The highest-grossing superhero film of the summer leads this week’s home entertainment releases, but there are plenty of other interesting releases including the #1 geek TV series, a modern TV sword and sandal epic, and an all-time classic Doctor Who saga. Still the biggest release of the week in both units and dollars will likely be the highly controversial Blu-ray edition of the Star Wars movies.
Theatrical Movies
Kenneth Branagh’s Thor (Paramount, “PG-13, $29.99, BD Combo $44.99, 3-D BD $54.99) was the first superhero movie of the summer and the top-grossing spandex epic both domestically and (especially) internationally. Unfortunately for Marvel one big-budget superhero epic was enough for Branagh, who turned down an offer to helm a sequel. It’s unfortunate because Branagh, a skilled director of Shakespearean epics, cleverly imparted an epic, 16th Century bard-like vibe that made Marvel’s Thor movie, which is based on story arcs by Walter Simonson and J. Michael Straczynski, both distinctive and lots of fun. Branagh managed to get strong performances from an excellent cast that took the material seriously. Tom Hiddleston as Loki is particularly memorable, but Natalie Portman is quite good in a thankless role as a scientist who “discovers” Thor.  The fact that superhero movies can attract talent like Portman, Hiddleston, and Anthony Hopkins is one of the major reasons that the genre has managed to creep its way to a modicum of respectability and a boatload of box office success. It should be interesting to see if Thor will maintain its dominance over the other 2011 superhero epics on DVD, it should get serious competition from X-Men: First Class and Captain America: The First Avenger.
There are some excellent foreign films out this week including Incendies (Sony, “R,” BD $45.99), a Canadian movie directed by Denis Villeneuve about two brothers, who return to the Middle East to fulfill their mother’s last wish. The movie jumps back and forth in time, and features a few coincidences that strain credulity, but it remains one of the most engrossing art films of recent years with a startling conclusion that more than makes up for occasional slow patches in this 130-minute film.
Equally interesting, though stylistically opposite is Michelangelo Frammartino’s Le Quattro Volte “The Four Times” (Kino/Lorber, $29.95, BD $34.95), a slow-moving, beautifully-shot art movie that doesn’t have subtitles because it has no dialogue. Both Le Quattro Volte and Incendies wowed the critics with superb 92% positive ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, though they could hardly be more different—Incendies has a surfeit of plot and characters while Le Quattro Volte {Spoiler Alert}follows the spirit of an aging consumptive goatherd, who is apparently kept alive by nightly nostrum consisting of a bindle’s worth of dust from the floor of the local church mixed with a glass of Calabrian moonshine. The enigmatic film follows the shepherd’s spirit first to a nearly all white goat born during the instant of his death and then to a giant tree where the (goat) kid dies. The tree is then transformed into a “mineral” when it is eventually made into charcoal, which evidently reflects Pythagoras’ belief in the four-fold transformation of the soul. This great “cycle of life” stuff does tend to wow the critics—but the reason to watch Le Quatro Volte is not its “message,” it is the beautiful, stately (yes that means slow, though the film is only 88 minutes long so this is no interminable Antonioni essay on boredom) way in which it is shot in and around a stunningly beautiful hilltop village in Calabria. Frammartino favors long takes and uses long shots effectively—the scene in which the goatherd’s dog disrupts an Easter procession is a definite comic highlight. The sound editing is also brilliant as the director manages to get the most out of the natural environmental sounds of goats bleating, dogs barking, cowbells clanking, and birds chirping. Given the importance of the visual and audio elements of Le Quatro Volte, the Blu-ray disc is definitely worth the extra five bucks.
There’s an American art film out this week too.   Meek’s Cutoff (Oscilloscope “PG,” $29.99, BD $34.99), is a minimalist western directed by Kelly Reichardt, about settlers traveling west in wagon train on the Oregon Trail. Potential viewers should be aware that this revisionist western is an “art” movie, not an “action” film.
Classics on Blu-Ray
The major release of the week is Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-Ray (Fox, “PG-13,” $139.99), the controversial Blu-ray “upgrade” of all six Star Wars films. The problem is not the meticulous hi-def transfer or the 40 hours worth of extras that includes all sorts of interesting deleted and alternate scenes. The problem is that George Lucas just can’t seem to be able to resist the temptation to keep “improving” his movies. There are several examples of cringe-worthy changes including a new overdubbing of Darth Vader screaming “No, noooo!” as he spares Luke from Emperor Palpatine’s “Force Lightning” attack in the first Star Wars movie, and then there's a new version of Obi Wan Kenobi’s Krayt Dragon Howl that sounds like someone strangling a goose (see “Fans Seek Boycott of Star Wars Blu-Rays”). A lot of the changes, like a new painting on wall of Jabba the Hutt’s Palace, are relatively innocuous, but the fact that Lucas won’t release the “original” versions of the film (at least at this time) in hi-def rankles hardcore fans. Still will all the advantages of Blu-ray and all those extras it’s hard to see fans passing up the opportunity to obtain the best looking home entertainment version of the Star Wars films yet produced.
