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Site created 12/15/97.

Doogan's Views at The Digital Bits!
page added: 12/14/01

Dancin' in the Red Room

There are tons of discs pouring out of the studios right now. There are some great horror titles, truly classic foreign films and TV series out the wahzoo. And yet, I'm sad. My two favorite genres are left almost totally in the dark.

Where are the spaghetti westerns and where are the samurai films? I mean, there are tons and tons of those films, and yet all we get are a few films from Anchor Bay (two come out next week, see my list of 10) and the highbrow classic sword yarns from Criterion. I want Zatoichi! I want Lone Wolf and Cub! I especially want Lady Snowblood!

When I dug into exactly why I can't have what I want, I'm told that the licenses are too expensive. Seems the rights holders think their product is worth too much and that the audience in the States is just a few gung ho fans - some measly scholars and me. And when there are films available, I'm told that the source material is way too poor to put onto DVD. Now, I don't want crap... but I do what some of my favorite films on DVD where they belong.

Maybe Santa will bring me a stack of really cool spaghetti westerns and samurai films for Christmas. It would be very nice of him. And yet, I feel like I'm setting myself up for a disappointment.


Anyway, I'm slowly getting back into the grind. My wife's play went off incredibly well. If any Bits readers showed up and supported the show, thanks from the bottom of my heart. This week I'm going to take a look at the best TV product to come out on DVD yet, as well as a lame John Carpenter flick recently released. Next week, look for two columns - one on Tuesday, to get me back in the swing, and another on Friday before the Bits takes a Christmas vacation.


Twin Peaks: The First Season - Special Edition

Encoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

Twin Peaks: The First Season
Special Edition - 1990 (2001) - Artisan

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A+/A

Specs and Features:

336 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), 4 single-sided, dual-layered discs, library case packaging with slip cover, audio commentaries (by episode one director Duwayne Dunham, series director of photography Frank Byers, episode three director Tina Rathborne, episode four director Tim Hunter, episode five director Lesli Linka Glatter, episode six director Caleb Deschanel with series writer Harley Peyton and series production designer Richard Hoover), Bravo Network Log Lady intros, on-screen script note access, Mark Frost interview with Wrapped in Plastic founders Craig Miller and John Thorne, Learning to Speak in the Red Room with Michael J. Anderson featurette, An Introduction to David Lynch featurette, 17 Pieces of Pie: Shooting at the Mar T (AKA RR) Diner featurette, The Twin Peaks Directory (with filmographies, biographies and postcards from the cast), Easter eggs on each episode's special features menu, animated film themed menu screens with sound, scene access (8 to 10 chapters per episode), languages: English (Dolby Digital 5.1 & 2.0 and DTS 5.1), subtitles: none, Closed Captioned

"Through the darkness of futures past, the magician longs to see. One chants out between two worlds: Fire Walk With Me."

If you're looking for a detailed deconstruction of the history, themes and reasons for and behind Twin Peaks, you're not going to find it here. In fact, I don't have that much to say about the series aside from this: I really like it. I think the first season was probably the best thing to ever crawl onto a television screen. Sure, I like other television shows better than this, but Twin Peaks really helped a lot of quirky shows become even quirkier. Without Twin Peaks, you could say goodbye to The X-Files or Ally McBeal. I like the show because, for the year and a half it was on, Twin Peaks helped remake television for the better.

Twin Peaks surrounds one simple question: "Who killed Laura Palmer?" Laura was a simple and sweet girl who organized Meals-on-Wheels programs, helped tutor mentally challenged teenage boys and dated the captain of the high school football team. But, as we find out, Laura had secrets... and secrets are dangerous things. As it turns out, just about everyone had a reason to kill Laura. So FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper comes into town with a high powered pistol, hand-held voice recorder and the metabolism of a hummingbird to find out exactly who did it.

Sadly, the series was just too weird to work for the network. Twin Peaks died a quiet death after the second season, long before the twine unraveled. David Lynch, one of the creators behind the show, went on to make a prequel (Fire Walk with Me) which didn't too well, but at least told us who did the deed and why. There's been talk of wrapping the series itself up with another stand alone film, but financing keeps falling through, so it may or may not ever happen. But ten years later, Twin Peaks has finally come to DVD and it's a real winner in my book.

