Video Verdict: New DVDs for Oct. 21

This week’s crop of DVDs brings a comic book action film, a horror-thriller and a heady documentary from comedian Ben Stein.

The Hulk flexes for his latest big screen appearance.
The Hulk flexes for his latest big screen appearance.

The Incredible Hulk
2 1/2 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence, some frightening sci-fi images and brief suggestive content
Universal
Available Tuesday on DVD, Blu-ray

This new take on the Marvel Comics’ hero the Hulk has the same problem as director Ang Lee’s 2003 film. Namely, the title character — a huge, green behemoth — looks like he walked straight out of a computer game.

This isn’t troubling when Hulk is relegated to shadows or fast-moving flashes of action, but any time the camera delivers a close-up, it’s clear that he’s an animated character in a realistic world. Viewers who are able to move beyond this visual distraction can enjoy “Hulk” as a pure popcorn flick. Those who can’t are out of luck.

The story begins in a Brazilian slum where Bruce Banner (Ed Norton) has been practicing meditation and other martial arts disciplines in order to suppress his emotions and prevent him from transforming into the Hulk. He has things dialed in until a U.S. Army general named Ross (William Hurt) attempts to capture him, causing a major Hulk out in the process.

One thing leads to another and Banner winds up in the U.S. hoping to find a scientific method to permanently get rid of the Hulk. Instead he finds a nutty soldier (Tim Roth) who has purposely dosed himself with the same chemicals that turned Banner into a monster. The result? A creature named the Abomination that is even angrier and more destructive than Hulk. Everything leads to a battle between these two titans, and it’s a good one, even if the characters do look out of place next to their live-action co-stars.

“The Incredible Hulk” is being released in multiple editions, including single-disc versions and a three-disc special edition. Extra features vary.

 
The Strangers
1 star
The DVD includes rated and unrated versions. The theatrical cut is rated R for violence/terror and language
Universal
Available Tuesday on DVD and Blu-ray

Writer-director Bryan Bertino’s “The Strangers” was supposedly inspired by true events, but the more research one does, the more the claim seems like salesmanship. Snake-oil salesmanship that is.

It’s tough to find a definitive source, but many sites argue that it was inspired by the Manson Family murders, which although gruesome bare only a minor resemblance to events in the film. Of course, that says more about the honesty of the filmmakers and promoters than the film itself.

As horror pictures go, “The Strangers” is deftly crafted and suspenseful. It focuses on Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler) and James Hoyt (Scott Speedman), a young couple who retire to a country home after having a relationship squabble. Already drained, they find themselves in the midst of a nightmare when masked thugs begin terrorizing them. At first, it seems the assailants are more interested in frightening them than harming them, but things get progressively more violent.

Like director Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games,” the film is basically scenes of the two victims being mercilessly tortured. And, as with Haneke’s film, that is its downfall.

“The Strangers” is intense and frightening, but it is also morally bankrupt and devoid of valuable themes. The fact that the filmmakers decided to claim a false connection to reality, indicates that even they may have found their work hard to justify. Unfortunately, for them, an “inspired by true events” tag doesn’t change anything.

The DVD includes rated and unrated versions of the film, deleted scenes and a feature called “Elements of Horror.”

 
Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
2 1/2 stars
Rated PG for thematic material, some disturbing images and brief smoking
Vivendi Entertainment
Available Tuesday on DVD and Blu-ray

Actor and comedian Ben Stein’s “Expelled” is for the religious right what director Michael Moore’s films are for the liberal left. Although both filmmakers sell their works as documentaries, they are better described as rants or filmic opinion pieces. And, in my mind, that’s just dandy.

Discussion of controversial issues is key to life in America, and it’s nice to hear views from both sides of the aisle. “Expelled” argues that we are being subjected to scientific blacklisting, where researchers who discuss the possibility of intelligent design are routinely fired. And Stein presents some compelling evidence for this finding.

The trouble with opinion pieces, of course, is that they present only one side of the issue and generally ignore facts that fail to support their conclusions. It’s like listening to only one half of a political debate, and that’s the difference between good journalism and many of today’s so-called documentaries.

Everyone can agree that the majority of today’s scientific community has a bias against creationism. And, if the Creationism Vs. Darwinism argument is taken far enough it is possible to hit a standstill. It is therefore interesting to hear Stein’s thoughts on the issue.

Bottom line: “Expelled” brings up interesting points that merit discussion, but it should in no way be considered a thorough examination of the subject. For that, personal research is required. Whether movies like this hope to encourage such research is debatable, but I believe they are most valuable when they convince viewers to seek out further information on their own.

DVD extras include bonus music tracks, a message from Stein, and a piece on using intelligent design for medical research.

 
ALSO OUT TUESDAY

“The Incredible Hulk” — The Complete Fifth Season: With the new Hulk movie on DVD, Universal decided it was the perfect time to roll out the fifth and final season of the popular 1970s and ’80s television show. Because the series was canceled during season-five filming, this set has only seven episodes spread over two discs. Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno star.

“Sold Out: A Threevening With Kevin Smith”: Most people know Kevin Smith as the writer and director of “Clerks,” “Chasing Amy,” “Mallrats” and numerous other films. But Smith is also a funny and talented public speaker and comedian. He’s so good, in fact, that that he’s able to sell DVDs of his Q&A speaking engagements. “Threevening” is his third such release, and it’s a two-disc affair boasting more than five hours of uncensored material.

“Missing”: This 1982 film dramatizes the search for American journalist Charles Horman, who disappeared during the 1973 coup in Chile. The movie won the Palme d’Or at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival and it landed an Oscar for best adapted screenplay. Stars Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek also received Oscar nominations for their performances. This release comes courtesy of the outstanding Criterion Collection, and it includes an entire disc dedicated to extra features.

“Knight Rider” — The Complete Collection: The new “Knight Rider” television series wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the original 1980s drama that ran four seasons on NBC. The series related the exploits of Michael Knight (David Hasselhoff), a police detective rescued from near death and given a new life fighting crime with the help of a sentient car named K.I.T.T. Universal’s DVD set includes every episode of the series, plus the “Knight Rider 2000” television movie.

James Bond films: MGM seems to release new versions of its James Bond pictures on DVD every couple of years. This week is special, however, because the company is not only reissuing a number of Bond titles, it is trotting them out on Blu-ray for the first time. Available are “Casino Royale,” “From Russia With Love,” “Thunderball,” “For Your Eyes Only,” “Dr. No,” “Live and Let Die” and “Die Another Day.”

“The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” — The Complete Series: This 1960s television series told the stories of international spies teaming up to fight an evil organization known as Thrush. Now, all 105 episodes are being released in a single, 41-disc set.

Looney Tunes Golden Collection — Volume 6: Warner Brothers’ latest collection of animated shorts includes 60 cartoons featuring the likes of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Tweety and Sylvester. The four-disc set retails for $64.92. Those who want a smaller dose of Looney Tunes can opt for Spotlight Collection 6, a two-disc set with only 30 cartoons retailing for $26.99.

“According to Jim” — Season One: The family comedy starring Jim Belushi and Courtney Thorne-Smith gets a deluxe, four-disc treatment including all 22 episodes from the debut season.

“Family Guy” — Vol. 6: This television series about a dysfunctional cartoon family has always been a favorite on DVD. The new release includes three discs of material new to video. Fans who don’t already own previous seasons may also want to consider “Family Guy”: The Complete Series, a 22-disc set including more than 100 episodes and a number of extra features.

— Forrest Hartman is the film critic for the Reno Gazette-Journal, Alice Radio and KTVN-TV. E-mail him at Forrest@ForrestHartman.com.  

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