: Season 2 Blu-ray and DVD
Stitches Blu-ray and DVD
Hello Dolly! Blu-ray