This is a surprisingly light week for the fourth quarter, though there are number of elaborate “TV on DVD” sets that would make excellent gifts for the well-heeled such as the complete 1970s science fiction series The Six Million Dollar Man, the medieval-themed adventure The Pillars of the Earth, and a number of DC Comics-related discs including the complete Batman Beyond animated series, as well as the year's most successful "geriaction" film. 

Direct to DVD

Although Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam (Warner Bros., “PG-13,” $19.98, BD $29.99) was released earlier this month, ICv2 just received its review copy of this collection of DC Showcase Animated Original Shorts.  Three of the four shorts, “The Spectre,” “Jonah Hex,” and “Green Arrow” in this 62-minute collection accompanied previously released direct-to-DVD DC-based animated features, though they are presented here in slightly extended form.  The fourth short, “Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam,” which at 22 minutes is the longest film in the collection, is only available in this collection.  Joaquim Dos Santos (Avatar: The Last Airbender) directed all four short films and proves himself a master at creating mood and producing stylish short films. The "Jonah Hex" entry, which was written by Joe R. Lansdale, captures the essence of the character far better than ill-fated live-action feature film based on the face-scarred bounty hunter.  DC Comics fans will find these comic book-based shorts well worth their attention.



This fairly light week is enlivened by the release of The Six-Million Dollar Man: The Complete Series (Time Life, 4,000 min. $239.95), which includes all 100 episodes of the 1970s science fiction series based on Martin Caidin’s novel Cyborg.  In addition to every episode from the series’ five seasons, the deluxe 40-disc set includes all three of the original pilot TV movies in their original broadcast versions plus over 14 hours of interesting extras including interviews with all the series principals (actors Lee Majors, Richard Anderson, & Lindsay Wagner, producer Herve Bennett), 11 newly-produced featurettes and all three reunion movies.  The deluxe embossed box includes a holographic image of Lee Majors (Steve Austin) running.  Fans of this groundbreaking science fiction series couldn’t ask for a better presentation--and more importantly the episodes themselves are presented in sharp clean re-mastered versions that capture the visual quality of the original series.


Also out this week is the eight-episode 2010 mini-series based on Ken Follett’s epic medieval novel The Pillars of the Earth (Sony, 480 min., $59.95, BD $69.98).  Like the popular mystery series Cadfael, The Pillars of the Earth was filmed in Hungary, but takes place in England during the late 12th Century in the period known as The Anarchy, which featured a battle for the throne between King Stephen and the Empress Maud.   Unlike Cadfael where the conflicts of The Anarchy provide the background for the mysteries, the struggle for succession is front and center in The Pillars of the Earth, which follows the struggles of characters from various strata of society including Tom the Builder (Rufus Sewall) whose determination to construct a great cathedral demonstrates the artistic impulse of the era and Earl Bartholomew (Donald Sutherland), a nobleman who rebels against King Stephen’s usurpation of the throne, and Walerian Bigod (Ian McShane), an ambitious clergyman whose Machiavellian maneuvers animate Follett’s complex Michener-like plot.  Even eight hours is not enough time to recreate every detail of Follett’s sprawling saga, but in spite of ignoring the novel’s entire Thomas Becket subplot, The Pillars of the Earth does a reasonable job of recreating both the era and the author’s wide-ranging narrative with plenty of bloody battle action that captures the epic sweep of the story.  There’s more than enough medieval period detail, intrigue, and combat to interest anyone (especially gamers) interested in the Middle Ages.


Another holiday release of considerable interest is Batman Beyond: The Complete Series (Warner Bros., 1097 min., $99.98), which contains all 52 episodes of the animated series, which first appeared from 1999-2001 on the WB network, and is currently being shown on Hasbro’s new Hub network.  Batman Beyond was the first animated series to portray the Dark Knight as a teenager, and yet it is also perhaps the darkest of the various Batman animated series, and was certainly the darkest Saturday morning series during its era.  Batman Beyond remains one of the most interesting collaborations between DC Comics and Warner Bros. Animation. 


Also intriguing is Space Precinct: The Complete Series (Image Entertainment, 1063 min., $49.98), which includes all 24 episodes of the Gerry Anderson-produced science fiction police procedural, which originally aired from 1994-1995.  Though the show was syndicated in the U.S., American TV execs had no idea how to handle the series with its bizarre makeup and way-out storylines.  Space Precinct often has a campy, made-for-kids look, but it’s played straight, something that has endeared it to a growing cult of science fiction fans.  Anyone who enjoys other Gerry Anderson series such as Thunderbirds or Space 1999 should take the time to check out Space Precinct.


