NEWS ARCHIVE - 9th-15th OCTOBER 2006



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13th October 2006

DVD NEWS

Anyone who was hoping for a Space:1999-style revelatory makeover for Optimum's forthcoming The New Avengers DVD set is going to be disappointed.

I've been sent one of the discs (containing Hostage, Trap and Dead Men Are Dangerous), and have compared the new version with the old UK edition, which was licensed by Optimum's parent company, Studio Canal, to Contender.

The new Optimum disc offers very slight improvement over the older version. It's marginally sharper, but the nasty shortcomings of the old version (underlying chroma noise, poor contrast, persistent grain, etc) are still much in evidence, suggesting that the new discs have been mastered using old analogue transfers. Also, it hasn't helped that Optimum have made poor use of the available disc space, using only 6.45Gb of the 9Gb available (the average bit-rate is about 5.6Mb/sec).

A look at Optimum's menu screens (which feature a reversed image of Patrick McNee as Steed, a black-and-red version of the blue-and-red lion logo', and a photo' of Gareth Hunt and Joanna Lumley, where she doesn't have her famous 'Purdey bob' haircut), confirms that these discs have been prepared by someone who has no affinity with the series.

A page featuring screengrabs and menu screens from the new Optimum set (and equivalent grabs from the Contender set) can be found here.

There's more bad news from Optimum. The version of She that will be in The Hammer Collection box set (and also available separately) is an anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer that crops the edges off the original Hammerscope image. The previous disc, from Warner Home Video, has a ratio of 2.18:1, but displays some distortion at the sides of the image (which Optimum may have deliberately chosen to crop).

The new disc has much harsher contrast than the comparatively soft-looking Warner Home Video transfer, giving it a rather gritty, unpleasant look. Both transfers exhibit considerable dirt and other signs of wear and tear (especially where opticals were employed, suggesting that these flaws are burnt into the original edited source negative).

A page featuring screengrabs and menu screens from the new Optimum disc and equivalent grabs from the Warner Home Video disc can be found here.

The release of The Hammer Collection box set has been delayed a week: it will now appear on October the 30th.

US company VCI Entertainment has announced the release of two more discs in their Hammer Film Noir Double Feature collection.

The two discs, due on November the 28th, are Vol 4 (featuring Terror Street (1953) and Wings of Danger (1952)) and Vol 5 (featuring The Glass Tomb (1955) and Paid To Kill (1954)).

Terror Street and Wings of Danger are 4:3 transfers; The Glass Tomb and Paid To Kill are in 1.66:1 format. Both discs are Region 0, NTSC, DVD-9s.

Bonus features on Vol 4 include Terror Street commentary; Dan Duryea commentary; and Steve Fisher commentary (all by Alan K. Rode). Vol 5 includes The Glass Tomb commentary (by Richard M. Roberts). Both discs have bios, an advertising gallery and film noir theatrical trailers.

Provisional sleeve artwork...

 

10th October 2006

ZETA MINOR NEWS

We have a new review for you today! Ceri has examined the latest I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue CD set, from BBC Audiobooks. To read the review, click on the sleeve image, left, or here.

DVD NEWS

More good news about Optimum's forthcoming Ultimate Hammer Collection DVD set: the set contains new anamorphic versions of Dracula: Prince of Darkness and Prehistoric Women.

The new Prince of Darkness transfer isn't considerably better than the previous UK edition (from Warner Home Video): the anamorphic enhancement means that you get more detail in the image. In terms of colour density and contrast, the new disc is slightly brighter than the Warner Home Video version, but otherwise quite similar. It is, however, vastly superior to the anamorphic German version, from Anolis. Screen grabs from the three versions can be seen here.

The new Prince of Darkness disc features the hour-long documentary The Many Faces of Christopher Lee, which is a valuable bonus. Sadly, it's missing the bonus features found on the US (Anchor Bay) and German (Anolis) discs, so fans will probably want to have both.

