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Raunch and Romance

Pleasures both guilty and wholesome can be found in new editions of 'Wild Things' and Disney's 'Lady and the Tramp.'

October 01, 1998|ERNESTO LECHNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Fans of those deliciously tacky movies that remain in one's memory as the ultimate guilty pleasure will rejoice at the special DVD edition Columbia TriStar has just released of the ingenious sleaze-fest "Wild Things."

A ludicrous story that piles up endless double-crossings with some lurid sex and tongue-in-cheek humor, "Wild Things" has a few strong performances to its credit (most notably Neve Campbell and Bill Murray). It also marks the beginning of a new career for director John McNaughton ("Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer"), who has placed his macabre sensibility at the service of Hollywood bankability.

But the audio commentary, for which the director enlisted the help of a bunch of crew members, including producers, editors and even the music composer, is a bit of a letdown. The participants are fixated on the most pedestrian aspects of filmmaking. Too much of the commentary is spent describing locations and analyzing the treacherous weather conditions of south Florida.

Particularly disappointing is McNaughton's puritanical monologue during the steamy menage a trois scene with Matt Dillon, Campbell and Denise Richards, in which the director can't stress enough how utterly boring, arduous and unpleasant it is to shoot sex scenes.

The DVD's extra features also include three very brief scenes that were deleted from the picture's final cut. The first is a wonderful exchange between Robert Wagner and Murray over a bowl of spicy chicken. The second provides a glimpse of Murray's improvisational genius. The third is the eerie visual gag of a hungry alligator savagely chopping off a finger of a rubber hand used by the crew on one of the shots.

On the laserdisc front, the recent VHS rerelease of Disney's "Lady and the Tramp" has been duplicated on laserdisc by Image Entertainment with a special wide-screen edition that preserves the picture's original Cinemascope format but, alas, contains almost no supplemental materials.

Although it is a lot of fun to watch, a brief segment from the show "Cavalcade of Songs" showing Peggy Lee recording the silly "Siamese Cat Song" only manages to whet the viewer's appetite for more behind-the-scenes material.

Inexplicably, Disney has yet to give its animated features from the mid-'50s to the '70s the same reverential treatment it has bestowed on both the early classics and the recent blockbusters. A pity, considering that "Lady and the Tramp" might be the most romantic animated feature the studio has ever released, transforming the fairy tale-like motifs of the East Coast autumn landscape into a field of dreams where highly eccentric pets run into perils that never quite disrupt the picture-perfect mood of the scenes.

OTHER CURRENT RELEASES

Laserdisc

"Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977, Columbia TriStar). The exclusive laserdisc edition (it is not available on DVD) contains a long documentary and hundreds of production stills, conceptual sketches and promotional materials.

"Kundun" (1997, Image). This wide-screen laserdisc is the format of choice for analyzing Martin Scorsese's flawed but visually stunning historical meditation. The digital sound enhances the majestic score by Philip Glass.

"Journey to the Center of the Earth" (1959, Image). The dreamy, romanticized version of the Jules Verne novel includes ingenious special effects and even a couple of songs by Pat Boone.

DVD

"The Seven Samurai" (1954, Criterion). The definitive Akira Kurosawa masterpiece gets the DVD treatment, including an audio commentary by Japanese film connoisseur Michael Jeck and the original U.S. theatrical trailer.

"This Is Spinal Tap" (1984, Criterion). This spiffy edition of the celebrated mock-rockumentary gives you more Spinal Tap than you could ever handle: two audio commentaries, more than an hour of deleted scenes and a 20-minute demo reel on "The Final Tour." You'll be tapped out by the end.

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