Selected home-video releases:
“War of the Worlds” – Steven Spielberg leaves behind his cuddly E.T. days for an update of H.G. Wells’ alien-invasion tale starring Tom Cruise as a deadbeat dad forced to protect his two kids from the monsters.
The movie is available in a bare-bones DVD or a two-disc set with a nice range of extras offering background on the movie, the classic 1953 version by producer George Pal and Wells himself.
In DVD interviews, Spielberg says the story’s time had come again, with the Sept. 11 attacks adding relevance. “It reflects a lot of our post-9/11 fears, but it also reflects another impulse, that we really are human beings, and we do come together to help each other survive. Especially when we have a common enemy,” Spielberg notes.
Features also offer comments from Wells’ grandson and great-grandson Simon Wells, who directed the 2002 version of the author’s “The Time Machine.” Also featured are recollections from Gene Barry and Ann Robinson, stars of Pal’s “War of the Worlds,” who make a cameo at the end of Spielberg’s version as Cruise’s former in-laws.
Single DVD, $29.99; two-disc set, $39.99. (DreamWorks)
“The Polar Express” – Last year’s holiday tale reunites Robert Zemeckis and his “Forrest Gump” star Tom Hanks in multiple roles created through performance-capture animation, in which actors’ movements and expressions are rendered digitally by a series of infrared sensors.
Based on Chris Van Allsburg’s picture book, the movie follows the adventures of a boy on a fantasy train ride to the North Pole on Christmas Eve. The two-disc set has a deleted song sequence, background on how Hanks created his different roles and a look at the technology, design and music.
It’s also available in a single-disc set with just the movie. Single DVD, $28.98; two-disc set, $29.95. (Warner Bros.)
“The Honeymooners” – Whoever decided it was time to revive Jackie Gleason and Art Carney’s blue-collar comedy should have his bus pass revoked. This dud stars Cedric the Entertainer as loudmouth bus driver Ralph Kramden, Mike Epps as his buddy Ed Norton and Gabrielle Union and Regina Hall as the wives who put up with their get-rich-quick schemes, this one involving a stray dog the boys try to turn into a champion racing greyhound. Cedric and Epps team for commentary with director John Schultz, who also offers remarks for half a dozen deleted and extended scenes. The DVD also has a making-of feature. $29.99. (Paramount)
“King Kong” – The great ape makes his DVD debut a few weeks ahead of the theatrical premiere of Peter Jackson’s update. The 1933 classic stars Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong and Bruce Cabot as adventurers who discover a giant ape on a lost island and bring the primate back to Manhattan as a carnival spectacle.
The film is available in a regular two-disc set, a two-disc collector’s edition packed in an embossed metal case or a four-disc set that includes the sequel “Son of Kong” and the 1949 ape tale “Mighty Joe Young.”
The film has been beautifully restored and is accompanied by a documentary on “Kong” creator Merian C. Cooper and an extensive behind-the-scenes look at the film and the stop-motion animation that brought the ape to life.
In DVD commentary, stop-motion master Ray Harryhausen offers recollections on seeing “Kong” as a boy. “Son of Kong,” “Mighty Joe Young” and “The Last Days of Pompeii,” a 1935 disaster epic from Cooper and “Kong” collaborator Ernest B. Schoedsack, also are available as single DVDs.
Two-disc set, $26.99; two-disc collector’s edition, $39.98; four-disc set, $39.92; “Son of Kong,” “Mighty Joe Young,” “Last Days of Pompeii” DVDs, $19.97 each. (Warner Bros.)
“Ran,” “The Tales of Hoffmann” – The DVD wizards at Criterion continue their stellar treatment of Akira Kurosawa’s masterworks with a two-disc set of 1985’s “Ran,” which transplants the tale of “King Lear” to 16th century feudal Japan. The restored film is a great improvement on the so-so images on earlier DVD releases and is accompanied by director Chris Marker’s excellent documentary on Kurosawa, a half-hour making-of segment on “Ran” and a 28-page booklet with an essay and interview with the filmmaker. The two-disc set also has commentary by cinema expert Stephen Prince, and director Sidney Lumet offers remarks about “Ran.”
Also from Criterion is “The Tales of Hoffmann,” Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1951 adaptation of Jacques Offenbach’s fantasy opera, accompanied by commentary from Martin Scorsese and a short musical film Powell made in 1956.
“Ran” DVD set, $39.95; “Tales of Hoffmann” DVD, $39.95. (Criterion)
TV on DVD
“Leave It to Beaver: The Complete First Season” – The Beav, Wally and parents Ward and June come to DVD in a three-disc set with the first 39 episodes, plus the original pilot featuring different actors playing Wally and Ward. True fans may want to shell out for a limited-edition set packed in a “Leave It to Beaver” lunchbox. DVD set, $49.98; Lunchbox set, $69.98. (Universal)
“Seinfeld” – Seasons five and six of Jerry Seinfeld’s sitcom arrive in a pair of four-disc sets, with deleted scenes, interviews and other background material. The two seasons also come packed together in a gift set that includes a reproduction of one of Seinfeld’s handwritten scripts and a miniature replica of the “puffy shirt” featured in a classic episode. Four-disc sets, $49.95 each; Gift set, $119.95. (Sony)
“The Best &Worst of ‘American Idol’: Seasons 1-4” – Just what it sounds like: Musical highlights from Kelly Clarkson and other stars of the TV sing-off, terrible vocals from also-rans. Best- and worst-of compilations come in single DVDs, while a three-disc set has both volumes and a bonus disc with such extras as a Paula Abdul interview. DVD set, $34.98; single DVDs, $19.98 each. (Capital Entertainment)
“CSI: Miami – The Complete Third Season” – Year three of David Caruso’s crime-solving spinoff comes in a seven-disc set with 24 episodes, plus commentary on six and a handful of behind-the-scenes features. $55.99. (Paramount)
“Home Improvement,” “Golden Girls” – Seasons three of Tim Allen’s family comedy and Bea Arthur’s senior-citizens sitcom are available in three-disc sets, each packing 25 episodes. $39.99 each. (Disney)
“King of the Hill: The Complete Fifth Season” – Mike Judge’s animated series about Texas propane geek Hank Hill and his nutty family returns with a three-disc set containing year five’s 20 episodes. $39.98. (20th Century Fox)
“The Andy Griffith Show: The Complete Fourth Season” – A five-disc set packs all 32 episodes from year four of the classic family comedy featuring Griffith, Ron Howard, Don Knotts and Jim Nabors. $39.99. (Paramount)
Some DVD issues may not have corresponding VHS releases. VHS prices vary widely.