The new Prehistoric Women disc has an anamorphic 2.31:1 transfer, and a widescreen theatrical trailer. (Anchor Bay's R1 disc was non-anamorphic).

Note that the individual Dracula: Prince of Darkness disc is currently available for pre-order at Play.com for 5.99 - click here! This offer also extends to The Devil Rides Out, The Horror of Frankenstein and Rasputin - The Mad Monk.

Network's new editions of Hands of the Ripper and Twins of Evil are released today, too!

Rod Serling's 70s anthology series Night Gallery - The Complete First Season will apparently be released on DVD on October the 16th. I say "apparently" because review discs have appeared, but there was no sign of a press release.

The three disc set features the Pilot episode, and all the episodes of the first season (a total of seventeen stories, grouped in twos and threes, as they were originally transmitted). The third disc offers several bonus segments: The Diary, A Matter of Semantics, Big Surprise and Professor Peabody's Last Lecture, from season two, and The Return of the Sorcerer and Whisper, from season three.

This seems to replicate the Region 1 set. When the Region 1 version was released, there was some concern that the presence of season two and three episodes as bonus features might not bode well for a DVD release of the rest of the series. That concern seems to have been well-founded: the first season set was released in August 2004, and so far there's been no sign of the second or third seasons. The consensus among fans of the series was that we they considered themselves lucky that at least some of the season two and three episodes had been released.

RRP for the set is 24.99.

No press release, either, for Universal's seaQuest DSV - Season One DVD set, which is apparently due on November the 20th.

The six disc set features all twenty-three episodes of the first season, including the feature-length pilot episode, To Be Or Not To Be, in 4:3 format, with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio (at 192kbps). There are no English subtitles.

There are deleted scenes on several of the discs, but that seems to be the extent of the bonus material, suggesting that it's the equivalent of the Region 1 edition.

The RRP is believed to be 34.99.

SOUNDTRACK NEWS

Film Score Monthly has released another pair of fine Silver Age Classics soundtrack CDs: Maurice Jarre's score for John Huston's 1972 oddball Western The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, and Leigh Harline's music for George Pal's 1964 fantasy classic, 7 Faces of Dr. Lao.

The release of The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean marks only the second time that FSM has released music by the relatively prolific Maurice Jarre in their hundred and forty-disc history.

The film's a bit of a curate's egg, blending a standard John Ford-style Western with author John Milius' inclination to mythologize its eponymous protagonist. Jarre might seem an odd choice to score a Western, but he already had several to his credit by the time Huston picked him to score The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, including Villa Rides, Richard Brooks' The Professionals and the hybrid Samurai Spaghetti Western Red Sun.

In any case, Jarre's poetic score isn't one you'd immediately associate with the Coplandesque Old West. Instead we have Jarre's gift for off-kilter melody expressed through atypical instruments like the French horn and church organ.

The disc features a vocal version of one of Jarre's themes: Marmalade, Molasses and Honey, sung by Andy WIlliams (who, for no-doubt contractual reasons, gets more prominent billing on the CD cover than Jarre). This was a pastiche of Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head, from then-recent hit Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. An instrumental version of Marmalade, Molasses and Honey - not used in the film - is included as a bonus track.

The CD version greatly expands on the LP version, from Columbia Records, and, as is usually the case for FSM, presents the score in chronological order, with bonus tracks at the end (including a ten-minute dissonant cue, That Man on Horseback, which did make the film, but would have spoilt the musical flow of the main program). The score was re-mastered from the half-inch three-track stereo masters; Marmalade, Molasses and Honey was remixed from the sixteen-track two-inch studio master tape.

The disc comes with extensive background and track-by-track notes, by label boss (and disc producer) Lukas Kendall.

Although not as flashy as The Professionals (Jarre's definitive Western score), there's much to commend The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, and it's a fine addition to FSM's library.

7 Faces of Dr. Lao is one of my favourite films, so I was thrilled to find that FSM were going to release the score, especially as the master tapes were thought to be long gone. (La-La-Land Records' 2004 compilation The Fantasy Film Music of George Pal compilation featured a few cues from the film, but they obviously weren't sourced from the original masters).