In addition to the stylish HBO western series Deadwood, which has been released on Blu-ray for the holidays, Deadwood: The Complete Series (HBO, $209.95), a number of continuing series are due out this week including the feel-good family drama 7th Heaven: The Eleventh and Final Season (Paramount, 922 min., $49.98), the geriatric mystery series Murder, She Wrote: The Complete 12th Season (Universal, $49.98), and the classic 1950s western Wagon Train: The Complete Second Season (Timeless Media, 1900 min., $79.98).




The prime release of the week is the first season of the over-the-top, action-packed, harem comedy Sekirei.  Sekirei: The Complete Series (Funimation, “17+,” 300 min., $49.98) contains all 12-episodes of the series from Seven Arcs that aired in Japan in 2008.  Based on the seinen manga by Sakurako Gokurakuin, Sekirei features a bevy of battling buxom beauties and (for the genre) a clever story—a combination that is very hard for fanboys to resist.


Also new this week in North America are the single-disc Kurokami Vol. 4 (Bandai, “13+,” 150 min, $29.98, BD 125 min., $24.98) and the vintage (1993-1994) supernatural comedy series Ghost Sweeper Mikami Collection 1 (Sentai Filmworks, “13+,” 300 min. $49.98), which includes the first 12 episodes of the 45-episode anime produced by Toei and based on the 39-volume shonen manga series by Takashi Shiina, which won the Shogakukan manga award in 1993.  Because of overdevelopment in Japan, many of the local ghosts and spirits have lost their homes and are forced to find new homes, which in turn has led to the formation of a new cottage industry—Ghost Sweepers or exorcists for hire.


Re-priced bargain releases out this week include Girls Bravo: Complete Series (Funimation, “16+,” 560 min., $49.98), a fan service-filled harem comedy previously released here by Geneon, and Kaleido Star Season 1 Complete Collection (Funimation, “14+,” 650 min., $39.98), the Gonzo-produced slice-of-life comedy/drama that ADV originally released here in North America.




Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics (Warner Bros., Not Rated, $24.99) is a straight 90-minute documentary covering the 75-year history of America’s oldest comic book publisher.  Hardcore DC fans won’t find much new information here, but they will still probably want to add this documentary to their collection anyway.  Casual fans and those who are unfamiliar with the history of American comic books will find this well-produced and functional (as well as self-serving) documentary a treasure trove of information.


I’m Still Here (Magnolia Entertainment, “R,” $26.98, BD $29.98) is a maddening pseudo documentary directed by Casey Affleck that follows what appears to be a sort of self-immolation by actor Joaquim Phoenix, who kicks off a “year of living stupidly” with a stunningly comatose appearance on the David Letterman Show during which he announced his decision to junk his movie star status in favor of a career as a rapper.  In spite of what many people think, it takes a lot more than the ability to turn out doggerel to become a force in the highly competitive field of rap—and Phoenix doesn’t manage to demonstrate even half the talent of a hapless pretender like Vanilla Ice, say nothing of a real rapper.  Of course we’re supposed to see the whole thing as a big “put on,” but the notion that all these talented Hollywood types invested so much time and effort in such a sub-mediocre “musical sabbatical” isn’t entertaining, it’s pathetic.


Theatrical Movies


The top release this week is The Expendables (Lionsgate, “R,” $29.95, BD $39.99).   Sylvester Stallone wrote and directed this saga of a group of mercenaries who are hired to infiltrate a country and depose a ruthless dictator.  With its collection of aging action stars including Stallone, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke, plus cameo appearances from Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Expendables inaugurated a new genre, the “geriaction” movie—and audiences responded to the tune of a $103 million domestic gross and a worldwide total of  $265.3 million.  The Expendables harks back to those pulpy action movies of the 1980s (Rambo, anyone?), and those who enjoyed the potent, if often ham-fisted, directness of those films won’t be disappointed by The Expendables.


At the other end of the hormonal spectrum is Eat Pray Love (Sony, “PG-13,” $28.95, BD $34.95) in which Julia Roberts travels the globe in search of post-marital enlightenment (India) and the perfect nosh (Italy).  Directed by Glee creator Ryan Murphy and based on Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, Eat Pray Love is, depending on your point of view, a glitzy travelogue with all the depth of a Jersey Shore segment on Entertainment Tonight, or the heartfelt journey of a courageous soul determined to break out of her comfort zone.