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When the Small Screen Makes It Larger Than Life

Sometimes a movie theater simply doesn't do a film justice. Here's a six-pack of flicks to go.

June 02, 1996|Kevin Lauderdale | Kevin Lauderdale is a freelance writer who lives in Mountain View, Calif

Watching a film at home is always inferior to the theatrical experience, right? Not quite. Some films improve when viewed on a more intimate scale--some for artistic reasons and some for technical. Your average television, along with the occasional use of the slow motion and freeze frame capability of VCRs and laserdisc players, will let you see why these six film are better at home.

Aladdin (1992). The first time I saw this Disney hit in a theater, I knew I was going to have to watch it at home as soon as it was released. My friends and I were laughing so hard that we missed the lyrics to the songs as well some of the subtler puns. Home video lets you slow the speed of Robin Williams' manic shape-shifting, which goes beyond even the Tex Avery Warner Bros. cartoons that so many of us (including, apparently, the animators at Disney) grew up on. Yes, some of the references have already become dated (Arsenio Who?), but this cultural index of a film is so packed with material that it's a joy to "study" again and again at your own pace. (G, Walt Disney Home Video)

The Flintstones: The Movie (1994). A lot of visual jokes here require freeze frame (or at least slowing down) to catch. Just as in the original animated series, the names of the stores, the airlines and the newspaper headlines contain jokes and bad puns. Half of the film's humor comes from its visual elements, which are frequently fleeting. What did that billboard say? What was on that poster? The producers had an eye for detail that not only requires, but also warrants, repeated viewing. (PG, MCA/Universal)

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975). I cannot imagine sitting in a theater and watching this film. The Python crew cut its teeth on television, and it remains the most appropriate medium for their humor. If it's your first time viewing this now classic comedy, you'll need to stop the film on numerous occasions. You'll be laughing so hard that if you don't, you'll miss half the film. The laserdisc version from Criterion features an alternate audio track in Japanese (the Knights Who Say "Ni" demand not a shrubbery, but a bonsai) as well as supplementary material like the original trailer and a scene dubbed in Japanese with (imperfectly translated) English subtitles. (PG, Criterion)

The Shadow (1994). On the big screen, it was just an average film, but on the smaller scale of your television, it's a comic book come gloriously to life. If this same film had been made 50 years ago today, it would be a classic, and it would be broadcast on television every year like "The Wizard of Oz." Watch "The Shadow" tonight, but pretend it was made in 1945. (PG-13, MCA/Universal)

Swing Time (1936). How did Fred and Ginger do it? Now's your chance to watch and practice along. Astaire insisted that he and his partners have their entire bodies filmed during dance routines. This was intended to capture for '30s audiences all of the elegance of their art. For us today, it means we can study body movements as well as footwork. Miss a move? Rewind and watch it again at one-quarter speed--again and again until you've mastered it. Throw away those numbered foot outlines you put on the living room floor. This is the ultimate teach-yourself-to-dance video. (Unrated, Image)

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). The newly remastered edition offers better sound than you'd get at most multiplexes, and viewing the Academy Award-winning special effects frame by frame really pays off. Much of the detail and beauty of the liquid metal "morphing" scenes are lost in the breakneck pace of the film when it flies across the big screen. Example: Look for the third arm on the evil Terminator as he pilots the helicopter (two arms to work the machine gun, one to steer the vehicle). (R, Carolco)

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