First off, it's important to note that the pilot episode is not in this set. Why? Rights issues I guess. Republic released a Chinese DVD of the episode that's actually pretty okay. The video on that DVD isn't very good, but the whole pilot is there and it doesn't feature the extra stuff or tacked on ending seen in the European theatrical version Warner released on video. But it's not in this set, so no use crying over spilled milk, right? Anyway, once you get over that, you'll find that these episodes look and sound incredible. The full frame transfers are gorgeous, with luscious color, excellent blacks and really nice detail. This is how TV product should look on DVD. But the quality doesn't stop there. The sound is also wonderful... and you get no less than three seperate options - a standard Dolby Digital 2.0, Dolby Digital 5.1 and a really cool DTS 5.1 track. Anyone who knows anything about David Lynch films knows that, right from the beginning with his early shorts and Eraserhead, he was all about sound. So having an atmospheric DTS track is the best you could ask for in terms of sound for these mini-movies. The other tracks are just as nice and alive, but the DTS track is very wicked. Each disc features two episodes, with the fourth and final disc holds one episode and the supplements.

But before we get to Disc Four, let's talk the extras that ride along with the episodes. Each one of the episodes features audio commentary from someone behind the scenes on that episode. Usually it's the director, except when Lynch directed the episode. Because Mr. Lynch doesn't like to interpret his own work, he's decided not to do commentaries. In those two instances on this set, we hear from the production designer and the director of photography instead, which still works out quite well. These tracks are all fairly good for the most part, though I think the series itself stands better without someone giving the details of how it was made. Thankfully, the commentaries are all pretty masturbatory - we don't get too much "mythos" about the series itself. It's mostly just me, me, me stuff. So if you're interested in that, you'll like these tracks well enough. Also, along with the episodes are some "script notes". You can choose to read them in the chapter access menu or turn on a "white rabbit" feature that allows you to access the script note where it would have appeared in the episode. These notes explain deleted scenes or extended dialogue that was cut for some reason or another. I liked this feature, except for two things. One, it doesn't seem like you can turn the rabbit off once it's activated - even if you start the episode over. Maybe it's just my system and me, but each one of the episodes gave me the same guff. The other is: if you choose to access the feature without the rabbit, you have to click around and hunt for the notes in the chapter access section. And they're not supposed to be Easter eggs - they're just buried under layers of pseudo-art. Don't get me wrong, the menu screens look good on this set. But their functionality rates a big fat zero in my book. Finishing off the extras on the episodes are the Bravo Network introductions from the Log Lady. You can turn this on and watch the vague philosophy unfold. The video quality is quite poor, especially when held up against the show quality, but they're still neat to see. Oh... and be on the lookout for intentional Easter eggs on the special features menu screens for each episode. You get an outtake of the video interview with the crewmember that did the commentary for that episode. They're all pretty quirky and fun to watch.

Disc Four holds a secret area called Tibet, which explores the world of Twin Peaks a little more thoroughly than the commentaries do. First, there's an odd little thing called Mark Frost interview with Wrapped in Plastic. It's exactly what it sounds like - a video interview with WIP founders Craig Miller and John Thorne. The odd thing here is, the original video with Miller and Thorne had to be scrapped - so it's been reshot. Why it's even here is a mystery. It makes no sense. Oh, well. Next up is Learning to Speak in the Red Room with the man from another place himself: Michael J. Anderson. This featurette teaches you how to talk backwards. It's shot on video with 80s era equipment, but it's fun enough to be worth at least one viewing. After that are a series of video interviews with the cast and crew from the show. Entitled: An Introduction to David Lynch, it's just stories about Lynch and a bit about why he doesn't really like being read into. 17 Pieces of Pie: Shooting at the Mar T (AKA RR) Diner is a video interview with the woman who owned the diner the show shot at for the pilot. It's neat, but not really valuable. Finally, there's The Twin Peaks Directory. This is a wheel of connection, piecing together everyone in the cast. Some of the cast have little video postcards on where they are now and what they look like ten years later. Not everyone is included. There are, however, filmographies and biographies for just about everyone, along with an index of each show (with details about who wrote and directed each, and its air date). It's all very interesting stuff but, like all the other menus, the usability is next to nil. All of the supplements have this weird psuedo-Lynchian feel to them. Shot on video and very unstable, it becomes very annoying, very quickly. But as it stands, the info is worth working your way through the menus.

