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'Temptation,' Up Close

A new laserdisc edition is enhanced by audio commentary by director, writer and star. It's as if they're in your home.

April 02, 1998|ERNESTO LECHNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Imagine having Martin Scorsese over for dinner and a movie. His movie, one of the most controversial films of all time, garnished with his own casual but illuminating reflections on the joys and perils of filmmaking.

Imagine, then, that fellow director Paul Schrader also dropped by and talked about his experience writing the script for the movie. And then Willem Dafoe, chatting about playing the part of Jesus. The evening would end watching home VHS videos shot by Scorsese while on location in Morocco.

That is exactly the feeling you get when you watch the new laserdisc edition of "The Last Temptation of Christ," enhanced by a wonderful audio commentary on an analog track and recently released by Voyager through its Criterion Collection. For anybody seasoned enough to remember life without digital media and audio commentaries at home, this edition will renew the invigorating pleasures of owning a laserdisc player.

Shrouded by controversy, "The Last Temptation of Christ" is not an easy movie to watch. Nor is it flawless. But there's no better way to dissect it than with Schrader and Scorsese at hand. Frivolous conversationalists they are not. Aspiring filmmakers would certainly benefit from their ruminations, as when Schrader comments that "every movie needs only about 40 to 50 things to actually happen in order to tell a story" or when Scorsese gushes about his lifelong desire to film a biblical epic, just like the ones he saw when he was growing up.

The Criterion edition doesn't stop there. It also includes a fascinating video interview with musician Peter Gabriel, who composed the music for the film, as well as hundreds of production stills, sketches for costume designs and even scientific articles used by the director to accurately depict life in the days of Jesus Christ.

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On the DVD front, MGM/UA has begun releasing the James Bond films on this new format, with an initial batch that includes the Sean Connery classics "Dr. No" and "From Russia With Love," together with the late '70s Roger Moore blockbusters "The Spy Who Loved Me" and "Moonraker."

The surprise here is not how well the Connery films have aged, because that is more or less a given. It's that the Moore films that seemed so bland when they were first released appear today sweet and highly entertaining, the product of an era in love with gadgets and excess.

The sound on the DVD releases is comparable to sound on laserdisc versions, but the picture has been noticeably improved. In comparing the infamous scene in "From Russia With Love" in which 007 helps his friend Kerim Bay (Pedro Armendariz) murder a political enemy who escapes through a billboard of Anita Ekberg, the laserdisc looked murkier than the DVD, which was crisper, with perfectly defined blacks and overall superior texture.

The only problem is that in its rush to release the films on DVD, MGM/UA has forsaken all the great extras that made the laser editions such a treat for film fans. The DVD editions of the Connery films include a few gentle touches of Bond scholarship and trivia. MGM has released superior collector's editions of "Goldfinger" and "Thunderball" on laser, with hours of supplemental materials and two audio commentaries on each.

The Moore films certainly deserve a similar treatment, and a long-promised deluxe edition of 1973's "Live and Let Die" is supposed to come out in July.

CURRENT RELEASES

Laserdisc

"Cabaret" (Warner Bros.) Seeped in bitter despair, the 1972 Bob Fosse musical is a shattering study of 1931 Berlin, underlined by a powerful yet vulnerable performance by Liza Minnelli. Includes a commemorative documentary and a featurette.

"Event Horizon" (Pioneer) This nonsensical sci-fi vision of the apocalypse starring Sam Neill was dismissed by critics when released theatrically last year. On laser, the excellent sound and picture enhance the film's few effective moments of horror.

"Singin' in the Rain" (Image) Arguably the best musical of all time, directed with inspired grace by Gene Kelly and recent Oscar honoree Stanley Donen. With a documentary on musicals, "Gotta Dance, Gotta Sing."

DVD

"Vertigo" (Universal) It duplicates the special laserdisc edition released last year. One of Hitchcock's most haunting and personal films, it is presented on a restored version, augmented by a documentary and production notes.

"Fahrenheit 451" (Image) Director Francois Truffaut almost missed the mark translating Ray Bradbury's novel to the screen. The results are strangely chilly and, at times, highly poetic.

"Monty Python's The Meaning of Life" (Image) A humorous antidote to the pompous preaching of most self-help books. More mayhem and delirious bursts of imagination as the merry gang of Monty Python offers their views on sex, overeating and the meaning of life.

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