There is no controversy concerning the Citizen Kane Blu-ray. Warner Bros. is making two versions available, the Citizen Kane 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition (Warner Bros., $49.92), and the Citizen Kane 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Amazon Exclusive Edition (Warner Bros., $79.89), which includes The Magnificent Ambersons. The hi-def transfer of Kane is excellent both visually and aurally. The extras include the documentary film about Citizen Kane, RKO 281, The American Experience: The Battle Over Citizen Kane, lots of great interviews, and in the Amazon edition, Welles’ second film The Magnificent Ambersons, which has never been released on DVD before. Unfortunately the Ambersons is the 88-minute studio cut, and is on DVD rather than hi-def, but at least it is finally available digitally and is a tremendous bonus feature.
There are quite a few releases in this category this week that target the geek audience including The Big Bang Theory: The Complete Fourth Season (Warner Bros. 500 min, $44.98, BD $49.98), which includes all 24 episodes of the popular sitcom where much of the action centers on weekly trips to the comic shop. All so of great interest is Supernatural: The Complete Season Six (Warner Bros., $59.98, BD $69.98), the supernatural and horror show that remains a key fixture in the CW network’s lineup. In Season Six Sam and Dean battle vampires, demons, angels, shapeshifters and a terrifying new foe known as the Mother of All.
Sword and sandal fans will likely enjoy Spartacus: God of the Arena (Starz, 300 min., $44.98, BD $49.99), the mini-series prequel to the current series Spartacus: Blood and Sand.  Both series feature fan favorite Lucy Lawless (Xena). Andy Whitfield, the talented young star of God of the Arena just died tragically from non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.  He was just about to start filming Blood and Sand when he was diagnosed some 18 months ago and forced to withdraw from the production.  

Other geek favorites include Doctor Who Story 060: Day of the Daleks (BBC, 96 min., $34.98), which features the Third Doctor in a classic 4-episode saga, Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Hands of Manos (Shout Factory, 270 min., $24.97), a sleazoid Grade Z version of The Hands of Orloc delightfully skewered by the MST3K crew, and He-Man and the Masters of Universe: The Complete Second Season (Mill Creek, 1950 min., $29.98).
More mainstream releases include the new Tom Selleck cop show, Blue Bloods: The 1st Season (Paradox, 840 min., $64.99), the Irish/Canadian cable series Camelot: Season 1 (Starz, 420 min., $49.99, BD $59.99), Glee: The Complete 2nd Season (Fox, $59.99, BD $69.99), Grey’s Anatomy: The Complete 7th Season, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: The Complete 6th Season (Fox, 264 min., $39.95, BD $49.95), and Rescue Me: The Complete Sixth and Final Season (Sony, $49.95).
Low-priced editions of a number of vintage sitcoms are also out this week including 3rd Rock From the Sun Season 1 & Season 2 (Mill Creek, 600 min., $9.98 each), Roseanne Season 1 & Season 2 (Mill Creek, $14.95 each), and That 70’s Show Season 1 and Season 2 (Mill Creek, $14.98 each).
Bandai has several single-disc releases this week including the science fiction saga from Sunrise The Girl Who Leapt Through Space DVD 3 (Bandai, “13+,” 150 min., $29.98). This 2009 mecha comedy series, which is known in Japan as Sora Kake Girl, is not to be confused with the excellent anime film The Girl Who Leapt Through Time produced by Madhouse. Bandai’s top release is K-On! Disc 3 (Bandai, “13+,” 75 min., $24.98, BD $29.98), the latest release in the popular series from Kyoto Animation that is based on the four-panel comic strip manga by Kakifly published here by Yen Press.
New multiple disc releases include the streamlined hi-def Dragon Ball Z Kai Season 1 Pt.6 (Funimation, “13+,” 290 min., $29.98, BD $34.98), which contains episodes 66 to 77 of the classic anime martial arts series (remastered in gorgeous hi-def and stripped of all filler material), which is currently airing on Nicktoons. Sentai Filmworks is releasing MM! Complete Collection (Sentai, “17+,” 300 min., $49.98), which is surely the company’s kinkiest release yet—the 2010 12-episode series from Xebec features a masochistic protagonist.
Considerably better is Kekkaishi DVD Set 2 (Viz Media, “13+” 325 min. $49.95), which contains episodes 14-26 of the supernatural action comedy produced by Sunrise and based on the manga series by Yellow Tanabe . New on Blu-ray is the female martial arts series from ARMS Queen’s Blade 2: The Evil Eye (Media Blasters, 17+, 300 min. BD $59.99).
Re-priced bargain sets out this week include Gundam, Mobile Suit 0079 DVD Complete Collection (Bandai, “13+,” 525 min., $49.98), the Vandread Ultimate Collection (Funimation, “14+,” 766 min., $39.98), and the Xenosaga Complete Collection (Funimation, “14+,” 282 min., $19.98).