Video Verdict: New DVDs for May 20

Only one of this week’s video releases — “National Treasure 2” — is big in stature, but there are plenty of smaller films to fill the gaps, including a new adventure from horror master George A. Romero.

 

National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets
2 stars (out of four)
Rated PG for some violence and action
Walt Disney Video
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray
The first “National Treasure” film felt like an ill-conceived attempt to capitalize on “Da Vinci Code” fever, so it’s no surprise that part two is pretty dull.

Nicolas Cage returns as treasure hunter Ben Gates, who is forced to look into the Abraham Lincoln assassination when a mysterious man named Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris) asserts that Ben’s great grandfather was a conspirator. This, of course, leads to a lengthy treasure hunt that has Ben, his assistant Riley (Justin Bartha), his father (Jon Voight), and his girlfriend (Diane Kruger) deciphering historical documents and traveling the world. Because Ben lacks common sense, his adventures even lead him to kidnap the president of the United States and break into Buckingham Palace.

The movie has moments, including some decent action sequences and impressive set pieces, but it ultimately feels like a stale rip off of the Indiana Jones franchise.

“Book of Secrets” is available in a single-disc version and as a two-disc collector’s edition. Extra features vary by release, but both versions have an audio commentary by director Jon Turteltaub and Voight.

 
George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead
2 1/2 stars
Rated R for strong horror violence and gore, and pervasive language
The Weinstein Company
Available on: DVD

Romero, master of the zombie film, continues the franchise he started in 1968 with “Night of the Living Dead.” This time, he allows a group of film students to document what happens when corpses begin coming back to life and attempting to eat the living. The entire movie is presented “Cloverfield”- and “Blair Witch Project”-style, with the footage supposedly shot by the actual character.

In typical Romero fashion, “Diary” is extremely gory, with heads splitting open, eyeballs exploding and characters being eaten from start to the finish. That said, it’s also a little goofy, as the director often pauses for dark comedy and political statements about everything from the mainstream media to the degradation of American moral values.

Because of the in-your-face gore and general campiness of the presentation, mainstream viewers will want to steer clear, but horror fans — particularly Romero devotees — should find this diary compelling.

DVD extras include some making-of features and a commentary by Romero, director of photography Adam Swica and editor Michael Doherty. The Weinstein Company is also rolling out a remastered, 40th anniversary DVD of “Night of the Living Dead.” It is available separately and makes a nice companion to “Diary.”

 
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Strange Wilderness”: Steve Zahn plays Peter Gaulke, the host of a wildlife show with failing ratings. In hopes of picking up viewers, he decides to go in search of Bigfoot, accompanied by a crew of goofballs played by Allen Covert, Jonah Hill and Justin Long.

“Company”: Video of the Tony Award-winning, 2006 revival of composer Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Company.” This production originally aired as part of the “Great Performances” series on PBS.

“Cranford”: Five-episode BBC drama adapted from writer Mary Gaskell’s works about 19th-century British life. Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins, Simon Woods, Lisa Dillon and Imelda Staunton star.

“The Muppet Show” — The Complete Third Season: The titles says it all. Twenty-four episodes of Muppet mania for folks who loved the 1970s-’80s show. Guest stars include Sylvester Stallone, Raquel Welch and Liberace.

“Hamburger Hill” — 20th Anniversary Edition: Re-release of director John Irvin’s chronicle of the brutal, Vietnam War battle for Hill 937.

“Operation Homecoming: Stories From the Heart”: Documentary film about U.S. soldiers wrapping up their tours in Iraq and returning to life in the U.S.

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