After taking last week off due to a disappointing lack of quality releases (don’t waste your time with “Dark Shadows”), my column is back this week with a number of films from the back catalog. Though it’s always nice to see any Alfred Hitchcock film get the Blu-ray treatment, this has truly been the season of Spielberg, following up the release of “Jaws” and the Indiana Jones movies with the debut of “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.”
I’ve never understood why so many people place “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” on such a high pedestal, because it’s easily one of Steven Spielberg’s most overrated movies. Though the nostalgia factor has certainly played a role in its sustained popularity over the years, when viewed without those rose-colored glasses, the film’s flaws are pretty evident. Not only is the acting terrible for the most part, but a lot of the special effects don’t hold up that well, particularly the flying bikes. It’s also way too long – a fact that’s even more incredible considering the director cut 40 minutes from the original version – and it has some strange tonal issues, including the arrival of those creepy men in the astronaut suits in the final act. Still, while “E.T.” is hardly worthy of joining “Jaws” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” on the list of cinema classics, it’s a sweet and often funny film that every parent should show their children at least once.
Blu-ray Highlight: There are two new extras included on the 30th Anniversary release, and they’re both excellent. “The E.T. Journals” offers nearly an hour of behind-the-scenes footage from production, while “Steven Spielberg and E.T.” features the director reflecting on the making of the film, including where the idea originated from, showing the movie at Cannes and the White House, the aborted sequel talk and much more.
The latest in a growing line of projects driven by Hollywood’s fascination with revisionist history, James McTeigue’s “The Raven” proposes that in the weeks leading up to his death, American poet Edgar Allen Poe helped solve a series of copycat murders based on his grisly tales. It’s difficult to view the film as anything other than a half-hearted attempt at cashing in on the success of Warner Brothers’ “Sherlock Holmes” reboot, because it’s every bit the dull, cookie cutter thriller that the trailers suggested. Not only is the premise ridiculous, but it’s executed so tediously that McTeigue could have lopped off 20 minutes from just about any part of the movie and no one would have noticed. The legacy of Poe deserves so much better than this generic murder mystery, and although John Cusack has some good moments as the eccentric writer, it would have been a lot more interesting to see the actor play him in a traditional biopic as opposed to this preposterous and lifeless piece of schlock. The next time Hollywood thinks about defiling a respected literary figure, they would be wise to heed Poe’s famous words and simply say “nevermore.”
Blu-ray Highlight: There aren’t any extras on the disc that stand out, but the making-of featurette “The Raven Guts: Bringing Death to Life” provides the usual behind the scenes fluff on things like casting and production design for those who are interested.
With the upcoming release of Universal’s “Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection,” it only seems fitting that Warner Bros. should take the opportunity to debut some of their Hitchcock films on Blu-ray as well. Though “Strangers on a Train” and “Dial M for Murder” predate many of the director’s most popular movies, they still showcase the Master of Suspense at the top of his game. “Strangers on a Train” is probably the better known of the pair, but despite a solid turn by Robert Walker as the eccentric villain, the film’s sluggish pacing and ridiculous finale prevent it from being as great as its reputation might suggest. In fact, although it doesn’t get as much credit, “Dial M for Murder” is the stronger movie – an adaptation of the Frederick Knotts stage play that’s as taut and thrilling as it is smart. It also helps that everyone in the cast is so good, from Grace Kelly’s adulterous victim to John Williams’ police inspector, but it’s Ray Milland who absolutely steals the show as a “villain” so likable that you’re practically rooting for him to get away with murder. Though it’s a bit strange that Hitchcock would chose one of his less visually interesting movies to shoot in 3D, “Dial M for Murder” is every bit as captivating without the silly gimmick.
Blu-ray Highlight: Though most of the bonus material is from previous DVD releases, there’s a retrospective on each film – “Strangers on a Train: A Hitchcock Classic” and “Hitchcock and Dial M” – that provides some excellent insight from various friends and historians about the movies’ productions and the key Hitchcockian elements in both.