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DVD Set Looks at History of U.S. Movies

October 12, 2000|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Any serious student of film and the medium's history will want to save their pennies in order to purchase Image Entertainment's remarkable "Treasures From the American Film Archives" DVD collection ($100).

The four-disc, 642-minute set features 50 films--either in their entirety or in excerpts--that have been preserved by 18 of the country's film archives, including theLibrary of Congress, the Smithsonian, the Museum of Modern Art, the George Eastman House, UCLA Film and Television Archive and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Produced by the nonprofit National Film Preservation Foundation, the collection not only includes narrative films but also so-called "orphan" films, consisting of travelogue, newsreels, documentaries and home movies.

Among the films featured are Groucho Marx's home movies from 1933; a 1911 D.W. Griffith thriller, "The Lonsdale Operator"; the first filmed version of "Snow White" from 1916; the 1943 war documentary "The Autobiography of a Jeep"; a surreal 1928 silent version of "The Fall of the House of Usher"; the first two-color Technicolor feature, 1922's "The Toll of the Sea," starring Anna May Wong; a 1916 William S. Hart western, "Hell's Hinges"; plus the first commercially shown U.S. film, 1893's "Blacksmithing Scene," which runs all of one minute.

Besides a 138-page booklet of program notes, the discs include information on each archive narrated by Laurence Fishburne and information about each film. It's a most addictive collection.

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Just as with Universal's recent DVD release of "Jaws," its new collector's editions of "Jurassic Park" and the sequel, "The Lost World: Jurassic Park," do not include audio commentary from director Steven Spielberg. The dinosaur thrillers ($27 each; $38 for the set) are loaded with goodies, but Spielberg's thoughts about these films would have added immeasurably to the viewing experience.

The "Jurassic Park" disc includes a wide-screen transfer of the film and a typical "making of" documentary. Much more entertaining are videotape recordings of pre-production meetings where Spielberg talks with his special effects crew about how he wants the dinosaurs to look and behave. There are also storyboards, an amusing look at how foley artists created the sound for the dinosaur baby hatching from its egg, production notes and photos.

An added plus is a dinosaur encyclopedia that gives detailed information about each dinosaur featured in the film, complete with dinosaur sound effects. There's also animatics--sort of a 3-D storyboard--of the raptors' attack in the kitchen and trailers from both films and the "Jurassic Park III" sequel that is currently in production.

The digital version of "The Lost World" includes the wide-screen version of the film, a documentary, some boring deleted scenes, illustrations and conceptual drawings and storyboards, dinosaur models and another dinosaur encyclopedia.

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The Criterion Collection has recently released the DVDs of two restored legendary British films: "Hamlet" and "Pygmalion" ($30 each).

"Pygmalion," from 1938, was adapted by George Bernard Shaw from his own play and features wonderfully witty performances from Leslie Howard (who co-directed with Anthony Asquith) and Wendy Hiller.

"Hamlet," from 1948, was directed by and stars Laurence Olivier in his Oscar-winning role as Shakespeare's tragic Dane. Winner of the best film Oscar--beating John Huston's "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre," among others--it also stars Jean Simmons.

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The special DVD of Tim Burton's fascinating stop-motion animated film "The Nightmare Before Christmas" (Buena Vista, $30) is frighteningly good fun. In addition to the feature film, about a resident of the dreary Halloweentown who discovers Christmas, the disc features Burton's animated directorial debut, "Vincent," about a young boy who wants to be Vincent Price, and the uncut version of his innovative live-action debut, "Frankenweenie."

Also on the DVD are a wide-screen version of "Nightmare," a compelling "making of" documentary, the original trailers and posters, a storyboard-to-film comparison, deleted scenes and test footage.

The VHS collector's edition ($23) includes the documentary, the trailer and the Burton shorts.

Also available is a collector's edition of the stop-motion "James and the Giant Peach" (Buena Vista, $30 for DVD; $23 for VHS).

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New this week from Paramount on DVD is the military thriller "Rules of Engagement" ($30), directed by William Friedkin. Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson star as Marine colonels who form a lifelong friendship after Jackson saves Jones' life in Vietnam. The disc features a wide-screen transfer of the box-office hit plus a standard documentary and cast and crew interviews.

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