Animated TV offerings lead the way this week with the first two volumes of Marvel’s Avengers and the 14th season of South Park, but there are also some interesting cult films such as a science fiction vampire movie featuring the inimitable Forrest J. Ackerman (of Famous Monsters) and John Lennon’s only non-Beatles feature film.
TV on DVD
The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes Vol. 1: Heroes Assemble (Disney, 154 min., $19.99) collects the first 7 episodes of the Marvel Animation series that debuted on the Disney XD Channel in the fall of 2010. The series features the original Avengers lineup including Ant-Man, Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, and the Wasp and utilizes a lot of the original Avengers storylines by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The episodes are action-packed. In the first 7 episodes viewers get to see how the Avengers super team was formed. There is a close correlation between how these cartoon Avengers look and sound and the way they are portrayed in the Marvel’s live-action movies. Eric Loomis, who voices Iron Man, sounds almost exactly like Robert Downey, Jr., the cartoon Pepper Potts sounds like Gywneth Paltrow, and the animated Nick Fury’s voice resembles that of Samuel L. Jackson. The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes Vol.2: Captain America Reborn (Disney, 135 min., $19.99) includes six episodes chronicling the return of World War II hero Captain America, who was revived after having been frozen for years in the depths of the ocean. Bonus material on the two Avengers discs is limited, but it does include a cool preview of Season 2 of the Avengers animated series.
The other key animated release this week is South Park: The Complete 14th Season (Paramount, 308 min., $49.99, BD $57.99), which contains all 14 episodes of the irreverent Comedy Central series’ 14th Season, which includes an epic three-episode arc that reveals the identity of Mysterion.
Continuing series due out this week include the sitcom Growing Pains: The Complete Second Season (Warner Bros., 572 min., $29.98), the hilarious faux talk show The Larry Sanders Show: Season 3 (Shout Factory, 450 min., $34.93), and The Lucy Show: The Official 4th Season (Paramount, 660 min., $39.98).
Interesting in its own way, though not nearly as visually stunning is Human Planet: The Complete Series (BBC, 480 min., $39.98, BD $49.98), which examines the complex relationship between humans and nature.
Movie buffs will love Moguls & Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood—The Complete Series (Warner Bros., 420 min., $39.98), a detailed, decade-by-decade history of Hollywood that aired on the Turner Classic Movie cable channel, while those interested in military history will certainly enjoy 20th Century With Mike Wallace: America at War (Acorn Media, 470 min., $49.99), which includes all ten episodes of the documentary series detailing America’s 20th Century conflicts with a special emphasis on how the military has changed in response to the changing nature of the conflicts in which it has been involved in the latter half of the Century.
The bestselling U.K. TV release this week will undoubtedly by Upstairs Downstairs: The 2010 Mini-Series (BBC, 180 min., $34.98). While not quite as good as the original Upstairs, Downstairs (see “DVD Round-Up: Week of March 29th”), the new series, which features a largely new cast and is set in 1936, is still better than almost anything else on TV.
Classics on DVD
With declining DVD sales the studios have been faced with the problem of how to make the most out of their considerable libraries of older films. Having already harvested the low-hanging fruit—classic films like Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz, and The African Queen that can still post decent sales numbers—the studios are left with the problem of how to deal with the thousands of lesser-known films. Given the increasing cost of producing a hi-def transfer and marketing a classic film Blu-ray, studios such as Warner and now MGM/Fox are putting out no frills editions of older films with more limited appeal. Warners has a “Video-on-demand” service, which creates DVD-R discs of its films based on individual orders. MGM has inaugurated its MGM Limited Edition Collection of no-frills DVD releases that are only available through online retailers like Amazon.
New anime releases this week include The Girl Who Leapt Through Space (Bandai, “13+,” 175 min., $29.98), the first release of the Sunrise mecha comedy series that aired in Japan in 2009, and K-On! Vol.1 (Bandai, “13+,” 100 min., $29.98, BD $34.98), the first of four volumes that will cover the 13-episode series from Kyoto Animation that adapts the seinen manga by Kakifly. K-On! in particular has quite a reputation—Kyoto Animation is one of the “hot” anime studios, and this comedy series about a group of girls forming a rock band is charming, though a bit slight.
Also new this week is Asylum Session (Sentai Filmworks, “13+,” 65 min., $19.99), an anime feature from 2009 about a girl who runs away from home when her father won’t let her become an artist. She joins a group of homeless outcasts who live in tents in an abandoned stadium they call “The Asylum,” which is fine until the government decides to tear the stadium down.
Re-priced re-releases include Kashimashi: Girl Meets Girl (Media Blasters, “13+,” 325 min., $24.98), which includes the 12-episode anime adaptation of the yuri science fiction romantic comedy manga series by Satoru Akahori (published here by Seven Seas), and 5 Centimeters Per Second (Bandai, “13+,” 212 min., $24.98), the brilliant animated feature by Makoto Shinkai, which is one of the most beautiful and poetic anime films of the decade.