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BEST OF 2006 / HOME THEATER | DVDS / SUSAN KING

Some long-awaited delights, but disappointments too

December 17, 2006|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

Kudos: The boutique Criterion Collection continues to deliver definitive digital editions of classic vintage and contemporary films. This year Criterion brought out tantalizing discs of Carol Reed's "Fallen Idol," Akira Kurosawa's "The Seven Samurai," G.W. Pabst's "Pandora's Box," three versions of Orson Welles' neglected masterpiece "The Complete Mr. Arkadian," "Olivier's Shakespeare" and "3 Films by Louis Malle."

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Speechless: Warner Home Video started a disappointing trend in 2005 that has continued throughout this year: The studio offers elaborate sets of its recent releases complete with documentaries, bloopers, deleted and excised scenes, only to neglect to include audio commentary.

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The power of the Force: George Lucas finally listened to the demands of "Star Wars" fans by bringing out the original release versions of 1977's "Star Wars," 1980's "The Empire Strikes Back" and 1983's "The Return of the Jedi." Previously, Lucas had only released the extended, digitally enhanced versions.

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Paramount concern: Universal owns the rights to Paramount pictures from the late 1920s through the 1940s, but it has been pretty stingy on bringing out numerous classic titles on DVD. Thankfully, in 2006 Universal dipped into the Paramount vault and released numerous collections featuring the films of Cary Grant, Carole Lombard, Marlene Dietrich, W.C. Fields, Bing Crosby and Gary Cooper, as well as the work of directors Cecil B. DeMille and Preston Sturges. But that's just the tip of the Paramount iceberg; there are numerous films featuring Paramount names such as Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray that are waiting to make their DVD bows.

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Worth the wait: When considering the purchase of a favorite movie on DVD, is it better to purchase the film as soon as it arrives on disc or wait to see if a more elaborate version arrives at a later date? This year, Peter Jackson's "King Kong" provided evidence that the latter might be the better bet. Universal released a two-disc set in the spring, only to come out with an extensive four-disc version last month. Disney's "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" also arrived in a lovely two-disc set this past spring, but a four-disc version arrived last week that includes all the extras from the initial release plus two new documentaries.

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Really worth the wait: Paramount released "Sgt. Bilko," the influential, Emmy-winning TV comedy from the 1950s starring Phil Silvers as the fast-talking soldier, and S'more Entertainment brought out "Mr. Peepers," the warm, gentle comedy from the early '50s about a good-hearted young teacher played by Wally Cox. Both black-and-white comedies were lovingly restored and presented with numerous extras.

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susan.king@latimes.com

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