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From Low-Budget Fare to Oscar Ware

June 27, 2002|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The acting and directing career of Ron Howard takes center stage this week with the DVD release of his Oscar-winning "A Beautiful Mind" and two films from the '70s he made for producer Roger Corman, "Eat My Dust!" and "Grand Theft Auto."

"A Beautiful Mind" won four Academy Awards in March: best film, best director for Howard, best adapted screenplay for Akiva Goldsman and best supporting actress for Jennifer Connelly. But it is Russell Crowe, who won the Golden Globe and received an Oscar nomination for best actor, who is the heart of this film. He gives a touching, powerful performance as Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Nash, who spends most of his adult life battling schizophrenia.

Universal's two-disc "Awards Edition" ($23) is available in either a wide-screen or pan-and-scan version. The first disc features commentary from Howard, who talks about how he decided to introduce Nash's illusionary characters.

Goldsman supplies an equally fascinating commentary track. Also included on the first disc are several deleted scenes, which are all pretty terrific. They were deleted, Howard explains, because of time limitations and flow.

The second disc examines the friendship and working relationship between Howard and his producing partner, Brian Grazer, and contains a storyboard-to-film comparison; a look at development of the screenplay; clips of Nash receiving the Nobel Prize in Stockholm; excerpts from one of Howard's visits with Nash, who explains to the director his economics theory; a behind-the-scenes look at the casting process; and a glimpse into James Horner's scoring of the film.

Howard the actor and novice director are on display in "The Ron Howard Collection" from Roger Corman's New Concorde Home Entertainment. While playing Richie Cunningham on "Happy Days," Howard starred in the 1976 low-budget car-chase flick "Eat My Dust!," which was a big hit on the drive-in circuit. Though some of the chase sequences aren't bad, it's pretty silly. Look for Howard's brother, Clint, and his dad, Rance, in supporting roles. A young Corbin Bernsen is featured as a dimwitted gas station attendant. The DVD ($15) includes the trailer, talent files and a short interview with Corman and critic Leonard Maltin.

"Eat My Dust!" was such a hit that Corman called Howard the first week of the film's release and asked him to do a sequel. Howard, who had wanted to direct a feature since he was about 10, told Corman that he would act in the sequel for the same salary and would direct it for nothing. Corman agreed to let the then-22-year-old direct "Grand Theft Auto." The 25th-anniversary edition of the film ($20) includes fun commentary with Howard and Corman, a poorly shot video interview with the two, a video interview with Corman and Maltin, the original theatrical press kit and trailer.

Howard also co-wrote with his father this slapstick chase film about a young couple (Nancy Morgan and Howard) who decide to elope to Las Vegas in her father's Rolls-Royce.

*

Robert Altman had his biggest hit critically and commercially in a decade with "Gosford Park," which received seven Oscar nominations and won for Julian Fellowes' screenplay in March. This slyly witty look at the British class system in the early 1930s stars some of England's greatest performers, including Maggie Smith and Helen Mirren (who each received an Oscar nomination for supporting actress), Kristin Scott Thomas, Michael Gambon, Derek Jacobi, Charles Dance, Jeremy Northam and Emily Watson.

The DVD (Universal, $27) includes a nice wide-screen transfer of the film, deleted scenes with commentary from Altman, a fun Q&A session with Altman and several stars in March at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, an above-average "making of" documentary and interviews with a butler, cook and parlor maid who were advisors on the film. Altman supplies commentary, and though it's not listed on the DVD, he's joined by his son, Oscar-nominated art director Stephen Altman, and producer David Levy.

Screenwriter Fellowes, who grew up among the British upper class, also provides commentary.

*

The haunting documentary "WTC: The First 24 Hours" (Docurama, $20 for VHS or DVD) opens with an image of the north tower of the World Trade Center on fire and ends with a view of debris-covered lower Manhattan the next morning. Without music or commentary, "WTC" presents raw, moving portraits of ground zero, the heroism of the firefighters and police and the beginning of the cleanup after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The DVD and VHS tape each feature two versions of the documentary, an official selection at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival--the original 11-minute version and the final 48-minute film. The DVD also includes a gallery of 200 images.

*

A&E presents all 32 episodes of the 1967 animated syndicated series "Captain Scarlet" on DVD ($80). Created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson of "Thunderbirds" fame, this action series also features Anderson's trademark Supermarionation technique he introduced on "Thunderbirds." This sci-fi thriller is set in the year 2068, when the Earth finds itself at war with a powerful invisible race.

The four-disc DVD set has commentary from Anderson on two episodes, his biography, character profiles and production stills.

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