Twin Peaks was and is a great show - a fact underlined quite well on DVD. This is really a nice way to re-explore the series. All the extras are fun and worth checking out, although whoever designed the menus should be wrapped in plastic. Hopefully, the next set will be better done, but somehow I doubt it. Still, just getting the whole series on DVD will be nice. I really enjoyed watching these episodes and hearing from the cast again. Now if someone will just get Warner to put out the pilot/European theatrical version to complete the collection...

Twin Peaks: The First Season - Special Edition
Buy this DVD now at DVD Planet!

Ghosts of Mars: Special Edition

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Ghosts of Mars
Special Edition - 2001 (2001) - Screen Gems (Columbia TriStar)

Film Rating: C-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/A/A-

Specs and Features:

98 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.40:1), 16x9 enhanced, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, dual-layered, Amaray keepcase packaging, audio commentary (with co-writer/director John Carpenter and actress Natasha Henstridge), Red Desert Nights: Making Ghosts of Mars featurette, Ghosts of Mars: Special Effects Deconstruction featurette, Scoring Ghosts of Mars featurette, cast and crew filmographies, film-themed menu screens, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: English and French, Closed Captioned

John Carpenter is going to Hell in a hand basket. I never thought I'd ever say that, but I think it's true. His last couple of films have really sucked... this one included. And save your e-mails calling me a jerk. I am a big fan of John's overall. I'm just very disappointed with his recent output.

Ghosts of Mars is about the colonization of Mars. We've built it up and watched it grow. Apparently, women are in control there for some unexplained reason. The film is told in flashback from Natasha Henstridge's point of view. She's sorta on trial because of something that's happened to her. What? Well... we'll see. Henstridge is a Martian Marshall and she's been sent to pick up a grade-A psycho from a mining town jail. The psycho, Desolation Williams, is a criminal with a capital C. Why it's not Snake Plissken, we'll never know. Anyway, Williams (played by Ice Cube) is about to be loaded onto a train and brought back to the city, when all of a sudden the whole mining town goes crazy. The workers have pierced themselves with everything and anything they can find and, in effect, have made meat bags out of each other. Apparently, they have been taken over by the spirits of an ancient alien warrior race and they want revenge or something. The rest of the movie is basically unballetic violence, where stuff explodes and people just fly through the air screaming at the camera. I was bored throughout the entire film. Worst of all, everyone seemed to have forgotten how to act, because the cheese is just pouring out of this thing. In the end, I found the whole thing to be a huge waste, which is a shame because the basic idea here was pretty cool.

This new DVD gives us the film in two formats (on different layers of a single-sided disc): anamorphic widescreen and full frame. The video quality is pretty good. It's a dark film, shot at night, but there are only a few instances of grain. Color and contrast are excellent and you'll get no complaints from me. The sound is limited to an English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, which is loud and quite playful. It also shouldn't disappoint any fans out there.

Surprisingly, the extras here aren't half bad. We get the standard audio commentary track with John Carpenter, this time with actress Natasha Henstridge. They both seem to love the film and think pretty highly of it. I guess when you invest that much time and energy into something, you have no choice but to like it. Either way, the track is informative and as much fun as any Carpenter track out there. There are a few behind-the-scenes featurettes as well. Red Desert Nights: Making Ghosts of Mars looks at the overall making of the film. There're no voice-overs, no interviews - just production footage. It's a bit off-putting, but seems to work all right. Next is Ghosts of Mars: Special Effects Deconstruction. This featurette shows what was done and how, in terms of some of the bigger effects scenes. Surprisingly, a lot of miniature work was done and it's neat to see how this comes together. Finally, we get Scoring Ghosts of Mars. Carpenter, along with metal band Anthrax, guitar god Steve Vai and the mysterious "Buckethead" lay down the music and play with the mood of the film. We get to see it first hand. Rock on. There's also a cast and crew filmography section, but no trailers.

Ghosts of Mars is a popcorn film. I guess you could like it if you weren't really expecting anything, but I just felt it sucked. Maybe, over time, I'll change my mind. But for now, I'm sticking to my guns. This DVD is very nice overall - better than I expected. But it doesn't make me feel any different about the film.

Ghosts of Mars: Special Edition
Buy this DVD now at DVD Planet!

That's it for today, kids. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you on Tuesday. Until then, I remain...

Todd Doogan

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