Harline was the ideal choice of composer to score 7 Faces of Dr. Lao. His background at Disney (where he composed music for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and numerous short films) had given him just the right type of experience, and, indeed, had brought him not inconsiderable acclaim (including two Academy Awards, for his score for Pinocchio, and its featured song, When You Wish Upon A Star).

7 Faces of Dr. Lao, the tale of a small Old West town which is visited by a mysterious circus run by enigmatic oriental Dr Lao, is a film that works on many levels. Viewed as a child, it has the glitzy appeal of Tony Randall's portrayal of the apparently-scatterbrained title character, an array of monsters (including Jim Danforth's wonderful stop motion animated Loch Ness Monster), and a homely setting. Later viewing reveals a finely-written morality fable; one with touches of real darkness (the blunt, brutally-truthful predictions made by the circus's blind Greek fortune teller, Appolonius, for example) and raw sexuality (the lustful seduction byPan!)

Harline's music is equally complex, headlined by a jaunty theme for Dr. Lao himself, but also encompassing several different styles, to reflect the film's odd mixture of elements. Harline used a small chamber orchestra and some exotique instrumentation to achieve the variety of cues required for the film, which include a couple of variations of Bach organ pieces, and a melody of bagpipe tunes.

FSM's disc contains the complete score, in stereo, remixed from the original three-track 35mm scoring masters, and it sounds just dandy. After nearly fifty minutes, there are a selection of bonus tracks - about ten minutes' worth - which include raw build-up material, sound effects, pre-recorded tracks (so that the actors had music to perform to on set) and unused cues.

The disc's extensive sleeve and track notes, by Jeff Bond, Harline expert Ross Care and Lukas Kendall, are the icing on the cake, revealing, for example, that Peter Sellers was attached to the film at one point, perhaps on the strength of his multiple disguises in 1957's The Naked Truth, and 1962's Lolita. (Sellers would  go on to play three entirely different characters in Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove..., which was released the same year as Dr. Lao). The disc is offered as a limited edition of 3000 copies.

More information about the discs, including track lists and Realaudio samples, can be found at the website of FSM's trading partner, Screen Archives Entertainment. Click here for The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, or here for 7 Faces of Dr. Lao.

IMAX NEWS

I attended the press screening of Open Season - 3D at the IMAX cinema at Waterloo this morning.

The film is likeable enough, but there's very little to set it apart from the slew of mediocre talking animal CGI extravaganzas that have been released recently (Madagascar, The Wild, etc). There are a couple of nice set-pieces, though, including an elaborate dam bursting sequence, but the plot is feeble; the characters are sketchy (and, Billy Connolly's McSquizzy aside) ill-served by some unremarkable voice-acting. Oh, and the jokes just ain't funny.

But, as a 3D spectacle, it's highly entertaining, to be watched with gleeful joy as the titles stand proud of the background, and foreground objects end up in your lap. The kids at the screening seemed to have a great time, so if you have toddlers in tow, it would be a fine treat.

Here are the booking details:

For information on tickets and showtimes, please call 0870 787 2525 or visit the website at www.bfi.org.uk/imax Tickets are priced at 12.00 for adults, 8.00 for children (up to and including age 14) and 9.75 for concessions. The reduced rate for groups of 10 people or more is 11.00 for adults and 8.75 for concessions.

AUDIO BOOK NEWS

Here's a look at the individual CD sleeves for the three titles in the forthcoming Doctor Who Monsters on Earth CD set, which is due on November the 6th.

The sleeve notes also reveal that the bonus interviews are: Caroline John (20m), Katy Manning (9m) and Janet Fielding (12m). Doctor Who and the Silurians also features an item on Derbyshire Caves, from Radio 4's Today programme, which aired on July 14th, 2004.

The RRP for the seven-disc set is 45.


Last week's Zeta Minor News can be viewed here.

Previous Zeta Minor News entries can viewed here.


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