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'20,000 Leagues' Joins Disney 'Archive' Series : Like other releases in the collection, this one features a sharp, clean print of the classic--and extra material that wasn't evaluated for its merits.

April 16, 1993|BARBARA SALTZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It sounds better than it is.

Disney's "Exclusive Archive Collection" is being advertised as a special collection of features, shorts, cartoons and television shows from the vaults with each feature film newly re-mastered and offered in its original screen presentation with behind-the-scenes footage and supplemental material that "gives a fascinating glimpse into the magical Disney creative process."

The too congratulatory tone of the series implies that all of this is a new idea. But Disney is coming late to the ball and the initial releases are surprisingly behind the times in not making as effective use of the valuable material stored away as it could.

What Disney has elected to do is to simply repackage old material without much attempt to evaluate its merits (some of the supplementary programs on these first two releases, "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" and "Mary Poppins," are silly and a waste of time) or add the kind of new production techniques that Voyager-Criterion, Pioneer and other companies have excelled at.

Missed opportunities abound. Where, for example, are the second audio tracks, with Disney artists and producers revealing some of the tricks of the trade? Their insights and recollections would be invaluable. This is one time when Disney, usually a leader in every new technological field it has tackled, is following the pack and coming in second-best.

This doesn't mean that these newly minted lasers, released by Disney/Image Entertainment, aren't worth having. They are--even if just for the sharpest, cleanest, truest print ever shown outside the Disney studios.

The 1954 Disney production of "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" ($70), for example, comes with a panoply of good-to-bad bonus materials, but what makes the disc valuable is the chance to see Disney's first big-budget live-action film in all of its original glory.

Shot in Cinemascope, the Jules Verne epic comes with extreme wide banding to preserve the 2.35:1 screen ratio. Kirk Douglas and James Mason, as the ubiquitous Capt. Nemo, play this adaptation for all it's worth, with Douglas even singing a nautical ditty that makes you appreciate his dramatic abilities.

A master at marketing, Walt Disney shamelessly promoted this film himself on his "Disneyland" TV series. The promotional film, dug out of the vaults and presented here in its original worshipful tones, features the fake spontaneity Disney excelled at--the camera just happens to be there as an athletic, bounding-with-energy Douglas is due to go before the cameras.

Three of the discs are CLV, but Side Three is CAV, enabling freeze-framing, slow motion, scanning and random access of supplemental material that includes story-boards set against their actual film sequences.

Also included is the "Operation Undersea" hour episode of "Disneyland," which somehow won an Emmy. TV audiences must have been less critical then. If you can get past the gee-whiz wonder of it all, you can learn something about the development of underwater photography and special effects.

At one point, Disney had thought of making "20,000 Leagues" as an animated film, then as a combination live-action/animated feature, as "Mary Poppins" ended up being. Some of the animated footage that would have been used reveals the animators' command of the craft, and also why the combination of live-action and animation most likely would not have worked for this epic.

Also on the disc are stills from the making of the film and the original theatrical trailer. Nearly 30 chapter stops make it possible to access favorite scenes quickly including the Giant Squid battle, which lives up to its reputation.

Laser Bits

New Movies Just Out: "Basic Instinct" (extra footage) (Pioneer, $70); "The Last of the Mohicans" (FoxVideo, $40); "The Player" (extra footage, interviews) (Criterion, $100); "Consenting Adults" (Hollywood, letterbox, $40); "Husbands and Wives" (Columbia TriStar, widescreen, $35); "Mr. Saturday Night" (New Line, $40); "The Abyss" (director's cut) (FoxVideo, $100).

Coming Soon: Two from LIVE: "Glengarry Glen Ross," featuring Al Pacino, is due May 19 at $35 and "Body of Evidence," featuring Madonna, is scheduled for June 16 at $35.

Old Movies Just Out: "The Great Dictator" (FoxVideo, 1940, $70), Charlie Chaplin's famed spoof of Hitler; "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" (FoxVideo, 1961, widescreen, $50); Walter Pidgeon and Joan Fontaine star in director Irwin Allen's undersea adventure.

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